Can we talk about any corruption caused by scientific materialism?
The meaning of scientific materialism
Materialism was born in the West in the middle of the 18th century. The British
philosopher Berkeley first used the term to mean an unjustified confidence in
the existence of matter. The term later came to be used to signify a philosophical
movement or school which attributed the origin of existence to matter and denied
the existence of anything immaterial. Materialism may also be used to describe
a way of life which considers only material pleasures of life and bodily comforts
and neglects the satisfaction of spiritual needs.
Since natural sciences have chosen for themselves as their field of study
only the visible world and adopted a sensory and experimental approach in their
studies, and since they tend to accept as scientific only the conclusions they
have drawn through these methods, the modern scientific world-view does not,
in practice, differ much from materialism. That is, although there may be scientists
who believe in God and the existence of immaterial entities like spirit, the
modern scientific approach is by nature materialistic. For that reason, scientific
materialism is not less harmful than materialistic philosophy, rather, it may
be said that scientific materialism is more dangerous that the other. For philosophical
ideas can be set to one side as no more than theories which hardly affect one’s
everyday decisions or direct one’s life. By contrast, people have in effect
no choice but to think and believe and act in line with scientific conclusions.
The effect of scientific materialism on the way one shapes one’s life
Also, scientific materialism has a considerable effect on the way one shapes
one’s life. A person who does not find it worthwhile to give any consideration
to belief in a Day of Reckoning, in a Supreme Being Who sees whatever he does,
hears whatever he speaks and is aware of whatever he thinks, and Who will call
him to account for all his deeds in the world, will not heed any rule other
than secular laws and will design his life only according to the requirements
of a short, transient life. Further, if being scientific is taken to mean denying
or at least doubting the existence of anything metaphysical, and if people unquestioningly
accept that the only objective knowledge is what sciences discover, whereas
whatever people may know of the spiritual dimension of existence is sheer superstition,
then people will be left with no alternative other than to live as materialists.
So, scientific materialism and the practical materialism it produces are responsible,
besides the birth of philosophical materialism and communism, for the world-wide
crisis observable in the erosion of morals and spiritual values, the increase
in crimes and drug-addiction, and in injustices committed against weak peoples
of the world and ruthless colonialism continuing in disguised forms, and other
modern social and political diseases.
Scientific materialism, though it does not theoretically deny the existence
of truths outside the visible world, accepts that anything immaterial cannot
be known, not that it is not known to us. You can discuss with a materialist
in philosophy about the existence of God or anything outside the material dimension
of existence. But since scientific materialism argues that anything except material
things cannot be known, it causes one not to think about immaterial truths.
So, it is scientific materialism which gave rise to agnosticism—the belief that
nothing can be known about God or of anything except material things. It is
also scientific materialism which, because it tends to explain immaterial truths
in material terms and therefore reduces quality to quantity and the spiritual
to the physical—as is most clearly observed in psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis—is
responsible for the rise of most modern false beliefs and ‘mystical’ practices.
The practical materialism, to which scientific materialism gave birth, prevails
in the lives of all the world’s people, whether they be Muslims, Christians,
Jews or atheists. For most people mean economic development, the betterment
of worldly life, when development is talked about, and give precedence to worldly
life in their considerations. And since material wealth and resources cause
rivalry and competition in the relations among peoples and countries, not a
single day passes without clashes on the face of the earth, on a large or small
Even if we leave out the human values, lofty truths and ideals, and spiritual
happiness, which have all been sacrificed for the sake of material development,
modern civilization based on scientific materialism has caused mankind much
harm. The products of science are usually exploited in favor of the great world
powers to consolidate their dominion over the world. Besides, the developments
in genetics, biology, physics and chemistry are threatening the very life of
humanity on the earth. Modern civilization, as pointed by Said Nursi (The Letters
2, Truestar 1995, p. 310) is founded upon five negative principles:
Five negative principles on which modern civilisation is based
- It is founded and rests upon power; power tends to oppression.
