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Hans de Vries

Christian occasionalism

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Occasionalism is the dominant metaphysical stance in Islam and has been for 800 years now.

 

It states that God constantly destroys the world and creates it anew, therefore all causality observed in the world is an illusion. Hence, studying the outside world is useless (because God can change t at will) and only study of theology is worthwhile.

Catholic Church choose a different doctrine that God is inherently rational and by studying the world we are studying God (because he created the world)

 

Could a similar philosophical stance arise in Christianity? Let's say some very charismatic and influential of the Church Fathers expresses a view similar to the Islamic one and it just gets picked up by later philosophers/theologians and becomes predominant. Would development of science be stiffled?

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I Thought Islam had brought the old knowledge of the Greeks, and the scientific method of inquiry, back to Catholic Europe, to end the so called 'dark' ages, and usher in the Renaissance and the 'age of discovery'.

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11 hours ago, Hans de Vries said:

Would development of science be stifled?

..when there is enough bad will (and/or stupidity) (which appears so, looking at this world, at the current moment, and considering what happens worldwide) everything is plausible..

The result will be mass extinction of humankind.

There are ~7.7 billions of people just because of science.

Mass production of food requires artificial fertilizers. We could imagine situation in which people 'forget' how to make artificial fertilizers and rapidly there is no food for billions of people.

Thanks to modern science (i.e. vaccines) survival of childhood is a "piece of cake" now. In XIX and earlier majority of people were dying prior reaching adulthood. People had even 7-8 children, from which half of them were dying. No need to go back to XIX century to see that just in half of XX century 35% of children in Africa were dying.

(modern western parents worry about car accident of their son/daughter, or overdosage of narcotics, than illness)

762216063_Mortalityofchildren.png.61a0698760946a2dd9239c0f0cbe8788.png

When you will read some historical books about Roman emperors or kings in the Middle Ages, you will learn that even the most richest and the most powerful people at that times were losing offspring, and pregnant women (maternal mortality ratio), in unbelievable quantity from perspective of modern times.. They had the best medics around them, and still failure..

There are very dangerous movements related to the alleged Catholic Church in Poland, which want to return to the "good old days", and with their stupidity increase the mortality rate of women (maternal mortality rate) in Poland..

 

Edited by Sensei

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14 hours ago, Hans de Vries said:

Could a similar philosophical stance arise in Christianity? Let's say some very charismatic and influential of the Church Fathers expresses a view similar to the Islamic one and it just gets picked up by later philosophers/theologians and becomes predominant. Would development of science be stiffled?

Probably not. How much sway does the church hold over the science community as opposed to even 100 years ago?

The biggest vector is probably the church via government. We can see this in e.g. stem-cell research limitations in the US, but by and large, I don't think there's a lot of influence, and I get the impression it's even less in Europe. And countries where Christianity isn't a dominant religion wouldn't be affected very much. China, Japan, etc. wouldn't be slowed by this.

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I meant Ancient times.

 

What if the Founding Fathers of Christianity just happened to be different people with a worldview similar to Islamic Ash'ari theology .

 

10 hours ago, MigL said:

I Thought Islam had brought the old knowledge of the Greeks, and the scientific method of inquiry, back to Catholic Europe, to end the so called 'dark' ages, and usher in the Renaissance and the 'age of discovery'.

This is true. Though for several centuries there was a heated debate between occasionalist Ash'arites and Mutazilites who were proponents of rationalistic philosophy. Ultimately the occasionalists won and the debate was never reopened again not even today. Much of this is blamed on Al Ghazali even though he was just the last one in a long line of thinkers the first of whom was Ahmed Ibn Hanbal. 

 

One consequence of such a worldview is that actual science tends to be viewed as either unimportant or much less important than religious studies. For a long time the Muslim world had higher literacy rates than EUrope and a very advanced educational system but this system taught nearly exclusivelu religious subjects.

Edited by Hans de Vries

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1 hour ago, Hans de Vries said:

I meant Ancient times.

That's unfortunate, I meant now...

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2 hours ago, Hans de Vries said:

I meant Ancient times.

That's confusing. "Could a similar philosophical stance arise in Christianity?" refers to future events. Whether something happened in the past is a question of history, and your post suggests that it did not.

Do you mean to investigate an alternative history?

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On 10/25/2020 at 2:14 PM, Hans de Vries said:

It states that God constantly destroys the world and creates it anew, therefore all causality observed in the world is an illusion. Hence, studying the outside world is useless (because God can change t at will) and only study of theology is worthwhile.

