Week 5: Ibn Tufayl, Barclay, Mather

Please post your comments by Tuesday night.

This last reading from Ibn Tufayl directly relates to the next two readings for this week.  The Barclay and the Mather also incorporate tons of stuff from other readings we have done.  Have at it.

Also, please read your fellow posters and respond to any ideas that move you.

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14 thoughts on “Week 5: Ibn Tufayl, Barclay, Mather

  1. The Barclay and Mather readings serve as a justification of Christianity using philosophical ideas. Rather than condemning philosopher’s concepts of celestial beings and a higher power, they choose excerpts that match and enhance their Protestant beliefs. The Barclay reading directly cites the Ibn Tufayl story, stating that Hayy is able to reach a higher plane because of his pure and uncorrupted life. Hayy fits perfectly with the Protestant aesthetic of removing material goods and pageantry from religion, in order to establish a deeper and purer connection with God. Hayy is disdainful of the men on Asal’s island in the same way Protestants were disdainful of the Catholic church. Barclay sees it as his job to use evidence to make the connections between all religions and prove the priority and power of Jesus Christ. Mather also explains the passage of light in the context of God and religion. Though this is obvious, I find it striking how necessary Christians of the time felt it to explain scientific phenomena through a Christian, God-centered lens. Today, there are rarely papers written by religious figures giving an explanation for how the world was made. Religion and science, at least in this country, seems to only intersect when it comes to moral issues.

    • I like your parallel to the Protestant/Roman-Catholic debates. You raise several interesting questions: Why have religious writers today given up on science (for the most part)? Why did religious and scientific writers in the early 18th century want to make science a part of theology or theology a part of science…? Have these questions changed over time? Have we given up on some of these questions?

  2. I think the similarities between the Barclay and the Mather readings are really striking. They both justify the existence of and belief in God through mentioning a number of classical philosophers who may have had no concept of God, Jesus, or the fall of Adam and Eve, and yet according to these two writers, had an innate sense of these Christian concepts. Barclay justifies his view by quoting a few classical philosophers, apparently lending legitimacy to the argument that the Christian religion has existed since antiquity, even without it being acknowledged or named so, thus proving the ‘priority and power of Jesus Christ’ as Amy said above.
    Their similar use of Ibn Tufayl (I think Mather refers to him when he mentions ‘Abubeker’? If not then the story he attributes to him is similar to that of Hayy) is also interesting. They both seem to say that if a Muslim writer could have such a good sense of how one comes to know God through the examination of the world around them, then this surely proves that Christianity is the most universal and true religion.

    • Good catch with “Abubeker.” You are right in noticing that Abubeker is Ibn Tufayl.
      Indeed, it is interesting how all these classical authors are given a pass for not being Christian. See also, Dante and Raphael.
      You write, “They both seem to say that if a Muslim writer could have such a good sense of how one comes to know God through the examination of the world around them, then this surely proves that Christianity is the most universal and true religion.” I almost understand what you are saying. Flesh this idea out a bit. I’m interested in better understanding it. Mather’s reference to Hayy seemed to me to be a bit double-edged. Let’s talk about this in class.

  3. In response to and agreement with Amy and Sarah, I felt that both Mathers and Barclay super-imposed the story of Jesus onto freestanding philosophy. There’s an evident anxiety surrounding this notion of God’s Light—we all have it, but what do we do with it?!?!?!!?!?! Where’s my fucking light switch?!

    It seems like Christians believe that Jesus is the light switch within ourselves. He is the vehicle by which we can shine our light on the world, a vehicle which previous philosophers didn’t have access to yet. (So how were they saved?) [...] I just had an extended conversation with my Christian roommates about this question. They became offended pretty quickly. One said “they all believed in SOMETHING before Jesus,” which was not my question (but she didn’t really seem to understand the question, so I stopped there with her. She also said that “people are not God, only God is God,” and “As I Catholic, I don’t think about what happened before Jesus.”)

    The other roommate said that she believes a soul who died before Christ made himself known were judged based on the intent of their heart toward God (which would be this “light,” I’m assuming. I accepted this answer).

    On another note: I also wonder, are those who never learn about Jesus excused from having to earn his salvation? Are they, too, judged by the intent of their heart toward God?

