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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

Nazif Muhtaroglu*
Philosophy Department, Boğaziçi University, 34342 Bebek, İstanbul, Turkey


In this paper, I propose to expose the logical structure al-Bāqillānī's argument for the existence of God and argue that it presents a distinctive type of argument that cannot be classified under the classical types of ontological, cosmological, and design arguments. The peculiarity of al-Bāqillānī's argument is related to the concept of God it presupposes. Developing Herbert Davidson's insights regarding this argument and criticizing Majid Fakhry's interpretation of it, I aim to clarify this concept of God by the concept of agency. In a nutshell, I argue that al-Bāqillānī presents a distinctive type of argument for the existence of God, which I propose calling the “cosmological argument from agency.” I consider it cosmological because it is an inference from the universe to the existence of God. Nonetheless, it is different from the classical versions of the cosmological argument for that the concept of agency and the idea of a personal deity play a central role in this argument.


Dans cet article, je propose d'explorer la structure logique de l'argument d'al-Bāqillānī en faveur de l'existence de Dieu et de montrer en quoi cet argument ne peut être rangé au sein de la classification classique des arguments de type ontologique, cosmologique et de dessein. La particularité de l'argument d'al-Bāqillānī réside dans le concept de Dieu qu'il présuppose. En me servant de l'analyse de Herbert Davidson et en critiquant l'interprétation de cet argument par Majid Fakhry, j'espère clarifier ce concept de Dieu par le concept d'agent. Pour résumer, je tente de démontrer qu'al-Bāqillānī présente un type d'argument particulier que nous appellerons “l'argument cosmologique à partir de l'agent”. Je le considère cosmologique parce qu'il s'agit d'une inférence qui part de l'univers pour aboutir à l'existence de Dieu. Néanmoins, cet argument est différent de l'argument cosmologique classique car il laisse une plus grande place au concept d'agent ainsi qu’à l'idée d'un dieu personnel.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at Istanbul University (2013) and The University of Tübingen (2015). I would like to acknowledge the feedback I received from the participants who attended the presentations at both universities. I am also indebted to the comments and suggestions of the anonymous referee of the journal. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the Tübitak Bideb 2232 Program for its support of this paper-project.

2 Herbert A. Davidson, Proofs for Eternity, Creation, and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy (New York, 1987).

3 In other words, al-Bāqillānī aims to show that there is only one God.

4 I take Kitāb al-Tamhīd into consideration because it is a mature and detailed book al-Bāqillānī produced on the classical topics of the kalām. Yet there are some other kalām books of al-Bāqillānī worth examining. For example al-Insāf is another fully preserved work. See Al-Bāqillānī, al-Insāf, ed. ʿIzzat al-Aṭṭār al-Ḥusaynī (Cairo, 1950). Sabine Schmidtke recently discovered a fragment of al-Bāqillānī's Hidāyat al-mustarshidīn, a text that had been thought to be lost. See Schmidtke, Sabine, “Early Ašʿarite theology: Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013) and his Hidāyat al-mustaršidīn ,” Bulletin d’études orientales, 60 (2012): 3971 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-Tamhīd, ed. Richard J. McCarthy (Beirut, 1957), pp. 17–18. Later in Kitāb al-Tamhīd, al-Bāqillānī states that a real thing may be a body when it is adjoined or an atom if it is an isolated particle (see p. 195). Richard Frank argues that according to al-Bāqillānī, when atoms are adjoined, each of them becomes a body as each of them has the accident of adjunction. He situates this view within the general Ashʿarite position that defines bodies not in terms of three-dimensionality but in terms of conjunction of atoms. For further details see Richard Frank, “Bodies and atoms: The Ashʿarite analysis,” in Michael M. Marmura (ed.), Islamic Theology and Philosophy: Studies in Honor of George F. Hourani. (New York, 1984), pp. 39–53.

6 Al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-Tamhīd, p. 22.

7 Ibid ., pp. 22–3. Al-Bāqillānī does not explicitly show that atoms come into existence, yet what he says implies it in the following way. Recall that, in his system, an atom becomes a body when it becomes a part in a composite whole. Thus, an atom may be found either individually or in a composite whole. If either state is accidental, then atoms come into existence as well. Nonetheless, Davidson points out that this argument does not establish that the whole series of bodies or atoms have a beginning although each of them comes into being. Thus, for Davidson, al-Bāqillānī does not establish that the universe has a temporal origination as a whole. See Davidson, Proofs, pp. 136–7.

8 Al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-Tamhīd, p. 23.

9 Ibid ., p. 23.

10 Ibid ., pp. 23–4.

11 Ibid ., p. 24.

12 Ibid ., p. 25.

13 Ibid ., p. 25.

14 Ibid ., p. 26.

15 Davidson, Proofs, pp. 134–6.

16 Ibid ., pp. 160–1. Davidson notes that al-Bāqillānī uses the term particularizing (takhṣīṣ) but not the particularizing agent (mukhaṣṣiṣ). Yet the argument implies it.

