Common Teleological Arguments

An argument from design, or a so-called teleological argument, is one which argues from manifestations of order or providence in the world to a God who produced them.16 The Qur'an constantly invites to this type of reasoning;for instance 2:164:

In the creation of the heavens and earth;in the alternation of night and day;in the ships that sail the seas with goods for people; in the water which God sends down from the sky to give life to the earth when it has been barren, scattering all kinds of creatures over it; in the changing of the winds and clouds that run their appointed courses between the sky and earth: there are signs in all these for those who use their minds.17

With a primarily qur'anic inspiration and endorsement, arguments from design have become extremely popular in general religious literature and among lay believers. They serve, not only as proofs for the existence of God as such, but often primarily as pointers to evidence for various attributes of the creator, to be contemplated pietis-tically by believers. The qur'an here merely provides the theologian with guidance on what kind of evidence and arguments to employ;

hence such qur'anically inspired arguments are not premised on the revealed nature of the text, which otherwise would entail circu-larity.18

Numerous works have been dedicated to the argument from design; yet we still have a very sketchy understanding of its history in Islam. One early book plausibly attributed to al-jahiz (d. 869), the Mu'tazilite theologian and litterateur, draws on pre-Islamic Greek sources,19 whereas another by his contemporary al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim (d. 860) has a primarily qur'anic inspiration.20 The list of exponents of the argument from design later comes to include some of the foremost philosophers and theologians in medieval Islam, including Abu Bakr al-Rizi (d. 925), Ibn Hazm (d. 1064), al-Ghazili, Averroes, and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.

In what follows, we will focus on discussions of this argument by Fakhr al-Diin al-Riazii. On this he writes:

Whoever contemplates the various parts of the higher and lower worlds will find that this world is constructed in the most advantageous and best manner, and the most superlative and perfect order (tartib). The mind unambiguously testifies that this state of affairs cannot be except by the governance (tadbir) of a wise and knowledgeable [being].21

Here and in other places, Rizi distinguishes between two types of evidence of design. First, he refers to signs of providence, that is, advantages (maniifi') provided to conscious beings, which indicate the existence of a God attributed with beneficence (ihsin), who is responsible for them. Second, he refers to signs of order, or masterly production (ihkim, itqan), in the world, which point to a God possessed of wisdom (hikma) and power. When explicated in detail, the latter signs of order or beauty observable to us in the created world are often referred to as ''marvels'' ('aji'ib), or ''wonders'' (badi'i').22

These signs may be gleaned, according to Rizi, by directing attention to different ''loci of discernment'' (sing. mahall al-i'tibar) in the cosmos. In the lower world, these are: (a) the human body, (b) the human psyche, (c) animals, (d) plants, (e) minerals, (f) meteorological phenomena, (g) the elements, and (h) ''marvels that occur because of the discernable expediencies among these things, and the manner in which each assists in preserving the species of the other''.23 In the higher world, they are: (i) the natures of the celestial spheres and the planets, (j) the magnitudes of each, (k) their complex motions and the way in which these motions influence the lower world in a manner advantageous to creatures, (l) the way in which daily, monthly and annual cycles are dependent on the motions of celestial bodies, (m) the manner in which things in this world depend on the sun's motion, and (n) marvels that can be observed in both fixed and moving stars.

The marvels in each of these fields are explicated in their respective disciplines; for example, those of the human body in anatomy, and those of plants in botany. Razi's Great Commentary on the Qur'an also abounds with such discussions. He furthermore dedicates his little-known work Secrets of Revelation (Asrar al-tanzil) to proofs for the existence of God from features in the observable world, including proofs from design and proofs from particularisation. Being qur'anically inspired, this book provides a different set of categories of loci for evidence: (a) the heavens, (b) the sun and the moon, (c) the stars, (d) man, (e) animals (the book is incomplete and ends here), (f) plants, (g) meteorological phenomena, (h) seas, and (i) mountains.24

