Science, naturalism and divine guidance


أَفَرَأَيْتُم مَّا تُمْنُونَ
Have you ever considered that which you emit? 

أَأَنتُمْ تَخْلُقُونَهُ أَمْ نَحْنُ الْخَالِقُونَ

Is it you who create it – or are We the source of its creation? (asad)

نَحْنُ قَدَّرْنَا بَيْنَكُمُ الْمَوْتَ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمَسْبُوقِينَ

We have [indeed] decreed that death shall be among you: but there is nothing to prevent Us 

عَلَى أَن نُّبَدِّلَ أَمْثَالَكُمْ وَنُنشِئَكُمْ فِي مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
from changing how you are and bringing you into being in a state you do not fully understand

وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ النَّشْأَةَ الْأُولَى فَلَوْلَا تَذكَّرُونَ

And you are indeed aware of the first coming into being – why, then, do you not bethink yourselves

أَفَرَأَيْتُم مَّا تَحْرُثُونَVerse Options:
Have you ever considered the seed which you cast upon the soil? 

أَأَنتُمْ تَزْرَعُونَهُ أَمْ نَحْنُ الزَّارِعُونَ
Is it you who cause it to grow – or are We the cause of its growth? 

لَوْ نَشَاء لَجَعَلْنَاهُ حُطَامًا فَظَلَلْتُمْ تَفَكَّهُونَ
were it Our will, We could indeed turn it into chaff, and you would be left to wonder

إِنَّا لَمُغْرَمُونَ
“Verily, we are ruined! 

بَلْ نَحْنُ مَحْرُومُونَVerse Options:

Nay, but we have been deprived [of our livelihood]!”

أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ الْمَاء الَّذِي تَشْرَبُونَ
Have you ever considered the water which you drink?

أَأَنتُمْ أَنزَلْتُمُوهُ مِنَ الْمُزْنِ أَمْ نَحْنُ الْمُنزِلُونَ

Is it you who cause it to come down from the clouds – or are We the cause of its coming down? 

لَوْ نَشَاء جَعَلْنَاهُ أُجَاجًا فَلَوْلَا تَشْكُرُونَ

[It comes down sweet – but] were it Our will, We could make it burningly salty and bitter: why, then, do you not give thanks [unto Us]?

أَفَرَأَيْتُمُ النَّارَ الَّتِي تُورُونَ

Have you ever considered the fire which you kindle? 

أَأَنتُمْ أَنشَأْتُمْ شَجَرَتَهَا أَمْ نَحْنُ الْمُنشِؤُونَ

Is it you who have brought into being the tree that serves as its fuel  – or are We the cause of its coming into being?

نَحْنُ جَعَلْنَاهَا تَذْكِرَةً وَمَتَاعًا لِّلْمُقْوِينَ

It is We who have made it a means to remind [you of Us],  and a comfort for all who are lost and hungry in the wilderness [of their lives].  

فَسَبِّحْ بِاسْمِ رَبِّكَ الْعَظِيمِ

Extol, then, the limitless glory of thy Sus­tainer’s mighty name! (asad)

I know that many who read my blog (at least for now) are quite familiar with debates around science and religion and are also quite familiar with Nursi’s approach to the matter, which I must say, really brings out the most fundamental and transformative message of the Quran, namely the unity or oneness of deity and how I, as a human being, can witness its truth and its guidance. So those already well-familiar with Nursi’s strong rejection of naturalism but not of science may skip reading this blog. But there are some who may not have read Nursi or may not have paid attention to Quran’s method of teaching who or what God is (always, the One who…) and how human beings can witness this and why it is so important for them. I do find that I am not interested in going on and on about the evils of scientism and naturalism etc. I just want to note briefly how I see the matter and what I understand to be the Quran’s intervention.

Science tells me which order of events is some event or state a part of. What order of actions and events may have preceded some current state. What is the current state likely to be followed by. Which states or actions or events involve the presence or absence of which elements and activities for certain states to obtain in the order of things. Science is not some explanation of how those states, activities, events, elements take place and it does not pronounce on whose actions or activities they are. A certain kind of naturalism, as a philosophy of science, may claim that events happen because of or due to some natural law or due to themselves. This is quite silly. A description is not an explanation. That a thing accords with some pattern or order that I discovered is no reason to think that the order is producing the things or that the order is self-producing. An event with many related elements and a single thing with many elements cannot be caused to exist and function by those those elements themselves? Despite protests to the contrary, I am convinced that naturalism is the equivalent of a theory that would claim that the colors of a painting, and the order/”law” that makes colors different from each other (the differences in absorption/reflection of colors in light) made/created the painting. No same person denies that colors are used in a painting. That there is an order that exists – there are multiple colors not one. But it is unreasonable, even if possible, to unthinkingly maintain that the order and the paint is the cause of some intricate painting without the will, intention, agency, plan, knowledge, beauty and power that is with a painter. The universe, including the inner world of human beings, exists in an orderly fashion – some of it I understand and some exceeds my grasp but only always discover order and follow it to get results already assigned to it. I do not create order or destroy order. I am subjected to it and so are all other beings.

Science – to study the order of things to discover it and to use it [i.e. the order that is already there] is what human beings, who find themselves able to reason and think and remember and understand, do and it is quite remarkable that human beings discover and understand the world and the world and its order serves them in so many ways. How is it so? This needs an answer by everyone who lives in that order and benefits from it, not just those who study some special aspect of part of it. Hence, the Quran’s mentions water that He sends down and which “i drink”. and the fire that He makes with which I cook and get heat/light etc. It is this use to which these unconscious beings like water and fire etc. are put for my benefit that the Quran asks me to reflect about and not ignore. Its interest is that I find the face of the eternal sustainer and provider through these signs, not that I may get in touch with nature and feel connected with nature. Love of the eternally living, sustaining and merciful One who cares for me through beings, not the love of passing and limited beings themselves is Quran’s answer to my soul’s need for existence, beauty, perfection, life and love.

