Dr. Mohd. Sanaullah Nadawi - The Mind-Matter IntriguesThe Mind-Matter Intrigues: Nursi’s Critique of Positivism and Materialism

January 11, 2018 | Author: Octavio Corona | Category: Materialism, Positivism, Philosophical Theories, Philosophical Movements, Western Philosophy
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Before depositing about positivism, materialism ( with some passing references to empiricism, post-positivism and critic...


The Mind-Matter Intrigues: Nursi’s Critique of Positivism and Materialism (Paper presented at the international seminar on Bringing Faith, Meaning, and Peace to Life in a Multicultural World: The Risale-i Nur's Approach, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2- 3 Feb 2012) . Dr. Mohd. Sanaullah Nadawi Associate-Professor Department of Arabic Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh-202002 U.P. INDIA Email: [email protected]

Prologue: Materialism and Positivism

Materialism and Positivism as ontological and epistemological paradigms hold significant position in the legacy of human cognitive and philosophical discourses. The monistic ontology has successfully posited itself as a formidable pragmatic philosophical discourse throughout our philosophical history. The philosophical monism was represented in the three kinds: a) Idealism, phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism which holds that only mind is real, b) Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy, and c) Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental or spiritual can be reduced to the physical. The discourse centering around the subject-object and the mind-matter intrigues has developed a gamut of empirical, theoretical, and conceptual researches, with different scales of relying and and redress in a variety of disciplines such as the neuro, cognitive and behavioral sciences, physical approaches, mathematical modeling, data analysis, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, applied metaphysics, cultural and social studies and general history of ideas. 1 Before depositing about positivism, materialism ( with some passing references to empiricism, post-positivism and critical

1See Achinstein, Peter and Barker, Stephen F. The Legacy of Logical Positivism: Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969; Kremer-Marietti, Angèle. Le positivisme, Collection "Que saisje?", Paris, PUF, 1982.

realism), it won’t be out of context to note that projections about science and scientist have not been devoid of some stereotypes best summarized in phrases like boring, cut-and-dry, narrow-mindedness, esoterism, etc. It is only the post-positivist era that many of those stereotypes of the scientist no longer hold up.

The theory of materialism in philosophy (typically contrasting with dualism, idealism, phenomenalism, vitalism and dual-aspect monism) holds that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter. Its materiality can, in some ways, be linked to the concept of Determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers. It has been criticized as a spiritually empty philosophy.2 The materialist philosophical thoughts and discourses date back to the Axial Age (approximately 800 to 200 BC). The thesis is supported by the views of the Indian Cārvāka and the Nyaya– Vaisesika schools (600 BC - 100 BC) and the Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school,3 China’s Xun Zi (ca. 312–230 BC) developed a Confucian doctrine oriented on realism and materialism,4 Ancient like Thales, Anaxagoras (ca. 500 BC – 428 BC), Epicurus and Democritus, etc.5 The Andalusian Abu Bakr Ibn Tufail wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.6 In modern era, Pierre Gassendi represented the materialist tradition, in opposition to René Descartes' attempts to

2See Lange, Friedrich A.,(1925) The History of Materialism. New York, Harcourt, Brace, & Co; LeGouis, Catherine. Positivism and Imagination: Scientism and Its Limits in Emile Hennequin, Wilhelm Scherer and Dmitril Pisarev. Bucknell University Press. London: 1997.

3 See See Mádhava Áchárya (1996). The Sarva-darsana-samgraha: or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy. trans. E. B. Cowell and A. E. Gough. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1341-3; Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; and Moore, Charles A. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press; 1957. Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad (1959). Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism. New Delhi: People's Pub. House; Pradeep P. Gokhale, The Cārvāka Theory of Pramāṇas: A Restatement, Philosophy East and West (1993).

4 See Schwartz, Benjamin I. (1985). The world of thought in ancient China. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674961900.

provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. There followed the materialist and atheist Jean Meslier, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, Paul-Henri Thiry Baron d'Holbach, Denis Diderot and other French Enlightenment thinkers; as well as in England, the pedestrian traveler John "Walking" Stewart, whose insistence that all matter is endowed with a moral dimension had a major impact on the philosophical poetry of William Wordsworth. The materialist and atheist Ludwig Feuerbach would a signal a new turn in materialism through his book, The Essence of Christianity, which provided a humanist account of religion as the outward projection of man's inward nature. Feuerbach's materialism would later heavily influence Karl Marx.7 Many current and recent philosophers (such as Daniel Dennett, Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, John Rogers Searle, Jerry Fodor, etc) operate within a broadly physicalist or materialist framework, producing rival accounts of how best to accommodate mind—functionalism, anomalous monism, identity theory and so on.

