Bahá'í Faith and science


Bahá'í Faith and science

A fundamental principle of the Bahá'í Faith is the harmony of religion and science. Bahá'í scripture asserts that true science and true religion can never be in conflict. [cite book | author=Various |authorlink=Universal House of Justice | title=Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice |origdate=1975-12-26 |origyear=1912 |origmonth=December |url=http://www.reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/SCH/sch-49.html#gr1 |accessdate=2007-12-01 |accessyear=2007 |accessmonth=December |year=1995 |publisher=Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Bahá’í World Centre |language=English] `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, stated that religion without science is superstition and that science without religion is materialism.harvnb|`Abdu'l-Bahá|1912] He also admonished that true religion must conform to the conclusions of science.harvnb|Effendi|1912] harvnb|Mehanian|2003]

This latter aspect of the principle seems to suggest that the religion must always accept current scientific knowledge as authoritative, but some Bahá'í scholars have suggested that this is not always the case. ["It also requires us not to limit science to any particular school of thought or methodological approach postulated in the course of its development." in cite web | author = Universal House of Justice | title = 19 May 1995 letter, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer (published in Memorandum on Quotations on Science and Religion | date = 1997-08-13 | accessdate = 2007-12-02 | url = http://bahai-library.com/uhj/science.religion.html#14] On some issues, the Bahá'í Faith subordinates the conclusions of current scientific thought to its own teachings, which the religion takes as fundamentally true. [harvnb|Effendi|1946] This is because, in the Bahá'í understanding the present scientific view is not always correct, neither is truth only limited to what science can explain. Instead, in the Bahá'í view, knowledge must be obtained through the interaction of the insights obtained from revelation from God and through scientific investigation. [cite web | author = Universal House of Justice | title = 19 May 1995 letter, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer (published in Memorandum on Quotations on Science and Religion | date = 1997-08-13 | accessdate = 2007-12-02 | url = http://bahai-library.com/uhj/science.religion.html#14]

Harmony between science and religion

The harmony of science and religion is a central tenet of the Bahá'í teachings. The principle states that truth is one, and therefore true science and true religion must be in harmony, thus rejecting the view that science and religion are in conflict. `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, asserted that science and religion cannot be opposed because they are aspects of the same truth; he also affirmed that reasoning powers are required to understand the truths of religion. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, described science and religion as "the two most potent forces in human life".harvnb|Effendi|1938]

The teachings state that whenever conflict arises between religion and science it is due to human error; either through misinterpretation of religious scriptures or the lack of a more complete understanding of science. `Abdu'l-Bahá explained that religious teachings which are at variance with science should not be accepted; he explained that religion has to be reasonable since God endowed humankind with reason so that they can discover truth.Science and religion, in the Bahá'í writings, are compared to the two wings of a bird upon which a person's intelligence can increase, and upon which a person's soul can progress. Furthermore, the Bahá'í writings state that science without religion would lead to a person becoming totally materialistic, and religion without science would lead to a person falling into superstitious practices. `Abdu'l-Bahá in one of his public talks said:

"If religion were contrary to logical reason then it would cease to be a religion and be merely a tradition. Religion and science are the two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism. All religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time." [harvnb|`Abdu'l-Bahá|1912|p=143]

The Bahá'í writings state that religion must always stand the analysis of reason, and agree with scientific statements of fact. Another teaching of the Bahá'í Faith, "Independent investigation of truth", also uses the harmony of science and religion by stating that each individual should free themselves from all prejudices from learned belief, and then individually search for the truth.

cholarship

Scientific and academic pursuits are encouraged in Bahá'í Scripture, and excellence is promoted. For a look into the Bahá'í view of scholarship [http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/SCH/ this link] is a compilation by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice on the topic.

cience in Bahá'í scriptures

The Bahá'í writings for the most part are silent on specific scientific issues, explaining that most of this is the work of future scientists. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that science is a progressive field which will continually progress in further and further ways.

"Mathematicians, astronomers, chemical scientists continually disprove and reject the conclusions of the ancients; nothing is fixed, nothing final; everything is continually changing because human reason is progressing along new roads of investigation and arriving at new conclusions every day. In the future much that is announced and accepted as true now will be rejected and disproved. And so it will continue ad infinitum." [harvnb|Effendi|1912|p=21]

There are a few specific references about scientific issues that are mentioned below.

