There is no specific motivation of the present series. Like most students of knowledge, I too remain preoccupied in my humble capacity with the problem of asserting Islamic ideals while trying to avoid destructive engagements with modernity. Unlike many, I do believe that this assertion is not possible without formulating and promoting a new Islamic discourse that is validated by the conditions set by modernity. Brother Abul Hussein of Ahl al-Hadith blog has recently reminded us of another scholar who undertook one such contemporary discourse. Though being familiar with Badiuzzaman Said Nusri’s project since some time, I am not fortunate enough to read Risala-i-Nur directly. My extremely limited experience of Said Nusri is through secondary sources; a good deal of which came from Yamine Bouguenaya Mermer’s excellent philosophical buildups on Nusri’s ideas in Risala. The present rambles are mostly based on Mermer’s reflections.
Have you ever thought about the proposition that a stone might not fall on ground if you throw it from a height or a possibility that a cotton piece may not burn after coming in contact with fire. Albeit most of us consider such propositions to be absurd, these can be transformed into objective questions and help us analyze the problem of explanation in science.
For instance, one may ask: What will happen if a stone is dropped down from some height? The proposition that it might not fall on ground is just one of many and should be considered well for answering the question. Our mind however, deals instinctively with universals and as there are no stones which do not fall on ground if dropped from some height, it rejects all the other propositions which were should have been equally valid and logical. Excluding the metaphysical and subjective realm, these universal principles are nothing but causal relationships between the ‘act’ and ‘effect’ both of which are readily observable most of the times. In our example, the causality between the act of dropping the stone and the effect of its fall on ground is described as the law of gravity.
Our reliance on law of gravity to explain the falling of physical bodies is through sheer experience bounded by a set of conditions. We observe that things always fall when they are lifted and dropped and our mind do not record any exception to this experience. The physics we create to describe this experience is called ‘Gravity’ and we later use this physics to explain the same very phenomenon.
Is it logically justified then, to explain an experience through a causal law that is derived by the same experience?
Indeed it is a problem of science’s attribution of ‘necessity’ to physical laws which is based on presupposition of uniformity of nature through which science tries to achieve its two primary objectives; namely explanation and prediction. To put it differently, science is not satisfied merely with a plausible explanation of a phenomenon; rather it claims to establish knowledge of facts which are unobserved as yet. It is also true that science is reasonably successful in its generalizations of contended uniformities in nature and establishing universality of these generalized physical laws.
However truer is the contention that these laws have only experience on their side. For science can only state empirical matters of fact and cannot argue with a priori certainty. Philosophy, on the other hand, does that far efficiently and leads us to affirm that two events stand distinct even if they are related through an empirical law. This affirmation, though subtle, is the kernel of problem of causation.
to be continued…