L’emergenza del coronavirus da un Paese individualista (la Svezia)

Lo sappiamo. Siamo conosciuti per la nostra teatralità, per il sentimentalismo e l’esagerazione.
Ci conoscono e ci conosciamo. Ma è pur vero che ne abbiamo vissute di tragedie.

Al contrario, il Paese dalla quale scrivo (la Svezia) ha combattuto la sua ultima guerra duecento anni fa. Non ha mai avuto una rivoluzione, non conosce terremoti, ed è sempre rimasto periferico persino durante la seconda guerra mondiale. Sarà per questo che, all’opposto, gli svedesi temono i conflitti, tendono a parlare a voce bassa e a minimizzare ogni accadimento. Ed è proprio quest’ultimo punto che è importante per capire come l’emergenza coronavirus, che anche questa volta ha apparentemente solo ”sfiorato” la Svezia, venga gestita.

Scrivo “apparentemente” perché se é vero che il numero ufficiale dei contagiati é fermo a 1500 (e quello dei morti a 10), la ”strategia” che sta adottando la Svezia (così come l’Inghilterra) é davvero unica: alcune settimane fa, quando il virus scoppiava in Italia, si negava qualsiasi rischio di contagio per la Svezia. Una settimana dopo é stato raccomandato di chiamare il 1177 (il 118 svedese) nel caso si avvertissero sintomi per chiedere di essere esaminati.
Dato l’improvviso sovraccarico di chiamate il numero ha smesso, secondo molti, di funzionare come dovrebbe e si è cominciato a negare i test alla maggior parte di coloro che lo chiedessero.
Oggi, probabilmente per evitare un ulteriore ”inutile” sovraccarico, il governo ha deciso di interrompere la conta dei malati: un messaggio chiaro a tutta la popolazione: smettete di telefonare e curatevi da soli nel caso in cui abbiate sintomi (poco importa se si tratta di banale influenza, raffreddore o della peste del momento!).
La giustificazione ufficiale è che non c’è bisogno di ottenere una diagnosi precisa, nella misura in cui coloro che presentano sintomi quali tosse o febbre si attengono, responsabilmente, all’indicazione di rimanere a casa (che sia coronavirus oppure no sembra essere irrilevante).
Con questa misura il governo sta equiparando il coronavirus a una normale influenza. Ma ciò che è più grave è che la giustificazione nasconde un’amara verità: il sistema sanitario svedese ha capacità e risorse che non sono in grado di far fronte all’emergenza (solo un centinaio di posti in terapia intensiva, ad esempio). E a dispetto di ciò, l’epidemiologo Anders (incaricato dal governo di gestire l’emergenza), si concede il lusso di dichiarare che il ”il sistema sanitario svedese avrebbe prerogative decisamente migliori rispetto a quelle dell’Italia nel gestire la diffusione del contagio del coronavirus”.

Un altro aspetto riguarda quello della chiusura di scuole e università. Mentre ieri e l’altro ieri Danimarca e Norvegia (che hanno avuto un numero minore di casi rispetto alla Svezia) hanno deciso per la chiusura preventiva, il governo svedese continua a minimizzare. L’unica vera misura per la prevenzione della diffusione è stato il divieto di eventi che comportino più di 500 persone. A parte quest’eccezione, la vita sociale procede inalterata. In questo modo, come già scritto, si sta considerando la minaccia coronavirus alla stregua di una normale influenza stagionale. Per quale ragione la Svezia si sta comportando in questo modo?
Di sicuro il fattore ”culturale” sopra-citato di minimizzare pur di non creare panico così come di temere i cambiamenti repentini e di non rinunciare a certe comodità gioca un ruolo, ma non può considerarsi una ragione sufficiente. Leggiamo allora alla giustificazione ufficiale sulla mancata chiusura delle scuole. Le giustificazioni fornite dal governo sono in realtà due.

La prima é di carattere pratico-economico: ”[Chiudere le scuole] sarebbe una misura inefficace e implicherebbe uno stress eccessivo per settori importanti della macchina sociale, i genitori che lavorano nella sanità ad esempio dovrebbero rimanere a casa con i loro figli. E il sistema sanitario non può permettersi che una parte dei lavoratori siano a casa per accudire i loro figli.”

La seconda è di carattere psicologico (ma concedetemi di aggiungere ”biopolitico”): ”La scuola è per molti bambini, specialmente in momenti come questo, molto importante. Rappresenta un punto fermo e sicuro della quotidianità.”.

