Islam: The Religion of… Logic? (3/3)

Not often described as the Religion of Logic, Islam had a golden age spanning from the 8th-12th century (CE). This is the last in a three-part post on logic and rational thought in Islam. The previous post looked at the Mu’tazilites, who believed in reason and rational thought above all else. Here we will look at applications and types of logic in Islamic law making.

Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh)
In the modern day there are many schools of fiqh (madhhab) which can be seen in this world map. The four accepted Sunni madhhabs are Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali. The Shia’s have the Ja’fari, Isma’ili and Zaidi madhhabs. Mu’tazilism, being a system of theological interpretations, doesn’t exactly have a madhhab. This gives a rather confusing situation where you can have “Sunni Mu’tazalites” and “Shia Mu’tazalites”. This would be Mu’tazilites roughly following, for example, a Hanafi or Zaidi madhhab. The movement was predominantly of Sunnis, notably the founder Wasil ibn Ata (a good friend of Zayd ibn Ali) and scholar Abd al-Jabbar, but there were also Shi’ite Mu’tazilah like Ayatollah Hilli and the poet Ibn al-Rumi. The introduction of Mu’tazilism on the kalam of Judaism even brought about “Jewish Mu’tazilites” such as David ibn Merwan al-Mukkamas. Though again we see another area of Islam wherein Mu’tazilites are shown to be very different from standard Islamic views.

The Sources of God’s Law (Sharia)
Fiqh is the process used for creating, understanding and applying religious laws, for the main part madhhabs can be seen to follow a process of stages involving different religious sources: The main ones being the Qur’an, Sunnah, Ijma, Qiyas (Sunni) and ‘aql (Shia). The madhhabs give different weight to different sources. Hanbali, for example, give credence to the first two stages and ignore the last ones.

1 2 3 4
Sunni Qur’an Sunnah Ijma Qiyas
Shia Qur’an Sunnah Ijma ‘Aql
Mutazilah ‘Aql Qur’an Sunnah Qiyas*

ijma – meaning “consensus” either by religious authorities (Sunni), the Imam (Shia) or the Muslim community (Ibadi). Sunni’s often use the Companions of Mohammad (Sahabah) as the religious authorities, looking for their consensus in Hadiths. Using ijma is invalid for Mu’tazilah because of a rational scepticism towards peoples’ ability to make mistakes. For this same reason Hadiths are treated with caution and discarded if they contradict the Quran. Both the Shia and Mu’tazilah held critical views about the first generation of Muslims, with Ibadi also viewing Uthman and Ali as less than righteous.

Qiyas – meaning “deductive analogy” in reference to what is written in The Qur’an and Hadiths with what is being assessed. Because most Mu’tazilites follow Hanafi teachings Qiyas were often accepted, though not always. Notably Ibrahim an-Nazzam who denied Qiyas, Ijma and even Sunnah as sources for Sharia stating that only The Qur’an and ‘aql were acceptable.

‘Aql – meaning “reason” is intellect in terms of the rational faculty of the soul, deep understanding of God’s words, Imams have ‘aql. The term is slightly different when seen from Mu’tazilah doctrine as much closer to rational logic than religious understanding. Where Qiyas are analogical reason, ‘aql is pure logical reason.

A Note on Ibadi’ism
I found two completely contradictory Ibadi views on Qiyas and ijma, the first was Ibadi madhhab rejects the 3rd and 4th stages as a form of innovation (bid‘ah). This follows from the generally conservative nature of Ibadi Islam, but then in a state-published book on Ibadi’ism from Oman it says they follow 5 stages of fiqh: Qur’an, Sunnah, ijma, Qiyas & Induction (istidlal). The use of ijma can be seen to follow directly from the democratic nature of the Ibadi caliph. So I’m not sure which is the case as they both make sense for different reasons.

Sources: Initially Wikipedia then (Shia), (Sunni) then videos of scholars, academics and documentaries on Youtube (Sunni & Shia & Ibadi). The information was sporadic and sometimes contradictory so please feel free to correct me if I made mistakes.

Islam: The Religion of… Logic? (2/3)

Often described as the Religion of Violence, Islam had a golden age spanning from the 8th-12th century (CE). The previous post brushed over the Islamic Golden Age and Kalam. This post introduces a prominent theological school that lived and died in that time.

The Mu’ tazila


Paradoxical statements in the Qur’an had to be logically qualified.

