The Eternal Quest for God: Chapter 3
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Throughout the Universe in Search of God

It was Galileo Galilei (1564-1643) -- the founder of the modern scientific method -- who said that, since both nature and the Holy Writings arise from the same divine truth and reason, no conflict can exist between what the former shows and the latter states. Nevertheless, in Galileo's opinion, students of nature and of the Holy Writings aim at two quite different goals: the former investigate natural reality, the latter the purposes of men. Therefore he advocated a complete mutual autonomy between scientific and religious truth, and at the same time he maintained that though science and religion pursue two different goals, it is possible for their results not to disagree.

Galileo lived in times when religious dogmatism was grievously interfering with the progress of science. The vicissitudes of his life and the humiliation he was exposed to, when he was forced by the religious authorities to recant his theories on `the two greatest world systems'[1] in the name of dogmatic truth, are well known. Therefore his assertion is amply justified by the conditions prevailing in his time.

During the last three centuries, science has become emancipated from the fetters of a primitive knowledge founded on theological and philosophical assumptions set forth by human minds, minds which were often very acute, but -- being human -- were also limited and therefore liable to error. And yet it cannot be said that such separation between religion and scientific truth has produced good results only, for the cause of peace and unity of mankind. Even science has made mistakes: many of its theories, though elaborated through the scientific method, were proved later to be false in the light of subsequent discoveries and more accurate observations. And grievous consequences have come from an implicit faith in science which, on the one hand, has resulted in a prevailing and deprecated crisis of spiritual values and, on the other, created a technology, bearer of abundant gifts, but also of such destruction, death and injustice as have brought mankind to the verge of the apocalypse. Obviously it is unfair to criticize the fundamentals of modern science on these grounds; but the urgency is felt to reconcile that ancient separation, so that modern culture may deepen its roots in a knowledge capable both of describing nature and of comprehending spiritual values.

It is in this perspective that the Bahá'í teachings urge Bahá'í scholars to give due consideration, while they pursue their studies, to Revelation.[2] In conformity with the Bahá'í principle of harmony between science and religion, scholars are invited to stay away from the two extremes: the one of creating man-made dogmas about the Words of the Revelation, while ignoring the results of science (superstition), and the other of working out self-styled scientific theories on the basis of intellectual and empirical observations, while ignoring the Revealed Truth (materialism).[3] Therefore, if a conflict is found in the results of any scientific research it might be useful not only to try to understand better the revealed Words, but also to make a deeper analysis of the results of that empirical and intellectual re-search.

In the Bahá'í view, whoever thinks he should investigate reality from the standpoint only of the natural sciences, which rationally examine physical reality and all its measurable phenomena, is behaving like those blind men who in the famous apologue[4] meet an elephant and have the nerve to believe they can describe it without seeing it. Studying the Holy Scriptures, which explain the origin and the purpose of reality, can be viewed as a healing balm having the power of curing blindness; in fact in the Holy Scriptures can be traced an organic vision of created things, in whose context any scientific discovery achieved through experimental means is not denied, but integrated. Another example may be suggested to describe that modern scholar or scientist who follows the path of intellectual search, and rejects the guidance of Revelation: a man persuaded that he can examine the contents of a completely dark room (reality) by means of a single ray of light. Such a man will be able to see in that room only single details, and can therefore hardly have an organic vision of that room or an understanding of the meaning of each detail, though he may have carefully studied them one by one. But if he illuminates the room by means of a lamp -- and this is the purpose of Revealed Truth -- he will undoubtedly be more successful in availing himself of his cognitive instruments and will more easily understand the meaning of those details. Finally, paraphrasing the famous myth of the cave proposed by `the divine Plato',[5] Revelation bestows upon man such knowledge as enables him to come out of the cave where he was confined, and to behold reality itself, not its shadow.

This is a very good starting point for Bahá'í scholars or would-be philosophers: on the one hand, they observe nature through modern and reliable scientific writings (in fact, in `Abdu'l-Bahá's words, science is both `...the one agency by which man explores the institutions of material creation' and `...the means by which man finds a pathway to God'; on the other, they peruse the Holy Writings (where `the science of reality' is enshrined);[6] on the one hand, they analyze the details of physical reality, on the other, they look into the Writings for an Ariadne's thread which might enable them to escape from the labyrinth of details; on the one hand they care-fully study each detail of reality, on the other, they try to make a philosophical synthesis, so that they may not lose sight of the forest while struggling to study a single tree.


God is the Creator: if we want to find His traces in the universe, the first issue we should try to clarify is the creational relation between Him and the universe.

A full understanding of the great mystery of creation is undoubtedly beyond the reach of any creature: it is a question which will for ever disappoint all human effort. And yet the Bahá'í texts set forth many explanations on this issue: we will try to summarize some of them. Undoubtedly others will peruse these texts with greater skill, the more so in the future when those numerous texts will become available which cannot be studied today by most Western readers because they are as yet unpublished in Western languages or even in the original text.

The world of God

God in His Essence is unknowable, inaccessible to man: we can only say that He exists, but we cannot know anything else about Him, not even what `to exist' means for Him.

And yet, we are used to ascribe to Him names and attributes: Creator, All-Knowing, Provider, or Word, Will, Love, and so on. The meaning of this ascription of names and attributes is explained in the Bahá'í texts in two ways:

  1. The names and attributes we ascribe to God refer to what we understand of them in the world of creation. `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `Their [the attribute's] existence is proved and necessitated by the appearance of phenomena':[7] we see that the universe follows a harmonious and ordered way, and we say that God is its Ordainer; we see creatures, and we say that God is their Creator. But our understanding of these attributes is only what we have under-stood, in the plane of the world of creation, of these spiritual truths, which are far beyond our minds. This is what Western philosophers call via eminentiae.

  2. The names and attributes we ascribe to God `are only in order to deny imperfections, rather than to assert the perfections that the human mind can conceive'.[8] For example, we say that He is the Almighty, meaning that He is not powerless, as His creatures are. This is what Western philosophy calls via negationis or remotionis.

From both these explanations, we understand that man comprehends the attributes of God in his own degree of existence -- the world of creation -- and not in God's degree of existence -- the world of God. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `...the highest praise which human tongue or pen can render are all the product of man's finite mind and are conditioned by its limitations'9 and `Abdu'l-Bahá declares: `However far mind may progress, though it may reach to the final degree of comprehension, the limit of under-standing, it beholds the divine signs and attributes in the world of creation and not in the world of God.'[10]

The attributes we ascribe to God fall in the Bahá'í texts (as well as in the Islamic tradition) into two categories: essential and active attributes.[11] But, whereas in the Islamic tradition, the two categories of attributes are clearly distinguished from each other, i.e. a Divine attribute is either essential or active, in the Bahá'í texts the same attribute can be viewed as essential (i.e. in its own reality) or as active (i.e. as ex-pressed in action), depending on the plane in which it is seen.[12]

The Bahá'í texts state moreover that we understand but a faint reflection of God's active attributes in the world, and that we cannot understand anything at all of His essential at-tributes. In fact, `Abdu'l-Bahá says that `the essential names and attributes of God are identical with His Essence...' and sets forth a concise, rational explanation of His statement:

  1. God is absolutely preexistent, i.e. He `is not preceded by a Cause', and therefore His is `essential pre-existence'; moreover He `is without beginning', and therefore He has also `preexistence of time'..13

  2. `If the attributes are not identical with the Essence, there must also be a multiplicity of preexistences';[13]

  3. ` Preexistence is necessary (essential), therefore the sequence of preexistence would become infinite. This is an evident error.'

Inasmuch as Divine Essence and divine essential names and attributes are one and the same thing, it follows that:

  1. God's essential names and attributes are incomprehensible as well as His Essence.[14]

  2. `As the divine entity is eternal, the divine attributes are coexistent, coeternal'[15] and `co-equal'[16] with and to Him.

  3. `...His attributes are infinite.'

  4. `...the names of God are actually and forever existent and not potential',[17] otherwise God would be imperfect.

It is therefore possible to conceive a station where only God, Who is essentially preexistent and preexistent of time, exists, with His incomprehensible, `coexistent, coeternal', `co-equal', `infinite', `actually... existing' essential Names and Attributes.

Bahá'u'lláh alludes thus to such station: `He was a hidden treasure... This is a station that can never be described, not even alluded to'.[18]

The world of the Kingdom

If God is inaccessible in His Essence, if He transcends His creatures and is sanctified from any other reality, what is the relation binding His creatures to Him?

`Abdu'l-Bahá says: `The dependence of the creatures upon God is a dependence of emanation -- that is to say, creatures emanate from God; they do not manifest Him.'[19]

Creation as emanation -- as the Bahá'í texts explain it -- implies the following fundamental points:

  1. God is absolutely transcendental and preexistent;
  2. creatures do not manifest God's Essence, from which they emanate; but they mirror forth its active attributes;
  3. creatures have their existence in different degrees.

God's transcendence and pre-existence.

This concept was previously discussed:

  1. God is unknowable in His Essence and in His essential attributes;
  2. God has absolute preexistence:

    1. He is not preceded by a cause (essential preexistence)
    2. He is not preceded in time by other realities (preexistence of time)

  3. the attributes we ascribe to Him are intended to deny His imperfection (via negationis or remotionis).

God and His creatures.

`Abdu'l-Bahá explains: `...creatures emanate from God; they do not manifest Him.' He says moreover that if creatures would appear `through manifestation',19 then it would follow that the Essence of Divinity had descended in them, transforming Itself into them; but this is impossible, otherwise God -- taking on phenomenal attributes -- would reduce Himself to imperfection. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains the meaning of such a concept of manifestation, through the metaphor of a seed and a tree.[20] The tree manifests the seed because the essence of the seed has gone into branches, leaves, roots and flowers forming the tree. This concept cannot apply to creation. He explains the meaning of the concept of emanation through other metaphors: the sun and its rays, an actor and his action, a writer and his writings, a speaker and his speech. Under those circumstances, the essence of the creator does not go into the created objects, but his active attributes appear in them. The relation between God and His creatures is similar: this relation is not through the Essence of the Creator, nor through His essential attributes, but through His active attributes. These active attributes, while expressing themselves, emanate or radiate from the Creator and appear in His creatures as symbols of His perfections. The whole creation can be therefore viewed as `evidences that proclaim the excellence and perfection of their author'..[21]

Different degrees in the world of existence.

The process of creation as emanation implies the existence of many different realities which, though all emanating from God -- `Supreme Centre'[22] -- differ from each other because of their different degrees. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `Furthermore, consider the signs of the revelation of God in their relation to one another. Can the sun, which is but one of these signs, be regarded as equal in rank to darkness... Consider your own selves. Your nails and eyes are both parts of your bodies. Do ye regard them of equal rank and value?... every created thing should be viewed in the light of the station it hath been ordained to occupy.' He writes moreover that God `...hath entrusted every created thing with a sign of His knowledge, so that none of His creatures may be deprived of its share in expressing, each according its capacity and rank, this knowledge. This sign is a mirror of His beauty in the world of creation.'[23]

There are still long studies to be done in order to better understand this concept, the more so as many Bahá'í texts -- as has already been mentioned -- are as yet unpublished, both in translation into Western languages and in their original version. Nevertheless, a concept appears even now very clear: three fundamental levels may be perceived in the world of being: (1) the world of creation; (2) an intermediary world which has been called the world of the Kingdom (or First Mind, First Will or Primal Will, Word of God, Logos, Identity or Self or Soul of God);[24] 3) the world of God. These three levels seem to be the same as the three conditions of existence mentioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá: `...servitude... prophethood... and... Deity'.[25] While the world of God is a world of Absolute Unity, wholly unknowable for man, many degrees of reality can be discerned both in the world of the Kingdom and in the world of creation.