    One other (personal) comment on these readings: In eighth grade, my English professor asked us to write about something we “know to be true,” in one, creative sentence. I had no idea what to write, but what came out was: “The lights you chase are only a reflection of the fire within you.” (Which strangely enough goes along with the “mirror” concept by Plotinus, as well). No idea where that one came from. I have more examples of the word popping up in (most of) the things I create, but no point in dragging. Just thought it would be interesting to note.

    • I like how you interviewed people on these questions. It’s a sensitive subject, no doubt, but it is very interesting to hear how people deal with it. It makes me wonder, if belief in JC is not necessary, why is he necessary? The writings of Mather and Barclay are also interesting in terms of Native Americans. Their context (in part) was the colonization of a new world, full of people like Hayy.. at least superficially. These questions were plentiful. What do you do with people who have the excuse of being ignorant? Other issues that cropped up… can native languages even convey Christian ideas? Are they human? Is Jesus limited to certain cultures? Is Islam a better way for another culture? Is religion culturally relativistic?
      We should discuss this eternal fascination with light, literally and metaphorically. It’s magical stuff… or it’s magically activated space…

  4. I found the Barclay reading to be both particularly interesting and wildly maddening. To dispense with the latter first: it launches a serious attack on philosophical discourse, claiming that knowledge of G-d does not come from the forms and uses of premises and conclusions. Instead, knowledge of G-d comes from the purification of the mind through separation from the physical world. This text was published in 1701 according to the syllabus, meaning that it came *after* Descartes’s “Meditations on First Philosophy” in which Descartes attempts to determine what ultimately exists and what is ultimately true. By means of classic philosophical method–premises and conclusions–he determines that his mind is separate from the physical world, including his body, and is the only thing which he can know with certainty exists and is true. He achieved the same ends by means that Barclay claimed were the wrong means!

    Not only that, but Barclay is like the pot calling the kettle black. His argument for the universality of Christianity is eerily premise-conclusion-like. He essentially tries to show that if a person in complete isolation all his life (Hai) achieves enlightenment, then enlightenment is the natural state of human beings. He goes on to argue that if the only person NOT in complete isolation all his life (Asal) achieves enlightenment only through introspection and solitude, then this is the only way to achieve enlightenment. Even better, if those who are not incomplete isolation all their lives (members of the Sect/Asal’s home island) do not engage in introspection in solitude, and rather in the external world, then they will not achieve enlightenment, and thus this is not the way to achieve enlightenment. Sounds a lot like “if p, then q; if not p, then not p” to me.

    That Hai arrived at enlightenment (or Christianity) in complete isolation reminded me of language deprivation experiments that attempt to determine the natural language of human beings. Infants isolated from human contact do not survive, and this is incontrovertible. We are a species that requires assistance in infancy; we aren’t born able to take care of ourselves. Our minds do not develop without external interaction, both with the world and especially with other people.

    • “…knowledge of G-d comes from the purification of the mind through separation from the physical world.” – Plato and his peeps?
      Descrates’ “Cogito” argument goes in a rationalist direction… but Avicenna’s “Flying Man” argument from last week takes a subtly different tack… which your observation gets at.
      “Sounds a lot like ‘if p, then q; if not p, then not p’ to me.” – Ha! I am unclear how the universality argument works… seems like any religion could make a similar claim.
      What about all those “wolf-boy” stories and children raised by dogs in the mid 20th century?
      I imagine that Ibn Tufayl might take issue with the “minds do not develop” idea that you write of. He might say that our minds are not developed correctly now… with all of our socialization and material desires. The better mind would be one that works on a completely different basis. One that sees through the illusions of the shadows on the cave walls.

  5. I found both the Barclay and the Mathers readings to be somewhat flawed in their justifications for god. In the Barclay reading, when citing George Buchanon, he notes that when god formed man, he gave him not only a physical body, but also the means to discern what is vile from what is honest–while the capability to know right from wrong is certainly something I am grateful for and could accept that a divine creator would want all of humanity to have this gift, isn’t this actually the exact opposite of what the bible tells us? Did not god want us all to be naive, and Eve had to commit the original sin in order to gain the knowledge of good and evil? Did I interpret this whole section incorrectly?

    In the Mathers reading, I similarly took no new understanding of the need for god. The question who is the first cause of it all is brought up, but I was not left with the understanding of a need for god, nor for his light. This one question that guides most philosophical arguments of the need for god makes no logical sense. For one, is it an empty assertion that is impossible to prove either true or untrue. Second, when thought about for more than a millisecond, the core of its argument collapses upon itself because there is no real reason for there needing to be a cause for the world yet no cause for god, other than that of course there doesn’t need to be a cause for god, its GOD. Right.

