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Ibn al-Qayyim on Wisdoms and Objectives in the Placement of Material Causes and Effects
Ibn al-Qayyim has a discussion of the matter of wisdoms (الحكم), causes (الأسباب) and explanations (التعليلات) that relate to the natural world. We will translate the passage in question and make the relevant comments as we go alone. He said in al-Madaarij (1/256 onwards):
And likewise the physicians, knowledge and practice of medicine would not be practicable for them except with the knowledge of the inherent strengths and natural properties of drugs, medicinal preparations and foodstuffs, and ascribing some (strengths and properties) to others (drugs, foodstuffs), and (knowing) the degree of effect some have on others, and (knowing) the how some of them are affected by others, and (collectively) weighing out the strength of the medicine, the strength of the illness and the strength of the patient [when treating], and repelling (an illness or its symptom) through its opposite (medicine or foodstuff) and preserving what they desire to preserve of (health) with what is like it or suited to it (of medicine and foodstuff). Hence, the art of medicine is founded upon knowing causes (الأسباب), reasons (العلل), forces (strengths) (القوى), natural properties (of the elements) (الطبائع) and special properties (الخواص) (of things).
In opposition to certain stray sects (such as the Ash'arites), orthodox Sunni Muslims, in agreement with sensory perception (hiss), reason (aql) and revelation (naql), affirm the inherent strengths and properties of things, and consider them to be the foundation of material (natural) causes and effects. This is because a knowing, willing, powerful, purposeful, wise agent has determined them to operate in a law-like fashion, enduing them with their general and specific properties. Thus water has an inherent property of quenching thirst, and when a person drinks pure water his thirst will be quenched by necessity. Just as water is also he means through which life is given to plants and animals, something we can see just by sensory perception. And if a person was to study the matter in depth at the biochemical level, then the actual mechanisms would be established and more detailed knowledge would be acquired. And it would be clear that water has structural properties and qualities that allow it to function the way it does (to facilitate vital biochemical operations), be that in plant or animal cells. You can analogize this for every other known (or yet unknown) cause in the study of organic life, the world and the universe.
And if they negated and invalidate (all of that) that and assigned (all effects) to pure will and pure wish removed of causes and reasons and (therefore) treated the reality of fire to equal the reality of water and the reality of medicine to be equal to the reality of foodstuff, there not being any unique property or inherent strength that distinguishes one from the other, then medicinal science would become corrupt, and the wisdom of Allaah therein would be invalidated.
He intends here the saying adopted by the Ash'arites (a heteredox sect) who (for reasons outside the scope of this article) adopted the view that there are no inherent powers and properties of things that give rise to cause and effect and which can be ascribed to the essences of those things. This is a futile saying and rejected by sensory perception, reason and revelation and is a rejection of the natural ways and means that have placed and affixed by the Creator.
On the contrary, the universe is tied together through causes (الأسباب), forces (القوى) and efficient and purposeful causes (العلل الفاعلية والغائية).
The purposeful (final) cause refers to the objective or end-purpose, the efficient cause is the thing or entity (the agency) which produces the end-result. For example, a carpenter takes wood (the material cause) and he acts to produce a table of which he is now the efficient cause and the table itself is the final cause. In the same way a plant is the final cause of a seed and a father is the efficient cause of his son, and water is a material cause of organic life and so on. The universe as a whole is tied together through causes, effects, properties of things and forces (powers) and there are efficient causes for things observed as well as purposeful objectives behind things observed (final causes). The atheistic naturalist philosophy claims that the study and analysis of the universe should only involve explanations of material causes, and they think that by this definition or restriction, they have eliminated a designer and maker from the picture, and this is from their sophistry and speciousness in reason. This is because no such thing is entailed, just like understanding how an engine works (at physical, chemical and mechanistic levels) does not eliminate the question of where did the engine come from and where did the knowledge required to create such a thing come from, and where did the underlying laws (of physics, chemistry) that allow such a designed entity to operate the way it does come from in the first place. So this is a red-herring and it is a confidence trick, the intent of which is to say, "Hey, we've found the material causes that explain how this engine runs, now you no longer need to ask how it got here and what put it here and why there are (physical and chemical) laws in existence on the basis of which engines actually work the way they do."
And the people are divided into three categories with respect to causes, powers (strengths, forces) and inherent properties of things:
Before we look at the three groups, it should be pointed out that atheists tend to use strawman arguments. That is to say they are frequently refuting false, altered, distorted, corrupt religion, not sound authentic religion. This is because there are adherents to the Prophets and revealed Books who altered and distorted the text and the message, and in doing so their opposition to reason (aql) was automatically necessitated. Then when they began to proclaim their altered, distorted message (and false doctrines), the atheists and Philosophers saw clear opposition to reason (aql) and hence they were further distanced from what was brought by the Prophets and revealed Books.
Amongst them is one who exaggerated in negating and rejecting them. So all people of (sound) intellect laughed at his intellect. But he claimed that through (this stance) he is aiding the legislation. So he committed a crime againt his own intellect and the legislation, and he allowed his disputant to assault him (due to this).