- It aims at the realization of individual self-interests; pursuit of their
self-interests causes people to rush madly upon things in order to possess them
and gives rise to pitiless rivalry and competition.
- Its understanding or philosophy of the nature of life is struggle; struggle
causes internal and external conflicts.
- It seeks to unify its people on the basis of racial separatism, fed by
swallowing up the resources and territories of ‘others’; and racism leads to
terrible collisions between peoples.
- The service it offers to people is satisfaction of the novel caprices or
desires it arouses in them; (whether the satisfaction is real or not) this service
Modern materialistic civilization stimulates consumption and therefore gives
rise to new, artificial needs and increases them day by day. Through the power
of propaganda and advertisements to exploit some disapprovable human tendencies
such as ‘keeping up with the Jones’, it can impose its demands upon people.
As a result of the way of life it necessarily leads to—producing to consume
and consuming to produce—it destroys the nervous balance of man and causes extraordinary
increases in mental and spiritual illnesses. In such a way of life there is
left room for neither spiritual profundity nor true intellectual activity. For
intellect is put under the command of pragmatism and earning more and more.
It is highly questionable whether scientific and economic developments have
brought happiness to man, whether the developments in telecommunication and
transportation have provided for man what he needs. It is highly questionable
whether modern man has been able to find true satisfaction and solve all his
problems. Do his needs not increase day by day? While people in the past needed
a few things to lead a happy life, does not modern life make man feel the need
of some new things every passing day? To satisfy each new need requires more
effort and production which, in turn, stimulates more consumption. This leads
people to regard life as a course or process of struggle and give rise to a
cruel rivalry and competition. So it follows that because might is right in
such a world, only the powerful have the ‘right’ to survive. You may understand
from this what lies behind such Western philosophical attitudes or so-called
scientific theories as Darwinian evolution and natural selection, historicism
and the like.
The destruction of nature and environmental pollution
Another disaster materialistic science has brought upon man is the destruction
of nature and environmental pollution. What a pity it is that nature, this magnificent
book, this charming exhibition, which God, the infinitely Merciful One, has
created and presented to us to observe and study and to be exhilarated by, is
no longer given any more care than is given to a heap of junk or rubbish. Worse
than that, it is more and more becoming a wasteland and like a dunghill. Today,
air, that magnificent conductor of Divine commands, is a suffocating smoke and
a perilous ‘whirlpool’. Water, that source of life and other Divine bounties,
is either a hazardous flood or forms desolate expanses of pitch. And earth,
that treasure of Divine Grace and Munificence, is a wilderness no longer safely
productive and whose ecological balance has been ruined.
Science as being the sign and confirmation of man’s being made superior to
We do not belittle, nor condemn, scientific studies and accomplishments.
On the contrary, we welcome them enthusiastically as the signs and confirmation
of man’s being made superior to angels. As is related in the Qur’an, God created
man as one who would rule on the earth in conscious, deliberate conformity with
God’s commands. Since he has been honored with free will and is not compelled
to do anything, in order to fulfill his function in creation, God has distinguished
him with the knowledge of things and thereby made him superior even to angels.
So, we welcome scientific developments and discoveries as the result of this
superiority. However, in order for scientific studies to be directed for the
true benefit of man, they must be pursued within the guidance of immaterial,
metaphysical, God-given rules. They must aim at founding a civilization which
should have the following five essentials:
The five essentials of Islamic civilization
- It should rest upon right, not upon power; right requires justice and balance.
- It should aim to encourage people to virtue, which is a spur to mutual
affection and love.
- Its understanding or philosophy of the nature of life should be not struggle
but mutual help, which leads to unity and solidarity.
- It should unify people on the basis of a common belief, shared values and
norms, which can lead to internal peace and brotherhood.
- It should guide people to truth. Therefore, besides encouraging them to
scientific progress, it should elevate them, through moral perfection, to higher
ranks of humanity.
This civilization is that which the Qur’an proposes to mankind and urges
them to found.