Their theology was and is incredibly different to mainstream Islam for many reasons, the big ones being belief in Free Will, Atomism, rationalising discrepancies in the Qur’an and that the Qur’an itself was created. Now although the Qur’an is a primary source for knowing God’s laws – pure analytical reason gets the final say! Listed below are the five fundamental beliefs in Mu’tazilism, although monotheism and divine justice are standard for virtually all forms of Islam the interpretation makes them very important. The First Principle, as stated in the Mu’tazila text Kitab Al-Usul Al-Khamsa, is that good and evil can be known solely through human reason (without revelation) and that it is a Muslim’s duty to try and know God in this way. This principle, the autonomy of intellect, underpins the five fundamentals below:

  • MonotheismTawhid,  better expressed as the oneness of God, has had slightly different meanings over the history of Islam. Usually the Qur’an is seen to be an essence of God (His word) and thus co-eternal with Him. Mu’tazilites strict interpretation of tawhid says the Qur’an cannot both be part of Him and apart from Him, so the Qur’an cannot be eternal and thus is created. This became one of the most contested positions in Islamic thought. A view shared by the Ibadi Muslims of present day Oman.
  • Divine JusticeAl-‘Adl, there are many divine attributes and although virtually all schools of thought believe God to have justice as one – the strict analysis of it by Mu’tazilites brings about a controversial view. In answer to the Problem of Evil, like in Zoroastrianism, they respond by introducing Free Will – something completely opposed to the determinism of mainstream Islam. This is because if God is divinely just then he cannot create someone, command them to do evil then punish them for doing so.
  • The Promise and the Threat – At-wa’d wa al-wa’id, this is divine retribution. For this reason one must try to know God through rationality in order not to inadvertently disobey Him (and burn in Hell).
  • The Intermediate PositionAl-Manzilah Bayna al-Manzilatayn, when a Muslim sins they do not become a disbeliever (kafir) but neither do they stay a true believer (mu’min). If they die in this state they will be judged by God separately from a mu’min and a kafir. This view sits between the Kharijite position that sinning is disbelief (a view shared by modern day Islamic Extremists) and the Murjite position that a sinner is still a believer until Judgement Day where God will decide.
  • Commanding Good, Prohibiting EvilAl-‘amr bil ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar, an obligation for all mu’min. This is the maxim that led to political intervention in the Abbasid Caliphate.

Mu’tazila: Sunni, Shia, Ibadi?
There are quite a few sects/schools/movements in Islam, this infograph shows the types that are around today. It doesn’t mention Mu’tazila and in my reading I have seen them referred to as Sunni sub-set, their own sect and even not Muslims at all. I would say there is enough difference in views to call them an independent sect. If we look at views on who can be a caliph we see that Sunni say the caliph must be from the tribe of Mohammed, Shia say the caliph must be from the family of Ali then the Ibadi say it can be anyone of strong faith. The Ibadi view was one adopted from their predecessor the Kharijites, the Mu’tazila share the Ibadi and Kharijite view on who can be caliph. But their rational dispute with the texts and onus on self-reasoning is contrary to conservative Ibadi/Kharijite views. Although the lines do blur as we will see in the next post, Mu’tazilites were quite the contrarians of their time – and even of our time.

Nobody Expects the Islamic Inquisition! (Minha)
The fifth doctrine, commanding good and prohibiting evil, invoked political action during the Abbasid Caliphate. Pro-Mu’tazila ulama (religious officials), including the caliphs al-Ma’mun and al-Mu’tasim, began interrogating scholars and ulama who did not believe in the Jahmite and Mu’tazilte view of Quranic Createdness. Imprisonment, punishment and even death would fall on those who did not concede. There was a growing ‘traditionalist’ re-serge in Sunni Islam at the time which promoted much the opposite and the fact that Mu’tazila shared views in-line with Zoroastrians and Shia muslims did not win them any favours with the populous. In the field of kalam two more systematic schools emerged in response, these were the Ashi’arites and the Maturidis. The latter was a hardline reaction that advocated Quranic literalism and threw out rational applications. The Ashi’arite school was the middle ground and found much support.

The 10th caliph of the Abbasid reign, Al-Mutawakkil, reversed the order of Minha and with that the ulama freely became less accepting of Mu’tazilites. The general community were already rather against them and Mu’tazilites quickly lost any power or influence they once held. Even after the Mu’tazilites had all gone – their practices still continued, mainly with the Zaidi Shias of Yemen, but also Ismaili Shias, Karaite Jews and certain Sufi schools had by this time all adopted different aspects of Mu’tazila doctrine. The Ashi’arite school of theology which advocated a lighter version of rationalism became moderately accepted in the Sunni mainstream.

The next post is on interpreting sharia (law).

