Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
IN this chapter I intend to show that Aristotle was well aware that he had not proved the Eternity of the Universe. He was not mistaken in this respect. He knew that he could not prove his theory, and that his arguments and proofs were only apparent and plausible. They are the least objectionable, according to Alexander; but, according to the same authority, Aristotle could not have considered them conclusive, after having himself taught us the rules of logic, and the means by which arguments can be refuted or confirmed.
The reason why I have introduced this subject is this: Later philosophers, disciples of Aristotle, assume that he has proved the Eternity of the Universe, and most of those who believe that they are philosophers blindly follow him in this point, and accept all his arguments as conclusive and absolute proofs. They consider it wrong to differ from Aristotle, or to think that he was ignorant or mistaken in anything. For this reason, taking their standpoint, I show that Aristotle himself did not claim to have proved the Eternity of the Universe. He says in his book Physics (viii., chap. i.) as follows: "All the Physicists before us believed that motion is eternal, except Plato, who holds that motion is transient; according to his opinion the heavens are likewise transient." Now if Aristotle had conclusive proofs for his theory, he would not have considered it necessary to support it by citing the opinions of preceding Physicists, nor would he have found it necessary to point out the folly and absurdity of his opponents. For a truth, once established by proof, does neither gain force nor certainty by the consent of all scholars, nor lose by the general dissent. We further find that Aristotle, in the book The Heavens and the World, introduces his theory of the Eternity of the Universe in the following manner: "Let us inquire into the nature of the heavens, and see whether they are the product of something or not, destructible or not." After this statement of the problem, he proceeds to cite the views of those who hold that the heavens have had a beginning, and continues thus: "By doing this, our theory will be most plausible and acceptable in the
opinion of profound thinkers; and it will be the more so, when, as we propose, the arguments of our opponents are first heard. For if we were to state our opinion and our arguments without mentioning those of our opponents, our words would be received less favourably. He who desires to be just must not show himself hostile to his opponent; he must have sympathy with him, and readily acknowledge any truth contained in his words; he must admit the correctness of such of his opponent's arguments as he would admit if they were in his own favour." This is the contents of the words of Aristotle. Now, I ask you, men of intelligence, can we have any complaint against him after this frank statement? Or can any one now imagine that a real proof has been given for the Eternity of the Universe? Or can Aristotle, or any one else, believe that a theorem, though fully proved, would not be acceptable unless the arguments of the opponents were fully refuted? We must also take into consideration that Aristotle describes this theory as his opinion, and his proofs as arguments. Is Aristotle ignorant of the difference between argument and proof? between opinions, which may be received more or less favourably, and truths capable of demonstration? or would rhetorical appeal to the impartiality of opponents have been required for the support of his theory if a real proof had been given? Certainly not. Aristotle only desires to show that his theory is better than those of his opponents, who hold that philosophical speculation leads to the conviction that the heavens are transient, but have never been entirely without existence; or that the heavens have had a beginning, but are indestructible; or to defend any of the other views mentioned by him. In this he is undoubtedly right; for his opinion is nearer the truth than theirs, so far as a proof can be taken from the nature of existing things: we differ from him, as will be explained. Passion, that exercises great influence in most of the different sects, must have influenced even the philosophers who wished to affirm that Aristotle demonstrated his theory by proof. Perhaps they really believe it, and assume that Aristotle himself was not aware of it, as it was only discovered after his death! My conviction is, that what Aristotle says on the Eternity of the Universe, the cause of the variety in the motion of the spheres and the order of the Intelligences, cannot be proved, and that Aristotle never intended to prove these things. I agree with him that the ways of proving this theory have their gates closed before us, there being no foundation on which to build up the proof. His words on this subject are well known. He says, "There are things concerning which we are unable to reason, or which we find too high for us: to say why these things have a certain property is as difficult as to decide whether the Universe is eternal or not." So far Aristotle. The interpretation which Abu-nasr offers of this parallel is well known. He denies that Aristotle had any doubt about the Eternity of the Universe, and is very severe upon Galen, who maintains that this theory is still doubtful, and that no proof has been offered. According to Abu-nasr, it is clear and demonstrable by proof that the heavens are eternal, but all that is enclosed within the heavens is transient. We hold, that by none of the methods mentioned in this chapter can a theory be established, refuted, or shaken.
We have mentioned these things only because we know that the majority of those who consider themselves wise, although they know nothing of science, accept the theory of the Eternity of the Universe on the authority
of famous scholars. They reject the words of the prophets, because the latter do not employ any scientific method by which only a few persons would be instructed who are intellectually well prepared, but simply communicate the truth as received by Divine inspiration.
In the chapters which follow we will expound the theory of the Creation in accordance with the teaching of Scripture.