La prima giustificazione appare incomprensibile se si accetta la premessa, condivisa dal governo stesso, che non ci sarà un aumento esponenziale dei casi (e quindi nessuna particolare pressione sul sistema sanitario). Se, al contrario, il governo si preoccupa di carenza di personale nell’eventualità in cui questo dovesse accudire i propri figli, vuol dire che sa che ci sarà una crescita esponenziale dei contagiati e una imminente pressione sul sistema sanitario (in questo caso la strategia della minimizzazione è attuata coscientemente). Al tempo stesso, sta ammettendo che non ci sono risorse economiche per garantire la salute dei bambini (attraverso una sensata misura di prevenzione come la chiusura delle scuole) e, al contempo, il funzionamento degli ospedali. Bisogna scegliere l’uno o l’altro perché le risorse mancano. A questo punto bisognerebbe chiedersi perché mancano. E questa è la domanda più importante in un tempo in cui un sistema, quello capitalistico, che già normalmente dà prova della sua inadeguatezza nel garantire una vita decente a tutti, è messo alle strette ed è costretto così a palesare in maniera ancora più evidente le sue contraddizioni intrinseche.

Se questo primo aspetto, più strettamente economico, rimane quello più ovvio attorno alla quale sviluppare una critica politica, anche la giustificazione dal sapore bio-politico del ruolo della scuola dovrebbe essere considerata oggetto d’analisi in vista di una qualsiasi critica politica. Il mio obiettivo qui non è, comunque, rammentare del ruolo della scuola nel sistema capitalistico. Tuttavia, mi limiterò a dire che la seconda giustificazione deve essere letta in relazione alla prima: in Svezia, dove (a differenza dell’Italia) praticamente tutti i genitori lavorano e la disoccupazione è bassa, l’affermazione secondo cui la scuola risulta ”schiacciata” sui bisogni della vita economica risulta ancora più vera. Se è senz’altro vero che, in diversi gradi, in tutti i Paesi capitalistici la scuola è un’agenzia di addisciplinamento in preparazione della futura vita alla mercé del mercato, questo risulta particolarmente vero in Paesi, come la Svezia, in cui l’ideologia borghese del pragmatismo impregna profondamente ogni angolo della società e non ha ”contraltari” (in Paesi come l’Italia o la Germania questi ”contraltari” sono rappresentati in parte da ciò che rimane del movimento operaio e della sinistra, in parte da quella fetta di bagaglio artistico e culturale che non si lascia imprigionare dalle logiche di consumo o da schemi volti a misurare quantità e produttività).

Paradossalmente, in un Paese come la Svezia, a dispetto delle numerose mistificazioni che il Paese sa vendere di sé, il legame tra scuola ed economia è ancora più stretto, per questo non solo non è possibile ”chiudere” l’economia (misura che nemmeno in Italia è stata possibile se pensa alle fabbriche lasciate aperte), ma non è nemmeno possibile chiudere le scuole.
Mercato, vita sociale e sistema educativo, infatti, rappresentano tre tasselli di un sistema socio-politico dalle maglie particolarmente strette, in cui tutto deve essere previsto, pianificato e razionalizzato e dove anche un cambiamento temporaneo (la richiesta di una quarantena collettiva come accade in Italia) sarebbe vissuto come un inaccettabile turbamento per il capitalismo.

Post-scriptum. Una nota aggiuntiva sulla biopolitica svedese. Foucault negli anni 70 definì la Svezia come “l’unico Paese in cui l’essere umano é superfluo” (Fonte). Agamben, in un recente, e molto criticato, articolo sostiene in sostanza che la quarantena italiana é una scusa per aumentare il controllo sociale. Che la pericolosità del virus effettivamente renda necessaria la misura della quarantena nazioanle oppure no, ciò che c’è di vero nella posizione di Agamben é che, giustificata o no, la quarantena verrà usata primariamente come strumento di controllo sociale. Alla luce di quanto vissuto in prima persona e di ciò che Foucault ha affermato sulla Svezia, mi sento di dire che, se Agamben ha ragione, la quarantena in Svezia non si dà, non solo perché l’economia é piu importante della salute e la libertà individuale piu del benessere collettivo, ma anche perché i politicanti non avrebbero nemmeno il movente del controllo sociale per indirla. In Svezia tutti sono già domati (basta vedere il modo in cui ad ogni livello della società si difende acriticamente qualsiasi scelta del governo, sui social, sui giornali, etc…). Controllo sociale e consenso sono già a livelli “nordcoreani” (a differenza del Paese di Kim, però, qui le case non sono gratis), nessun dispositivo di addisciplinamento é piu necessario, specie se, come una quarantena, comporterebbe il rischio di danneggiare l’economia.

Matteo Iammarrone.