Sources: Initially Wikipedia then,, scholars on Youtube (Sunni & Shia, including Wahhabist Feiz Mohammad), academics and documentaries online. The information was sporadic and sometimes contradictory so I also bought the book Defenders of Reason in Islam which is a detailed analysis of the movement’s initial serge all the way up to it’s revival in our modern times.

Islam: The Religion of… Logic? (1/3)

Often described as the Religion of Peace, Islam had a golden age spanning from the 8th-12th century (CE). This is the first in a three-part post on logic and rational thought in Islam. Each post will look at a different relationship analytical thought has had with the Arab-speaking populous.

Liberalisation of Science and Philosophy
During the Golden Age great advances were made, importantly the House of Wisdom was set up in Baghdad. From here the first ever international scientific venture in history began; Wherein, large volumes of written knowledge from Persian, Greek, Latin, European and Indian origin were translated to Arabic. The great Arabic polymaths such as Al-Kindi, who had the earliest writings on encryption by frequency analysis and wrote On the Use of the Indian Numerals, worked from the House of Wisdom. The biggest star of the Golden Age was ibn Sina (Avicenna) who made so many contributions – the biggest being The Canon of Medicine which, written in 1025, was used as a medical standard from England to China for about 600 years. Like many thinkers were at the time, Avicenna was also a logician and he disliked Aristotelian logic. For example when looking at ‘if p, then q’ he believed it too presumptuous to assert an such a strong relation between p and q. His response, ‘q while p’, is the beginnings of Temporal Logic. Below are some examples of his Temporalis (While Logic) :

  • Whenever the Sun is out, then it is day
  • It is never the case that if the Sun is out, then it is night
  • It is never the case that either the Sun is out or it is day
  • If, whenever the Sun is out, it is day, then either the Sun is out, or it is not day
Considered the Founder of Optics, and with it Experimental Physics, ibn Al-Haythem appears on the Iraqi dinar. He also divided the first rigorous attempt at testing - making him the Founder of the Scientific Method.

Ibn Al-Haythem (Alhazen), a Persian Islamic thinker whom worked from the House of Wisdom, is considered the Founder of Optics and with it Experimental Physics. He also devised the first rigorous attempt at testing – making him the Founder of the Scientific Method.

Dialectical Exploration of Theology (kalam)
Baghdad may have had the House but Basra had the Circle, the circle of Al-Hasan Al-Basri (Hasan) to be exact. In this gathering of minds instead of scientific discussion there was theological questions emerging. Questions asked were to do with the nature of God, His attributes, good and evil, how to understand the Qur’an. Not all Muslims supported the idea of kalam but those who did would relish the chance to debate other religions – especially ahl al-kitab (People of the Book). A practitioner of kalam is called a mutakallim, and this word was used for non-Muslims aswell. From these endeavours there later developed Jewish Kalam, schools of thought in this time influenced each other a great deal. There was even athiest mutakallimun such as Ibn al-Rawandi. The first Muslims that practiced early on were the Qaadariyah (believers in Free Will) who were mockingly compared to Zoroastrians and the Jahmites (believers in Quranic Createdness and non-literal interpretations of the Qur’an). These early terms were for people holding certain singular dogmas. Later, as kalam evolved, three distinct schools of thought emerged (the Mu’tazila, Ash’ari and Maturidi). The next post looks specifically at the Mu’tazila.

An Argument for a Possible God

This is a loose idea I’ve been mulling over for a few day, I thought I’d get it written down and share it. It’s less an argument for God and more an argument for how a God like the one who talks to Abram could intervene. It’s nothing solid, just a thought.

The Programmer’s Possibility
Consider two times: gTime (God’s) and nTime (Nature’s), we exist within the bounds of nTime but it does not affect God or his/her actions in any direct sense. Nature is a member data of God (a creation) and when God updates (exists in a temporal sense) then Nature also does. God exists within whatever gTime is, it could be a truth value, an incrementing numeric value like nTime or I personally like the idea of an oscillating series (i.e., Grandi’s).

Here we can start to see a possible way that God could intervene like most Abrahamics believe he/she can. Everytime God is updated, he/she is given the chance to alter Nature:

God.Update(g_GodTime, p_NaturalTime)
 ++g_GodTime; //global variable
 Choice change = GodWilling();

 Nature.Update(p_NaturalTime, change);

The change variable is used in a function to amend the historical path leading up to an occurring moment in nTime and it completes before nTime is incremented. So at, say, time D in Nature a person can make a choice (free will) but inbetween moment D and E God can edit D which will change C, B and A to adjust history. Like glitches in The Matrix.

