Comments about ‘Hamblin & Peterson: The surprisingly modern story of a medieval Muslim’

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Published: Saturday, Oct. 19 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

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Chandler, AZ

al-Ghazali criticized his fellow Islamic philosophers because he thought they relied to heavily on Greek thought-- i.e., they were teaching that the universe is eternal and beginingless, similar to modern-day atheists and Mormons. The very book that Dr. Peterson cites is a critique of this worldview, and it is from this work that William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument is derived.

al-Ghazali wrote in The Incoherence of the Philosophers, “Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning. Now the world is a being which begins. Therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning.” He was certainly a brilliant philosopher, just not the same kind as his contemporaries.

Now, as concerns the main focus of the article, I noticed that Dr. Peterson did not draw any explicit conclusions in the article, but they are strongly implied. I do agree that personal religious experience is foundational. Alvin Plantinga's reformed epistemology has much to commend it in this regard. This doesn't however, imply that all religious experiences are equal. Does Dr. Peterson intend to imply that al-Ghazali's experience of God was legitimately from the transcendent Creator?

Phoenix, AZ

Medical science has advanced to where scientist can now electrically stimulate the human brain in certain regions that will cause religious elusions. This may one day prove all religion and god to be just an elusion in mans's head and church attendance will be replaced by an electric prod.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

Any comprehensive reading of al-Ghazali would recognize his tremendous distrust of philosophers and theologians to provide true (in the pragmatic sense of “useful”) information regarding spiritual matters. Once he became a mystic, he saw his earlier own endeavors in those areas as misguided and entirely baseless (just like Thomas Aquinas).

And mystical experience is only loosely related to “revelation” (in the way Christians understand the term) much the same way as addition is related to calculus… mystical experience is far richer and more profound and changes those who have these experiences in much deeper (not to mention permanent) ways.

And Dr. Peterson neglected to mention the (very short) book for which al-Ghazali is most famous for which is “The Alchemy of Happiness.”

Provo, UT


Scientists can also artificially stimulate our brain's sense that other people are standing behind us. This does not mean it's always an illusion that people are behind us. It's the same with our religious experiences.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@brokenclay – “Does Dr. Peterson intend to imply that al-Ghazali's experience of God was legitimately from the transcendent Creator?”

I think you’re asking the relevant question, which raises the next question – how do we determine this?

Would you suggest a psychological or phenomenological approach or should it be decided by appealing to doctrine & theology?

While it’s true that mystics typically become intensely devoted to their own traditions (why wouldn’t they since it seemed to be the avenue to these experiences) but I find it interesting that their writings usually stick the phenomenon and in many cases, they become downright disdainful doctrine & theology.

Newport Beach, CA

Christendom had Thomas Aquinas. The Muslim ummah had al-Ghazali. The subsequent flourishing of the one and utter suckage of the other have a great deal to do with which of the two civilizations was influenced by which thinker.

Newport Beach, CA

Also, an important point is being ignored here: Al-Ghazali's mystical experience did not, in fact, lead him to truth. It was not the Holy Spirit, if it led him to deny that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord.

It's one thing to have a generalized spiritual experience that inclines you to believe that there is some kind of God. But a Latter-day Saint cannot logically (there's that dirty word again) believe that you can have a *particularized* spiritual experience that confirms the truth of a particularized, sectarian belief that is in fact false -- that conflicts with a fundamental point of the Gospel.

I have always been troubled by Brother Peterson's admiration of al-Ghazali, who I think represents the third worst option of the three options available. A true revelation is the best option. Sound reasoning is in second place. A false revelation is the worst. Al-Ghazali reinforced millions of people in a false revelation, and did incalculable damage to the world as a result. I'd go so far as to blame him for at least a few pounds of falling World Trade Center concrete.

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