Saturday, January 2, 2010


-We have seen that the judgement based upon religious experience fully satisfies the intellectual test. The more important regions of experience, examined with an eye on a synthetic view, reveal, as the ultimate ground of all experience, a rationally directed creative will which we have found reasons to describe as an ego. In order to emphasize the individuality of the Ultimate Ego the Qur’an gives Him the proper name of Allah, and further defines Him as follows:

‘Say: Allah is One:
All things depend on Him;
He begetteth not, and He is not begotten;
And there is none like unto Him’

But it is hard to understand what exactly is an individual. As Bergson has taught us in his Creative Evolution, individuality is a matter of degrees and is not fully realized even in the case of the apparently closed off unity of the human being.‘In particular, it may be said of individuality’, says Bergson:

‘that while the tendency to individuate is everywhere present in the organized world, it is everywhere opposed by the tendency towards reproduction. For the individuality to be perfect, it would be necessary that no detached part of the organism could live separately. But then reproduction would be impossible. For what is reproduction but the building up of a new organism with a detached fragment of the old? Individuality, therefore, harbours its own enemy at home.’

In the light of this passage it is clear that the perfect individual, closed off as an ego, peerless and unique, cannot be conceived as harbouring its own enemy at home. It must be conceived as superior to the antagonistic tendency of reproduction. This characteristic of the perfect ego is one of the most essential elements in the Quranic conception of God; and the Qur’«n mentions it over and over again, not so much with a view to attack the current Christian conception as to accentuate its own view of a perfect individual. It may, however, be said that the history of religious thought discloses various ways of escape from an individualistic conception of the Ultimate Reality which is conceived as some vague, vast, and pervasive cosmic element, such as light. This is the view that Farnell has taken in his Gifford Lectures on the Attributes of God. I agree that the history of religion reveals modes of thought that tend towards pantheism; but I venture to think that in so far as the Quranic identification of God with light is concerned Farnell’s view is incorrect. The full text of the verse of which he quotes a portion only is as follows:

‘God is the light of the Heavens and of the earth. His light is like a niche in which is a lamp - the encased in a glass, - the glass, as it were, a star’ .

No doubt, the opening sentence of the verse gives the impression of an escape from an individualistic conception of God. But when we follow the metaphor of light in the rest of the verse, it gives just the opposite impression. The development of the metaphor is meant rather to exclude the suggestion of a formless cosmic element by centralizing the light in a flame which is further individualized by its encasement in a glass likened unto a well-defined star. Personally, I think the description of God as light, in the revealed literature of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, must now be interpreted differently. The teaching of modern physics is that the velocity of light cannot be exceeded and is the same for all observers whatever their own system of movement. Thus, in the world of change, light is the nearest approach to the Absolute. The metaphor of light as applied to God, therefore, must, in view of modern knowledge, be taken to suggest the Absoluteness of God and not His Omnipresence which easily lends itself to a pantheistic interpretation.

There is, however, one question which will be raised in this connexion. Does not individuality imply finitude? If God is an ego and as such an individual, how can we conceive Him as infinite? The answer to this question is that God cannot be conceived as infinite in the sense of spatial infinity. In matters of spiritual valuation mere immensity counts for nothing. Moreover, as we have seen before, temporal and spatial infinities are not absolute. Modern science regards Nature not as something static, situated in an infinite void, but a structure of interrelated events out of whose mutual relations arise the concepts of space and time. And this is only another way of saying that space and time are interpretations which thought puts upon the creative activity of the Ultimate Ego. Space and time are possibilities of the Ego, only partially realized in the shape of our mathematical space and time. Beyond Him and apart from His creative activity, there is neither time nor space to close Him off in reference to other egos. The Ultimate Ego is, therefore, neither infinite in the sense of spatial infinity nor finite in the sense of the space-bound human ego whose body closes him off in reference to other egos. The infinity of the Ultimate Ego consists in the infinite inner possibilities of His creative activity of which the universe, as known to us, is only a partial expression. In one word God’s infinity is intensive, not extensive. It involves an infinite series, but is not that series.

The other important elements in the Quranic conception of God, from a purely intellectual point of view, are Creativeness, Knowledge, Omnipotence, and Eternity. I shall deal with them serially.

Finite minds regard nature as a confronting ‘other’ existing per se, which the mind knows but does not make. We are thus apt to regard the act of creation as a specific past event, and the universe appears to us as a manufactured article which has no organic relation to the life of its maker, and of which the maker is nothing more than a mere spectator. All the meaningless theological controversies about the idea of creation arise from this narrow vision of the finite mind. Thus regarded the universe is a mere accident in the life of God and might not have been created. The real question which we are called upon to answer is this: Does the universe confront God as His ‘other’, with space intervening between Him and it? The answer is that, from the Divine point of view, there is no creation in the sense of a specific event having a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. The universe cannot be regarded as an independent reality standing in opposition to Him. This view of the matter will reduce both God and the world to two separate entities confronting each other in the empty receptacle of an infinite space. We have seen before that space, time, and matter are interpretations which thought puts on the free creative energy of God. They are not independent realities existing per se, but only intellectual modes of apprehending the life of God. The question of creation once arose among the disciples of the well-known saint B«Yaz√Ęd of Bist«m. One of the disciples very pointedly put the common-sense view saying: ‘There was a moment of time when God existed and nothing else existed beside Him.’ The saint’s reply was equally pointed. ‘It is just the same now’, said he, ‘as it was then.’ The world of matter, therefore, is not a stuff co-eternal with God, operated upon by Him from a distance as it were. It is, in its real nature, one continuous act which thought breaks up into a plurality of mutually exclusive things. Professor Eddington has thrown further light on this important point, and I take the liberty to quote from his book, Space, Time and Gravitation:

‘We have a world of point-events with their primary interval-relations. Out of these an unlimited number of more complicated relations and qualities can be built up mathematically, describing various features of the state of the world. These exist in nature in the same sense as an unlimited number of walks exist on an open moor. But the existence is, as it were, latent unless some one gives a significance to the walk by following it; and in the same way the existence of any one of these qualities of the world only acquires significance above its fellows if a mind singles it out for recognition. Mind filters out matter from the meaningless jumble of qualities, as the prism filters out the colours of the rainbow from the chaotic pulsations of white light. Mind exalts the permanent and ignores the transitory; and it appears from the mathematical study of relations that the only way in which mind can achieve her object is by picking out one particular quality as the permanent substance of the perceptual world, partitioning a perceptual time and space for it to be permanent in, and, as a necessary consequence of this Hobson’s choice, the laws of gravitation and mechanics and geometry have to be obeyed. Is it too much to say that the mind’s search for permanence has created the world of physics?’

The last sentence in this passage is one of the deepest things in Professor Eddington’s book. The physicist has yet to discover by his own methods that the passing show of the apparently permanent world of physics which the mind has created in its search for permanence is rooted in something more permanent, conceivable only as a self which alone combines the opposite attributes of change and permanence, and can thus be regarded as both constant and variable.

There is, however, one question which we must answer before we proceed further. In what manner does the creative activity of God proceed to the work of creation? The most orthodox and still popular school of Muslim theology, I mean the Ash‘arite, hold that the creative method of Divine energy is atomic; and they appear to have based their doctrine on the following verse of the Qur’«n:

‘And no one thing is here, but with Us are its store-houses; and We send it not down but in fixed quantities’


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