July 18, 2015

Fethullah Gülen's Views on the Western Science and Thought (1)

Enes Ergene

Gülen's views differ from the Western thought in several ways. First, he objects to some ideological views that, he believes, penetrated Western science and colored its fundamentals. He principally criticizes the materialistic dimension of Western thought since, he maintains, Western science ignores celestial revelations and reduces sources of knowledge to materialistic phenomena and empirical knowledge. This, Gülen maintains, narrows the channels of science and cuts human being off from metaphysical knowledge. To him, Western science perceives and uses positivism, the idea of progressivism, and pure reason as an ideological tool. Gülen has written the following:
Positivistic and materialistic theories have permanently suppressed the domain of science and thought for the last few centuries. Metaphysical ideas have been ignored while interpreting existence, the universe, worldly and heavenly phenomena, and instead the positivist approach has been employed all the time. This materialistic interpretation of the universe has pointed to just one way of thinking and it has narrowed the ways leading to reality. The West examined the universe and nature in detail, exercising an empirical method which placed great emphasis on reason, but it could not manage to develop a unity of physics and metaphysics. Thus, in the end, human beings have been taken to a position where they contradict their own selves, intellect, and soul. And this position has estranged their soul from their subjective senses.[1]
In a sense, Gülen sees the ideas of naturalism and rationalism as fundamental reasons for the depression that Western science is experiencing today. Western science is facing this problem because it established science on the basis of secularism and atheism, that is, by attempting to negate God. This process of secularization paved the way for a conflict between science and religion. Gülen describes this conflict as amounting to a destabilization of the balance between God, the universe, and the human being. The Church has not been able to keep this balance:
The Christian representatives of the day expressed extremely spiritualistic views. They undervalued nature, scientific research, and human thought. They emphasized only the spiritual side of life, and they ignored the material side. They even endeavored to deny the material side…[2]
The more they emphasized the spiritual side of life, the more the scientists of nature had the inclination to underline the material side. This, in the end, brought about a conflict between science and religion. Gülen points out that the conflict between science and religion in history occurred in Medieval Europe only:
One cannot see such a conflict in Ancient Greece, or Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, or Chinese civilizations. There seems to be anthropological, sociological, and historical reasons for that. One sees, for example, in Sanskrit literature, that all sciences, from astronomy to astrology, and from mathematics to cosmogony, have been dealt by with a combination of religion, science, and magic. These civilizations did not fervently encouraged their members to be busy with science, but they did not present a worldview that conflicted with science either. Chinese civilization was the same. Confucianism did not cover a system of religion, but it consisted of strict moral codes. Thus, one cannot speak of a conflict between this discipline of values and science. Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions also have mythological rhetoric. Sciences in these civilizations included astronomy, cosmogony, and medicine, but they did not reach a position of fully empirical or rational science. And one cannot distinguish between science and magic.[3]
The science of Ancient Greece had its roots in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian science. Yet, Ancient Greece had a different sociological outlook. The above-mentioned civilizations set up states, but not like those of the Greeks. Ancient Greece had a different experience that displayed an individualistic understanding of life. This idiosyncratic character of Greek society did not allow one religious group to dominate another. In Ancient Greece, poets and thinkers represented beliefs and sacred thoughts, and all were open to new ideas and scientific research. Thus, there was no ambiance in which science and religion could conflict. Gülen also mentions the following in this regard:
Religion was under the control of political authority in ancient times. Any act against religion was regarded as being against the state's political authority. Any act against religion coming from a thinker or a poet would surely induce serious tension and discussion in society.[4]
Thus, there used to be no sociological ground, Gülen contends, for religion and science to clash.