Positivism asserts that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on sense, experience and positive verification. As a rejection of metaphysics (in broadest sense), positivism holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience. The purpose of science is simply to stick to what we can observe and measure. Knowledge of anything beyond that, a positivist would hold, is impossible. In a positivist

5 See See Bakalis Nikolaos (2005). Handbook of Greek Philosophy: From Thales to the Stoics Analysis and Fragments, Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC., ISBN 1-4120-4843-5; Barnes J. (1979). The Presocratic Philosophers, Routledge, London, ISBN 0-7100-8860-4; Kirk G. S.; Raven, J. E. and Schofield, M. (1983) The Presocratic Philosophers: a critical history with a selection of texts (2nd ed.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, ISBN 0-521-25444-2; Zeller, A. (1881). A History of Greek Philosophy: From the Earliest Period to the Time of Socrates, Vol. II, translated by S. F. Alleyne, pp. 321 – 394.

6 Several English translations of Hayy bin Yaqzan are available: The improvement of human reason, exhibited in the life of Hai ebn Yokdhan, by Simon Ockley. London: Printed and sold by E. Powell, 1708; Ibn Tufayl's Hayy ibn Yaqzān: a philosophical tale, translated with introduction and notes by Lenn Evan Goodman. New York: Twayne, 1972; The journey of the soul: the story of Hai bin Yaqzan, as told by Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Tufail, a new translation by Riad Kocache. London: Octagon, 1982; Two Andalusian philosophers, translated from the Arabic with an introduction and notes by Jim Colville. London: Kegan Paul, 1999; Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings, ed. Muhammad Ali Khalidi. Cambridge University Press, 2005. Also see P. Brönnle, The Awakening of the Soul (London, 1905)

7 Churchland, Paul (1981). Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. The Philosophy of Science. Boyd, Richard; P. Gasper; J. D. Trout. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.

view of the world, science was seen as the way to get at truth, to understand the world well enough so that we might predict and control it. The positivist believed in empiricism: the idea that observation and measurement was the core of the scientific endeavor. The key approach of the scientific method is the experiment, the attempt to discern natural laws through direct manipulation and observation.

The positivist approach has been a recurrent theme in the history of western thought from the Ancient Greeks to the present day; the concept was developed in the early 19th century by the philosopher and founding sociologist, Auguste Comte (1798–1857). As an approach to the philosophy of science deriving from Enlightenment thinkers such as Henri de SaintSimon and Pierre-Simon Laplace, Auguste Comte saw the scientific method as replacing metaphysics in the history of thought, observing the circular dependence of theory and observation in science. Sociological positivism was later reformulated by Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) as a foundation to social research. At the turn of the 20th century the first wave of German sociologists, including Max Weber and Georg Simmel, rejected the doctrine, thus founding the antipositivist tradition in sociology. Later antipositivists and critical theorists have associated positivism with scientism; science as ideology.8 In the early 20th century, logical positivism - a descendant of Comte's basic thesis but an independent movement - sprang up in Vienna and grew to become one of the dominant schools in Anglo-American philosophy and the analytic tradition. Logical positivists (or 'neopositivists') reject metaphysical speculation and attempted to reduce statements and propositions to pure logic. Critiques of this approach by philosophers such as Karl Popper, Willard Van Orman Quine and Thomas Kuhn have been highly influential, and led to the development of postpositivism. In psychology, the positivist movement was influential in the development of behavioralism and operationalism.9 In its strongest original formulation, positivism could be thought of as a set of five principles 10 (the unity of the scientific method, inquiry to explain and predict, testability of the scientific knowledge alone by

8 See Friedman, Michael. Reconsidering Logical Positivism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999; Gadol, Eugene T. Rationality and Science: A Memorial Volume for Moritz Schlick in Celebration of the Centennial of his Birth. Wien: Springer, 1982

9 See Salmon, Wesley and Wolters, Gereon (ed.) Logic, Language, and the Structure of Scientific Theories: Proceedings of the Carnap-Reichenbach Centennial, University of Konstanz, 21–24 May 1991, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994; Sarkar, Sahotra (ed.) Decline and Obsolescence of Logical Empiricism: Carnap vs. Quine and the Critics. New York: Garland Pub., 1996; Sarkar, Sahotra (ed.) Logical Empiricism and the Special Sciences: Reichenbach, Feigl, and Nagel. New York: Garland Pub., 1996; Sarkar, Sahotra (ed.) Logical Empiricism at its Peak: Schlick, Carnap, and Neurath. New York: Garland Pub., 1996; Sarkar, Sahotra (ed.) The Emergence of Logical Empiricism: From 1900 to the Vienna Circle. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996; Sarkar, Sahotra (ed.) The Legacy of the Vienna Circle: Modern Reappraisals. New York: Garland Pub., 1996.

empirical means, adoption of deductive logic in research, and non-equation of science to common sense, relation of theory to practice, etc); hence it gives the universal positivist formula: For all conditions of X, if X has property P and P=Q, then X has property Q.11

