Examination of the Environmental Crisis
Chapter 6: An Examination of Selected Elements of a Bahá'í Model of Metaphysics (With a Particular Focus on the Balance Between Instrumental and Intrinsic Value)
As was seen in chapter one, the overall tendency of the community, particularly the scientific and political community, is to view the causes of the global environmental crisis as external to humanity rather than found within internal metaphysics. There is common acceptance that many of the problems of our global crisis find their roots in such negative human qualities expressed in greed, corruption, and selfish clinging to national interests. Yet the corresponding and logical deduction that the positive spiritual counterparts of these negative qualities, such as selflessness, trustworthiness and service to others represent what is lacking in education, social relationships and economic policies, is less commonly accepted. Even those analytical attempts at engaging a fractured metaphysics can be superficial in that they attempt to restructure the human vision in relatively shallow ways. The dysfunctional fracturing of metaphysics is more than a breach between perception of subjective and objective, or a pattern of dualistic objectification within social relationships. These are manifestations of a deeper spiritual illness.
The current remedies being applied to the global crisis are predominantly technological. The problems are seen to be external variables that can be manipulated by technical solutions which allow for greater productivity, cleaner processes, balance of economic markets by a variety of moderating tools such as varying interest rates, or the creation of new legislative bodies, etc. In response to the symptoms plaguing the planet politicians, leaders, and most of humanity, seem to try changing everything but themselves. While in fact those external variables of hunger, poverty, disease, ocean pollution, global warming etc., are not the disease itself, but rather symptoms and represent a 'third stage' of complications of the true 'virus'. As discussed in chapter four, the fracturing of our metaphysics, which finds its historical expression primarily since the enlightenment, is the secondary stage of the disease. These secondary complications, characterized by dualistic forms of domination and objectification expressed in a variety of relationships, may appear to represent the primary source of the earth's woes. And while if we directly engage those problems, we apparently cut straight to the heart of the illness, a proper restoration of health requires an essential acknowledgement. At its core, this disease is ultimately a loss of the capacity to love. It is an internal fragmentation of our own spirits and their vision in response to a self-imposed alienation from loving relationships. Primarily this alienation and hyper-isolation of individuals from each other and nature is a result of our human capacity for universal fellowship having atrophied. What is it that is most conducive to universal fellowship and a restoration of such loving relationships? Bahá'u'lláh's revelation suggests a civilization that is infused with the love of God.
The vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it?
These words are not some shallow attempt at justifying religious dogma. For this 'love of God' facilitates filial affection for all expressions of life, ourselves, our family, the diverse range of cultures in our global community, and more importantly in the context of this thesis, the earth and its diverse inhabitants within our ecosystem. The love of God evokes creative responses and infinitely diverse manifestations of capacity throughout reality, from the smallest of particles that have yet to be discovered, to the human spirit, to the civilization in which we dwell, to the macrocosm itself. The conscious response to our relationship with God represents the panacea whose efficacy alone can heal the neurosis of human spirit afflicting current civilization and subsequently the degradation of the natural environment.
As was seen in chapter two, there are a variety of modern philosophical responses to the environmental crisis that attempt to offer metaphysical critiques of its causes and propose solutions. Chapter three has shown that there are a number of tensions in such efforts, particularly when the issue of the value of nature, from categories of moral considerability, to theories of intrinsic value are discussed. As has been seen in chapter two, many consider it the most important issue in resolving the environmental crisis as an act of reconciling our internal metaphysics with our ecosystems. As important as determining the possibility of intrinsic value is, it is also perhaps the most problematic of all philosophical considerations in eco-philosophy.
It seems impossible to provide reasons for valuing natural kinds. It seems to me that the world would be a worse place if we were to lose the tiger, bald eagle, or the various species of whale, but I do not know how to justify this view to someone who disagrees.
Of the tensions discussed in chapter three, those tensions arising in postulating intrinsic value theories are most evident. It has been proposed that the primary reasons the postmodern philosophers find difficulty in attributing value to nature is this fracturing of western internal metaphysics.
As was seen in Chapter four, the reasons for this tension in these post-modern attempts are complex, yet are all representative of a type of complicated spiritual neurosis in which holistic relationships are compromised by the exclusion of the spiritual aspects of reality, ultimately represented by the rejection of the plausibility of models that incorporate God as a necessary 'principle'. Together, chapters four and five suggest that modern science has developed levels of sophistication in which it is becomes possible to move beyond these earlier prejudices against God's necessary existence and to allow for a more relational models of reality, one in which the fracturing of metaphysics can move towards restoration.
However, this potential for a restoration of the variety of metaphysical relationships has not fully been absorbed by the eco-philosophical community and there is often still a strong distrust of the possibility of universal spiritual principles or of a God that may have authored them. In attempting to propose philosophical solutions to this hyperseperation of relationships, most post modern eco-philosophers have thrown the baby out with the bath-water. This has occurred for numerous reasons. Primarily, the God that has been rejected has been a God created in the image of the enlightenment philosophers themselves, generally an overly masculine God who is Himself detached from nature, and Whose capacity for love is diminished by either being posited in the Deist sense as removed and external, or in the other extreme as controlling and deterministic. Combining these conceptions of a God who expresses dysfunctional forms of love, with historical religious patterns of human imposed epistemic tyranny and severe social injustice, has lead many to reject the most necessary philosophical premise of all. The inclusion of an All-Loving God as the Ultimate Empowering Force of freedom and agency in creation provides a grounding in which the necessary philosophical principles related to postulating an intrinsic value of nature can be logically proposed with integrity. What are these necessary elements that are dysfunctionally related if not impossible without the premise of God? A roundtable discussion of many of the post-modern eco-philosophers as suggested in chapter two would possibly suggest the following principles:
A conception of nature in which it possesses
1) Both anthropogenic instrumental value and non-anthropogenic intrinsic value.
2) Agency and intentionality.
3) Uniqueness in value, function and purpose
4) Authentic interdependence (authentic relational ontology)
5) Provision of a non-anthropocentric basis of ethics
In addition to these principles the following discussion of a suggested Bahá'í model is productive in that it facilitates a vision of nature in which each individual being, from the level of sub-atomic particles to the greatest of objects,
6) Possesses the capacity for infinite emergent intrinsic spiritual value.
This final chapter will focus on these selected elements of a proposed Bahá'í model of metaphysics that are conducive to the above mentioned elements which are ultimately necessary for the restoration of the balance between instrumental and intrinsic value.
As a preliminary to the investigation of selected elements of a Bahá'í metaphysics appropriate to the discussion in hand it important to make a few acknowledgements.
Most discussions of Bahá'í metaphysics use comparative studies of Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Babi and Bahá'í literary, and philosophical motifs as well as historical criticism. As well, there has been a strong emphasis on the neoplatonic language and forms, as used by Bahá'u'lláh, responding to the contexts of His historical audience who had been influenced by a variety of neoplatonic interpreters such as Plotinus, Avicenna and Shaykh Ahmad. Such investigations are essential to understand the hermeneutical context of scripture; as well it is clear that form and content are highly interdependent. It has been said 'the medium is the message'. However, as the Bahá'í revelation purports to be universal in scope and its principles are meant to embrace the full variety of human cultural contexts, I believe such Islamic and Neoplatonic motifs are non-essential elements of the cultural revelatory medium. As such, these apparent philosophical influences are a historical coincidence related to qualities of expression, rather than imposing necessary philosophical requirements on all authentic models of Bahá'í metaphysics. This goes towards the important acknowledgement of the potential diversity of authentic Bahá'í propositions of a model of ecology, from practical applications to suggested metaphysical paradigms. A Bahá'í of Hindu background may more creatively use her intuition of cyclic temporal aspects of reality in her engagement, while an indigenous African may more creatively use his intuition of the spiritual principles that relate this world and the next to equally foster a unique and valuable perspective. Each of the 2100 tribal and ethnic groups represented in the Bahá'í Faith bring different gifts to the table, and many of them are neither Islamic nor Neoplatonic in character.
Of the current works on metaphysics in the Bahá'í community, topics of discussion have included manifestation theology, to introductory explorations of the principles involved in the harmony of science and religion, to the relation of dualism and monism in Bahá'í texts, to the tension between the relative and the absolute, to principles of epistemology related to mature forms of inter-religious dialogue among a range of other metaphysical subjects. And while there have been introductory discussions of how general Bahá'í principles relate to ecology, there has been no direct engagement of the postmodern radical ecological movements attempts to develop metaphysical responses to the environmental crisis, and certainly no attention given to the balance between instrumental and intrinsic value in nature.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Evolution and the Relationship Between Humanity and Nature
What is needed is a consistent and coherent world view, and at least for some of us, the universe is easier to comprehend if we assume that it has both purpose and design.
