Bahá'í Faith and science

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A fundamental principle of the Bahá'í Faith is the stated harmony of religion and science. Whilst Bahá'í scripture asserts that true science and true religion can never be in conflict, critics argue that statements by the founders clearly contradict current scientific understanding.[1][2] `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, stated that "when a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition".[3] He also said that true religion must conform to the conclusions of science.[4][5]

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.[6] 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.[7] This is because, in the Bahá'í understanding the present scientific view is not always correct, neither is truth said to be only limited to what science can explain.[5] 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.[8]

Harmony between science and religion[edit]

`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 head of the Bahá'í Faith in the first half of the 20th century, described science and religion as "the two most potent forces in human life".[9]

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.[4] 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:

Attitude toward science[edit]

`Abdu'l-Bahá is quoted as saying this:

Scientific claims by the founders[edit]

Creation[edit]

Bahá’u’lláh taught that the universe has "neither beginning nor ending",[12] and that the component elements of the material world have always existed and will continue to exist.[13] In the Tablet of Wisdom ("Lawh-i-Hikmat", written 1873-1874). Bahá'u'lláh states: “That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today. The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different.” The terminology used here refers to ancient Greek and Islamic philosophy.[14] Jean-Marc Lepain, Robin Mihrshahi, Dale E. Lehman and Julio Savi suggest a possible relation of this statement with the Big Bang theory.[15][16][17][18]

Bahá'ís believe that the story of creation in Genesis is a rudimentary account that conveys the broad essential spiritual truths of existence without a level of detail and accuracy that was unnecessary and incomprehensible at the time.[13] Likewise, `Abdu'l-Bahá said that literal story of Adam and Eve cannot be accepted, affirmed, or imagined, and that it "must be thought of simply as a symbol".[19] And rather than accepting the idea of a Young Earth, Bahá'í theology accepts that the Earth is ancient.[20]

Evolution[edit]

Charles Darwin, the famous 19th-century English naturalist who proposed a naturalistic mechanism for evolution.

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 beginning of the 20th century. Transcripts of these talks can be found in Some Answered Questions, Paris Talks and the Promulgation of Universal Peace. `Abdu'l-Bahá describes the human species as evolving from a primitive form to modern man, but that the capacity to form human intelligence was always in existence.[citation needed]

`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.

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, and that in every stage of evolution through which humans progressed, they were potentially humans.

Mehanian and Friberg wrote a 2003 article describing their belief that `Abdu'l-Bahá's statements can be entirely reconciled with modern science. 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 those interpretations, not with scientific findings."[5] And to this end `Abdu'l-Bahá suggested that a missing link between human and apes would not be found.[22] The idea of a missing link per se was abandoned by science in favor of the idea of evolutionary transitions.[23][24]

There are 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, according to Mehanian and Friberg, this is not necessarily always the case as in their view the present scientific point of view is not always correct, nor truth only limited to what science can explain.[5]

Oskooi chose the subject of evolution and Bahá'í belief for his 2009 thesis, and in doing so reviewed other Bahá'í authors' works on the subject. He concluded that, "The problem of disharmony between scripture and science is rooted in an unwarranted misattribution of scriptural inerrancy."[25] In other words, he believes that `Abdu'l-Bahá made statements about biology that were later proved wrong, and that `Abdu'l-Bahá's infallibility should not be applied to scientific matters.

Several authors have written on the subject of evolution and Bahá'í belief.

Existence of ether[edit]

The luminiferous aether: it was hypothesised that the Earth moves through a "medium" of aether that carries light

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.

`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.[26] `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.[26] 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.[26]

Robin Mishrahi in his published paper on the issue titled "Ether, Quantum Physics and the Bahá'í Writings" wrote,

Nuclear power[edit]

Bahá'u'lláh wrote:

Bahá'ís later pointed to this as a statement about the discovery of nuclear energy and the use of nuclear weapons.[28]

Transmutation of elements[edit]

In 1873 Bahá'u'lláh wrote:

Life on other planets[edit]

Kepler Space Telescope - a NASA telescope that is capable of detecting extrasolar terrestrial planets.

