Tell me what you make of this interview with Robert Reilly at Frontpage. Reilly has written what sounds like a fascinating book called The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. I haven't read it, so can't properly evaluate the argument he advances, but I thought this part of the interview was intriguing and puzzling:
The answer ... completely hinges on God’s relationship to reason in Sunni Islam. Is God reason, or logos, as the Greeks would say? If God himself is reason, then it is hard to close the mind because one would then be closing oneself to God. This, in fact, was the view of the first fully-developed theological school in Islam, the Mu‘tazilites. The Mu‘tazalites asserted the primacy of reason, and that one’s first duty is to engage in reason and, through it, to come to know God. They held that reason is a gift from God given to come to know Him through the order of his creation. All men have this gift, not only Muslims. Therefore, they were disposed to accept Greek philosophy and the moral truths it contained.
However, the school of theology that arose to oppose the Mu’tazilites, the Ash‘arites, held the opposite. Unfortunately, by the end of the ninth century, they prevailed and became the formative influence in Sunni Islam. For the Ash‘arites, God is not reason, but pure will and absolute power. He is not bound by anything, including his own word. Since God is pure will, He has no reasons for his acts. Thus what He does cannot be understood by man. One of the things that God does is create the world, which also cannot be understood.
To protect their notion of God’s omnipotence, the Ash‘arites denied cause and effect in the natural world. For God to be omnipotent, nothing else can be so much as potent. Therefore, fire does not burn cotton; God does. Gravity does not make the rock fall; God does. God is the direct cause of everything and there are no secondary causes. To say otherwise is blasphemy – comparing something to the incomparable God. Everything therefore becomes the equivalent of a miracle. By their very nature, miracles cannot be understood. Without causality in the natural order, anything can come of anything, and nothing necessarily follows. The world becomes incomprehensible because it is without a continuing narrative of cause and effect.
It's a rich idea, obviously, but it struck me as I was reading it: This idea entered European thought and philosophy, too--via al Ghazali--and can be traced clearly through Hume and well beyond. Skepticism about causation is hardly alien to the European philosophical tradition.
So why would the Ash'arites' view have proven so limiting to scientific enquiry, whereas the same views had nothing like this influence in Europe? I should read the book, of course, before drawing conclusions, but I wonder how complete or satisfying this answer could ultimately be.
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