Friday, February 06, 2009

Ibn Sina: The Proof of God's existence

There have been numerous proofs for the existence of God, for Ibn Sina, we have to bear in mind that his view was cosmological in character. This means that he would have begun from the universe and existence as we experience it and continued all the way to a First Cause. Philosophers of his era would also have believed in the impossibility of an infinite regress in anything actual in the world.

My previous post mentioned the essence-existence innovation that Ibn Sina had made and how essences are neutral with regards to existence. Also with regards to modality, we remember that everything which has a necessary essence must exist, anything which is impossible has an essence which precludes existence. That with a contingent essence has no reason to lead us to the belief that it exists or does not exist. 

When an essence which is contingent (possible) receives existence, then it must receive this from some external cause to it. According to Ibn Sina, when this happens the contingent object becomes necessary, but only through something else. It's not necessary through itself. Therefore, everything which is contingent is necessary and could not be otherwise, similarly what could not possibly exist is impossible and so lacks existence, something which makes Ibn Sina a determinist. So the contingent is in a state of possible until a cause makes it exist, and it becomes necessary, or it turns out  that the cause for its being is absent, in which case it becomes impossible.

The question must then be asked, how do we know that there is anything which is necessary of existence through itself and not through another? Basically, could all existents be contingent? For Ibn Sina, the answer is a clear no. He tells us that if we consider all contigents, ALL contingents in existence. Let us say that we have all of them in a set or aggregate. We can then argue as follows:

  1. Each of these has a cause because it exists and also because it is possible.
  2. The whole aggregate is possible because it is made up of things which are themselves possible.
  3. The entire set needs something to keep it in existence, to sustain it.
  4. No member in this aggregate could be the cause for the whole set
  5. So the only way the aggregate can exist is through an external cause. One external cause.
Now one could argue that suppose the One itself is also merely necessary through another, wouldn't we just get One+1 and so on? Well, Ibn Sina says that we cannot have an infinite regress of causes of causes of causes. At some point, something will emerge which will stop this regress. It will not be contingent, it exists so it is not impossible, therefore it is necessary. This is what Ibn Sina calls, "The Necessary Existent" (the rest of us mortals just say Allah or God).

So there you have it, all existence must have a necessary existent in order for us to be here. Since we are here, then that is because there is a necessary existent. Therefore there is a necessary existent. Marvelous isn't it? You can understand now why they didn't call him the greatest medieval philosopher the world has ever seen for nothing.

If you want to read more then you can check out the Metaphysics of the Najat, written by The Man himself. Just a small note on what remains of Ibn Sina's work, there is a lot, however there isn't a person alive who has read all the remaining texts that he wrote, he was a prodigous writer and his works would take a lifetime to go through. One of these works which was most famous is called the Canun (قانون) of Medicine which medical practitioners relied on right up until the mid-seventeenth century.


yaman said...

It is one thing to say that everything in the Universe requires a "first cause." It's entirely another to say that that first cause is, first, a god, and second, the God of Islam/Christianity/Judaism.

Second, the first cause claim is questionable for a few reasons. One is that it assumes a cause and effect pattern for everything. But the second greater one is that the argument is just tautological: you simply redefine the problem of an infinite regress (which itself is a symptom of the cause and effect model) as God. That doesn't follow logically, nor does it explain the chain.

Maysaloon said...

Hi Yaman,
Thanks for commenting. I'll try to respond to your comments in a way that might put their claims in perspective. If that is possible even.

