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Answer to Modernism: The Belief About “Matter is Eternal” is Against Both Islam and Science, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

The Belief About Matter is Eternal is Against Both Islam and Science

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Intimation 1: Regarding the Temporality of Matter

(This is the first intimation of Maulana ashraf Ali Thanvi’s famous book answer to modernism Modernism, on the subject of modern doubts and their answers)

Effects of misunderstand the concept of one God due to following science

By putting their faith in Western science and following its lead blindly, many Muslims have fallen into two grave errors with regard to the doctrine of the unity of God which is the very basis of Islam. In committing these errors, such blind followers of science are being fully faithful neither to science nor to Islam, as we mean to show presently.

The first of these errors is that they thus associate another thing with Allah the Exalted in the quality of being eternal which is peculiar to him alone; that is to say, they believe matter as well to be eternal.

The Greek philosophers have been guilty of this error. But they, at least, had some kind of argument, however, flimsy and dependent upon a sophistical use of words, this argument has been thoroughly examined and exposed in the books of Muslim philosophers like the Hidayat ul Hikmah and we ourselves have shown its falsity in Dirayat ul Ismah.

The truth about the claims and arguments of scientists

On the other hand, modern scientists and their followers do not possess an argument which could pretend to even that much degree of validity. As in the case of their other assertions, they have pronounced a judgment which is no more than a presumption. In other words, they have started with the assumption that if all the existents were at one time in a state of pure non-existence, one cannot understand how they could come into existence out of pure nothingness. But one should reflect carefully over the problem, and ask oneself if the inability to understand a thing can serve as a valid argument for its being false. As for that, one cannot understand either how the existence of a thing, namely, matter, should not itself be preceded by non-existence, when all the modes of its existence, or, in other words, each one of the material changes that it Undergoes, is preceded by non-existence. What, after all, is the difference between the existence of a thing (which is matter) and the succeeding modes of existence (to which it is subject)?

Thus, if the inability to understand is a valid objection, it applies to the eternity of matter and to the non-eternity of matter equally, while there is something more to the eternity of matter there is a substantial argument in refutation of it. This argument very easily disposes of the contention of modern science; with a little adaptation, it can avail against Greek science as well.

Let us explain what we mean. Modern science believes that primeval matter was for a long time devoid of any substantial form (As-suratul jismiyyah). Now, it is an established fact that it is impossible for matter to be abstracted from the form because matter signifies a potential existence, while that which gives it an actual existence is a form. And it is evident that potential existence means no more than the ability to exist. Therefore, the statement that matter exists without form is a contradiction in terms and amounts to saying that two contraries can come together and that something exists in the act and at the same time does not exist in the act. The logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is that matter, far from being eternal, should not exist at all.

Rejecting the claim by ancient Greek philosophy and scientist

If we now turn to the ancient Greek philosophy, and, adopting its point of view, assume that matter has some kind of form, we shall find that, evidently enough, no substantial form (As-suratul jismiyyah) can exist without a generic form (As-suratun nauiyyah), and no generic form can exist without a specific form (As-suratush shakhsiyyah). So, when we posit some kind of a form in matter, we shall necessarily be positing a specific form as well in it. But the specific form keeps on changing, therefore, when matter acquires a second specific form after the first, the situation cannot but involve either of these two states — the previous specific form would either remain there or perish. If it remains, a new problem would arise.

The individuality of an entity lese in its specific form. If there exist two specific forms in one entity, it means that there are two entities, not one. Thus, it becomes necessary that one individual, entity is at the same time two separate entities. And this is obviously impossible. On the other hand, if the previous specific form does perish altogether, then it cannot have been eternal, for it is impossible for the eternal to perish. Therefore, it must have been temporal. And the same argument demonstrates that the specific form which existed before this one was also temporal.

Therefore, when each one of the specific forms turns out to be temporal, the specific form itself must be temporal. And if the specific form is non-existent, the generic form too must be nonexistent; and if the generic form is non-existent, the substantial form too must be non-existent. And, finally when the substantial form is non-existent. matter itself must be non-existent. Consequently, the belief in the eternity of matter is false.