The world of the Kingdom.

`The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom', says `Abdu'l-Bahá; and elsewhere He explains in Plotinian terms:[26] `The first thing which emanated from God is that universal reality, which the ancient philosophers termed the "First Mind", and which the people of Bah call the "First Will"... '.[27] The station of this first emanation, where the whole process of existence has its beginning, is alluded to by Bahá'u'lláh in one of His famous aphorisms: `Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee... ':[28] God, unattainable in His unfathomable Essence, is conscious (He is, indeed, the All-Knowing) of Himself and of His own essential names and attributes, one of which is Love. This Love, on the one hand, implies -- just as any other of God's attributes and names which are `actually... existing and not potential'[29] -- the existence of a recipient upon which it may be bestowed; on the other -- being perfect -- it implies also that God is willing to bestow it. Bahá'u'lláh alludes to such spiritual reality with His words `"I did wish to make Myself known"'..[30]

In these words Bahá'u'lláh is, apparently, alluding to a station of existence, more than describing a reality in time and space. Next to the station of Absolute Divine Unity, a station is described in which the essential attributes of God express them-selves as active attributes: Love, as the act of loving; Knowledge, as the act of knowing; Will, as the act of willing. In this station the primal unity splits into a couple, a subject and an object, which in reality are identical: it is God Who knows and loves Himself. In fact, His essential attributes are identical with His Essence and His active attributes are but His essential attributes in their active expression.

Whereas the ancient philosophers called this station `First Mind', thus emphasizing the attribute of Knowledge, the Bahá'í texts prefer the term `Primal Will or First Will':[31] God is Love (essential attribute), He loves Himself (active attribute), therefore He wants to bestow His Love (First Will). In this regard, Bahá'u'lláh writes: `The Cause of creation of all contingent beings has been love, as it is mentioned in the famous tradition: "I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be known. Therefore I created the creation in order to be known"',[32] and `Abdu'l-Bahá says that every love existing in the whole universe comes from `the love of God towards the Self or Identity of God', a love He describes as `the reality of Love, the Ancient Love, the Eternal Love'..[33] Elsewhere He says that love is `the source of all the bestowals of God', `the cause of the creation of the phenomenal world', `the axis round which life revolves', `the eternal sovereignty... the divine power', `the first effulgence of divinity and the greatest splendour of God', `the greatest bestowal of God' and `the conscious bestowal of God',[34] `...the transfiguration of His beauty, the reflection of Himself in the mirror of His creation'..[35]

Pre-existence of the world of the Kingdom.

Explaining the station of the world of the Kingdom, `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `This emanation, in that which concerns its action in the world of God, is not limited by time or place; it is without beginning or end -- beginning and end in relation to God are one.' Then He adds: `Though the "First Mind" is without beginning, it does not become a sharer in the preexistence of God, for the preexistence of the universal reality in relation to the existence of God is nothing-ness, and it has not the power to become an associate of God and like unto Him in preexistence... '..[36]

He describes the world of the Kingdom as an intermediate spiritual reality, which, on the one hand, cannot be identified with God, Who is unfathomable in His Essence, and, on the other, is eternal and infinite, because it emanates directly from Him. This reality is not essential preexistence, because it is preceded by a Cause that is God Himself; but it is temporal preexistence, because it has no beginning. For even as the essential attributes of God are `coexistent, coeternal' with God, so also the world of the Kingdom -- which is the expression of these essential attributes as active attributes -- is coeternal with God. In fact the divine attributes are `actually and forever existent and not potential',[37] or else God would be imperfect. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `His name, the Creator, presupposes a creation'; and moreover: `The one true God hath everlastingly existed, and will everlastingly continue to exist. His creation, likewise, has no beginning, and will have no end.'38 And `Abdu'l-Bahá explains: `...just as the reality of Divinity never had a beginning -- that is, God hath ever been a Creator... -- so there hath never been a time when the attributes of God have not had an expression'..[39] Therefore God is both preexistent and uncreated, whereas the world of the Kingdom is preexistent, but created.

The world of the Kingdom and spirit.

The world of the Kingdom is often likened by `Abdu'l-Bahá to the sun:[40] `The outer sun is a sign or symbol of the inner and ideal Sun of Truth, the Word of God'; and moreover: `In our solar system the centre of illumination is the sun itself. Through the Will of God, this central luminary is the one source of the existence and development of all phenomenal things... But if we reflect deeply, we will perceive that the great bestower and giver of life is God; the sun is the intermediary of His will and plan... Likewise, in the spiritual realm of intelligence and idealism there must be a center of illumination, and that center is the ever-lasting, ever-shining Sun, the Word of God.'[41] As the sun radiates light and heat bestowing life upon the phenomenal world, so spiritual reality pours out its divine bounties (spirit), bringing into existence all created things.

This metaphor, frequently used in the Bahá'í texts, enables us to understand other concepts about the world of the Kingdom: the process of creation as emanation is a continuous, gradual and descending process. From the `Supreme Centre',[42] -- the Essence of Divinity, Absolute Preexistence, uncreated, unattainable in its essential attributes (and this is not -- it should be noted once again -- a place or a time, but a station), emanates the world of the Kingdom, preexistent in time but created, which is the manifestation as emanation of God's active qualities and attributes. The world of the Kingdom has, likewise, its essential attributes, which are beyond human reach. They are emanations of God's active attributes and in the Bahá'í texts they are sometimes termed, as a whole, Soul, or Self, or Identity of God.[43] These essential attributes of the world of the Kingdom express themselves, in their turn, as active attributes. Bahá'u'lláh seems to refer to this emanation of attributes from God to the world of the Kingdom, and from the world of the Kingdom to the world of creation, in the following passage: `A drop of the billowing ocean of His endless mercy hath adorned all creation with the ornament of existence... '44 `Abdu'l-Bahá describes it with such locutions as `the bestowals of God', `the bounty of God', `the divine bounties of the Sun of Realities', `the bestowal and grace of God',[45] `Divine Mercy'.[46] He says moreover: `The world of existence is an emanation of the merciful attribute of God' and `the bestowal and grace of God have quickened the realm of existence with life and being.'[47]

This metaphysical reality emanating from the world of the Kingdom and enlightening the inferior degrees of existence is often termed, in the Bahá'í texts, spirit: a power conveying the divine gifts to the world of creation. `Abdu'l-Bahá says that the bestowal of God, or spirit, is a `divine breath which animates and pervades all things', `one power animating and dominating all things, and all things are but manifestations of its energy and bounty. The virtue of being and existence is through no other agency.'[48] He writes moreover that spirit is `the power of life',[49] the eternal `radiation of the light and heat of the Sun of Reality'..[50]

Degrees of the spirit

Spirit is one, if it is viewed in the station of the world of the Kingdom; but it specifies itself in different degrees in the inferior planes of existence, assuming different features, just as the light of the sun shines in different ways depending on the object by which it is mirrored; or as electric power appears in different ways depending on the different instruments it works. In the mineral kingdom, spirit appears as `power of attraction';[51] in the vegetable kingdom it appears as `power of growth';[52] in the animal kingdom it appears as `power of sense perception'.[53] In the human kingdom, says `Abdu'l-Bahá, it `is given different names, according to the different conditions wherein it is manifested. Because of its relation to matter and the phenomenal world, when it governs the physical functions of the body it is called the human soul; when it manifests itself as the thinker, the comprehender, it is called the mind. And when it soars into the atmosphere of God and travels in the spiritual world, it becomes designated as spirit.'[54] In the world of the Kingdom it appears as the Most Great Spirit,55 the creative agency of the universe, which manifests itself in such universal Manifestations of God[56] as Bahá'u'lláh; as the Holy Spirit, which manifests itself in such great Manifestations of God as Moses, Christ, or Muhammad; as the spirit of faith, which manifests itself in such extraordinary men as Elijah or John the Baptist.[57]

The world of creation

The world of the Kingdom is that station where all the essential names and attributes of Divinity appear s active attributes. Since they are active attributes, they imply the existence of objects or creatures upon which they have been bestowed. `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `all the names and attributes of God require the existence of objects or creatures upon which they have been bestowed and in which they have become manifest'; `otherwise, they would be empty and impossible names':[58] this object-receptacle of the bestowals of the world of the Kingdom is the world of creation.

The world of the Kingdom involves, therefore, the specification of two planes of reality: on the one hand, a sensible reality, i.e. matter; on the other hand, a metaphysical reality, i.e. spirit, which moves and directs that sensible reality. The former is a passive reality, a receptive pole; the latter is an active reality, an active pole. Therefore the world of the Kingdom is also the station where God is the creator both of the visible material world and of the invisible, metaphysical world, i.e. of spirit and matter, which in this station find their unity.

Relation between the world of the Kingdom and the world of creation

`Abdu'l-Bahá explains the relation between the world of the Kingdom and the world of creation through the metaphor of the sun and the earth. He writes: `The Lord of the Kingdom and the Sun of Truth hath set forth a splendour and effulgence upon the world and the universe. All the contingent things found life and existence from the rays of that effulgence, entered and became manifest in the arena of being. Therefore all the objective phenomena are as surfaces of mirrors upon which the Sun of Truth hath cast the rays of the outpouring of bounty. All these surfaces (different stages of life) are mirrors reflecting the rays of the Sun of Truth. The outpouring and diversified mirrors are different from one another. Some of them are in a state of the utmost purity and clearness, reflecting the rays of the Sun of Truth, and the effulgence of the Luminary is manifested and visible in them. On the other hand, there are mirrors full of dust and therefore dark; consequently, they are deprived and bereft of any radiation.'[59] In one of His talks, He said moreover: `...the bounty of the Kingdom... is reflected in the reality of the creatures, like the light which emanates from the sun and is resplendent in creatures; and this bounty, which is the light, is reflected in infinite forms in the reality of all things, and specifies and individualizes itself according to the capacity, the worthiness and the intrinsic values of things.'[60] In one of His writings, He explains this concept through the metaphor of rain: `Although the reality of Divinity is sanctified and bound-less, the aims and needs of the creatures are restricted. God's grace is like the rain that cometh down from heaven: the water is not bounded by the limitations of form, yet on whatever place it poureth down, it taketh on limitations -- dimensions, appearance, shape -- according to the characteristics of that place... '..[61] `...[T]he bestowals of God -- He says elsewhere -- are moving and circulating throughout all created things. This illimitable divine bounty has no beginning and will have no ending. It is moving, circulating and becomes effective wherever capacity is developed to receive it.'[62] And He says also: `...all creatures are favoured by the bounty of resplendency through emanation, and receive the lights, the perfection and the beauty of Its Kingdom, in the same way as all earthly creatures obtain the bounty of the light of the rays of the sun, but the sun does not descend and does not base itself to the favoured realities of earthly beings.'[63]

From these words we understand that from the world of the Kingdom two realities do emanate: on the one hand, His bestowals, i.e. spirit, and on the other, the recipients of these bestowals, i.e. material or sensible reality. Spirit emanating from the world of the Kingdom has neither beginning nor end, because it belongs to that world. It pervades all sensible reality, but is distinct from it, even as the sun which enlightens the world by its rays, but does not descend into the world in its essence.