I can see your point on how the jump from a "first cause" to making that first cause "God" can be problematic. al Kindi first did this in the first chapter (the only extant part) of his On First Philosophy. I actually put down something about him earlier which I'm sure would come up in a search of this blog. You see if you think of it this way, the First Cause is not just a First Cause, it is also perfect in every way and cannot be predicated in anyway. It exists out of its own necessity, from it, one-ness and multiplicity are brought into existence. There is no thing apart from it at first, neither time nor space. I won't go into too much detail, but I must remind you that most of the people who did the the theorising amongst the neo-platonists and those who followed them were monotheists of one form or the other so we cannot forget the context and world view they had. Another thing which our "modern" relativistic societies forget is that a man who is a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew, or any other faith for that matter, sees the universe as Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and in complete harmony. It explains your life, your death, your place in the cosmos. Other religions have glimpses of the truth or don't, but you are right. Of course not all religions are the same, but then discussing these differences and finding Truth is the job of conscientous theologians and people with honest hearts.

As for the issue of infinite regress, that is an easy one. If the infinite cannot be traversed, yet you are, say 22 years old, how did the cause you made traverse an infinite number of days, months and years and even the infinity of time before the sun was created, to reach the point where you are now typing on a laptop. When you quantify the infinite, it is no longer infinite is it? Secondly, what is predicated of the finite is finite and what is predicated of the infinite is infinite. You can contemplate infinity, but you cannot find it "actually", to find it actually is absurd, for it would not be infinite anymore. The infinite is always n+1, so how can you point your finger at something and say, that is infinitely old? Therefore, the infinite can only exist potentially, not actually. We can grasp zero, we can grasp infinite with our mind, but our senses get confused if we try to find expression of it in our world today.

Secondly, in a universe which is completely still, where would motion begin? How could motion begin from complete and utter non-motion? When it does, what is the cause of the first motion? And the cause of that? If the universe was always still, then there can never be anything, but if it was not, there must be a point when a state of non-motion went to a state of motion. So we must find a first cause, capable of moving without being moved. To exert a will, with no need to do so, and no cause for that will to arise? I might put down a bit more about the eternity of the world and issues to do with an unmoved mover a bit later. My thesis is on al Ghazali and Ibn Rushd's debate. The Incoherence of the Philosophers and the Incoherence of the Incoherence.

[ j i m m y ] said...

Extremely interesting reading. I'd like to respond by extracting and posting two statements by Bertrand Russell:

'It is easier to feel convinced that [the ontological argument] must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies.'

'The real question is: Is there anything we can think of which, by the mere fact that we can think of it, is shown to exist outside our thought? Every philosopher would like to say yes, because a philosopher's job is to find out things about the world by thinking rather than observing. If yes is the right answer, there is a bridge from pure
thought to things. If not, not.'

lotf ali said...

Thank you for taking the time to write about Ibn Sina. It's very interesting and well-presented.

Regarding the Bahais. It's interesting to read about Babism - the precursor to Bahaism. Bahaullah was a follower of the Bab (who was from a merchant family in Shiraz). I don't think there is anything in the development of this religion, cult (whatever you want to call it) that supports the idea that it was a product of colonialism. As with most things, The Babs and Bahais did not appear from nowhere.

By the time of the Bab's emergence, Shia orthodoxy had crowded out other viewpoints. Gradually the lights that shone in the non-conformist corners of Shiism were extinguished. Among them was Shaykhism, a school of thought founded by Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i in the late 18th century. It contained a potent streak of mysticism, where an aesthetic could glimpse complex realms that lay beyond earthly existence. Central to Shaykhism is a belief in the ability of a special holy individual, through meditation, visions and dreams, to contact the hidden 12th Imam.

This belief in the possibility of a messianic figure linked to the hidden Imam laid the groundwork for Babism and Bahaism. Ultimately, the Bab declared himself to be a new prophet and he was put to death in Tabriz.

The Bab’s followers came from all parts of Persian society. Some were simply non-conformists and dreamers young and impressionable, others had Shaki beliefs and were ready to accept a messianic figure.

The increasing power and economic influence of clerics propelled these people away from orthodoxy and tradition-bound rules that seemed less concerned with spiritual matters than obedience.

There were cultural changes and problems that the ulama and the government seemed helpless to address. There was famine and disease which some saw as heavenly retribution and a sign of coming religious upheaval. Babism was a protest movement – what was being protested depended on one’s interests and social standing.

