Islamic views on materialism

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Mon Aug 14 17:51:51 MDT 2000


The Causes Responsible for Materialist
tendencies in the West I of IV [1]

 Translated from the Persian by Mujahid Husayn
 Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari
 (Vol XII and XIII)


    The topic of the present study are the causes that lie behind
    materialist tendencies. Before we proceed with the discussion it
    is necessary that we first define the word 'materialism,' as a term
    current in common usage, and specify its exact meaning for the
    purpose of the present discussion.

    The word 'materialism' has various usages and all of them are
    not relevant to our study while studying the cause for materialist
    inclinations. For example, at times 'materialism' is used to refer
    to the school of thought which asserts the principiality of matter
    in the sense that matter is something fundamental (asil) and real
    in the realm of existence and not something imaginary and
    mental, an appearance and a product of the mind. In this sense
    it is opposed to 'idealism' which negates the real existence of
    matter and considers it a mental construct. In this sense of
    materialism, we would have to categorize all theists, both
    Muslims as well as non-Muslims, as 'materialists,' because all of
    them consider matter-as a reality existing in space and time and
    subject to change, transformation, and evolution, and which is
    also perceivable and tangible-as an objective reality existing
    externally and independently of the mind and having its own
    properties. Being a 'materialist' in this sense does not contradict
    with the concept of God or monotheism. Rather, the material
    world and nature as a product of creation constitute the best
    means for knowing God. The workings of Divine will and
    wisdom are discovered in the transformations which take place
    in matter, and the Holy Qur'an, too, refers to material
    phenomena as the 'signs' of God.

    Sometimes this word is used to imply the negation of
    supra-material being, as an exclusivist school of thought which
    considers existence and the realm of being as confined to
    matter, confining being to the realm of the changeable and
    limiting it to space and time. It negates the existence of all that
    does not fall within the framework of change and transformation
    and is not perceivable by the sense organs.

    Our present discussion centres around the causes for inclining
    towards this exclusivist school of thought, and the reasons why
    a group of people became protagonists of this exclusivist and
    negative theory, negating God and imagining anything outside
    the ambit of the material world as non-existent.

    Is Man by Nature a Theist or a Materialist?

    This manner of posing the issue, i.e with the question 'What are
    the causes for inclining towards materialism?,' suggests that we
    claim that man by nature would not incline towards materialism,
    and that materialism is an unnatural tendency opposed to human
    nature (fitrah). And since it goes against the rule, it is necessary

    to seek its cause and to investigate the reasons which have led
    to the violation of the rule.

    To put it more simply, it implies that faith in God is equivalent to

    the state of health, and the materialist tendency is equivalent to
    disease. One never asks about the reasons of health, because it
    is in accordance with the general course of nature. But if we
    come across a person or a group which is sick, we ask as to
    why they are sick. What is the cause of their illness?

    This viewpoint of ours is completely opposed to the view
    usually expressed in books on history of religion. The writers of
    these books generally tend to pursue the question, 'Why did
    man develop the religious tendency?'

    In our opinion, the religious tendency does not need to be
    questioned, because it is natural; rather, the question that needs
    to be examined is why do human beings develop tendencies
    towards irreligion?

    Presently we do not intend to pursue the argument whether
    being religious is something natural and the lack of religion
    unnatural, or if the converse is true, because we see no need for
    doing so from the point of view of the main topic of our

    However, it is worth noting that we do not mean that, as the
    monotheistic tendency is natural and innate (fitrah), no questions
    arise when the issue is dealt with at the intellectual and
    philosophical level. This is certainly not meant. This matter is
    like every other issue that naturally- and despite affirmation by
    natural instinct-gives rise to questions, objections and doubts in
    the mind of a beginner when posed at the rational level, and
    satisfying answers to them are also available at that level.

    Therefore, we neither intend to disregard the doubts and
    ambiguities which do in fact arise for individuals, nor do we
    consider them consequences of an evil disposition or
    ill-naturedness. Not at all. The emergence of doubts and
    ambiguities in this context, when someone seeks to solve all the
    problems related to this issue, is something natural and usual,
    and it is these doubts that impel human beings towards further
    quest. Accordingly we consider such doubts which result in
    further search for truth as sacred, because they constitute a
    prelude to the acquisition of certitude, faith, and conviction.
    Doubt is bad where it becomes an obsession and completely
    absorbs one's attention, as with some people whom we find
    enjoying the fact that they are able to have doubt concerning
    certain issues and who consider doubt and uncertainty to be the
    zenith of their intellectual achievement. Such a state is very
    dangerous, contrary to the former state which is a prelude to
    perfection. Therefore, we have said repeatedly that doubt is a
    good and necessary passage, but an evil station and