Materialism is criticized by a number of scientists such as Michael Polanyi, Paul Davies, John Gribbin and others. In Life's irreducible structure (1968), Polanyi argued that the information contained in the DNA molecule is irreducible to physics and chemistry. Although a DNA molecule cannot exist without physical properties, these properties are constrained by higher level ordering principles. In Transcendence and Self-transcendence (1970), Polanyi criticized the materialistic world view that modern science has inherited from Galileo. Paul Davies and John Gribbin have openly expressed how scientific finds in physics such as quantum mechanics and chaos theory have disproven materialism.12 Kant argued against all three forms of materialism, subjective idealism (which he contrasts with his transcendental idealism. and dualism. However, Kant also argues that change and time require an enduring substrate, and does so in connection with his Refutation of Idealism Postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers also express skepticism about any allencompassing metaphysical scheme. Philosopher Mary Midgley, among others, argues that materialism is a self-refuting idea, at least in its eliminative form. An argument for idealism, such as those of Hegel and Berkeley is ipso facto an argument against materialism. Matter can be argued to be redundant, and mind-independent properties can in turn be reduced to subjective percepts. Emergence, holism and process philosophy seek to ameliorate the perceived shortcomings of traditional (especially mechanistic) materialism without abandoning materialism entirely.

As regards religion’s critique of Materialism, it springs from the fact that the later denies the existence of both deities and souls. Christianity, Judaism and Islam altogether reject materialism. In most of Hinduism and Transcendentalism, all matter is believed to be an

10 See Cirera, Ramon. Carnap and the Vienna Circle: Empiricism and Logical Syntax. Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1994; Flanagan, Owen (1991). The Science of the Mind. 2nd edition Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT Press; Fodor, J.A. (1974). Special Sciences, Synthese, Vol.28; Friedman, Michael. Reconsidering Logical Positivism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

11 See Werkmeister, William (May 1937). "Seven Theses of Logical Positivism Critically Examined". The Philosophical Review (Cornell University) 46 (3): 276– 297. doi:10.2307/2181086.JSTOR 2181086

12 See Paul Davies and John Gribbin, 'The Matter Myth', Chapter 1: The death of materialism.

illusion called Maya, blinding us from knowing the truth. Maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya gets destroyed for a person when they perceive Brahman with transcendental knowledge.

Positivism is also rejected on religious and philosophical grounds. For religions, truth begins in sense experience, but does not end there. Positivism fails to prove that there are not abstract ideas, laws, and principles, beyond particular observable facts and relationships and necessary principles, or that we cannot know them. According to positivism, our abstract concepts or general ideas are mere collective representations of the experimental order — for example, the idea of man is a kind of blended image of all the men observed in our experience. This runs contrary to a Platonic or Christian ideal, where an idea can be abstracted from any concrete determination, and may be applied identically to an indefinite number of objects of the same class. From the idea's perspective, the latter is more precise as collective images are more or less confused, become more so as the collection represented increases; an idea by definition remains always clear.

The Positivism in Turkey: the Young Turks

The Young Turks, a coalition of various groups favouring reformation of the administration of the Ottoman Empire, upheld positivism, though they were not philosophers. The chief among the Young Turks were: Yusuf Akçura (1876–1935, Ayetullah Bey, Nuri Bey, Osman Hamdi Bey (1842–1910), Emmanuel Carasso Efendi, Mehmet Cavit Bey , (1875–1926), Abdullah Cevdet, Marcel Samuel Raphael Cohen (1883–1961), Lewis Daly (1866–1921), Agah Efendi (1832–1885), Ziya Gökalp (1875–1924), Ahmed Riza (1859–1930), Ahmed Niyazi Bey, Enver Pasha, Resat Bey, etc. Their movement was against the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Sultan and favoured a re-installation of the short-lived Kanûn-ı Esâsî constitution. They established the second constitutional era in 1908 with what would become known as the Young Turk Revolution.13 The first congress of Ottoman Opposition was held on February 4, 1902, at 8 pm, at the house of Germain Antoin Lefevre-Pontalis. He

13 See M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, The Young Turks in Opposition, Oxford University Press 1995, ISBN 0-19-5091159; M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, Preparation for a Revolution: The Young Turks, 1902–1908, Oxford University Press 2001, ISBN 0-19-513463-X; M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, The Anniversary of a Century-Old Ideology, Zaman Daily Newspaper, September 29, 2005; Stephen Kinzer, Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2001, ISBN 0-374-52866-7; Yves Ternon, Empire ottoman : Le déclin, la chute, l'effacement, Paris, édition du Félin, 2002, ISBN 2-86645-601-7; Necati Alkan, "The Eternal Enemy of Islam: Abdullah Cevdet and the Baha'i Religion", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 68/1, pp. 1–20; online at Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies; Necati Alkan, Dissent and Heterodoxy in the Late Ottoman Empire: Reformers, Babis and Baha'is, ISIS Press: Istanbul, 2008; Hasan Kayali. Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

was a member of the Institute France. The opposition was performed in compliance with the French government. It was closed to public. There were 47 delegates present. The Armenians wanted to have the conversations held in French, but other delegates rejected this proposition. The Second congress of the Ottoman opposition took place in Paris, France in 1907. The Young Turks are commonly labeled as liberals who did adopt liberal ideas, and under the influence of the theories of Gustave Le Bon, they devalued parliaments as hazardous bodies. Their ideology was influenced by Materialism and positivism (especially Ahmed Riza, Namık Kemal, Ziya Gökalp, and Yusuf Akçura) with the guiding principle for the Young Turks that called for the transformation of their society into one in which religion played no consequential role. In this ultra-secular and somewhat materialistic structure, science was to replace religion. However, the Young Turks soon recognized the difficulty of spreading this idea and began suggesting that Islam itself was materialistic. Positivism, with its claim of being a religion of science, deeply impressed the Young Turks, who believed it could be more easily reconciled with Islam than could popular materialistic theories. The name of the society, Union and Progress, is believed to be inspired by leading positivist Auguste Comte's motto Order and Progress. Positivism also served as a base for the desired strong government.14

