Lecture II: Summary

The second lecture in Iqbal’s Reconstruction is titled “The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of Religious Experience.” The lecture is divided into two main section. In the first, shorter section, Iqbal looks at one of the most significant past efforts to apply the philosophical test—scholastic arguments for the existence of God—and declares that project to be unsatisfactory. The second section is Iqbal’s attempt to argue that the revelations of religious experience can pass the philosophical test. Iqbal’s overall task is two-fold: First, to describe the character of Reality through a philosophical criticism of scientific knowledge as well as the deeper levels of conscious experience; and second, to show that it is the same Reality that is revealed in and through religious experience.

Below is my summary of Lecture II.

I. The Poverty of Scholasticism [1–3]

“Scholasticism” refers to the sort of Christian theology that was dominant in Europe during the Middle Ages. On the basis of Aristotelian logic, it attempted to prove the existence of God by appeals to three types of philosophical arguments. These arguments have proven to be logically unsound; they also represent a poor understanding of experience.

A. Cosmological Argument [2]

According to the cosmological argument, since the chain of cause-and-effect cannot be an infinite regress, there must be a necessary being who caused the entire series of contingent beings that we call the universe. However, (1) a finite effect only needs a finite cause; to arbitrarily end the chain of cause-and-effect requires an implicit rejection of the very principle (i.e., causation) upon which the entire argument rests. (2) The first cause cannot include its effect, which reduces it to something finite. (3) There is no cause without an effect, and there is no effect without a cause; if the first cause is dependent on its effect (i.e., the universe), it cannot be a necessary being. (4) Necessity of causation is not identical with necessity of existence. (5) The argument posits a false infinite as the first cause, since the true infinite cannot exclude the finite.

B. Teleological Argument [2]

According to the teleological argument, nature displays signs of purpose, which proves the existence of a self-conscious intelligence at work. However, (1) the argument can only take us to a contriver, not a creator. (2) If it is argued that the contriver is also the creator, we would have to assume that this self-conscious intelligence first created matter that lacked purpose, and then made it act in ways contrary to its nature. (3) A designer who is external to his material will always be limited by that material. (4) The argument is based on a superficial similarity between the phenomena of nature and the products designed by an artisan; but the artisan has to select and isolate his material, whereas nature consists of interdependent entities that evolve as organic wholes.

C. Ontological Argument [3]

According to the ontological argument (in its Cartesian form), the attribute of necessary existence is part of the concept of God; we can therefore affirm that necessary existence is true of God, or that God exists. However, (1) the conception of existence does not prove objective existence. (2) The argument proves that the concept of a perfect being includes the idea of his existence, but it does not bridge the gulf between the concept and objective reality. (3) The argument is based on a logical fallacy, called petitio principii, in which the conclusion is already present in the premises.

D. Dualism of Thought and Being [3]

The teleological and ontological arguments have one thing in common: both assume that thought is a principle or agency that acts on things from the outside. In reality, thought is the ultimate ground and the very essence of things, and is not at alien to their original nature. We cannot know anything without making the distinction between the knower and the known; it is because of this limitation that we regard the object of knowledge as something independent and external to ourselves. But this is not a permanent limitation, since the current situation that requires such bifurcation is not our final situation. The Qur’an describes God or the Ultimate Reality as “the First and the Last, the Visible and the Invisible.” We would overcome the dualism of thought and being only by analyzing and interpreting the data of experience in light of the clue that this verse provides—i.e., all of our experiences contain symbols of the same Reality.

II. Philosophical Analysis of Experience [4–22]

A. Experience at the Level of Matter [4–8]

What, exactly, is matter? Physics as an empirical science deals with the facts of experience, i.e., sense-perception. Physicists deliberately exclude all mental process, as well as religious and aesthetic experiences, from their study. But we know material objects by means of their qualities as perceived by our senses. The traditional theory of matter makes a distinction between a thing and its qualities, and equates material things with the unknown cause of our sensations. According to this theory, nature is bifurcated into (1) our mental impressions and (2) the entities that cause those impressions. This creates a problem: we know what we don’t want to study, and what we want to study we cannot know. Whitehead is right when he says that this theory of matter is scientifically untenable. The same empirical attitude that at first seemed to require materialism is now rebelling against it.

The greatest blow to the traditional theory of matter has come from Einstein. Matter was believed to be something that persisted in time and moved in space, but that view can no longer be maintained. Nature is not a static fact situated inside an absolute void, but a structure of events characterized by a continuous creative flow. The mechanistic understanding of nature was based on an absolute separation between mind and matter, and has now proven to be unworkable.

Our view of matter depends on our view of space. Is space an independent void that would remain intact if everything in it were removed? Zeno approached the question of space through the phenomenon of movement. If space is infinitely divisible, he argued, then motion is impossible If movement isn’t real then an independent space cannot be real either.