Now, as for the inability to understand how something can come into existence out of nothingness, we shall simply point out that such an occurrence should be called improbable, and not impossible. And the improbable is not something that is incapable of coming into existence. Confusing the improbable with the impossible leads to many errors.

The “matter is eternal” belief is against Islam and science       

This demonstration has made it clear that the belief in the eternity of matter is repugnant to Islam. And those Muslims who follow the lead of the scientists in this matter, go against modern science too, because the scientists do not believe in God Himself. That is why we had remarked that such Muslims arc true neither to Islam nor to Science.

And if you ponder rightly, it is evident that so long as one believes in the eternity of matter, there is no need nor necessity for him to believe in the Creator at all. For, when matter is in itself the very cause of its own existence, it means that matter is a necessary being. And it is quite irrational to posit that one necessary being can be in need of another necessary being. The kind of relationship that exists between God and His attributes and act, can, on this ground, be equally supposed to exist between matter and its attributes like motion and heat, its operations, diversities, etc. etc. Thus, the very belief in the existence of God necessarily postulates the temporality of matter.

If a distinction is made between the eternal-in-itself (that is, God) and the eternal-in-time (that is, matter), then such arguments advanced by certain Greek philosophers have been decisively refuted in our old ‘Ilm ul Kalam. Since the philosophers of the present day do not seem to uphold this argument, we shall pass by this objection.

Rejection of two more views about eternity of matter

Again, one may maintain the eternity of the parts of matter in conjunction with form, and also maintain the coexistence of that form with all subsequent forms by asserting that the final constituents of matter are the atoms which can admit of a rational and conjectural division but are physically indivisible (e.g., the affirmation of the atoms on the part of Democritus).

Or one may maintain that primeval mailer (or substance) was initially a unified whole, containing from within itself, but was divisible, and later on, split into component parts. We would like to know whether these particles or component parts, being eternal as posited, were at that stage in motion or at rest. If they were in motion, their motion too was eternal; if they were at rest, their rest was equally eternal. But at the present stage, we see certain bodies in motion, and this motion is shared by every particle or component part of the body. This fact negates the eternity of rest. In the same way, we find certain other bodies at rest, which negates the eternity of motion. In short, we do observe motion and rest both, and we see both of them perishing.

But it is impossible for the eternal to perish. Hence, neither the motion of these constituent parts nor their rest can possibly be eternal. Since these parts cannot be devoid of either of the two states, it goes to prove finally that they themselves are not eternal.

Doubt about eternity of matter and Allah’s control over it

Now, let us turn to the objection that if matter is taken to be temporal, one cannot understand how God could have drawn being out of nothingness. To begin with, this mode of creation is not impossible but merely improbable, and the objection is an attempt to argue about what one has never observed on the basis of what one has never observed.

The changeable thing cannot be eternal

Moreover, it is equally difficult to understand how a changeable thing should also be eternal. Thus, the inability to understand is common to both cases. Therefore, this objection is not valid as an argument.

In short, it becomes crystal clear that the eternity of matter is absolutely impossible and false.

There is no evidence that matter is eternal

Even if we set aside all the arguments we have advanced, and do not consider the eternity of mailer to be impossible, we are still unable to find an argument which could establish the eternity of matter as something real. It means that eternity and non-eternity both may be equally probable and that it would be rationally possible to maintain either of the two positions. But, in a situation like this where both the alternatives are equally admissible.

It is obligatory to be convinced that matter is eternal

If a truthful reporter asserts one of them, it becomes rationally necessary to accept it. And in this debate about the nature of matter, Allah Himself and the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلمhave declared which alternative to choose–namely, the temporality of matter.

بديع السموات والأرض

Says the Holy Qur’an: “ (Allah) has created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. (2:117)

And the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  says:

كان الله ولم يكن معه شي

“Allah was, and there was no other thing with Him”.

Thus, even according to the Islamic Tradition, it is necessary to affirm the temporality of matter.

This then, is the refutation of the first error. We shall now turn to the second.

SOURCE: Answer to modernism, By Maulana Asharaf Ali Thanvi

To read the second Intimation about law of nature, Click on the link below:

Posted in Beliefs, Contemporary studies, Fatwa, Islamic Beliefs, Various Islamic studies

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