Nursi Critique of Materialism and Positivism

The Post-Tanzimat Turkey witnessed an un-checked flow of various political, literary and philosophical ideologies from abroad and had widespread bearings on Turkish intelligentsia. Materialism, positivism, Darwinism, Freudianism, naturalism, communist socialism, atheism, etc, top the list of the ideologies effecting many Turkish intellectuals and social thinkers. The stream called for some reactions, mostly comprising of ill-conceived refutations or rebuttals marked by the lack of in-depth analytical vision and methodology, yielding superficial and unsubstantiated epilogues. Portrayed comparatively amid this chaotic intellectual kaleidoscope, the Nursi perspectives on the positivist approaches enshrined in his magnum opus Risaala-i Nur clearly sets superior paradigm of critique, reconstruction and revival of the transcendental ontology.

It goes without saying that Nursi was equipped with the mastery of traditional Muslim theological sciences, besides in-depth knowledge of modern philosophy and natural sciences. His short stays in Germany and Austria en route to Istanbul from Russia via St. Petersburg (after escaping from the Russian captivity) had, perhaps, made him acquaint himself to the modern European philosophies. His scathing remarks on the superficiality or exclusivist drives of philosophical thinking as represented by Muslim philosophers like Farabi (872-950) and Ibn Sina (980-1037), and his proximity to the method of Ghazali (1058–1111) drive

14 See M. Şükrü Hanioğlu. "The Political Ideas of the Young Turks", pp. 67-89

home the point that Nursi had great insight in Muslim peripatetic and illuminist philosophical traditions.

Nursi’s scheme of philosophical reconstruction is firmly grounded on the transcendental roots of being and non-being, with centrality of the transcendent both in the totality of Cosmos, Logos and Anthropos. This totality is a transcendently penned book embodying the divine beatitude: Asma Allah al-Husna, positing the wholeness of sacramental creation as irrefutable paradigm. It must be noted that the sacramental theories of the microcosm and macrocosm projecting the wholeness of being as manifestation and reflection of the ever-reflective divine are a significant part of the Gnostic Sufi discourses of ontology and epistemology in the history of Islam. Ali b. Abi Talib’s famous Invocation of Kumayl, Ibn Arabi’s Shajarat alKaun, Ibn al-Faridh’s Al-ainiya, Shykh Ahmad Sirhindi’s Maktūbāt, Muhammad Gauth Gwaliori’s Jawahir-i-Khamsa, etc, are some well-known examples. 15 Here the ‘ālam al-ghaib (invisible world) stands as the full length mirror of ‘ālam al-shahāda (visible world). The process of self-reflective divine yields creation manifesting the beatitude of divine names to some degree or the other, wherein the finality is a cosmic hierophany of divine praise through its innate disposition. ‫ ما من شي إل يسبح بحمده‬refers to this cosmic hierophany. So both “I” and “We”, the Self and the Other, reflect actually and actively the transcendent. But Nursi perspective shields against the possible pantheistic temptations of wahdat al-wojud, that dismisses the created as phantasm and results in dictums such as ‘I am the Truth’ (‫ )أنا الحق‬of Mansur al-Hallaj (855-922)16 (or Aham Barhmasmi of the Indian Yogi)17. Nursi’s remarkable aptness to strike a balance between declaration of God’s incomparability (tanzih) and similarity (tash-bih) guards him against any confusion regarding God and His creations. Nursi’s phraseology of creation compared to the Faidhān theory of the Illuminative Philosophers like Shiba al-Din al-Suhrawardi (especially in his Hikmat al-Ishraq) paves the

15 See A. Jeffery, "Ibn 'Arabi's. Shajarat al-Kawn," in Studia Islamica, vol. X, pp. 43-78, and vol. XI, pp. 113160, Shaikh Muhammad Ghous Gawalyari, Jawahir-i-Khamsa (Urdu). Maktaba Rahmania Lahore. Also see my “Mysticism in Sufism”, Proceedings of National Seminar on Mysticism, Department of Sanskrit, University of Mumbai, Mumbai University Press, 2012, pp. 196-220.

16 See Louis Massignon. "Perspective Transhistorique sur la vie de Hallaj," in: Parole donnée. Paris 1983: Seuil, p. 73-97, Van Cleef, Jabez L. (2008). The Tawasin Of Mansur Al-Hallaj, In Verse: A Mystical Treatise On Knowing God, & Invitation To The Dance. Create Space. ISBN 1438224931.