Nature.Update(p_NaturalTime, change)
  ++p_NaturalTime; //private member of God

  //Account for free will:
  int soulCount = Nature.GetSouls();
  for(int i = 0; i < soulCount; ++i)

  //Account for the hand of God:

Also, if you haven’t already, check out my last theology post on the power of God.

Ultimate Origins Debate

Just wanted to post this for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. It’s the conversation between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams (with Anthony Kenny as the perfect catalyst).

Talking about things like computation, consciousness, free will and determinism it gives me a perfect reason to link my recent post on Soul & Simulation on the same stuff.

Soul & Simulation

For a good while now I’ve been reading The Computer and the Brain, and it has had me thinking about consciousness and ultimately the universe. In it, von Neuman talks about the relationships between computer and brain functions. For example, the electrical nature of neurons in the brain give rise to an obvious parrallel with binary systems. Because of such similarities a neuron can be modelled by computation, the first artificial neuron was modelled in 1943 by McCulloch (neuroscientist) & Pitts (logician). Since then exstensive work has been done on artificial neural netowrks, but as development continues, can consciousness be recreated?

Artificial Intelligence
As it is 2012: Year of Alan Turing this post has found itself at just the right time!
Artificial Intelligence is a branch of computer science that is trying to emulate intellect in computers. There are four main approaches are:

Systems that think like humans. Systems that think rationally.
Systems that act like humans. Systems that act rationally.

Back at University I had the idea that cryptography was the key (pun intended) to simulating consciousness, I thought about how private our thoughts are and how disconnected they seemed to the outside world, and that some sort of crypto-intellegent agent could act as the conscious. Later I dropped this hypothesis, it sounded cool but didn’t actually make much sense.

I define intelligence as the application of knowledge, the more intellect – the better you apply prior knowledge. This leads me to a conclusion, the ‘like a human‘ systems may be intellegent but they are not the pinnacle – Intelligence transcends human cognition.

Turing’s approach, act like a human, was initially the most successful, it lead to natural language processing and then chatbots like ELIZA and PARRY, also it brings up the question of consciousness! His Turing Test has yet to be passed by any AI, such a system would be deemed Strong AI. One of the traits of a strong AI system is it’s ability to infer from an uncertain situation and there is a lot of hope in incorperating quantum computing, this would allow decisions to be made on a much more probable basis. Google have been testing quantum computer’s ability to recognise faces and it is a vast improvement on classical computers.

My new idea for how a consciouss AI might be created is to go for a hybrid approach, to mimic the human instinct and thought processes. An act-human interface, with a think-rationally system assessing the incomming ‘thoughts’. Back and forths could happen on uncertain results using some sort of reasoning system. I have a feeling incompleteness and imprecision are the only actual problems with forming strong AI, but for now that’s just a voice in my head. Talking about voices in my head, what about free will?

Free Will

"You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth. Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect." - Merovingian. The Matrix Reloaded.

My view on free will is that of a reductionist’s, a clean explination can be found in Sam Harris’ video on the lack of free will. In this video Michio Kaku uses quantum mechanics as a gateway to free will. Using uncertainty as an argument for free will is changing the will-type, if uncertainty is affecting your choices, you are exibhiting uncertain will. They are not your choices. They are not free. To believe in free will is to believe in dualism. Some people like Daniel Dennett would disagree, but compatiblists are just lay-dualists and wishful determinists, if the choice can be reduced to the efforts of the brain at any point – there is no choice, just action-reaction.

I can’t buy into dualism. A soul, for example, would need inputs and outputs to be anything it’s claimed to be, it would need to interact with a fundamental force to affect our physical choices or record ethics for later judging. If this was the case it would be detectable. Supernatural entities acting on natural entities must themselves be at least part natural.

My ultimate view is that of a determanistic one:

\mbox{ The universe is } \boldsymbol{f(x) = 42} \mbox{, we're just the working out. }

I like to think that philosophy is trying to understand the answer, cosmology is trying to figure out the input and physics is learning about the function. More to this, as long as x is the same the answer to life the universe and everything is always 42. By this I mean if we were to reset the universe the exact same thing would happen without any fluxuation of difference at all.

Randomness (See also: my random post)
My determanistic approach to thinking stems directly from my skepticism of randomness. In chaos theory the randomness is known to come from a lack of exact measurements, but in quantum physics the idea of probability is introduced, I refute the claim that probability is proof for true randomness – again, unpredictability is a lack of exact measurements. Unfortunatly simply recreating the test parameters isn’t the same as exactly re-doing the test itself, so it is a non-testable hypothesis, but a rational and logical one. All evidence so far moves towards the idea of a deterministic universe, science itself is based on the idea of laws predicting events, Bertrand Russell puts it well when he says “Where determinism fails, science fails.” (Determinism and Physics). He also talks about determinism as a scientific dogma or closer to a prerequisite in Science and Religion.