Alle ragazze e ai ragazzi delle scuole ai tempi del Coronavirus

Apprendo di un Bel Paese trasformatosi in uno scenario quasi pre-apocalittico. Poi mi convinco che forse sono i media italiani ad esagerare, perché quando leggo le stesse notizie su quelli svedesi, le cose appaiono meno drammatiche. In Italia (e in altri Paesi mediterranei probabilmente) si tende ad esagerare un po’ tutto. Lo sappiamo. Siamo conosciuti per la nostra teatralità, per il sentimentalismo e l’esagerazione. Siamo conosciuti e ci conosciamo. Del resto si potrebbe dire che questa tendenza nazionale e interclassista all’esagerazione trovi giustificazione nella turbulenta storia dell’Italia: invasioni, guerre, conflitti, ma anche epidemie (la Spagnola) e catastrofi naturali (perlopiù terremoti).
Al contrario, il Paese dalla quale scrivo (la Svezia) ha combattuto la sua ultima guerra duecento anni fa. Non ha mai avuto una rivoluzione, non conosce terremoti, ed è sempre rimasto periferico persino durante la seconda guerra mondiale. Sarà per questo che, all’opposto, gli svedesi temono i conflitti, tendono a parlare a voce bassa e a minimizzare ogni accadimento.

Ma oggi non é di Storia né di Antropologia che voglio parlare, ma voglio piuttosto lanciare un appello ai ragazze e alle ragazze delle scuole italiane nelle zone di quaratena: pensate al potenziale “rivoluzionario” di questo virus: la riconquista del tempo (rubato). Significa: il virus vi sta regalando la libertà dalle coercizioni scolastiche. Per sfruttare al meglio questo tempo che vi indurranno a definire “morto” immertegevi in libri che, posso assicurarvi e giurarvi su tutto ciò che credo, ricorderete come i vostri più bei momenti negli anni a venire, alla stregua dei primi baci, del primo viaggio da soli, della prima avventura fuori dal confine del cortile di casa. Per sfruttare al meglio questo tempo, esplorate una biblioteca (se non siete in una zona rossa) oppure, meglio, se avete dei libri in casa (e spero davvero che abbiate questa fortuna che non tutti hanno), leggete quelli, ma senza imposizioni esterne relative a quali e al tempo di lettura. Scoprite un autore (potrebbe farvi sorridere e riflettere La Peste di Albert Camus di questi tempi), una materia o un tema che magari a scuola non si ha tempo o desiderio o necessità di scoprire. Parallelamente, potreste scrivere un diario, ma non online, sulla carta. Le pagine di carta sanno infatti essere un terreno più fertile di una bacheca di Facebook o di uno stimolo esclusivamente visuale di Instagram. Le pagine di carta sono terreno fertile per pensieri simili a questo che leggete (e che ho infatti scritto a penna prima di riportarlo sul laptop). Su quel diario sarete liberi, perché nessuno potrà imporvi cosa scrivere e cosa non. E sarete protagonisti di una storia in cui un ragazzo o una ragazza del 2020 si é reso/a speciale trovando la forza e il coraggio di non sprecare il proprio tempo sul proprio telefono o sui social. Social e telefoni, infatti, sono perlopiù progettati da chi é interessato solo al denaro dei vostri genitori e alla vostra dipendenza mentale, piuttosto che alla vostra crescita (cioé in-dipendenza) come ragazzi, ragazze e esseri umani.

Matteo Iammarrone.

Why did both the Muslim Al-Ghazali and the Christian Augustine defend the ex-nihilo Creation and condemn the (neo) Aristotelian view of the eternity of the world?

  1. Introduction

The view that God created the world out of nothing (creatio ex-nihilo in latin, huduth in Islamic tradition) is famously embraced by both the Christian fourth century’s thinker Augustine and the Muslim twelfth century’s theologian Al-Ghazali. In spite of their opposition to the idea that the world is eternal, Al-Ghazali and Augustine’s idea of the Creation out of nothing raises some issues, both in relation to the consequences of such a position and to the theological (or other) reasons that might have led both Al-Ghazali and Augustine to adopt the ex-nihilo argument and have caused the former to oppose Avicenna’s philosophy. One example of the problems that the ex-nihilo Creation might raise is the following: if God is eternal and everything else is temporal how does the act of creating bridge that chasm? (I) In regards to the second type of issues, it might be asked, for instance, whether the two authors actually had Scriptural evidence in favour of the ex-nihilo Creation and, if not, whether they defended this position anyway because they firmly believed in his validity or rather because they were worried that the causal power and will of God (or some of the divine attributes) would have been undermined if they had embraced the view that the world is eternal (II). In this paper I will focus on this second question (II).

I will start by reconstructing the debate on the eternity of the world and Creation between Al-Ghazali and Avicenna (2). Then I will very briefly illustrate Avicenna’s emanation theory (3) and I will reconsider Al-Ghazali’s and Avicenna’s views on the light of the problem of Qur’anic evidence (4). Finally, in the last paragraph I will shortly introduce Augustine’s argument in favour of ex-nihilo Creation (as presented in Confessiones XI) and I will try to draw a conclusion about the reasons as to why did both Augustine and Al-Ghazali ardently defend the ex-nihilo Creation. Furthermore, I will try to answer the question whether they were justified by, respectively, Biblical and Qur’anic evidence. For lack of space here I can only provide, to the main question (II), a limited answer that would clearly necessitate further inquiry.