    Our present discussion concerns the individuals or groups who
    have made doubt their abode and final destination. In our
    opinion, materialism, although it introduces itself as a dogmatic
    school of thought, is in fact one of the sceptic schools. The
    Qur'an also takes this view of the materialists, and according to
    it they are, at best, beset with a number of doubts and
    conjectures, but in practice they flaunt them as knowledge and
    conviction. [2]

    The Historical Background:

    This mode of thinking is not new or modern. It should not be
    imagined that this mode of thought is a consequence of modern
    scientific and industrial developments and has emerged for the
    first time during the last one or two centuries, like many other
    scientific theories which did not exist earlier and were later
    discovered by man. No, the materialist thinking among human
    beings is not a phenomenon of the last few centuries, but is one
    of the ancient modes of thought. We read in the history of
    philosophy that many ancient Greek philosophers who
    preceded Socrates and his philosophical movement, were
    materialists and denied the supra-material.

    Among the Arabs of the Jahillyyah contemporaneous to the
    Prophet's ministry there was a group with a similar belief, and
    the Qur'an, while confronting them, quotes and criticizes their

         They say, 'There is nothing but our present life; we
         die, and we live, and nothing but time destroys us.'

    This statement, which the Qur'an ascribes to a group of people,
    involves both the negation of God as well as the Hereafter.

    Materialism in Islamic History:

    The word 'dahr' means time. Due to this verse and the term
    dahr occurring in it, those who negated the existence of God
    were called 'dahriyyah' during the Islamic period. We encounter
    such people in Islamic history who were dhari and materialists
    (maddi), especially during the reign of the Abbassids, when
    various cultural and philosophical trends entered the Islamic

    Due to the freedom of thought which prevailed during that
    period with respect to scientific, philosophical and religious
    ideas (of course, to the extent that it did not contradict the
    policies of the Abbassids), some individuals were formally
    known as materialists and atheists. These individuals debated
    with Muslims, with the adherents of other religions, and with
    believers in the existence of God, and presented their arguments
    and raised objections concerning the arguments of the
    monotheists. Thus they did enter into dialogue and freely
    expressed their beliefs, and we find their accounts recorded in
    Islamic works.

    During the lifetime of Imam Sadiq, may Peace be upon him,
    there were certain individuals who used to gather inside the
    Prophet's Mosque and express such views. The book
    al-Tawhid al-Mufaddal is a product one of such episodes.

    A companion of Imam Sadiq ('a) named al-Mufaddal ibn 'Umar
    narrates: "Once I was in the Prophet's Mosque. After prayer I
    became engrossed in thought about the Prophet (S) and his
    greatness. Just then 'Abd al-Karim ibn Abi al 'Awja', who was
    an atheist (zindiq), came and sat down at some distance. Later
    another person holding similar views pined him, and both of
    them started uttering blasphemies. They denied the existence of
    God and referred to the Prophet (S) simply as a great thinker
    and a genius and not as a Divine emissary and apostle who
    received revelations from an Unseen source. They said that he
    was a genius who presented his ideas as revelation in order to
    influence the people; otherwise there was no God, nor any
    revelation or resurrection."

    Mufaddal, who was greatly disturbed on hearing their talk,
    abused them. Then he went to Imam Sadiq, may Peace be upon
    him, and narrated the incident. The Imam comforted him and
    told him that he would furnish him with arguments with which he
    could confront them and refute their views. Thereafter Imam
    Sadiq ('a) instructed Mufaddal in the course of a few long
    sessions and Mufaddal wrote down the Imam's teachings. This
    was how the book al-Tawhid al-Mufaddal came to be

    Materialism in the Modern Age:

    As we know, during the 18th and 19th centuries materialism
    took the form of a school of thought which it did not have
    earlier. That which is ascribed to some schools of ancient
    Greece does not have a proper basis. Usually the writers of
    history of philosophy do not know philosophy, and when they
    come across certain statements of some philosophers
    concerning the pre-eternity of matter or some other opinions of
    the kind, they imagine that this amounts to the negation of God
    and the supra-natural. It has not been established for us that
    there existed a materialist school of thought before the modern
    age. Rather, what did exist earlier in Greece and elsewhere
    were individual tendencies towards materialism.

    However, this is what has led many people to suppose that
    perhaps there is some direct relation between the emergence of
    materialism as a school of thought and science and scientific

    Of course, the materialists themselves make a great effort to
    present the matter as such, and they try to convince others that
    the cause of the growth and prevalence of materialism during the
    18th and 19th centuries was the emergence of scientific theories
    and that it was the spread of science which resulted in mankind
    being drawn towards it. This observation resembles a joke
    more than any noteworthy fact.