Ash’arites rejected the infinite divisibility of time, space, and matter; instead, they affirmed the reality of infinitesimals. Modern mathematics, like Ibn Hazm in the past, has rejected this conclusion. Bergson rejected Zeno’s view of time and space, and Russell used Cantor’s theory of continuity to resolve the paradox. Neither solution is satisfactory. The real issue is how we are looking at movement in the first place. Movement considered as a lived act is not identical with movement as it is observed or thought. When movement is regarded from the outside, as when the flight of the arrow is observed, it is indeed divisible into its constituent parts. But when movement is regarded from within, as it is lived and experienced, it is a singular act that cannot be divided into a multiplicity.

According to Einstein, space is real but relative to the observer. We should remember that Einstein’s theory, like any other scientific theory, deals with the structure of things and not with their ultimate nature. Yet, his theory is important from a philosophical viewpoint because of its two main implications: First, Einstein’s theory destroys the traditional view of matter; and second, it makes space dependent on matter. The universe is finite but boundless, in the sense that there is no empty space outside the universe.

The religiously problematic element in Einstein’s theory is that it makes time unreal. If time is the fourth dimension of space, then it would mean that the future is as indubitably fixed as the past. Two points need to be recognized in this context: First, Einstein’s theory neglects certain characteristics of time which are known from experience, which means that his theory cannot be seen as as an exhaustive account of time; not every aspect of nature is subject to mathematical analysis. Second, the “time” that Einstein has analyzed and described mathematically is not identical with Kant’s serial time or with Bergson’s pure duration. Time regarded as a dimension of space really ceases to be time.

Ouspensky, in his book Tertium Organum, argues that time is a free creative movement, but then goes on to interpret it as the fourth dimension of space, which undermines his own argument.

B. Experience at the Levels of Life and Consciousnesses [9–22]
  1. General Comments [9]

Consciousness is one form of the purely spiritual principle of life. However, we can only conceive of spiritual energy in relation to how it is manifested through the behavior of perceptible things, which is why we assume this combination to be its ultimate ground. Darwin’s discoveries reveal that evolution occurs through a mechanistic process, which has helped promote the idea that life can be reduced to the motion of atoms. The debate about mechanism is still raging among biologists. The important question for us is whether the discoveries of science necessarily lead us to materialism. The key point to remember is that what we commonly call “science” is not a systematic view of Reality; it is, rather a collection of sectional views, fragments of a total experience, that do not seem to fit together. Science is concerned with precision, and precision requires paying attention to smaller and smaller slices of reality. In contrast, religion aims at grasping the whole of Reality, which is why it has no reason to be afraid of anything that natural science has discovered or might discover in the future.

  1. Scientific Critique of the Mechanistic View of Life [9–10]

The concepts of science are applicable to the level of experience for which they are designed. For instance, if we take the concept of “cause” as it functions in physics, and apply it to understand the subject matter of biology, we would be able to describe some aspects of living organisms but fall short of capturing the full picture. That’s because life involves goals, purposes, and ends, and these are considered outside the scope of science. That’s why there is an ongoing revolt among biologists against the mechanistic interpretations, as exemplified by J. S. Haldane, Hans Driesch, and Wildon Carr.

  1. Philosophical Inquiry into Conscious Experience [11–14]

How can we understand the ultimate nature of existence? My perception of the external world leaves room for skepticism, but not my perception of my own self, since I perceive it deeply and intimately. Therefore, it is in the realm of conscious experience that we are in absolute contact with Reality, and a careful analysis of this privileged case can therefore shed light on the ultimate nature of existence.

Analysis of our conscious experience shows that the self, in its inner life, moves from the center outwards, i.e., it moves from the observing or appreciative self towards the practical or efficient self. The appreciative self is primary and exists in pure duration; it is the inner center of experience. In contrast, the efficient self is spurious because it exists in serial time. There is change in the appreciative self but there is no succession. The appreciative self exists in a single “now.” It is for the practical necessity of dealing with the external world that the efficient self fragments time into past, present, and future.

What the Qur’an identifies as taqdir is really time regarded as an organic whole, prior to the disclosure of its possibilities; it is time as felt, and not as thought or measured. To say that time is real is to recognize that every moment in the life of Reality is original, giving birth to what is absolutely novel. To exist in pure duration or real time is to freely create. The opposite of creation is repetition, which is the characteristic of a machine; life, on the other hand, is characterized by free creative activity, which is why it cannot be fully explained through science which, by definition, seeks regularities in experience.

  1. Nature of Reality as Revealed in Conscious Experience [15–19]

The privileged case of conscious experience can help us understand the ultimate nature of Reality. Analogous to our experience of the appreciate self, the universe is also a free creative movement. Furthermore, movement is logically prior to things, just as energy can be converted into matter. What we call things are really events in the continuity of Nature; they appear to us as mutually isolated and static entities because of the serial nature of how thought operates.

Bergson’s Vitalism leads to an insurmountable dualism of will and thought. That’s because he takes a partial view of thought and assumes that it can only use mechanical categories. It is true that thought tends to up Reality into static fragments, but that’s not all that it is capable of. In its deeper movement, thought can also synthesize the elements of experiences by employing categories suitable for that purpose. In its true nature, thought and life are identical. Bergson also insists that the movement of life’s free creative activity is devoid of purpose; it is entirely aimless, arbitrary, and unpredictable. This shows that Bergson’s analysis of conscious experience is incomplete; he recognizes that in conscious experience the past moves along and operates in the present, but he fails to notice that consciousness has a forward-looking aspect as well. This implies ends or purposes, which can only be understood in reference to the future.

