Groundwork on Islamic Philosophy
The cosmological argument was first introduced by Aristotle and later refined in western Europe by the celebrated Christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas (d.1274 CE).
In the Islamic tradition, it was adopted by Al-Kindi, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). The argument has several forms, the basic first-cause argument runs as follows.
Every event must have a cause, and each cause must in turn have its own cause, and so forth. Hence, there must either be an infinite regress of causes or there must be a starting point or first cause. Aquinas and Al-Kindi reject the notion of an infinite regress and insist that there must be a first cause, and the first cause must be God, the only uncaused being.
Another form of this argument is based on the concept of a prime-mover. This is the Aristotelian form of the argument also propounded by Averroes. The premise being that, every motion must be caused by another motion, and the earlier motion must in turn be a result of another motion and so on. The conclusion thus follows that there must be an initial prime-mover, a mover that could cause motion without any other mover.
Two kinds of Islamic perspectives maybe considered with regard to the
cosmological argument. An positive Aristotelian response strongly
supporting the argument and a negative response which is quite critical of it.
Among the Aristotelian thinkers are Al-Kindi, and Averroes. Al-Ghazzali
and Iqbal maybe seen as being in opposition to this sort of an argument.
There are difficulties with this kind of an account of the universe. It seems to lead to the conclusion that all truths are necessary. That is, if everything exists because the reasons for its existence supercede the reasons for it non-existence, then it will necessarily exist. Everything and anything with a sufficient reason to exist will exist.
Therefore, the universe and everything in it, must necessarily exist. Since, the superiority of its potential existence over its non-existence provides the required determining principle (of Kindi) or sufficient reason (of Liebniz), for it to exist. It appears now that the bringing into being of the universe is not contingent upon the will of God, rather it is something that is as necessary as the existence of God Himself. This seems implausible. In response Liebniz argues that its existence is only theoretically necessary and God may or may not implement it. However, if God is all good, He would clearly be obliged to bring into being the best possible world. (Sosa 515).
A second argument of his draws its inspiration from Islamic and Aristotelian
sciences. He argues that only God is indivisible, and everything other
than God is in some way composite or multiple. Kindi describes his
concept of God,
This for Kindi was a crucial distinction upon which he rested some of his main arguments for God’s existence. In Kindi’s theory only God’s oneness is necessary whereas that of all others is contingent upon God. Hence all other beings single or multiple must emanate from the ultimate essential being. In addition this first being must be uncaused, since it is the cause of everything else. (Fakhry 78)
The material world cannot exist ad infinitum because of the impossibility of an actual infinite (a concept borrowed from Aristotle). The material world can also not be eo ipso eternal, because of the impossibility of an infinite duration of time, since the existence of time is contingent upon the existence of bodies and motion, which have been shown to be finite. As such the world requires a creator, or rather a generator (mudhith) in Kindi’s scheme, who could generate the world ex nihilo. (Fakhry 74-79)
The other arguments he presents are similar versions of the first cause
argument, and hence are subject to the same criticisms that apply to any
cosmological argument. These criticisms come not only from western
scholars but also Islamic ones. Ghazzali is unconvinced by the
first-cause arguments of Kindi. In response to them he writes,
Ghazzali thought that it is at least theoretically possible for there to be an infinite regress, and that there is nothing that necessitates a first-cause simply by pure deductive reason. He thus undermines one of the essential premises of the first-cause argument.
Muhammad Iqbal also rejects the argument stating, “Logically speaking,
then, the movement from the finite to the infinite as embodied in the
cosmological argument is quite illegitimate; and the argument fails in toto.”
For Iqbal the concept of the first uncaused cause is absurd, he continues:
It is for these reasons that modern philosophers almost unanimously reject the cosmological argument as a legitimate proof for the existence of God. Kant for example also rejects any cosmological proof on the grounds that it is nothing more than an ontological proof in disguise. He argued that any necessary object’s essence must involve existence, hence reason alone can define such a being, and the argument becomes quite similar to the ontological one in form, devoid of any empirical premises.
Al-Kindi’s argument has been taken up by some contemporary western
philosophers and dubbed the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Kalam being the
Islamic science of dialectical reasoning. Among its chief proponents
today is Dr. William Craig. (Ramey). It proposes
to show, contrary to what Ghazzali thought, that the universe must have
necessarily had a beginning. A contrast is drawn between two
concepts, the “potential infinite” and an “actual infinite.”
A potential infinite is a concept of an infinite series, to which more things
can be added. For example, there maybe and infinite number of
integers, however in any one set there will be a finite number of them.
An “actual infinite” would be a set which would contain all possible
integers. This would be impossible, since there are an
infinite number of integers. Once a set is defined, another integer
can always be found to add to it. They can never actually
exist. Ramey qoutes a famous mathematician David Hilbert:
This forms an essential part of the argument, it demonstrates that an
infinite regress could not exist, and that the universe can not possibly be
actually infinite, in and of itself. The argument goes
on to show that if the universe could not be actually infinite or eternal, given
the principle of causality, it must have a first-cause or creator, which is God.
Thus a move is made from an infinite regress of events to an infinite regress of explanations. That is, if events can be explained with reference to other events there must be an ultimate reality of self-explanatory events behind this complex that would make the collective set comprehendible. Hence, no longer is a creator being sought, rather given the creation an ultimate reality is being sought which would explain, or make sense of, the complex and plethora of phenomena in the world. Even here, the non-theistic skeptic will ask what reason do we have to think that the universe is not simply an “unintelligible brute fact”? (Hick 21).