Purpose and design are deeply integral to intrinsic value as they are directly related to issues of agency, intentionality, and uniqueness. The potential telos or purpose of nature emerges most essentially in discussions of evolution. The principles of evolutionary theory are also deeply related to qualities of interdependence that can affect models of ontology.
The specific manner in which the ultimate telos of nature will unfold is of course a mystery. However, from a Bahá'í perspective, it is proposed that nature finds its grounding and source in the Love of God, and is an active and relational expression of God's Will, and that nature manifests by its physical diversity the names and attributes of God's Being.
...the object of existence is the appearance of the perfections of God.
Evolutionary processes are conducive to the ongoing increase in both the development of a range of physical attributes possessed by its individual creatures as well as the complexity and sophistication of the relationships between such creatures. As these physical attributes and relationships are the manifestations of spiritual attributes in the contingent world, it appears that the purpose of nature is the gradual unfoldment of the infinite Being of God in the contingent order. With this purpose appears to be a parallel movement of the universe to develop the capacity for sentience in order to become self-aware of its reflective capacity.
More specific reference needs to be made to evolution of humanity in general and its implications for our relationship with nature. It is not possible, within the confines of this thesis, to discuss comprehensively the Bahá'í understanding of evolution. Yet a basic examination of `Abdu'l-Bahá's concepts related to evolution provide a sufficient hermeneutical circle of meaning.
The majority of texts dealing directly with evolution are written by Abdu'l-Bahá from the first decade of the 20th century. Competent and comprehensive examinations of the historical and philosophical context of Abdu'l-Bahá's discussions on evolution have recently been done by Eberhard von Kitzing and Keven Brown.
It would be inappropriate to examine Abdu'l-Bahá's writings on evolution from a modern Neo-Darwinist concept of the evolution of species; that is the random variations of the genotypes combined with the natural selection of newly emergent phenotypes based on their ability to adapt to new environmental conditions. Abdu'l-Bahá wrote much of his discussions of evolution between 1904-1906. It is to a number of philosophical assumptions about evolution, held in the late 19th century through the turn of the century, both in the Middle East and in Europe, that Abdu'l-Bahá addressed his discussions. Keven Brown illustrates that Abdu'l-Bahá would have been well aware of the central concepts of Darwinism, the arguments of Darwin's supporters and detractors, as well as the Muslim debates regarding it in the Middle East.
...Muslim thinkers, in general, rejected Darwin's theory insofar as
it called for speciation by random variation and natural selection
alone and failed to allow for the role of God's Wisdom in the
creation of species.
To summarize the context, Abdu'l-Bahá was concerned to offer the Bahá'í understanding of evolution adjusted to the context of balancing a number of disparate philosophical assumptions, particularly between two extremes. Between that of the materialistic non-purposive Darwinian understanding as proposed by a number of advocates, and the classical Platonic ideas of species essentialism combined with creationism as transmitted in both in Muslim and Christian philosophy, Abdu'l-Bahá's concern was not to argue for or against the biological mechanisms of evolution; and most definitely not from a modern definition of such mechanisms. Examinations of Abdu'l-Bahá's writings on the subject which erroneously apply the modern understanding of biology, tend to result in proposals of parallel evolution in order to justify the apparent logic of his arguments. Or at the very least such applications indicate a confusion between the modern concept of species and the more general archetypal platonic essentialist category which Abdu'l-Bahá's usage more closely resembled.
Keven Brown presents a useful summary of some of the elements of `Abdu'l-Bahá's paradigm of evolution:
'Abdu'l-Bahá held that religion and science must ultimately agree,
and in his theory of creation by formation and evolution, he has
retained essential components from each. From the Holy
scriptures he has retained the concept of God as the creator of
species by his voluntary will; from science he has accepted what
had been categorically established, such as the great age of the
earth and the fact that numerous species have appeared and
disappeared during the vast expanse of geologic time. He also
supported the idea of the gradual development of beings, but only
within independent species and without giving up the key role of
`Abdu'l-Bahá, like most of his Muslim and Christian
contemporaries and his predecessors in medieval Islamic
philosophy, viewed the universe and its species as preexisting, in
plan, in the mind of the Creator. This understanding of the
universe intends to preserve for it a predetermined, non-arbitrary
meaning and purpose. From this perspective, biological species
and the relationships between them are the unfolding of
preexisting potentials inherent by design in the universe. When
and where these potentials become manifested varies by the needs
and preparedness of the environments in which they appear.
One of the important keys to understanding `Abdu'l-Bahá's model is what Kitzing calls a 'meta-biological concept' the 'originality of species'.
The existence of humanity is proposed to ground in non-trivial,
time invariant laws of nature, in timeless species essences, in the
reflection of the eternal names and attributes of God.
Consequently, the potential to form human beings exists from the
very beginning of our universe and is not created at some time
point as suggested by literal interpretations of the Old Testament,
nor were the human characteristics ad hoc self-created as for
instance proposed by Monod. `Abdu'l-Bahá combines two
arguments supporting the existence of a human species essence:
the classical Platonic idea of a harmonious and perfect universe
and the modern concept of the time invariance of the fundamental
laws of nature. Thus, `Abdu'l-Bahá assumes the principle
reproducibility of the results of nature. By means of these
arguments `Abdu'l-Bahá rebuts the self-creational concepts of
evolution held by "some European philosophers".''
Organic life is drawn to reflec the names and attributes of God. The spiritual agency of these names and attributes of God are an active force, the Will of God emanating from the Mind of God. `Abdu'l-Bahá offers this as the viable alternative to creation by accidental causes or by necessary causes.
Now, formation is of three kinds and of three kinds only:
accidental, necessary and voluntary. The coming together of the
various constituent elements of beings cannot be accidental, for
unto every effect there must be a cause. It cannot be necessary, for then the formation must be an inherent property of the constituent parts and the inherent property of a thing can in no wise be dissociated from it....the third formation remaineth and that is the voluntary one, that is, an unseen force described as the Ancient Power, causeth these elements to come together, every formation giving rise to a distinct being.
All matter is acknowledged to come from the one and diversify into the many, drawn upwards through the various stages of kingdoms.
Therefore, it is evident that in the beginning there was a single matter, and that one matter appeared in a particular form in each element. Thus various forms were produced, and these various forms as they were produced became independent, and each element was specialized. But this independence was not definite, and did not attain realization and perfect existence until after a very long time. Then these elements became composed, organized,
and combined in infinite forms; in other words, from the
composition and combination of these elements a limitless number of beings appeared.
This spiritual agency is sometimes alluded to as a series of spirit subsets such as the spirit of the mineral kingdom, vegetable, animal and humanity. The active force of its spirit influences each kingdom, until groups of its constituent elements are developed sufficiently to emerge into the next kingdom. When `Abdu'l-Bahá claims that man has always perfectly existed, he is referring to the human spirit, or potential and latent essence.
In the world of existence man has passed through various stages
until he has attained the human kingdom. In each stage the
capacity for ascent to the next stage has appeared. While in the
kingdom of the mineral the capacity to progress to the stage of the
plant appeared, and, therefore, he came into the vegetable
kingdom. In the vegetable kingdom, the capacity to progress into
the world of the animal was obtained, and thus he came into the
animal kingdom. Similarly, from the world of the animal he came
into the world of man....In this world, also, it is necessary to
prepare and make ready for the world to come. Whatever is
needed in the world of the Kingdom of God, man must prepare
and make ready for it here.
The human spirit acts as an agent empowering the physical form of the human,
Homo sapiens, towards a set of potentials which eventually reach a minimal condition of expressive capacity that enables the human soul to be 'attracted' to its form.
Moreover, these members, these elements, this composition, which are found in the organism of man, are an attraction and magnet for the spirit; it is certain that the spirit will appear in it... when these existing elements are gathered together according to the natural order, and with perfect strength, they become a magnet for the spirit, and the spirit will become manifest in them with all its perfections.
In other words, the physical form evolves until it attains a sufficient level of complexity allowing for a particular level of spiritual expression to attract the soul to it as a modus operendi in the contingent order. This minimal attribute is that of consciousness, or as `Abdu'l-Bahá calls it, the capacity for 'meditation'.
You cannot apply the name `man' to any being void of this faculty of meditation; without it he would be a mere animal, lower than the beasts. Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit – the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation.
It is clear then that the physical form is not what defines being 'human', but rather the capacity for consciousness. This means that other ecosystems on other planets which also generate environmental contexts eventually resulting in physical forms capable of consciousness, are not generating alien lifeforms, but other human beings whose soul merely has a different 'cultural context'.
