To mark the 1,000th birth anniversary of the most influential of Islam’s philosopher-scientists, UNESCO minted this commemorative medal in 1980. Designed by sculptor-medallist Victor Douek, the obverse depicts a scene showing Avicenna surrounded by his disciples
Unthinkable: The Islamic thinker who ‘proved’ God exists
Medieval philosophers don’t get much attention these days but Avicenna deserves it, says Prof Peter Adamson — By Joe Humphreys
What has medieval philosophy ever done for us? Seriously, name a thinker of merit to emerge from the 5th to 15th century. Thomas Aquinas? William of Ockham? Mere curiosities today, one might argue; part of an irrelevant tradition of religious superstition.
“For starters, precisely because of their importance in the history of religion, medieval philosophers remain relevant in some cultures and contexts,” he says.
“In the Islamic world people who called themselves ‘philosophers’ at first responded above all to Aristotle,” Adamson explains. “But once Avicenna came along, doing philosophy meant responding to him.”
How did Avicenna ‘prove’ God exists?
“The full argument is a bit complicated, but here is a somewhat simplified version. Avicenna’s proof actually has nothing to do with design, he doesn’t need the idea that the universe is intelligently put together. Instead, he argues from the idea that the things we see around us are ‘contingent’ or merely ‘possible’.
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