What are Information Sources in Religion?
Much has been said on the issue of information sources. Some of the people who have commented on this issue have sometimes been restricted by their knowledge and/or faith, thus they have vocalized different opinions.
According to the Islamic perspective, there are three types of information sources:
Knowledge obtained through the five senses or relating to these senses. These include, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. For example, something that is seen is there, and something that is felt through touching exists.
According to the trend which accepts only this source of information, anything beyond the perception of these senses cannot be a subject of knowledge. This positivist trend has lost its influence over recent decades; however it was widely popular at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The second source of information is the “mind.” When the “mind” is mentioned, an unbiased decision-making entity, capable of evaluating matter within its pure form, and competent of making an objective decision is implied. The importance of a non-degenerate, unbiased, non-oppressed, functional mind is undeniable for information. In the modern world, rationalism is the representative of this tendency. Since its emergence, Rationalism has always advocated the “mind” as the only source of information. However, even rationalism is not sufficient to achieve true knowledge.
Another source of information is “authentic narration.” Authentic narration should be understood in two ways. Firstly, it is knowledge that has been transmitted by a number of different people and accepted as true. For example, a narration about a continent or a country to which one has never been is an authentic narration. To illustrate further, for a person who has never visited the continents of Australia or America, any accurate information, or first-hand information, obtained is of this type. It is possible that we may not have visited or seen these places, however millions of people live on these continents and hundreds of thousands of people visit these continents every year. The information gathered from these people is so powerful and trustworthy that anyone who has not seen these places cannot doubt their existence. See also: Hadith
Secondly, authentic narration can also be considered to be that of “Divine Revelation.” In other words, this would consist of the Divine Books revealed to the messengers by God Almighty, where the revelations were brought by the Angel Gabriel (pbuh). See also: Revelation
Human beings are not capable of seeing or hearing everything that exists, and thus they are not capable of knowing everything that exists. The mind cannot comprehend everything that exists. There are so many things that exist but which are not sensed through our senses or understood by our minds, or even, if the mind does understand them, can never be sensed or reached. Hence, the human being can only learn these facts through the teachings of a Divine Being whose knowledge, power, and will surround everything. We can only learn the things He knows to the extent that He teaches us in His Divine Books; in this way we become knowledgeable of those matters.
In order to discover the wonders of the universe and to achieve a better and more accurate knowledge with our five senses and mind, we must make evaluations under the light and wisdom of Divine revelations. Only when manipulated to work under these principles will science be able to accomplish its task of producing the fruit that it should.
Otherwise, partial falsification or incorrect interpretations of the Divine Books is inevitable. Moreover, if only the senses and experience will be the basis of information, then one will be forced to say “I do not believe in anything other than what I see, hear…” This is tantamount to rebelling against everything that the mind puts forward. In fact, if only sensory information is taken as the basis of knowledge, then people will be forced to search for compatibility between their deduced knowledge and the universe that is Created by God Almighty. In such a system, whatever facts agreed with their theorems would be true, anything else would be false. However, as God says in the Qur’an:
“We did not take the human beings as witnesses to the creation of the Heavens and the Earth” (18:51).
When the Divine revelation is not taken into consideration, every explanation is no more than a theorem or a guess.
Unfortunately, because only the first two types of sources were accepted, many Divine Revelations were rejected. With the progress of science, their validity has once again been proved. For example, the stages of an embryo in the mother’s womb have been well defined. When Omer Khayyam, who was an extreme rationalist, was asked about these verses, his response was to comment against the Qur’anic truth by commenting that the verses were not meant literally. Some other scholars thought that a person can only have faith in the “resurrection,” as it cannot be understood by the mind; however, Said Nursi has explained it with a simple analogy. The resurrection is like the spring that follows the winter. We do not have any actual sensory knowledge that this will happen, we know from observation and reasoning that the spring will come. Since some people only trust in the two types of sources, they had to twist what they read in the Divine Book, even the fundamentals of faith . For example, through the influence of philosophy, Farabi and Ibn-i Rusd, even though they were geniuses of their time, considered the Divine Revelations and the prophethood as being man-made concepts.
Some thought that philosophers were higher in status than the Messengers of God. The All-Knowing God was aware of how the Messengers would perform their duty of conveying the message; i.e. with an extraordinarily superior performance. This is why they were given the prophethood in advance; yet philosophers could not see this fine nuance. Moreover, it can be concluded that philosophers are only translating what Aristotle had earlier said to suit their time.
If the Islamic World is considered as a whole, it can be seen that not everybody fell into these traps. Zehravi, Ali Kuscu, Jalaleddin Devvani, Gelenbevi and many others, did not fall into these traps; they were very religious, and they were very influential in their times. People like Molla Husrev and Al-Harazmi, with their work in sciences that led their fields of study for many centuries, even in the West, were still able to maintain their faith without experiencing any conflict and lived for the most part as religious, pious people.
In conclusion, it would be proper to say that all sources of information must be handled together if one is to achieve an end result. Discriminating between these information sources and taking them discretely will open up pitfalls for humanity. The same pitfalls will continue to open if the same mistakes are repeated. Humanity will have to say “True” to those things it claimed as “False” the day before. However, using the Divine Revelations as the foundations of knowledge, and surrounding and framing them with the information attained from the senses and mind is the only path that will lead us in a true direction.
By M. Fethullah Gulen