Materialism was born in the West in the middle of the 18th century. The British philosolopher Berkeley first used the term to mean an unjustified confidence in the existence of matter. The term later came to be used to signify a philosophical movement or school which attributed the origin of existence to matter and denied the existence of anything immaterial. Materialism may also be used to describe a way of life which considers only material pleasures of life and bodily comforts and neglects the satisfaction of spiritual needs.
Since natural sciences have chosen for themselves as their field of study only the visible world and adopted a sensory and experimental approach in their studies, and since they tend to accept as scientific only the conclusions they have drawn through these methods, the modern scientific world-view does not, in practice differ much from materialism. That is, although there may be scientists who believe in God and the existence of immaterial entities like spirit, the modem scientific approach is by nature materialistic. For that reason, scientific materialism is not less harmful than materialistic philosophy, rather, it may be said that scientific materialism is more dangerous that the other. For philosophical ideas can be set to one side as no more than theories which hardly affect one’s everyday decisions or direct one’s life. By contrast, people have in effect no choice but to think and believe and act in line with scientific conclusions. Also, scientific materialism has a considerable effect on the way one shapes one’s life. A person who does not find it worthwhile to give any consideration to belief in a Day of Reckoning, in a Supreme Being Who sees whatever he does, hears whatever he speaks and is aware of whatever he thinks, and Who will call him to account for all his deeds in the world, will not heed any rule other than secular laws and will design his life only according to the requirements of a short, transient life. Further, if being scientific is taken to mean denying or at least doubting the existence of anything metaphysical, and if people unquestioningly accept that the only objective knowledge is what sciences discover, whereas whatever people may know of the spiritual dimension of existence is sheer superstition, then people will be left with no alternative other than to live as materialists. So, scientific materialism and the practical materialism it produces are responsible, besides the birth of philosophical materialism and communism, for the world-wide crisis observable in the erosion of morals and spiritual values, the increase in crimes and drug-addiction and in injustices committed against weak peoples of the world and ruhtless colonialism continuing in disguised forms, and other modem social and political diseases.
Scientific materialism, though it does not theoretically deny the existence of truths outside the visible world, holds that anything immaterial cannot be known, not that it is not known to us. You can discuss with a materialist in philosophy about the existence of God or anything outside the material dimension of existence. But since scientific materialism argues that anything except material things cannot be known, it causes one not to think about immaterial truths. So, it is scientific materialism which gave rise to agnosticism-the belief that nothing can be known about God or of anything except material things. It is also scientific materialism which, because it tends to explain immaterial truths in material terms and therefore reduces quality to quantity and the spiritual to the physical-as is most clearly observed in psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis-is responsible for the rise of most modern false beliefs and ‘mystical’ practices.
The practical materialism, to which scientific materialism gave birth, prevails in the lives of all the world’s people, whether they be Muslims, Christians, Jews or atheists. For most people mean economic development, the betterment of worldly life, when development is talked about, and give precedence to worldly life in their considerations. And since material wealth and resources cause rivalry and competition in the relations among peoples and countries, not a single day passes without clashes on the face of the earth, on a large or small scale.
Even if we leave out the human values, lofty truths and ideals, and spiritual happiness, which have all been sacrificed for the sake of material development, modern civilization based on scientific materialism has caused mankind much harm. The products of science are usually exploited in favour of the great world powers to consolidate their dominion over the world. Besides, the developments in genetics, biology, physics and chemistry are threatening the very life of humanity on the earth. Modern civilization is founded upon five negative principles:
- It is founded and rests upon power: power tends to oppression.
- It aims at the realization of individual self-interest: pursuit of their self-interests causes people to rush madly upon things in order to possess them and gives rise to pitiless rivalry and competition.
- Its understanding or philosophy of the nature of life is struggle: struggle causes internal and external conflicts.
- It unifies the mass of its people on the basis of racial separatism, fed by swallowing up the resources and territories of ‘others’: and racism leads to terrible collisions between peoples.
- The service it offers to people is satisfaction of the novel caprices or desires it arouses in them; (whether the satisfaction is real or not) this service brutalizes people.
Modern materialistic civilization stimulates consumption and therefore gives rise to new, artificial needs and increases them day by day. Through the power of propaganda and advertisements to exploit some disapprovable human tendencies such as ‘keeping up with the Jones’, it can impose its demands upon people. As a result of the way of life it necessarily leads to-producing to consume and consuming to produce-it destroys the nervous balance of man and causes extraordinary increases in mental and spiritual illnesses. In such a way of life there is left room for neither spiritual profoundity nor true intellectual activity. For intellect is put under the command of pragmatism and earning more and more.
It is highly questionable whether scientific and economic developments have brought happiness to man, whether the developments in tele-communication and transportation have provided for man what he needs. It is highly questionable whether modern man has been able to find true satisfaction and solve all his problems. Do his needs not increase day by day’? While people in the past needed a few things to lead a happy life, does not modern make man feel the need of some new things every passing 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 a cruel rivalry and competition. So it follows that because might is right in such a world only the powerful have the ‘right’ to survive. You may understand from this what lies behind such Western philosophical attitudes or so-called scientific theories as Darwinian evolution and natural selection, historicism and the like.
Another disaster materialistic science has brought upon man is the destruction of nature and environmental pollution. What a pity it is that nature, this magnificent book, this charming exhibition, which God, the Infinitely Merciful One, has created and presented to us to observe and study and to be exhilarated by is no longer given any more care than is given to a heap of junk or rubbish. Worse than that, it is more and more becoming a wasteland and like a dunghill. Today, air, that magnificent conductor of Divine commands, is a suffocating smoke and a perilous whirlpool’. Water that source of life and other Divine bounties, is either a hazardous flood or forms desolate expanses of pitch. And earth, that treasure of Divine grace and munificence, is a wilderness no longer safely productive and whose ecological balance has been ruined.
We do not belittle, nor condemn, scientific studies and accomplishments. On the contrary, we welcome them enthusiastically as the signs and confirmation of man’s being made superior to angels. As is related in the Qur’an, God created man as one who would rule on the earth in conscious, deliberate conformity with God’s commands. Since he has been honoured with free will and is not compelled to do anything, in order to fulfil his function in creation, God has distinguished him with the knowledge of things and thereby made him superior even to angels. So we welcome scientific developments and discoveries as the result of this superiority. However, in order for scientific studies to be directed for the true benefit of man, they must be pursued within the guidance of immaterial, metaphysical, God-given rules. They must aim at founding a civilization which should have the following five essentials:
- It should rest upon right, not upon power; right requires justice and balance.
- It should aim to encourage people to virtue, which is a spur to mutual affection and love.
- It’s understanding or philosophy of the nature of life should be not struggle but mutual help, which leads to unity and solidarity.
- It should unify people on the basis of a common belief, shared values and norms, which can lead to internal peace and brotherhood.
- It should guide people to truth. Therefore, besides encouraging them to scientific progress, it should elevate them, through moral perfection, to higher ranks of humanity.
This civilization is that which the Qur’an proposes to mankind and urges them to found.