Tuesday July 20, 2010
Your truth, my truth
By MD. ASHAM AHMAD
Scientism as an ideology or a way of looking at all things has become so dominant today that religion is now reduced to subjectivised ethics and matters of personal conscience.
IT TAKES knowledge in order to affirm or deny something.
The act of affirming or denying something is called judging. It assumes that reality exists, and that it can be known objectively.
This is the philosophy of common people, or a common-sensical philosophy, and the foundation of all philosophical and scientific knowledge.
Believe it or not, there are people who hold that there is no such thing as the absolute truth.
They are called subjectivists. Truth, they say, is whatever we as individuals or we as a society decide it is.
When a subjectivist talks about morality he is a moral relativist; he would say there is no such thing as an absolute moral principle.
What is right or wrong is whatever we as individuals or we as a society decide it is.
As an idea, epistemological subjectivism or moral relativism is not new. It is as old as philosophy itself.
Protagoras of Abdera (480-410 B.C.) said that man is the measure of all things, while his contemporary, Georgias of Leontini (483-375 B.C.), taught that nothing exists, and that if something exists, it could not be known, and that if it could be known, it could not be communicated to others. They are called Sophists.
Their main teaching was the impossibility of any real or objective truth, morality, or religion.
What would one say of this kind of philosophy? Is it right to think like that? To say whether it is “right” or “wrong” is to pass judgement over the validity of the idea contained in the propositions mentioned above.
It means to decide over the “rationality” or “irrationality” of the thinking that realities don’t exist and that objective knowledge is impossible.
There is no point arguing with someone who denies reality altogether because he simply “does not exist”.
As for the sceptic who denies objective knowledge of reality, the way to deal with him is to show that he is contradicting himself because his denial rests on the assumption that objective knowledge is possible.
When it comes to behaviour, there is no “real sceptic”. As far as thinking goes, it is verbally possible to doubt everything forever. When behaviour comes into play the sceptic will face a serious problem. One can verbally doubt the existence of an object but cannot psychologically doubt it.
Even a “sceptic” would run away from a rabid dog and quickly get out from a burning house. “Scepticism”, says Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher, “while logically impeccable, is psychologically impossible, and there is an element of frivolous insincerity in any philosophy which pretends to accept it.”
Nevertheless, epistemological subjectivism in its various forms is still with us today. Not only that, it has now become the foundation of all other ideas and ideologies taught and disseminated by professors in universities all over the world.
With regard to reality, students are taught that even if it does exist no one can really know anything about it; reality is based on the consciousness of the thinking subject, making the object of knowledge a part of the thinking subject himself.
Hence the students are led into believing that truth is subjective and relative because reality can be created by an individual or a group of individuals forming a society, and one reality is as good as another. ,
That being the case, the following conclusion is inevitable; there is no way of knowing objectively whether an action is good or bad, right or wrong because moral principles and rules are subjective and relative.
So, now, religion becomes irrelevant, and empirical science becomes the only recognised source of knowledge (scientism).
Scientism is an ideology or a way of looking at all things. Scientism only accepts “scientific knowledge” and does not recognise any other mode of knowing such as that which is based upon revelation.
This ideology has become so dominant today that the religious view of the universe appears as intellectually irrelevant, and religion is now reduced to subjectivised ethics and matters of personal conscience.
Among those who are strongly influenced by this ideology are scholars in the field of the humanities, psychology and the social sciences. They are now, according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the real priests of scientism, more than the scientists themselves. The students of those professors are now themselves professors, or teachers, media practitioners, self-proclaimed reformers, politicians and social activists.
Among them are Muslim leaders, intellectuals and professionals.
Despite being ignorant of Islam and indifferent to its way of life, unaccustomed to the proper method of thinking and the history of ideas, and virtually illiterate when it comes to history, culture and civilization, they are hailed as the champions of reform and modernisation in the Muslim community.
What they think about reality, truth and morality is clearly reflected in their interpretation of Islam, particularly their interpretation of Islamic law and ethics.
One cannot accept their interpretation without consciously or unconsciously accepting as well whatever ideas they uphold with regard to the question of truth and reality.
Let us consider the view of a Muslim social scientist, nominated as one of the top 100 “public intellectuals” in the world by a leading American journal, Foreign Policy, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York in September 2005.
An advocate of historical relativism, he regards history as a “continuing revelation” of God, and expanding science as the “non-carnate messenger of God”, and he suggests that Muslims re-examine the message of Muhammad in the light of these new revelations.
Perhaps he thinks that is the way to make Islam relevant and up to date. Regardless of his intention, historical relativism will ultimately lead to the rejection of Islam altogether. What is called “scientific findings” and “social conventions” are actually human mental constructs, which are by nature imperfect, ever-changing and developing.
Now the social scientist is not only suggesting that they are equivalent to divine revelation, but, that they in fact constitute a “higher form of authority” because through them one can re-examine, change, modify or even reject what is clearly stated in the revelation.
The Quran now is subject to a “higher revelation”, which is no other than the product of human reason and his historical experience. To accept this idea means to accept scientism, which also means to accept him and people like him among the social scientists as “the new authority”, the new interpreter of Islam.
Shall we trust a subjectivist’s interpretation of Islam? There will surely be an infinite number of Islam because a subjectivist believes that no interpretation is final or more true than the other.
A subjectivist would not have a problem living with that. In a subjective world anything goes because nothing is absolute, including truth itself. There will be no difference between knowledge and opinion.
All that is needed for an opinion to be true or false, right or wrong, good or bad is for some power to declare it so. That power may be the opinion of the majority, the wealth of the aristocracy, the authority of the government or even the determination of terrorists.