`Abdu'l-Bahá says that `spirit in itself is progressive',[64] a characteristic which is mirrored forth in the sensible world. In fact spirit moves and guides sensible reality, which -- in its moving according to the guidance of the spirit -- grows in its capacity to receive the gifts of that same spirit. Thus, sensible reality manifests in different degrees on its own sensible level the attributes of spirit, i.e. of the world of the Kingdom. Such a manifestation becomes more and more refined and perfect, as the creatures of the sensible world grow, by virtue of their transformations, in their capacity to receive those same gifts. Here we find in nuce the meaning and the direction of evolution.

The world of the Kingdom and the world of creation are, therefore, strictly interrelated. They belong to the same creation, inasmuch as their origin is one and the same. Nevertheless, the world of the Kingdom -- which is the cause of the existence of the world of creation -- is totally different from that world: a world of unity, the former; a world of multiplicity, the latter. Both the world of the Kingdom and the world of creation do exist, nevertheless, they differ from each other in degree, whereas there is no dualistic opposition between spirit and matter.

Since the spiritual world belongs to a superior level, it is higher in degree than the physical world; the physical world does really exist, though on an inferior level than the spiritual world. In this sense Bahá'u'lláh writes: `The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality...';[65] and `Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `Reality is pure spirit, it is not physical',[66] and He says moreover: `Only the spirit is real; everything else is as shadow.'[67]

Nature and the Will of God

The relation between the world of the Kingdom and the world of creation is still more precisely explained in the Bahá'í texts. Alluding to the Word of God -- which, as has already been mentioned, is the same as the world of the Kingdom -- Bahá'u'lláh writes: `...[it] is none but the Command of God which pervadeth all created things', and further on He states that it is not only `the Cause which hath preceded the contingent world', i.e. the creative impulse which brings into existence physical reality, but also the universal law pervading the entire creation. Therefore the Word of God is termed `Nature', meaning `God's Will and its expression in and through the contingent world... a dispensation of providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise'68 or else -- in `Abdu'l-Bahá's words -- `...those inherent properties and necessary relations derived from the realities of things',[69] and at last `the manifestation of the divine laws and disciplines which are essential to the realities of beings... '.[70]

In other words, the world of the Kingdom creates, moves and guides the world of creation: it brings it into existence; it imparts to it the necessary impulse, so that it may move and proceed in its motion and transformations; it gives a meaning to any existing thing; it provides that logic of motion we can trace in natural laws, which are those same `necessary relations derived from the realities of things' which science calls natural laws and `Abdu'l-Bahá terms nature, as the will of God.

Distinctive features of the world of creation

From these premises some general distinctive features of the world of creation may be inferred:

  1. creation `is infinite in its range and deathless in its duration... The process of His creation hath had no beginning and can have no end',[71] writes Bahá'u'lláh. Creation is out of time and continuous: otherwise, the attribute Creator would be an empty name and God would be imperfect. `Abdu'l-Bahá writes in this regard: `As to life... it has had no beginning nor will it have end. The eternal grace of God has always been the cause of life. It has had no starting and it will not approach any end.'72

  2. `...the worlds of God are countless in their number, and infinite in their range. None can reckon or comprehend them, except God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise'; `...the creation of God embraceth worlds beside this world; and creatures apart from these creatures',[73] writes Bahá'u'lláh. And `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `The universe hath neither beginning nor ending'; `Consider the endless phenomena of His creation. They are infinite; the universe is infinite';[74] `this universe contains many worlds of which we know nothing', and moreover: ` is it possible to conceive that these stupendous stellar bodies are not inhabited? Verily, they are peopled, but let it be known that the dwellers accord with the elements of their respective spheres' and also: `The forms of life are infinite.'[75] And finally He writes: `Know then that the Lord God possesseth invisible realms which the human intellect can never hope to fathom nor the mind of man conceive.'76

    That the universe is infinite in time, in space and in the variety of its phenomena, is a corollary of its Creator's perfection. It is impossible to conceive a time when creation was not existing as a whole: it would be tantamount to say that God is not Creator. It is also impossible to maintain that the universe is limited: if such was the case, what does exist beyond its borders? Finally, this universe cannot but contain an infinite number of phenomena, otherwise it would be finite. Therefore, the `original matter' is eternal and infinite, nevertheless it is subordinated to God Who is its Creator, and to the world of the Kingdom which moves and guides it.

    `Abdu'l-Bahá expounds these same concepts through a different logical argument: `absolute nonexistence cannot become existence' or else `absolute nothingness cannot find existence, as it has not the capacity of existence.'[77] Therefore that which exists has always been in existence, though in a different shape.[78] In other words we could say: `nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, everything changes', which is a well known scientific principle.[79]

  3. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `...each and every created thing hath, according to a fixed degree, been endowed with the capacity to exercise a particular influence, and been made to possess a distinct virtue.'[80] Thence, `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that the universe is a world of `absolute order and perfection';[81] `in the possible world there is nothing more wonderful than that which already exists... the universe has no imperfection.'[82]

    The perfection of the Creator is reflected in the perfection of the universe: in Bahá'u'lláh's words, His `image is reflected in the mirror of the entire creation'. In its own degree and as a whole, the universe is perfect and perfect is also each created thing, as long as it is `viewed in the light of the station it has been ordained to occupy'.[83] Therefore, nothing whatsoever in existence is evil,[84] since every created thing has its own place and meaning in the `creative plan of God'.[85] Nevertheless, `Abdu'l-Bahá explains, `this material world of ours is a world of contrast... It is all the time changing... ',[86] therefore the universe is also a realm of imperfection, an imperfection which becomes manifest when the various degrees of existence are compared with one another: this is the reason why we find throughout the universe `...contradictions... opposites'.[87] Though its qualities are good and perfect in themselves and in view of their intended purpose, nevertheless they are not perfect, when they are compared to other qualities. `Consider the effect of poison,' writes Bahá'u'lláh, `Deadly though it is, it possesseth the power of exerting, under certain conditions, a beneficial influence.'[88] A further example: the law of the struggle for existence is good in the world of nature, but it is blameworthy in human society. Therefore `Abdu'l-Bahá pronounces an apparently contradictory statement: `nature seems perfect, it is nevertheless imperfect, because it has need of intelligence and education.'[89] This imperfection of nature is in comparison to a relatively greater perfection of human beings.

  4. `...the divine and the contingent perfections are unlimited', says `Abdu'l-Bahá; therefore you cannot find a being so perfect that you cannot imagine a superior one.' In fact, `if it were possible to reach a limit of perfection, then one of the realities of the beings might reach the condition of being independent from God, and the contingent might attain to the condition of the absolute. But for every being there is a point which it cannot overpass... '.[90]

  5. `All parts of the creational world are part of one whole',[91] a `vast machinery of omnipresent power',[92] `one laboratory of might', `The organization of God is one; the evolution of existence is one; the divine system is one.'[93]

    The Creator is the Unifier of the infinite universe He Himself has created. He established in His universe one Law -- His Command acting through the agency of the spirit -- therefore the universe can be viewed as a great laboratory, whose working criteria are everywhere the same.

    The concept of the unity of the laws of the universe is upheld also by many modern scientists and has found a scientific formulation in the cosmological principle, which says: There is in nature a fundamental unity or uniformity, wherefore (with the exception of certain peculiar situations, which are limited in time and space) the universe is everywhere the same; indeed the natural laws governing the fundamental phenomena appearing throughout the universe, as well as the atomic and sub-atomic structure of matter, are uniform.[94]

  6. `all things are involved in all things',[95] says `Abdu'l-Bahá. This concept will be better understood in the light of the atomic conception expounded by `Abdu'l-Bahá, which will be de-scribed in the following pages. Suffice to say here that, in `Abdu'l-Bahá's words, `Fundamentally all existing things pass through the same degrees and phases of development, and any given phenomenon embodies all others.'95 He says that the world of creation is a uniform and organic reality -- `reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity',[96] He writes -- whose components, parts of the same organism, obey the same laws and are strictly interrelated, so that any change in any of their parts influences the whole and viceversa. In other words, `All the visible material events are inter-related with invisible spiritual forces. The infinite phenomena of creation are as interdependent as the links of a chain.'[97] He writes moreover: `...every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, no slackening whatever.'[98]

    This interdependence of phenomena appears with strong evidence in the ecological equilibrium prevailing on the earth, to which `Abdu'l-Bahá refers in the following words: `...all created things are closely related together and each is influenced by the other or deriveth benefit therefrom, either directly or indirectly.

    `Consider for instance how one group of created things constituteth the vegetable kingdom, and another the animal kingdom. Each of these two maketh use of certain elements in the air on which its own life dependeth, while each increaseth the quantity of such elements as are essential for the life of the other. In other words, the growth and development of the vegetable world is impossible without the existence of the animal kingdom, and the maintenance of animal life is inconceivable without the co-operation of the vegetable kingdom. Of like kind are the relationships that exist among all created things. Hence it was stated that co-operation and reciprocity are essential properties which are inherent in the unified system of the world of existence, and without which the entire creation would be reduced to nothingness.'[99]

    And elsewhere He writes on the same theme: `In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change...

    `Whensoever thou dost examine, through a microscope, the water man drinketh, the air he doth breathe, thou wilt see that with every breath of air, man taketh in an abundance of animal life, and with every draught of water, he also swalloweth down a great variety of animals. How could it ever be possible to put a stop to this process? For all creatures are eaters and eaten, and the very fabric of life is reared upon this fact. Were it not so, the ties that interlace all created things within the universe would be unravelled.'100 And elsewhere He says on the same subject: `If it were not so, in the universal system and the general arrangement of existence, there would be disorder and imperfection.'[101]

  7. `The worlds of God are in perfect harmony and correspondence one with another. Each world in this limitless universe is, as it were, a mirror reflecting the history and nature of all the rest. The physical universe is, likewise, in perfect correspondence with the spiritual or divine realm. The world of matter is an outer expression or facsimile of the inner kingdom of the spirit,'[102] says `Abdu'l-Bahá. Matter takes on manifold shapes, guided in its transformation by the Command of God which is present in it: therefore, it cannot but mirror forth its qualities, though on a different level.[103] We could wrongly see in these concepts a new formulation of the Platonic concept of the world of Ideas and of the material world. But whereas Plato's conception may suggest a dualism between spirit and matter, there is no dualism in the Bahá'í texts. The physical world (the world of creation) reflects the metaphysical world (the world of the Kingdom) in different degrees, according to the capacities matter has acquired in its continuous transformations, induced and guided by spirit emanating from the world of the Kingdom. The world of the Kingdom and the world of creation have their existence on different levels, but both of them are real. The world of creation reflects on its own plane the qualities of the world of the spirit, expressing them according to its capacities. There-fore, as Bahá'u'lláh writes, `Every created thing in the whole universe is but a door leading into His knowledge, a sign of His sovereignty, a revelation of His names... ';[104] and `Abdu'l-Bahá urges us to search out, throughout the sensible universe, the traces of the `indwelling spirit'.[105] Nevertheless, when it is compared to the world of the Kingdom, `the world is but a show, vain and empty.'106

  8. `...the whole attracteth the part, and in the circle, the centre is the pivot of the compasses,' writes `Abdu'l-Bahá.. This is the expression in the world of creation of another universal law, i.e. one of the laws of love: `...any movement animated by love moveth from the periphery to the centre, from space to the Day-Star of the universe..'[107]

  9. `The sign of singleness is visible and apparent in all things,' says `Abdu'l-Bahá; and moreover: `As the proof of uniqueness exists in all things, and the Oneness and Unity of God is apparent in the reality of all things, the repetition of the same appearance is absolutely impossible.'[108]

    In this infinite universe, whose phenomena are infinite, the variety of beings is also infinite; therefore, as an earthly sign of the Divine Oneness and Unity manifest in all things, `there are no repetitions in nature': every individual is itself and, as such, unique.[109]

  10. `The world of existence is progressive,' says `Abdu'l-Bahá, and `is dependent for its progress on reformation', a reformation that, `Abdu'l-Bahá says, is an educational process: `the world of nature is incomplete and imperfect until awakened and illumined by the light and stimulus of education,' and moreover: `the world of nature is inherently defective in cause and outcome... the defects therein must be removed by education.'[110]

  11. `...change is a necessary quality and an essential at-tribute of this world, of time and place.'[111]

From the Bahá'í texts the world of creation appears as a reality which -- eternal, infinite and perfect as a whole, and in its individual components, provided they are viewed in their own degree -- is subject to one unifying law, according to which all realities are strictly interrelated, so that a marvellous harmony and correspondence exist among them. This law is the law of evolution: the change brought into the world of creation by the power of spirit, which transforms creatures bringing them to ever higher levels of perfection, and which is in that respect an educational process.