17 Ibid ., p. 233.

18 Al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-Tamhīd, p. 26.

19 Al-Juwaynī, Kitāb al-Irshād (Beirut, 1995), p. 12.

20 Ibid ., pp. 12–14.

21 Ibid ., p. 16. By focusing on the idea of the impossibility of a magnitude that is actually infinite or traversing actual infinity, William Lane Craig presents the mutakallimūn's arguments for the beginning of the universe and identifies the cause of its beginning with God. He dubs this argument “the kalām cosmological argument.” See William L. Craig, The Kalām Cosmological Argument (London, 1979). Harry Wolfson points out that an argument for the impossibility of infinite by succession is sometimes used by the mutakallimūn as an independent argument to deny the eternity of the world and sometimes as a supplementary argument for the existence of God. See Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Kalam (Cambridge, 1976), p. 410. What needs to be emphasized here is that the argument for the beginning of the universe from the impossibility of infinite by succession is part of an integrated whole of arguments when used in order to establish the existence of God.

22 Ibid ., p. 17.

23 By “things” (maʿānin) in this context ʿAbd al-Jabbār refers to the accidents of becoming such as joining, separation, motion and rest. Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Şerhu'l-Usûli'l-Hamse: Mu‘tezile'nin Beş İlkesi [Turkish-Arabic Text], trans. & ed. İlyas Çelebi, 2 vols. (Istanbul, 2013), vol. I, p. 156.

24 Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Şerhu'l-Usûli'l-Hamse, vol. I, pp. 156–88.

25 In Sharḥ al-Uṣūl, unlike al-Juwaynī, ʿAbd al-Jabbār does not appeal to the impossibility of traversing an actual infinity in refuting the eternity of the world. Yet, in Kitāb al-Majmū ʿ, he gives an argument that aims to show that an infinite series is impossible. See Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Kitāb al-Majmūʿ, ed. Jean Joseph Houben (Beirut, 1965), pp. 59–61.

26 Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Şerhu'l-Usûli'l-Hamse, vol. I, pp. 192–6.

27 The rendering is from Joseph van Ess who traces the roots of this inference to the Hellenistic philosophy. See Joseph van Ess, “The logical structure of Islamic philosophy,” in Logic in Classical Islamic Culture, ed. Gustave E. von Grunebaum (Wiesbaden, 1970), pp. 21–50, pp. 34–5.

28 The rendering is from Joep Lameer. Lameer compares al-Bāqillānī's argument in question with al-Fārābī's argument for the creation of planets. Lameer argues that both arguments have the logical structure of istidlāl bi-al-shāhid ʿalā al-ghāʾib. Yet for him, al-Bāqillānī's argument is circular (i.e. commits the fallacy of petitio principii) whereas that of al-Fārābī is not. Since my task in this paper is not to judge the strength of al-Bāqillānī's argument, I will not examine Lameer's contention. For details, see Joep Lameer, Al-Fārābī and Aristotelian Syllogistics, Greek Theory and Islamic Practice (Leiden, 1994), pp. 211–15.

29 Al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-Tamhīd, p. 24. (Al-fāʿilu lā yakūnu illā ḥayyan qādiran.)

30 Ibid ., p. 24.

31 Al-Juwaynī, Kitāb al-Irshād, pp. 29–30.

32 On the contrary to the Ashʿarites in general (al-Bāqillānī and al-Juwaynī in particular), ʿAbd al-Jabbār, as a Muʿtazilite scholar, holds that divine will exists outside God without inhering in a substrate. For further inquiries see, Michel Allard, Le problème des attributs divins dans la doctrine d'al-Ashʿarī et de ses premiers grands disciples (Beirut, 1965).

33 Husâm Muhî Eldîn al-Alousî, The Problem of Creation in Islamic Thought: Qur'an, Hadith, Commentaries, and Kalam (Baghdad, 1965), pp. 224–5.

34 Al-Ghazālī, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifa): A Parallel English-Arabic Text, ed. and trans. Michael E. Marmura (Provo, UT, 1997), p. 56.

35 Ibid ., p. 62. For some secondary sources on al-Ghazālī's concept of agency see Kwame Gyekye, “Al-Ghazālī on action,” in Ghazali: La Raison et le Miracle. Table Ronde Unesco, 9–10 décembre 1985 (Paris, 1987), pp. 83–91; Dougherty, Michael V., “Al-Ghazālī and metaphorical predication in the Third Discussion of Tahāfut al-Falāsifa ,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 82, no. 3 (2008): 391409 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Frank Griffel, Al-Ghazālī's Philosophical Theology (Oxford, 2009), p. 184.

37 Ibid ., pp. 184–5.

38 Ibid ., p. 58.

39 Al-Ghazālī, Al-Iqtiṣād fī al-iʿtiqād, ed. Ibrahim A. Çubukçu and Hüseyn Atay (Ankara, 1962), p. 92. and al-Ghazālī, Al-Ghazālī's Moderation in Belief, trans. Alaaddin M. Yakub (Chicago, 2013).

40 Al-Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn, 4 vols. (Cairo, 1957), vol. I, p. 256.

41 Ibid ., p. 256.

42 Al-Ghazālī, Al-Iqtiṣād, p. 92.

43 Al-Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ, vol. IV, p. 256.

44 Ibid ., p. 256.

45 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York, 2003), pp. 508–17 and A605, B633–A620, B648.

46 Ibid ., pp. 521–4 and A625, B653–A630, B658.

47 Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd edn (New York, 2004), p. 20.

48 Fakhry, Majid, “The classical Islamic arguments for the existence of God,” Muslim World, vol. 47, no. 2 (1957): 133–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 139.

49 Ibid .

50 Ibid .