    The inclination towards materialism in ancient times existed both
    among the educated as well as the illiterate classes. In the
    modern age, too, the case is similar. Materialists can be found in
    all classes, and likewise there are theistic, spiritual and
    metaphysical inclinations in all classes and sections, especially
    among the learned. If what the materialists claim were true, in
    the same proportion that advances are made in science and
    great scientists are born in the world, there should be an
    increase in the inclination towards materialism among the
    scholarly class, and individuals possessing more scholarship
    should be greater materialists, while in fact this is not the case.

    Today, we see on the one hand some well well-known
    personalities like Russell, who, to a large extent, present
    themselves as materialists. He says, "Man is the product of
    causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving;
    that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his
    beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of
    atoms." [3] Thus Russell rejects the existence of a conscious
    and intelligent power ruling the universe, although at other places
    he avers to be a skeptic and an agnostic. [4]

    On the other hand, we find Einstein, the twentieth century
    scientific genius, expressing an opinion opposed to that of
    Russell; he says "You will hardly find one among the profounder
    sort of scientific minds without a religious feeling of his own ...
    His religious feeling takes the form of rapturous amazement at
    the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such
    superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and
    acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This
    feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as
    succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire.
    It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed
    the religious geniuses of all ages." [5]

    Can it be said that Russell is familiar with the concepts of
    modern science whereas Einstein is ignorant of them? Or that a
    certain philosopher of the 18th or l9th century was familiar with
    the scientific concepts of his age whereas the theist Pasteur was
    unaware and ignorant of them?!

    Or can we say that William James, the monotheist or rather the
    mystic of his time, Bergson, Alexis Carrell and other such
    thinkers were ignorant of the scientific ideas of their time and
    their thinking was in tune with the ideas of a thousand years ago,
    while a certain Iranian youth who does not possess a tenth of
    their knowledge and does not believe in God is familiar with the
    scientific ideas of his age?!

    At times one sees two mathematicians, one of whom believes in
    God and religion while the other is a materialist, or for that
    matter two physicists, two biologists, or two astronomers, one
    with a materialist and the other with a theistic bent of mind.

    Therefore, it is not that simple to say that the advent of science
    has made metaphysical issues obsolete. That would be a
    childish observation.

    We need to centre our discussion more on the question as to
    what were the factors that led to the emergence of materialism
    as a school of thought in Europe, attracting a large number of
    followers, even though the 20th century, in contrast to the 18th
    and 19th centuries, saw a decline in the advance of materialism
    and in it materialism even met with a kind of defeat?

    This large-scale drift has a series of historical and social causes
    which require to be studied. I have come across some of these
    causes during the course of my study which I shall mention here.
    Perhaps those who have done a closer study of social issues,
    especially in the area of European history, would identify other
    reasons and factors. Here I only intend to discuss the results of
    my study.

    Inadequacies in the Religious Ideas of the Church

    The Church, whether from the viewpoint of the inadequacy of
    its theological ideas, or its inhuman attitude towards the masses,
    especially towards the scholars and freethinkers, is one of the
    main causes for the drifting of the Christian world, and indirectly
    the non-Christian world, towards materialism.

    We will analyze this factor in two sections:

    1. Inadequacies in the ideas of the Church relating to God
    and the metaphysical.

    2. The violent conduct of the Church.

    Section 1:

    In the Middle Ages when the clerics became the sole arbiters of
    issues relating to divinities, there emerged amongst them certain
    childish and inadequate ideas concerning God which were in no
    way consonant with reality. Naturally, these not only did not
    satisfy intelligent and enlightened individuals, but created in them

    an aversion against theism and incited them against theist

    Anthropomorphic Conceptions of God:

    The Church painted a human picture of God and presented Him
    to the people in an anthropomorphic form. Those who were
    brought up to conceive God with these human and physical
    features under the influence of the Church, later, with advances
    in science, came to find that these ideas were inconsistent with
    scientific, objective, and sound rational criteria.

    On the other hand, the vast majority of people naturally do not
    possess such power of critical analysis as to reflect over the
    possibility that metaphysical ideas might have a rational basis
    and that the Church was wrongly presenting them.

    Thus when they saw that the views of the Church did not
    conform to the criteria of science they rejected the issue

    There is a book titled The Evidence of God in an Expanding
    Universe, consisting of forty articles by forty scientists belonging

    to various fields of specialization, wherein each scholar has
    presented arguments proving the existence of God in
    accordance with has own specialized area of study. This book
    has been translated into Persian.