The spirit is the true reality of the world of creation: what we see and understand of this world is but `images reflected in water'[112] of the superior reality of the world of the Kingdom. Such is the reality through which we shall be satisfied: those same traces of God in the universe which Bahá'í scholars or would-be philosophers should search and may discover.

The atom

Since the times of Democritus of Abdera (5th to 4th century BC) philosophy has hypothesized that the sensible universe may be formed by indivisible, eternal units, which cannot be directly perceived through the senses, but which are within the reach of human reason , units that have been called atoms, i.e. `that cannot be divided or split'. Throughout the centuries this hypothesis has been specified, until it was given a scientific formulation in the modern conception of the structure of matter.

`Abdu'l-Bahá says that the sensible universe is formed by `elemental atoms', and expounds an atomic conception whose broad lines can be found in the following quotations from His Tablets and recorded talks:[113]

  1. `It is evident that each material organism is an aggregate expression of single and simple elements', which He terms `elemental atoms' or `individual atoms';[114]

  2. ` is a philosophical axiom that the individual or indivisible atom is indestructible'; `it retains its atomic existence and is never annihilated nor relegated to nonexistence'; `...atoms... continue to exist because they are single, individual and not composed. Therefore it may be said that these individual atoms are eternal.' In fact `existence implies the grouping of material elements in a form or body, and nonexistence is simply the decomposing of these groupings',[115] therefore that which is not composed cannot be decomposed, that is, it does not perish.

  3. `The elemental atoms which constitute all phenomenal existence and being in this illimitable universe are in perpetual motion, undergoing continuous degrees of progression', they `are transferable from one form of existence to another, from one degree and kingdom to another, lower or higher.'[116]

  4. `Because they have affinity for each other, the power of life is able to manifest itself, and the organisms and phenomenal world become possible. When this attraction or atomic affinity is destroyed, the power of life ceases to manifest; death and nonexistence result.'

    The nature of such an affinity is thus explained by `Abdu'l-Bahá:

    ------ `By a divine power of creation the elements assemble together in affinity, and the result is a composite being... this affinity of the inanimate elements is the cause of life and being.'

    ------ `...the phenomena of the universe find realization through the one power animating and dominating all things, and all things are but manifestations of its energy and bounty.'

    ------ `We declare that love is the cause of the existence of all phenomena and that the absence of love is the cause of disintegration and nonexistence. Love is the conscious bestowal of God, the bond of affiliation in all phenomena.'

    ------ `This quickening spirit emanates spontaneously from the Sun of Truth, from the reality of Divinity, and is not a revelation or manifestation. It is like the rays of the sun... '

    ------ `...the greater power in the realm and range of human existence is spirit -- the divine breath which animates and pervades all things.'[117]

  5. `each elemental atom in the universe is possessed of a capacity to express all the virtues of the universe... every atom in the universe possesses or reflects all the virtues of life... '[118]

  6. `...the constituent elemental atoms of phenomena undergo progressive transference and motion throughout the material kingdoms... In its ceaseless progression and journeyings the atom becomes imbued with the virtues and powers of each degree or kingdom it traverses... all are privileged to possess the virtues existent in these kingdoms and to reflect the attributes of their organisms... From this point of view and perception pantheism is a truth, for every atom in the universe possesses or reflects all the virtues of life, the manifestation of which is effected through change and transformation.'

    Thence the elemental atom is the guarantor of `...the intrinsic oneness of all phenomena... ', wherefore `...all phenomena of material being are fundamentally one' and `each phenomenon is the expression in degree of all other phenomena. The difference is one of successive transferences and the period of time involved in evolutionary process', wherefore `all things are involved in all things',[119] the universe is `one laboratory of might under one natural system and one universal law',[120] and `the origin of all material life is one and its termination is likewise one'.[121]

The above words by `Abdu'l-Bahá give a general idea of His atomic conception. The following remarks are added in the hope that they will prove useful in the attempt to draw a parallel between that conception and some of the conclusions of modern science.

  1. `Abdu'l-Bahá says that the universe is formed by indivisible particles which He refers to as `elemental atoms': atom, in its etymological meaning as something that cannot be split; elemental, as simple, primal, fundamental. Modern scientists say that the atom is `the smallest material unit in which any chemical element can be divided'.[122] This is not the philosophical atom. In fact, since last century, scientists have understood that such an atom is neither simple nor indivisible. It was Rutherford[123] who proposed the model of atomic structure which is today accepted by most scientists: `a kind of microscopic planetary system',[124] where instead of the sun there is a central nucleus, and instead of the planets there are electrons.[125] Subsequent studies demonstrated that not even the nucleus is simple and indivisible: it is formed by neutrons and protons. Neutrons and protons, in their turn, are formed by other simpler particles: quarks. Today the smallest known material particles are quarks and leptons (neutrins and electrons) and modern physicists think that all the matter which is in the universe is formed by four systems of two couples of particles (a quark-up and a quark-down, from one side, and an electron and a neutrin, from the other). But no one knows yet whether these sub-atomic particles are really simple or whether they can be divided into simpler ones. Whether and when scientists will discover the elemental atom, we do not know. But they accept the idea of its existence.

  2. The elemental atoms are simple. Since in the world of creation death means decomposition, the elemental atoms, being simple, cannot be decomposed and therefore are eternal. This concept, for the time being, has no parallel in science: scientists at the most state that known elemental particles are billions of years old.

  3. `Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motion-less and inert is as dead... '[126] says `Abdu'l-Bahá; and moreover: `Absolute repose does not exist in nature':[127] atoms -- fundamental components of creation -- are themselves subject to a perpetual motion. Modern scientists confirm this concept: the old division of matter into animate and inanimate matter is obsolete, because it is clear that all matter, in its microscopic dimension, is in motion. The elemental particles, in fact, are subject to a rotatory movement, called spin. Moreover, they literally move from one kingdom of existence to the other.

  4. Among the elemental atoms there is a sort of attraction which `Abdu'l-Bahá calls `attraction' or `atomic affinity':[128] this attraction is the cause of the existence of all phenomenal reality. In fact, since all phenomenal beings are formed by elemental atoms, thence only if an affinity exists among these elemental atoms is the existence of phenomenal beings possible. `Abdu'l-Bahá indicates in such affinity the simplest expression, on the physical plane, of the metaphysical reality of love[129] and says that this is one of the spiritual lessons man can learn from physical reality: `Throughout all creation, in all kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death.'[130] `Abdu'l-Bahá says that this power of attraction among the elemental atoms is a bounty that God bestows upon material creation through the agency of the world of the Kingdom: it is therefore the simplest expression of spirit in the world of creation.

    Scientists are well aware of the existence of this power of attraction among the constituent particles of matter. The elemental particles are subject to the spin movement and this same movement produces forces of mutual attraction, which are called nuclear interactions. These forces binding together the elemental particles are extremely strong. Scientists have learnt how to release a part of those forces and the consequences of this release are manifest in the disruptive explosions of the atom bomb (which should be more properly called the neutron bomb).

  5. Elemental atoms are totipotent, inasmuch as each atom, as it goes through the mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms of the world of creation, and through the myriad forms and organisms of phenomenal existence in each of those kingdoms, variously combining with other elemental atoms, `not only become embued with the powers and virtues of the kingdom it traverses, but also reflects the attributes and qualities of the forms and organisms of those kingdoms'. It follows that `all [atoms] are privileged to possess the virtues existent in these kingdoms and to reflect the attributes of their organisms'. Therefore `each elemental atom of the universe is possessed of a capacity to express all the virtues of the universe'. This concept is evidently also upheld by modern scientists who -- as has been already said -- agree that every existent being in the universe is formed by quarks and leptons. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that this particular aspect of the phenomenal world is a great lesson of unity and `the true explanation of pantheism'.. He explains that God is transcendent in His Essence and that no direct relation exists between Him and His creatures. The world of creation receives the gifts of God by emanation from the intermediate world of the Kingdom through the agency of the spirit, which moves it and guides it in its moving. Following a path whose course is deter-mined by natural laws -- the Will of God as expressed on the phenomenal plane -- atoms combine and generate the various beings, which differ from each other in `degree and receptivity'.[131] But the `original matter' of the elemental atoms is one, and the spirit which moves it, and as it moves, enables, it to assume different shapes, is one. Therefore the universe is like a single great `laboratory'[132] or `workshop'[133] where the same material and metaphysical components -- the elemental atoms and spirit animating and guiding them -- are present. This is the foundation of the `intrinsic oneness of all phenomena',[134] of the total, eternal, mutual involvement of all existing realities, of the perfect reciprocity of phenomena. It is in the light of these concepts that the following words by `Abdu'l-Bahá should be read: `the smallest atoms in the universe are similar to the greatest beings of the universe.'[135]

  6. The atomic theory also explains `...the conservation of energy and the infinitude of phenomena, the indestructibility of phenomena, changeless and immutable because life cannot be annihilated. The utmost is this: that the form, the outer image, throughout these changes and transformations, is dissolved. The realities of all phenomena are immutable and unchangeable.'[136]

A question seems left unanswered: are all the elemental atoms equal, or do they differ from each other? On the ground of the principle that there is no repetition in nature, it would appear that among them there might be a `point of contact' and a `point of distinction':[137] the former might be their substance, perhaps the `original matter'137 which is the origin and the point of unity of all sensible reality; the latter might be in relation to their degree and function in the scale of reality.


The two concepts of creation as emanation and of the atomic structure of the universe are the foundation of another very important concept in the Bahá'í view of the universe and life: evolution.

The creative plan of God

The world of creation, as an emanation from God, `reflecteth His glory': it is a `mirror' where His `image is reflected'.[138] `His sovereign and pervasive Will... called into being... creation',[139] and `the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him' that `He chose to confer upon man' is the purpose wherefore He willed to create -- in Bahá'u'lláh's words, `the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole creation'..[140] As a Creator, therefore, God has a plan: to enable `original matter', emanating from the world of the Kingdom as a necessity of divine attributes, to reflect more and more faithfully His image, so that it may produce man who, through his capacity `to know Him and to love Him', brings the process a step further, transferring it from a plane of unconscious necessity to a level of willing consciousness. This process, through which the totipotent elemental atoms are enabled to manifest their `capacity to express all the virtues of the universe' `through change and transformation' and `progressive transference and motion throughout the material kingdoms',[141] is evolution.

`Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `Every plan is in need of a power for its execution':[142] the power through which `the creative plan of God' is executed is the spirit, which -- emanating from the world of the Kingdom, `in itself is progressive'. `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead...'[143] Thence it is the spirit which keeps in motion the world of creation, so that `...nothing which exists remains in a state of repose... Everything is either growing or declining...'[144] and `all creation is growing and evolving. It never ceases.'[145] Therefore evolution is `the expression of spirit in the world of matter' or else `progress of the spirit'.[146]

General features of the creative plan of God

The Bahá'í texts fully explain the general features of this majestic process.

  1. From the world of the Kingdom two realities emanate, as a necessity of God's attributes: the spirit, that is the intermediary between the world of the Kingdom and the world of creation, and `original matter', formed by `elemental atoms'.

  2. Spirit has a twofold effect on `original matter':

    ------ it sets in motion elemental atoms, starting the never-ending chain of the continuous transformations of `original matter':

    ------ it guides matter in its movements and transformations, according to criteria which man is able to perceive as natural laws. These criteria execute in the matter the `creative plan of God', enabling the totipotent atoms to express, through their assembling together, their capacity to mirror forth the manifold attributes of life, i.e. `the powers and virtues of the kingdom [they] traverse[s]... and the attributes and qualities of the forms and organisms of those kingdoms'.[147]

  3. The `original matter' is therefore characterized by a perpetual motion[148] -- `Abdu'l-Bahá says that this motion is `essential, that is natural',[149] because it is `necessary to existence'. According to the `intrinsic oneness of all phenomena',[150] the `original matter' follows in its motion criteria which apply to all phenomena of existence.[151]

  4. These criteria can be summarized as a never-ending process of growth, which is similar -- according to one of the metaphors suggested by `Abdu'l-Bahá -- to the development of a seed which slowly sprouts, then grows, until it brings forth a fruit which contains a new seed.

This process of growth is therefore characterized by the following elements:

------ it is `gradual':[152] from a degree of lesser (least) perfection it reaches a degree of greater (greatest) perfection or fulfillment;[153]

------ it is cyclical: whenever a material being reaches its greatest possible perfection, `the point which it cannot overpass',[154] it declines until it ceases to exist in its original condition, while in its stead `a new order and condition is established'; this order and condition in its turn undergoes a new process of growth. `The circle of existence is the same circle: it returns',[155] says `Abdu'l-Bahá.

------ it is relative: since the possible perfections each material being can achieve are infinite, it follows that the greatest perfection any being may have attained is always a relative perfection;

------ it is infinite: since in the physical reality taken as a whole the possible perfections are infinite, it follows that the evolutionary process is endless.[156]

Evolution in the world of creation

In the world of creation we can therefore perceive the following essential features:

  1. `for existence there is neither change nor transformation; existence is ever existence: it can never be translated into nonexistence';[157]

  2. `Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motion-less and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material worlds of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness';[158] therefore all created things undergo a never-ending evolution;

  3. as created things evolve, they go through `gradual stages or degrees', characterized by a `specialized capacity'[159] to mirror forth the spirit;

  4. at last, created things attain a `degree, or stage of maturity',[160] which they `cannot overpass';[161]

  5. `after which a new order and condition is established'.[162]

    In this context, the concepts of physical life and death have different meanings, depending on the context:

    ------ in the light of the atomic conception of the universe, life means composition and death decomposition. According to such a definition, therefore, death is but a transference from one condition of existence to another;

    ------ in the light of the concept of evolution, existence `is gradation; a degree below a higher degree is considered as non-existence'.[163] In fact, if we consider a mineral, this is undoubtedly dead in comparison to a vegetable. But spirit is present also in the mineral: it is that movement, which generates the power of attraction, which in its turn binds together its constituent particles. `All beings are endowed with life,'[164] writes `Abdu'l-Bahá.. However, the vegetable has the power of growth, which is absent in the mineral. And the animal is alive, when it is compared with the vegetable, whereas the vegetable is dead, if it is compared to the animal. For example, a human being affected by a deep coma, because of a severe trauma, is said to live a vegetative life, and by this it is meant that his life is quite different from a normal human life. In the Bahá'í texts the word death indicates also the condition of such a man who, while alive in his animal life, is nevertheless, since he is spiritually wholly unconscious, even as dead. Such is the meaning of the well-known words of the Gospel: `Let the dead bury their dead':[165] spiritually dead the former, physically dead the latter. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains, moreover, that `...though the existence of beings in relation to the existence of God is an illusion, nevertheless, in the condition of being it has a real and certain existence.'[166] Therefore, the world is but a show, when it is compared to the world of the Kingdom; but, in itself, it is really existent. Therefore, the concept of life and death is a relative concept.

  6. `...for the whole universe, whether for the heavens or for men, there are cycles of great events, of important facts and occurrences. When a cycle is ended, a new cycle begins';[167]

  7. within each cycle, each phenomenal reality undergoes a process of transformation, as regards its perfection, but not as regards its state. Each reality can achieve endless and infinite perfections, without any change in its state. Everything, writes Bahá'u'lláh, `according to its capacities, indicateth, and is expressive of, the knowledge of God'168 and `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `In every station there is a specialized capacity', `a degree of function and intelligence';[169]

  8. `The transformation of the innate substance is impossible',[170] writes `Abdu'l-Bahá; He says moreover: `...the world of existence is dependent for its progress upon reformation; otherwise it will be as dead';[171] this reformation is realized through the spirit emanating from the world of the Kingdom. In `Abdu'l-Bahá's words: `The transformation depends upon divine bounty. The mineral progresses in its own world. But from the mineral to the vegetable it progresses only by divine bounty. Also transformation from the vegetable to the animal is God's plan. Of itself the transformation cannot take place.'[172] These statements are very subtle: they require deeper investigation and studies than those that have been done up to now. Evolution is within the kingdoms,[173] says `Abdu'l-Bahá.. Vegetable and animal spirits, being a part of creation, are sufficient for the intrinsic changes of each phenomenal being to take place. But for the transformations from one kingdom to another, these natural powers are not enough: a power from a higher level must assist. This is the divine bounty, the power of the world of the Kingdom, that is, the spirit.

    In fact, evolution within the kingdoms implies but the perfecting of potential qualities: the `power of attraction' in the mineral kingdom, the `power of growth' in the vegetable kingdom, the `power of sense perception' in the animal kingdom. But the transition from one kingdom to another implies the appearance of a new capacity, which previously did not exist, even potentially. It is a real transformation of substance, which cannot come to pass by itself. Therefore, it is only the power of the world of the Kingdom, which -- belonging to a superior level -- can realize this transformation. Such a concept is evident particularly in the process of man's spiritual evolution.

    And yet, evolution -- whatever the level on which it is examined -- is always moved by the powers of the spirit, because `the power of growth' and the `power of sense perception' are themselves expressions of the spirit. The only difference is that these two capacities are expressions of the spirit in its acting in the world of creation, whereas the powers bringing the elemental atoms to meet so that they may give birth to the creatures of the mineral, or vegetable, or animal, or human worlds are expressions of the spirit in its acting in the world of the Kingdom.[174]

  9. Evolution is progress: between the simple, tiny elemental atom and the great man, with his complex brain, there is a sequence of degrees of existence, one following the other in a growing complexity of structures and a growing capacity to express in the physical world the qualities of the metaphysical world of the Kingdom. This evolutionary process is a process of approaching God, inasmuch as the higher degrees of perfection are achieved by physical reality, as it evolves according to the guiding rules given by the world of the Kingdom -- Bahá'u'lláh mentions `the Command of God which pervadeth all created things'.[175] The more completely this reality expresses the spiritual qualities of the world of the Kingdom, the closer it approaches God. It is in such perspective that `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `Progress is the expression of spirit in the world of matter.'[176]

  10. `Inequality in degree and capacity is a property of nature,[177] says `Abdu'l-Bahá; because of this property the world of matter is a world of multiplicity, of `contradictions... opposites',[178] which arise from the comparisons among, and the coexistence of, physical realities, which are fundamentally equal, but belong to different degrees. In other words, `each phenomenon is the expression in degree of all other phenomena. The difference is one of successive transference and the period of time involved in the evolutionary process'. It is clear then that in the phenomenal world all things are fundamentally one and the difference among single realities is but `one of degrees and receptivity.'[179]

In conclusion, the process of evolution can be viewed as that process through which those perfections which were engraved within each created being when it was brought into existence find an ever more complete expression, until that being reaches an apex called maturity. `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees...'.[180] Each created being possesses in itself -- like a seed -- potential perfections. Evolution is that process through which those perfections manifest themselves. What that created being will become depends, on the one hand, on its potential endowments, on the other, on the natural laws which start, move and guide its development, and finally on many external circumstances which interact with it, influencing its possibility of expressing those same perfections it was imbued with at its creation.

Evolution in the four kingdoms of the world of creation

If we examine the physical universe and its evolution in the light of these concepts, we will understand that the four kingdoms of the world of creation -- mineral, vegetable, animal and human -- are even as four different fruits arrived at maturity on the same tree (the world of creation) in different times; the lapse of time which must pass before maturity is attained, is proportionate to the complexity of the structure of that kingdom. This metaphor is offered by `Abdu'l-Bahá in His talks, in order to explain that the four kingdoms, mutually dependent as they are, nevertheless do not stem from one another.[181]

The four kingdoms of creation are different from each other, inasmuch as their component material elements are organized in different ways and therefore express at different levels and degrees the spirit -- the divine bounties emanating from the world of the Kingdom and pervading the whole creation. `Each kingdom is receiving the light and bounty of the eternal Sun according to its capacity' says `Abdu'l-Bahá; and moreover: `In each kingdom we find the same virtues manifesting themselves more fully, proving that the reality has been transferred from a lower to a higher form and kingdom of being', which is possible because `the atoms of the material elements are transferable from one form of existence to another, from one degree and kingdom to another, lower or higher'.[182]

`Abdu'l-Bahá dwells upon the details of the differences among these four kingdoms:

  1. The mineral kingdom has the capability to manifest the spirit as `power of attraction' and this is `the only expression of love the stone can manifest'.[183]

  2. The vegetable kingdom has the capability to manifest the spirit as `power of growth' or in other words as `power of absorption from the earth';[184] in fact vegetables can absorb from the earth and the atmosphere what they need for preservation, reproduction and regulation -- the three typical activities of living systems. This power -- in `Abdu'l-Bahá's words -- `results from the combination of elements and the mingling of substances by the decree of the Supreme God, and from the influence, the effect, the connection, of other existences. When these substances and elements are separated from each other, the power of growth also ceaseth to exist': this power is therefore viewed in the Bahá'í texts not as a mystical entity, but as a natural power and it is compared by `Abdu'l-Bahá with the `electric force'..[185]

  3. The animal kingdom has the capability to manifest the spirit as `power of sense perception', a power that confers on the animals `emotions and sensibilities', `intelligence',[186] `voluntary movements'[187] and `memory'.[188] Also this power is viewed as a natural power, bound to vanish when the elements whose composition was conducive to its appearance in the physical plane are separated from each other, even as `when the oil is finished and the wick consumed'[189] the light fades away.

