• Issue 71 / September - October 2009

    The Abyss of Modern Thought

    Mustafa Torun

    Without attributing any value to previous eras, modern thought claims that the only true knowledge is its own, that is, knowledge that is based on rationalism and positivism. According to this view, physics and metaphysics should be separated; the only sphere which human beings can measure and contemplate is physical space. Metaphysics is left to the church. According to this mechanical view of the universe, all events in the universe can be understood through the cause–effect mechanism, and therefore knowledge of the physical universe can be reached in this way. For Bacon’s “scientific method,” it is only possible to reach the truth through experiment. In this understanding, there is only a single path to knowledge: to employ the mind to observe the cause–effect mechanism in the physical world through investigation and experiment. This thought, which is the basis of modernism, abandoned the metaphysical dimension of being. Everything that is beneficial to the individual is highly prized and all means to a desired end can be acceptable.

    Two mechanisms of the mind
    According to science, everything is bound to a cause. Without understanding a single cause or a set of causes, one cannot reach the knowledge of existence. Modern science, which does not accept the metaphysical dimension of being, does not seek wisdom in the creation; rather, it only searches for a cause–effect mechanism that is based on self-interest. For modern thought, all individuals are the lords of their selves and they interpret life according to their own reasoning.

    In reality, however, the mind works in two ways: it is either a toy in hands of the nafs (the evil-commanding self) or it functions as a department of the heart. Thus, one can either think with one’s evil-commanding self or with one’s heart. In the former case, since everybody thinks according to their wishes, there is no doubt that an environment of chaos will emerge in social life. Modern philosophy, however, relying upon a wrong perspective, generalizes this idea to the entire existence and imagines the universe as an environment of chaos. For this reason, Frederic Nietzsche argued that the good is to acquire power, and he divided people into two groups, the aristocrats (or powerful) and the ordinary. In this view, those who are materially deprived seek to escape material realities and try to find a source of empowerment somewhere else in order to satisfy them. Hence, searching for metaphysical truth has its roots in lack of power. In reality, however, is impotence a result of non-recognition of religion, or is it a reason to search for metaphysical truth or religion?

    The impotence of human beings
    Indeed, human beings, who are in the best form among all living creatures, do not own themselves. To give an analogy, consider that a soldier has some money. If the money is granted to the soldier to be employed in the service of the government, he can only use it in certain ways. In other words, the soldier does not have absolute ownership of the money. Similarly, human beings do not absolutely own themselves or their bodies since they cannot always use their bodies as they wish. Sometimes, they become sick; they even cannot raise an arm when they want to. The very fact that they die against their wishes shows that they do not have absolute ownership of themselves or their bodies.

    Human beings, if they do not lose their mind and awareness, see the world as a place of mourning since they feel pity at the sorrows of others. However, in the eyes of modern man, who assigns every self (nafs) absolute ownership, this world is a place where brute force triumphs because, as Sartre asserted, humans are left to themselves as they do not know what they should do. According to this view, what is heard everywhere is the voices of tyrants and the mourning of the oppressed. The contradictions of this modern view, which overlooks religion, have loaded humans’ hearts and souls with burdens of grief and have granted them impotence. Here, what I mean by “impotence” is that condition of spiritual weakness of the one who learns the outside world while having no point of reliance within the self.

    The understanding that “conflict is always essential in the world” is based on a totally wrong perspective as well. The help and assistance of the sun and the moon to plants and animals; animals (and plants) being put at the service of humans; food materials being found in nurturing fruits; atomic sustenance nourishing body cells are some examples that show how helping one another is an obvious truth in the world. This fact is so critical that even an absence of one cause in the universe could lead to enormous negative consequences. For instance, let us imagine nitrate bacteria were to be absent in the circulation of nitrogen. In that case, plants would not be able to use nitrogen, their metabolisms would be greatly weakened, photosynthesis would stop, oxygen in the air would decrease as carbon dioxide increased, and the earth would turn into a place which would not support human life. Likewise, small or big, all kinds of balances in the universe indicate a law of reciprocal help and assistance.

    The place and nature of causes
    Additionally, assigning all events to certain results and regarding causes as the absolute power in the universe is a result of modern philosophy’s being deprived of transcendental truth. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi summarized the influence of causes thus: “For physical causes only gather and join together. It is confirmed by people of reason that they cannot create out of nothing what is not present in them.” When an ordinary result is looked at, a deep consciousness, a transcendental knowledge and supremacy and similar attributes are seen. Causes do not own these attributes and therefore cannot be the real architect of the result. Besides, every cause is contingent (al-mumkinat, plural of mumkin, or “possible”), its presence and absence has equal consequences. Therefore, every cause depends on another cause, which depends on a further third cause, in the same way as the feet of chairs lean against one another for support. At the end, however, for this chain to stand, there is still a need for One who is not contingent, whose presence is essential and of Himself (Wajib al-Wujud), and who is the Causer of causes (Musabbib al-Asbab). If human beings, who can be considered as the most developed cause, cannot create the tiniest thing from nothing, then no other cause can possibly be the real architect.

    Thus, a human being who thinks according to modern science of trying to get knowledge of the physical world through pure reason and experimental method will assign everything (from the smallest sphere to the largest one) to causes. Since the “modern” scientist regards the perfect balances that he or she discovers, from those in one small cell to those in the universe as a whole as a gift of causes, he or she thinks that any cause can also destroy the perfect stability; for destruction is much easier than construction. Therefore, modern scientists load an enormous burden on their backs. All the discoveries that they make and everything they assign to causes in the path of science will soon become a source of fear for them. Now, knowledge grants them impotence. Under the pressure of this subjection, they seek a source of empowerment. It might sometimes be their own self (or ego), sometimes technology, and at other times nature.

    As can be seen, contrary to the arguments of the mechanical worldview that separates metaphysics from physics and regards causes as sources of everything; and as opposed to the “modern” understanding that assigns absolute authority to every self, assumes chaos in the world, and considers force the only way to win a conflict; turning to belief is not because of impotence. On the contrary, it is one’s not turning to belief that results in impotence and helplessness.

    1. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Asa-yý Musa (“The Staff of Moses”),
    Istanbul: Yeni Asya Yayýncýlýk, 2005, p. 273.


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