  1. Al-Ghazali’s Incoherence of the Philosophers

Al-Ghazali’s Tahafut al-falasifa (The incoherence of the philosophers for English-speaking scholars) has usually been considered a turning point in the history of Islamic thought. It has been accused for years of putting an end to the philosophical debate in the Islamic world. To Goldziher, for instance, by the time of Al-Ghazali’s condemnation the practise of philosophy in the heartlands of Islam had already weakened, but his Incoherence represented nonetheless “the coupe de grace to an already ailing traditions”[1]. Vice versa, according to Marmura and Griffel the Incoherence played a positive role in bringing “to the fore the conflict between philosophy and more traditional Islamic belief”[2]. As pointed out by Griffel:

Al-Ghazali is indeed the first Muslim theologian who actively promotes the naturalisation of the philosophical tradition into Islamic theology […]. With this condemnation, the book identifies those elements of Aristotelianism that were, according to al-Ghazali, unfit to be integrated. By highlighting these three teachings, the great Muslim theologian opened the Muslim theological discourse to the many other important positions held by the falasifa[3].
According to Rudolph, Al-Ghazali was looking for a theology that could use the methods of philosophy (Aristotelian logics above all) and profits from other parts of philosophy as well (ontology, psychology and ethics) without carrying the risk of adopting a false metaphysics.[4]

In order to corroborate Marmura’s and Griffel’s claims that Al-Ghazali’s attack against Avicenna and neo-Aristotelianism (the predominant current in the falasifa at that time) did not put an end to Islamic philosophy, it might be enough to notice that The Incoherence of the Philosophers had an unprecedented echo over time and provoked significant reactions such as Averroe’s The Incoherence of the Incoherence, where he tried to reconcile Ghazali’s accusations with Avicenna’s positions.

In the Incoherence Al-Ghazali criticises twenty propositions embraced by Avicenna and his followers: seventeen of them are condemned as heretical innovation and three of them have logical implications warranted condemnation as disbelief. They are:

1) the denial of body resurrection (only soul survives according to Avicenna).

2) the denial of God’s knowledge of particular things.

3) the denial of the world’s temporal originatedness (world is co-eternal with God).

I will leave aside the first (1) one and focus on the second (2) and the third (3). As explained by Marmura in his Introduction to the English edition of the Incoherence[5], Ghazali’s main purpose was not to convince the readers of the validity of his own (or of any) theological doctrines, but rather to refute the arguments of the “philosophers”. Because of that, to Al-Ghazali was sufficient to demonstrate that the positions he intended to condemn lead to absurd consequences. Thus, Al-Ghazali’s doctrine that world and time were created together at a finite moment through divine will[6] might be considered a “logical alternative” that, from Ghazali’s point of view, everybody understanding why Avicennian doctrine of the pre-eternal world is wrong, should adopt. In other words, the mere refusal of (3) was, to Al-Ghazali, alone sufficient to advocate for the ex-nihilo Creation. Let us now consider the following passage of the Incoherence:
The world came to existence whence it did, having the description with which it came to exist, and in the place in which it came to exist, through will, will being attribute whose function is to differentiate a thing from its similar. If this were not its function, then power would be sufficient. [Therefore] Will stands as an expression for an attribute whose function – its essence, is to differentiate a thing from its similar[7].

One of the crucial reasons of the refusal of the temporal originatedness of the world was its implication for the divine attribute of will. Al-Ghazali considered, in fact, the proposition (3) as a denial of the divine will. As emphasised by him in the first part of the Incoherence, Avicenna’s conception of the relationship between God and the world “robbed God any true agency”[8]. The true agency of God would be “robbed”, according to Al-Ghazali, on the basis that Avicenna’s pre-eternity presumes God as mere causation of the world and involuntary act of necessitation and this conflicts with the two divine attributes of causal power and will. In the above-mentioned passage Ghazali raised this problem and seemed to suggest that, if the Creation were not a product of an act of the divine will, the things of the Creation would look alike. The very fact that things, within the Creation, are “differentiated” might be considered a proof that the Creation is a product of the decision taken by divine will at a certain point in the past.[9] Let us consider another passage concerning divine will too:

 

Otherwise, if place and time are unified and no otherness remains, then neither the two (instances) of blackness nor duality itself is conceivable. This is shown by the fact that the expression “will” (as applied to God) is borrowing from our “will”[10].

 

What Ghazali asserts here is that, in order to grasp divine will, we have to apply to God our concept of will. Nonetheless, our will remains different from the will of God and this duality (the separation between our will and the will of God) is made conceivable by the fact that “place and time are not unified”, that is to say, unlike what Avicenna and the “philosophers” believed, the world is not the necessitated effect of an eternally necessitating cause. If this were the case, in accordance to Ghazali’s line of thought, our own will could not be conceived as something different from the will of God and this would obviously lead to absurd consequences.

