and the New Era:
Chapter Twelve: Religion and Science
Conflict Due to Error
of the fundamental teachings of Baha'u'llah is that true science and true religion
must always be in harmony. Truth is one, and whenever conflict appears it is due,
not to truth, but to error. Between so-called science and so-called religion there
have been fierce conflicts all down the ages, but looking back on these conflicts
in the light of fuller truth we can trace them every time to ignorance, prejudice,
vanity, greed, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, obstinacy or something of the kind
-- something foreign to the true spirit of both science and religion, for the
spirit of both is one. As Huxley tells us, "The great deeds of philosophers have
been less the fruit of their intellect than the direction of that intellect by
an eminently religious tone of mind. Truth has yielded herself rather to their
patience, their love, their single-heartedness and self-denial than to their logical
acumen." Boole, the mathematician, assures us that "geometric induction is essentially
a process of prayer -- an appeal from the finite mind to the Infinite for light
on finite concerns." The great prophets of religion and science have never denounced
each other. It is the unworthy followers of these great world teachers -- worshipers
of the letter but not of the spirit of their teaching -- who have always been
the persecutors of the later prophets and the bitterest opponents of progress.
They have studied the light of the particular revelation
which they hold sacred, and have defined its properties and peculiarities as seen
by their limited vision, with the utmost care and precision. That is for them
the one true light. If God in His infinite bounty sends fuller light from another
quarter, and the torch of inspiration burns brighter than before from a new torchholder,
instead of welcoming the new lights they are angry and alarmed. This new light
does not correspond with their definitions. It has not the orthodox color, and
does not shine from the orthodox place, therefore it must at all costs be extinguished
lest it lead men astray into the paths of heresy! Many enemies of the Prophets
are of this type -- blind leaders of the blind, who oppose new and fuller truth
in the supposed interests of what they believe to be the truth. Others are of
baser sort and are moved by selfish interests to fight against truth, or else
block the path of progress by reason of spiritual deadness and inertia.
great Prophets of religion have always been, at Their coming, despised and rejected
of men. Both They and Their early followers have given their backs to the smiters
and sacrificed their possessions and their lives in the path of God. Even in our
own times this has been so. Since 1844 A.D., many thousands of Babis and Bahá'ís
in Persia have suffered cruel deaths for their faith, and many more have borne
imprisonment, exile, poverty and degradation. The latest of the great religions
has been "baptized in blood" more than its predecessors, and martyrdoms have continued
down to the present day. With the prophets of science the same thing has happened.
Giordano Bruno was burned as a heretic in 1600 A.D. for teaching, amongst other
things, that the earth moved around the sun. A few years later the veteran philosopher
Galileo had to abjure the same doctrine on his knees in order to escape a similar
fate. In later times, Darwin and the pioneers of modern geology were vehemently
denounced for daring to dispute the teaching of Holy Writ that the world was made
in six days,
and less than six thousand years ago! The opposition to new scientific truth has
not all come from the Church, however. The orthodox in science have been just
as hostile to progress as the orthodox in religion. Columbus was laughed to scorn
by the so-called scientists of his day, who proved to their own satisfaction that
if ships did succeed in getting down to the Antipodes over the side of the globe,
it would be absolutely impossible for them to get up again! Galvani, the pioneer
of electrical science, was scoffed at by his learned colleagues, and called the
"frogs' dancing master." Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood,
was ridiculed and persecuted by his professional brethren on account of his heresy
and driven from his lecture chair. When Stephenson invented his locomotive engine,
European mathematicians of the time, instead of opening their eyes and studying
the facts, continued for years to prove to their own satisfaction that an engine
on smooth rails could never pull a load, as the wheels would simply slip round
and round and the train make no progress. To examples like these one might add
indefinitely, both from ancient and modern history, and even from our own times.
Dr. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, had to battle for his wonderful international
language against the same sort of ridicule, contempt, and stupid opposition which
greeted Columbus, Galvani, and Stephenson. Even Esperanto, which was given to
the world so recently as 1887, has had its martyrs.
In the last half century or so, however, a change has come over the spirit of the times, a New Light of Truth has arisen which has already made the controversies of last century seem strangely out of date. Where are now the boastful materialists and dogmatic atheists who, only a few short years ago, were threatening to drive religion out of the world? And where are the preachers who so confidently consigned those who did not accept their dogmas to the fires of hell and the tortures of the damned? Echoes of their clamor we may still hear, but their day is fast declining and their doctrines are being discredited.