  4. the human kingdom has the capability to manifest the spirit as `intellect' or `conscious intelligence', `conscious reflection', `intellectual investigation'.[190] Referring to human spirit, `Abdu'l-Bahá says that, unlike the mineral, vegetable and animal spirits which belong to the world of creation and there-fore have a beginning and an end, human spirit belongs to another degree. In fact `the body of man is... the most perfect existence'.[191] He likens it to a mirror and the human spirit to the sun; when the mirror is broken, the sun nevertheless remains; likewise the human spirit, which is of the world of the Kingdom, has no end. The comprehension of such a concept requires a more detailed analysis, which will be presented in the following chapters.

If we intended to draw a graphic representation of the evolutionary processes going on throughout the universe, we should not draw a staircase, but a tree: from the root (mineral kingdom) three branches grow (vegetable, animal and human kingdoms); from these three branches other branches and twigs grow (genuses, species, etc.) and so on.[192] Thus starting from the farthest branch we could follow, from one branch to the other, a path through which we could reach the root; all these branches are the successive transformations that branch (or that creature) underwent in its morphology, starting from the root, until it took on its present form.

Evolution according to Plotinus, in the Bahá'í texts

`Abdu'l-Bahá also explains evolution in Plotinian terms. The world of the Kingdom is the first emanation from God `Supreme Centre';[193] from this Centre begins the first arc of existence, the arc of descent, the arc of material worlds: elemental atoms form the elements, which are the foundations of all material things: mineral, vegetable, animal. Man, who is possessed of all the qualities of the world of creation, i.e. `a body which grows and which feels'[194] is `the lowest point of the arc of descent',[195] or else the highest point of materiality. This process which, starting from the elemental atom, arrives at man, is termed `beginning (literally: bringing forth)'[196] and man is its fruit. From man, who stands therefore opposite the `Supreme Centre', begins the second arc of existence, the arc of ascent, the arc of the spiritual worlds. This arc comprises the spiritual degrees of existence and is termed `progress (literally: producing something new).'196 This arc of ascent culminates in the world of the Kingdom (termed also First Mind, Primal Will, Word of God or Logos. Identity or Self or Soul of God). The circle of existence therefore has its beginning in the elemental atom, it follows the arc of descent, with the degrees of material world -- mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms -- and culminates in man. From man, who stands at the end of materiality and at the beginning of spirituality, the second arc of existence begins: it is the arc of ascent which traversing the various degrees of the spiritual worlds such as the spirit of faith, the Holy Spirit, the Most Great Spirit, culminates in the Logos, which manifests itself in the world of creation as the Manifestation of God, Perfect Image of God, Perfect Man, perfect expression, in the plane of the world of creation, of all the qualities of the world of the Kingdom.

Evolution as an educative process

Evolution is described by Bahá'u'lláh as `the revelation of the Name of God, the Educator'. `Behold', He writes, `how in all things the evidences of such a revelation are manifest, how the betterment of all beings dependeth upon it. This education is of two kinds. The one is universal. Its influence pervadeth all things and sustaineth them. It is for this reason that God hath assumed the title, "Lord of all the worlds". The other is con-fined to them that have come under the shadow of this Name, and sought the shelter of this most mighty Revelation.' [197] These words (which will be commented upon later on) point out the relation between the spiritual evolution each man undergoes, through the efforts he exerts, as he follows the guidance of the Revelation of God, and the evolution of the entire creation.

Evolution, in the different planes of the world of existence

The evolutionary process can be studied in various perspectives. If we consider it in the world of being as a whole -- the world of creation and the world of the Kingdom -- this process should necessarily be viewed independently of its relation with time. In fact in the world of the Kingdom time does not exist. The world of the Kingdom is coexistent and coeternal with God, to Whom it is inferior though, because it depends on, and was created by, Him. In the level of the world of the Kingdom, beginning and end are one and the same thing, therefore any created being, viewed in that world, is simultaneously what it is -- in the world of creation -- in all phases of its evolution. Thus the world of creation could metaphorically be viewed as a magnificent fresco: each point in this fresco is an individual; groups of points, making together a detail of this fresco, are species; a group of details, forming a figure, is a kingdom of creation; groups of figures, forming a theme, are more kingdoms of creation, and so on. This metaphor enables us to understand how, in the plane of the world of the Kingdom, there is no transformation from individual to individual, from species to species, from kingdom to kingdom, because each of them has its own individuality and existence beside that of the others, though it comes into existence after the others, and forms with them the majestic fresco of the world of creation. It is in this perspective that `Abdu'l-Bahá confirms the concept of `conservation of species'[198] and of the absolute and complete distinction among the kingdoms of creation, and that He says: `...the original species of the genus do not change and alter, but the form, color, bulk will change and alter, or even progress'.[199] This statement parallels with that law of evolution whereby `...all phenomena of being attain to a summit and degree of consummation, after which a new order and condition is established'.[200] Evolution is that progress whereby the potential qualities of the seed are transformed into the reality of the tree and its fruits: in the world of the Kingdom the seed is simultaneously tree and fruit; in the world of creation between the seed and the fruit there are many different stages, the stages of evolution.

At the level of the individual, evolution begins, for example, with the conception of a human being); it proceeds through successive stages (embryo, foetus, new-born baby, child, boy or girl, adolescent, young man or woman, mature individual, old individual); it brings forth its fruits during maturity (progeny and fruits of material and intellectual work); at last it ends in decomposition (death).

At the level of species, there is a phenomenal beginning, that is, whenever a species appears on the earth; an evolution through successive stages culminating in an apex of maturity; a stage of decline and at last its disappearance. Such phenomenon is fully proved by paleontological evidences (fossils), enabling scientists to study the evolutionary process of single species. A very well known example is the evolution of dinosaurs. They appeared in the Triassic Period and attained an apex during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, after which they disappeared.[201]

At the level of the world of creation viewed as a whole, the beginning of evolution can be traced in `original matter' -- the seed -- its `fruit'[202] is man, who -- being the apex of physical evolution -- is possessed of all the existing perfections of all the inferior grades. In fact, man has in himself the typical `power of attraction' of the mineral kingdom; the `power of growth' belonging to the vegetable kingdom; the `power of sense perception', which a distinctive feature of the animal kingdom. But besides all these powers, he has also the power of `intellect', which belongs only to his kingdom. Therefore, man is the `fruit' or the purpose of evolution.

This is the foundation of another important Bahá'í concept: how is it possible for the whole evolutionary process of the world of creation -- infinite and eternal as a whole -- to come to a close with such a powerless creature, as physical man, who lives for a very few years on this earth and then dissolves in dust? Evolution is in itself a never-ending process: there must therefore be something else beyond physical man. The Bahá'í texts say that such a reality transcending physical man is the human soul, which -- inasmuch as it has the capacity of intellectual and spiritual perception and is endowed with potential spiritual qualities -- brings the evolutionary process a step forward from the world of creation to the world of the Kingdom.

Limitations of some modern concepts on evolution

Some evolutionists deny any unity, `rationality' and finality in the evolutionary process.

  1. Regarding the progress in the physical world through evolution, this progress can be described -- in a Bahá'í perspective -- as a rising helicoidal motion. Each coil of the helicoid is a `circle of existence'[203] with its beginning and its end. In the helicoid, the end of the coil always stands at a superior level to its beginning. In fact, just as any phenomenal reality, both individual and species, had a beginning, so it will have also an end, because any phenomenal reality, inasmuch as it is phenomenal, is limited in time and space. Therefore evolution, viewed in individuals and species, implies a stage of progress, as well as a stage of regress, following that stage wherein that phenomenal being has attained its highest possible point of perfection, that is its maturity. Nevertheless, that individual, or that species, will be followed by other individuals, other species, which will bring his or its perfections a step forward. But they will do it on another level.

    Evolution is therefore a very complex process. No wonder that because of such complexity it is so difficult to trace the specific conditions which have influenced the evolution of any given phenomenal reality. For example, it is an arduous task to discover why the earth has today such a shape, such component elements, geographical configuration, climate, vegetable and animal species, and man. It is up to men of science to investigate nature through their methods, so that they may unravel its mysteries. Bahá'í texts give a guidance which will prove useful as to the direction such studies could follow.

  2. As for those which seem nature's mistakes,[204] its seemingly wrong choices, which are advanced as proof by those who deny its rationality and finality:

    ------ the universe and nature are perfect as a whole, but each individual being is manifestly imperfect. Therefore these mistakes are not a surprise.

    ------ some of these supposed mistakes in the evolutionary processes could be merely choices whose meaning is as undiscovered. It would be totally absurd for a man to claim a complete understanding, of even phenomenal reality;

    ------ other supposed mistakes could be stages of regress of an individual or a species, when they have already yielded their fruit and are therefore inexorably declining towards the conclusion of their vital cycle.

  3. To maintain that evolution is not just the outcome of chance, but is moved by an Intelligent Being Who guides it, does not belong -- as the Bahá'í texts explain it -- to the realms of tales and myth, but to the domains of reason. For the time being no one can demonstrate either hypothesis. To believe in the former or in the latter is therefore a matter of faith; but in this context too to have faith means to be sure that a hypothesis is true, because so it appears in the light of many other general ideas which, inasmuch as they are undoubtedly true and make this hypothesis probable and reliable, are the rational guarantors of a hypothesis, which is thus accepted in an act of faith.

    In this regard, a suggestive anecdote is related by Guy Murchie `about Charles Boyle, the fourth Earl of Orrery, who flourished in southern Ireland early in the eighteenth century -- and of the theorem that bears his name. Having heard of Kepler's famous discovery of the laws of planetary motion and of Newton's recent work on gravitation, Lord Orrery had a working model of the solar system built inside his castle. It was an extraordinary, dynamic and up-to-date piece of clockwork with orbital hoops and a brass sun in the center plus smaller globes representing Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn slowly revolving around it, even a moon circling the Earth and four little ones going around Jupiter.

    `But it seems that Lord Orrery had an atheist friend who had an utterly materialistic outlook and thought of the universe as just an immense moving system of natural machinery that somehow coasts along, blindly but automatically maintaining itself with-out benefit of consciousness, mind or intelligence of any kind. So when the friend heard tell of Orrery's new and wonderful machine, he lost no time in going to the castle to see it. Entering the great hall where the model was in operation, the atheist's eyes widened with awe and the first question he asked Lord Orrery was: "Where did you get this magnificent thing? Who made it?"

    `But Orrery, remembering previous arguments with the atheist about creation, surprised him by replying, "Nobody made it. It just happened".

    `"How could that be?" retorted the atheist. "Surely these intricate gears and wheels couldn't create themselves. Who made them?"

    `Lord Orrery stood his ground, insisting that his model of the solar system had just happened by itself. Meantime, the atheist worked himself into a state of hysterical frustration. Then at last, judging the time was ripe, Orrery let him have it. "Up to now", he declared, "I was testing you. Now I am going to offer you a bargain. I will promise to tell you truly who made my little sun and planets down here as soon as you tell me truly Who made the infinitely bigger, more wonderful and more beautiful real sun and planets up there in the heavens".