Medicine in Bahá'í scriptures

Without mentioning any particular school of medicine, or any particular form of science, the Bahá'í writings simply encourage its study and emphasize the important contributions that it will bring to society. A few certain guidelines and principles were laid down in the writings, such as that when ill, people should always seek medical advice and follow the doctor's instructions, and that in the future nutrition through certain foods will help increase the general wellness of humankind:

:"At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. In the same way, in the character, the conduct and the manners of men, universal modifications will be made.

:"According to the explicit decree of Bahá'u'lláh one must not turn aside from the advice of a competent doctor. It is imperative to consult one even if the patient himself be a well-known and eminent physician. In short, the point is that you should maintain your health by consulting a highly-skilled physician.

:"It is incumbent upon everyone to seek medical treatment and to follow the doctor's instructions, for this is in compliance with the divine ordinance, but, in reality, He Who giveth healing is God."

::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá", p. 156)cite book |author=`Abdu'l-Bahá |authorlink=`Abdu'l-Bahá |year=1978 |title=Selections From the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá |edition=Hardcover |publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust |location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA |id=ISBN 0853980810 |url=http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAB/]

cientific statements by the founders

Several science-related statements by founders of the Bahá'í Faith have generated some level of controversy, such statements being seen as opposed to or out of harmony with current scientific thought. Such statements have caused some to call into question claims of infallibility and have been described as "thorny theological issues". For many Bahá'ís, however, this is not a strong issue. Statements by Bahá'u'lláh of a cosmological nature are concerning to some, but given the relative absence of material cosmological assertions, and the prevalence of writings that direct the believers to science to resolve such questions, these issues are far less controversial in the Bahá'í community than in many other faiths.

Existence of ether

Aether, or ether, was a substance postulated in the late 19th century to be the medium for the propagation of light. The Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 made an effort to find the aether, but its failure to detect it led Einstein to devise his Special theory of Relativity. Further developments in modern physics, including General Relativity, Quantum Field Theory, and String Theory all incorporate the non-existence of the aether, and today the concept is considered obsolete scientific theory.

The aether was originally understood as an undefined medium for the propagation of light, and continuing adherents to ether argue that Einstein's theory ignores the wave-like nature of light by assuming no medium exists, which was the basis behind the theory of ether. Many of the primary experiments to disprove ether focused on disproving "ethereal winds", which do not necessarily disprove the existence of ether, but only that the experiment is moving through it.

`Abdu'l-Bahá's use of the aether concept in one of his talks - his audience including scientists of the time - has been the source of some controversy. The chapter in `Abdu'l-Bahá's "Some Answered Questions" which mentions aether differentiates between things that are "perceptible to the senses" and those which are "realities of the intellect" and not perceptible to the senses. [http://bahai-library.com/uhj/infallibility.abdulbaha.html Letter] to an individual by the Universal House of Justice] `Abdu'l-Bahá includes "ethereal matter" (also translated as "etheric matter"), heat, light and electricity among other things, in the second group of things which are not perceptible to the senses, and are concepts which are arrived at intellectually to explain certain phenomena. The Universal House of Justice referring to `Abdu'l-Bahá's use of the word state that, "in due course, when scientists failed to confirm the physical existence of the 'ether' by delicate experiments, they constructed other intellectual concepts to explain the same phenomena" which is consistent with `Abdu'l-Bahá's categorization of aether.

