Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE reasonings and arguments of the Mutakallemim to demonstrate the Incorporeality of God are very weak., and indeed inferior to their arguments for the Unity of God. They treat the doctrine of the Incorporeality of God as if it were the logical sequence of the theory of His Unity, and they say that the attribute "one" cannot be applied to a corporeal object. Those who maintain that God is incorporeal because a corporeal object consists of substance and form--a combination known to be impossible in the Divine Being, are not in my opinion Mutakallemim, and such an argument is not founded on the propositions of the Kalâm; on the contrary, it is a logical
proof based on the theory of substance and form, and on a right conception of their properties. It has the character of a philosophical argument, and I shall fully explain it when treating of the arguments of the philosophers. Here we only propose to discuss the arguments by which the Mutakallemim desire to prove the Incorporeality of God in accordance with their propositions and the method of their reasoning.
If God were corporeal, His true essence would necessarily either exist entirely in every part of the body, that is to say, in each of its atoms, or would be confined to one of the atoms. In the latter alternative the other atoms would be superfluous, and the existence of the corporeal being [with the exception of the one atom] would be of no purpose. If, on the other hand, each atom fully represented the Divine Being, the whole body would not be one deity, but a complex of deities, and this would be contrary to the doctrine adopted by the kalâm that God is one. An examination of this argument shows that it is based on the first and fifth propositions. But there is room for the following objection: "God does not consist of atoms, that is to say, He is not, as you assert, composed of a number of elements created by Himself, but is one continuous body, and indivisible except in man's imagination, which affords no test; for in man's imagination the substance of the heavens may be torn or rent asunder. The philosopher holds that such a possibility results from assuming a similarity and an analogy between the visible, i.e., the bodies which exist among us, and the invisible."
This argument, they believe, is of great importance. Its main support is the impossibility of comparison, i.e., the belief that God cannot be compared to any of His creatures; and that He would be comparable to other corporeal objects if He were corporeal. They put great stress on this argument, and say as follows: "If it were asserted that God is corporeal, but that His substance is not like that of other corporeal beings, it would be self-contradictory: for all bodies are alike as regards their substance, and are distinguished from each other by other things, viz., the accidents." They also argue that if God were corporeal it would follow that He has created another being like Himself. This argument is refuted in two ways. First, the objector does not admit the impossibility of comparison; he asks how it could be proved that God cannot be compared to any of His creatures. No doubt that, in support of their view, that a comparison between the Almighty and any other being is inadmissible, they would have to cite the words of the Prophets, and thus accept this doctrine by the authority of tradition, not by the authority of reason. The argument that God, if comparable to any of His creatures, would be found to have created beings like Himself, is refuted by the objector in the following way: "The created things are not like Him in every respect; for I do not deny that God has many properties and peculiarities." For he who admits the corporeality of God does not deny the existence of properties in the divine Being. Another and more forcible argument is this: All who have studied philosophy, and have made themselves thoroughly acquainted with philosophical theories, assume as demonstrated
facts, first that the term substance, when applied to the spheres above and to the corporeal objects here on earth is a perfect homonym, for the substance of the one is not the substance of the other: and secondly that the forms of the things on this earth are different from the forms of the spheres; the terms substance and form when applied both to things below and to the spheres above are homonyms; although there is no doubt that the spheres have [like the things below, three] dimensions, they are corporeal because they consist of substance and form, not because they have dimensions. If this explanation is admitted with reference to the spheres, how much more is he who believes that God is corporeal justified in saying that God is a corporeal being which has dimensions, but which in its substance, its true nature and properties is very different from all created bodies, and that the term "substance" is applied to Him and to His creatures homonymously, in the same manner as the true believers, who have a correct conception of the divine idea, apply the term "existence" homonymously to Him and to His creatures. The Corporealists do not admit that all bodies consist of similar atoms: they believe that God created all things, and that these differ from each other both in their substances and in their constituent properties: and just as the substance of dung differs from the substance of the sun, so does, according to this theory, the substance of the spheres and the stars differ from the substance of the created light, i.e., the Divine Glory (Shechinah), and again the substance of the Divine Glory, or the pillar of cloud created [for the purpose], differ from the substance of the Most High; for the substance of the latter is sublime, perfect, simple, constant and immutable. His absolute existence remains always the same, and He creates all things according to His will and desire. How could this argument, though it be weak, be refuted by these strange methods of the Mutakallemim, which I pointed out to you?
If God were corporeal, He would be finite, and so far this argument is correct; if He were finite, He would have certain dimensions and a certain form; this is also a correct conclusion. But they continue thus: Attribute to God any magnitude or form whatever: He might be either larger or smaller, and might also have a different form. The fact that He has one special magnitude and one special form presupposes the existence of a determining agens. I have heard that they attach great importance to this argument, but in truth it is the weakest of all the arguments mentioned above. It is founded on the tenth proposition, the feebleness of which in ignoring the actual properties of things, we have clearly shown in regard to ordinary beings and must be much more evident in regard to the Creator. There is no difference between this argument and their assertion that the fact of the existence of the Universe having been preferred to its non-existence proves the existence of an agens that preferred the existence of the Universe to its non-existence at a time when both were equally possible. If it were asked why this argument should not be applied to God-viz., that His mere existence proved the existence of an agens which determined His existence and rejected His non-existence--they would undoubtedly answer that this admission would only lead to a repetition of the same argument until at
length a being be found whose existence is not merely potential but necessary, and which does not require a causa efficiens. But this same answer can also be applied to dimensions and to form. It can only be said in reference to all other forms and magnitudes, the existence of which is possible, that is to say which came into existence after a state of non-existence, that they might have been larger or smaller than they actually are, or that they might have had a form different from that which they actually possess, and require for this reason some determining agens. But the forms and dimensions of God (who is above all imperfection and similitude)! did not come into existence according to the opinion of the Corporealist after a state of non-existence, and therefore no determining agens was necessary: His substance with its dimensions and forms has a necessary existence; no agens was required to decide upon His existence, and to reject His non-existence, since nonexistence is altogether inadmissible in God. In like manner there was no force required to determine His magnitude and form, they were absolutely inseparable from His existence.
If you wish to go in search of truth, to cast aside your passions, your tradition, and your fondness of things you have been accustomed to cherish, if you wish to guard yourself against error: then consider the fate of these speculators and the result of their labours: observe how they rushed, as it were, from the ashes into the fire. They denied the nature of the existing things, misrepresented the properties of heaven and earth, and thought that they were able, by their propositions, to prove the creation of the world, but in fact they were far from proving the creatio ex nihilo, and have weakened the arguments for the existence, the unity, and the incorporeality of God. The proofs of all these doctrines must be based on the well-known nature of the existing things, as perceived by the senses and the intellect.
Having thus discussed the arguments of the Mutakallemim, we shall now proceed to consider the propositions of the philosophers and their arguments for the existence of God, His Unity and His Incorporeality, and we shall for the present assume the Eternity of the Universe without finally accepting it. Next to this we shall develop our own method, which is the result of deep study, in demonstrating these three principles, and we shall then examine the theory of the Eternity of the Universe as assumed by the philosophers.