We can see now that the doctrines around which their controversies waxed most bitter were neither true science nor true religion. What scientist in the light of modern psychical research could still maintain that "brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile"? Or that decay of the body is necessarily accompanied by decay of the soul? We now see that thought to be really free must soar to the realms of psychical and spiritual phenomena and not be confined to the material only. We realize that what we now know about nature is but as a drop in the ocean compared with what remains to be discovered. We therefore freely admit the possibility of miracles, not indeed in the sense of the breaking of nature's laws, but as manifestations of the operation of subtle forces which are still unknown to us, as electricity and X rays were to our ancestors. On the other hand, who amongst our leading religious teachers would still declare it is necessary to salvation to believe that the world was made in six days, or that the description of the plagues in Egypt as given in the Book of Exodus is literally true, or that the sun stood still in the heavens (that is, that the earth stopped its rotation) to let Joshua pursue his enemies, or that if a man accept not the creed of St. Athanasius, "without doubt he shall perish everlastingly"? Such beliefs may still be repeated in form, but who accepts them in their literal sense and without reservation? Their hold on people's hearts and minds has gone or is fast going. The religious world owes a debt of gratitude to the men of science who helped to tear such worn-out creeds and dogmas to tatters and allowed the truth to step forth free. But the scientific world owes an even heavier debt to the real saints and mystics who, through good report and ill, held to the vital truths of spiritual existence and demonstrated to an incredulous world that the life is more than meat and the unseen greater than the seen. these scientists and saints were like the mountain peaks which caught the first rays of the rising sun and reflected them to the lower world, but now the sun has risen and its rays are illuminating the world. In the teachings of Baha'u'llah we have a glorious revelation of truth which satisfies both heart and mind, in which religion and science are at one.
Complete harmony with science is evident in the Bahá'í teachings regarding the way in which we must seek the truth. Man must cut himself free from all prejudice so that he may search after truth unhindered.
Abdu'l-Baha says: --
In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is essential if we would reach Truth, for Truth is one. ...
The Bahá'í teaching is at one with science and philosophy in declaring the essential nature of God to be entirely beyond human comprehension. As emphatically as Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer teach that the nature of the Great First Cause is unknowable, does Baha'u'llah teach that "God comprehends all; He cannot be comprehended." To knowledge of the Divine essence "the way is barred and road is impassable," for how can the finite comprehend the Infinite; how can a drop contain the ocean or a mote dancing in the sunbeam embrace the universe? Yet the whole universe is eloquent of God. In each drop of water are hidden oceans of meaning, and in each mote is concealed a whole universe of significances, reaching far beyond the ken of the most learned scientist. The chemist and physicist pursuing their researches into the nature of matter have passed from masses to molecules, from molecules to atoms, from atoms to electrons and ether, but at every step the difficulties of the research increase till the most profound intellect can penetrate no farther, and can but bow in silent awe before the unknown Infinite which remains ever shrouded in inscrutable mystery.
the flower in the crannied wall, if even a single atom of matter, present mysteries
which the most profound intellect cannot solve, how is it possible for man to
comprehend the universe? How dare he pretend to define or describe the Infinite
cause of all things? All theological speculations about the nature of God's essence
are thus swept aside as foolish and futile.
if the essence is unknowable, the manifestations of its bounty are everywhere
apparent. If the first cause cannot be conceived, its effects appeal to our every
faculty. Just as knowledge of a painter's pictures gives to the connoisseur a
true knowledge of the artist, so knowledge of the universe in any of its aspects
-- knowledge of nature or of human nature, of things visible or of things invisible
-- is knowledge of God's handiwork, and gives to the seeker for Divine truth a
real knowledge of His Glory. "The Heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament
sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth
knowledge. -- Ps. xix, 1-2.
things manifest the bounty of God with greater or less clearness, as all material
objects exposed to the sun reflect its light in greater or less degree. A heap
of soot reflects a little, a stone reflects more, a piece of chalk more still,
but in none of these reflections can we trace the form and color of the glorious
orb. A perfect mirror, however, reflects the sun's very form and color, so that
looking into it is like looking at the sun itself. So it is with the way in which
things speak to us of God. The stone can tell us something of the Divine attributes,
the flower can tell us more, the animal with its marvelous senses, instincts and
power of movement, more still. In the lowest of our fellowmen we can trace wonderful
faculties which tell of a wonderful Creator. In the poet, the saint, the genius,
we find a higher revelation still, but the great Prophets and Founders of religions
are the perfect mirrors by which the love and wisdom of God are reflected to the
rest of mankind. Other men's mirrors are dulled by the stains and the dust of
selfishness and prejudice, but these are pure and without blemish -- wholly devoted
to the Will of God. Thus They become the greatest educators of mankind. The Divine
teachings and the Power of the Holy Spirit proceeding through Them have been and
are the cause of the progress of humanity, for God helps men through other men.