It could be argued that Babism was actually a counter to colonialism. The western powers had a great friend in Nasir ad Din: Witness the Reuters and tobacco concessions and the Shah's fascination with Europe.

Everyday Psychology said...

Although the cosmological argument, specifically the Kalam cosmological argument- to which you are referring to indirectly- is that they are simply not satisfactory answers in an age where we are all of a sudden faced with discoveries in Quantum mechanics. These discoveries are demonstrated in books such as Lawrence Krauss' "Something from Nothing", Victor Stenger's "The God Hypothesis" and even in Jim Holt's "Why does the world exist". Quantum Mechanics has experimentally demonstrated the world indeed does have the ability to form out of nothing- or rather the cosmos do. Quantum Mechanics has also shown how the universe may have looked at the first moments of the big bang, with discoveries of the Higgs-boson-like particle, amongst others. Even if people like Dr. William Lane Craig can make the argument sound appealing, it does not override the fact that it simply does not explain accurately what science has observed, and as Yaman so generously put, it does not in any way imply that the "cause" is not natural, and is supernatural. It does not imply that the "cause" is not indifferent to human action and/or feelings it also doesn't not imply that the "cause" interacts with humans, or lastly, is of perfect moral stature. One must face these cosmological arguments honestly and most importantly, realistically. Great article, Avicenna was quite the incredible mind, even supposedly was part of the secretive Brethren of Purity group in 10th or 12th century.

The Average Joe said...

I think this is ultimately down to a chicken-or-the-egg question; which came first,the mind/will or the laws of physics?

From what we can percieve,if you look at how it is to make a computer or a program for it for instance(it is an extremely good way of learning how will,realities,universes work):

I want to make a game called "Snake"(I'm sure many of you have come across this game before) for my school project in programming.I open a blank project page,so it exists,because I wanted it to,so I made it.Then I said/wrote to it "int field[30][30];" meaning "A field of 30 times 30 spots big; start existing/become/be." and it is there.I do the same with the snake and the food,and they come into being.And I set laws and abilities as well as limitations to what it can and can't do; and it can't surpass them whatsoever unless I make sure it can.
Now bear in mind that I can change every single detail of the game,whenever and wherever,and I can stop and resume it as I like,and I can change and fix,and I see exactly what each and every thing does at any given time.This is what a will can do,and those things start existing just because I wanted them to,but only in the program - I can't will things to come into existance in our reality,but in the computer's reality only.

But look at us: we are limited,we have abilities and we're subject to this world around us.Something decided that trees won't be clouds - floating in the air,and clouds won't be trees - stuck to the ground; but none of us chose or defined that.
And both our coming into existance required somebody's will prior to our own(parents,grandparents,great grandparents etc.),and for us to make something we require a will of our own.But coupled with the fact that an infinite regress is not found in actuality,we can only go trace wills back in time so far until we come to the conclusion that there must be a will prior to all subsequent wills,and prior to all material and laws and whatever is defined in the world and beyond.

I'd like to cut it short,as I hope you understood my point,and conclude with these verses from the Qur'an:

Audhubillahi min ash-shaytaan ir-rajjiyim,bismillahi ir-rahman,ir-rahim.

[2:115]And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.

[2:116]They say, " Allah has taken a son." Exalted is He! Rather, to Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. All are devoutly obedient to Him,

[2:117]Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, "Be," and it is.

[21:30]Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?

Anonymous said...

That's not a proof. I have seen it described better elsewhere. Thanks for trying.

Maysaloon said...

Thanks Anonymous, though I doubt you've seen anything of value here. If you had you would have known that the proof is what Ibn Sina believed and not something I claim to have created or believe in. Thanks for stopping by anyway.

grateful to God said...


If one googles Proof of the Sincere and Legenhausen

then one will see a Word document that not only discusses this amazing proof but also adjustments to it by Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra.