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Abstract:
Historical examples (re astronomy, the human soul, and death) showing that when a scientific theory does not correspond with Scripture, it is often later found to be incorrect.
Notes:
Mirrored with permission from whoisbahaullah.com/windflower/philosophy. Original published in Min Makátíb 'Abdu'l-Bahá vol. 3 (1982), pp. 172-173.

See Brown's discussion of this Tablet in Origin of the Bahá'í Principle of the Harmony between Science and Religion.


A Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on the Relation between Science and Religion

by Abdu'l-Bahá

translated by Keven Brown.
2001
He is God!

O dear handmaiden of God! Your letter has arrived and from the rose-garden of inner meanings a fragrant perfume has been inhaled. In Paris it is necessary to manifest absolute purity and detachment in order for souls to become cleansed and purified from the defilement of passion and desire, for in that city people are extremely heedless and are engrossed in satisfying the cravings of self. But if an angelic power is manifested, it will certainly have a pervasive influence, and those souls will become quickened through the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Assuredly, exert the utmost effort so that dead souls may come to life, the blind may see, and the deaf may hear.

You have asked how we can harmonize scientific theories (afkár-i-faylasúfí) with the ideas of religion (afkár-i-diyánatí). Know that this material world is the mirror of the Kingdom, and each of these worlds is in complete correspondence with the other. The correct theories of this world which are the result of sound scientific thinking are in agreement with the divine verses (áthár-i-malakútiyyih) without the slightest divergence between them, for the truth of all things is laid away in the treasuries of the Kingdom. When that truth is manifested in the material world, the archetypes (a´yán) and realities (ḥaqá’iq) of beings attain realization. If a scientific theory does not correspond with [the intent of] the divine verses, it is certain that it is the essence of error.

Consider how after centuries and ages it has now become clear and evident, due to the careful examination and investigation of scientists, that certain explicit divine utterances are correct while certain scientific theories are wrong. For example, when the Qur’án was revealed some of its verses were found to contradict current scientific views, for according to that sacred book the earth and all other celestial bodies are in motion and the sun moves around its own center.[1] The scientists of that time considered these verses to be in conflict with science, for in that age the rules of Ptolemy in astronomy were universally accepted. The clear text of the Qur’án, however, was in opposition to these rules. It was only after centuries and ages that astronomers investigated the matter more carefully and fashioned observational instruments by which they were able to discover the true conditions and motions of the planets. It became obvious, then, that the Qur’án had described the actual facts, while contemporary scientific theories had been entirely erroneous. This is because the rules of Ptolemy in astronomy were based upon the immobility of the earth and the revolution of the sun around it, whereas the Qur’án states that the earth moves and that the sun has an axial motion. If you understood Arabic I would quote those verses, but since you do not know that language, I have explained their import.

As for the many planets and the vast distances between them which [certain] European astronomers of our day explain as worlds wherein the soul dwells, this is a pure supposition and has no basis in fact, for all of the planets are physical worlds. The world in which the soul resides is perpetual and unchanging. It is a spiritual world; it is the world of the Kingdom, which is eternal and everlasting. All the luminous bodies existing in this infinite universe are composed of elements, and since every composition in the end must become decomposed, they are therefore deprived of immortality. The world of the Kingdom, however, is free and sanctified from composition, and is therefore eternal and everlasting.

In regard to the phenomenon of death, know that the soul of man is sanctified and independent from material existence. It has no need to enter or exit, ascend or descend, penetrate or commingle, for these are the properties of bodies, not of souls. Therefore, the soul of man does not enter into this corporeal frame, but rather it has a connection to it. Death consists of the severing of that connection. That connection resembles the relationship between a mirror and the sun. The sun does not enter into or depart from the mirror, and does not incarnate itself therein, but has a connection to the mirror and is reflected within it. When that connection becomes severed, the mirror is deprived of its brilliance, loveliness, and charm. For this reason, the expression “the soul has departed from the body” is metaphorical and not factual. Furthermore, the connection between the soul and the body may be severed gradually or it may be severed all at once.

A letter to … has been written and is enclosed so that you may send it to him. I beseech God that you may become an instrument for shedding the light of holiness upon the city of Paris. The glory of glories rest upon you.

Note

    1. The two Qur’ánic verses referred to are: “And the sun moves in a fixed place of its own” (36:38); and “All swim in a celestial sphere” (36:40). This translation reflects ‘Abdu'l-Bahá’s understanding of these verses and does not necessarily accord with other modern translations.
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