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By: Shabir Ahmad Shah

Free Will and Determinism: Unraveling the Paradox

Pages: 88 Ratings: 4.5
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The worth of a book is rarely determined by its title but the class of a reader is surely determined by what title he or she reads. Although hundreds of books have already been written on this issue, yet the thirst of the people who are curious to its deepest sense have hardly been quenched, for the topic is no less than an abyss where a reader keeps free floating but never in vain; he keeps new layers of meaning and touches new horizons every moment. The book following the Islamic perspective of the issue Free Will and Determinism on the footprints of stalwarts like Al-Ghazzali, Shah Wali Allah and others, nevertheless, has taken the problem to its uniquely newest horizons where it opens new vistas of research by connecting the divine determinism with philosophical, psychological and genetic determinism in mosaic of free will.

The author is a polymath with a master’s degree in Botany, Islamic Studies and Education from the University of Kashmir and a Postgraduate in Philosophy from Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. The author’s interest in several different subjects is obvious from the research papers published in different international journals around the world.

Customer Reviews
2 reviews
2 reviews
  • Dr Abdul Wasay Bhat.Department of Education Jammu & Kashmir, Srrinagar.

    Free Will and Determinism Unravelling the Paradox: Shabir Ahmad Shah, Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd., 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E145LQ: 2018, 87 pp. ISBN 9781528900096. £7.99/€9.99
    Much of the literature on Fee will and Determinism has concentrated either by Muslims or by non-Muslims. The much-needed discussion on the free will and determinism still has been very scanty because natural things always from this universe are striking human thoughts and they in turn are and will remain trying to understand the mysteries of life. Almighty Allah mentioned this fact in His book Al-Quran: “Soon shall We show them Our Signs on the horizons and in their own beings until it becomes clear to them that it is the Truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a witness over everything?” (Al Quran 41:53)
    Free will and determinism are among those important concepts of the life which directly or indirectly affecting many areas of concern. Almost in all periods of life, a highly thought has been given to these topics by the Greeks, the non-Muslim philosophers and theologians of different thoughts of schools. Therefore, this concise, and the newest, work by one of the most creative scholar in the contemporary Muslim world is an important contribution to ongoing effort of the understating of knowledge among Muslims, non-Muslims and as well as to those who are presently in the midst of recognizing the importance of issues related to free will and determinism.
    The brevity of the work is due to the fact that the author is a polymath. His interest in several different subjects is obvious from this book. This philosophical, unprejudiced, unbiased and scientific exposition of free will and determinism grounded in the metaphysics of Islam naturally starts with the meanings of determinism and free will. He asserts, “all events in the world are the result of some previous event or events. In this view, all of reality is already in a sense predetermined or pre-existent and, therefore, nothing new can come into existence” (p. 14). “the concept of determinism is linked directly to the genes in the DNA of a person. Because we already know that aberrations in certain genes can lead to various forms of physical and mental disease in humans, we can say with some certainty that people are physically determined by their genes. But genetic determinists want to extend this further, by claiming that even our behaviour is determined by our genes. In this line of thinking, we are but victims of our genetic makeup and any effort to change our moral nature or behavioural patterns are useless. This is sometimes termed ‘puppet determinism’, meaning metaphorically that we dance on the strings of our genes” (p.14). “The alternative, as well as opposite of determinism, is non-determinism generally called freedom or free will…the doctrine that “we as conscious human beings are free to make genuinely undetermined choices in circumstances where we are genuinely able to do so and where we so freely choose to do so” (p.16).
    From these three definitions, the author critically analyses some major positions of contemporary philosophy and science and simultaneously articulates further ramifications of these concepts for an elusive nature of the subject. He admits and supports his views with philosophical, ethical and other modern views of free will and determinism. Upon a classical tradition in philosophy that is compatibilism and in-compatibilism, he strengthens his argument. He places particular importance on the history of the problem. In which he discusses the Calvinistic doctrine of free will and predetermination and St Augustine’s concept of double predestination (p.40.41).
    In this short treatise, Shah Shabir Ahmad reiterated eastern perspective. Buddha’s theory of the cause of all things and the Karma doctrine of the Vedanta has been given due time and space (p.47,48- 52). Views of the sages – Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi and Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and scriptures – Bhagavad Gita and Valmiki’s Ramayana are placed to show the roots of free will and determinism in major religions of the world. An attempt is made to look into the early rise of the problem and its treatment by the Muslim theologians (Mu’tazilah and Ash’ariah) and scholars of the medieval (Al Ghazzali and Shah Wali Allah) and the modern times (Alama Shibli Nu’man, Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal etc.). The positive aspects of free will and determinism are given weight and a subjectively objective approach method used by our great ancestors has been described. The author affirms, in light of Al Quran, that the Holy Quran states this issue directly and proves the free will of human beings and there are hundreds of verses which talk about free will (p.80). In his conclusion, he objectively concluded the discussion and made it clear that the problem of free will and determinism has remained baffling to mankind in general and the Muslim treatment of it illustrates the appropriation of man’s role in the world of Divine power and creation (p.84). However, man is not free like God whose freedom is Absolute and enjoys the special and unique status among His creatures by this freedom (p.85).
    This book is a brave and creative attempt to offer an Islamic scientific outlook that is loyally grounded in traditional metaphysics of Islam which became the basis for a just and marvellous civilization. It is indispensable reading for all students interested in Islamic philosophy and science.