While I am not well read in that area, I do not think that this is an accurate depiction of Islamic occasionalism. From what I understand at its core it seeks to answer how causality can be viewed in the context of divine actions. As such depending on which form of occasionalism one subscribes to either only God is the source of causality and all other creaturely causality are occasional (global occasionalism). Other forms have a more limited scope for ocassionalism and allow for more creaturely causality (local occasionalism. While Islamic philosophers were probably the first to formulate occasionalism, there are disagreements whether they are actually seen as a global occasionalism (as implied in OP). However, my knowledge is too limited to provide more information on that regard. It should also noted in the Islamic tradition there have been arguments for and against what one would now call global vs local occasionalism. 

The interesting bit about this position in my mind, however, is not so much the divine part, but the important implication it had for the Aristotelian school of thought where (as I understand it)  logical connections between entities were inferred as part of their properties. The occasionalist stance then is that one should instead assume a lack of such connections. Depending on who you read, to me the take home message here is not that there is no link between observed cause and effect, but rather there is no necessary link, which is a very interesting point (substitute God with something like Truth or something  like that and it gets really interesting... you can then ask what is the true causal connection between observed entities?)

And now to the question whether occasionalism could have arisen in the Christian world and the answer is of course, it actually did. While Islamic and other philosophers made occasionalist arguments, occasionalism was heavily developed in the framework of Cartesian metaphysics (e.g. Malebranche).  

I would also like to point out that in both, Islamic as well as Christian frameworks, God is seen as rational rather than arbitrary (that is why even everything stems from the divine entity, things happen in reproducible manner). Also what you mentioned regarding creation sounds to me like the the so-called Divine conservation s but continuous creation argument. Again, one made both by Islamic as well as Christian scholars.

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+1 CharonY.

 

It is my impression (from articles and videos on this topic) that return to Sunni Orthodoxy in 11th-12th centuries was a major contributing factor to the decline of science in the Islamic world with many scholars swowly chipping away the foundations of scientific progress, culminating with Al Ghazali and that adoption of occasionalism may have resulted in a similar withering of science in the Chrisian world as well. 

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1 hour ago, Hans de Vries said:

+1 CharonY.

 

It is my impression (from articles and videos on this topic) that return to Sunni Orthodoxy in 11th-12th centuries was a major contributing factor to the decline of science in the Islamic world with many scholars swowly chipping away the foundations of scientific progress, culminating with Al Ghazali and that adoption of occasionalism may have resulted in a similar withering of science in the Chrisian world as well. 

I think it requires more than that and while I am not well-read enough to actually comment in this area, I am generally a bit skeptical about claims which pinpoint complex situations to a simple source. 

Also the timeline does not line up. Some famous work in astronomy was performed by Al-Tusi in the  13th century and continued by his followers.  While the golden age of science in the Islamic world may have passed after the 13th century, they still remained relevant for a few centuries more. In fact, the first proper formulations of occasionalism were around roughly around the time when Islamic science flourished. One of the arguments I read was that because of the desire to seek the divine truth, scholars embarked on studying the natural world (seems also simplistic, but at least the timeline fits better). 

Past the 14th century or so we might see a decline (or perhaps it is a matter of perspective, the West was catching up, in part by reading translations of Islamic Scholars). But if we want to talk about the reasons, I think we need to think broader. It is not only a philosophical problem, but one of finances and political power. Arab influence was waning and repulsed from Spain, losing centres of Islamic scholarship. In the east the Mongols were a major threat, breaking up power structures and stability that existed for a long time and arguably resulted in shifts in priorities. Then the Ottoman empire came along which had a completely different structure and again, we would need to re-think the impact on scholarly pursuit.

But then we can also ask ourselves the question whether it actually declined? Scientific progress is not a linear chart. Sometimes key findings are required and sometimes folks are led horribly astray. Ultimately Islamic science flourished for almost a thousand years. Only because the Western system of science is leading, it does not mean that this was the only way it could have happened. After all Europe had the industrial revolution and all the power that ultimately came with it (which arguably was more an economic rather than philosophical change). And I think it is very dangerous to look back and then see it as a inevitable and then build stories about why it was inevitable. Sometimes things happened because someone lost a critical battle. Or someone else died too young.

 

Edit: forgot to add that considering the fact that occasionlism was discussed heavily in the 18th century onward (some might even put an earlier date on it) I doubt that one can draw a causal (heh) link.

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