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Guide for the Perplexed
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CHAPTER XIV

IT is not necessary to repeat in every chapter that I write this treatise with the full knowledge of what you have studied: that I therefore need not quote the exact words of the philosophers: it will suffice to give an abstract of their views. I will, however, point out the methods which they employ, in the same manner as I have done when I discussed the theories of the Mutakallemim. No notice will be taken of the opinion of any philosopher but that of Aristotle; his opinions alone deserve to be criticized, and if our objections or doubts with regard to any of these be well founded, this must be the case in a far higher degree in respect to all other opponents of our fundamental principles.

I now proceed to describe the methods of the philosophers.

First Method. — According to Aristotle, motion, that is to say, motion par excellence, is eternal. For if the motion had a beginning, there must already have been some motion when it came into existence, for transition from potentiality into actuality, and from non-existence into existence, always implies motion; then that previous motion, the cause of the motion which follows, must be eternal, or else the series would have to be carried back ad infinitum. On the same principle he maintains that time is eternal, for time is related to and connected with motion: there is no motion except in time, and time can only be perceived by motion, as has been demonstrated by proof. By this argument Aristotle proves the eternity of the Universe.

Second Method. — The First Substance common to the four elements is eternal. For if it had a beginning it would have come into existence from another substance; it would further be endowed with a form, as coming into existence is nothing but receiving Form. But we mean by “First Substance” a formless substance; it can therefore not have come into existence from another substance, and must be without beginning and without end; hence it is concluded that the Universe is eternal.

Third Method. — The substance of the spheres contains no opposite elements; for circular motion includes no such opposite directions as are found in rectilinear motion. Whatever is destroyed, owes its destruction to the opposite elements it contains. The spheres contain no opposite elements; they are therefore indestructible, and because they are indestructible they are also without beginning. Aristotle thus assumes the axiom that everything that has had a beginning is destructible, and that everything destructible has had a beginning; that things without beginning are indestructible, and indestructible things are without beginning. Hence follows the Eternity of the Universe.

Fourth Method. — The actual production of a thing is preceded in time by its possibility. The actual change of a thing is likewise preceded in time by its possibility. From this proposition Aristotle derives the eternity of the circular motion of the spheres. The Aristotelians in more recent time employ this proposition in demonstrating the Eternity of the Universe. They argue thus: When the Universe did not yet exist, its existence was either possible or necessary, or impossible. If it was necessary, the Universe could never have been non-existing; if impossible, the Universe could never have been in existence; if possible, the question arises, What was the substratum of that possibility? for there must be in existence something of which that possibility can be predicated. This is a forcible argument in favour of the Eternity of the Universe. Some of the later schools of the Mutakallemim imagined that they could confute this argument by objecting that the possibility rests with the agent, and not with the production. But this objection is of no force whatever: for there are two distinct possibilities, viz., the thing produced has had the possibility of being produced before this actually took place; and the agent has had the possibility of producing it before he actually did so. There are, therefore, undoubtedly two possibilities — that of the substance to receive a certain form, and that of the agent to perform a certain act.

These are the principal methods, based on the properties of the Universe, by which Aristotle proves the Eternity of the Universe. There are, however, other methods of proving the Eternity of the Universe. They are based on the notions formed of God, and philosophers after Aristotle derived them from his philosophy. Some of them employed the following argument: —

Fifth Method. — If God produced the Universe from nothing, He must have been a potential agent before He was an actual one, and must have passed from a state of potentiality into that of actuality — a process that is merely possible, and requires an agent for effecting it. This argument is likewise a source of great doubts, and every intelligent person must examine it in order to refute it and to expose its character.

Sixth Method. — An agent is active at one time and inactive at another, according as favourable or unfavourable circumstances arise. The unfavourable circumstances cause the abandonment of an intended action. The favourable ones, on the other hand, even produce a desire for an action for which there has not been a desire previously. As, however, God is not subject to accidents which could bring about a change in His will, and is not affected by obstacles and hindrances that might appear or disappear, it is impossible, they argue, to imagine that God is active at one time and inactive at another. He is, on the contrary, always active in the same manner as He is always in actual existence.

Seventh Method. — The actions of God are perfect; they are in no way defective, nor do they contain anything useless or superfluous. In similar terms Aristotle frequently praises Him, when he says that Nature is wise and does nothing in vain, but makes everything as perfect as possible. The philosophers therefore contend that this existing Universe is so perfect that it cannot be improved, and must be permanent; for it is the result of God’s wisdom, which is not only always present in His essence, but is identical with it.

All arguments in favour of the Eternity of the Universe are based on the above methods, and can be traced to one or other of them. The following objection is also raised against Creatio ex nihilo: How could God ever have been inactive without producing or creating anything in the infinite past? How could He have passed the long infinite period which preceded the Creation without producing anything, so as to commence, as it were, only yesterday, the Creation of the Universe? For even if you said, e.g., that God created previously as many successive worlds as the outermost sphere could contain grains of mustard, and that each of these worlds existed as many years: considering the infinite existence of God, it would be the same as if He had only yesterday commenced the Creation. For when we once admit the beginning of the existence of things after their non-existence, it makes no difference whether thousands of centuries have passed since the beginning, or only a short time. Those who defend the Eternity of the Universe find both assumptions equally improbable.

Eighth Method. — The following method is based on the circumstance that the theory implies a belief which is so common to all peoples and ages, and so universal, that it appears to express a real fact and not merely an hypothesis. Aristotle says that all people have evidently believed in the permanency and stability of the heavens; and thinking that these were eternal, they declared them to be the habitation of God and of the spiritual beings or angels. By thus attributing the heavens to God, they expressed their belief that the heavens are indestructible. Several other arguments of the same kind are employed by Aristotle in treating of this subject in order to support the results of his philosophical speculation by common sense.

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