Superphysics Superphysics
Part 2d

The 4 Divine Attributes

by Averroes
13 minutes  • 2766 words
Table of contents

The Quran assigned attributes to the Creator. These are only the perfect forms of those which are found in man:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Life
  3. Power
  4. Volition
  5. Hearing
  6. Seeing
  7. Speech


God in the Quran has said:

“Shall he not know all things who has created them?”[54]

A created thing always shows, by the arrangement which it possesses,—its different parts being made for the sake of one another for the benefit intended to be derived from that thing,—that its maker is not nature only, but it must have been made by one who has arranged all for the end in view.

So he must have a knowledge of it.

For instance, when a man looks at a house he knows that the foundation was laid for the sake of the walls, and the walls have been raised for the roof. So it becomes clear to him that the house must have been built by a man knowing the art of building.

This quality is eternal, for it is not fitting that God should possess it for a time only. But we should not go down deep into this matter, and should not say, like the Mutakallimun, that He[142] knows the created things at the time of their creation, by His eternal knowledge, for then it becomes necessary that the knowledge of the created thing at the time of its non-existence be the same which is absurd, when knowledge is said to be dependent upon the existent things.

As an existent thing is sometimes an action, and sometimes only a potentiality, it is necessary that the knowledge of the two existence be different, as its time of being in potentiality is quite different from the time of its being in action. But this the Law does not explain. On the other hand it maintains quite an opposite position: that God knows the created thing at the time of its creation, as He has said, “There falleth no leaf, but He knoweth it; neither is there a single grain in the dark parts of the earth; neither a green thing, nor a dry thing, but it is written in the perspicuous book.”

So it is necessary that we should lay down in[143] Law that He knows a thing before it comes into being; knows a thing when it is, and not when it should have been; and knows when a thing has been destroyed at the time of its destruction.

This is what the injunctions of the Law establish. It has been so because the masses cannot understand the universe through visible things, except in this way. The Mutakallimun have no argument to advance against it, except that they say that the knowledge which changes with a change in the existent thing is itself created, while with God nothing created can be attached.

They say so because they think that that which cannot be separated from the created thing is itself created. But we have already exposed the fallacy of this argument. So it is established by the rules described, and it should not be said that he knows the creation of the created, and the corruption of the corrupted things, neither by created nor by eternal knowledge. This is an innovation[144] in Islam, “And is thy Lord forgetful of thee?”[56]

The attribute of life is quite evident from the attribute of Knowledge. For our observation shows that one of the conditions of knowledge is life.

According to the Mutakallimun, the conditions of an observed object can be applied to the unseen. What they have said about this is quite true.

Volition and Power

This needs no proof because it is one of the conditions of bringing forth a thing, that its maker must intend it.

Such is also the case with power: He must possess power.

But to say that He intended created things by eternal intention is innovation in religion, which was not known to the learned in Law, and cannot satisfy the masses who have reached the stage of dogmatics. We should say that He intends making a thing at the time of its creation, but does not intend at the time of its non-existence. So God[145] says: “Verily our speech unto anything when we will the same is that we say unto it, Be; and it is.”[57] For, as we have said, the common people are never compelled to advance the argument that He intends doing a thing by eternal intention, but, as the Mutakallimun have said, that that by which the created things exist, is itself created.

How can Speech be assigned to and proved in God?

we would say that it can be ascribed to him on account of the attributes of Knowledge and Power of creation. For speech is nothing more than act on the part of the speaker to show to the one addressed the knowledge which he has, or to disclose to him the knowledge which is in him. This is one of the actions of the maker. And when that created thing, which is really a creator, man, has power over this faculty, because he knows and is powerful, how befitting it is that it should be found[146] in the real Creator. There is another condition for this action, among the things which we can observe, and that is that which must be the means of performing it: words. This being so, it becomes necessary that that action should be performed by God in the heart of somebody, His chosen servant. It is not necessary that it should always be through the medium of words, and so created.

But it may happen either through an angel; or through divine inspiration, that is without the medium of words which He may create, but through an act to the hearer, which discloses to him the true nature of the thing meant, or through words which He may create in the ears of him who has been specialised to hear His words. It is to these three methods that the verse of the Quran refers, “It is not fit for a man that God should speak unto him otherwise than by private revelation, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal, by His permission, that which[147] He pleaseth.”[58]

So revelation is the disclosure of the intended secrets to the inspired person without the medium of words which He created, but through an action done on the mind of the one addressed. So God says, “Afterwards He approached the Prophet and drew unto him; until He was at the distance of two bows’ length from him or yet nearer; and He revealed unto His servant that which He revealed.”[59] The speech from behind the veil is one which is performed through the medium of words.

This is the real speech, and that is the one which God specially bestowed upon Moses, and so He has said, “And God spake unto Moses, discoursing with him.”

Now as to his words, “or by sending a messenger to reveal,” this is the third kind mentioned above, that is, through the medium of some angels. Sometimes God speaks to the learned men, who are the successors of the prophets, by disclosing arguments to[148] them. On account of these causes it is true, when the learned men say, that the Quran is the speech of God. It has now become clear to you that the Quran, which is the speech of God, is eternal, but the words expressing it are created by him, and are not human.

From it are excepted the Quranic words which we commonly use in our speech, that is, these words are our own actions, by the command of God, while the words of the Quran are those created by God. He who does not understand these things by this method, cannot understand this argument and cannot grasp as to how the Quran is the word of God. The alphabets used in the Quran are our own invention, by the command of God. We have to respect them, because of them are formed the words created by God, for the purpose which is not itself created. He who thought of words and not of meaning, that is, did not separate them, said that the Quran was created; while he who thought of the[149] meaning which these words express, said the Quran was not created.