In Judaism as well, we see no sign of a clash between science and religion. This was true for ancient Jewish society, despite passages in the Old Testament regarding the creation of humankind, the universe, historical events, and certain personalities that contradict scientific and historical data. Gülen comments on this, considering the secularized position of Judaism as well as the historical conditions that Jewish society went through:
The turbulent and unsettling experiences that Jewish society has endured did not produce the opportunity for science and religion to clash. Jewish people did not have the chance to found an organized nation state in history except for a short period. They have been exposed to oppression and deportation. These historical experiences have given them a strong sense of unity which other nations can rarely achieve. They have, therefore, been prepared to struggle and fight all the time.[5]
Christianity, on the other hand, experienced a different course of history. Gülen sees the time of Jesus, his apostles, and the early saints as an exceptional period. To him, the basis for the clash between science and religion in Christianity was laid right after this early period of Christianity. The first period of expansion opened the way for the frame of the teachings of Christianity to cover social and cultural life as a whole. Thus, the world of Christianity has witnessed dialectics and conflicts at various levels between science and free thought since that early period. As we stated earlier, Christianity strongly emphasizes that human being has a dual character. Catholic doctrines in particular focus on the spiritual side of human beings. They denigrate the physical dimension by regularly denouncing bodily passions and desires. In a way, this keeps the bio-psychic features of human beings under oppression. These doctrines maintain that a genuine believer should suppress and denounce this side of his or her personality because the more one suppresses this physiological side, the more freedom and humanness one achieves. Thus, Christianity propagates, in a sense, a heavenly life in this world. It frames a life model or ideal for salvation in order to save human beings from worldly struggles and, ultimately, to lead them to salvation. Humanity's existence on earth is a sinful existence, and every individual is supposed to find a way to escape this fallen world. This Christian metaphor has, since the first century of the Christian era, entailed a belief that the end of the world is, at all times, eminent. This frame of mind has led many Christian saints to explain that arguments about what the earth really was would be of no use in the hereafter.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Christianity established such an empire of spirituality in Europe that all of medieval culture and its institutions of education came under the domination of Christian dogma determined by the Catholic Church. This precipitated the clash between Christianity and science. Gülen concludes that this clash resulted from the excessive indoctrination of the beliefs of Christianity. Western science, he maintains, progressed in revolt against this harsh indoctrination of Christianity.

This clash was invisible in the early period because the hegemony of the established Church was so strong. Yet, as Europe approached modernity, the new scientific generation overthrew the cosmological teachings of the Church. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton opened a new age, and a fresh wind began to blow everywhere. The representatives of Christian theology were also influenced by this process. The movement led by Luther and Calvin forced the pace against the extreme statist approach of the Church. This was the period when reforms began that opened the way for scientific progress. In the domain of religion, this movement brought to the fore demands such as the one for people to be able to pray without the intercession of the Church. These events led to a revolt against the social and political domination of the Church. According to Gülen, Western thought endeavored to soften and overcome this clash between religion and science, as Descartes and Spinoza kept the matter away from the attention of the Church. Descartes presented his famous dualist philosophy as if he wanted to make both sides happy. To him, science had a particular focus—nature. It also had a teleological dimension to it. It could reach that dimension, however, only by way of mathematics and experience. The field of religion was viewed as spirituality and also the hereafter. Thus, science and religion were viewed as separate domains with different aims and methods. There was no clash between them as long as they ran in their own lane.

Gülen maintains that "though the clash between science and religion seems to have eased temporarily, it has been raised again by such rationalized ideas coming mainly from Cartesian thinkers." This clash did not, in fact, ease until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when modern nation states emerged. The clash stopped then because both religion and science confined themselves to their own borders.

Gülen questions the background of the clash between science and religion in Islam. Islam, to him, deals with the human in a holistic way, as a combination of mind, heart, spirit, and body. Islam is open to scientific developments and universal realities, with all its social, cultural, economic, and political institutions. Islam considers nature a book to be read, experienced, and observed in contemplation. It reveres nature as a monument due to its craftsmanship in the hand of the Creator.

The Qur'an, according to Gülen, guides science and free thought by encouraging people to study nature and the law of creation carefully (sharia al-fitriyya). Verses in the Qur'an—such as, You will never find in God's way any change; you will never find in God's way any alteration (Fatir 35:43)—point to the experimental sciences and rational knowledge. These two examples underlined early modern European science and thought. Gülen points out that the Qur'an clearly rejects scholasticism, conjecture, imitation, and convention: When it is said to them (who follow in the footsteps of Satan), "Follow what God has sent down," they respond, "No, but we follow that (the traditions, customs, beliefs, and practices) which we found our forefathers in." What, even if their forefathers had no understanding of anything, and were not rightly guided? (Baqara 2:170). The Qur'an rejects conventionalism and, instead, calls for research and observation. Gülen explains how Islam attaches importance to empirical knowledge, experimentation, observation, research, reasoning, and rationale by displaying such verses of the Qur'an as Al Imran 3:190, Tariq 86:5, Ya-Sin 36:40, Baqara 2:164, and Anbiya 21:30. Then, he deals with the issue of how Islamic views of empirical science and scientific thought flourished in the early period of Islam.