A further remark about divine will should be made. I focused my discussion mostly around the point (3). However, the point (2) on the list of propositions accused by Ghazali of disbelief is actually strictly related to the denial of ex-nihilo Creation. Al-Ghazali was, in fact, worried that if the philosophers believed that God can know only universal things (2) and He is ignorant about particular things, another important attribute of God would be undermined: His omniscience. In fact, one of the attributes that the Qur’anic God possess is, beside causal power and will, omniscience (consider, for instance, Qur’an 3:6[11]).

  1. Avicenna’s Emanation Theory and Eternity of the world

In order to cast a light on the reasons of Al-Ghazali’s condemnation of falasifa and to better understand the philosophical background of the Avicennian “eternity of the world”, it is worth to shortly present the emanation theory by Avicenna. Avicenna viewed theology as part of metaphysics. For this reason, on Etin Anwar’s footpath[12], I will refer to his thought as “philosophical theology”. According to his emanation theory, the world is the result of a constant emanation from God’s intellection. God’s essence radiates “the Universal Intellect, Soul, Nature, Body and the multiplicity of the world”[13]. As the adjective “constant” suggests, in fact, the Creation might be considered by Avicenna an on-going process (in opposition to the ex-nihilo account, presupposing a point of Creation and a firm divine act).

This cosmogony allowed Avicenna to provide an alternative answer to the question of Creation and, more interestingly, to stress a close relationship between the Highest Being and all the Generated Beings as well as identifying love as the medium of this relationship[14]. Anwar in his paper explained in greater details the love relationship that Avicenna’s emanation theory entails. I presented it here very briefly as my purpose is not questioning it nor giving a definitive answer about its compatibility with the Islamic truth, but rather casting a light on the relation between Avicenna’s emanation theory and his idea about the eternity of the world. More importantly, I will try answering the question whether Avicenna’s ideas undermine the causal power of God as Al-Ghazali seems to assume. The scholar Lutz Berger points out that the Qur’anic God, unlike the Biblical One, cannot “take rest” from His Creation[15]. This aspect of the Qur’anic God might suggest a negative answer to the question whether Avicenna’s theory undermines the causal power of God. In fact, if Avicenna’s theory is compatible with the Qur’anic way of describing God and in the Qur’an the causal power of God is emphasised, it might be concluded that both Avicenna’s theory and the Qur’an do suggest a conciliation between the causal power of God (His transcendence) and His closeness to generated beings (His immanence). To be sure, as pointed out by Anwar, on the one hand Avicenna’s “cosmogony stresses the relationship between all generated beings and Highest Being”[16], on the other hand God’s uniqueness and transcendence is preserved through Avicenna’s “ontology of Oneness”[17]. Thus, Avicenna’s emanation theory might be considered to be compatible with Qur’anic evidence.

 

  1. Al-Ghazali and Avicenna

Yet, let us now reconsider Al-Ghazali in the light of Avicenna. Both Avicenna and Al-Ghazali arguably agreed on the following proposition:

CP (Causal Power). Causal power and caring for the world are essential attributes of the Qur’anic God.

While to Al-Ghazali from the proposition CP must necessarily follow an ex-nihilo act of Creation, to Avicenna this was not the case. In virtue of his emanation theory, it might be said that, to Avicenna, CP did not imply a single act of Creation, but the attributes of causal power and caring for the world were expressed through a constant emanation. On the opposite, Al-Ghazali embraced the ex-nihilo Creation account and he did it mainly because it represented the most obvious conceivable alternative to Avicenna’s eternity doctrine. The opposite view, in fact, (that world has always existed with God), according to Al-Ghazali, undermines the divine will. There are, however, at least two constructive aspects of Ghazali’s view that deserve attention. The first one is that Ghazali eventually “felt free (or was intellectually constrained) to incorporate a great deal of Avicenna in his own attempt to articulate the relation of creator to Creation”[18]. The second one concerns the reasons as to why the Creation is the result of a determined act of the divine will: not only because the opposite view (the Avicennian one) leads to absurd consequences (deconstructive aspect of Ghazali), but also because creating all existing beings and things (included space and time) out of nothing is, by Ghazali (and, supposedly, by the ijma), considered the most powerful and exemplary act that a caring God could have ever performed (this constructive side of Al-Ghazali’s philosophy might have been too often overshadowed by his deconstructive aspect).
For these reasons, it can be assumed that Al-Ghazali thought that the ex-nihilo Creation does not need to be explicitly presented in the Qur’an, but it can rather be deduced as a logical consequence following from the attribute CP.