But the truth lies in the middle of these two extreme views. The Asharites deny that the speaker is the maker of his own speech, for they think that if they admit it, they must also admit that God is the maker of His speech. Again, when they believe, that the speech can only exist with the speaker, they think, they must also believe, taking in view the two foregoing principles, that God is Himself the creator of His words. In this case He Himself becomes the place of created things. So they assert that God is the maker of speech, but it is an eternal attribute in him, like knowledge, etc. This is the time of the speech in our mind, but not of the speech which expresses what we have in our mind, that is, the words.

As the Mutazilites thought that speech is the action of the speaker, they said that by speech is meant only the words uttered. So they believed that the Quran is[150] “Created.” Since according to them the word is an action of the speaker, so it is not one of its conditions that it should exist with the speaker. The Asharites on the other hand, insist that it is one of its conditions that it should exist only with the speaker.

This is true in both the cases, that is in the case of ideas in our minds, and the words which express them. But in the case of God, it is the ideas which stand with Him, and not the words expressing them.

So when the Asharites laid it down as a condition, that the speech be absolutely dependent upon the speaker, they deny that the speaker is the maker of his speech; while on the other hand, the Mutazilites, when they laid it down as a condition that the speaker is the maker of his speech, ignored the existence of ideas in our minds. In this way there is some truth, and some falsehood, in the opinions of both of these sects, as must have become clear by what we have said.

Hearing and Seeing

The Law has proved them to be possessed by God by saying that hearing and seeing are the two essential qualities for knowing the meaning of things, which cannot be acquired by intellect. So a maker must know everything about the object which he is making, it is necessary that he should possess the 2 senses of hearing and seeing. So He must have these two faculties.

All this proves their existence in God, by means of the Law, through the teaching of the knowledge which is found in him. Moreover, One on whom the name of God and the Adorned is applied must necessarily possess all the senses.

For it is useless for man to worship him who cannot know that he is being worshipped, as God has said, “O my father, why dost thou worship that which heareth not, neither seeth, nor profiteth thee at all;”[61] and, “Do you therefore worship, beside[152] God, that which cannot profit you at all, nor can it hurt you?”[62] This is the power which has been ascribed to God, and which the Law has commanded the common people to know and nothing else.

Of the innovation which this question of attributes has given rise to, one is whether they are the same as Divine Essence or something added to it, that is, whether they are found in the essence itself (Nafsiyyah), or are only applied to it, (Maanawiyyah). By Nafsiyyah we mean those attributes which are found in the thing itself, and are not attached to it for the purpose of adding something to the essence, for existence, we say one or eternal. By Maanawiyyah we mean the attributes which are applied to a thing for some purpose which is found in it.

The Asharites say that these attributes are only Maanawiyyah, that is qualities which are only added to the Divine Essence. So they say that he knows by a knowledge which[153] has been added to His essence, and lives by life attached to it and so on. This has compelled them to admit that the Creator has a body, for there must be the quality and the qualified, the bearer and the borne. This is the condition of the body, so they must say that the essence is existent by itself, and the qualities exist through it, or they must say that these attributes are independent of each other, then there must be a number of gods. This is the belief of the Christians, who say that the three personifications are those of Existence, Life and Knowledge. God has said about it the following, “They are certainly infidels, who say, God is the third of the three.”[63]

One of them stands by itself, the others being dependent upon the former. So it becomes necessary that there should be essence, existing in itself, and the accidents depending on something else. The place in which the essence and the accidents are found together[154] must necessarily be a body. Such is also the case with the Mutazilites about the question, that the essence and the attributes are one and the same thing.

This they think, is for the primary principles of knowledge or may be opposed to them. For they think that according to the primary principles knowledge must be existent without the one knowing. But knowledge and the one knowing cannot be the same, except that it may be possible that the two may be very close to each other, just as the father and the son. This teaching is very remote for the understanding of the masses, and to explain it to them in detail is innovation, for it would more likely mislead than guide them to the right path.

The Mutazilites have no argument to advance in proof of their proposition, for they have none. Such is also the condition of the Mutakallimun in the case of denying a body to God. For when they have established it, they are compelled to admit the creation of the body,[155] because it is a body. We have already said that they have no argument for it. Those who have such are the learned people, the philosophers. It is at this point that the Christians have erred.

They believe in the multiplicity of attributes that they are essences existing not by the help of another, but by themselves, like the self, (Zat). They also believe that the qualities with these attributes are two in number—knowledge and life. So they say that God is one from the three causes. That He is three they say because He exists, lives and knows.

They say that He is one, because He is a collection of all the three qualities. And so there are three religious opinions among them. One party believes that they are all the self (Zat) alone without any number; the other only believes in numbers of qualities. This is divided into two parties: one which thinks that they exist by themselves, and the other which makes them exist by something else. All this[156] is in contrast with the purpose of the Law.

It being so, it is necessary that one who wants to teach the knowledge of these things to the common people should tell them as much as the Law orders him to do—and that is only a confession of their existence without entering into details. For it is not possible for the common people to believe and understand them at all. By common people here I mean all those who are unacquainted with the laws of reasoning, though they may or may not know the science of scholastic theology.

It is not in the power of scholastic theology to know of these things even when it is said that it is not a science of reasoning but of dogmatics, for these things can never be clearly understood by dogmatics alone. So, by now, the extent of these questions which should be disclosed to the common people, and the method adopted for this purpose must have become clear to you by what we have said.

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