Naturalism answers that it all happens by itself or through ‘natural laws’. It claims that the order is the cause of itself, that beings sustain themselves in existence and do this or do that. If I could say that a being, a raindrop for instance, could “fall” on the earth and knew what speed and size it had to be and where to fall and what to do in the earth on which it fell etc, I would find no need to say “God”. The raindrop or the “laws” would suffice as ones who have the power and knowledge to do all this. Only because I negate these as causes and sources of their existence and their qualities, I say “not you but the One who has this power and mercy and knowledge” with the Quran. This is the general sense of “la-ilaha illa Hu” of the Quran that I find the most reasonable way for me to approach reality and to live.

The Quran teaches that naturalism is the necessary first step in human perception of reality. The naturalist perception , upon reflection, is found wanting. In so many places, the Quran asks me to question and asks me questions like [I paraphrase]: How can lifeless things and unconscious elements and powerless causes and names that I have given to some orderly occurrence of associated events/activities (e.g. the digestive system or the water cycle etc) be the Ones responsible for the existence of those things and that order? What could be responsible for the power and knowledge and order and wisdom and mercy which is needed, from my perspective, to carry out the kinds of activities I see done in the world and that human beings do as well? How can there be flowers with colors which I perceive as beautiful? How is it that from dirt and soil, plants and vegetation and edible foods are brought out that so amazingly fit my needs and provide me nutrition and beauty? How is it that I perceive and feel what is beautiful and enjoy it and feel what is painful or burdensome and am sorrowful about it? Whoever is doing this, the Quran says, is the One who is the owner, creator and sustainer of the flower and its nutrition and beauty, the owner of the love of beauty and the One who does not like to burden or hurt or oppress. Such a One is at work in all that seems to me “natural” when I look at it without taking on the “bismillah” or “prophetic” perspective offered by revelation. The Quran claims (and prophets, as human beings, claim in it) that the One who grows food from the earth to feed me is the One who sends down water from the skies to grow that food and the One who makes and sends clouds that He loads with water. I should not set up partners with Him in anything at all. I should not set up objects of reverence and fidelity in addition to Him for they would be false sources of the goods that He alone gives to me. Only the One who has power and knowledge of all these lifeless and unconscious beings can do what I see. Only He is the source of the benefits I receive. Only He is worthy of gratitude. It is His signs that I can see if so choose and it is through seeing His signs that I can trust Him with all my needs. When I see how he takes care of my needs and the needs of all the beings (I should ask: who is taking care of everything that is being taken care of?) and how capable and willing He is to take care of them, I can be grateful and safe/secure. Just because I say there is a God to be “believed in” out there does not mean that I have found safety/security with this God. Revelation reveals those aspects of the world to me that make me secure and that give me access to an immortal and perfect existence.

I want ease. Paradoxically, it is this ease that I think I can simply enjoy and have on account of things I already have, without relating them to their source. Without the source, they pass and I am left with nothing. When I submit to the guidance, I see that they are signs and messengers of the One with whom are all the treasures I need. It is in finding Him that I find guidance through revelation.

A naturalist (if he is honest about it) is condemned to see the beauty and provision and mercy of bread as the beauty, provision and mercy of bread. It points to nothing even if he said “God” provides. This God would be an imaginary provider. The heart would find no confidence or safety in such provision. This limited provision will be NO promise of an eternal provision that the heart really needs. It would remain a mere wish or hope that the “God” one believes in would give one life and other things eternally. But this would be an empty wish. One would not know the truth of it. The Quran helps me see that in the wish, so long as I do not take it to be a “natural” human wish that is simply there on its own, I can see the promise of the One who gave me the wish. The one who gives provision and mercy through bread is present to me when I ask NOT the bread to fill me but the One who makes bread to fill me. He is provider and sustainer here and now when I see that the bread is not the source of provision and mercy. It is a means. It is a sign to His provision and mercy. Now, the provision of the bread and my wish for eternal provision are both signs, both promises and indications that He can provide and He intends to provide eternally. In this truthful promise (not just a claim I may piously repeat) is safety/iman for the heart/mind. It is for this reason that I try to turn away from all kinds of naturalist perspectives everyday, as much as possible, and in this is my practice of la-ilaha. The light of revelation then brings the news that what I am left with after I have negated a thing as the source of its beauty, is the One who is the source of that beauty and all beauty eternally. So few are the days when I can hear this news! What a good news this and my prayer is that I hear it more and more everyday so that I am aware who I am, who is running the show and what He wants for me.

No one ever says, “I bring down water from the sky” or that “I cause the seed to grow”. And yet, when I say that the seed grows “naturally” and that it rains because of the weather or clouds etc, I am taking my perspective, which has no basis in reality and has no evidence, to be the reality of things. When I impose my naturalist perspective on things, it is, as if, I was explaining how they were happening. It is in this sense that I bring them down. I assign a meaning to the event instead of asking the event: can you happen by yourself or because of this or that law or are you the action of One who knows everything and has power and mercy that encompasses all things? The Quran asks me the questions which I ought to ask things I encounter, experience, use and benefit from: liquids I emit, water, fire, seed/food/harvest. What do I feel is the meaning of all this? Who will say what all this means? The Quran speaks about these things to help me see they are the acts of my sustainer, a merciful sustainer who is bestowing on me so that I can know who he is and so I can trust he intends to bestow upon me an eternal life in the presence of blessings and with the source of blessings i.e. He.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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