    Among these scholars is Walter Oscar Lundberg, who presents
    a scientific argument for the existence of God. In the course of
    his study he examines why some people, including scholars,
    have developed a materialist tendency.

    He mentions two causes of which one has been already
    mentioned by us, inadequate ideas taught on this subject to the
    people in the church or at home.

    Our singling out the churches in this regard does not mean to
    imply that those who give instruction on religious issues from our
    pulpits (manabir) and mosques have always been informed and
    competent individuals who know what is to be taught and
    possess an in-depth knowledge of Islam. One reason why we
    mention only the church is that our discussion is about the
    causes behind materialist inclinations and these tendencies
    existed in the Christian world and not in the Islamic
    environments. Whatever materialism is found in Islamic societies
    has been, and is, the result of copying and imitating the West.
    Secondly, there existed in the Islamic milieu a school of thought
    at the level of philosophers and metaphysicians, which satisfied
    the intellectual needs of the researchers and saved the scholars
    from the fate of their counterpart in Europe, while there existed
    no such school within the Church.

    In any case this is what Walter Oscar Lundberg says

         There are various reasons for the attention of some
         scholars not being drawn towards comprehending the
         existence of God while undertaking scientific studies; we
         will mention just two of them here. The first (reason) is
         the general presence of oppressive political and social
         conditions or governmental structures which necessitate
         the negation of the existence of God. The second
         (reason) is that human thinking is always under the impact
         of some vague ideas and although the person himself may
         not undergo any mental and physical agony, even then his
         thinking is not totally free in choosing the right path. In
         Christian families the children in their early years generally
         believe in an anthropomorphic God, as if man has been
         created in the image of God. These persons, on entering
         a scientific environment and acquiring the knowledge of
         scientific issues, find that this weak and anthropomorphic
         view of God does not accord with scientific concepts.
         Consequently, after a period of time when the hope of
         any compromise is dashed, the concept of God is also
         totally discarded and vanishes from the mind. The major
         cause of doing so is that logical proofs and scientific
         definitions do not alter the past sentiments and beliefs of
         these persons, and it does not occur to them that a
         mistake had taken place in the earlier belief about God.
         Along with this, other psychic factors cause the person to
         become weary of the insufficiency of this concept and
         turn away from theology. [6]

    Summarily, that which is observable in certain religious
    teachings-and regrettably is also found amongst ourselves, to a
    more or less extent-is that a characteristic concept is projected
    in the minds of children under the name and label of 'God.'
    When the child grows up and becomes a scholar, he finds that
    this concept is not rational and such a being cannot exist,
    whether it be God or something else.

    The child on growing up, without reflecting or critically
    concluding that perhaps there might exist a valid conception,
    rejects the idea of divinity altogether. He imagines that the
    concept of God he is rejecting is the same as the one accepted
    by theists, and since he does not accept this creature of his own
    mind, which is the product of popular superstition, he does not
    believe in God. He does not notice that the concept of God
    which he is rejecting is also rejected by the theists, and that his
    rejection is not the rejection of God but is the rejection of
    something that ought to be rejected.

    Flammarion in the book God and Nature observes: "The
    Church presented God in this manner: 'The distance between his
    right and left eye is 12000 leagues.' " It is obvious that persons
    with even a meagre knowledge of science cannot believe in such
    a being.

    Auguste Comte's Conception of God:

    Flammarion quotes a statement of Auguste Comte, the founder
    of positivism and what is known as scientism, which offers a
    good view of the way God was pictured by such scholars as
    Auguste Comte living in the Christian environment of that time.
    Flammarion says: Auguste Comte has said: "Science has
    dismissed the Father of nature and the universe from his post,
    consigning him to oblivion, and while thanking him for his
    temporary services, it has escorted him back to the frontiers of
    his greatness."

    What he means is that earlier every event that took place in the
    world was explained by relating it to God as its cause. For
    example, if someone got a fever, the question why the fever had
    come about and from where it came had the answer that God
    had sent the fever. That which was commonly understood by
    this statement was not that it is God who governs the universe
    and that to say that He had caused the fever implied that He
    was the real and ultimate mover of the world. Rather, this
    statement meant that God, like a mysterious being, or a
    magician engaged in sorcery, had all of a sudden decided to
    cause fever without any preparatory cause, and so the fever
    came about. Later science discovered its cause and it was
    observed that fever was not brought about by God, but by a
    certain bacteria.

    Here God retreated one step. Henceforth the theist was forced
    to say that we will shift our argument to the bacteria: Who
    created the bacteria?