Robin Mishrahi in his published paper on the issue titled "Ether, Quantum Physics and the Bahá'í Writings" also argues that the usage of the word is probably due to the fact that the language of modern Quantum mechanics did not exist at the time, and the semantics used actually are explaining counterparts in contemporary scientific literature. The paper also explains that Quantum mechanics can be seen as a support of the Bahá'í concept of the unity of science and religion; he concluded in his paper:

:"As a final observation it should be noted that because many of the scientific discoveries and theories referred to in the Bahá'í Writings were yet unknown to the contemporaries of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, They obviously could not have used the technical terms applied for their description nowadays. Instead, They had to make use of and sometimes redefine already existing concepts and terms (e.g. the ether concept or the idea of the four elements of ancient Greek philosophy) in a way that they would accurately explain what They had in mind. On a superficial level, this might give the impression that the Central Figures of the Faith did not actually formulate any new ideas about physical reality. When we study Their Writings more closely, however, we come to realise that this only seems to be the case because Their references to such topics were purposely made in such a way that they would neither offend Their addressees who believed in certain (erroneous) contemporary scientific concepts, nor make use of a terminology that had not yet been developed by contemporary scientists."::(Robin Mihrshahi, "Australian Bahá'í Studies Journal Volume 4", p. 3-20.)cite journal | last = Mihrshahi | first = Robin | year = 2002/2003| title = Ether, Quantum Physics and the Bahá'í Writings | journal = Australian Bahá'í Studies Journal | volume = 4 | pages = pp. 3–20 | url = http://bahai-library.com/?file=mihrshahi_ether_quantum_physics]

Life on other planets

Bahá'u'lláh stated:

The idea of each star having planets is not very controversial. "Planet" was defined at the time as: "a celestial body which revolves about the sun in an orbit of a moderate degree of eccentricity." cite web |title=Planet | author= Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828) |publisher = The ARTFL Project |accessdate=2006-05-20 |url= http://machaut.uchicago.edu/?resource=Webster%27s&word=planet&use1913=on] The Nebular Theory suggests that every star forms with orbiting material.

Taken on its face — reading creatures as living things — this statement is contradicted by the current understanding of astrobiology. Life, as currently known, would not evolve on any world lacking liquid water,cite web | title= The Ingredients, The Recipe for Life, Did Life Arrive on a Comet? |author= BBC | publisher= bbc.co.uk | accessdate=2006-05-20 | url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/life/beginnings/index.shtml] cite web |title=Are we alone? | author= National Science Foundation |publisher = National Science Foundation |accessdate=2006-05-20 | date=2004-11-16 |url= http://www.nsf.gov/news/overviews/astronomy/astro_q04.jsp] although there exist some supportive theories of widespread and durable life formscite web |title=Alternative forms of life | author= The Encyclopdia of Astrobiology Astronomy and Spaceflight |publisher = The Encyclopdia of Astrobiology Astronomy and Spaceflight |accessdate=2006-05-20 |url= http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/A/alternative_forms_of_life.html] or alternative biochemistry.

Very few Bahá'í sources deal with this idea in detail. Shoghi Effendi wrote in a letter,

On the same subject, the Universal House of Justice wrote,

The term 'creature'Creature is defined as: "anything created" or "anything not self-existent" as well as "living thing". cite web |title=Creature | author= Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828) |publisher = The ARTFL Project |accessdate=2006-07-21 |url= http://machaut.uchicago.edu/?resource=Webster%27s&word=creature&use1913=on&use1828=on] is used elsewhere in Bahá'í scripture by `Abdu'l-Bahá to also include minerals, in addition to plants, animals, and humans. ["Therefore, it is by the will and wish of God that some creatures are chosen for the highest degree, as man, and some others are placed in the middle degree, as the vegetable, and some are left in the lowest degree, like the mineral."cite book |author=`Abdu'l-Bahá |authorlink=`Abdu'l-Bahá |origdate=1904-06 |year=1981 |title=Some Answered Questions |publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust |location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA |id=ISBN 0877431906 |pages=p.130 |url=http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAQ/ See also pp. 202-205 and p. 295.]

Evolution

The concept of the origin of man has created tension between science and religion. Cultural traditions that are strongly influenced by monotheistic religions state that man was created and designed by God. Darwin's theory of evolution, in the eyes of many scientists and religious adherents, contracts the view of creation. Scientists argue that evolutionary theories provide adequate explanations for the existence of life, and that the forces of nature explain the workings of nature, and thus there is no compelling reason for the belief in God.

In regards to evolution and the origin of man, `Abdu'l-Bahá gave extensive comments on the subject when he addressed western audiences in the first two decades of the 20th century. These published talks can be found in "Some Answered Questions", "Paris Talks" and the " [http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PUP/ Promulgation of Universal Peace] ". `Abdu'l-Bahá describes the human species as coming into being through a developmental process – that Mehanian and Friberg argue is consistent with scientific evolution – and that the developmental process is working out of a divine creative impulse.

