Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Islamic Collapse

David Goldman points to an essay by Fr. J. Schall SJ.

...“The Fragility of Islam” is the subject of his latest pronouncement at the Catholic Thing blog. Western analysts tend to accept the narrative of Muslim triumphalism, the assertion that the strong faith of the Islamic world will overwhelm the temporizing and vacillating West. Not so, Fr. Schall argues: Islam itself is “as fragile as communism.”...

That is precisely what B-16 was driving at in his famous Regensburg lecture.  Islam cannot stand up to philosophical questions; its "truth claims" are specious and hollow.


The fragility of Islam, as I see it, lies in a sudden realization of the ambiguity of the text of the Koran. Is it what it claims to be? Islam is weak militarily. It is strong in social cohesion, often using severe moral and physical sanctions. But the grounding and unity of its basic document are highly suspect. Once this becomes clear, Islam may be as fragile as communism.

So.  While Spencer is correct that Islam's jihadists are a threat (as are other jihadists of any persuasion), the might and main of Islam is not, at least in any long-term sense.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links. I find them interesting, but grotesquely misinformed. Islam will "collapse" because it cannot stand up to "philosophical questions"? Islam is as "fragile as communism"?

Great fantasy. And you say that the liberal intelligentsia has issues?

Waiting for a long-winded diatribe by Saint Revolution in 3, 2, 1...

Dad29 said...

Not only philosophical; the Koran itself is inconsistent.

J. Strupp said...

So is the Bible.

Dad29 said...

Not in terms of understanding. There is no "yes AND no" in the Bible; it's philosophically consistent (ergo theologically the same.)

Discrepancies are one thing, contradictions are another entirely.

At root, the Koran is monotheistic, not Trinitarian (as is both the OT and NT.) Ergo, there is no 'communitas' in the Koran, which eventually leads to the Koran's contradictions AND to Shari'a law's inhumanity.

Grim said...

Islam can bear substantial philosophical weight. I know this because I know that it has done so previously; indeed, the Catholic Church's doctrine on the nature of God, as captured by Aquinas, was largely formulated by Avicenna. Averroes was not only a thoughtful commentator on Aristotle -- still worth reading today! -- but an Islamic law judge.

The best thing that could happen to Islam would be to rediscover its philosophical tradition. The tradition was largely lost between the destruction of the Persian schools by the Mongols and the loss of the Spanish schools to the Christians. Nevertheless, far from being too frail to support such a tradition, Islam has already proven itself capable of bearing the weight of philosophy.

Dad29 said...

Perhaps Avicenna/Arroes was influential. And I recall the 'lost school' of Islam which was shut out around 1300 AD.

But it is not true that the Muslims 'preserved' Aristotelian documents; that was done by the Catholics at Constantinople.

Current Muslim philosophy is based on a heresy (see Belloc) that I described above. The position of Allah being able to do whatever he wills to do--whether good or bad--cannot be sustained.

Grim said...

I didn't say that Islam had preserved Aristotle. Avicenna's gift to Catholicism (to put it that way) is that he harmonized neoplatonism with Aristotelian science, logic and metaphysics. He did this, by the way, based on a mistake by your Greek brothers that you mention: they misattributed some Platonic works to Aristotle, leading Avicenna to spend a lot of labor on trying to sort out how Aristotle could have believed the several things at once.

The reason this was such a gift to Aquinas is that it was his very challenge. He lived in the years after the Spanish reconquest had begun to recover Aristotle (from the Arabs in Spain, by the way, not from the Greeks). The works of Aristotle (and much of Plato had also been lost) revolutionized the basic understanding of the early Western church, which had been neoplatonic. What was needed was a way of putting it all together that made sense, so that a lowly churchman like Aquinas could bring forward the advances represented by Aristotle without losing the neoplatonic-informed doctrine that had been created by saints before him. (Aquinas, as you know, was not canonized until the 19th century).

Avicenna paved the way for him. You will not find Avicenna cited very often in the Summa, but if you are familiar with both the Summa and Avicenna's Metaphysics, the debt is apparent. Aquinas may not have known how deeply indebted he was, though, since Avicenna was so influential: he may have thought he was quoting Maimonides or one of several others, instead.

Aquinas wasn't free of attribution errors either, by the way; he regularly attributes things to Dionysius that were apparently not written by him. We refer to Aquinas' author as "pseudo-Dionysius" in order to be clear.

Dad29 said...


I'm vaguely familiar with the Neo-Platonists Alexander of Hales, Augustine, Anselm, Plotinus, and Bonaventure.

And Avicenna's metaphysics may be the foundation for TA's. But either you or Belloc is correct; Avicenna could not have had the same concept of God as TA did, for TA believed in the Trinity. Mohammedans do not.

The groundwork: Truth/Beauty/Goodness may well have been attested by both. But the reality and nature of the Trinity is pretty important, too.

Grim said...

Your deduction that either Belloc or I must be correct is logically sound, but factually incorrect. In point of fact, Aquinas does both.

In the first book of the Summa, he accepts wholeheartedly Avicenna's formulation that God is absolutely one, and absolutely simple. (See ST I 3 & 11; also note that Aquinas includes Avicenna's proof of God in ST I 2.3c, the 'third way.')

Having accepted this doctrine on the unity and indivisibility of God, he then argues for the Trinity in later books of the Summa. Since he's already committed to the proposition that God is absolutely simple, he ends up arguing in a fashion similar to Aristotle that God has a sort of relationship with himself that allows him to divide himself without actually having parts.

Plotinus, by the way, completely rejected that formula; he believed in an absolute unity as well, but also thought that such a unity could not think -- not even about itself -- because to think means to divide yourself into the thinker and the object of thought. That means losing the unity.

Of course, we do this all the time. If you sit down to think about yourself, you immediately divide your consciousness between observer and observed, and carry on a merry argument. This may be a way in which we are like God, or made in his image -- which for Aquinas, as for Avicenna, meant that we had a rational nature.

Grim said...

Here, though, I'm walking a bit away from the point. Avicenna was able to investigate whether God could think about himself -- and it is a matter of some discussion as to whether he followed Aristotle or Plotinus on the point. Put another way, there is a credible scholarship that says that Avicenna is following Plotinus, and assigning to Allah the second rank that Plotinus assigns to the Intellect: a thing unified in composition, but infinitely divisible internally, as Aquinas thought of God.

If that is right, the real One in Islam -- at least for Avicenna -- isn't Allah at all. Allah is #2. And if Islam can bear the weight of that discussion, which it did in Avicenna's day, it can take any weight modern Muslims care to put to it.