Let us consider the following representative example.25 Although the human body is tremendously complex, Raazai reasons, it is generated from simple sperm. Let us first assume that the body emerges from sperm purely by virtue of its natural properties, as naturalists (tabi'iyyUn) claim. Now either sperm is homogeneous (according to Aristotelian biology), or it consists of components drawn from, and corresponding in their natures to, the various different organs of the human body (the so-called ''panso-matic'' view dominant among earlier physicians). However, if sperm is homogeneous, it should produce an equally simple effect, namely a homogenous spherical object. Naturalists, however, maintain that sperm is inhomogeneous and that each of its components, purely by virtue of its latent natural disposition, produces a specific organ in the human body. Raazai replies that, by the same foregoing analysis, each component would produce a simple effect - in which case a conglomerate of homogenous spherical objects would result - and that nothing among these components would determine the correct relative position of each organ in the body, guaranteeing, for instance, that the heart does not appear in the brain's position and vice versa. Therefore, sperm cannot develop into a fully fledged human body simply by the impulse of its natural properties. This development will require the agency of a wise (hakim) creator who is able to produce objects with such complex and perfect features. As nature, Raazai contends, lacks the wisdom to produce such sophisticated effects, the physicalist atheism of the naturalists will appear irrational.

He then quotes the philosopher-physician Abu Bakr al-Razi on the reasoning that underlies arguments from design. If one considers the design of a jug, he opines, which serves the function of containing water and pouring it controllably, one will have certainty that ''it did not acquire its composition by virtue of a nature that lacks consciousness and perception'';rather, one will ascribe this jug to a knowledgeable and powerful agent who knew that benefit is achievable only when the jug has this particular composition. Abu Bakr al-Razï then explicates the signs of divine power and wisdom discernible in the human body, before concluding: ''These marvels and wonders in this body's composition cannot be produced except by a powerful and wise [God], who created this composition with His power and fashioned it in a masterly manner with His wisdom.''26

In many arguments from design, it is difficult to separate evidence of providence from evidence of order. Since some theologians conceived man as the centre and telos of the universe, they tended to interpret the cosmic order in terms of provisions to man. Yet Fakhr al-Dïn al-Razï provides a different rationale behind the combination of these two trends in qur'anic arguments from design: he has the reader in mind. Most evidences (dala'il) provided in the Qur'an, he writes, are in one respect evidences, and in another respect blessings [ni'am]. Such subtle evidences are more efficacious in the heart, and more effective in the soul; for qua evidences they provide knowledge, whereas qua blessings they lead to surrender to the Benefactor, thankfulness to Him and submission to His majesty's might.27

The combination of these two respects provides a cognitive recognition of God's existence and attributes, especially knowledge, power and unity, as well as soteriological advantages to man - an analysis that accords perfectly with Razï's notion that the ''method [tarïqa] of the Qur'an'' is to combine demonstrative and rhetorical modes of discourse for maximal efficacy in humans.28 Arguments from design, moreover, draw much strength from being cumulative (muta'ïdida) and from involving faculties of sense and imagination alongside reason.29 For these reasons, Razï contends in his later works that arguments from design are superior to all other arguments for the existence of God, namely the classical arguments of kalïm and philosophy (below), which are subtle and address reason alone.30 By this, he explains the fact that although arguments from design are easy to devise and often lack formal rigour, they are normally the most powerful and widespread.

kalïm cosMoLogical arguments

The early mutakallimUn developed characteristic doctrines and methods of argument (some of which we will encounter below), which formed the speculative frameworks in which they expounded their proofs for the existence of God. Generally, arguments from design were either omitted or accorded secondary importance in kalLam works, since they proved only the existence of a ''designer'', but not the generation of matter and hence creation ex nihilo, and because they were often seen to lack methodological rigour. Instead, the kaltam argument par excellence became the argument from creation ex nihilo, or temporal generation (hudUth),31 and the closely related argument from particularisation -both cosmological arguments, since they prove the existence of God starting from the existence of other beings.

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