The Concept Of Science And Technology
Despite the disasters caused by science and technology, their mistaken approach to the truth, and their failure to bring happiness, we cannot condemn them outright and become pure idealists. Science and technology do not bear the full responsibility for humanity being devalued, human feelings being diminished, and certain human virtues, along with health and the ability to think, being seriously weakened. Rather, the fault lies with scientists who avoid their responsibilities, who cause science to develop in a materialistic and almost purely scientific atmosphere, and then let it be exploited by an irresponsible minority. Many worrying conditions probably would not exist if scientists had remained aware of their social responsibility, and if the Church had not forced it to develop in opposition to religion.
Flowing to the future like a rapid flood full of energy and vitality, and sometimes resembling a dazzling garden, the natural world is like a book to study, an exhibition to behold, and a trust from which we can benefit. We are responsible for studying the meaning and content of this trust so that we and future generations may benefit from it. If we wish, we can call this relationship “science.”
Science can also be described as comprehending what things and events tell us, what the Divine laws reveal to us, and striving to understand the Creator’s purpose. Created to rule creation, we need to observe and read, to discern and learn about our surroundings so that we can find the best way to exert our influence and control. When we reach this level, by the decree of the Exalted Creator, everything will submit to us and we will submit to God.
There is no reason to fear science. The danger does not lie with science and the founding of the new world it will usher in, but rather with ignorance and irresponsible scientists and others who exploit it for their own selfish interests.
If true science directs human intelligence toward eternity without expecting any material gain, undertakes a tireless and detailed study of existence to discover absolute truth, and follows the methods required to reach this aim, what can we say about modern science other than it cannot fulfill our expectations. Although usually presented as a conflict between Christianity and science, the conflicts during the Renaissance were mainly between scientists (not science per se) and the Catholic Church. Copernicus, Galileo, and Bacon were not anti-religious; in fact, we could say that their religious commitment drove them toward scientific truth.
The religious thought springing from eternality, and the resulting love and zeal accompanied by feelings of poverty and impotence before the Eternal, All-Powerful and All-Knowing Creator, enabled the Muslim world’s great five-century scientific advance until the close of the twelfth century. The driving concept of science as based on Divine Revelation was represented almost perfectly by illustrious figures who, imbued with eternality, tirelessly studied existence to attain eternity. Their commitment to Divine Revelation caused it to diffuse a light that engendered a new concept of science in human souls.
If Islamic civilization had not been so badly damaged by the horrific Mongol and numerous destructive Crusader invasions, the world would be very different today. If the Islamic concept of science as being approved and appropriated by the community, as if it were part of the Divine Message and pursued as an act of worship, had continued to flourish, our world would be more enlightened, its intellectual life richer, its technology more wholesome, and its sciences more promising. All Islamic science sought, based on eternality, was to benefit humanity by helping us to aspire for the other world and to handle things responsibly for the sake and pleasure of God Almighty. (See Chapter VI Endnote: Qur’anic Perspective of the Universe) Only the love of truth, defined as approaching existence not for material advantage or worldly gain but to observe and recognize it as it really is, gives true direction to scientific studies. Those with such love will achieve their goal; those who do not have such love, who are led by worldly ambitions, material aspiration, ideological prejudice and fanaticism, either will fail or turn science into a deadly weapon to be used against humanity.
Intellectuals, educational institutions, and mass media must strive to deliver modern science from the current lethal atmosphere of materialism and ideological fanaticism. To redirect science toward human values, scientists’ minds must be freed of ideological superstition and fanaticism, and their souls purified of desire for worldly gain, and advantage. This will enable them to secure true freedom of thought and engage in pure science. Their centuries-long battle against the clergy and corrupt concepts formed in the name of religion, and their subsequent denunciation of religious people as backward, narrow-minded, and fanatic should serve as a warning to scientists not to fall into the same trap.
Intellectual and scientific despotism arise from a group’s own self-interest and power-seeking, ideology and fanaticism. Such groups can be found among both scientists and clerics. Despotism is despotism, whether it arises from restricting reason to corrupt and distorted religious conceptions and clerical domination or its scientific counterpart. Islam continually urges humanity to study nature, the exhibition of Divine works, to reflect on creation and what has been created, and to approach it responsibly in order to benefit humanity.
When studied without prejudice and preconception, the Qur’an shows that it promotes love of science and humanity, justice and order. The Qur’an is full of verses urging us to study nature, which it sees as a place of exhibition of Divine works. It also urges us to reflect upon creation and the created, to approach it responsibly, and to use it to everybody’s benefit. According to Islam, the whole point of seeking knowledge is to discover the meaning of existence so that we can reach the Creator and benefit humanity and all creation. We are to combine that knowledge with belief, love and altruism. Humanity has seen such an ideal in practice: the exemplary life of Prophet Muhammad and the conduct of many of its representatives who perfected their thoughts and deeds.
So what is there to fear from science? Planned acts based on knowledge sometimes cause bad results, but certainly ignorance and disorganization always cause bad results. Instead of opposing the products of science and technology, we must use them to bring happiness to humanity. Herein lies the essence of our greatest problem, for we cannot take measures against the Space Age or erase atomic or hydrogen bomb-making knowledge.
Although science might be a deadly weapon in the hands of an irresponsible minority, we should not hesitate to adopt both it and its products and then use them to establish a civilization in which we can secure our happiness in this world and the next. It is pointless to curse machines and factories, because machines will continue to run and factories to operate. Science and its products will begin to benefit us only when people of truth and belief begin to direct our affairs.
We have never suffered harm from a weapon in the hands of angels. Whatever we have suffered has come from those who still believe that only might is right. This situation will continue until we build a world on faith and science.
By M. Fethullah Gulen