How did the positivist movement develop in Anatolia?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

8.2.3-Positivist Movements in Anatolia

     The history of positivist interpretation of science in Turkey goes back to the beginning of the Tanzimat period (1839). One of the results of the Tanzimat Edict is the emergence of the distinction between schools and madrasahs, and the state’s using its influence in favor of schools. As ŞerifMardin describes concisely, this duality, which made its presence felt very much since the 1860s, continued with schools getting stronger than madrasahs.

      Schools, where modern sciences and technology were taught, turned their faces to the future, believing that they would get the contemporary spirit and that they would solve all the problems of the country with positive science while madrasahs sought the solution in a longing history that could not renew and that could not carry to the current time.1

     When we look at those discussions, we see different segments of the community. Intellectuals like HüseyinHilmi and Said Halim Pasha, who thought the salvation of the state would be through the unification and integration of Islamic culture and Western culture and civilization, were on one side.

     Those who gathered around ZiyaGökalp (1875-1924) and thought the solution was to reconcile Islamic ethics and Turkish traditions, to take the knowledge and technique of Europe for development were on the other side.

Popper pointed out that those who started out to get rid of religious dogmas made science a religion and he criticized them seriously. According to him, the prophet of this new religion is F. Bacon himself. He states the following:
Bacon replaced ‘God’ by the name ‘Nature’. Theology, the science of God, was replaced by the science of Nature. The laws of God were replaced by the laws of Nature. God’s power was replaced by the forces of Nature.

     However,  materialist positivists such as Baha Tevfik (1884-1914), Ahmet Nebil, SüleymanSırrı, Abdullah Cevdet (1869-1931) and TevfikFikret (1870-1915), who were in the second group, advocated the idea that  “religion” was not necessary for  the salvation of the country.2

     According to them, what had to be done was to accept the West as a whole. According to Dr. Abdullah Cevdet and his friends, the only thing to do to save the Empire from collapsing was to be Europeans..3

     Jamaluddin Afghani from the Muslim East (1838-1897) joined the works of Ali Süavi, Namık Kemal and Şinasi related to settling their ideas without losing anything from their Islamic faiths. Afghani was followed by scholars such as Muhammad Abduh (1845-1905), AbdulazizChavish (1876-1929) and Musa Jarullah (1875-1949).4

      The tension and friction between the school and the madrasah developed in favor of the school in the late Ottoman period and entered a new phase with the establishment of the Republic. The modern educated people who founded the republic liquidated the graduates of madrasahs who were with them and  who worked together with them and cooperated in the liberation of the country and the establishment of the republic.

     The torch held by the new era in the hands and minds in the way of progress and civilization was positive science. The issues raised by M. Kemal in his speech to the teachers at Samsun İstiklalTicaret School as early as  September 22, 1924 indicated the principles of the new period:

     “The real guide for everything in the world, for civilization, for life and for success, is science. It is heedlessness, ignorance, and aberration to seek a guide except for science. However, it is essential to realize the evolution of the stages of science in every moment we live and to follow its progress over time”.5

     Those words were engraved on the façade of the Faculty of Language, History and Geography, which was established with a special mission in 1935 as a symbol of the new era, as “The real guide in life is science”. 

     Karl Popper (1902-1994), the philosopher of science, is one of those who make a “philosophical” criticism of this understanding, which idolizes positivism and natural sciences and makes it a new religion. He wrote in an article published in 1923 that the scientific movement initiated by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who is considered one of the founding fathers of modern science, was basically "religious or semi-religious."

     Popper pointed out that those who started out to get rid of religious dogmas made science a religion and he criticized them seriously. According to him, the prophet of this new religion is F. Bacon himself:

Bacon replaced ‘God’ by the name ‘Nature’. He left almost everything that remained the same. Theology, the science of God, was replaced by the science of Nature. The laws of God were replaced by the laws of Nature. God’s power was replaced by the forces of Nature. And at a later date, God’s design and God’s judgements were replaced by natural selection. Theological determinism was replaced by scientific determinism, and the book of fate by the predictability of Nature. In short, God’s omnipotence and omniscience were replaced by the omnipotence and omniscience of nature and by the virtual omniscience of natural science.6

From the Islamic world, Nursi, answered this movement, which tried to spread the idea of denying a creator under the name of science, by writing a booklet called Tabiat Risalesi (Booklet of Nature). He states the following at the beginning of the booklet:

“This treatise explains through nine ‘Impossibilities,’ themselves comprising at least ninety impossibilities, just how unreasonable, crude and superstitious is the way taken by those Naturalists who are atheists. In order to cut short the discussion here and because these impossibilities have been explained in part in other sections of the Risale-i Nur, some steps in the arguments have been skipped. It occurs to one, therefore, how is it that those famous and supposedly brilliant philosophers accepted such a blatantly obvious superstition, and continue to pursue that way.

