The problems of agnosticism.
Since God has no essence, at least not
one that the names (or attributes) of God really describe, the Islamic
view of God involves a form of agnosticism. Indeed, the heart of Islam
is not to know God but to obey him. It is not to meditate on his
essence but to submit to his will. As Pfander correctly observed of
Muslims, "If they think at all deeply, they find themselves
absolutely unable to know God.... Thus Islam leads to
Agnosticism" (Pfander, 187).
Islamic agnosticism arises because
Muslims believe God caused the world by extrinsic causality. Indeed,
"the Divine will is an ultimate, beyond which neither reason nor
revelation go. In the Unity of the single Will, however, these
descriptions co-exist with those that relate to mercy, compassion, and
glory" (Cragg, 42-43). God is named from his effects, but he is
not to be identified with any of them. The relation between the
Ultimate Cause (God) and his creatures is extrinsic, not intrinsic.
That is, God is called good because he causes good, but not because
goodness is part of his essence.
Among the significant weaknesses
inherent in this agnosticism, a moral, a philosophical, and a
religious problem stand out immediately.
First, if God is not essentially good,
but only called good because he does good, why not also call God evil,
since he causes evil? Why not call him sinful and faithless, since he
causes people not to believe? It would seem consistent to do so, since
God is, named from his actions. If Muslims reply that something in God
is the basis for calling him good, but nothing in him is the basis for
calling him evil, then they admit that Godís names do tell us
something about his essence. In fact, they admit an intrinsic relation
between the cause (Creator) and the effect (creation). This leads to a
metaphysical problem with the Islamic view of God.
Second, at the root of medieval views
of God, an entrenched neo-Platonism springs from Plotinus. Plotinusí
belief that the Ultimate [God] was absolutely an indivisible One
heavily influenced Muslim monotheism. Further, Plotinus held that the
One is so utterly transcendent (above and beyond all) that it cannot
be known, except by mystical experience. This influenced both orthodox
Muslim agnosticism and Sufi mysticism. The fundamental reason there
can be no similarity between the One [God] and what flows from It (the
universe) is because God is beyond being, and there is no similarity
between being and what is beyond it.
Thomas Aquinas provided the definitive
answer to plotinian agnosticism and mysticism. Aquinas argued that an
effect must resemble its cause. "You cannot give what you have
not got." Hence, if God causes goodness, he must be good. If he
caused being, he must be (Geisler, Thomas Aquinas, chap. 9).
Objections to this view generally
confuse either a material or instrumental cause with an efficient
cause. The efficient cause of something is that by which it comes to
be. The instrumental cause is that through which it comes to be. And
the material cause it that out of which it is made. Material and
instrumental causes do not necessarily resemble their effects, but
efficient causes do. The painting does not resemble the artistís
paint brush, but it does resemble the artistís mind. The brush is
the instrumental cause, whereas the artist is the efficient cause.
Another mistake is to confuse material
and efficient causality. Hot water is soft, yet it can cause an egg to
get hard, because of properties in the egg. The same hot water softens
wax. The difference is the material receiving the causality. Thus an
infinite God can and does cause a finite world. God is not thereby
finite because he caused a finite cosmos. Nor is he contingent because
he, as a Necessary Being, caused a contingent universe. Finiteness and
contingency are part of the very material nature of a created being.
God is unlike creation in these kinds of ways. On the other hand,
everything that exists has being, and God is Being. There must be a
similarity between Being and being. God is pure actuality, with no
potentiality whatsoever. Everything else that exists has the potential
not to exist. So all created things have actuality; since they
actually exist, and potentiality; since they could possibly not exist.
God is like creatures in their actuality but unlike them in their
potentiality; This is why when we name God from his effects we must
negate whatever implies finitude and limitation or imperfection, and
attribute to him only the pure attribute or perfection. This is the
reason that evil cannot be attributed to God but good can. Evil
implies imperfection or privation of some good characteristic. Good,
on the other hand, does not in itself imply either limitation or
imperfection. So God is good by his very nature but he cannot be or do
Third, religious experience within a
monotheistic context involves the relation between two persons, the
worshiper and God. It is, as Martin
Buber correctly observed, an
"I-Thou" relationship. But how can a person worship someone
about which he can know nothing? Even in Islam, one is supposed to
love God. But how do we fall in love with someone of which we know
nothing? As atheist Ludwig Feuerbach put it, "The truly religious
man canít worship a purely negative being.... Only when a man loses
his taste for religion does the existence of God become one without
qualities, an unknowable God" (Feuerbach, 15).
Some critics have suggested that the
extremely transcendent Muslim view of God has led some Muslim sects to
deify Muhammad. Since relationship with the transcendent God is seen
to be distant, it is only through Muhammad that one even dares to
approach the throne of God. In Qawwalis (a popular cultural
event), Muhammad is praised in verse. This often takes the form of
deification: "If Muhammad had not been, God himself would
not have existed!" This is an allusion to the close relationship
Muhammad is supposed to have with God. Muhammad is often given titles
like "Savior of the World" and "Lord of the
Universe." The popular deification of Muhammad, who so violently
opposed any such idolatry; only shows the theological bankruptcy of
the Muslim view of a God so distant and so unknowable that the devotee
must make contact with something they can understand, even to the
extent of deifying the prophet who condemned idolatry.
(To be continued)