July 19, 2015

Fethullah Gülen's Views on the Western Science and Thought (2)

Enes Ergene

This is the second part of the article Gülen's Views on the Western Science and Thought

Click here for [Part 1]

2. Religion, science, and ideology

Science and scientific activities have been used throughout history as keystones for ideological targets. Religious thoughts and principles have been occasionally used as barriers standing in the way of such targets. The experience of Christianity in the scholastic Middle Ages serves as a good example in this regard. Christianity had become a political and a cultural vehicle for the official ideology of the Empire in the Catholic Church. The official ideology had organized Christianity in order to use it for its own political ends for ages, and between the eighteenth and twentieth century, it organized science and scientific progress to make use of it in the same line. The mild clash that first began between Church and science turned out to be an ideological one that led to separation of Church and state. The state became successful in disqualifying religion, and it continued to use science as an ideological too—so much so that many scholars throughout the twentieth century often emphasized that science, which had increasingly become militarized, should urgently become independent of the state and its political and ideological goals. Such reactions by scholars are raised from time to time even today.

Gülen points out that this historical fact signifies the risks and the drawbacks we face when either religion or science is turned into an ideological tool. To him, both science and religion are tools to be used in the search for reality. Religion makes up one side while science comprises the other side. Man, on the one hand, discovers the relation between his consciousness and existence—and, on the other hand, he thinks of how he should react in the face of this reality. For the former, he seeks help from science together with religion's sources of information; while religion is the operative for the latter. Accordingly, the goal of science is to discover what reality is, while the goal of religion is to specify what man's reaction should be in the face of this reality. If science and scientific activity are used beyond the goals of scientific discovery, science becomes an ideological tool:
If science does not have the enthusiasm and motivation to discover and analyze the basics of existence, such a science is bound to be blind, and its findings would surely consist of contradictions. If it is sought for such unworthy ends as certain political and ideological ones, it would inevitably face some predicaments.[11]
In the past two centuries, underdeveloped countries were easily colonized with using science as an ideological tool. Many of the cultural elements in these regions were destroyed in the name of modern science. Religious, cultural, and civil assets eroded. In the hand of certain ideologies, science endeavored to assimilate everything to its own way. It also devastated natural and ecological harmony. It went so far that now, human species face extinction due to environmental pollution. The domination of science over nature was the end result of the ideology of making man into God. And this ideology, though it has cost humanity much, has been successfully implemented.

For Gülen, the use of religion as an ideological tool is also risky and errant: "Religion is a guide for man that does not lead him astray. It opens ways for science. And it offers profound perspectives for humanity to perceive the reality of existence." Gülen points to an important matter here:
Religion, which is in fact a heavenly phenomenon, may be used as an instigator of hatred and revenge by fanaticism, as science may be used as a facade by certain ideologies and movements to stand in the way of reality. This brings a representation of religion in an opposite way. What a contradiction for heavenly phenomena to be represented in just the opposite way!

Imagine a house of science—it should, in fact, be as sacred as a temple—which is dominated, or enslaved by a philosophical movement. Science becomes a slave of a fanatical or, in fact, an ignorant ideology. Science becomes a damned thing there. If a religion is used for the interests of political or non-political cliques, the temples of that religion or religious group will become like a showroom of that clique, rather than becoming a sacred house for prayer. Such a misuse will no doubt damage the sacredness of religion.

If some members of a society uses the institutes of science as their own showroom, to use science for their own ideological ends, such institutions will soon turn out to be arenas where greed and ambition prevail. Likewise, if some members of a society accuse fellow believers who do not share their political views of being disbelievers, hypocrites, or infidels, such people will no doubt seem to be displaying a harsh religion which will give fear to the general population of that society.[12]
Gülen also expresses how people ideologize either religion or science because of their disabilities or impotencies. To him, some people use either religion or science to make up for their inadequacies or failures. Such misuses make religion and science move away from its original and sacred form. Gülen believes that such misuse can be prevented only by love of God, science, and reality. It is only through this elixir of love that man may keep himself away from such ideological and human misuses. Humanity first experienced such love through the prophets of God.