Abdu'l-Bahá stated there are other worlds than ours which are inhabited by beings capable of knowing God.
Their souls express themselves through forms that look different, however the soul-body relationship exists entirely because the same basic spiritual requirements were met as exist in us. Therefore we may call them fellow humans. As Kitzing tells us:
The lack of reference to the biological characteristics of the
members of homo sapiens supports the idea that the human
species essence is to a lesser degree defined by biological
characteristics but mainly by spiritual virtues. This idea would allow for the existence of "human beings" in this universe with an organism differing from that of homo sapiens, i.e, with a different metabolism and morphology.
According to `Abdu'l-Bahá we already have an active relationship with such human beings, even if they are on the furthest end of the known Universe.
How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another! In the same way, the parts of this infinite universe have their members and elements connected with one another, and influence one another spiritually and materially.
Mention needs to be made of an apparent inconsistency in the writings of Abdu'l-Bahá in relation to how it compares with what we currently assume in modern biology. Consider the following Bahá'í text.
It is evident and confirmed that the development and growth of man on this planet, until he reached his present perfection, resembles the growth and development of the embryo in the womb of the mother: by degrees it passed from condition to condition, from form to form, from one shape to another, for this is according to the requirement of the universal system and divine law....Man's existence on this earth, from the beginning until it reaches this state, form, and condition, necessarily lasts a long time, and goes through many stages until it reaches this condition. But from the beginning of man's existence he has been a distinct species....Now assuming that the traces of organs which have disappeared actually existed, this is not a proof of the lack of independence and nonoriginality of the species. At most it proves that the form, appearance, and organs of man have evolved. But man has always been a distinct species, man, not animal.
It is submitted that `Abdu'l-Bahá was not proposing parallel evolution, nor was he advocating a particular physical mechanism of biology in the process of evolution. He was responding to the spiritual needs warranted by his historical context. This context required a reaffirmation of the uniqueness of the human spirit, rather than its form, as being ontologically different to the animal. It also required an affirmation of the physical mechanisms of biology be seen as a manifestation of spiritual relationships and not random chance so that the noble purpose of the human being would not be lost. Perhaps in his denial of the transmutation of species, Abdu'l-Bahá is aware of the materialist pre-occupation of indicating that man descended from the ape as a philosophical argument that denies the existence of man as an eternal archetype in the Mind of God as well as having a spiritual nature in general. Perhaps if the materialists had not placed such weight on this biological mechanism of transmutation as a proof of the denial of a spiritual human reality, Abdu'l-Bahá may have written with a different focus. Regarding interpreting `Abdul-Baha's texts as potentially advocating a theory of parallel evolution, Kitzing writes:
The answer to the question, how to understand the analogy between phylogeny and ontology, depends critically on assumptions about the general purpose of these talks. If, on the one hand, they are understood to give an outline of the fundamental reality of the universe in general and the reality of humanity in particular, about the philosophical concept of the origin of complex order in our world and the purposefulness of our cosmos based on God's plan, than this analogy should be understood as a convincing argument that essentialism and evolution are not mutually exclusive. If biological evolution is based on laws inherent in nature, it is not unlikely that also social laws, are God given, ruling the interactions among human beings, their moral behavior. Because the ``European philosophers'', representing an important philosophical school of modern evolution, reject the possibility of essentialistic evolution, such argument becomes rather important in the discussion of the general fundaments and driving forces of evolution. If the evolution of life is arbitrary, if order appears ad hoc without a cause, the same arbitrariness applies to social laws. They would be ad hoc, accidental. There would be no preference for a certain frame of laws. Any frame would apply as well. It is very likely that `Abdu'l-Bahá is much more concerned about the spiritual consequences of the theories of ``some European philosophers'' than about the details of biological development.
If, on the other hand, these passages are thought to be not so much concerned with fundamental verities of the origin of life and human spiritual reality, but with particular concepts of how biological life evolved on earth, than this analogy could be understood to indicate parallel evolution.
`Abdu'l-Bahá's differs from most Muslim presentations of essentialism in that it is not entirely deterministic. There is an openness to the development of species depending on environmental conditions and the manner in which the variety of species interact.
...the perfection of man is entirely due to the composition
of the atoms of the elements, to their measure, to the
method of their combination, and to the mutual influence
and action of the different beings. (emphasis added)
Earlier in the passage, Abdu'l-Bahá makes it clear that those beings include
all these endless beings which inhabit the world, whether
man, animal, vegetable, mineral whatever they may be...
`Abdu'l-Bahá's presentation of essentialism also differs from the classic Aristotelian model of the species essence being present from the beginning as an immutable archetype manifest in the contingent order in that he acknowledges the process of organic development towards the eternal immutable archetype held in the Mind of God.
One might say that the time invariant essence of species located in the Mind of God represents a range of potentials. The evolutionary process of beings towards their potential is not pre-determined, but is a response to numerous active relationships and environmental conditions. Depending on what context is realized will determine what range of the essence is manifested at a particular time.
This model has significant implications for human custodianship of nature. If evolution is filtered through the metaphysical lens of a neo-Darwinism of radical reductionist materialism, then random chance is the sole determination guiding environmental relationships. This leaves little role for humanity other than to accept principles of individualism, competition and exploitation of resources as a means for ensuring their own genetic reproduction in an otherwise apparently meaningless and often-cruel world. If evolution is filtered through the metaphysical lens of either creationism or an Aristotelian type of static essentialism, then the essential determinism of forms as enforced by the Mind of God results in the creative capacity of environmental relationships being bound by the narrow constraints of pre-determined archetypal forms. This leaves little role for humanity other than to recognize this pre-existent pattern, and freedom means the capacity to rebel or conform. At best, custodianship maintains the status-quo of the static balance of environmental relationships; at its worst it is the subjection of the environment for the use of humanity as the sole possessor of free will.
The metaphysical lens Abdu'l-Bahá gives us, allows for a third response. `Abdu'l-Bahá offered a logical application of the principle of the harmony of science and religion as applied to the theory of evolution and facilitated a moderate presentation that incorporates in a harmonious fashion apparently disparate elements from two extremes. `Abdu'l-Bahá found a way to express the active involvement of God in the evolutionary process entirely consistent with scientific principle, offering an alternative to the standard minimalist alternative of Deism, where God sets up the laws, winds the clock, stands back, and lets it go. In `Abdu'l-Bahá's model, both freedom and determinism coexist in a dynamic relationship. Freedom in the diverse capacity of environmental relationships to uniquely enable latent essence into active potential, and Divine Will, as both an empowering spiritual agent and as a range of boundary conditions of potential within which the free will of beings move towards, became possible.
Applied to custodianship, it implies that consciousness has a role in the recognition and respect for the creative capacity of interdependent relationships in our ecosystems.
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these reformed everything will be improved. Man [sic] is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.
Such recognition of interdependence also implies the importance of humility as a central principle in the application of custodianship. This is due to the acknowledgement of human dependence upon the natural world as seen in the following quote of Bahá'u'lláh:
Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men.
Extinction of Species Represents the Extinction of God's Attributes
From a Bahá'í perspective, as each species, and indeed each individual creature, bears a unique attribute, or set of attributes of God, their extinction implies the loss of a unique expression of God's Being in the contingent order. Thus extinction takes on tragic depth in the loss of creatures who manifest both intrinsic value inscrutable to all except the mind of God, as well on an instrumental level of value as examples of unique spiritual attributes for humanity to learn from and emulate.
I anticipate that there may be possible objections to this idea from particular popular elements of Bahá'í understandings of theology, as there are passages that appear to say that humans possess all the attributes of God and therefore there could never be a loss. This is assumed because as long as the human species exists, all attributes of God are actively manifested in the contingent order.
Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath
shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the
glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however,
He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes,
and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things
man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a
One might conclude from this passage that humanity possesses all the names and attributes of God and therefore the extinction of a species does not imply the loss of the unique expression of an attribute of God in the contingent order. However, it is clear from a deeper reading of this text and others that this would be incorrect.
Firstly in the very same passage, Bahá'u'lláh goes on to say that this reflective capacity is a form of latent potential, and is only manifested in relative degrees.
These energies with which the Day Star of Divine bounty and Source of heavenly guidance hath endowed the reality of man lie, however, latent within him, even as the flame is hidden within the candle and the rays of light are potentially present in the lamp.