    Science also discovered the cause of bacteria by identifying the
    conditions in which they come to exist. Again God had to
    retreat one step, and the argument proceeded by asking the
    cause of that cause. God's retreat continued, and, at last, with
    the spread and expansion of science the causes of a large
    number of phenomena were discovered. Even those phenomena
    whose causes were not yet discovered were known for certain
    to possess causes belonging to the category of causes already
    known. Thereat man had to dismiss God for good with an
    apology, because there no longer remained any place and post
    for Him.

    The state of God at this stage was that of an employee in an
    office in which he was initially given an important post, but with
    the recruitment of more competent individuals his responsibilities
    were gradually taken away, and eventually, when he was
    divested of all his earlier responsibilities, there remained no post

    and place left for him. At this time the manager of the office
    approaches him, thanks him for his past services, and with an
    excuse hands him the dismissal orders and bids him farewell
    once and for all.

    Auguste Comte uses the term 'Father of nature' for God. His
    use of this term for God shows the influence of the Church in his
    thought. Although he was against the teachings of the Church,
    his own concept of God was derived from the Church's ideas,
    from which he was not able to free himself.

    Taken together, the observations of Auguste Comte suggest that
    in his opinion God is something similar to a part and factor of
    this world, albeit mysterious and unknown, by the side of other
    factors. Moreover, there are two types of phenomena in the
    world, the known and the unknown. Every unknown
    phenomenon should be linked to that mysterious and unknown
    factor. Naturally, with the discovery of every phenomenon and
    its becoming known as a consequence of science, the domain of
    influence of the unknown factor is diminished.

    This mode of thinking was not characteristic of him, but it was
    the thinking that prevailed in his environment and era.

    The Station of Divinity:

    Hence the main thing is that we ascertain the station of Divinity
    and comprehend the place, position and 'post' of God. Is the
    position of God and the Divine in the realm of being such that
    we may consider Him to be one of the beings in the world and a
    part of it? May we allot Him a certain function among the
    various functions that exist in the world, thereby affecting a
    division of labour, and then, for determining God's special
    function, examine the various effects whose causes are unknown
    to us, so that whenever we come across an unknown cause we
    have to attribute it to God? The consequence of such a mode of
    thinking is to search for God among things unknown to us.
    Naturally, with an increase in our knowledge, the area of our
    ignorance will continually diminish and the domain of our theism,
    too, will diminish to the point where if some day, supposedly, all
    the unknown things become known to mankind, there would
    remain no place for God or any theism.

    In accordance with this line of reasoning, only some of the
    existing realities are signs of God and manifest and mirror His
    existence, and they are those whose causes are unknown. As to
    those things whose causes have been identified, they lie outside
    the realm of signs and indications of the Divine Being.

    Hallowed be God! How wrong and misleading this kind of
    thinking is, and how ignorant it is of the station of the Divine!
    Here we should cite the words of the Qur'an, which observes in
    this regard:
      They measured not God with His true measure. (6:91)

    The ABC of theism is that He is the God of the entire universe
    and is equally related to all things. All things, without any
    exception, are manifestations of His Power, Knowledge,
    Wisdom, Will, and Design, and are the signs and marks of His
    Perfection, Beauty and Glory. There is no difference between
    phenomena whose causes are known and those whose causes
    are unknown in this regard. The universe, with all its systems
    and causes, is in toto sustained by His Being. He transcends
    both time and space. Time and time-bound entities, and similarly
    space and spatial objects, irrespective of their being finite or
    infinite-that is, whether they are temporally limited or extend
    from pre-eternity to eternity, and regardless of whether the
    universe is limited in its spatial dimensions or infinite, and,
    ultimately, whether the entire expanse of existents is finite or
    infinite in time and space-all these are posterior to His Being and
    Existence and are Considered among His emanations (fayd.)

    Hence it is extreme ignorance to think in a Church like manner
    and to imagine, like Auguste Comte, that while looking for the
    cause of a certain phenomenon in some corner of the universe
    we would suddenly discover the existence of God, and then
    celebrate and rejoice that we have found God at a certain place.
    And if we do not succeed and are unable to so find Him, we
    should become pessimistic and deny God's existence

    On the contrary, it is precisely in this sense that we must reject
    the existence of God, that is, a God who is like any other part of
    the world and is discoverable like any other phenomenon in the
    course of inquiry into the world's phenomena is certainly not
    God, and any belief in such a God is aptly rejected.