Gülen, as it is clear from the excerpts quoted above, condemns those who use religion as their own showroom, and he also accuses them of causing both science and religion to deviate from their original axis. Gülen specifies the goal of science and scientific studies to be the love of God and truth. Thus, he tries to open up a metaphysical channel by bringing the idea of the transcendental forward—an idea that has been alienated from science for several centuries due positivistic views of knowledge and philosophy.

Concepts such as love, compassion, and affection have been left out of scientific research. By bringing both metaphysical and mystical concerns into science, Gülen clearly points to the old cosmological view that espoused the idea that the cause for the universe to exist was love and compassion. The old cosmological view—which established a constant and causal relation among man, the universe, and God—was laid aside with the emergence of modern science. Science plunged into materialistic views and was forced to be unidimensional—to ignore moral, religious, and metaphysical concerns.

3. Reason, science, and culture

Gülen touches upon the ideology of pure rationalism, a movement remnant of the nineteenth century. In his article in the periodical titled Yeni Ümit (New Hope) in August 1999, he tackles this point delicately. Gülen calls to keep away from the traps of materialism and rationalism, and suggests that Muslims turn toward the transcendental as they strive to renew their soul, faith, and thought. He draws attention to modern man, whose heart is already estranged from the spiritual sphere. And further, Gülen suggests to modern man that he adapt his moral compass to transcendental values through reason and contemplation.

Gülen deals with reason sensitively and simply. Inspired by both the Qur'an and the Risale-i Nur, Gülen explains how ultimate reason, heavenly reason, and earthly reason, together can produce knowledge that will bring the individual in contact with transcendence. His article titled, "The Two Faces of Reason and Being Reasonable" does not deal explicitly with philosophical issues, but it concludes that being reasonable means connecting thought with infinity.[13] Connecting thought with the transcendental and the infinite refers to having deep faith and engaging in profound contemplation. For Gülen, the Qur'an illustrates how one can realize unity by combining a cosmic consciousness with one's knowledge of existence. It shows us how we should use our reason, our conscience, and our heart together. The calls of the Qur'an regarding reason are always connected to the infinite:
The Qur'an makes all of its messages open to questioning by reason, logic, and judgment. It talks, in a way, so as not to open ways for reason, sense, and consciousness to raise objections, and it also rehabilitates its followers in the name of reasonableness.[14]
Reason reaches the infinite through observing existence. The Qur'an calls man to reason and wisdom by asking him to contemplate existence. Reason is always asked to use the mechanism of rationalization in the trajectory of unity as if it were created for this purpose. The Qur'an declares the Oneness of God as reasonable, and it delineates idol worship and infidelity as unreasonable. It deals with this matter sometimes in the context of harmony—that is, in the context of connection—and sometimes by calling the believers' attention to the idol-worshippers of the time of the Prophet. The Qur'an calls for reason in regard to the ancient people who fell into the trap of idol-worshipping, and it displays vivid examples of infidelity, idol-worship, and apostasy. It clearly propounds how ancient diviners espoused a false understanding of the concept of "deity," and how people who followed them perished. Further, it describes how ancient people went astray in worshipping false gods since all occurrences in the universe call for the oneness of the deity.

In his Risale-i Nur, an exegesis of the Qur'an, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi also tackles the issue of reason.[15] Gülen expresses the way that he approaches the issue in the Risale-i Nur:
The Risale-i Nur puts emphasis on reading and observing the "Book of Nature." This is, in fact, not emphasized by the Risale-i Nur only; rather, it is emphasized by all prophets, saints, and scholars of Islam. One may notice some variance in this emphasis, but one notices that the pattern is always the same: the earth and the sky should be observed only to find the reality that everything belongs to the Creator. Then, the soul of man will have the feeling of contentment, as the science dealing with the "Book of Nature" will offer spiritual satisfaction.[16]
This line of contemplation and reasoning has, in fact, been a legacy and method of Islamic tradition over the years. Gülen deals with this heritage of thought, which covers theological, philosophical, and mystical matters, by comprehensively and sensitively interpreting and presenting them in today's language. For example, he revises a passage from the Risale-i Nur (Letter 20, Clause 2, Passages 10 and 29) using today's language, by explaining that the path of polytheism (i.e., giving companions or partners to God) is much more difficult and irrational than embracing theism (i.e., the oneness of God); thus he raises the basic argument that believing in One Omnipotent God is more reasonable than believing in the one who needs partners.