(Bahá'u'lláh: Gleanings, pages 65-66)
The unfolding of this latent capacity is conditional upon a number of relative qualifications. First is a task that is possible only in degree, as the 'true seeker'
must, before all else, cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the
revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust
of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of
satanic fancy. He must purge his breast, which is the sanctuary of
the abiding love of the Beloved, of every defilement, and sanctify
his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all
shadowy and ephemeral attachments. He must so cleanse his heart
that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that
love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from
The means by which this cleansing is done is primarily by the recognition of and obedience to the Manifestations of God, in this period represented by Bahá'u'lláh.
They are commissioned to use the inspiration of Their words, the
effusions of Their infallible grace and the sanctifying breeze of
Their Revelation for the cleansing of every longing heart and
receptive spirit from the dross and dust of earthly cares and
limitations. Then, and only then, will the Trust of God, latent in
the reality of man, emerge, as resplendent as the rising Orb of
Divine Revelation, from behind the veil of concealment, and
implant the ensign of its revealed glory upon the summits of
So apparently the cleansing of our reflective potential is dependent on the use of faith, volition and action to scour the mirror of our hearts, but is also dependent on the grace of God as mediated by Manifestations of God. From this it is clear that human's reflective capacity is not only latent but is only relatively manifested according to the degree of these other variables.
Additionally, the infinite potential for reflective capacity is a characteristic of the human soul. For the reflective capacity to be manifest in the contingent world it must first be expressed via the physical component of the human: the body. As such it should be recognized that by a number of logical principles the human form is far from perfect in its ability to express an infinite range of spiritual attributes. The evolution of our planet has only recently created creatures capable of consciousness, a basic level of capacity necessary for a soul/body relationship that defines the human. Such evolution is continuing, and the human form will continue to become a more suitable tool for the expression of the human soul. But its imperfect capacity for expression is indisputable.
Thus, once all these are considered it is clear that while the human indeed possess infinite latent capacity for the reflection of God's infinite Being; the development of this reflective capacity is relative. As well, the vehicle whereby it is expressed, the human form, also constrains this infinite capacity to further conditions of relative expression.
Lastly the uniqueness of each creature cannot be underestimated. Each being has an internal intrinsic value inscrutable to all save the Mind of God. As Adib Taherzadeh illustrates, every creature manifests the name of God, the 'Incomparable'
. ...the attribute of God the Incomparable appears in every created
thing and therefore everything is unique.
He quotes the following from Bahá'u'lláh to illustrate:
Consider, in like manner, the revelation of the light of the Name
of God, the Incomparable. Behold, how this light hath enveloped
the entire creation, how each and every thing manifesteth the sign
of His Unity, testifieth to the reality of Him Who is the Eternal
Truth, proclaimeth His sovereignty, His oneness, and His power.
This revelation is a token of His mercy that hath encompassed all
A proposal in this thesis is that true freedom is the capacity to actively facilitate the emergence of this unique latent potential into manifest forms. Humanity possessing free will and the potential for positive spiritual development of themselves and their environment can make a major contribution towards the positive and diverse expressions of spiritual qualities unfolding in the contingent order, including their own. This radically affects traditional understandings of custodianship. It becomes not merely a process of maintaining ecological balance, or of subjugation as a resource to be plundered for human comfort. Custodianship entails participating in a Divine creative act of cultivating the relationships between our selves and nature and thereby increasing the spiritual richness of our own and all other species evolutionary processes. Under these assumptions, we are not mere passive observers of an evolution unfolding spiritual essences in the mind of God, but beings called into relationship to participate as responsible custodians of this glorious process. Most importantly for this discussion, it entails that we have a responsibility to develop consciously our capacity for the discernment of intrinsic spiritual value to assist in the creative act of the unfoldment of such potential. How is this done? More discussion will follow, but in its most simple essence, it entails responding to the love of God.
The universal infusion of Divine light: A model of authentic relational ontology
It should be reiterated that any proposed model does not definitively describe reality with certainty, but can only infer correlations within particular and limited relational contexts. When considering the range of potential models within Bahá'í texts, the self-diffusive (or 'emanation' as most Bahá'í scholars currently term) love of God as a Divine Light that infuses all of creation provide a relational scheme in which the necessary principles mentioned in the introduction of this chapter find relationships of integrity.
This model has a similar precedent with the classical Christian theologian Bonaventure who was mentioned in Chapter two of this thesis. To quote him again:
As a ray of light entering through a window is colored in different ways according to the different colors of the various parts, so the divine ray shines forth in each and every creature in different ways and in different properties.
The idea of the universe immersed in "oceans of eternal light" (Bahá'u'lláh's phrase) has many references in the Bahá'í writings. An aspect of the proposed model is that light is analogous to the love of God.
illumine your hearts with the light of His love.
It is the warmth that these Luminaries of God generate, and the undying fires they kindle, which cause the light of the love of God to burn fiercely in the heart of humanity.
Love is heaven's kindly light, the Holy Spirit's eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul.
The sources of this Divine light (which is also love) are the Manifestations of God,
Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great Light.
And when it shineth forth from the Horizon of the universe with infinite Divine Names and Attributes upon the contingent and placeless worlds, this constituteth the emergence of a new and wondrous creation which correspondeth to the stage of 'Thus I called creation into being'.
What is being mentioned in these passages is the function of the Manifestation of God in acting as a source of spiritual illumination (the 'Most Great Light) which progressively recreates creation, or to put it another way, empowers creation with new capacities that are unfolded in the evolutionary process. It is no coincidence 'Bahá'u'lláh', the title of the Bahá'í Manifestation of God, means 'Light of God'.
This universal emanation of Divine Light first bursts forth on the invisible spiritual level of reality,
It hath, therefore, become manifest and evident that within the tabernacles of these Prophets and chosen Ones of God the light of His infinite names and exalted attributes hath been reflected, even though the light of some of these attributes may or may not be outwardly revealed from these luminous Temples to the eyes of men.
It is then reflected in creation according to each being's unique reflective properties.
the fingers of divine power have unlocked the portals of the knowledge of God, and the light of divine knowledge and heavenly grace hath illumined and inspired the essence of all created things, in such wise that in each and every thing a door of knowledge hath been opened, and within every atom traces of the sun hath been made manifest.
The Prophets, on the contrary, believe that there is the world of God, the world of the Kingdom, and the world of Creation: three things. The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom, which emanates and 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 value of things.
Such reflection in the contingent order then influences material reality in stimulating the release of its emergent value in the physical realm:
It is the creative energies which His Revelation has released...and later reinforced by the successive effusions of celestial power vouchsafed...to all mankind, that have instilled into humanity the capacity to attain this final stage in its organic and collective evolution.
This light, as the love of God, possesses an infinite range of qualities. Although to outward appearances light is often considered 'white', within it is contained a spectrum of colours that can be infinitely subdivided in differentiation. Each being will reflect a different range or quality of this infinite spectrum according to its individual 'capacity,' and 'intrinsic value'. This intrinsic value is not conferred by human beings but rather rather by God. In fact, not only is this intrinsic value not conferred by humanity, but humanity is not capable of even perceiving this essence of intrinsic value in even the most basic of beings.
...not a single atom in the entire universe can be found which doth not declare the evidences of His might, which doth not glorify His holy Name, or is not expressive of the effulgent light of His unity. So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind nor heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures
When we consider the world of existence, we find that the essential reality underlying any given phenomenon is unknown. Phenomenal, or created, things are known to us only by their attributes. Man discerns only manifestations, or attributes, of objects, while the identity, or reality, of them remains hidden. For example, we call this object a flower. What do we understand by this name and title? We understand that the qualities appertaining to this organism are perceptible to us, but the intrinsic elemental reality, or identity, of it remains unknown. Its external appearance and manifest attributes are knowable; but the inner being, the underlying reality or intrinsic identity, is still beyond the ken and perception of our human powers.
So then, what is the point of an intrinsic value that we cannot see? What potential exists to give a unique value to nature if it remains hidden in the Mind of God? The true benefit of such intrinsic value is indicated when we examine the reflective capacity of each being and the manner in which each of these beings relate interdependently. While the essential intrinsic value of each being cannot be known directly, it can be apprehended through the qualities by which we perceive it. It is helpful to imagine each being possessing a crystalline structure whose composition of facets determine it unique spectral reflective capacity. When two such beings come into relation, they each will reflect a unique set of spectral qualities which will then merge in-between them to form a completely new set of qualities. So it is neither the intrinsic value nor even its reflection that we perceive, but rather, it is this set of qualities formed in relationship that forms a unique value between us. The love of God for creation, equally seen as a reflection of the love of God for God's-Self, is not only the source of its generating impulse but is the means by which its latent capacity unfolds in acts of freedom, eventually manifested by conscious acts of response. Returning to the earlier discussed concept of 'intellectual love', such epistemology based on love represents a framework in which the divide between rationalism and empiricism, and object and subject are transcended in relationship. In this case 'rationalism' represents the belief in the independent ability of reason to construct reality based on the archetypal forms residing intrinsically in the mind. While 'empiricism' as the belief that the investigation of reality is dependent upon the accumulative experience of the perception of external forms.