This is in reference to the Ash'arites (a sect within Islam engaging in speculative theology) whose intellects are mocked and reviled because of their rejection of the causes and effects and properties and strengths placed in things inherently. Historically it is the likes of these people who departed from both reason and revelation opening the door for the atheists and Philosophers who wrongly assumed that this false saying is the saying of revelation and prophethood, when that is not the case. Ibn Taymiyyah says, "And amongst the people are those who reject the inherent strengths and properties (of things) as is the saying of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari and whoever followed him from the associates of Malik, al-Shafi'ee, Ahmad and others. And these ones who reject the inherent strengths and properties (of things) also reject the causes too ... and they opposed the Book, the Sunnah and the consensus of the predecessors alongside opposing sound reason and sensory perception... and (all) the people know through their sensory perception and their reason that some things are causes for others, just as they know that satiation is through eating not by counting, and is acquired through eating food not pebbles and that water is the cause of life in plants and animals as He said, ( وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاء كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ) "And we created every living thing with water" (21:30), and that animals have their thirst quenched by drinking water, not by walking and the likes of these examples are many." (Majmu' al-Fatawa 9/287-288). Ibn al-Qayyim said, "If we were to follow up what provides the affirmation of causes (ways and means) from the Qur'an and the Sunnah, it would be (found) in more than ten thousand places and we do not say that out of exaggeration, but in actual reality. But sufficient is the witness of sensory perception, reason and innate intuition (to establish it). For this reason it was said by one from the people of knowledge, 'A people spoke about rejection of the causes (ways and means) and thus caused the possessors of intelligence to laugh at their intellects'" (Shifaa ul-Aleel p. 189).
And amongst them are those who tied the higher and lower (part of the) universe to them (the causes and forces) without tying them (also) to the will of an agent with choice, a regulator who directs them however he wills...
This is in reference to the Greek Philosophers who claimed an eternal cause for the existence of the universe (the universe being eternal alongside this cause) but this "first cause" has no connection to the running of the universe, having no will or choice. The universe is managed and regulated through the motion of the celestial orbits. And this "first cause" has no knowledge of the details and particulars of the universe. The (modern-day) Naturalists are an offshoot of this category, since the "first cause" which those Greek Philosophers asserted and defined, has an existence in the mind only, not in external reality. Practically speaking, their saying is no different to that of the modern-day Naturalists and Materialists, since a "first cause" that exists in the mind only is equivalent to no "first cause" at all in external reality.
And these two sides deviate from what is correct.
These two groups are a) the Ash'arites who claim, by way of example, that the consumption, digestion and absorption of a foodstuff does not provide the effect of nutrition and satiation to the body, but that pure divine intervention creates an instance of satiation to coincide with the instance of eating, and thus the two are only habitually associated (in terms of what humans observe), not as binding cause and effect and as essences having inherent properties. So all sound, reasonable and intelligent people laugh at their intellects. And b) the Philosophers and Naturalists, those who claim that all causes and effects, inherent properties of things, forces and laws come to be and operate in the absence of an agency possessing knowledge, will, power and wisdom, and to justify this they seek refuge in m(ystical)-theories, blind watchmakers, mountains of improbability, "self-creation", "self-organization" and purposeless randomly-acting forces. So all sound and reasonable people laugh at their intellects too for showing arrogation in the face of innate intuition and in the face of what is necessary in reason: that a collection of causes and effects and inherent properties of things, working uniformly together in law-like regularity, providing purpose-directed entities (with complex interrelation) and identifiable objectives can only come to be through the agency of knowledge, will, power and wisdom.
And amongst them [the third group] are those who affirm them (the natural causes, means, properties, strengths) as creation and command, determination and legislation and who place them in the position into which Allaah placed them.
Referring here to sound orthodox Islamic doctrine [which is the doctrine of all revealed Books (in their uncorrupted form) and the message of all sent Messengers] which is to affirm the natural causes, properties and strengths through "creation and command", "determination and legislation". And this means that all efficient and objective causes, all inherent properties and strengths and forces have been determined as such (a matter obvious just by sensory perception) and on account of them do we observe what we observe of all phenomena taking place in the natural world. So this is creation, it is bound and tied to causes, effects, strengths, properties, forces. And as for command, then this refers to legislation. Legislative affairs are also tied to causes, wisdoms and reasons and this is because "actions" (as in human actions) are also treated as entities with inherent properties. Thus "killing" (without due right and cause) is inherently bad and evil and known to be such by reason prior to revelation. Consequently, legislation organizes and arranges human activity for it to work harmoniously, in the same way that life and the universe, from a material point of view, runs with regularity and order, upon unbreachable laws. Thus, prescribed punishments are deterrants for the protection of life and property, and intoxicants are prohibited for the protection of mind (as well as life and property) and marriage is instituted to be the medium of offspring, parenthood, inheritance of wealth and so on. So legislation is also tied to causes, reasons, wisdoms. So whoever denied causes, effects, wisdoms whether in relation to creation (natural world) or legislation, then his intellect is to be questioned.
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