The following chapter from The Rambam’s Guide for The Perplexed offers an intriguing illustration of his principle that “it is quite impossible to infer, from the nature anything possesses after having been generated, and having attained its full development and attaining stability regarding its properties, what the condition of the thing had been at the time this process commenced.” Following the English translation is Rabbi Yosef KPCH’s Hebrew translation of the Arabic original. This translation was chosen for the convenience of replication on this blog, although the English translation was based on the classical Hebrew translation by Ibn Tibbon. )There is no pragmatic difference between the two Hebrew translations.
ANYTHING new must [by definition] come into being after not having been [what it is]. This is so even if the thing’s substance had already existed, and the thing has only changed in its form. For its nature—after the thing’s having gone through the process of genesis, full development, and stability—is still not the nature it had at the commencement of its transition from potentiality to reality. And its nature is also other than what it was before it was caused to develop [from its potential] to its actuality.
For example, the nature of a female’s seed while it is [but] blood in its vessels, does not possess the nature it has at the time of pregnancy, when it begins to develop after being met by the male’s semen. And its nature then likewise is not that of the living being after its birth when fully developed. It is therefore quite impossible to infer, from the nature anything possesses after having been generated, and having attained its full development and attaining stability regarding its properties, what the condition of the thing had been at the time this process commenced. Nor does the condition of a thing while it is developing show what its condition had been before it began its development. When you err in this, and continue to construct the proof from something’s nature as it is in actuality, for what its nature was while it was in potential existence, great problems will arise for you. You will consider things that must be true, as false; and you will consider things to be compellingly true, that are really false.
Let us imagine, continuing in the vein of our above example, that a child possessing full natural intelligence was born, but his mother died after nursing him several months; so the father alone brought him up on an isolated island, till he grew up, became wise, and acquired knowledge, [but the island is inhabited only by males,] and he has never seen a woman or any female creature.
He asks someone there, “How did we come into existence, and in what way did we develop [into what we are]?”
The man he asked replies, “Each one of us men actually came to being Man begins his existence in the belly of an individual of his own class, namely, in the womb of a female, which has such-and-such a form. Each one of us was a small body within that belly, that stayed alive, moved about, received nourishment, and grew little by little, until he arrived at a certain stage of development. An entrance-way would open for him in the lower part of that body from which he would exit. And he does not stop growing, until he is in the condition in which you see us.”
Now, this born orphan will feel compelled to ask, “This one of us, while as a small being lived, moved, and grew in the womb: did he eat and drink, and breathe with his mouth and his nostrils, and excrete?"
The answer will be, "No."
Undoubtedly, the orphan will then start throwing objections against that person’s statements, and raise proofs that all theses true facts are impossible, by bringing evidence from fully developed and stabilized beings. He will say:
· Look, when any one of us is deprived of breath for a short time, he dies, and will no longer move. How then can we imagine that any one of us has been enclosed in a bag that is surrounded by a body for several months and remained alive and able to move? If any one of us would swallow a living bird, the bird would die immediately when it reached the stomach, much more so when it came to the lower part of the belly!
· If we should not ingest food with our mouth or drink water, in a few days we should undoubtedly be dead! How then can a human being remain alive for months without taking food?
· If any person would take food and would not be able to excrete it, in a short time he would die in great pain—how then can this man survive for months without excreting?!
· If the there would be a perforation in the belly of any of us, he would die after a few days—how then can one think that the navel of the fetus has been open?!
· How is it possible for the fetus not to open its eyes, spread out its hands and stretch out its legs if, as you think, the limbs are all whole and without defect?!
And so the entire extrapolation will draw him to the conclusion that it is absolutely impossible for man to be produced in the manner described.
Think deeply about this comparison and test it out, you the investigator, and you will find that this matches precisely our situation with Aristotle. For we, the community following in the footsteps of Moses and Abraham, believe that the world came into being in such-and-such a form, and became such-and-such from such-and-such (haya kach mi-kach ), and such was created after such. Aristotle comes to uproot our words, bringing proofs against us based upon the nature of how things are in their actualized, stabilized and fully developed existence. We ourselves admit to him that this is the nature of things after their having settled down and become fully developed; but we hold that these things in no way resemble themselves as they existed during their production; and we hold that these properties themselves [which existing things actually possessed during their production] had come into existence from absolute non-existence. What argument of anything they will say can stand up against us?! They have demonstrative force only against those who hold that the nature of things as at present in existence proves [not only wise planning, but also] Creation ex nihilo. But this is not my opinion.
I will now go back and return to our theme, viz., to the description of the principal proofs of Aristotle, and show that they prove nothing whatever against us, since we hold that God (a) brought the entire Universe into existence from absolute non-existence, and that (b) He caused it to develop into the present state.