Considering the relational requirements of 'intellectual love', forms are not developed in the mind solely by the impression of the external world nor does the external world only become 'real' when our mind extends its categories upon it. There is a mutual relationship of the internal mind being attracted to the external Mind as found in nature. The principles of value are intrinsic to both our own minds and the intelligibility of nature, the 'external' Mind. The main point here is that there is intrinsic internal value (often called subjective) and external intrinsic value (often called objective) that find a participatory relationship through love. In a theocentric model in which intellectual love intuitively guides the person towards more authentic visions of reality, the love represents a meeting point of relationality which is neither an extension of self, or an impression by the other. Value finds a unique expression through the relationship between the two participants. This uniquely created value is neither the subjective externalization of internal value nor the internalization of objective external value, but is created somewhere in between.
As previously mentioned, each being is incomparably unique in its reflective capacity.
This is more explicitly stated by Bahá'u'lláh,
It should be borne in mind, however, that when the light of My Name, the All-Pervading, hath shed its radiance upon the universe, each and every created thing hath, according to a fixed decree, been endowed with the capacity to exercise a particular influence, and been made to possess a distinct virtue. Consider the effect of poison. Deadly though it is, it possesseth the power of exerting, under certain conditions, a beneficial influence. The potency infused into all created things is the direct consequence of the revelation of this most blessed Name.
The exciting implication of such a principle is that even the most basic forms of beings then possess the creative capacity to create, through relationships, an infinite form of emergent value. Say for instance a basic atom possesses the intrinsic value of a form of unity in its reflective capacity, this most basic of reflections will still form a unique emergent quality dependent on the relationships surrounding it.
The tension between the One and the many finds something of a resolution here as such relationships are not essentially dependent upon physical proximity, the simplest of beings expresses infinite emergent value in that it is presently engaged simultaneously in interdependent relationship with every other being in the entire cosmos.
Know thou that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God. Each, according to its capacity, is, and will ever remain, a token of the Almighty. Inasmuch as He, the sovereign Lord of all, hath willed to reveal His sovereignty in the kingdom of names and attributes, each and every created thing hath, through the act of the Divine Will, been made a sign of His glory. So pervasive and general is this revelation that nothing whatsoever in the whole universe can be discovered that doth not reflect His splendor. Under such conditions every consideration of proximity and remoteness is obliterated....
...the things which have been created...and ordained to be the manifestations of His names and attributes, stand, by virtue of the grace with which they have been endowed, exalted beyond all proximity and remoteness.
It is apparent that the nature of this exaltation beyond proximity and remoteness is due to the capacity of the Divine light that is being reflected, rather than in the beings themselves. The qualities of light that are reflected by each being, universally include this quality of God as the 'All-Pervading' and mutually influence other beings across the farthest reaches of the universe.
To quote 'Abdu'l-Bahá again on this matter:
How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another! In the same way, the parts of this infinite universe have their members and elements connected with one another, and influence one another spiritually and materially. What a connection and what an agreement is this! Since this connection, this spiritual effect and this influence, exists between the members of the body of man, who is only one of many finite beings, certainly between these universal and infinite beings there will also be a spiritual and material connection. Although by existing rules and actual science these connections cannot be discovered, nevertheless, their existence between all beings is certain and absolute.
If we incorporate modern scientific knowledge about the nature of light, it becomes apparent that such influence is not only universal in range of influence, but is also immediate in effect. Physics provides us with an astounding example of this interchange of forces and mysterious unity. The Einstein-Poldoski-Rosin Paradox, an empirically tested theory, demonstrates that if two photons are emitted by the same source, they will simultaneously change their polarity if only one is changed. This is regardless of distance. So two photons separated by billions of light years both change their corresponding polarity instantaneously. This is in spite of the fact that there is no apparent signals passed, and that this signal would have to travel faster than the speed of light. This potentially implies an interdependence of relationships between particles, which transcends physical laws as we know them and leads to the conclusion that local actions may have immediate consequences on the farthest side of the universe.
In other words a basic ecological assumption is that not only do our actions influence fellow beings in our local ecosystem, but instantly influence beings on the farthest side of the universe.
In this discussion, it has been illustrated that this model facilitates the integrity of non-anthropogenic intrinsic value, as it is located in the Mind of God. It facilitates a vision of all beings, even non-sentient beings, as possessing the qualities of agency, intentionality, uniqueness in value function and individual purpose. All beings are interdependent in a relational form of ontology and each possesses the creative capacity to facilitate forms of infinite emergent intrinsic spiritual value. This model also lends itself to the development of non-anthropocentric formulations of ethics, as the love of God inspires a sense of fellowship and love for all beings as each is a unique, valuable and mysterious expression of God's Own Being. Correspondingly this model also breaches a gap between ontology and ethics.
Returning to the previously mentioned responsibility to consciously develop our capacity for the discernment of intrinsic spiritual value so as to assist in the creative act of the unfoldment of such potential. The development of this capacity, in its most simple essence, entails responding to the love of God.
The universe begins in the free act of a loving God; 
I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.
creation has been empowered with the freedom to respond to that love;
Wherefore, do thou love Me,
and to freely respond to that love evokes the manifestation of the names and attributes of God in the contingent order.
that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.
This is a universe evolving towards a meta-consciousness, entailing the freedom to respond in loving relationships. Through this is facilitated the emergence of an ever-evolving Body of God, whose eventual minimal level of capacity may represent a more manifest condition when God's Own Soul becomes involved in a more direct relationship of expression than previously possible.
Is this true? Can it be known? It is verifiable if one is extremely patient, but here it can only be proposed as consistent with prior discussions from a Bahá'í perspective. A full discussion justifying a belief in the universe as the evolving Body of God is not possible in this thesis, and is worthy of another study in itself. Yet, while such a belief is not essential to the discussion, it is supportive and so a brief digression is appropriate.
From a Bahá'í perspective the purpose of evolution is to produce increasingly complex forms reflecting the names and attributes of God, as well as producing the eventual capacity for these forms to become self aware of these names and attributes and express them in loving relationships of equally increasing capacity as a means of knowing and loving God. That much is clear. By logical extension of such principles it appears possible that the universe is evolving towards a sufficient level of complexity to enable a minimal capacity for self-awareness as a physical reflection of God's Being. This is not only reinforced as a logical extension of the principles contained in `Abdu'l-Bahá's model of 'substantial evolution', but also in his common employment of comparing the human body to the universe as operating under the same universal principles. There are a number of potential objections from a Bahá'í perspective, primarily the many references to God's transcendent and unknowable essence being ever sanctified from ascent and descent and beyond any direct association with the limitations of contingent reality. Such objections are mitigated when it is seen that the universe is not seen as God's Own Being, but is rather moving towards an eventual minimal capacity to be used as tool of Divine Self-Expression in the contingent order. Similarly, it has already been shown that the human body is not what is essential about being human. Similar metaphors and language is used about the relationship of the human soul to the body in the Bahá'í writings as used in describing God's Spirit and the Contingent world.
Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind.
Verily I say, the human soul is exalted above all egress and regress.
Yet such an independent and non-contingent quality of the soul's relationship to the body does not imply a lack of relationship between the two. And in fact as other passages already cited indicate, the human body provides an evolving mechanism of increasing capacity for the soul's self-expression. Parallel assumptions of the universe equally providing an evolving mechanism of increasing capacity for God's Self-Expression culminating in an eventual conscious relationship, as assumed under the operating principles of one universal law, appears justified.
The main thrust of this thesis was to engage a number of issues related to intrinsic value through an engagement with the secular postmodern ecological philosophies in western civilization. The limitations of this thesis do not permit a number of other important discussions, such as engaging the variety of Christian theological traditions such as Thomas Berry, Paul Davies, Sallie McFague and others. Nor has it been possible to engage the process theological traditions such as Chardin, Whitehead, Cobb or Birch. Even more importantly, and eventually necessary for such a discussion to be ultimately complete and inclusive, is a discussion of the variety of visions of intrinsic value present in the diversity of human religious experience from the Abhidharma to Zoroastrianism. Equally, any attempt to engage such a process of consultation to be considered complete must necessarily include the diverse perspectives of the world's indigenous peoples, a rich source of wisdom for such this discussion in particular. As such this thesis cannot be considered to be complete in its intentions of broad engagements of consultation. Yet it may be considered successful in its attempt to engage the most significant issues related to its necessarily narrowed concerns.