Much earlier than their European counterparts, Muslim thinkers and scientists succeeded in various fields of science by using empirical and rational methods as they shaped the basic characteristics of Islamic civilization. Gülen concludes that the religion of Islam has no history that suggests a clash between science and religion.

Gülen criticizes the Cartesian and mechanistic views embedded in Western thought and science. The Cartesian method introduced a deterministic and mechanistic view to explain everything within the boundaries of the supposedly unswerving and unvarying rules of natural sciences. The first modernists—Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, Guericke, Bacon, and Descartes—despised traditional forms of knowledge and ignored the earlier experiences of humanity. Bacon said that they were going to make a fresh start—that they were going to found a new building. Descartes went further to declare that the thing called "philosophy" in earlier times had produced nothing praiseworthy. But things did not go as they wished. As critics of science point out today, though Cartesians discovered nature, human being, and society anew, they neither solved the major problems of humanity nor did they manage to construct a methodology independent of the older knowledge. Gülen maintains that this scientific arrogance was nothing but an illusion:
No period in the history of humankind witnessed so much technological and materialistic richness… Yet, no period in the history of humankind witnessed the science of the time being so alien to human being's spiritual and inner side as the science of modern times… The circles of modern science believed that old traditions, with all their values, would soon be discarded. To them, reason would enlighten everything, science would discover everything related to all existence, and such scientific disciplines as biology, physics, chemistry, and astrophysics would conquer the universe thoroughly…[6]
However, new physics, first introduced by Max Planck, developed rapidly right after the early modern period, invalidating the arguments and illusions of those who observe the universe behind steamed windows:
…And all these developments made clear that there could be an invisible side to existence. New developments today force us to find new explanations and interpretations. We should find tools of explanation other than idolized positivism and weird rationalization. And such tools should take the heart, the spirit, and the hereafter into account…[7]
In another article, Gülen underlines the notion that the positivistic nature of science has not been able to offer anything for spiritual satisfaction:
Neither the science nor the intellect of human being offered a serious explanation of the beginning and end of the universe, creation or the secrets of life. Such issues, which humankind has been occupied with since the beginning, remain the eeriest puzzle for his intellect. Today's science and man's intellect do not seem to explain extra-sensory perceptions, revelation, inspiration, intuition, dreams, extra-sensory sources of knowledge, the penetration of metaphysics into physics, miraculous occurrences, or prayers. Humanity today still seeks help and references from the explanations offered by religion..."[8]
One-dimensional science became so shallow that it made us alien to our own spiritual dynamics. It developed an uncontrollable technology that threatened to demolish both human being and nature:
Positive sciences, towards the end of last century, became so spoilt that even some scholars, including Ruban Alves, Paul Feyerabend, and Rene Guenon, who are believed to be the interpreters of modern science, felt that modern science should be curbed and slapped. However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, humanity intended to leave some earlier taboos behind and gained some success. Yet, one cannot say that old habits were left totally, because the number of those who see science and technology as the only real and infallible master and guide is still high…[9]
As we have seen, Gülen emphasizes the unidimensional character of Western science and also points to the fact that this conflict "between science and religion came about because both the Church and science approached the matter from just one perspective only."

1. The relationship between science and determinism

In his words and writings on science, Gülen draws particular attention to the "cause and effect" relationship. He even attributes the fall of Islamic world in science to Muslim scholars' failure to observe this rule and the order of relationships written all over the book of nature.

Western scientific thought developed an overly deterministic view of scientific theory and practice. One of the important outcomes of this view was the materialistic interpretation that penetrated scientific thought. The more it sank into materialism, the more it turned a blind eye to metaphysics and to the sacred. This is the most fundamental feature of Western scientific thought. In other words, in the modern period, Western science took up only the "Book of Nature" and ignored the "Book of God." Yet both were metaphorically present in the Western and Islamic worlds. The Western world, therefore, remained shallow in explaining the meaning of man's existence on earth and his relationship with God. While the Muslim world, on the other hand, acted conversely; it ignored the "Book of Nature" and confined itself to the "Book of God," thereby falling behind the West in the field of science.