A fundamental part of `Abdul-Bahá's teachings on evolution is the belief that all life came from the same origin: "the origin of all material life is one..." (Promulgation, p. 350). He states that from this sole origin, the complete diversity of life was generated: "Consider the world of created beings, how varied and diverse they are in species, yet with one sole origin" (Paris Talks p. 51–52). He explains that a slow, gradual process led to the development of complex entities:

:" [T] he growth and development of all beings is gradual; this is the universal divine organization and the natural system. The seed does not at once become a tree; the embryo does not at once become a man; the mineral does not suddenly become a stone. No, they grow and develop gradually and attain the limit of perfection"::(`Adbu'l-Bahá, "Some Answered Questions", p. 198–99)cite book |author=`Abdu'l-Bahá |authorlink=`Abdu'l-Bahá |origdate=1904-06 |year=1981 |title=Some Answered Questions |publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust |location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA |id=ISBN 0877431906 |url=http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAQ/]

`Abdu'l-Bahá also stresses the importance of interdependence and diversity on evolution; he states that all things are connected like a chain and it is through interaction that development and growth is achieved.. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that humankind has progressed through stages; he states that humans did not appear all at once but instead developed gradually. He once again compares human evolution to the growth of an embryo into an adult:

:" [I] t is evident and confirmed that the development and growth of man on this earth, until he reached his present perfection, resembled the growth and development of the embryo in the womb of the mother: by degrees it passed from condition to condition, from form to form, from one shape to another."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 183)

While `Abdu'l-Bahá states that man progressed through many stages before reaching this present form, `Abdu'l-Bahá states that humans are a distinct species, and not an animal. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that in every stage of evolution though which humans progressed – either mineral, vegetable, and animal – they were "potentially" humans. Mehanian and Friberg argue that potentiality is a key concept in `Abdu'l-Bahá's discussion of evolution. `Abdul-Bahá states that even if humans passed through an animal stage, it does not mean that humans are animals.

:"But at all times, even when the embryo resembled a worm, it was human in potentiality and character, not animal. The forms assumed by the human embryo in its successive changes do not prove that it is animal in its essential character. Throughout this progression there has been transference of type, a conservation of species or kind. Realizing this we may acknowledge the fact that at one time man was an inmate of the sea, at another period an invertebrate, then a vertebrate and finally a human being standing erect. Though we admit these changes, we cannot say man is an animal. In each one of these stages are signs and evidences of his human existence and destination."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 358)

`Abdu'l-Bahá rejected the interpretation that the common ancestry of humans with other animals implies that humans are animals. He does not, however, deny that humans have much in common with the animal world, but denies instead that animal characteristics comprise humankind's entire nature. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that humans are on a different plane because of their spiritual and intellectual powers:

:"Though man has powers and outer senses in common with the animal, yet an extraordinary power exists in him of which the animal is bereft. The sciences, arts, inventions, trades and discoveries of realities are the results of this spiritual power"::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions p. 186)

While `Abdu'l-Bahá states that humans species in its current form came out of evolution, he states that evolution is governed by universal law, and states that composition of elements responsible for the appearance of life and humans is not a random process:

:"This composition and arrangement, through the wisdom of God and His preexistent might, were produced from one natural organization, which was composed and combined with the greatest strength, conformable to wisdom, and according to a universal law. From this it is evident that it is the creation of God, and is not a fortuitous composition and arrangement."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 181)

Much of `Abdu'l-Bahá's statements are in harmony with the conclusions of the evolutionary sciences`Abdu'l-Bahá supports an evolutionary perspective as the perspective for understanding the emergence of humans. `Abdu'l-Bahá describes humans as evolving through stages, including going through the animal stage, developing from a single origin through a slow process. He agrees with much scientific thought that the interdependence of different components in nature plays an important role in evolution.

There are, however, some differences between `Abdu'l-Bahá's statements and current scientific thought. The Bahá’í perspective that religion must be in accordance with science seems to suggest that religion must accept current scientific knowledge as authoritative; but this is not necessarily always the case as the present scientific point of view is not always correct, nor truth only limited to what science can explain.