Having made this important acknowledgement, if the consultation process of chapter three was conducted once again, yet included a Bahá'í with views similar to those proposed beforehand, what might emerge?
Returning to the list of tensions discussed, we return to the assumption by many engaged in the discussion of ecological philosophy, that religion, and more specifically theology, is essentially incompatible with the endeavor to produce healthy models of ecology.
It is important to address this particular concern, for from a Bahá'í perspective, intrinsic value is only possible when it finds its origin in a universal valuing Consciousness other than the human. Such a possibility is achieved through the consideration of a mature vision of an All-loving God.
This assumption of incompatability among many of the redical ecological movements occur for a number of reasons, including Paul Taylor's dependence on a Kantian framework for ethics that assumes a divide between reason and faith; concerns of deep ecologists such as Warwick Fox that theologies are largely anthropocentric projections of dogma; and the Ecofeminist concerns that ethics based on models of theogical stewardship provide no self-evident principles for the moral considerability of the natural world in its own right. Additionally, the general ecofeminist concern, originally proposed by Elizabeth Dodson-Gray that theology presents forms of patriarchal hierarchy, descriptive of a pyramid of diminishing power and authority beginning with God and descending to Men, and finally to Women, children, animals, plants and rocks. Finally Callicott's concerns of caricatures of Old Testament visions of a God as an epistemic tyrant who imposes morality, and a historical association of ecological genocide with the development of the Christian community.
It has been shown by both historical analysis and by examination of mitigating developments in recent philosophy, particularly the philosophy of science, that these concerns are primarily based on negative concepts which are not essential to the theological enterprise. With the addition of a Bahá'í perspective, a theological model has been presented that addresses the above concerns more specifically. For example the concept of 'intellectual love' adequately addresses the limitations of Kantian epistemology. More importantly, the metaphsysical model presented offers a highly relational model of reality in which ethics and ontology achieve an integration through an organic, interdependent understanding of ontology as an unfolding spiritual capacity capable of modification both through individual action and the mutual influence of other beings. This is made possible in that all beings participate in the Divine attribute of 'The Incomparable' in their completely unique capacities. Combining this with the Divine attribute of 'The All-Pervasive' results in all beings becoming enabled as active agents, through the love of God, to influence all other beings with their unique gifts of reflective capacity.
Such a model of theology certainly escapes the bounds of an anthropocentric projection of human identity and instrumental concerns and also offers a vision of universal moral considerability. As other beings, including those often considered most insignificant, have incomparably unique and sacred value in themselves. And although there are neo-platonic usages of hierarchical motifs in the Bahá'í model, they are in principle non-patriarchal and any assumptions of ontological superiority are mitigated by a number of principles primary among these the principle of human ontology being interdependent with ethics. A human's value in such a 'Chain of Being', is dependent upon the proper development of spiritual capacities. A human who dominates nature and abuses it has remitted his or right of custodianship or any claims of superiority.
The man who thinks only of himself and is thoughtless of others is undoubtedly inferior to the animal because the animal is not possessed of the reasoning faculty. The animal is excused; but in man there is reason, the faculty of justice, the faculty of mercifulness. Possessing all these faculties he must not leave them unused. He who is so hard-hearted as to think only of his own comfort, such a one will not be called man.
Equally, the dualistic elements of such a hierarchy are mitigated by the capacity for each being to influence the ontology of all other beings. Thus a monistic influence enters that allows one to see all beings being individual and unique, but also one and interdependent. Such principles indicate the non-essential nature of the cultural context of such neo-platonic statements of hierarchical structure.
Lastly, Calicott's concerns have already been directly addressed throughout chapters four and five. However the Bahá'í model also offers a sophisticated vision that incontrovertibly states the sacred nature of the environment, with very little elements of ambiguity. As well there is no associated history of ecological degradation in the Bahá'í religious community. As noted in the introduction, there is already a sustained pattern of applying mature principles of ecological harmony in the international Bahá'í community.
This thesis has engaged the critical need to encourage a holistic metaphysics that incorporates a valuing process balancing appreciations of both the physical instrumental values and the web of emergent intrinsic spiritual values in nature. It was also mentioned that a practical application of such abstract principles was necessary from a viewpoint of authentic Bahá'í scholarship. While this section could almost be considered a post-script of the metaphysical discussions, in no place does the importance of this balancing act between spiritual and material value emerge more clearly than in the consideration of the practical applications of the group of concepts associated with 'ecologically sustainable development' (hereafter ESD).
The concept of ESD has dominated all recent international discussions of ecology and development policy. For this thesis, it is crucial to appreciate the possible principles of ESD in discussing the relationship between the intrinsic and instrumental value of nature, as well as functioning to highlight some Bahá'í principles that facilitate the development of a mature ESD.
Some had hoped that the Rio summit would represent a more significant step in the process of international consultative will to reform particularly entrenched patterns of destructive economic and political behavior. Yet in 1991, the same year the World3 research group at MIT advised that the conditions of resource exploitation had worsened beyond their already catastrophic predictions of 1972, Sir Geoffrey Palmer prophetically observed that the 1992 Rio conference would not accomplish such a necessary act of consultative will. The primary reason he suggested was the implications that a binding legislative document and the creation of sufficient international legal institutions would have on clearly reducing nation states highly coveted spheres of national sovereignty.
Nearly twenty years after the Stockholm Declaration, we still lack the institutional and legal mechanisms to deal effectively with transboundary and biospheric environmental degradation. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development presents an opportunity to make progress. Unfortunately, my reading of the situation in late 1991 suggests that there is no political will to take decisions that will give us the tools to do the job.
As was to be seen, this prediction proved correct at an even deeper level within the Rio declaration itself. Its first article seems to be stated to reassure the paranoid consciousness of nation states clinging tightly to sovereignty.
All nation states have the sovereign right to exploit their natural
resources as they see fit.
While article 3 of the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity states the general principle that States have a
sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and a responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
Rather than an exercise of open consultation, or an application of will to solve the environmental crisis, we ended up with a document that at best could only suggest ecological principles within a framework of soft-law that has as its introduction the right of nation states to ignore such principles if they apparently contradict the pursuit of national interests.
All parties seem to acknowledge, or at least pay lip service to the principle of global interdependence yet the will to adopt legislative tools to facilitate the transition of social structures from national independence to a global partnership is clearly lacking. This is particularly tragic as in order for even the necessary and minimal secondary stage of solutions to be implemented, that of technological application, such international co-operation is an essential requirement.
Thus, one may argue that as national institutions are essential in
promoting national technological policies and correcting any
market failure and underinvestment created as the result of
possible myopic technological policies of private firms, at the
global level, an international institution should be responsible to
correct the market failure and or underinvestment in the areas in
which national institutions and private firms pursue technological
policies which promote national interests at the expense of the
long-term welfare of the planet itself. To this end, an authorised
international environmental institution would play a significant
role in mobilising the financial and scientific resources of the
world to accelerate the required technological changes.
It appears that only when the environmental crisis causes significantly high levels of stress on global economic structures; those same structures that only give nature an exploitive, instrumental economic worth, will nation states have no choice but to survive by more significant commitments to such a process of consultative will.
It is crucial to develop a clearer vision of the essential principles associated with the concept of ESD, particularly so that necessary transnational legislative bodies may refer to such principles in the future formulation of international environmental laws. At the moment the meaning of ESD is not clearly defined nor agreed upon by all significant parties. The 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development defined it as
development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. .
This intentionally ambiguous definition has given rise to hundreds of studies discussing the meaning of sustainable development since the 1987 Brudlandt report. One study found that in 1996 there were 450 to 500 books and articles which began by discussing varied interpretations of ESD.
Attention to multiple meanings helps to prevent ESD from becoming a
fixed and authoritarian ideal. On the other hand, without ideals that
become standards, law is flabby and cannot assist in approaches to
resource use that are more sustainable.
Although flexibility in the application of general principles is critical for the success of a movement in global legislative reform of ESD towards appropriate responses to diverse ecological and cultural contexts, being clear on particular meaning in each context is crucial.
it is imperative that any environmental legislation dealing with
the concept of sustainable resource use expressly defines the meaning of the vital terms fundamental to that concept.
A clearer definition of general principles associated with ESD is required, for in its current ambiguous state, it is just as usable for neo-orthodox capitalist assumptions of unlimited growth as it is for the most radical anti-establishment oriented environmental movements.
Meyers and Muller competently suggest a number of categories into which the varieties of ESD orientations generally fall.
The general definition offered by the Bruntland Commission and espoused by such proponents as Robert Allan, suggests that
sustainable development [is] development that is likely to achieve lasting
satisfaction of human needs and improvement of the quality of life. 