Each man who is higher in the ascent of life is the means of helping those who
are lower, and those who are the highest of all are the helpers of all mankind.
It is as if all men were connected together by elastic cords. If a man rises a
little above the general level of his fellows, the cords tighten. His former companions
tend to draw him back, but with an equal force he draws them upwards. The higher
he gets, the more he feels the weight of the whole world pulling him back, and
the more dependent he is on the divine support, which reaches him through the
few who are still above him. Highest of all are the great Prophets and Saviors,
the Divine "Manifestations" -- those perfect men Who were each, in Their day,
without peer or companion, and bore the burden of the whole world, supported by
God alone. "The burden of our sins was upon Him: was true of each of Them. Each
was the "Way, the Truth and the Life" to His followers. Each was the channel of
God's bounty to every heart that would receive it. Each had His part to play in
the great divine plan for the upliftment of humanity. Baha'u'llah
teaches that the universe is without beginning in time. It is a perpetual emanation
from the Great First Cause. The Creator always had His creation and always will
have. Worlds and systems may come and go, but the universe remains. All things
that undergo composition, in time undergo decomposition, but the component elements
remain. The creation of a world, a daisy or a human body is not "making something
out of nothing"; it is rather a bringing together of elements which before were
scattered, a making visible of something which before was hidden. By and by the
elements will again be scattered, the form will disappear, but nothing is really
lost or annihilated; ever new combinations and forms arise from the ruins of the
old. Baha'u'llah confirms the scientists who claim, not six thousand, but millions
and billions of years for the history of the earth's creation. The evolution theory
does not deny creative power. It only tries to describe the method of its manifestation;
and the wonderful story of the material universe which the astronomer, the geologist,
the physicist and the biologist are gradually unfolding to our gaze is, rightly
appreciated, far more capable of evoking the deepest reverence and worship than
the crude and bald account of creation given in the Hebrew Scriptures. The old
account in the Book of Genesis had, however, the advantage of indicating by a
few bold strokes of symbolism the essential spiritual meanings of the story, as
a master painter may, by a few strokes of the brush, convey expressions which
the mere plodder with the most laborious attention to details may utterly fail
to portray. If the material details blind us to the spiritual meaning, then we
should be better without them; but if we have once firmly grasped the essential
meaning of the whole scheme, then knowledge of the details will give our conception
a wonderful added richness and splendor and make it a magnificent picture instead
of a mere sketch plan. Abdu'l-Baha says: --
Baha'u'llah teaches that the universe is without beginning in time. It is a perpetual emanation from the Great First Cause. The Creator always had His creation and always will have. Worlds and systems may come and go, but the universe remains. All things that undergo composition, in time undergo decomposition, but the component elements remain. The creation of a world, a daisy or a human body is not "making something out of nothing"; it is rather a bringing together of elements which before were scattered, a making visible of something which before was hidden. By and by the elements will again be scattered, the form will disappear, but nothing is really lost or annihilated; ever new combinations and forms arise from the ruins of the old. Baha'u'llah confirms the scientists who claim, not six thousand, but millions and billions of years for the history of the earth's creation. The evolution theory does not deny creative power. It only tries to describe the method of its manifestation; and the wonderful story of the material universe which the astronomer, the geologist, the physicist and the biologist are gradually unfolding to our gaze is, rightly appreciated, far more capable of evoking the deepest reverence and worship than the crude and bald account of creation given in the Hebrew Scriptures. The old account in the Book of Genesis had, however, the advantage of indicating by a few bold strokes of symbolism the essential spiritual meanings of the story, as a master painter may, by a few strokes of the brush, convey expressions which the mere plodder with the most laborious attention to details may utterly fail to portray. If the material details blind us to the spiritual meaning, then we should be better without them; but if we have once firmly grasped the essential meaning of the whole scheme, then knowledge of the details will give our conception a wonderful added richness and splendor and make it a magnificent picture instead of a mere sketch plan.
