Monday, November 05, 2007

More on Limits to the Divine Will

Open to dialogue...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Concerning yesterday's blog entry on God's will being bound by limits that are grounded in God's nature, I've done a bit more digging about online and found an interesting exchange at the Chiesa website between a Catholic scholar of Medieval philosophy and theology, Alessandro Martinetti, and a learned Muslim theologian Aref Ali Nayed: "The Church and Islam: A Sprig of Dialogue Has Sprouted in Regensburg" (Sandro Magister, Chiesa, October 30, 2006)

On this site, Sandro Magister posts material from both Martinetti and Nayed. Apparently, Nayed maintains a website of his own and had responded to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on Ibn Hazm's supposed 'voluntarism', namely, the view that Allah's will is supremely unlimited -- that He is free to contradict himself if He wishes. Nayed's initial response is not cited in full by Magister, but Martinetti quotes from it in his article:
"Unbridled will or Logos? The God of Islam and the Christian God," Alessandro Martinetti
In this article, Martinetti first quotes Nayed's own words:
Reason as a gift from God can never be above God. That is the whole point of Ibn Hazm; a point that was paraphrased in such a mutilated way by Benedict XVI's learned sources. Ibn Hazm, like the Asharite theologians with whom he often contended, did insist upon God's absolute freedom to act. However, Ibn Hazm did recognize, like most other Muslim theologians that God freely chooses, in His compassion towards His creatures, to self-consistently act reasonably so that we can use our reason to align ourselves with His guidance and directive.

Ibn Hazm, like most other Muslim theologians, did hold that God is not externally-bound by anything, including reason. However, at no point does Ibn Hazm claim that God does not freely self-commit Himself and honors such commitments Such divine free-self-committing is Qur'anically propounded 'kataba rabukum ala nafsihi al-Rahma' (Your Lord has committed Himself to compassion). Reason need not be above God, and externally normative to Him. It can be a grace of God that is normative because of God’s own free commitment to acting consistently with it.

A person who believes the last proposition need not be an irrational or un-reasonable human-being, with an irrational or whimsical God! The contrast between Christianity and Islam on this basis is not only unfair, but also quite questionable.

Granted that the Pontiff is striving to convince a secular university that theology has a place in that reason-based setting. However, this should not go so far as to make God subject to an externally-binding reason. Most major Christian theologians, even the reason-loving [Thomas] Aquinas never put reason above God.
Martinetti then observes:
In Nayed's view, then, saint Thomas "never put reason above God." But not placing reason above God is not the same thing as asserting, as Nayed does, that "God is not externally bound by anything, including reason," and that reason "can be a grace of God that is normative because of God's own free commitment to acting consistently with it."

Saint Thomas would never have subscribed to these assertions; on the contrary, he vigorously opposed them. And together with him, the Catholic magisterium does not agree with them, but disputes them. It thus rejects the depiction of a God who "freely chooses, in his compassion towards his creatures, to act reasonably in consistency with himself so that we can use our reason to align ourselves with His guidance and directives."

If asserting that reason is not normative for God, and that God is consistent with himself only out of a supremely free decision and is not externally bound to reason; if this is the same as asserting -- as it seems to me that Nayed does -- that God could exist and act in disdain of reason if only he wished to do so by an act of supreme and limitless freedom, then it is opportune to clarify that Thomas, and with him the Catholic magisterium, rejects this conviction, glimpsing in this an irrational voluntarism incompatible with right reason and with the Catholic faith, as the pope himself remarks in his "lectio" in Regensburg....
Martinetti's point would seem to be that in the Catholic view, reason is not something external to and higher than God that God must submit to, nor is reason merely a means of relating to humanity that God arbitrarily, and in an utterly unconstrained fashion, chooses to adopt.

Rather, God is rational because He is consistent with His own nature, which is a rational nature.

To Martinetti's point, Nayed responds in a follow-up article:
"Our God and Your God is One," by Aref Ali Nayed
In this, he insists that Aquinas and Ibn Hazm agree on God's unconstrained will:
Aquinas affirms, just as most Muslim theologians do, that God is omnipotent and that His Power and Will are utterly efficacious: "God is bound to nobody but Himself. Hence, when it is said that God can only do what He ought, nothing else is meant by this than that God can do nothing but what is befitting to Himself, and just".

"Although this order of things be restricted to what now exists, the divine power and wisdom are not thus restricted. Whence, although no other order would be suitable and good to the things which now are, yet God can do other things and impose upon them another order".
Nayed's citation of Aquinas here misses the point made by Martinetti. I think that when Nayed says that Islam maintains that 'Allah is bound to nothing but Himself' (if I may slightly paraphrase Nayed's citation of Aquinas), he means that Allah is bound by nothing but His own divine, unconstrained will. This is not what Aquinas means. When Aquinas says that 'God is bound to nothing but Himself' (again, my paraphrase), he means that God is bound by nothing but His own nature, which is rational.

Nayed has thus misunderstood Aquinas and thereby missed Martinetti's point.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you believe that miracles are from God then by that very fact do you not believe in the overwhelming of rational expectation by the Divine will?

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't think so, for miracles wouldn't violate the principle of noncontradiction, i.e., that a thing cannot both be and not be in the same sense at the same time and place.

Thus, while God could not make a thing both exist and not exist at the same time and place, God could, without contradiction, intervene in the natural order of things.

Whether God does so or not is another question.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that in your arguing I shall strap an explosive laden vest on, wade nearly nostril deep and go fishing. And achieve the miraculous.

Now I know that in the Ozarks - fishing with explosives is illegal. But by the Divine Will shall I not be expected to "catch"
many fish unto a rational net?

And shall it not be for their betterment? And I achieve my rational Reward?