Yet, a further question might be posed: did Al-Ghazali have Qur’anic evidence for his view? According to Anwar, Al-Ghazali’s view is justified by the Qur’an 36:82: “His Being alone is such that when He wills a thing to be, He says unto it: ‘Be – and it is’”. Nonetheless, it should be noticed that Ibn Rushd (Averroe) came to a different conclusion. He agreed with Al-Ghazali that God’s detailed knowledge of his Creation (2) and the bodily character of the afterlife (1) are fundamental elements of the Muslim creeds. He also agreed on the fact that philosophers must acknowledge these two points. Yet, he believed that no such acknowledgement needs to be made in the case of the eternity of the world (3) because Qur’anic Revelation is silent on this matter (he came to this conclusion after discussing Qur’an 11:7 and 14:48[19]):

If the outward meaning of revelation is scrutinized it will become evident that the verses that provide information about the bringing into existence of the world [say] that its [current] form is really created in time but that existence itself and time extend continuously in both directions, [past and future], I mean without interruption[20].

Similarly, Fakhr Al Razi found no clear statement in favour of either position. Thus, he argued that Qur’anic revelation leaves the issue of Creation in time or eternity open. The Qur’anic passage 18:51 seems to support his hypothesis:

I did not make them witnesses of the Creation of the heavens and the earth; and neither do I have any need to take as my helpers those beings that lead men astray.

Let us suppose that Al-Razi and Ibn Rushd’s belief that there is no Qur’anic evidence in favour of the ex-nihilo Creation is true. In this case, would Al-Ghazali condemnation of the world’s eternity doctrine be justified? Averroe suggested a further reason why Al-Ghazali might have condemned Avicenna’s view: Ghazali believed that the eternity doctrine violated the consensus of the Muslims. The importance of consensus in medieval Islam is remarkable, as emphasised by the scholar Tim Winter:

[…] lacking sacraments and true hierarchy, in place of ecclesial authority, medieval Islam came to recognise the more ponderous and difficult principle of ijma: the consensus of believer. True belief, it was thought, would always be the belief of the majority as it was assumed the mercy and love of God will never let the majority agree on an error.[21]

Here I leave aside some issues related to the notion of ijma, such as whether the “community” that is supposed to express the consensus is referred to the mass of believers or to the mutakallim (theologian scholars)[22]. What is relevant for the purpose of this paper is noticing that Averroe, unlike Ghazali, believed that no such consensus exists on the matter of pre-eternity among Muslims. A consensus may exist only among the mutakallim, he concedes, but “such a limited accord, however, cannot justify a judgment on the unbelief and apostasy of the Muslim falasifa”[23].

The Qur’anic Creator Paradigm suggested by the modern scholar Netton seems to support Al-Ghazali’s view: Netton’s Paradigm “emphasises God’s contacts with man who was created by Him ex nihilo. God also acted in man’s historical time, guided His people, and allowed some limited knowledge of Himself to His Creation”[24]. At the same time, “divinity was never in any way seen as a part of Humanity”[25]. Vice versa, another modern scholar, John Katlner[26], seems to support Averroe’s claim that Qur’an lacks evidence in favour of ex-nihilo Creation. If this is the case, at least the part concerning the Creation “ex-nihilo” of Netto’s paradigm does not seem to rely on any scriptural evidence, but at best on the ijma (just as Al-Ghazali’s position). At any rate, what is remarkable is that the (ex-nihilo) Qur’anic Creator Paradigm provides a picture of the relationship between immanence and transcendence of God which is perfectly compatible with the view of the Creator as a caring Father. This might suggest that Al-Ghazali embraced ex-nihilo Creation and rejects Avicenna’s view because it was crucial for him to defend the causal power of God from the threats of the falasifa and to safeguard the view (relying on the ijma and, according to his interpretation, on Qur’anic evidence too) of God as a willing caring Father. Yet, Al-Ghazali (as well as Ibn-Ghaylan, for instance) silently assumed that the world’s temporal Creation was established on an authority but he did not discuss Qur’anic evidence before he engaged in a refutation of Avicenna’s arguments. The reason of this apparent inattention for Qur’anic evidence is arguably that Al-Ghazali was convinced that the truth of his arguments (both those anti Avicennian doctrine and those pro ex-nihilo Creation) did follow from the divine attributes of God as willing Father and Creator (and such divine attributes are reflected both in the Qur’an and in the jima).

  1. Augustine’s Confessiones

As in the Islamic Tradition, in the Christian tradition too the question of the divine Creation is crucial and arises important theological issues about the separation between eternity and time, human agency and power of God. In this part I will briefly discuss Augustine’s view as expressed in Confessiones XI and I will try to find a common ground between Augustine and Al-Ghazali.