Abdu'l-Baha says: --
Baha'u'llah also confirms the biologist who finds for the body of man a history reaching back in the development of the species through millions of years. Starting from a very simple, apparently insignificant form, the human body is pictured as developing stage by stage, in the course of untold generations, becoming more and more complex, and better and better organized until the man of the present day is reached. Each individual human body develops through such a series of stages, from a tiny round speck of jelly-like matter to the fully developed man. If this is true of the individual, as nobody denies, why should we consider it derogatory to human dignity to admit a similar development for the species? This is a very different thing from claiming that man is descended from a monkey. The human embryo may at one time resemble a fish with gill-slits and tail, but it is not a fish. It is a human embryo. So the human species1
may at various stages of its long development have resembled to the outward eye various species of lower animals, but it was still the human species, possessing the mysterious latent power of developing into man as we know him today, nay more, of developing in the future, we trust, into something far higher still.
Abdu'l-Baha says: --
... it is clear that this terrestrial globe in its present form did not come into existence all at once; but ... gradually passed through different phases until it became adorned with its present perfection. ...
Of the story of Adam and Eve He says: --
If we take this story in its apparent meaning, according to the interpretation of the masses, it is indeed extraordinary. The intelligence cannot accept it, affirm it, or imagine it; for such arrangements, such details, such speeches and reproaches are far from being those of an intelligent man, how much less of the Divinity -- that Divinity who has organised this infinite universe in the most perfect form, and its innumerable inhabitants with absolute system, strength, and perfection. ...
Body and Soul
The Bahá'í teachings with regard to body and soul, and the life after death, are quite in harmony with the results of psychical research. They teach, as we have seen, that death is but a new birth -- the escape from the prison of the body into a larger life, and that progress in the afterlife is limitless.
A large body of scientific evidence has gradually been accumulating which in the opinion of impartial but highly critical investigators is amply sufficient to establish beyond all question the fact of a life after death -- of the continued life and activity of the conscious "soul" after the dissolution of the material body. As F. W. H. Myers says in his Human Personality, a work which summarizes many of the investigations of the Psychical Research Society: --
Observation, experiment, inference, have led many inquirers, of whom I am one, to a belief in direct or telepathic intercommunication, not between the minds of men still on earth only, but between minds or spirits still on earth and spirits departed. Such a discovery opens the doors also to revelation. ...
measure of agreement between this view, which is founded on careful scientific
research, and that of the Bahá'í teachings, is truly remarkable.
are all fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, the flowers of one garden."
That is one of the most characteristic sayings of Baha'u'llah, and another is
like it: "Glory is not his who loves his own country, but glory is his who loves
his kind." Unity -- unity of mankind, and of all created beings in God -- is the
main theme of His teaching. Here again the harmony between true religion and science
is evident. With every advance in science the oneness of the universe and the
interdependence of its parts has become more clearly evident. The astronomer's
domain is inseparably bound up with physicist's, and the physicist's with the
chemist's, the chemist's with the biologist's, the biologist's with the psychologist's,
and so on. Every new discovery in one field of research throws new light on other
fields. Just as physical science has shown that every particle of matter in the
universe attracts and influences every other particle, no matter how minute or
how distant, so psychical science is finding that every soul in the universe affects
and influences every other soul. Prince Kropotkin, in his book on Mutual Aid,
shows most clearly that even among the lower animals, mutual aid is absolutely
necessary to continued life, while in the case of man, the progress of civilization
depends on the increasing substitution of mutual aid for mutual enmity. "Each
for all and all for each" is the only principle on which a community can prosper.
All the signs of the times indicate that we are at the dawn of a new era in the history of mankind. Hitherto the young eagle of humanity has clung to the old aerie in the solid rock of selfishness and materialism. Its attempts to use its wings have been timid and tentative. It has had restless longings for something still unattained. More and more it has been chafing in the confinement of the old dogmas and orthodoxies. But now the era of confinement is at an end, and it can launch on the wings of faith and reason into the higher realms of spiritual love and truth. It will no longer be earthbound as it was before its wings had grown, but will soar at will to the regions of wide outlook and glorious freedom. One thing is necessary, however, if its flight is to be sure and steady. Its wings must not only be strong, but they must act in perfect harmony and coordination. As Abdu'l-Baha says: -- "It cannot fly with one wing alone. If it tries to fly with the wing of religion alone it will land in the slough of superstition, and if it tries to fly with the wing of science alone it will end in the dreary bog of materialism."
harmony between religion and science is the sine qua non of the higher life for
humanity. When that is achieved, and every child is trained not only in the study
of the sciences, and arts, but equally in love to all mankind and in radiant acquiescence
to the Will of God as revealed in the progress of evolution and the teachings
of the Prophets, then and not till then, shall the Kingdom of God come and His
Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven; then and not till then shall the Most
Great Peace shed its blessings on the world.
Go on to Prophecies Fulfilled by the Bahá'í Movement, Chapter Thirteen, or to the table of contents.