Aristotle says that the materia prima is eternal, and by referring to the properties of transient beings he attempts to prove this statement, and to show that the materia prima could not possibly have been produced. He is right; [but] we do not maintain that the materia prima has been produced in the same manner as man is produced from the ovum, and that it can be destroyed in the same manner as man is reduced to dust. [Rather,] we believe that God created it from nothing, and that since its creation it has its own properties, viz., that all things are produced of it and again reduced to it, when they cease to exist; that it does not exist without Form; and that it is the source of all genesis and destruction. Its genesis is not like that of the things produced from it, nor its destruction like theirs: for it has been created from nothing, and if it should please the Creator, He might reduce it to absolutely nothing.
The same applies to motion. Aristotle founds some of his proofs on the fact that motion is not subject to genesis or destruction. This is correct: if we consider motion as it exists at present, we cannot imagine that in its totality it should be subject, like individual motions, to genesis and destruction.
In like manner, Aristotle is correct in saying that circular motion is without beginning, in so far as seeing the rotating spherical body in actual existence, we cannot conceive the idea that that rotation has ever been absent.
The same argument we employ as regards the law that a state of potentiality precedes all actual genesis. This law applies to the Universe as it exists at present, when everything produced originates in another thing: but nothing perceived with our senses or comprehended in our mind can prove that a thing created from nothing must have been previously in a state of potentiality.
Again, as regards the theory that the heavens contain no opposites [in their elemental makeup, and are therefore indestructible], we admit its correctness: but we do not maintain that the production of the heavens has taken place in the same way as that of a horse or ass, and we do not say that they are like plants and animals, which are destructible on account of the opposite elements they contain. The main thing is, the nature of things when fully developed in no way show what had been the nature of those things before their completion.
W[e are following the majority opinion of the Sages who, disagreeing with both Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, hold that the heavens and the earth were created simultaneously, as well as their components in potential form. But w]e also do not consider farfetched the statement of those [viz. Beis Shammai] who say that the heavens came into existence before the earth, or that the earth came into existence before the heavens [viz., Beis Hillel], or that the heavens have existed [since the first day of Creation] without stars [until the fourth day], or that certain species of creatures [such as the creatures of the waters and the skies] have been in existence since day five], and others [such as the land creatures] not [until day six]. For the state of the whole Universe when it came into existence may be compared with that of animals when their existence begins: the heart evidently precedes the testicles, the veins are in existence before the bones: although, when the animal is fully developed, none of the parts is missing which is essential to its existence.
If the Scriptural account of the Creation be taken at face value [that each day of Creation there was an independent creation ex nihilo, in immediate actual state, of each component of the world], all this explanation would also be necessary [and not only for showing why Aristotle’s arguments do not disprove Creation ex nihilo], even though the matter is not so [for actually—in accordance with the majority opinion of Chazal—everything was created in potential state instantaneously the first day, and only brought into actuality step-by-step each of the Creation days], as will be shown when we shall discuss [in II:30] this statement [by Chazal regarding the simultaneous creation ex nihilo of heaven and earth,].
You must strongly maintain this principle, for it is a high rampart that I have built around the Torah, surrounding it, making it able to resist the stones of all who shoot at it.
Aristotle, or rather his followers, may perhaps ask us how we know that the Universe has been created: and that other forces than those it has at present were acting in its Creation, since we hold that the properties of the Universe, as it exists at present, prove nothing as regards its creation. We reply, there is no necessity for this according to our plan; for we do not desire to prove the Creation, but only its possibility: and this possibility is not refuted by arguments based on the nature of the present Universe, which we do not dispute. Once we have established the admissibility of our theory, we shall show its superiority. In attempting to prove the inadmissibility of Creatio ex nihilo, the Aristotelians can therefore not derive any support from the nature of the Universe: they must resort to the notion our mind has formed of God. Their proofs include the three methods which I have mentioned above, and which are based on the notion conceived of God. In the next chapter I will expose the weak points of these arguments, and show that they really prove nothing.
כל מחודש שנהיה אחר שלא היה, ואפילו היה חומרו מצוי, ורק פשט צורה ולבש אחרת 1 - הרי טבעו אחר חידושו וגמרו ותנוחתו, 2 זולת [=שונה מ-] טבעו בעת התהוותו, כאשר החל לצאת מן הכוח אל הפועל, וגם זולת טבעו לפני שיתעורר לצאת אל הפועל 3.
[משל - לידת האדם]
אמר, כי החומר הראשון אינו הווה ולא נפסד, ובא להביא ראיה על כך 19 מן הדברים ההווים הנפסדים, ובאר מניעת התהוותו.
ואם יטען 18 נגדנו אריסטו - כלומר: התופש השקפתו 34 - ויאמר, כיון שאין לנו למידות מן המציאות הזו, במה ידעתם אתם שזה נתהווה ושהיה שם טבע35 אחר הווה אותו 36.