Well, the fact is they cannot see its reality. And I am ready to explain in detail and prove through clear and decisive arguments to whoever doubts it that these crude, repugnant and unreasonable1 impossibilities are the necessary and unavoidable result of their way; in fact, the very gist of their creed.

He explains the word “unreasonable” above as follows:

1What occasioned the writing of this treatise were attacks being made on the Qur’an by those who called everything that their corrupted minds could not reach a superstition, who were using Nature to justify unbelief, and were vilifying the truths of belief in a most aggressive and ugly fashion. Those attacks stirred up in my heart an intense anger which resulted in those perverted atheists and falsifiers of the truth receiving vehement and harsh slaps. Otherwise, the way generally followed by the Risale-i Nur is a mild, polite and persuasive one.

“Their messengers said: ‘Is there a doubt about Allah, The Creator of the heavens and the earth?’” (Ibrahim, 10)

Nursi states the following in the Introduction of TabiatRisalesi, in which he interpreted the verse above:

O man! You should be aware that there are certain phrases which are commonly used and imply unbelief. The believers also use them, but without realizing their implications. We shall explain three of the most important of them.

The First: “Causes create this.”

The Second: “It forms itself; it comes into existence and later ceases to exist.”

 The Third: “It is natural; nature necessitates and creates it.”

Indeed, since beings exist and this cannot be denied, and since each being comes into existence in a wise and artistic fashion, and since each is not outside time but is being continuously renewed, then, O falsifier of thetruth, you are bound to say either that the causes in the world create beings, for example, this animal; that is to say, it comes into existence through the coming together of causes, or that it forms itself, or that its coming into existence is a requirement and necessary effect of nature, or that it is created through the power of One All-Powerful and All-Glorious.

Since reason can find no way apart from these four, if the first three are definitely proved to be impossible, invalid and absurd, the way of divine unity, which is the fourth way, will necessarily and self-evidently and without doubt or suspicion, be proved true.

Imagine there is a pharmacy in which are found hundreds of jars and phials filled with quite different substances. A living potion and a living remedy are required from those medicaments. So we go to the pharmacy and see that they are to be found there in abundance, yet in great variety. We examine each of the potions.

We see that the ingredients have been taken in varying but precise amounts from each of the jars and phials, one ounce from this, three from that, seven from the next, and so on. If one ounce too much or too little had been taken, the potion would not have been living and would not have displayed its special quality. Next, we study the living remedy. Again, the ingredients have been taken from the jars in a particular measure so that if even the most minute amount too much or too little had been taken, the remedy would have lost its special property. Now, although the jars number more than fifty, the ingredients have been taken from each according to measures and amounts that are all different.

Is it in any way possible or probable that the phials and jars should have been knocked over by a strange coincidence or sudden gust of wind and that only the precise, though different, amounts that had been taken from each of them should have been spilt, and then arranged themselves and come together to form the remedy? Is there anything more superstitious, impossible and absurd than this? If an ass could speak, it would say: “I cannot accept this idea!”, and would gallop off!

Similarly, each living being may be likened to the living potion in the comparison, and each plant to a living remedy. For they are composed ofmatter that has been taken in most precise measure from truly numerous and truly various substances. If these are attributed to causes and the elements and it is claimed, “Causes created these,” it is unreasonable, impossible and absurd a hundred times over, just as it was to claim that the potion in the pharmacy came into existence through the phials being knocked over; by accident.

In short: The vital substances in this vast pharmacy of the universe, which are measured on the scales of divine determining and decree of the All-Wise and Pre-Eternal One, can only come into existence through a boundless wisdom, infinite knowledge and all-encompassing will. The unfortunate person who declares that they are the work of blind, deaf and innumerable elements and causes and natures, which stream like floods; and the foolish, delirious person who claims that that wondrous remedy poured itself out when the phials were knocked over and formed itself, are certainly unreasonable and nonsensical. Indeed, such denial and unbelief is a senseless absurdity.”7

1.Mardin, Ş. (1992). Bediüzzaman Said Nursi Olayı, Modern Türkiye’de Din veToplumsal Değişim, Istanbul: İletişim. p. 21-40.
2.Çetinkaya, B. Ali. (2002). “Modern Türkiye’nin Felsefî Kökenleri”, C.Ü.İ.F. Dergisi, Sayı: 2, Sivas, pp. 65-91.
3.Hanioğlu, Ş. (1981). Doktor Abdullah Cevdet ve Dönemi, Istanbul: Üçdal Neşriyat, p. 138.
4.Çetinkaya, ibid
5.Atatürk, G. M. K., (1959).Atatürk’ün Söylev ve Demeçleri II. Compiled by: NimetUnan, Ankara: Türk İnkılâpTarihi Enstitüsü Yayını, II. Baskı, p. 16.
6.Popper, K.R., (1994).The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge, p. 82-83.
7.For detailed information: Nursi, B. S. Lem’alar. Sözler Neşriyat, Istanbul, 2003, p. 182-185.

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