    In more simple terms, we should say that this kind of quest for
    God in the universe is like the conduct of someone who when
    shown a clock and told that it has a maker wants to find its
    maker within the wheels and parts of the clock. He searches for
    a while and on finding nothing except its different parts, says: 'I
    did not find the maker of the clock and this proves that he does
    not exist.' Or it is like one who on being shown a beautifully
    stitched dress and told that this dress was stitched by a tailor,
    says, 'If I find the tailor in the pockets of this dress I will
    his existence, otherwise I won't.'

    This kind of thinking is totally wrong from the Islamic point of
    view. From the viewpoint of Islamic teachings, God is not on a
    par with the natural causes so that the question should arise
    whether a certain external entity has been created by God or by
    a certain natural cause. This kind of dichotomy is both wrong
    and meaningless, because there cannot be a dichotomy or an
    intervening 'or' between God and natural causes for such a
    question to be posed. This form of thinking is anti-theist. Theism
    means that the whole of nature in its entirety is a unit of work
    and an act of God in its totality. Hence it is not correct to ask
    concerning a part of it whether it is a work of God or nature,
    and then to consider it to be a work of God on failing to identify
    its cause, and as related to nature and with no connection with
    God when its natural cause is known.

    Auguste Comte's Three Stages of Human History:

    Auguste Comte suggests a classification of the stages of the
    historical development of the human mind, which, most
    regrettably, has more or less been accepted, though from the
    point of view of those acquainted with Islamic philosophy it is
    mere childish talk. He says that mankind has passed through
    three stages:

    1. The Theological Stage:

    In this stage man explained phenomena by resorting to
    supernatural forces and considered God or gods to be the
    cause of every phenomenon. In this stage man discovered the
    principle of causality, but was not able to identify the causes of
    things in a detailed manner. Since he had grasped the principle
    of causality, he considered the cause of every event to lie within
    Nature. In this stage he postulated the existence of forces in
    Nature with the judgement that certain forces exist in Nature
    which are ultimately responsible for the occurrence of

    2. The Metaphysical Stage

    In this stage, in view of the fact that man thought in metaphysical
    and philosophical terms, he could not go beyond the assertion
    that a certain event had a cause without having any answer to
    the question about the nature and character of the cause itself.

    3. The Positive Stage:

    In this stage man identified in detail the causes of things in
    Nature. During this stage, man turned away from thinking in
    general philosophical terms and adopted the experimental
    approach to the study of phenomena, discovering the causal
    links between them. It became completely evident to him that
    the phenomena are related to one another in a chain. Today
    science considers this approach to be correct, and, therefore,
    we call this stage 'the scientific stage.'

    These three stages suggested by Auguste Comte could be
    possibly correct when viewed from the angle of the common
    people and the masses, in the sense that at one time the
    common people considered the cause of an event, such as a
    disease, to be some invisible being such as a demon or a jinn,
    and there are such persons and groups even today among
    educated Europeans. At a later stage they were able to
    recognize the order present in Nature and henceforth they
    attributed the cause of illness to the causes surrounding the sick
    person, believing that natural factors were responsible for it.
    Also, all those who have not studied medicine and have no
    medical knowledge but believe in the general order of nature
    have a similar kind of understanding.

    During another stage the relationships between the various
    phenomena was discovered by the means of scientific
    experiments. This was not a new thing in itself and existed in the
    ancient period as well, although the eagerness to study natural
    phenomena and their causal relations is greater in the modern

    However, this manner of classification of human thought is
    incorrect, because if we were to divide human thought into
    stages, our criterion should be the ideas of thinkers and not the
    thinking of the masses and common people. In other words, we
    should take into consideration the world view of outstanding
    individuals. Here it is that we find the classification of August
    Comte to be wrong through and through. Human thought,
    whose real representatives are the thinkers of every age, has
    certainly not passed

    One of the eras or stages of thought is the stage of Islamic
    thought. From the standpoint of the Islamic method, all these
    ways of thinking can possibly be present simultaneously in a
    certain form of thought. That is, in the form of thought which we
    call 'Islamic,' all these three kinds of thought are capable of
    coexisting. In other words, a single person can at the same time
    have a mode of thought which is theological, philosophical, and
    scientific. From the point of view of a thinker cognizant with
    Islamic thought, the question does not arise as to whether the
    cause of an event is that which science tells us, or that which
    philosophy explains in the form of a force, or that which is
    named God. Hence, those like Auguste Comte need to be
    reminded that there exists a fourth mode of thought in the world
    of which they are unaware.