Gülen points to a theistic posture through concepts of reason and rationality. He analyzes the approach of the Risale-i Nur as both sustaining and encouraging a rational process. The Qur'an, in fact, deals with the matter in the same way, for it does not cite the word "reason" separately; it is always cited as a functional and practical entity. Gülen also follows this pattern of thought in his analysis of the matter.

When Muslims of classical Islamic thought referred to science, they spoke of the functional and practical knowledge of the Qur'an. By contrast, when a Western materialist refers to science, he or she refers to knowledge that can bring one power and give one the utilities to control nature and manipulate individuals and societies.

The function of reason is, therefore, to use knowledge in this direction. The Western materialism made reason and knowledge independent of transcendental and sacred values. Yet, according to Qur'an, neither reason nor knowledge can be made independent of such values. Rather, they are supposed to serve transcendental and sacred values. Anything done in the name of reason and knowledge should point to the Oneness of God. If it does not, that means it has been used against the aim of creation in some way, and thus it is bound to drown in polytheism. And polytheism, according to the Qur'an, is a clearly unreasonable destination for our discoveries and reflection. In other words, if reason and knowledge are misused—if they are not used for mankind to better understand the aim of creation—this will surely bring about negative ideological, theological, individual, and social consequences, as the society will begin to incline toward polytheism. The Qur'an presents, from time to time, examples of ancient societies that experienced such consequences. Gülen deals with these examples following both the tone of the Qur'an and the perspective of the Risale-i Nur:

Revelation, reason, and experience

The objections raised by Muslim intellectuals in regards to Western science focus on the general ideological approach that consciously ignored the fact of revelation. They draw our attention to this conscious omission. Muslim scholars have determined human sources of knowledge as follows:
  1. External senses (five senses)
  2. Reason / intellect
  3. Revelation
Western science recognized the first two as the foundations of science and because they believed revelation to be less than scientific, they ignored it as a source of knowledge. This resulted in two radical movements: positivism and rationalism. Positivism espoused sensory experience, and rationalism espoused the intellect; however, both denied other human experiences of knowledge. The followers of the two believed that anything perceived beyond the five senses and the intellect could not be accepted as sources of knowledge. These two approaches rejected all things metaphysical, and this rejection brought about radical changes in man's concepts of society, economy, history, and the universe.

Figuring out the positivistic and rationalistic signs and effects here would, of course, help us understand why Muslims placed great importance on revelation. Gülen also favors this categorization of true knowledge which has been a long-known classification in Islamic thought. At the same time, however, he reinforces these three sources of knowledge with added clarification.

The fact that knowledge has sources, he explains, does not mean that people will attain that knowledge properly, and it does not mean that people will be able to put that knowledge into practical use or develop that knowledge to its full potential. In order to put knowledge attained from these sources into practice, society needs to be enthusiastic about knowledge and love science. And the method to follow is so important. The reason why Europe developed so rapidly and successfully was that the society was so enthusiastic toward knowledge. Everybody strove for discovery in the name of science. Science was not bound to the circles of aristocracy; rather, it percolated to all levels of society. Gülen speaks about the importance of research institutes and claims that universities should be supported by research centers. Otherwise, universities will not produce new findings, ideologies, and/or solutions. Instead, they will achieve little more than reifying standard patterns and reaffirming monotonous ideas. Monotonous ideas do nothing but eliminate moral parameters and respect towards science. Science and the will to research should spread throughout the society so that it can prevail. If a society does not have such a quality, that society is bound to have egoistic members. That society will become dominated by its selfish members, by the very ones who have no concern for others.

The emphasis that Islam places on revelation as a separate category of knowledge makes Islam fairly distinctive from other approaches which exist in other cultures. Gülen draws attention to this point when he speaks of his understanding of science, saying that scientific endeavors should never be viewed as separate from revelation:
It is the distinguished and transcendental feature of Prophets to read and interpret events duly and strike a balance between the reality of the universe and that of the divine. It was only the Prophets who realized the essence of reality in the universe. It was only them who apprehended the unity of the universe reflected and spread in various shapes into worldly existence. This is a miracle on their side and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has a special place among them in this regard.

