Gülen's Views on the Western Science and Thought

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]

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:

1External senses (five senses)

2Reason / intellect


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]

Footnote[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.

[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.
Pin It
  • Created on .
Copyright © 2021 Fethullah Gülen's Official Web Site. Blue Dome Press. All Rights Reserved.
fgulen.com is the offical source on the renowned Turkish scholar and intellectual Fethullah Gülen.