17 See my “Elements of Yoga in Sufism”, in History of Yoga, ed. by Satya Prakash Singh. - New Delhi : Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture, Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 2010. - lvi, 848 S. (History of science, philosophy and culture in Indian civilization : Vol. 16,2), ISBN 978-81-87586-44-9 / 8187586-44-3

way for an easier understanding of the fact that how God the transcendent is never absent or unconcerned with the day-to-day working of the microcosm and the macrocosm. Quran is a word of God, a literal text, while Nature is His work, the cosmic text. Our job to understand God must be posited as experiential, as it is routed through reflecting and meditating upon a vast hierarchy of being’s endless permutations and gradations. In other words, it is to read the cosmic text, or decipher it according to the literal text, the Quranic text. Nursi writes: Now the meaning of your life is this: its acting as a mirror to the manifestation of Divine oneness and the manifestation of the Eternally Besought One. That is to say, through a comprehensiveness as though being the point of focus for all Divine Names manifested in the world, it is being a mirror to the Single and Eternally Besought One.18

Nursi’s edge in phraseology marked by literary and didactic excellence gives him a significant position in the history of the discourse.

The Subject-Object intrigues are posited in the complexity of the ethereal amalgam of qualities and characteristics in the human being represented in I-ness and the psychological restraints vis-à-vis the Other. The Anthropomorphic outlook is to be refuted, since the alif of ana (the first letter of I in Arabic) owns nothing yet claims every thing. 19 This happens when man tries to wear the cloths of God, unaware that they neither suit nor fit him. Every soul possesses the wherewithal to reflect and receive the divine names’ beatitude, but it must be aware that God remains God and man remains man. The divine trust: ‫إنا عرضنا المانة على‬ (72 :‫ و زحملها النسان )الزحزاب‬،‫ السموات و الضرض و الجبال فأبين أن يحملنها و أشفقن منها‬given to man makes him representative of God (khalifa), since man was full recipient of God’s Names, endowed with powers of obedience and disobedience, whereas the angels have limited knowledge of God’s Names and no power to disobey.

While I functions as representative of the divine, its perfection lies in its total submission to the divine. The submission includes admission of all divine attributes to God alone, and the highest point, when materialized, forms the crux of Prophetic grand narrative of the cosmos. The antithetical to the line of Prophethood is the unregenerate I within man while claiming ownership of itself amid incredulity, rebellion or denial fails or refuses its function as Vicegerent of God. The clear cause of this incredulity rests upon man’s initiative to read the cosmic narrative through the prison of his own self.

18 Nursi, The Words, p. 141.

19 Nursi, The Words, p. 550

The task enjoined upon man to read/decipher the cosmic text is faced by two diametrically opposite hermeneutical positions: self-referential (ismi) and other-indicative (harfi). The discourse seems to be closer to sacred/profane dichotomy. Nursi elaborates the division with a juxtaposition of the Quranic way to the way of philosophy or science: .....the All-Wise Quran regards beings, each of which is a meaningful letter, as bearing the meaning of another, that is, it looks at them on account of their maker. It says.’How beautifully they have been made! How exquisitely they point to their maker’s beauty’, thus showing the Universe’s true beauty. But the philosophy they call natural philosophy or science has plunged into decorations of the letters of beings and into their relationships, and thus become bewildered; it has confused the way of reality. While the letters of this mighty book should be looked at as bearing the meaning of another, that is, on account of God, they have not done this; they have looked at beings as signifying themselves.20

The ismi hermeneutics of the cosmos are corollary of the skewed epistemological modules engineered by the unregenerate I of the philosophers; it fails to penetrate the outer layers of the āyāt or the signs, while the harfi methodology sees things as Other-indicative, the transcendental aspect as the real reality.

The methodology adopted by Nursi in his critique of materialist-positivist or naturalist philosophy is to be related to the issue of necessity and efficacy of casual nexus in things, or, simply, in the issue of causality. The cause-effect issue (‫ )قضية العلة و المعلول‬, a vigorously contested problematic in the history of scholastic philosophy. The Peripatetic projection upheld by materialism, positivism, naturalism and scientism believed in the causal nexus, while the Atomistic Asharite Scholastics rejected any necessary connection between cause and effect independent of God.21 Al-Ghazali’s Tahafat al-Falasifa theorized the details of this rejection with reference to apparent/non-apparent causes.22 To attach effect necessarily to

20 Nursi, The Words, p. 145

21 See Frank, Richard M. Classical Islamic Theology: The Ash'arites. Texts and Studies on the Development and History of Kalam. Vol. III. Edited by Dimitri Gutas (Aldershot, Ashgate Variorum, 2008) (Variorum Collected Studies Series). Wolfson, Harry Austryn, The Philosophy of the Kalam, Harvard University Press, 1976, 779pages, ISBN 9780674665804..

