Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE first method employed by the philosophers is this: they assume that a transition from potentiality to actuality would take place in the Deity itself, if He produced a thing only at a certain fixed time. The refutation of this argument is very easy. The argument applies only to bodies composed of substance--the element that possesses the possibility [of change]--and form; for when such a body does not act for some time, and then acts by virtue of its form, it must undoubtedly have possessed something in potentia that hath now become actual, and the transition can only have been effected by some external agent. As far as corporeal bodies are concerned, this has been fully proved. But that which is incorporeal and without substance does not include anything merely possible; everything it contains is always in existence. The above argument does not apply to it, and it is not impossible that such a being acts at one time and does not act at another. This does not imply a change in the incorporeal being itself nor a transition from potentiality to actuality. The Active Intellect may be taken as an illustration. According to Aristotle and his school, the Active Intellect, an incorporeal being, acts at one time and does not act at another, as has been shown by Abu-nasr in his treatise on the Intellect. He says there quite correctly as follows: "It is an evident fact that the Active Intellect does not act continually, but only at times." And yet he does not say that the Active Intellect is changeable, or passes from a state of potentiality to that of actuality, although it produces at one time something which it has not produced
before. For there is no relation or comparison whatever between corporeal and incorporeal beings, neither in the moment of action nor in that of inaction. It is only by homonymity that the term" action" is used in reference to the forms residing in bodies, and also in reference to absolutely spiritual beings. The circumstance that a purely spiritual being does not effect at one time that which it effects at another, does not necessitate a transition from potentiality to actuality: such a transition is necessary in the case of forces connected with bodies. It might, perhaps, be objected that our argument is, to some extent, a fallacy; since it is not due to anything contained in the Active Intellect itself, but to the absence of substances sufficiently prepared for its action, that at times it does not act: it does act always when substances sufficiently prepared are present, and, when the action does not continue, it is owing to the absence of substance sufficiently prepared, and not to any change in the Intellect. I answer that it is not our intention to state the reason why God created at one time and not at another; and, in referring to the Active Intellect as a parallel, we do not mean to assert that God acts at one time and not at another, in the same manner as the Active Intellect, an absolutely spiritual being, acts intermittently. We do not make this assertion, and, if we did, the conclusion would be fallacious. What we infer, and what we are justified in inferring, is this: the Active Intellect is neither a corporeal object nor a force residing in a body: it acts intermittently, and yet whatever the cause may be why it does not always act, we do not say that the Active Intellect has passed from a state of potentiality to that of actuality; or that it implies the possibility [of change], or that an agent must exist that causes the transition from potentiality to actuality. We have thus refuted the strong objection raised by those who believe in the Eternity of the Universe; since we believe that God is neither a corporeal body nor a force residing in a body, we need not assume that the Creation, after a period of inaction, is clue to a change in the Creator Himself.
The second method employed in proving the Eternity of the Universe is based on the theory that all wants, changes, and obstacles are absent from the Essence of God. Our refutation of this proof, which is both difficult and profound, is this. Every being that is endowed with free will and performs certain acts in reference to another being, necessarily interrupts those acts at one time or another, in consequence of some obstacles or changes. E.g., a person desires to have a house, but he does not build one, because he meets with some obstacles: he has not the material, or he has the material, but it is not prepared for the purpose on account of the absence of proper instruments; or he has material and instruments, and yet does not build a house, because he does not desire to build it; since he feels no want for a refuge. When changed circumstances, as heat or cold, impel him to seek a refuge, then he desires to build a house. Thus changed circumstances change his will, and the will, when it meets with obstacles, is not carried into effect. This, however, is only the case when the causes of the actions are external; but when the action has no other purpose whatever than to fulfil the will, then the will does not depend on the existence of favourable circumstances. The being endowed with this will need not act continually even in the absence of all obstacles, because there does not exist anything for
the sake of which it acts, and which, in the absence of all obstacles, would necessitate the action: the act simply follows the will. But, some might ask, even if we admit the correctness of all this, is not change imputed in the fact that the will of the being exists at one time and not at another? I reply thus: The true essence of the will of a being is simply the faculty of conceiving a desire at one time and not conceiving it at another. In the case of corporeal beings, the will which aims at a certain external object changes according to obstacles and circumstances. But the will of an absolutely spiritual being which does not depend on external causes is unchangeable, and the fact that the being desires one thing one day and another thing another day, does not imply a change in the essence of that being, or necessitate the existence of an external cause [for this change in the desire]. Similarly it has been shown by us that if a being acted at one time and did not act at another, this would not involve a change in the being itself. It is now clear that the term "will" is homonymously used of man's will and of the will of God, there being no comparison whatever between God's will and that of man. The objection is refuted, and our theory is not shaken by it. This is all we desire to establish.
The third method employed in proving the Eternity of the Universe is this: whatever the wisdom of God finds necessary to produce is produced eo ipso; but this wisdom, being His Essence, is eternal, and that which results from His wisdom must be eternal. This is a very weak argument. As we do not understand why the wisdom of God produced nine spheres, neither more nor less, or why He fixed the number and size of the stars exactly as they are; so we cannot understand why His wisdom at a certain time caused the Universe to exist, whilst a short time before it had not been in existence. All things owe their existence to His eternal and constant wisdom, but we are utterly ignorant of the ways and methods of that wisdom, since, according to our opinion [that God has no attributes], His will is identical with His wisdom, and all His attributes are one and the same thing, namely, His Essence or Wisdom. More will be said on this question in the section on Providence. Thus this objection to our theory falls likewise to the ground.
There is no evidence for the theory of the Eternity of the Universe, neither in the fact cited by Aristotle of the general consent of the ancient peoples when they describe the heavens as the habitation of the angels and of God, nor in the apparent concurrence of Scriptural texts with this belief. These facts merely prove that the heavens lead us to believe in the existence of the Intelligences, i.e., ideals and angels, and that these lead us to believe in the existence of God; for He sets them in motion, and rules them. We will explain and show that there is no better evidence for the existence of a Creator, as we believe, than that furnished by the heavens: but also according to the opinion of the philosophers, as has been mentioned by us, they give evidence that a being exists that sets them in motion, and that this being is neither a corporeal body nor a force residing in a body.
Having proved that our theory is admissible, and not impossible, as those who defend the Eternity of the Universe assert, I will, in the chapters which follow, show that our theory is preferable from a philosophical point of view, and expose the absurdities implied in the theory of Aristotle.