But yeah, The Computer and the Brain? Pretty good book so far..

Large Numbers, Infinities & God (3/3)

Continuing on from my posts on Large Numbers and Infinities. For the sake of argument, this post implies the existance of a Christian God.

Georg Cantor & God
Cantor was a very religious man, ironically he began his work on infinity to disprove it – because nothing could be as infinite as God. After finding multitudes of infinites of different type and form, he refered to them as transfinite: more than any finite number but not what he would later call Absolute Infinity. Religion often gets a bad rep for limiting scientific growth through things like persecution, elitist education systems, lack of rationality and the entirity of the dark ages.. but many scientists were inspired by God. Indeed Cantor himself actually believed God was speaking to him, that he was God’s messenger for this glorious new mathematics. The mathematical infinity was last in a series of three infinities diverging from the absolute (God), the second was physical infinity here I assume the universe. Of the three, the second (physical infinity) seems so much more out there. I assume he’s refering to the universe because as physics stands – matter is quantised (early on: Atomism, later the Standard Model) and so the only infinity is outward bound. Personally I don’t see reason to believe in a physical infinity. The nearest would be the universe as a closed manifold in Eliptic (Non-Euclidean) geometry – if you kept going you’d never reach the end, but it’s because you’ve looped round to the begining (modulus NOT infinite).

Back to the absolute infinity, what would that entail? Philosophy states it as an unconditional reality which transcends limited, conditional, everyday existence. As in all trains of thought there are variations, the general attributes found in most are: infinity, indescribability, formlessness, transcendence and immanence. Infinity inside infinity? Exactly how Cantor described it (Absolute→Physical→Abstract). These are also strong beliefs in pantheism (God is everything) and panentheism (everything is God), Cantor’s belief was that God holds every aspect of every infinity and finity. I get the feeling that Cantor saw God as ‘everything and more’, a sort of transpanentheism incorporating Christian dogma.

“Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:24.

Donald Knuth & God
The book Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About is my influence for these three posts, and in it was an idea that captivated me: Does God have to be infinite to fit biblical criteria? Well, in the King James Version of the Bible “infinite” only appears three times and only once pertaining to an attribute of God: “Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.” – Psalms 147:4-6. Also note that the Hebrew in this text can be more accurately translated as the phrase “too big to count”.

Knuth invites us to invision the number 10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow \uparrow 3 which, as we remember from the first post, means 10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow 10). Ofcourse we need to further explain (10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow 10) and we shall call it \boldsymbol{\mathcal{K}}:

\boldsymbol{\mathcal{K}} = 10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow 10))))))))

Now Knuth’s K was much more fancy but here we see that 10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow \uparrow 3 = 10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow \boldsymbol{\mathcal{K}}. Hopefully you are beginning to see the magnitude of the number we are dealing with, if not take into acount to attempt to define it further, we must say:

10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow \uparrow 3 = 10\uparrow \uparrow \uparrow \boldsymbol{\mathcal{K}} = \underbrace{10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow \dots \uparrow \uparrow (10\uparrow \uparrow 10) \dots ))}_{ K \mbox{ times.}}

From now on we’ll refer to 10↑↑↑↑3 as Special K (Knuth calls it Super K but I am cereal about my names), Special K is an unfathomably large number – too big to count. Not only is Special K massive, it is one of the smallest finite numbers around, almost every other finite number is larger than it…

To say that God is not infinite but limited by numbers such as Special K is not a comprehensible limitation at all. Knuth puts it well saying that this cannot contradict the Bible or any other sacred text because there are no words to explain such large magnitudes, because they are quite simply incomprehensible (which itself is often seen as an important attribute of God).

Side note: God as Beauty
Carl Sagan once said on a programme called God, the Universe & Everything Else that he saw God as the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe, not as a religious figure or spiritual being and infact opposed the idea. Einstein thought much the same, as is apparent in these two extracts:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it” 24th March, “On A Personal God”

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly.” – Albert Einstein, 1947

Which belief do you favour? Cantor’s or Knuth’s?

I wanted to share something I just read:

  • “Whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah. He is the Mighty, the Wise. His is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth; He bestows life and he causes death; and He has power to do all that he wills. He is the first and the last Manifest and theHidden, and He has full knowledge of all things.” – Qur’an 57:1.

To me this is extremely close to what Cantor believed, except he had the math to define more than is stated here.