22 See M.E. Marmura Foscani, Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers, (2nd ed.). Brigham Young University Press, 2002. It is a new English translation of tahfut al-falasifa including the Arabic text. ISBN 08425-2466-5. Also R.M. Frank, Al-Ghazali and the Ash'arite School, Duke University Press, London 1994, Buchman, David, trans. The Niche of Lights by al-Ghazali. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1998, Hourani, G.F., 1958, “The Dialogue Between al Ghazâlî and the Philosophers on the Origin of the World,” Muslim World 48:183–191, 308–314.

cause slurs on divine omnipotence and sovereignty. The Muslim Scholastics does not see God virtually becoming redundant (like Brahma in Hindu traditions) or becoming a Prime Mover in the Peripatetic sense of the term, with a nominal sovereignty akin to that of modern-day constitutional monarchs. Nursi’s disavows and repudiates causality on lines drawn from atomism of the Asharites and syncretism of Al-Ghazali. Asharites responded to the metamorphose of Greek philosophy in Abbasid courts, while Ghazali met the Peripatetic challenge. Nursi had to respond to the onslaught of scientific materialism. According to Nursi, the world has three faces: One is the mirror to Almighty’s Names; another looks to the hereafter and its arable filed, and the third looks to transience and non-existence. 23

The scientific worldview caters to the third type which is to be refuted through methodological refutation of a a chain of notions, such as:


the belief that causes create


the assertion that things form themselves


the assumption that beings exist because nature has created them24

Nursi has demonstrated the bankruptcy of these notions, invoking the cosmological argument, the anthropic principle, the argument from design and the didactics of Ghazali.25

Nursi’s division of divine creation into ibda’ (‫ )البداع‬and insha . (‫ )النشاء‬The Ibda’ is creation through origination and invention: That is, he brings a being into existence out of nonexistence, and creates every thing necessary for it, also out of nothing, and places those necessities in its hand,26 insha is composition: that is He forms certain beings out of elements of the universe in order to demonstrate subtle instances of wisdom and the manifestations of

23 Nursi, The Words, p. 355.

24 Nursi, The Flashes Collection, p. 233

25 See Colin Turner and Hasan Horkuc, Said Nursi (London: Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2009). ISSN 978 1 84511 774 0., pp. 72-73

many of His Names. Through the law of Providing, He sends particles and matter, which are dependent on His command, to these beings and employs the particles in them.27

26 Nursi, The Staff of Moses, p. 232

27 Nursi, The Staff of Moses, p. 232

Nursi has discussed the relationship between human actions and God's omnipotence as creator of the world. God creates and determines everything, including the actions of humans. Every event in creation follows a pre-determined plan that is eternally present in God's knowledge. God's knowledge exists in a timeless realm and does not contain individual cognitions like human knowledge does. God's knowledge does not change, for instance, when its object, the world, changes. While the events that are contained in God's knowledge are ordered in “before” and “after”, there is no past, present, and future. God's knowledge contains the first moment of creation just as the last, and He knows in His eternity, for instance, whether a certain individual will end up in paradise or hell. For all practical purposes it befits humans to assume that God controls everything through chains of causes. God is the starting point of all causal chains and He creates and controls all elements therein. God is the one who makes the causes function as causes. There is no single event in this world that is not determined by God's will. While humans are under the impression that they have a free will, their actions are in reality compelled by causes that exist within them as well as outside. The world is a conglomerate of connections that are all pre-determined and meticulously planned in God's timeless knowledge. God creates the universe as a huge apparatus and employs it in order to pursue a certain goal. God designs the universe in His timeless knowledge, puts it into being at one point in time, and provides it with a constant and well-measured supply of being. Nature is a process in which all elements harmoniously dovetail with one another. Celestial movements, natural processes, human actions, even redemption in the afterlife are all causally determined.28 Al-Ash’ari (873–935), the founder of the theological school that al-Ghazâlî belonged to, had rejected the existence of “natures” (tabâ’i’ ) and of causal connections among created beings. In a radical attempt to explain God's omnipotence, he combined several ideas that were developed earlier in Muslim kalām to what became known as occasionalism. All material things are composed of atoms that have no qualities or attributes but simply make up the shape of the body. The atoms of the bodies are the carrier of accidents (‘arad), which are attributes like weight, density, color, smell, etc. In the cosmology of al-Ash’arî all immaterial things are considered “accidents” that inhere in a substance (jawhar). Only the atoms of spatially extended bodies can be substances. A person's thoughts, for instance, are considered accidents that inhere in the atoms of the person's brain, while his or her faith is an accident inhering in the atoms of the heart. None of the accidents, however, can subsist from one moment (waqt) to the next. This leads to a cosmology where in each moment God assigns the accidents to bodies in which they inhere. When one moment ends, God creates new accidents. None of the created accidents in the second moment has any causal relation to the ones in the earlier moment. If a body continues to have a certain attribute from one moment to the next, then God creates two identical accidents inhering in that body in each of the two subsequent moments. Movement and development generate when God decides to change the arrangement of the moment

28 See Nursi, The Words, pp. 218-219, 332-345

before. A ball is moved, for instance, when in the second moment of two the atoms of the ball happen to be created in a certain distance from the first. The distance determines the speed of the movement. The ball thus jumps in leaps over the playing field and the same is true for the players' limbs and their bodies. This also applies to the atoms of the air if there happen to be some wind. In every moment, God re-arranges all the atoms of this world anew and He creates new accidents—thus creating a new world every moment.29