Blending of course "rational" expectation and feeding the masses?

I merely ask. The two of you seem too aware of your positions.


At 2:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

As JK implies, "rational" means different strokes for different folks.

That's the real catch.

So if we want to know what Aquinas meant by "rational," we'd have to do more research. I'd prefer, however, that an expert inform us...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aquinas does not consider omnipotence as applying to things that are impossible in themselves such as a thing being true and not true at the same time:(P.N.C)
"So we conclude that God's power extends to anything possible in itself and not implying contradiction. Clearly then God is called omnipotent because he can do everything possible in itself." (Passage 26 on God's Power from Aquinas Selected Philosophical Writings ed. Timothy McDermott, pub.Oxford World Classics)

Now the question arises whether Nayed is saying that this very 'what is possible' is of the logical sort i.e. the P.N.C. or P.E.M. and that he has in effect ordained that they be the case or that the normal run and consistency of events i.e. nature, is the will of God. The latter is non-controversial and is implicit in Aquinas' reference to Ibn Rashd's view that the power of the moon supervenes to raise the tides when the natural tendency of water is to flow downwards. If the counter intuitive notion of God's power was held by Ibn Rushd then Aquinas would probably have mentioned it to show that he, Ibn Rashd, was contradicting their common master Aristotle.

Aquinas rejects the concept of omnivolence as applied to God. The reasoning is obscure to me but I think the gist of it is that omniscience and omnipotence cover everything that is possible and therefore omnivolence adds nothing. The will can determine only what is possible and God is already all possibility.

The Humean critique of the miraculous attempts to subvert it by turning it into a logical impossibility akin to the P.N.C.
"There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appelation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can any such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof which is superior." (Essays)

At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think that an important point to appreciate is how very Helenistic the common Muslim expression in terms of God's essence and emphasis on God's incomprehensibility seems to be (and, in fact, is).

Furthermore, there is nothing uniquely Muslim about philosophizing without reliance on there being a nature. It is possible to speak without reference to God's nature but in terms of God's word and/or God's will (along with other attributes/descriptions) and make basically identical points as those which would be made with reference to God's nature.

With the foregoing comments in mind, I think Nayed was trying to indicate -- at the very least -- that the extreme voluntarist interpretation of ibn Hazm is not necessary for a philosophy or a deen to be in accord with Islam or Islamic thought.


At 4:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael Reidy (two 'Michaels' now), thanks for the citations from Aquinas and Ibn Rushd (Averroes).

Averroes was -- if I recall -- not considered orthodox by other Muslims, so I'm betting that his conception of Allah was at odds with that of other Muslim scholars and that Ibn Hazm's views are the normative ones.

On Hume, I've never quite gotten the force of his critique of miracles, for it would also seem to entirely rule out following up an anomaly. If anything contradicts the patterns known to us, it can't be true? How would science develop?

But perhaps I've misunderstood Hume.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael Pearl, thanks for the comment.

If Nayed is indeed rejecting Ibn Hazm's view of an utterly voluntaristic Allah as foreign to Islam, then I think that he needs to state this more clearly and explicitly. He seems, however, too be doing something else, namely, arguing that the orthodox Christian conception of God is exactly the same as the Muslim conception of Allah.

But if that is so, then the Nominalists' purely voluntaristic concept of God would have to be the orthodox Christian one, and that possibility has already been denied by Pope Benedict XVI.

What Nayed needs to show, clearly and explicitly, is either that Allah cannot contravene the principle of noncontradiction or that the Christian God can do so at his willful pleasure.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:39 PM, Blogger JDsg said...

...and that Ibn Hazm's views are the normative ones.

No, in fact, it's the other way around. One of the things that irritated Muslims about the Pope's speech was that he was using the position of a very marginal scholar to represent Islam as a whole. As the open letter to the Pope, signed by 38 Muslim scholars, points out:

"In the Islamic spiritual, theological and philosophical tradition, the thinker you mention, Ibn Hazm (d. 1069 CE), is a worthy but very marginal figure, who belonged to the Zahiri school of jurisprudence which is followed by no one in the Islamic world today. If one is looking for classical formulations of the doctrine of transcendence, much more important to Muslims are figures such as al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE) and many others who are far more influential and more representative of Islamic belief than Ibn Hazm."

Which is why I was a little surprised by this post and the other, where you were relying fairly heavily on Ibn Hazm for your argument.

At 4:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JDSG, for the comment. I relied on Ibn Hazm because he was cited in the articles and because Aref Ali Nayed seems to have accepted Ibn Hazm's view on the 'nature' of Allah as correct.

Nayed doesn't dispute Ibn Hazm's views (not in what I've read), but argues instead that the Christian view of God is also just as voluntarist as the Muslim view of Allah.

On this point, I think that Nayed is wrong -- but he's right that one also finds these voluntarist strains in Christianity. That's the danger inherent in what the Pope referred to as 'dehellenization'.

I'll continue looking into this issue. You mention al-Ghazali. Is al-Ghazali's view actually less voluntarist than Ibn Hazm's? Or does he simply prefer not to express himself so radically as Ibn Hazm does?

Aside from the extreme manner in which Ibn Hazm expressed himself, are Muslim views on theology any less voluntarist?

Can you cite a specific statement by al-Ghazali to clarify this?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 4:38 PM, Blogger samy harmoush said...

Your post is just bad bad bad philosophy. Find me one legitimate scholar who will agree with your baseless assertion that "God is rational".

Really... who are you kidding buddy, don't quit your day job.

At 7:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

SMH, my post is primarily a report, not philosophy, but as for your comment, other than to vent your annoyance at my post, what is your point? That God is irrational, pure unconstrained will? Provide something substantive in your comment, and do so in respectful language.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home