Materialism was born in Europe in the middle of the eighteenth century. The British philosopher George Berkeley first used this term to mean an unjustified confidence in matter’s existence. Later on, it was used to signify a philosophical movement or school attributing the origin of existence to matter and denying the existence of anything immaterial. Materialism also may be used to describe a way of life based on fulfilling material pleasures and bodily comforts and ignoring the satisfaction of spiritual needs.
The natural sciences deal only with the visible world, follow a sensory and experimental approach, and tend to accept only those conclusions resulting from their approach. Thus, the modern scientific worldview is quite similar to materialism. In other words, individual scientists may believe in God and the existence of immaterial entities like the spirit, whereas the modern scientific approach is by nature materialistic. For that reason, scientific materialism has the potential to be even more dangerous than materialistic philosophy. Philosophical ideas can be set aside as theories having little or no influence on one’s daily life. In contrast, people must think, believe, and act in line with scientific conclusions.
Scientific materialism has a considerable effect on how we order our lives. For example, if people do not believe in a Day of Reckoning conducted by a Supreme Being Who knows everything about us and will call us to account, or believe that they are free to design their own laws and lives according to the requirements of a short, transient life, what should we expect? If being scientific means to deny or at least doubt the existence of anything metaphysical, and if scientific knowledge causes spiritual and metaphysical knowledge to be seen as superstitions, people have no alternative other than to live as materialists.
Given this, scientific materialism and the practical materialism it produces are responsible, along with philosophical materialism, for the global erosion of morals and spiritual values, increasing crime and drug addiction rates, and the unjust exploitation of the weak. They are also behind ongoing ruthless colonialism, now disguised, and other modern social and political crises.
Scientific materialism does not deny, theoretically, the existence of immaterial truths; rather, it says that anything immaterial cannot be known. You can discuss God’s existence or any metaphysical topic with such people. But since scientific materialism argues that only material things can be known, it diverts our attention from immaterial truths. One result of this view is agnosticism, the belief that nothing can be known about God or of anything except material things. Scientific materialism, because it tends to explain immaterial truths in material terms and therefore reduces quality to quantity and spiritual to physical, is responsible for the rise of most modern false beliefs and “mystical” practices. This is seen most clearly in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis.
Practical materialism, to which scientific materialism gave birth, is now the dominant global worldview irrespective of one’s religion or lack thereof. When development is mentioned, most people instantly think of economic development and the betterment of worldly life, and so give precedence to worldly life. Since material wealth and resources cause rivalry among peoples and countries, not a day passes without some clash occurring somewhere in the world.
Even if we leave out all human values, lofty truths and ideals, and spiritual happiness sacrificed for material development, scientific materialism has caused great harm. The products of science are usually exploited by the great powers to consolidate their dominion over the world. In addition, developments in genetics, biology, physics, and chemistry threaten the very existence of humanity.
Scientific materialism and the worldview based on it have, as pointed out by Said Nursi, given rise to five negative principles:3
• Power, which tends to be used to oppress others.
• Self-interest, the pursuit of which causes people to chase after what they want to possess. This gives rise to rivalry and competition.
• Life as struggle, a view that leads directly to internal and external conflict.
• Unity based on racial separatism. This is realized by swallowing up other people’s resources and territories. Such racism also leads to terrible collisions between peoples.
• Satisfaction (whether real or not) of novel caprices or aroused desires. This brutalizes people.
The modern materialistic worldview stimulates consumption and so continually engenders and increases new, artificial needs. Its demands can be imposed via propaganda, advertisements, and their support of such undesirable human tendencies as “keeping up with the Jones.” The resulting paradigm of “producing to consume and consuming to produce” destroys a person’s delicate balance and causes extraordinary increases in mental and spiritual illness. Such a life has no place for spiritual profundity or true intellectual activity. In fact, it places intellect in the service of pragmatism and earning more money and other things (e.g., awards, recognition, and rewards).
It is highly questionable whether scientific and economic developments have brought true happiness to humanity, or whether developments in telecommunications and transportation have provided humanity with what it really needs. It is highly questionable whether modern people have found true satisfaction and solve their problems. Do their needs not increase day by day? While people in the past needed few things to lead a happy life, does not modern life make people feel the need of some new thing every 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 gives rise to cruel rivalry and competition. So it follows that because might is right in such a world, only the powerful have the “right” to survive. Such attitudes lie behind such philosophical attitudes or so-called scientific theories as Darwinian evolution and natural selection, historicism, and the like.
We do not belittle or condemn scientific study and accomplishment. On the contrary, we welcome them enthusiastically as signs and confirmation of humanity’s superiority to angels. As the Qur’an states, God created humanity to rule on the earth in conscious, deliberate conformity with God’s commands (2:30–31). Although humanity has been honored with free will, it is not compelled to do anything. Thus, to allow individuals to fulfill the reason for their creation, God gave them the knowledge of things and thereby made them superior to angels. However, if scientific study is to be directed toward humanity’s real benefit, it must be pursued within the guidance of immaterial, metaphysical, and God-given rules.
Unal, Ali. The Resurrection and the Afterlife. The Light, Inc. 2006.
- August 29, 2013
- 0 Comment