    `The atheist turned a little pale and, for the first time, began to wonder whether the Universe could really have made itself, or possibly be running all this time automatically and unguided by the slightest twinge of intelligence. And this was the origin of the Orrery Theorem which says: "If the model of any natural system requires intelligence for its creation and its working, the real natural system requires at least as much intelligence for its own creation and working."'[205]

This anecdote is suggestive not so much for its persuasiveness, as for that subtle irony which is a distinctive feature of anyone who has attained a universal view of life and existence and consequently to a serenity, which we think -- because Bahá'u'lláh states it -- to be man's birthright.[206] Any other out-look is conducive only to fruitless and unacceptable pessimism, or at most to agnosticism, which we accept only as a refuge where clever minds may withdraw, when they do not meet or recognize anything worthy of their trust during their lives. But it is only a pause, a limbo whence they must sooner or later emerge to face with all its implications the inescapable task of finding an answer to the great existential questions of life, lest other forces prevail. Such forces, denying the transcendental worlds, deprive life of its meaning and human values of their pregnancy, and reduce man to being satisfied with considering himself an intelligent animal and thus becoming the most foolish of all living creatures -- a creature who prefers to be even as his inferiors, who stupidly upholds and sanctions a society poisoned by competition and war. Whereas the concepts of the atom and of evolution, as explained in the Bahá'í texts, are in themselves a mighty trace of God in this phenomenal world, a trace which it is worthwhile following if that `knowledge of God'207 in which all things begin is to be attained.

End notes:

[1] After Galileo published his Dialogues about the Two Greatest Systems in the World (1632), in defence of the Copernican system against the Ptolemaic system, he was put on trial for heresy. This trial went on till 22 June 1633, when it ended in Galileo's forced abjuration of his theories.

[2] On 15 May 1979, the Universal House of Justice issued a message to the Bahá'ís of the world, establishing some fundamental principles for Bahá'í scholars: `the principle of harmony of science and religion means not only that religious teachings should be studied in the light of reason and evidence as well as of faith and inspiration, but also that everything in creation, all aspects of human life and knowledge, should be studied in the light of revelation as well as in that of purely rational investigation. In other words, a Bahá'í scholar, when studying a subject, should not lock out of his mind any aspect of truth that is known to him.' (The Universal House of Justice, `The Challenge and Promise of Bahá'í Scholarship', in Bahá'í World, XVII, pp.195-6.)

[3] `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `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, while on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.' (Paris Talks, p.143.)

[4] See Hakim Sana'i, `Apologo dell'Elefante e dei Ciechi' in M.M. Moreno, Antologia della Mistica Arabo-Persiana, p.29.

[5] Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets, p.147. See Plato, Republic, Book VII.

[6] Promulgation, pp.29, 49, 297.

[7] ibid. p.272.

[8] `Tablet to Dr. A. Forel' in Bahá'í World, XV, p.41.

9 Gleanings, p.62.

[10] Some Answered Questions, p.146.

[11] In Islamic tradition, the essential attributes are might, science, life, will, hearing, sight and word; the active attributes are love, command, perception, and -- according to some scholars -- will and word.

[12] For a preliminary study of divine attributes as presented in Islamic tradition and in the Bahá'í Faith, See J.R. Cole, `The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings', in Bahá'í Studies, IX, pp.3-5, 25-9.

[13] Some Answered Questions, pp.148, 280, 148-9.

[14] See Some Answered Questions, pp.148-9.

[15] Promulgation, p.159.

[16] Divine Philosophy, p.145.

[17] Promulgation, pp.274, 219.

[18] Tablets, p.140.

[19] Some Answered Questions, p.202.

[20] See Some Answered Questions, pp.202-4.

[21] Gleanings, p.337. From this point of view, the physical world might be Seen -- according to J.S. Hatcher -- as a metaphor of the spiritual world. See below, pp.206-9.

[22] Promulgation, p.15.

[23] Promulgation, p.15.

[24] The Persian word nafs is translated into English in the Bahá'í literature sometimes as `self', sometimes as `soul'. The term Soul of God translates the Persian nafs-i-rahmaníyyih, i.e. literally, `the Soul of the Merciful'.

[25] Some Answered Questions, p.230. This tripartition of being is a pattern which can be perceived in many aspects of reality. While explaining the Christian concept of Trinity, `Abdu'l-Bahá writes in one of His Tablets: `...there are necessarily three things: the Giver of the Grace, and the Grace, and the Recipient of the Grace; the Source of the Effulgence, the Effulgence, and the Recipient of the Effulgence; the Illuminator, and the Illumination, and the Illuminated.' (Tablets, p.117.) Further, He likens these three `things' to the sun, its rays and the objects on which these rays fall. The same pattern and the same explanation apply also in other circumstances: God, the world of the Kingdom, the world of creation; God, the outpouring of His active attributes, the world of the Kingdom; the world of the Kingdom, spirit, the world of creation; God, the Most Great Spirit, the Manifestation of God; the Manifestation of God, the spirit of faith, man; spirit, human soul, human body; soul, its mental faculties, human body. These concepts will be explained further on.

[26] As for the philosophical language used in the Bahá'í texts, See above p.26 and n.29.

[27] Some Answered Questions, pp.294, 203.

[28] Hidden Words, Arabic no. 3.

[29] Promulgation, p.219.

[30] Tablets, p.140.

[31] Some Answered Questions, p.203. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `All that is in heaven and all that is in the earth have come to exist at His bidding, and by His Will all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being.' (Gleanings, p.318.)

[32] Quoted in Star of the West, VII, p.100. When `Abdu'l-Bahá was still a youth He wrote a famous commentary on this well-known tradition ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad Himself. This commentary, entitled Tafsír-i-Kuntu Kanzan Makhfíyyan, has not yet been translated into Western languages. J.R. Cole gives a short summary of its contents in his `The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings', in Bahá'í Studies, IX, pp.25-9.

[33] Paris Talks, p.180.

[34] Promulgation, pp.15, 297, 268, 211, 397, 15, 255. In another passage, `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `God is love and all phenomena find source and emanation in that divine current of creation. The love of God haloes all created things. Were it not for the love of God, no animate being would exist.' (ibid. p.315.) He writes, moreover, that true joy is `spiritual happiness' and that this happiness is `the love of God'. `This happiness is but the eternal might, the brilliant traces of which are shining forth unto the temples of unity. Were it not for this happiness the world of existence would have not been created.' (quoted in M.M. Rabb, `The Divine Art of Living' in Star of the West, VII, p.163.)

[35] Paris Talks, p.180.

[36] Some Answered Questions, p.203.

[37] Promulgation, pp.159, 219.

38 Gleanings, pp.150, 162.

[39] Promulgation, p.462.

[40] That the world of the Kingdom is also referred to as Sun of Truth or Sun of Reality may well astonish or perplex Western readers, accustomed as they are to a univocal and schematic language. But in the Bahá'í texts metaphors are not used as though they were rigid symbols. The same metaphor is suggested, in different contexts, to convey different spiritual concepts. Such a flexible use of metaphors is typical of Islamic literary style, both in Arabic and Persian. (For the Islamic and Persian literary styles See A. Bausani, Persia Religiosa, pp.347-50, and J.S. Hatcher, `The Metaphorical Nature of Material Reality', in Bahá'í Studies, III.)

In this context, therefore, the sun -- which is often presented as a metaphor for the Essence of God -- indicates His First Emanation, the world of the Kingdom. Therefore, in this context, the essence of the sun Seems a metaphor for the Essence of God; the image of the sun which our eyes perceive in the sky seems to refer to the world of the Kingdom; the rays of the sun are the bounties emanating from the world of the Kingdom, bounties that in the Bahá'í texts are often termed spirit.

[41] Promulgation, pp.74, 93-4.

[42] Ibid. p.15.

[43] In Persian nafs-i-rahmaníyyih. See above p.35, n. 24.

44 Gleanings, p.61.

[45] Promulgation, pp.313, 286, 273, 88.

[46] Paris Talks, p.25.

[47] Promulgation, pp.390, 88.

[48] Ibid. pp.58, 286.

[49] Tablets, p.611.

[50] Promulgation, p.271.

[51] ibid. p.268.

[52] Some Answered Questions, p.143.

[53] Some Answered Questions, p.143.

[54] `Survival and Salvation', in Star of the West, VII, p.190. Any student of the Bahá'í teachings on spirit, soul, mind, etc. is faced by a certain difficulty of language, which Shoghi Effendi himself pointed out, writing through his secretary: `When studying at present, in English, the available Bahá'í writings on the subject of body, soul and spirit, one is handicapped by a certain lack of clarity, because not all were translated by the same person, and also there are, as you know, still many Bahá'í writings untranslated. But there is no doubt that spirit and soul Seem to have been interchanged in meaning sometimes; soul and mind have, likewise, been interchanged in meaning, no doubt due to difficulties arising from different translations. What the Bahá'ís do believe though, is that we have three aspects of our humanness, so to speak, a body, a mind and an immortal identity -- soul or spirit. We believe the mind forms a link between the soul and the body, and the two interact on each other.' (quoted in Arohanui, p.89.)

Moreover these difficulties increase because of certain differences between Western and Islamic terminology and of the different meanings ascribed within these two cultures to such words as spirit, soul and mind. An explanation of the meanings of the words spirit, soul and mind as they are used in this book may be found at pp.40, 145, 156 respectively. Such difficulty of language obliges any scholar who intend to achieve a deeper comprehension of these concepts to be always mentally alert, in his efforts to understand. These mental exertions, somehow, train them in avoiding any rigidity and schematism, which is always detrimental whenever such subtle spiritual themes are studied. In fact spirit, as a living reality, is ever-changing in its manifestations; therefore -- within its scope -- any definition, which is perforce rigid, is inadequate. It follows that, whenever such words as spirit, soul, mind are mentioned, it should be kept in mind that they indicate different aspects of a single reality in its different functions. For example in quotation n.54 p.40, the word spirit Seems to indicate the soul of man when the divine reality has appeared in it; whereas the word soul Seem to indicate the soul in its relationship with the body. In other texts (See Some Answered Questions, p.264. the terms rational soul and human spirit Seem to indicate the soul of man in its usually accepted meaning.

55 See Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p.109.

[56] Regarding the concept of the Manifestation of God, See below pp.100-114.

[57] See `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets, p.117. The Bahá'í Faith vigorously upholds the concept of the oneness of the Manifestations of God. See below pp.107-10.

[58] Promulgation, pp.219, 272.

[59] Quoted in M.M. Rabb, `The Divine Art of Living' in Star of the West VIII, p.123.

[60] Some Answered Questions, p.295.

[61] Selections, p.161.

[62] Promulgation, p.160.

[63] Some Answered Questions, p.296. This divine presence throughout creation is called by Bahá'u'lláh `Universal Revelation'..(Kitáb-i-Íqán, p.139.) A short explanation of this concept is given by J.R. Cole in `The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings' in Bahá'í Studies, IX, pp.18-20.

[64] Promulgation, p.101.

[65] Gleanings, p.328.

[66] `How is it possible to imagine life after death?' in Star of the West, XI, p.316.

[67] Divine Philosophy, p.133. In the Bahá'í view the material world, when compared to the spiritual world is but a shadow; but it has its own existence. See below, pp.49, 60, 216.

68 Tablets, p.142.

[69] `Tablet to Dr. A. Forel' in Bahá'í World, XV, p.39.

[70] `It is the time which His Holiness Christ calls the "Day of Marriage"` in Star of the West, XII, p.194. `Abdu'l-Bahá also gives another meaning to the word `nature', i.e. the animal kingdom or `world of nature', as different from, and inferior to, the `human kingdom or world of reason'.(Promulgation, pp.309, 312, 356-7.)