Just as Al-Ghazali’s attack was targeted against Avicenna and the falasifa (that is to say, against neo-Aristotelian philosophy), Augustine’s argument (although not explicitly) was directed against the view, predominant among Greek thinkers, that cosmos have always existed. This view finds full expression in Aristotle’s Physics (Physics, I, 9) and in On the Heavens (De Caelo I, 3). Yet, rejecting the Aristotelian idea of the eternity of the world was not sufficient to affirm the transcendent otherness of God and the immensity of His caring and will. In order to accomplish this goal (arguably shared by both Augustine and Al-Ghazali), Augustine in his Confessiones XI rejected also the Platonic view (expressed in the Timaeus) of the Creation ex-materia. This view might be considered a midpoint between the Aristotelian view that the world has always existed and the ex-nihilo view that God created the world out of nothing. According to Timaeus, in fact, the Demiurge, a supernatural divine being, created the world ex-materia (by making use of pre-existing forms). Although it might be argued that in this way the attributes of divine will and care are perhaps not neglected, to Augustine this was not the case and in Confessiones XI he opposed the Platonic view too. God, in fact, did not make the Heavens and the Earth like a craftsman imposing forms upon the matter (Augustine seems to assume that, if this were the case, the transcendence of God and His otherness would be undermined). The main argument in favour of the ex-nihilo Creation is that “the heaven and earth proclaim that they were made, for they are changed and varied” (Conf., Book XI, Kap. IV.6) (this argument is actually not well-developed and the objection that heavens and earth, however wonderful, could have always existed is not addressed). The Creation, to Augustine, is “shaped” after the eternally spoken word of God and nothing could exist before it. Not even time and space existed. Thus, time is part of the Creation of God (and not a “portion” of eternity, as Plato believed). Moreover, the divine decision of creating the world did not arise “at some point” (we cannot even talk of “some point” since there was no time and no “succession” before Creation), but rather it has always been there: God’s Will to create the World is part of His ever-present and ever-simultaneous eternity. In this way, Augustine could present the Creation as the astonishing act of a willing and caring Father while, at the same time, avoid placing this act in time, he could stress God’s otherness and eternity.

As Al-Ghazali, Augustine seemed to be animated by the desire to find the cosmogonic explanation that best suits the fundamental divine attribute of will and the picture of God as a caring Father. A further similarity between Augustine and Al-Ghazali might be found in one aspect of their historical context: the common need of inquiring which parts of the pagan philosophy were suitable to the Revelation (and could be incorporated in the religious tradition) and which parts needed to be rejected as false. As emphasised by Burrell, Al-Ghazali’s attack of the Incoherence was partly a response to the need of figuring out which parts of Avicenna could be incorporated in the Islamic philosophy[27]. Similarly, Augustine was writing in a period during which it was necessary for Christianity to develop its own philosophy and to figure out which parts of the influential pagan tradition were suitable to the Christian Revelation. According to many biblical scholars[28], the Bible does not explicitly support the ex-nihilo Creation. Nonetheless, the doctrine of Creation from nothing prevails nowadays among many Christians. In a similar vein, as I have already pointed out, the idea that Al-Ghazali’s ex-nihilo creation can be explicitly found in the Qur’an is questionable. Then, whence the necessity, for both some Christian and some Islamic thinkers, to defend the view of the ex-nihilo Creation? Both Augustine and Al-Ghazali defended so ardently this position because they seemed to believe that the idea of God as mere “necessary cause” would not be consistent with the Revelation. To be sure, it might even be argued that such a view undermines the relationship between God and human beings and, because of that, it might represent a risk for the consistency of faith. In order to preserve the attributes of God as a Willing and Caring Father, His power of creating the world and all existing-things must be preserved and emphasised. In this respect, David Burrell observed that:

If kalam thinkers had been wary of presenting God’s activity in creating as causing the universe to be, that was because they thought of causation as enmeshing the creator in a system of necessities[29].

  1. Conclusion

The main aim of this paper was not attempting to give an answer to the question whether, as Averroe and Fakhr Al Razi believed, the Qur’an is actually silent on the matter of Creation nor assessing whether the Qur’anic evidence actually speaks in favour of Al-Ghazali or Avicenna. The main purpose was rather trying to assess and discuss the reasons that led two thinkers of two different traditions, Al-Ghazali and Augustine, to defend the ex-nihilo Creation.

In regards to this purpose, it might be concluded that, both Augustine’s and Al-Ghazali’s reasons to defend the ex-nihilo Creation did not necessarily need to be justified by any explicit Scriptural evidence, but they could be nonetheless justified on the basis of some fundamental divine attributes suggested by the Qur’anic and Biblical evidence. Therefore, in view of the Al-Ghazali’s attack against Avicenna, it might be said that even if it is true that the Qur’an is silent on the matter of Creation, in order to determine which doctrine is better to believe (whether Al-Ghazali’s or Avicenna’s one), the best we can do is turning our attention to the arguments presented by the two thinkers. As I have pointed out in this paper, the two “extra-Qur’anic”[30] reasons that led Al-Ghazali to reject the doctrine of the eternal world are the risk of undermining divine will and the absurd consequence of the identification between human will and divine will. The three “extra-Qur’anic” reasons as to why he embraced the ex-nihilo Creation are that:

 

-It represents the only alternative to Avicenna’s view.