Bergson is unable to accept that the nature of Reality is profoundly teleological, for he believes that this would make time unreal and the future predetermined. What is at stake is how we understand the role of purpose. If teleology amounts to the working out of an eternal plan, then Bergson is right. Teleology in this sense is really materialism in disguise, for actions are predetermined by fate or destiny and there is no room for human or divine freedom; this notion is antithetical to the Qur’an. However, Bergson fails to consider that our conscious experience is teleological in another sense as well, i.e., as our individual lives unfolds, we are constantly choosing fresh ends, purposes, and ideals and allowing them to determine our actions. If that’s how we think of teleology in relation to Ultimate Reality, then Bergson’s objection becomes inapplicable.

A critical analysis and interpretation of conscious experience leads us to conceive of God, or the Ultimate Reality, as pure duration in which thought, life, and purpose form an organic unity. The only way to think of this unity is in terms of a an all-embracing self or ego. Bergson made a mistake when he thought that pure duration was prior to self. There is neither time nor space independent of the appreciative act of an enduring self. The degree of selfhood determines the degree of reality in the hierarchy of being. God is real because God can say “I am.” The universe, or Nature, is not a “thing” that exists apart from God; rather, it is a fleeting moment in the life of God. I confront you as my “other,” but the universe does not confront God as its “other.” It is impossible for us to fully grasp the nature of the Ultimate Ego, which includes all other egos.

However, if Ultimate Reality is a self, or ego, then it has to have a character, a uniform mode of behavior. The universe or Nature is God’s character; it is how God behaves. In other words, Nature is to Ultimate Ego as character is to a finite ego. Nature must therefore be understood as a living, ever-growing organism whose only limit is the immanent self which sustains it. This view gives fresh spiritual meaning to science, since the knowledge of Nature is the knowledge of God’s behavior. The study of Nature involves the seeking of intimacy with the Absolute Ego, and is therefore a type of worship.

  1. Reality of Time [20–22]

Let’s consider the argument put forward by John McTaggart, according to which time is unreal, since every event is past, present, and future and therefore combines incompatible characteristics . But this argument takes serial time as ultimate. It imagines time as a straight line, part of which we have left behind and part of which is in front of us. In McTaggart’s view, time is a static absolute and not a living, creative movement. But it is incorrect to think of something that hasn’t happened yet as an event that already exists, since what has not yet happened is only an unrealized possibility and not as an actual “event.” It is also incorrect to say that an event combines incompatible characteristics just because it can be described as both past and present. When an event X happens, it enters into an unalterable relationship with all pre-X events; these relationships are unaffected by the relationships of X with all post-X events when they’ve happened. Consequently, there is no logical problem in describing an event as both past and present.

Time is an essential element of Reality, but real time is not serial time; rather, it is pure duration, which is change without succession. When pure duration is fragmented by thought, we get serial time, with its familiar division of past, present, and future. Serial time is a mode through which the creative activity of the Ultimate Ego becomes available to quantitative measurement.

If time is an essential element of Reality, does that mean we can attribute change to God? As finite egos, human beings perceive change as imperfection; to improve in some way is to move from a state of greater imperfection to lesser imperfection. But it is our limited viewpoint that makes us think of God in human terms, thereby rendering some degree of anthropomorphism difficult to avoid. On the topic of change, the difficulty arises only when we are confined to the surface level of our conscious experience, i.e., at the level of serial change. Indeed, serial change indicates imperfection, and therefore it cannot be reconciled with divine perfection. To avoid this difficulty, we must pay attention to the deeper levels of our conscious experience, which reveals the real nature of time, which is pure duration. The Ultimate Ego exists in pure duration, in which change is another name for continuous creation. We must predicate change in this sense to the Ultimate Ego, for otherwise we would be conceiving Reality/God as utterly stagnant and inactive, like the “unmoved mover” that Aristotle imagined. God’s creative activity is not a pursuit of improvement; rather, it is the revelation of the infinite creative possibilities that already exist.

C. Summary [23]

A philosophical analysis and interpretation of experience—at the levels of matter, life, and consciousness—leads tot he conclusion that Ultimate Reality is a rationally-directed creative life. And since life is an organizing principle of unity, Ultimate Reality must be conceived as an ego. A purely intellectual view of life results in pantheism, which denies that Ultimate Reality is a concrete self. However, the deeper levels of our own conscious experience reveals life as a synthetic activity, an organizing principle. Our own appreciative self is a direct revelation of the ultimate nature of Reality. While a philosophical approach can bring us to the conclusion that the nature of Ultimate Reality is spiritual and must be conceived as an ego, it cannot take us any further. Religion, on the other hand, seeks a closer contact with Reality; it seeks experience, association, and intimacy. Religion challenges thought to rise higher than itself, and to find its fulfillment in that attitude of mind which religion describes as prayer.

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