Man today still has not been able to go far in finding and interpreting the realities of the universe and metaphysical existence, though he had gone far too much in science and technology. Yet long ago, Prophets were granted divine knowledge about the nature of existence and let their people know this reality.

They did not attain this information through scientific research or individual experiences. They attained this knowledge through their ability to think and contemplate, their heart being ready for divine revelation, and their special relation with God. Through this attainment, they became conscious of the omnipotent, the omniscience, and the omnipresent God who sustains the universe. They observed the existence of the unity of the Divine Being everywhere. They became able to read and interpret the signs of the most powerful Allah in all particles of the universe. They staunchly declared the Oneness of God in their senses, minds, and faith.

It is hard to say that science has reached the remarkable conclusion with regard to man, the universe, and divinity, about which prophets let their people know ages ago. Science today is still like a creeping child and it changes its conclusions everyday. It regards many of its old conclusions as wrong, and it makes other mistakes as it reaches still other conclusions. Moreover, it cannot go beyond its boundaries, where it deals with limited issues. It is not wrong to state that science has produced no theory that has not been replaced by itself again. Thus, it has never been able to find reality. This statement does not aim to consider science as unimportant or to ignore scientific research. We rather consider that both science and its outcomes are important and they deserve respect. Thus we are supposed to appreciate them. What, then, we endeavor to maintain is that revelation is also a source of knowledge with regard to man, existence, and creation. And this source is available in the Books revealed to the Prophets by God, though some were distorted.[17]
Gülen often reiterates this prophetic source, which is named habar al-rasul (a message via a prophet) in classical Islamic literature. By doing so, he emphasizes that prophetic messages are "permanent realities." Here he does not discuss the scientific nature of Prophetic messages, because the content of the revelation is a different issue. Gülen concentrates on the fact that principles of heavenly revelation have remained intact for centuries, whereas theories of science have been replaced. Even theories that seemed so solid have been revised many times. Yet, the principles that Prophets communicated are esteemed as permanent sources of knowledge:
Many principles presented by modern sciences today were introduced by Prophets long before in different ways because their hearts and minds were open to revelation. No matter how far the modern laboratories and technology institutes go, the great majority of people around the world still evaluate the principles and findings of science according to the messages and interpretations of religion. They follow unhesitatingly the messages of religion regarding man, existence, and God, in particular, whereas even the newest and most solid theories and suppositions set forth in the name of science are constantly being replaced. Scientists of today question their colleagues of yesterday. Theories that seemed very solid yesterday are replaced by new ones today. Thus, the principles set forth by science come one-by-one, and they fall one-by-one. On the other hand, the principles set forth by Prophets have always been esteemed as solid. Their value has never been depreciated. They are still valuable and will remain so, as the source of their principles is God Almighty, who created and sustains existence, wrote it as a book, and organized it as a palace.

The last word on man, existence, and the Creator should be given to Prophets, who had a special relation with the Almighty. They should be given the right to interpret the reality put before us or kept behind the cosmos.

One of the specific missions of the Prophets was to inform people of the nature of their relation between existence and their lives and acts, as well as of their duties towards the Almighty. It was the Prophets who informed us about the nature of existence, giving the most convincing and straight answers to such fundamental questions as to where we come from and where we are going—the crucial questions on the meaning of existence.

We are, therefore, supposed to look for the most reliable answers regarding the reason for our existence on earth, as well as answers to what our guidelines should be in our journey on earth from the messengers of God. Only then can we understand the meaning of existence and the universe, the scene behind the curtain of outward existence. Only then can we know the purpose of worldly existence, and only then will we find tranquility in our mind, body, and spirit."[18]
[11] Gülen, Işiğin Göründüğü Ufuk, p. 10.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Gülen, Kendi Dünyamiza Doğru, pp. 73–85. "The Qur'an teaches us this way and it defines 'to be reasonable' as to relate the thought to the infinity."
[14] Ibid.
[15] For a detailed account on Nursi's exegesis, see Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, Islam at the Crossroads: On the Life and Thought of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.
[16] Gülen, Kendi Dünyamiza Doğru, pp. 73–85.
[17] Gülen, Kendi Dünyamiza Doğru, p. 142.
[18] Ibid.

Published on fgulen.com, 07 August 2008, Thursday