Whereas other advocates of Neo-orthodox economics such as former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, subsume ESD as a secondary, supportive principle of the real agenda, that of sustainable 'economic' development.
The government espouses the concept of sustainable economic development. Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world provided the environment is nurtured and safe guarded.
Others support a similar focus on the economic function of ESD, in the facilitation of wealth and reduction of poverty for humanity. Some focus on the centrality of the ability of the environment to sustain growth patterns of resource exploitation and absorb waste as the primary consideration of developing sustainable economic policies. While others still have a more bioregional focus on the sustainability of local cultures patterns of relationship with local ecosystems.
One of the appeals of ESD is its current flexibility to be used by a variety of groups in pursuing their own visions of a sustainable society. However such flexibility can also mean that apparently contradictory patterns of behavior can be justified. It is as if the term ESD currently holds the same inspirational and ambiguous meaning as terms like 'freedom' and 'justice'. Increasingly there is agreement that ESD should be more specifically defined.
we accept the fact that ecologically sustainable development policies must
be adapted to local conditions and that they must be flexible enough to
meet those problems associated with scientific uncertainty. What we
cannot accept are suggestions that sustainable development should not
have a precise, universally agreed to meaning.
Just as it was important to explore the tensions of radical ecological theory in chapter three, in order to understand the causes and propose a remedial and mature metaphysics, here too it is essential to understand the principles animating the tensions responsible for such a lack of a universally agreed to meaning. It will be proposed that in fact the same issues are involved as explored in chapters three through four. A neurosis of the human spirit, manifested in an inability to internalize the unity of spiritual and material relations as seen in the imbalance between policies of purely instrumental material value and a sometimes unclearly articulated desire to inform policy based on a growing appreciation of the intrinsic spiritual value of nature. Of course there are a variety of other tensions such as the differing contexts of developing and developed nations, cultural perspectives, economic interests and others, but for the purposes of this thesis, the focus is intentionally narrowed in order to focus on a balance between the materially instrumental and spiritually intrinsic value of nature.
An example of a clear and significant tension of different interpretations of ESD that can occur is seen in the conflicting principles of two major international legislative conventions that both refer to sustainable development. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, part of the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, and The United Nations Framework Convention on Biological Diversity.
The primary tension is seen in the conflict of the orientation towards the management of genetic biodiversity. A discussion of the legislative tensions is comprehensively explored elsewhere. The essential concern expressed in the Trade Agreement is to strengthen international intellectual property protection in order to secure technology transfer for use in world trade, primarily between the developed nations, particularly in the private sector of multinational corporations, while the Biodiversty Treaty focuses on preserving the natural world and maintaining society's traditionally agricultural relationship with it.
In practical terms, the Trade Agreement is having a greater impact on facilitating international legislation supporting its agenda. This is no surprise as it represents the interests of those with economic and political power in the developed nations, and it has a great deal of political will behind it. The Biodiversity Treaty is more representative of the concerns of developing nations and those in developed nations sensitive to such concerns.
Mcmanis highlights the two major concerns of developing nations regarding the Trade agreement. First he illustrates that
The developing world views the industrialized world as freely
engaging in gene piracy and appropriating traditional knowledge of
indigenous peoples, while simultaneously demanding that
developing countries cease pirating the industrialized world's
intellectual property, at least some of which may be based on the
very genes and traditional knowledge that the industrialized world
itself has pirated.
A second, even more serious concern is that
Traditional agricultural innovation may be threatened, along with the very
biodiversity that it has helped maintain, by a system of intellectual
property protection that tends to reward the development of new and
genetically improved, by highly uniform, and therefore potentially
A study indicates that in 1985 over-the-counter drugs based on plants was estimated at $43 billion dollars. Seventy-four percent was discovered in bioprospecting initiated by following up on native folklore knowledge.
How does this all relate to instrumental and intrinsic value? A number of principles come to light upon focusing on these issues. Firstly the main concern of the corporations and legislators appears to be ensuring the right to retain intellectual and therefore economic rights over the development of biotechnology. However this obscures a deeper issue. A great deal of pharmaceutical development is done by appropriation through bioprospecting. However, the majority of this bioprospecting is hardly random and relies on indigenous knowledge of local ecosystems. This indigenous knowledge was gained through the long-term association and familiarization of native peoples with the diversity of their ecosystems and an appreciation of the sophistication of the interdependent relationships therein. In a manner of speaking, through recognition of interdependent and diverse relationships, indigenous folklore represents a perception of emergent intrinsic value in nature. Whereas the appropriation of such knowledge, motivated by purely material instrumental appreciation of value, results in the development of vulnerable and isolated monocultures. This is engaged in with little or no appreciation of the implications of isolating such elements from their interdependent ecological relationships. Not only may the application of isolated elements achieve different, less balanced results on the human form, such an isolation does not facilitate the continued interdependent base of relationships responsible for the original generation of genetic material, nor the continued evolution of further beneficial diversity.
Here there is also an obvious issue of injustice, such as the fact the native peoples have, in general, completely missed out on the enormous financial benefit gained by corporations, through the appropriation of generations of indigenous custodianship. However there is also the issue of sustainability and the balance between intrinsic and instrumental value. In order for the instrumental value of nature to be realized through sustainable economic exploitation of its genetic base, the diverse and often unknown emergent intrinsic value of interdependent relationships must be preserved for their own sake and not just the isolated instrumental elements considered valuable by current economic markets.
Once again, the words of the Universal House of Justice are cited,
Whether peace is to be reached only after unimaginable horrors
precipitated by humanity's stubborn clinging to old patterns of behavior,
or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will, is the choice
before all who inhabit the earth.
Essentially this is a comment on the critical need for the international adoption of a mature and wide ranging praxis of sustainable development. The popularization of the term 'sustainable development' did not occur until the following year, and yet when the context of wide ranging social analysis is considered, in which the above passage is framed, clearly the nature of sustainable development is the object of commentary. The clearest contribution of such commentary is the detailed analysis of how loving human relationships, characterized by spiritual qualities such as integrity, equality, and freedom from prejudice represent the foundations for a 'deep' theory of sustainable development. Similar to the earlier conclusion that the deepest foundations of ecological difficulties rest in a relative loss of the love of God reflected in human relationships, it is also seen as the true foundation for authentic sustainable development.
When the love of God is established, everything else will be
realized. This is the true foundation of all economics. Reflect upon
it... Manifest true economics to the people. Show what love is,
what kindness is, what true severance is and generosity.
The Bahá'í International Community has already issued substantial critiques using Bahá'í principles towards the maturation of a holistic paradigm of ESD that is still flexible enough to facilitate a dynamic and diverse application appropriate to the varying requirements of each cultural context. As previously mentioned, there is a hesitancy to acknowledge the need for a spiritual solution to our ecological and economic problems, even though "anti" spiritual qualities such as selfishness and greed are often recognized as lying at the roots of the extremes of wealth and poverty and environmental degradation. More often, there is a cynical tendency to view such attempts at proposals of a spiritual nature as 'postmaterialist' constructions that are hopelessly utopian in ideal.
Postmaterialism offers a deconstruction of industrialised society, but as yet
offers no reconstructed vision within ecological limits that adequately
answers charges of utopianism and vagueness.
However, as already discussed in chapters 4 and 5, this apparently rational response of both cynicism and dismissal of the use of 'spiritual' language finds its roots in an irrational and unnecessary neurosis of the human spirit. Yet greed and selfishness are logically the absence of generosity, selflessness and a spirit of service to others, qualities considered 'spiritual'.
Humanity possesses, to varying degrees, the spiritual perceptive capacity to recognize and consult on required spiritual qualities to apply to the varying requirements of the ecological crisis. As well, in the process of human spiritual and physical evolution, humanity has recently developed to a significant degree the capacity to recognize the spiritual and material interdependence of ecological relationships.
From a Bahá'í perspective the perceptive capacity to recognize the spiritual and material interdependence and diversity of creation was taken to a significantly higher level by the release of transformative energies from Bahá'u'lláh's revelation. A sign of this is illustrated within this last century of secular society by the environmental movement. Not just a reaction to environmental degradation, and self-preservation, but a heartfelt cry by many that nature is worth something in itself. The struggle by many of the environmental philosophies to articulate a paradigm of intrinsic worth is symptomatic of this newly developed capacity to perceive the spiritual value of nature.
In the previous section implications were offered of an epistemology in which a more synergistic vision of material and spiritual elements of reality makes possible a vision of ESD as not just a process where the status quo of ecological harmony and diversity is maintained.