Gülen emphasizes this point in all his talks or writings that deal with scientific developments. It is worth touching upon the deterministic understanding embedded in the Western view of science so as to understand Gülen's emphasis. The concept of determinism can be traced back to dialectical materialism as it emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The importance of determinism in the history of science and philosophy can be attributed to the discovery of natural laws, and man's subsequent application of these laws to society and progress. Recently, social scientists have criticized the way determinism has been applied to man and society. Such scientists agree that the law of causality is also applicable to social phenomena to a certain extent. However, they do not agree that this law of causality necessarily negates some transcendental or external forces. They are aware that a severe deterministic view favors fatalism and leaves person with no willpower. Yet, such a view of determinism delivers no interpretation of what the metaphysical foundations of the worldly phenomena and the transcendental power might be. In the face of all these negative points about Western science, we can say that the West seems to succeed in the domain of scientific progress and revolutions; however, it ends up in negative social, political, and ideological conditions. This is because while Westerners searched and examined nature with great enthusiasm, they restrained their focus to causal relations.

Gülen recognizes that the discovery of causality has been the driving force behind scientific research and its acquirements, and he is well aware that it is a widely accepted phenomenon today. Yet, he believes that determinism has certain faults that keep people away from divine goals, and which erode the creativity of their intellect and will.

Gülen also states that the principle of causality is valid in social life, albeit not to the extent that it is in the domain of physical life. Here we see Gülen interpreting the principle of causality very practically. He does not deal with the phenomena of causality solely from the perspective of physics. Instead, he tries to make practical and social inferences. It is evident that social events repeat themselves from time to time. For this reason, Gülen contends that we can and should seek to assess future events in the light of the principle of causality:
One is supposed to hang on to causes as driving forces. Turning a blind eye to them is nothing but determinism. The middle way means to be vigilant to hang on to reasons with no hesitation, and also to have a strong resignation not to feel oneself dependent on anything other than God. One should see the relation between cause and effect as valid, but should not give way to an extreme determinism. The furthest one can go in this regard is nothing but a middle-way determinism. I am not sure whether this is an acceptable interpretation, but one can see in our culture that determinism has not been treated as such a concept to be totally discarded.

If compulsory determinism means that the same causes produce the same effects, we have no reason to object. If we follow this line of interpretation, we definitely accept the idea that even in the field of social life, we can see certain outcomes as interpreted in the context of the cause-and-effect relation, though we believe that determinism is not as widely observable in social life as it is in physical life. Thus, following this line of interpretation, we have to be careful about what course of action will result in what social results. This means that we have to have a plan for a safe future, a sane society, a firm state, and a solid international relationship and recognition. We might, otherwise, have to face surprises all the time.

We are not supposed to continue waiting for things to occur. All things are made ready for us in the other world, and they are transferred into this world. We have to determine clearly where we are, whether we are in life or out of life. If a society gives way to ideas such as "man is free on earth," then he will spend time the way he likes. Man will think that he is not supposed to think hard about the future; he will think the past and the future are nothing but stories. He will believe that he is supposed to enjoy and please himself as much as he can, and he will believe that no one should feel like rescuing the world on his own. This world is not worth thinking about too much... In such a society, making use of the physical blessings of God is counted as worship, and consequently, that society is dead. In such a society, the intelligentsia and statesmen are charged with the task of recovering people from their social malaise and leading them to higher goals by enlightening them with science. If the intelligentsia and the statesmen bemuse the society with the false ideas of daily politics; if they tell them that a change of government or change of regimes could potentially fix their core; if they do this instead of indoctrinating them with higher scientific goals such as finding the truth and thinking aright, they would only immerse the society into more problems... [10]
This is the first part of the article Gülen's Views on the Western Science and Thought

Click here for [Part 2]

[1] İrfan Yilmaz et al.,Yeni Bir Bakiş Açisiyla İlim ve Din, İzmir: Nil Yayinlari, 1998, p. 10.
[2] Ibid., p. 11.
[3] Ibid., p. 16.
[4] Ibid., p. 17.
[5] Ibid., p. 17.
[6] Gülen, Günler Bahari Soluklarken, İstanbul: Nil Yayinlari, 2002, p. 17.
[7] Ibid., pp. 18–19.
[8] Ibid., pp. 98–99.
[9] Ibid., pp. 71–72.
[10] Gülen, Yeşeren Düşünceler, pp. 105, 179–181. See also, Gülen, Ruhumuzun Heykelini Dikerken, p. 114; Beyan, İstanbul: Nil Yayinlari, 2008, pp. 88, 105; Zamanin Altin Dilimi, İstanbul: Nil Yayinlari, 2002, p. 19; "Işik–Karanlik Devr-i Daimi,"Sizinti, No. 298, November 2003.

Published on fgulen.com, 07 August 2008, Thursday