Bahá'u'lláh stated:

The idea that every planet has "its own creatures" is controversial. While no direct evidence has been found of extraterrestrial life, theories range from the Rare Earth hypothesis, that the earth may be unique in hosting life, to the more common idea that it would be improbable for life not to exist somewhere other than Earth.[31][32]

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,

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Various (1975-12-26) [1912]. Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Bahá’í World Centre (published December 1995). Retrieved 2007-12-01. 
  2. ^ Basiti; Moradi; Akhoondali (2014). Twelve Principles: A Comprehensive Investigation on the Baha'i Teachings (1st ed.). Tehran: Bahar Afshan Publications. p. 160. 
  3. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá 1912, pp. 141–146
  4. ^ a b Effendi 1912
  5. ^ a b c d Mehanian & Friberg 2003
  6. ^ "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 Universal House of Justice (1997-08-13). "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". Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  7. ^ Effendi 1946
  8. ^ Universal House of Justice (1997-08-13). "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". Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  9. ^ Effendi 1938
  10. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá 1912, p. 143
  11. ^ Effendi 1912, p. 21
  12. ^ Effendi 1912, p. 220
  13. ^ a b Esslemont 1980, pp. 204–205
  14. ^ Taherzadeh, A. (1987). The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, Volume 4: Mazra'ih & Bahji 1877-92. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. p. 42. ISBN 0-85398-270-8. 
  15. ^ Lepain, Jean-Marc (2015) [2002]. The Archeology of the Kingdom of God.
  16. ^ a b Mihrshahi, Robin (2002). "Ether, Quantum Physics and the Bahá'í Writings". Australian Bahá'í Studies Journal. 4: 3–20. 
  17. ^ Lehman, Dale E. (2005). Cosmology and the Bahá'í Writings.
  18. ^ Julio, Savi (1989). The Eternal Quest for God: An Introduction to the Divine Philosophy of `Abdu'l-Bahá (PDF). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. p. 134. ISBN 0-85398-295-3. 
  19. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá 1912, p. 140
  20. ^ Brown, Keven; Von Kitzing, Eberhard, eds. (2001). Evolution and Bahá'í belief: ʻAbduʾl-Bahá's response to nineteenth-century Darwinism; Volume 12 of Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í religions. Kalimat Press. pp. 6, 17, 117, etc. ISBN 978-1-890688-08-0. 
  21. ^ Effendi 1912, p. 358
  22. ^ Matthews, Gary L. (2005). The Challenge of Baha'u'llah. US Baha'i Publishing Trust. pp. 90–5. ISBN 978-1-931847-16-2. 
  23. ^ Prothero, D (2008-02-27). "Evolution: What missing link?" (2645). New Scientist: 35–40. 
  24. ^ "When Science and Religion Merge". Bahai-library.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  25. ^ a b c Letter to an individual by the Universal House of Justice
  26. ^ Bahá'u'lláh 1994, p. 69
  27. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "nuclear power". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 260–261. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  28. ^ Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writing of, Section XCVII
  29. ^ Bahá'u'lláh 1990, pp. 162–163
  30. ^ Steiger, Brad; White, John, eds. (1986). Other Worlds, Other Universes. Health Research Books. p. 3. ISBN 0-7873-1291-6. 
  31. ^ Filkin, David; Hawking, Stephen W. (1998). Stephen Hawking's universe: the cosmos explained. Art of Mentoring Series. Basic Books. p. 194. ISBN 0-465-08198-3. 
  32. ^ Hornby 1994, p. 478
  33. ^ Universal House of Justice (1996-08-06). "Sabeans, UFOs, Alien Abduction and Genetic Engineering". Retrieved 2006-05-20. 

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