`Abdu'l-Bahá states that humans, while they share some common characteristics with animals, are in some fundamental ways distinct from them. He also states that humans have always existed, either potentially or in actuality. `Abdu'l-Bahá, comparing the existence of a tree in a seed, states that humankind has always been present since the beginning of the evolutionary process, and links the evolutionary mechanisms to, not only as intrinsic to development of life, but also as the unfolding of God's creation.

`Abdu'l-Bahá's comments seem to differ from the standard evolutionary picture of human development, where Homo sapiens as one species, along with the great apes, evolved from a common ancestor living in Africa millions of years ago. `Abdu'l-Bahá, however, used the word "species" with the implication of "kind" or "category" and not in the modern biological sense; thus Mehanian and Friberg state that `Abdu'l-Bahá's departures from the conventional interpretation of evolution are likely due "to disagreements with the metaphysical, philosophical, and ideological aspects of thoseinterpretations, not with scientific findings."

Thus in Bahá'í view, humans are anatomically connected with the animals as in scientific thought, but their true reality, which is intellectual and spiritual, is distinct and separate. The Bahá'í view is that evolution has left a physical imprint on humankind by constraining humans for the need for food, shelter and other physical necessities, but that the rational mind and spiritual capacity open a vast range of choices which are not available to animals.

See also the following articles by [http://bahai-library.com/?file=brown_abdulbahas_views_evolution Keven Brown] , [http://bahai-library.com/?file=friberg_brown_kitzing_commentary Stephen Friberg] , [http://bahai-library.com/?file=kitzing_bahai_view_evolution Eberhard von Kitzing] , and [http://bahai-library.com/?file=nadimi_evolution_within_kingdoms Bahman Nadimi] .

ee also

*Creationism
*Creation-evolution controversy
*Religion and science
*Bahá'í cosmology
*Islam and science
*Islamic astronomy

Notes

References

*citation
last=`Abdu'l-Bahá
author-link=`Abdu'l-Bahá
year=1912
publication-date=1995
title=Paris Talks
publisher=Bahá'í Distribution Service
place= London
url=http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PT/
id=ISBN 1870989570

*citation
last=Effendi
first=Abbas
year=1912
authorlink=`Abdu'l-Bahá
title=The Promulgation of Universal Peace
publication-date=1987
publisher=US Bahá’í Publishing Trust
url=http://www.reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/PUP/pup-117.html#gr9
isbn=0877431728

*citation
last=Effendi
first=Shoghi
author-link=Shoghi Effendi
title=Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand
year=1946
publication-date=1982
publisher=Bahá’í Publishing Trust
place=Suva, Fiji Islands
url=http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/ARO/aro-75.html#gr2

*citation
last=Effendi
first=Shoghi
author-link= Shoghi Effendi
year= 1938
title= The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh
publication-date=1991
publisher= Bahá'í Publishing Trust
place=Wilmette, Illinois
id= ISBN 0877432317
url= http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/WOB/index.html

*citation
last=Esslemont
first=J.E.
author-link=John Esslemont
year=1980
title= Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era
edition= 5th ed.
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
place=Wilmette, Illinois
id= ISBN 0877431604
url= http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/je/BNE/

*citation
last=Hatcher
first=John S.
title=Close Connections: The Bridge Between Spiritual and Physical Reality
year=2005
place=Wilmette, Illinois
id=ISBN 10:1-931847-15-0

*citation
last = Mehanian
first = Courosh
coauthors = Friberg, Stephen R.
year = 2003
title = Religion and Evolution Reconciled: `Abdu'l-Bahá's Comments on Evolution
periodical = The Journal of Bahá'í studies
volume = 13
issue = 1-4
pages = 55–93
url = http://www.bahai-studies.ca/archives/jbs/13.14%20Mehanian%20&%20Friberg.pdf

External links

* [http://info.bahai.org/article-1-5-3-1.html `Abdu'l-Bahá on Science and Religion]
* [http://bahai-library.com/?file=warwick_science_religion Warwick Leaflet on Science and Religion]


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