Returning to our definition of ESD, we suggest that the essential meaning of ecologically sustainable development must be universally accepted as: development which either improves, maintains, or does not materially interfere with the ecology of the area in which such development takes place.
Non-interference and then maintenance of ecology are currently more immediate, urgent and realistic needs to consider in international attempts at applying ESD, than is actual ecological 'improvement'. Humanity may currently have a hyper-advanced state of technological mastery over the natural world, but the wisdom to apply such mastery in facilitating 'improvement' is currently very much lacking. The development of such perceptive capacity and wisdom is what will be discussed in section discussing epistemological issues. In that section discussion will be made of how humanity participates in facilitating in a catalytic fashion the further diversification and harmonization of nature using its increasing perceptive capacities and reflected in the organic evolution of humanity's own increasingly diverse and harmonious social relationships.
Relationships must be balanced in the human world as well at the natural world for ecological harmony to be established. The growing disparity between wealthy and poor classes and countries, is an intolerable situation which is causing a massive disruption to the realization of human capacity. Such an increasing lack of equilibrium is causing many levels of injustice that further facilitate ecological degradation.
Yet current attempts at restoring such a balance are token in nature, and even such gestures are associated with the wrong spiritual principles in order to be effective measures. The dependency of less developed countries on developed countries is not solved by thoughtless foreign injections of monetary aid, nor even by the forgiveness of debt, but rather by facilitating indigenous responses of self sufficiency and non dependent relationships.
Developed countries can, and arguably will, reform global
economic practices in an effort to aid developing countries to meet
the environmental and developmental challenges posed by growth;
but that will only happen if the ethical shift towards ESD takes
place now and the industrialized nations of the world recognize
that it is in their interest, because their interests are connected with
those of developing countries to ensure that growth has minimal
impacts on the environment.
Tools such as microfinance and education programs should not be superimposed by external agencies, but developed in collaboration with the indigenous populations to facilitate suitable economic expressions of each unique culture. This is particularly important considering the potential cultural imperialism that a predetermined structure of ESD applied to inappropriate contexts of cultural diversity can incur.
...sustainable development is not simply a reflection of the successful
export of Western ideology, but is itself a force of ideological imperialism
whereby Western values not shared or willfully accepted by other nations
are unconsciously imposed upon them through the language and
implementation of the principle.
Certainly this refers to a particular and perhaps currently dominant form of ESD, but should not be considered an outright rejection of the potential positive process of the ongoing growth of a holistic model of ESD.
A cluster of conceptual associations with ESD need to be addressed which are all related to the immature accounting system used to define economic "development".
Many of the essential interconnections in the system are ignored
economically. The real wealth of information content and integration is not valued at all, nor is the transmission of that information through education...the economic system may seem rational and internally consistent, but it does not reflect reality... Much more work will be required to reflect all essential components of an eco in a set of accounts, either monetary or in alternative measurement units, for those factors that cannot be priced in monetary terms. The system of monitoring and assessment should be able to evaluate the overall trends and balances in the planetary ecos and in its national and functional sub-units, and to give early warning of major problems in time for an adequate response.
Such 'trends and balances' which traditional neo-orthodox economics accounting does not place appropriate values upon include but are not limited to the following:
1) Negative values associated with by-products of industrial pollution and many types of resource depletion.
A country's GNP is boosted by the increasing production capacity of industrial sectors. Yet the negative costs of human health requiring medical attention, loss of biodivesity and associated potential bio-prospecting capacity, and the reduction in national levels of non-renewable resources, are among many other factors that are not balanced against the positive 'profit' of production and consumption levels. Ironically even the additional cost to society of required medical attention to environmentally associated illness is, according to modern accounting methods, seen as an increase to the GNP, as it generates increased revenue in the medical sector.
2.) Positive values associated with the wealth of biodiversity, cultural diversity,
a countries education levels reflected in the capacities, skills, potentials and
levels of integration in society. Above all, not only material but spiritual
qualities need to be considered towards addressing foundational causes of
unsustainable development, such as greed and a variety of forms of prejudice.
The limitations of this thesis do not permit a reasonable discussion of the nature of culture and the preservation of cultural diversity. But it is important to note the spiritual elements of culture which similar to nature, are often ignored in the economic digestive process of western assimilation. It could be argued that particular elements of culture, from a Bahá'í perspective, are social manifestations of the human spirit to diverse ecological contexts in which the human form develops its spiritual relationships. As such, there are parallels between both the extinction of species and the extinction of cultures in that in both occurs a loss of the expression of diverse and unique spiritual virtues and relationships manifesting those attributes.
3) The requirement for long-term planning, beyond current traditional economic
Current economics rarely includes as relevant data, anything beyond a twenty year period, yet many issues require much longer term analysis. For example short term profit generates nearly all industry development. Yet in order to calculate the true value of an industry the effects upon future generations beyond the 20 year period need to be considered. Within the forestry industry, this means that hardwood trees that are of a superior quality timber and provide a unique ecological service, are not considered as a viable industrial option, as their harvest time can range from 80 to 150 years, well beyond the ability of a present generation to benefit from. An expansion of the traditional period of economic planning is essential to any theory of sustainability.
4) A broadening of vision that moves from artificial economic national
boundaries and includes the essential principle of global inter-dependence.
Segregated units cannot do accurate and true accounting of sustainable development, for many obvious but often ignored reasons. When systems philosophy is applied to ESD, it is clear that the processes and flows of energy, communication channels, various forms of information and resources between all 'units' must be considered. ESD is more appropriately considered as a relational activity in which these processes are examined, rather than being considered as the examination of things isolated in themselves, whether it be resources, nations or species. Currently most national economic policies ignore a great variety of international relationships necessary for the mature management of a global environment. And as mentioned earlier, this also implies the need for the development of a global legislature, equally representative of all nations, facilitating an authentic and egalitarian processes of consultation, with an executive capacity sufficient to ensure harmonious and balanced international relationships, that will ensure agreed upon ecological principles are kept by all parties.
5) A balanced vision of both instrumental and intrinsic value of nature, in which current human needs are not the only considerations of economic and political policy.
This vision may prove difficult to achieve given current world government attitudes as seen explicitly in Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,
Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development
6.) Last but not least in significance, current discussions of ESD, including
Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development 1992, retain significant patriarchal structures and orientation.
There has been valid criticism that it ignores the particularly essential roles that 'subdominants' have to play in the role of sustainable development, such as women, children, indigenous peoples, and non-white minorities in general. Their roles are considered essential for a number of reasons. Similar to the unstable health of macrosystems when extremes such as wealth and poverty between countries are the norm, so too does this apply to these traditionally disenfranchised peoples. A form of recognition, through educational and economic empowerment, as well as a valuing of the potential unique perspectives towards long term sustainability that many of these groups, in their custodianship of local ecological units, can potentially offer. A significant increase in the overall representation of these marginilised groups in the ongoing consultation process as well as delegated authority in decision making forums is essential towards overall justice, harmonization of human relations, and the holistic development of mature visions of ESD.
A holistic and mature conception of ESD thus requires an expansion of vision temporally, to include future generations; spatially to include diverse and interdependent human end ecological global networks that transcend and flow through traditional national boundaries; ontologically to include considerations of spiritual values for both humans and the diverse components of the environment; and economically in general to include accounting considerations of traditionally ignored negative and positive considerations towards the formulation of estimated growth capacity.
ESD will always represent a relational and fluid process of vision and praxis rather than a static idea, however it is suggested that the above represent some general principles that should be considered in the ongoing and diverse global consultation on its essential characteristics. The application of such general principles should be diverse and vary according to the ecological and cultural contexts in which they are applied and should facilitate indigenous developments of such applications. This is in opposition to the current practice of universally pre-digested western policies being externally superimposed which homogenizes such diverse contexts and causes the loss of potentially unique expressions of Divine attributes, both found within the human spirit and the natural world.
ESD ultimately represents a postmodern political and economic version of human custodianship in the Garden of Eden. What has been suggested here is a vision of nature in which its intrinsic value exceeds our perceptive capacity, but inspires respect, reverence and humility before its infinite diversity. Nature is more than an object to be used for human economic consumption. It is also more than a web of interdependent relationships whose balance we must try to maintain out of self-preservation. Humanity has the opportunity to not only cherish its emergent intrinsic value, but seek to acquire the wisdom to facilitate its ongoing unfoldment of diversity. It has been suggested that responding to the love of God is the means by which this occurs. From a Bahá'í perspective, the most conducive way in which we respond to the love of God in our immediate context on earth is seen in recognizing the disclosure of God's Self in the person of Bahá'u'lláh. Such recognition implies attempting to understand and apply the principles contained within the written form of Bahá'í revelation. This thesis has represented such an attempt.