Groundwork on Islamic Philosophy
Problem of Evil
One of the major arguments proposed against the existence of God in contemporary western philosophy is the problem of evil. It is based upon the inability to reconcile the magnitude of evil in the world with the all-loving nature of God. John Hick describes the problem from the perspective of its proponent, “If God is perfectly loving, God must wish to abolish all evil; and if God is all-powerful, God must be able to abolish all evil. But evil exists; therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly loving.” This thus causes difficulty for the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God who possess both qualities of being all-loving and omnipotent. David Hume is a proponent of this view and argues that the sheer amount of evil, which may outweigh the good, in the world makes dubious that a deity exists. (Pojman 167).
The main response to this kind of an argument is known as the free-will defense. It is based on the premise that for God to create self-directly and independent agents like humans, he had to grant a certain amount of freedom to them, and this freedom would inevitably result in human-to-human evil. It has been proposed that there need not be a contradiction between God creating morally free agents and making it the case that all their actions turn out to be good. But it can be argued that in that case, are the beings really as free as humans? If all our actions were predestined in this way, there would be a sense in which we would not be free and only an allusion be created thereof. Although God could have created beings of this sort, they would have amounted to mere puppets and not vibrant beings as envisioned by God. (Hick 39-41)
THE FREE WILL DEFENSE
The primary difficulty with the problem of evil is resolving the
apparent conflict between the reality of evil in the world and the claim that
One version of the free will defense is to compare the current state of the world with a world in which all actions were good and no evil was possible. It is important here to point out that the good that is being referred to is ‘moral good.’ That is, it is good that is a result of the conscious actions of people. This is distinct from ‘natural good’ or ‘natural evil’ which maybe result from non-human causes. The free will defense (FWD) theorist points out that in order for man to be in a position to do ‘moral good’ he must be ‘significantly free.’ That is, he must be in a position to make a choice between making a morally good or evil action. Given that in the current world (World-1) human agents are given this freedom, a certain level of moral evil is unavoidable. This world would still be more preferable to a possible World-2 in which there were no free actions (thus no freedom) but all actions performed were entirely good.
A critic of this defense will point out that if God is all-powerful (omnipotent) then it ought to be in His capacity to create a World-3 in which humans had freedom, yet all their actions turned out to be good. Thus their actions would be predetermined to be good, yet they would still have the free option of choosing between morally good or bad actions. The agent would have the freedom to chose any action they like, it would just be that whatever choice they made it would turn out to be good. This would entirely be within God’s power since He is omnipotent and is only limited by logical impossibilities.
The challenge for the FWD theorist is to show that Freedom and Causal Determinism are both mutually inconsistent. It can’t both be the case that humans are free agents, and that their actions are causally predetermined. (Pojman 203)
The crucial question is, can God can create any world?, Alvin Plantinga attempts to answer this question. First, he points out that Leibniz was mistaken in thinking that God would have to, and thus did, create the best possible world. Plantinga argues that there can be no such thing as the best possible world, since to any world one more unit of pleasure or goodness can be added to make it even better. Thus it seems implausible to think of the best possible world as existing. This then is one instance when God cannot create any world. Secondly, he argues that God cannot create a world in which Man is both significantly free, yet his actions are already determined. His proof on this premise has to do with a thought experiment. We can imagine a case in the present world in which we know given certain conditions person A would hypothetically engage in a morally evil action. It would no be impossible for God to create a world that were almost identical the present world, except that the person would then not engage in the evil. Since, to do so would deny him the freedom of individuality and his personality. That is, for God to ensure that he not engage in the evil would deny his freedom. The only other solution is for God to not create the world at all. He argues that for any world God could create, which included freedom, there is at least one action on which Man would go wrong, or else he could not create any world at all. This phenomenon he calls transworld depravity. Therefore, for God to create a world in which humans had moral freedom, the existence of both Good and Evil is necessary. (Platinga 211).
ISLAMIC REACTION TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Islamic philosophers of the middle ages did not address this problem in any direct fashion. This maybe because in the context of Muslim thought, the existence of God was a prerequisite. In fact, the aim of the philosophers was to prove the existence of God using Aristotelian logic. So we do not find Muslim philosophers arguing against the existence of God, on the contrary they are attempting to justify the qualities of God from a philosophical perspective.
The Muslim philosophers did, however, tackle a different but somewhat similar issue concerning the unity of God. The central problem facing them was how to reconcile the absolute unity and perfection of God with the fact that there exists in the world such great amounts of imperfections. If God is all perfect and the world is a result of divine will, we are then faced with the problem of duality between God and His will. Yet it is this very difference (i.e. the imperfection of the world) that sets it apart from God (who is perfect). How is this consistent with the absolute unity (tawhid) of God which is so central to Islamic doctrine? This issue had been one of the major issues of Muslim thought, and was a subject of great debate between Al-Ghazzali, and other neo-platonic Muslim thinkers. (Landau 17)
It is, however, difficult to find any direct analogue to the problem of evil in medieval Islamic philosophy. However, some positions held by early Muslim thinkers maybe relevant to the free will defense. Early Muslim Aristotelian thinkers like Ibn Sina held that God is a necessary being, who had no other attributes besides His existence, and that all other beings emanated from the divine by necessity. Despite holding this position, they attempted to reconcile it with Islamic doctrines. Ghazzali points out that this is not possible. That is, to say that whatever proceeds from God does so by necessity denies God agency, i.e. it denies Him Free Will. If God has no will, since he has no attributes, then God has no free choice to decide which world to create. It seems that Ghazzali’s criticism can be equally applied to advocate of the problem of evil who states that God by necessity must always in a way that will ensure that its consequences are wholly good. This would then break down the dilemma posed by trying to reconcile the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, wholly goodness versus the reality of evil in the world. Since, now God would not be obliged to abide by the condition of wholly goodness. (Ghazzali 63)
Another stream of thought in Islam, advocated by Ghazzali, Ibn Arabi, Al-Attas and Islamic mystical traditions, is to argue that the only true way to grasp the ultimate reality, and thus resolve this problem is through a “direct awareness of Reality,” unencumbered by intellectual interference (Laudau 20). This aspect will be discussed at length in the Arguments from Religious Experience section.
The lack of intense debate on the problem of evil maybe because the problem
was not formulated at the time, or that Muslim thinkers were preoccupied by
other issues. In modern times, the 20th century Islamic
philosopher Muhammad Iqbal does attempt to address this problem.
Iqbal could here be subject to criticism, since he has ignored the victims of evil. What about those people who suffered so the rest of mankind could build itself? Iqbal’s answer here would be consistent with his philosophy of self. Like Nietzche, Iqbal believed that ultimately the self, the individual is the only thing of utmost importance. That is we have no concrete knowledge of the external world and factors therein. What we can be sure of is only ourselves, hence, we must view happenings to beings other than ourselves only in the capacity in which they help to build ourselves. The fact that the suffering of an innocent victim serves to bolster our personality is sufficient. The independent suffering of the external individual cannot be verified.
Nietzche has criticized Christian theology for placing mankind in a state of guilt for the original sin, Iqbal had pointed out that this concept of original sin is absent in Islam, and that the Quran encouraged a positive self image of the self or man. Many modern Christian theologians also adopt this view.