    The Violence of the Church:

    To this point we have pointed out the role of the Church in the
    process of inclination towards materialism from the point of
    view of the inadequacy of its theological concepts. Yet in
    another way, which was more effective than the inadequacy of
    its theological ideas, the Church has played an important part in
    driving people towards adopting an anti-God stance. This was
    its coercive policy of imposing its peculiar religious and
    doctrines and views and depriving the people from every kind
    of freedom of belief in both these areas.

    The Church, apart from its peculiar religious beliefs, had
    incorporated a set of scientific doctrines concerning the universe
    and man, which had mostly their philosophical roots in Greece
    and elsewhere and had gradually been adapted by major
    Christian scholars into its religious dogma. It not only
    considered any dissent in regard to the 'official sciences'
    impermissible, but also vehemently persecuted those who
    disagreed with these dogmas.

    Presently, we are not concerned with the issue of freedom of
    religion and religious belief and that religious beliefs should
    inevitably be studied freely because otherwise that would go
    against the very spirit of religion, which is to guide to the truth.

    Islam supports the thesis that belief in religious doctrines ought
    to be based on research and not on conformity or compulsion,
    in contrast to Christianity which has declared religious dogma a
    prohibited zone for reason.

    There were two other aspects in which the Church committed a
    major mistake. Firstly, it placed certain scientific notions
    inherited from the earlier philosophers and Christian theologians
    in the rank of its religious tenets, considering opposition to them
    to be heresy. Secondly, it did not stop at exposing the heretics
    and excommunicating those whose heresy had been proven and
    confirmed, but instead, like a violent police regime, it
    investigated the beliefs and convictions of persons by employing
    various tactics and tried to detect the faintest signs of dissent to

    religious beliefs in individuals and groups and persecuted them in
    an indescribably ruthless manner. As a result, scholars and
    scientists did not dare entertain any ideas opposed to what the
    Church considered as science; that is, they were constrained to
    think in accordance with the Church's thinking. This intense
    repression of ideas which was a common thing from the 12th to
    the 19th century in countries like France, England, Germany,
    Holland, Portugal, Poland and Spain, naturally resulted in the
    development of a general extremely negative reaction towards
    religion. The tribunals held by the Church and known as the
    Inquisition were initiated with an objective reflected in the very
    name given them. Will Durant says:

         The Inquisition had a special procedure of inquiry and
         prosecution. Before the inquisition held its tribunal in a
         city, the summons of faith were communicated from the
         church pulpits. The people were asked to inform the
         inquisitors of any heretics or pagans that they knew of.
         They were encouraged to denounce and accuse their
         neighbours, friends and relatives. The informers were
         promised total secrecy. Anyone who knew a heretic and
         would not denounce him or hid him in his house faced
         denunciation and excommunication ... The methods of
         torture varied from time to time and from one place to
         another. Sometimes the accused was left to hang with his
         hands tied behind his back. Or he would be bound in say
         a way that he could not move, then water was poured
         into his throat so as to suffocate him. Or his arms and
         fists were so tightly bound with ropes that they cut into
         his flesh and reached the bones. [7]

    He also says

         The number of victims between the years 1480-1488,
         that is in eight years, exceeded 8800 burnt on stakes, and
         96,494 condemned to severe punishments According to
         estimates, from the year 1480 to 1808 more than 31,912
         were condemned to death by fire and 291,450 were
         condemned to severe penalties. [8]

    George Sarton, the distinguished scholar and famous authority
    on history of science in his book Six Wings: Men of Science in
    the Renaissance, has a discussion under the caption 'witchcraft,'
    where he relates the crimes committed by the Church in the
    name of campaign against witchcraft:

         Divines and religious scholars, consciously or otherwise,
         considered apostasy to be the same as witchcraft. Men
         quickly conclude that those who disagree with them are
         bad people. Magicians were men and women who had
         sold their souls to the Devil. On the assumption that
         heretics and irreligious persons also communed with the
         Devil, their persecution and torture were readily
         permitted and those who were orthodox in their faith
         could say to themselves: These trouble-making and
         disruptive people are magicians and they should be dealt
         with in this way, because they are neither capable of a
         straight faith nor eligible for pardon.