  • Saif Ud Din, Lecturer in English in Department of Education, Govt of J&K, India

    Since prehistoric times the conscious being has been brooding over a problem that has never been truly settled once and for all. Like many other philosophical problems paradox of Freewill and Determinism has lingered on. Stalwarts like Aristotle and Plato; Augustine and Aquinas; Al Ghazali and Shah Wali; Rationalists and Empiricists alike wrestled with the issue and produced a huge literature on the subject. Modern science has only complicated the issue further by adding new dimensions like Genetic and quantum mechanics. Well, at the times when some thought that the problem is much like what came first hen or an egg and left it unsolved, new arrival appears shaking and waking old the souls in a thunderous manner. Yes, I am talking about the book under review: Free Will and Determinism Unravelling the Paradox: Shabir Ahmad Shah, Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd., 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E145LQ: 2018, 87 pp. ISBN 9781528900096.
    Although the main subject matter of this well-researched work is the nature of free will and determination in light of the holy Quran and the Muslim philosophers and scholars like the Shah Wali Allah, Al Ghazali, Alama Shubli and Dr Iqbal the author has accurately traced the history of the subject from Western secular perceptions and Christian theologians to Eastern A-theistic concepts and Hindu ideas in the most unprejudiced and objective style. Modern scientific facets such as genetic determinism have also been given due space and discussed scientifically.
    The book's being only eighty-eight pages long means there is no filling stuff but every page and every line is calculated and full of meaningful and relevant things. There are no stories of subjective experience that would have only increased the number of pages, as many people have done before, but every word is witness to the author's scholarly bent of mind.
    The first part of the book mostly discusses determinism and pre-determinism. Asserting the causal theory the writer asserts: all events in the world are the result of some previous event or events. In this view, all of reality is already in a sense pre-determined or pre-existent and, therefore, nothing new can come into existence (p. 14). It is in the same part of the book that Genetic determinism is being discussed in the exact scientific terms hued philosophically. We are what we are because of our genetic make-up. Some of the readers may take it too narrowly but modern scientific research seems to support this line of thinking. Every day new evidence appears. The idea that our habit of being late or early for work is also determined by genes speaks prophetic power the work in a less mystic and more scientific way. Since this book is a philosophical treatise on the subject and the author has been aware of his limits and rightly restricted himself from talking about futuristic adventures and manipulative nature of genetic determinism; and thought it suffices to say: we dance on the strings of our genes (p.14).
    No doubt human beings, according to Al Quran, are predestined and their fate predetermined but the same Scriptures is witness that Almighty has granted a certain amount of free will to us.And the writer says:
    we as conscious human beings are free to make genuinely undetermined choices in circumstances where we are genuinely able to do so and where we so freely choose to do so. For instance, you can choose to forgive people or you can enjoy inflicting pain on them. It is certainly an exercise of free will.

    The book does not claim to have settled the problem once and for all but it can surely claim to have put things in the right perspective irrespective of their denominational nature. It traces the problem historically and every line of thought has been given a well deserved time and space. The thoughts of Budha, Rama and the ideas from Geeta and Vedanta have been treated rather philosophically rather than religiously.

    A thorough study has been made regarding the treatment of the problem by Muslim theologians both Mu'tazilites and Asharites who later broke from the former. The book is the great attention to Imam Al Ghazali's views and those of Shah Wali Allah among the Medieval Muslim philosophers, and Shubli and Iqbal among the moderns. Notwithstanding the varied opinions of Muslim scholars, the Al Quran is the defining principle and Allah Almighty has said many times in Quran that man is bestowed with free will even though there is Taqdeer.

    The book has huge scope in terms of further dissecting the nature of the problem on scientific, secular, non- Muslim and Muslim parameters. The book can benefit largely to students of philosophy and theology alike.
    I strongly recommend that the book is very good to read and is written in a very lucid language. Any layperson can read it without having any philosophical background.

    Moreover, the book has the scope of coming up in the second edition where the quantum angel can be added to the problem to make the book sound extra inclusive and flamboyant.

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