Affirming primacy of revelation over reason, Nursi refuted the a priori grounds of the necessity of the causal nexus at heart of philosophy and science that excludes any talk with regards to the Mystic or the Gnostic. However, the ‘disenchantment’ (Entzauberung) of Max Weber30 is changed into ‘re-enchantment’ through revelation by Nursi in a process analyzes past superficiality, even if it is found with Muslim Philosophers like Ibn Sina of Farabi. “It is because of these rotten foundations and disastrous results of philosophy and geniuses from among the Muslim philosophers like Ibn-i-Sina and Farabi were charmed by its apparent glitter and were deceived into taking this way, and thus attained only the rank of an ordinary believer. Hujjat al-Islam did not accord them that rank even.31

Critique of Reason and Philosophy

Nursi advances a general argument against the philosophical foundations of scientific materialism, namely European natural philosophy. By ‘European philosophy’ Nursi would mean ‘materialism’; he was largely ignorant of the nuances of Western thought, and unaware of philosophical trends critical of positivism and the scientific method. To him, materialism was the ideology of Dajjal, the Islamic anti-Christ figure. He “brings a false paradise for the dissolute and the worldly, while for the people of religion and Islam like the angels of Hell it brings dangers in the hand of civilisation, and casts them into captivity and indigence.” 32 Reason under the authority of divine wisdom, faithful to its guidance and principles, can lead

29 Perler/Rudolph 2000, Perler, D. and U. Rudolph, 2000, Occasionalismus: Theorien der Kausalität im arabisch-islamischen und im europäischen Denken, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 28–62.

30 See Max Weber, On Charisma and Instituition Building (Chicago and London: UCP, 1968)

31 Nursi, The Words, p. 565

the believer on the correct path towards God. Reason, because of its divine authorship and ownership, must submit to revelation. The Qur’anic story of God instructing Adam in the Divine Names at the beginning of life on Earth attests to the divine origin of reason. God installed reason in the mind so that men would reflect on the signs in nature recalling His Names and Unity.33 In Nursi’s worldview, man has been endowed with all ninety-nine Names and Attributes of God, and thereby exists as a microcosm (misali musaggar) of Creation and the most obvious proof of God’s Unity and Existence. 34 Man possesses “an index of all being…the keys to all the treasuries of mercy, and…the mirrors of all the Divine Names.” 35 Man has the faculties to decipher the mysteries of the universe and, given a proper intellectual and spiritual orientation, can employ them in service of society and God.

Nursi writes:

“Consider this: in the world of humanity, from the time of Adam up to now, two great currents, two lines of thought, have always been and will so continue. Like two mighty trees, they have spread out their branches in all directions and in every class of humanity. One of them is the line of prophethood and religion, the other the line of philosophy in its various forms. Whenever those two lines have been in agreement and united, that is to say, if the line of philosophy, having joined the line of religion, has been obedient and of service to it, the world of humanity has experienced a brilliant happiness and social life. Whereas, when they have become separated, goodness and light have been drawn to the side of the line of prophethood and religion, and evil and misguidance to the side of the line of philosophy. Now let us find the origin and foundations of those two lines. The line of philosophy that does not obey the line of religion, taking the form of a tree of Zaqqum, scatters the darkness of ascribing partners to God and misguidance on all sides. In the branch of the power of intellect, even, it produces the fruit of atheism, Materialism, and Naturalism for the consumption of the human intellect. And in the realm of the power of passion, it pours the tyrannies of Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Shaddad on mankind.12 And in the realm of the power of animal appetites, it nurtures and bears the fruit of goddesses, idols, and those who claim

32 Nursi, The Words, p. 270.

33 Cobb, ‘Revelation,’ pp. 131-132.

34 Ozervarli, ‘Said Nursi’s Project,’ p. 323.

35 Nursi, The Words, p. 78.

divinity… It was the swamp of Naturalist philosophy that gave birth to idols and established goddesses in the heads of the ancient Greeks, that nourished and nurtured Nimrods and Pharaohs. It was again that same Naturalist philosophy that produced the philosophies of ancient Egypt and Babylon, which either reached the degree of magic or, since they were represented by the elite, were considered to be magic by the people generally. Most certainly, if man does not perceive the light of God Almighty because of the veil of Nature, he will attribute divinity to everything and will thus cause himself nothing but trouble”.36

Having internalized the language of the age of reason, Nursi declares that by the same standards used by materialists to condemn religion – rationality, social utility, human progress, enlightenment, truth – materialism itself comes across as a logically inferior and irrational ideology that only leads to human misery and disbelief in absolute truths.