    George Sarton refers to the book Hammer of the Magicians,
    which was written by two Dominican priests on the instructions
    of Pope Innocent VIII (r. 1484-1492) and which was, in fact, a
    practical manual on how to conduct the Inquisition of those
    accused of heresy and witchcraft. He says:

         The book Hammer is a practical handbook for the
         Inquisitors and in it are found the details of the methods
         of detection, prosecution and punishment of magicians....
         The fear of the magician was the real cause for killing
         them and these killings themselves became the reason for
         a heightened fear. In that period, a psychic epidemic had
         developed the like of which has not been seen until the
         present age of enlightenment. The proceedings of some
         trials of the Inquisition recorded in precise detail have
         survived. The Inquisitors were not bad people. They
         imagined themselves to be better at least than the
         ordinary people, because was it not that they were
         ceaselessly striving to uphold the word of truth and the
         name of God?! Nicolarmy, the inquisitor of Lourn was
         the cause of 900 magicians being burnt to death during a
         period of fifteen years (1575-1590). He was a
         conscientious man, and during the last years of his life he
         had a sense of guilt for having overlooked to kill some
         children. Has anyone the right to desist from killing the
         young of a viper? Bishop Tersepeter Binzfold issued
         verdicts for the death sentence of 6500 people.

    He goes on to observe:

         When the Inquisitors arrived in a new region, they used
         to announce that anyone suspecting someone of being a
         magician should provide information about it. Anyone
         concealing information was liable to exile and fine.

         Providing information in this regard was considered a
         duty, and the names of those who provided information
         were not disclosed. The accused-among whom were
         possibly persons whose enemies had slandered
         them-were not informed of the crime they were accused
         of and were kept in the dark concerning the evidence of
         their culpability. It was assumed that these people were
         sinners and criminals, and the burden of proof lay upon
         them to prove their innocence. The judges adopted all
         kinds of mental and physical means for exacting a
         confession of sin and identifying collaborators. For
         encouraging the accused to confess, they were promised
         pardon or extenuation. But the judges imagined that
         honouring a promise given to magicians and heretics
         involved no moral obligation and the promise was kept
         for the short time which the accused took to say what
         had to be said. Every act falling outside the limits of
         honourable behaviour was committed against the accused
         and was justified as it was done for a holy cause. The
         more they tormented and tortured the people, the more
         they thought it necessary. What we have said can be
         easily confirmed by referring to the Hammer and other
         books and can also be pictured more vividly by studying
         the proceedings of the trials, of which there are
         plenty. [9]

    After discussing this issue for three or four pages, George
    Sarton observes:

         Belief in magic was truly a mental illness more dangerous
         than syphilis, and was the cause of the terrible death of
         thousands of innocent men and women. Apart from that,
         an attention to this matter reveals the dark side of the
         Renaissance, less appealing than other things which are
         usually said about this period, but knowing which is
         necessary for a correct understanding of the events of this
         age. Renaissance was the golden age of art and literature,
         but at the same time it was also a period of religious
         intolerance and cruelty. The inhuman character of this
         period is such that, excepting the present age, it has no
         parallel in history. [10]

    Religion, which should have been a guide and a harbinger of
    love, acquired this kind of countenance in Europe. The very
    notion of religion and God came to be associated in everyone's
    mind with violence, repression, and tyranny. Obviously, the
    reaction of the people against such an approach could hardly be
    anything except the rejection of religion and the negation of that
    which constitutes its very basis, God. The severest blow is
    struck on religion and to the advantage of materialism whenever
    religious leaders, whom the people consider as the real
    representatives of religion, put on a leopard's skin and wear a
    tiger's teeth and resort to excommunication and accusations of
    heresy, especially when private motives take this form.

    [1] That which appears here is a translation of 'Ilal e gerayesh
    beh maddigari, 8th edition (Qum: Intesharat e Sadra, 1375 H.
    Sh.) There is a long introduction, dated rajab 1, 1398 H by the
    author written for the 8th edition of the book titled 'Materialism
    in Iran', this will appear at the end of the serial.

    [2] ... they follow only surmise, merely conjecturing.

    [3] Irving William Knobloch, The Evidence of God in an
    Expanding Universe, cf. Russell, Mysticism and Logic
    (Penguin Books 1953), "A Free Mans Worship"

    [4] See Russell, Mysticism and Worship, (Penguin Books
    1953), "A Free Mans Worship", pp.50-59

    [5] As the original source of Einsteins statement quoted by the
    author was not accessible to the translator, a parallel statement
    of his has been cited here from Ideas and Opinions by Albert
    Einstein (Calcutta: Rup & Co, 1984, first published by
    Bonanza Books, New York), based on Mein Weltbild, edited
    by Carl Seerling, trans and revised by Sonja Bargmann, pp. 40

    [6] Irving William Knobloch, op. Cit, the article by Walter
    Oscar Lundberg

    [7] Will Durrant, The Story of Civilization, Persian transl.
    Tarikhe Tamaddun, v18 p350

    [8] Ibid., p360

    [9] George Sarton, Six Wings: Men of Science in the
    Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957),
    Persian transl. Shish Bal, pp296-8

    [10] Ibid, p303

     Index of articles from Al-Tawhid


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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