Monday, June 22, 2009

Does the Rambam Really Believe In Creation Ex- Nihilo

After reading the Ralbag in his Sefer Milchamos Hashem (Wars of the lord) I saw that he understood that the Rambam believed in creation ex nihilo (Wars of the Lord page 328-329 volume 3 of Seymour Feldman's translation). This was fine with me, however, the more I looked into this idea, the more controversy I discovered in this seemingly innocent explanation.

The first sign of trouble that I saw was a note that was attached to this explanation by Seymour Feldman, the translator of The Wars of the Lord. In this note he said that "Ever since the Middle Ages there has been an 'esoteric' reading of The Guide according to which Maimonides' real doctrine is not creation ex nihilo-- the 'exoteric teaching'-- but some form of the eternity theory. This was the interpretation of his medieval commentators Joseph ibn Kaspi and Moses Narboni; indeed, it was the interpretation of his translator Samuel ibn Tibbon. In recent years this reading of The Guide has been advocated by Leo Strauss and Shlomo Pines, the most recent translator of The Guide into english (Note 7 on page 194 of volume 3 in Wars of the Lord)."

This note caused me to go back to The Guide (II:25) and see what the Rambam says himself. I was very shocked because, originally, I had understood the Rambam like the Ralbag, creation ex nihilo is how the world was created. However, once I reread this section of The Guide I was confused.

Here are excerpts from The guide that are relevant:

"For two reasons, however, we have not done so, and have not accepted the Eternity of the Universe. First, the Incorporeality of God has been demonstrated by proof: those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise. But the Eternity of the Universe has not been proved; a mere argument in favour of a certain theory is not sufficient reason for rejecting the literal meaning of a Biblical text, and explaining it figuratively, when the opposite theory can be supported by an equally good argument."

This section seemingly shows that the Rambam rejects the idea of the eternality of the world.

"Secondly..... If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively. The Allegorists amongst the Mohammedans have done this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions."

This part of the Rambam explains why Aristotle's idea must be wrong. The fact that Aristotle's idea contradicts miracles shows that he can not fit into a simple reading of the text. Therefore, only theories that allow for miracles can be read into the literal text.

However, this next part of the Rambam seemingly destroys the reasons for choosing creation ex nihilo as opposed to Plato's version of the eternality of the universe.

"If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above (II:23), and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion: this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity for this expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. As there is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need not be taken into consideration, nor the other one: we take the text of the Bible literally, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot prove: and the miracles are evidence for the correctness of our view." (Guide for the Perplexed section 2 chapter 25)

The Rambam says that THE MIRACLES ARE EVIDENCE FOR THE CORRECTNESS OF OUR VIEW! This seems a little strange since according to the Rambam's own admittance, the view of Plato allows for miracles as well. According to the Rambam, there is no reason to take creation ex nihilo (creation of something from nothing) over the idea of creation ex aliquo (creation of something from something). What I think is going on here is that the Rambam thinks a creation that allows for miracles is what happened, in whichever way that can occur. If it is the Platonic idea or creation ex nihilo, either one is possible. I base this idea on the next part of The Guide.

"Accepting the Creation, we find that miracles are possible, that Revelation is possible, and that every difficulty in this question is removed. We might be asked, Why has God inspired a certain person and not another ? Why has He revealed the Law to one
particular nation, and at one particular time? why has He commanded this, and forbidden that ? why has He shown through
a prophet certain particular miracles ? what is the object of these laws ? and Why has He not made the commandments and the
prohibitions part of our nature, if it was His object that we should live in accordance with them ? We answer to all these questions: He willed it so; or, His wisdom decided so. just as He created the world according to His will, at a certain time, in a certain form, and as we do not understand why His will or His wisdom decided upon that peculiar form, and upon that peculiar time, so we do not know why His will or wisdom determined any of the things mentioned in the preceding questions. But if we assume that the Universe has the present form as the result of fixed laws, there is occasion for the above questions: and these could only be answered in an objectionable way, implying denial and rejection of the Biblical texts, the correctness of which no intelligent person doubts. Owing to the absence of all proof, we reject the theory of the Eternity of the Universe: and it is for this very reason that the noblest minds spent and will spend their days in research. For if the Creation had been demonstrated by proof, even if only according to the Platonic hypothesis, all arguments of the philosophers against us would be of no avail." (Guide for the Perplexed section 2 chapter 25)

The Rambam clearly rejects the Aristotilian view of creation, but he leaves the door wide open for the acceptance of Plato's view. This leads me to believe that, in the end, the Rambam is in doubt whether creation ex nihilo is true, or whether creation ex aliquo is true. Therefore, the Rambam says either one is acceptable.

The Ralbag is dissatisfied with how the Rambam leaves this inquiry since, as I have pointed out, he does not really come to a definitive conclusion. Therefore, the Ralbag takes it upon himself in his sefer The Wars of The Lord to show, through proof, why creation ex nihilo is not logical and why creation ex aliquo is how G-D created the world. (Seen in wars of the Lord on page 328-330)

For those who do not know what Plato holds I will explain. The Ralbag actually holds something very similar to Plato. It is the idea that there was a shapeless matter that existed eternally. However, this matter was just shapeless formless and thoughtless matter whereas G-D is all powerful. G-D took this matter and created the world and the rest of the universe. In this way the world is eternal, there was matter eternally. This still allows for miracles because it shows that G-D controls the nature of the physical world. However, Aristotle's version of the eternality of the world would be that the spheres and shapes of matter and planets always existed and G-D would not be able to alter the nature of the universe. This is why his view does not allow for miracles because it does not allow for G-D to change the nature of the world.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. However, the article provides no citations, whatsoever, to the quoted material. Greatly appreciate it if you could supplement this article with citations. Thank you.

E-Man said...

Everything that I could source, I sourced. Let me know if you need anything else or if one of the sources is wrong.