-It is the doctrine believed by the jima.

-It is the most powerful and exemplary act that a caring God could have ever performed (and, because of that, it is compatible with the attributes of Qur’anic God, although perhaps not explicitly stated by the Qur’an).

 

The reasons that led Augustine to embrace the ex-nihilo view (and that I will call “extra-Biblical” as I want to leave aside the matter of whether the ex-nihilo Creation is actually supported by Biblical evidence or not) are:

 

-His argument that the heaven and earths are changeable and, therefore, they have to be made by Someone and to have some unchangeable origin.

-His rejection of the Plato’s Demiurge on the ground that God is not a craftsman (this argument might be considered related to the risk pointed out by Al-Ghazali that Avicennian view might identify human and divine will).

-The idea that the beauty and perfection of the created things can only be the result of the astonishing act of a willing and caring Father.

 

Nonetheless, a significant difference between Al-Ghazali and Augustine remains: it might be said that Confessiones XI and Incoherence cannot really be compared. In fact, while in his work Augustine looked for positive proofs to understand how God created the world and what is the relationship between time and eternity, in his work Al-Ghazali mainly aimed to attack Avicenna and the falasifa. As I have already pointed out, Ghazali was much more focused on rejecting the doctrine of the eternity of the world than in proving the consistency of the ex-nihilo Creation’s theory. He believed, in fact, that the rejection of Avicenna’s theory was sufficient to defend the ex-nihilo account. Nonetheless, Ghazali offered constructive arguments too (see the list above).

Matteo Iammarrone.

[1] Frank Griffel, Al Ghazali’s Philosophical Theology, Oxford: OUP, 2009, p. 5.

[2] Al-Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, tr. M.E. Marmura, Provo. 1997, pp. xc-xvi.

[3] Ibid., p. 7.

[4] Ulrich Rudolph, Islamische Philosophie: Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, München: C.H. Beck, p. 60.

[5] Al-Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Introduction, Second Edition, Provo: Brigham Young Press, Translated, introduced and annoted by Michael E. Marmura, 2000, p. XX.

[6] Ibid., Discuss.1 (30): “According to us, duration and time are both created”, p. 20.

[7] Ibid., Discuss.1 (1-16), p. 22.

[8] Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor, The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 131.

[9] Ibid., Discuss.1 (1-16), p. 22.

[10] Ibid., Discuss. 1 (29-32), p. 22.

[11] Wim Raven, Islamic Thought in the Middle Ages: Studies in Text, Transmission and Translation in Honour of Hans Daiber, Akasoy, p. 589.

[12] Etin Anwar, Ibn Sina’s Philosophical Theology of Love: A Study of the Risalah fi al-Ishq in Islamic Studies 42:2, 2003, pp. 331-345.

[13] Ibid., pp. 331-345, p. 334.

[14] Ibid., p. 338.

[15] Lutz Bergen, Islamische Theologie, Stuttgart: UTB, 2010, p. 46 (My translation from German).

[16] Etin Anwar, op. cit., p. 344.

[17] Ibid.

[18] David B. Burrel, The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Edited by Tim Winter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 149.

[19] 11:7: “He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, while His Throne was upon the water, that He may try you as to which of you is most virtuous in deed.”; 14:48: “On that Day the earth shall be changed into other than the earth, and the heavens [too], and they will appear before God, the One, the Paramount” (From Qur’an a New Translation and Commentary, Seyyes Hossein Nashr, 2015).

[20] Ibn Rushd, Fasl al-maqal (Decisive Treatise), 21,1-4.

[21] The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Edited by Tim Winter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 8.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Griffel, op. cit., p. 119.

[24] R. Netton, Allah Transcendent: Studies in the Structure and Semiotics of Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Cosmology, 1995, Routledge: Abingdon, p. 305.

[25] Ibid.

[26] According to John Kaltner, there is little support in the Qur’an for Creation ex nihilo. In each of the passages that peak of Creation (like Quran 40:68), “there is already some thing or matter to which God is speaking, and so it is better to think of this a s transformation or reordering rather than calling something into being out of nothing”. See Kaltner, Introduction to the Qur’an, p. 49.

[27] David B. Burrel, The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, Edited by Tim Winter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 149.

[28] Among the many biblical scholars who say that ex-nihilo Creation is not explicitly found in the Bible, see Joseph Blenkinsopp, Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11 (London: T & T Clark, 2011); William P. Brown, The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999); Brevard S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 27 (London: SCM, 1960); Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005); Rolf P. Knierim, Task of Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995);

[29] David B. Burrel, Ibid.

[30] By using the expression “extra-Qur’anic”, I am assuming that there is no explicit Qur’anic evidence to support them (however, this might be objectionable). At any rate, they remain valid as they are implicitly justified by certain attributes of the Qur’anic God.