Materialists believe that things form themselves, which is utterly impossible, and thus became the cause of confusion. That is to say, because they see that some ordinary things come into existence very easily, they imagine the formation of them to be self-formation. That is, they are not being created, but rather come into existence of their own accord.37

Nursi argues that because materialism does not submit its claims to the judgment of revelation, it is prone to hyperbole and irresponsible excess. Only by surrendering the scientific method to the principles and viewpoint of the Qur’an – starting with the assumption that Creation is the result of God’s Will and Power, that God is immanent in the world and the sole possessor of intelligence and intention, and that contingent reality is a reflection of God’s Names and Attributes – can science be salvaged as a worthy endeavour capable of rendering our understanding of the universe more compatible with its corresponding description in the Qur’an.

36 Ibid, p. 562

37 Nursi, Letters, p. 299.


Badiuzzam Said Nursi (1877-1960) had seen the last days of the Ottoman Empire, its collapse after the First World War and the emergence of modern Turkish Republic. He also witnessed the positivist twenty-five years of Republican Peoples’ Party’s harsh and authoritarian rule and ten years of “Democratic” rule during which conditions became a little easier for Nursi. Despite his active involvement in public life, his association with Daru’l Hikmeti’l Islamiye, the learned body attached to the office of the Shykh ul-Islam, and his War services, Nursi became increasingly dissatisfied with the world. He started to see the limits of human endeavor and concentrated on his spiritual training. He declined to be part of an establishment founded on materialistic and secular philosophy.38

Said Nursi had considerable knowledge of modern science and he attempted to integrate it within a theistic perspective. For him, the Qur’an and modern physical sciences had no dissonance; rather, relating the truth of the Qur’an to modern men and women was even easier. Written during his exile, Risale-i Nur was later described as “a manevi tefsir, or commentary which expounds the truths of the Qur’an.”39 In the course of his expressive prose, which pulsates with energy, Nursi substantiates Islamic faith on the basis of the certainties of modern physical sciences and reads the cosmic verses of the Qur’an in the light of modern science. As a religious scholar well grounded in traditional Islamic sciences, Nursi was aware of the apparent discrepancy between traditional cosmology articulated by Muslim philosophers and Sufis, and the Newtonian worldview, but instead of rejecting the mechanistic view of the universe presented by Newtonian science, he tried to appropriate it by appealing to the classical arguments from design. He saw no contradiction between the order and harmony of the universe and Newtonian determinism. Rather, through a radical recasting of God as the Divine artisan, he found support for the mechanistic view of the universe. He thought of the universe as a machine or clock, just like the nineteenth century deists, but he transformed this enduring symbol of the European tradition to lend support to the theistic claims of creation. For him, the Qur’anic themes of the regularity and harmony of the natural order, when combined with the predictability of Newtonian physics, disproved the triumph of the secularists and positivists of the nineteenth century and provided a solid rock on which to construct a new understanding of the message of the Qur’an.

38 See Sukran Vahide, Islam in Modern Turkey. An Intellectual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. ISBN10: 0-7914-6515-2, ISBN13: 978-0-7914-6515-8

39 Nursi, The Words. p. 806

Nursi adopts the novel interpretative strategy of attaching Qur’anic verses to a corresponding truth claim about the universe.40 He constructs an interdependent, reflexive relationship between the Qur’an and the phenomenal world. Verses that appear invalid according to scientific facts, or inscrutable to human reason, are actually waiting to be reinterpreted in the light of a greater understanding of the universe. Religious truths are thus made impregnable against science by Nursi’s method of imbuing many layers of meaning into each Qur’anic verse, and creating an infinite horizon of time within which the Qur’an will receive its proper interpretation. The underlying truth of the Qur’an, as it exists as a fixed entity in God’s knowledge, remains unchanging. What fluctuates and leads to error and doubt is man’s fallible interpretation of different verses resulting from an incomplete knowledge of the universe. The materialistic method of obtaining knowledge and reaching conclusions about nature without accounting for its metaphysical foundation is the source of such confusion and uncertainty. Materialism’s inherent disregard for the divine leads to the perceived incompatibility between scientific conclusions and the assertions of the Qur’an.41

Nursi had challenged the philosophical approach in his own way: while having a pre-eternal teacher like the Quran, in matters concerning truth and the knowledge of God, I do not have to attach as much value as that of a fly’s wing to those eagles, who are the students of misguided philosophy and deluded intellect. However inferior I am to them, their teacher is a thousand times more inferior than mine. With the help of my teacher, whatever caused them to become submerged did not so much dampen my toes. An insignificant private who acts in accordance with the laws and commands of a great king is able to achieve more than a great field marshal of an insignificant king. 42

Supremacy of revelation (The Holy Quran and the authentic Prophetic narratives) upon rationality stands central to the scholastic discourse put forward by Nursi, with imputs from Asharites’ atomistic theory and syncretism of Ghazali. That forms the core of Nursi perspectives while rebutting the legacy of rationalist-empiricist epistemology evolved through different phases of human history and its offshoots in modern times.

40 Nursi, Letters, pp. 272-273.

41 See Classic Issues in Islamic Philosophy and Theology Today, ed. by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka & Nazif Muhtaroglu (Islamic Philosophy and Occidental Phenomenology in Dialogue 4). DordrechtLondon-New York: Springer, 2010, xii-186 pp., ISBN 978-90-481-3572-1.

42 Nursi, The Words, 568



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