[71] Gleanings, p.61.

72 `It is the time which His Holiness Christ calls the "Day of Marriage"' in Star of the West, XII, p.194.

[73] Gleanings, pp.151-2, 152.

[74] Promulgation, pp.220, 274.

[75] Divine Philosophy, pp.136, 110, 162.

76 Selections, p.185.

[77] Some Answered Questions, pp.183, 180, 281.

[78] See Some Answered Questions, pp.180, 204, 281; Promulgation, pp.87-9.

[79] This is one of those principles or theorems of conservation, stating the constancy in time of such physical dimensions as mass, energy, quantity of movement, momentum. These theorems, originally enunciated as philosophical statements, were afterwards expressed in scientific terms, thanks to the discoveries made by Lavoisier (1743-1794).

[80] Gleanings, pp.189.

[81] Promulgation, p.79.

[82] Some Answered Questions, p.177.

[83] Gleanings, pp.166, 188.

[84] The Bahá'í concept of good and evil is that `... there is no evil in existence; all that God created He created good. This evil is nothingness; so death is absence of life... darkness is the absence of light.' (Some Answered Questions, p.264) See also Some Answered Questions, pp.215, 263- 4; Promulgation, p.259; and W.S. Hatcher, `A Logical Solution to the Problem of Evil' in Zygon, IX, p.3. Regarding the concept of the non-existence of evil explained by `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi wrote through his secretary: `We must never take one sentence in the Teachings and isolate it from the rest... We know the absence of light is darkness, but no one would assert darkness was not a fact. It exists even though it is only the absence of something else. So evil exists too, and we cannot close our eyes to it, even though it is a negative existence. We must Seek to supplant it by good.' (Unfolding Destiny, pp.457-8.) See also below, p.89.

[85] Promulgation, p.293.

[86] `Divine Contentment' in Star of the West, XIV, p.168.

[87] Paris Talks, p.90.

[88] Gleanings, p.189.

[89] Promulgation, p.329.

[90] Some Answered Questions, p.230.

[91] `Abdu'l-Bahá, in Bahá'í World Faith, p.364.

[92] Promulgation, p.463.

[93] Some Answered Questions, pp.182, 199.

[94] It is on the ground of this cosmological principle that many scientists are today trying to explain the oneness of the four fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, the electro-magnetic fields, the weak interactions of Fermi and strong interactions (or nuclear forces). For the time being this oneness is far from having been proved. But the fact itself that physicists are making efforts in this direction demonstrates their trust in the cosmological principle.

[95] Promulgation, p.349.

[96] Selections, p.157.

[97] Divine Philosophy, p.111.

[98] Selections, p.157.

[99] Quoted in Huqúqu'lláh (comp.), no. 61.

100 Selections, p.157.

[101] Some Answered Questions, p.247.

[102] Promulgation, p.270.

[103] `...within it lieth the true explanation of pantheism', says `Abdu'l-Bahá (Promulgation, p.286). See Some Answered Questions, pp.290-6; Promulgation, pp.284-9.

[104] Gleanings, p.160.

[105] Some Answered Questions, p.6.

106 Gleanings, p.328.

[107] Selections, pp.63, 197-8.

[108] Some Answered Questions, p.283.

[109] This concept is the foundation of the arguments advanced by `Abdu'l-Bahá against the concept of reincarnation. See Some Answered Questions, pp.283-4.

[110] Promulgation, pp.285, 378, 279, 309, 400.

[111] Quoted in The Establishment of the Universal House of Justice comp.), p.47.

[112] Selections, p.178.

[113] See Selections, pp.289-90; Promulgation, pp.160, 284-6, 306, 350; Paris Talks, pp.90-1.

[114] Promulgation, pp.349, 306.

[115] ibid. pp.306, 88, 306, 87.

[116] ibid. pp.284, 87.

[117] ibid. p.4, 207, 286, 255, 59, 58.

[118] ibid. p.285.

[119] ibid. pp.284-6, 349, 350, 349.

[120] Some Answered Questions, p.182.

[121] Promulgation, p.350.

[122] G. Vegni, `Atomo' in Enciclopedia della Scienza e della Tecnica, II, p.373.

[123] Ernest Rutherford of Nelson (1871-1937), New Zealander, Nobel Prize in 1906, well known for his studies on the theory of radioactivity and the atomic structure.

[124] E. Fermi, `Atomo' in Enciclopedia Italiana, V, p.245.

[125] We are reminded of the following words by `Abdu'l-Bahá: `The smallest atoms in the universe are similar to the greatest beings of the universe...' (Some Answered Questions, p.182.)

[126] Promulgation, p.140.

[127] Paris Talks, p.88.

[128] Promulgation, p.4.

[129] `Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `Love is... the unique power that bindeth together the divers elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movement of the spheres in the celestial realms.' (Selections, p.27.)

[130] Promulgation, p.207.

[131] Promulgation, pp.285, 285-6, 285, 14.

[132] Some Answered Questions, p.182.

[133] `Tablet to Dr. A. Forel' in Bahá'í World, XV, p.40.

[134] Promulgation, p.349.

[135] Some Answered Questions, p.182. The charm of such concepts has not escape some modern scientists who, perceiving a similarity between the greatest and the smallest, advanced a theory on the structure of the universe wherefore the universe could be an enormous adron and, viceversa, adrons could be considered as strong microuniverses. See E.Recami, `Particelle elementari come microuniversi', in Scienza e Tecnica 79, pp.60, 64.

[136] `The Three Realities' in Star of the West, VII, p.119.

[137] Promulgation, p.67.

[138] Some Answered Questions, p.138.

[139] Gleanings, p.166. Bahá'u'lláh writes: `... whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God... To a supreme degree is this true of man... for in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed.' (Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp.100-101.)

[140] Gleanings, pp.61, 65.

[141] Promulgation, pp.286, 285.

[142] Quoted in `The Need of a Universal Program' in Star of the West, XIII, p.132.

[143] Promulgation, pp.293, 101, 140.

[144] Some Answered Questions, p.233.

[145] `Progress in Religion' in Star of the West, XIII, p.99.

[146] Paris Talks, pp.90, 88.

[147] Promulgation, pp.293, 285.

[148] Regarding motion `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `There are different degrees of motion. There is a motion of transit, that is from place to place... Another kind is the motion of inherent growth, like that of man from the condition of childhood to the state of manhood... The third is the motion of condition -- the sick man passes from the stage of sickness to the state of health. The fourth motion is that of the spirit. For instance, the child while in the mother's womb has all the potential qualities of the spirit, but those qualities begin to unfold little by little, as the child is born and grows and develops, finally manifesting all the attributes and the qualities of the spirit. The fifth is the motion of the intellect whereby the ignorant become wise... the carnally minded spiritual... The sixth motion is that of the eternal essence. That is to say, all phenomena either step from the arena of non-existence into the court of objectivity, or from existence into non-existence. Just as being in motion is the test of life, so being stationary is the test of death and when a moving object stops it retrogrades.'(`Abdu'l-Bahá, Abdul-Baha on Divine Philosophy, pp.120-1.)

[149] Some Answered Questions, p.233.

[150] Promulgation, pp.131, 349.

[151] The very interesting general systemic theory of evolution advanced by E. Laszlo Seems to agree with this concept of evolution viewed as a single great plan involving the entire creation. E. Laszlo writes: `Scientific evidence of the patterns traced by evolution in the physical universe, in the living world, and even in the world of history is growing rapidly. It is coalescing into the image of basic regularities that repeat and recur.' (Evolution, p.5.)

[152] Paris Talks, p.88.

[153] These concepts also Seem to fit in the theory advanced by E. Laszlo, when he writes that in the process of evolution `we find an increase in the level of organization' and `can readily appreciate that the products of evolution are distributed on multiple hierarchical levels.' (Evolution, p.24.)

[154] Some Answered Questions, p.230.

[155] Promulgation, pp.124, 220.

[156] See above, p.47.

[157] Promulgation, pp.88-9.

[158] ibid. p.104.

[159] ibid. pp.131, 160.

[160] ibid. p.430.

[161] Some Answered Questions, p.230.

[162] Promulgation, p.124.

[163] Promulgation, p.89.

[164] `Tablet to Dr. A. Forel' in Bahá'í World, XV, p.38.

[165] Luke 9:50.

[166] Some Answered Questions, p.278.

[167] ibid. p.160.

168 Kitáb-i-Íqán, p.102.

[169] Promulgation, pp.160, 240.

[170] Selections, p.61.

[171] Promulgation, p.279.

[172] Quoted in A. Kunz, `Some Questions about science and religion' in Star of the West, XIII, p.143.

[173] Some Answered Questions, p.230.

[174] `Abdu'l-Bahá writes: `Know that spirit in general is divided in five sorts -- the vegetable spirit, the animal spirit, the human spirit, the spirit of faith and the divine spirit of sanctity...'; He then continues saying that the vegetable, animal and human spirits `are not reckoned as Spirit in the terminology of the Scriptures and the usage of the people of truth, inasmuch as the laws governing them are as the laws which govern all phenomenal being [i.e. all existences belonging to the phenomenal or the material universe, called `the world of generation and corruption'], in respect to generation, corruption, production, change and reversion...'.(Tablets,pp.115-6.)

[175] Tablets,p.141.

[176] Paris Talks, p.90.

[177] Promulgation, p.132.

[178] Paris Talks, p.90.

[179] Promulgation, pp.349, 14.

[180] Some Answered Questions, p.199.

[181] Some Answered Questions, p.199.

[182] Promulgation, pp.173, 88, 87.

[183] Promulgation, p.268.

[184] ibid.

[185] Some Answered Questions, p.143.

[186] Promulgation, pp.29, 268, 17.

[187] Some Answered Questions, p.3.

[188] Promulgation, p.240.

[189] Some Answered Questions, p.143.

[190] Promulgation, pp.49, 51, 17, 31.

[191] Some Answered Questions, pp.143-4.

[192] In this connection `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `The world is like a tree; the mineral kingdom is like the root; the vegetable kingdom is like the branches; the animal kingdom is like the blossoms; and man is like unto the fruit of that tree. The tree is but for its fruit. If the gardener did not expect fruit, he would never plant trees. In the same way everything is for man.'(quoted in G. Winterburn, Table Talks with Abdul-Baha, p.12.)

[193] Promulgation, p.15.

[194] Some Answered Questions, p.235.

[195] Selections, p.130.

[196] Some Answered Questions, p.286.

[197] Gleanings, p.190.

[198] Promulgation, p.359.

[199] Some Answered Questions, p.193.

[200] Promulgation, p.124.

[201] `Abdu'l-Bahá says: `... the species existing on this earth are phenomenal, for it is established that there was a time when these species did not exist on the surface of the earth.'(Some Answered Questions, p.151.)

[202] Some Answered Questions, p.201.

[203] Promulgation, p.220.

[204] K. Lorenz writes: `The mistakes and dead ends into which evolutionary processes can be lured by momentary advantages are everything except irrelevant to the continued existence of the lineage in question.' (The Waning of Humaneness, p.21). Lorenz is one of those scientists who deny a teleological order in the universe.

[205] The Seven Mysteries of Life, p.611.

[206] For an explanation of the concept that happiness is a human birthright See G. Townshend, The Mission of Bahá'u'lláh, pp.88 passim.

207 Gleanings, p.5.

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