    • Excellent point. Knowledge of Good and Evil was humanity’s first sin. I don’t doubt that Barclay and Mather have an answer to this, but I don’t know what it is.
      The “first cause” argument was popular back then. …probably because of Aristotle and his profound influence on religion in the late Middle Ages. God took on the role of first causer. I think the modern mind is more comfortable with the idea of an infinite regression or of a Big Bang that has an unknowable time before it… and if religious, we can just call that stuff God. It doesn’t have to be perfectly logical, it just has to do what dark matter or ether do… explain what we can’t explain. What we can’t explain is different now, than it was 300 years ago. Do you buy this line of thought? Would you believe…..
      And then there is Mather’s obsession with witches….

  6. I notice that the connections drawn between philosophy and religion in these passages enhance the authors’ arguments, but are not entirely shocking, to me. Each quoted philosophy was, I’m sure, crafted with some sort of religion in mind, to some degree, although in antiquity, it was obviously not christianity. When I think about creating my own concept for existence, life, death, the universe, I often look at what already exists. Philosophy was stemming from the already understood knowledge of religion. Barclay and Mather bring the relationship full-circle, to connect to their own religion. I related to what Jane had said about Barclay and felt much of what she was feeling while reading. It just seems like a justification. Barclays is justifying the beliefs of these philosophers. Plotinus, when talking about God, compares him to the sun, to light. In this, somehow, Barclays is implying that this is a complete understanding of the christian God and that, from what I can tell, he is implying that these philosophers where not creating any new ideas but simply reiterating their own understanding of what God had intended them to express. I have a hard time understanding his connection to the quoted text because the original writer had certain, long descriptions, often their entire work, detected to slowly defining each word they used to describe “The One” or “God” or “Light”. If I were to draw any conclusion, it is that we, as humans, constantly find connections between things. We look for patterns, thrive on them. I think that it is our conditioned state to look for something where it may or may not exist. I see this human pattern in these works. There is evidence of too much weight placed on the basis of religion as the cause for life, instead of a function of it. I just keep thinking, “okay, now what?” Now that these “Christian philosophers” have connected philosophy to religion using sweeping assumptions, what do we do?

    • “If I were to draw any conclusion, it is that we, as humans, constantly find connections between things.” I like where you take this… Perhaps that is not our strength, but rather our weakness? Our creativity leads us down rabbit holes of our own invention. Then again, perhaps its the structure of these flights of fancy, not the flights of fancy themselves, that are the truth… and then we’d again be knock, knock, knocking at Plato’s Door.

      “…too much weight placed on the basis of religion as the cause for life, instead of a function of it.” Wow! Life causes religion, not vice versa. And man created God in his own image. [paraphrase from Aqualung]

  7. After reading the Barclays I got really hung up on this concept of “Light.” It was already incredibly amiguous and vague in a philosophical perspective but that was the point – we didn’t know what it was so we gave it a name. Some sort of essence? energy? mystical power… related to the soul? Now when coming to a religious explanation I was hoping for a more concrete explanation of “Light” that would justify its doings but Barclays justifies the role of Light in religion by just quoting other philosophers saying that since they all mentioned it its obviously true. Clearly there is some major significance to this Light but it just kind of seemed to me that Barclays was stringing together random facts to try and justify this theory which actually took away from his argument in my opinion. Also all of this aside If I were to say that I accepted this definition and power of Light I was still kind of uneasy on the fact that Barclays was repeating that this Light reaches and enlightens everyone… from Christ? (maybe I misunderstood that part) What about those before Christ – were they not enlightened?
    It is really interesting to me to notice this shift from philosophy and science to a more religious standpoint. Thinking back to the story of Hayy I can see now how religious explanations started to creep into everything. They could say that Hayy was somehow enlightened which is how he was able to gather all of this knowledge due to such and such circumstance.

  8. I imagine that the early Quaker writers will have much more to say on this issue of Light. The “Inner Light.” It is a central theme of Quakerism.
    The issue of people discovering their own inner light before JC is a problem, as you suggest. What does this do to the Trinity? Chronology? Newton wrote extensively on this stuff. It would be interesting to look more closely at what he had to say. Socianism, Arianism, Quakers, Levelers, Shakers, Diggers, Ranters… Europe (and America) was alive with new religious ideas.

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