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Cosmogony and Cosmology

by Moojan Momen

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 6
New York: Columbia University, 1993
Bahai cosmology can be considered to be based on three interrelated statements of Bahāʾ-Allāh. First, the human mind is strictly finite and limited in knowledge and understanding (1984, no. 26, p. 49; tr. p. 62). Second, no absolute knowledge of God or reality or the cosmos is therefore available to man (1984, no. 1, p. 11, no. 26, p. 48, no. 83, p. 110; tr. pp. 3-5, 62, 164-65). Third, from the above it follows that all conceptualizations and attempts by men to portray cosmology are “but a reflection of what has been created within themselves” (1984, no. 148, p. 204; tr. p. 316). Bahai cosmology can therefore be said to be based on a cognitive relativism, the view that all knowledge is relative to conceptual frameworks or cognitive structures.

The Bahai position with regard to the physical world can be summed up by stating that Bahais accept the findings of current science as being the best available interpretation of the physical world at any given time. To oppose current science on nonrational grounds is tantamount to ignorance and superstition (ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, 1982, pp. 63-64, 107, 128, 161-62, 175-76, 231, 287, 316, 455).

The Bahai position with regard to metaphysics was developed further by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (1330, p. 48): Although mankind is capable of manifesting all the names and attributes of God, each individual’s consti­tution in fact manifests them in different degrees. This mixture then prefigures and determines the manner in which that individual views reality; that is, it provides individuals with the manner in which they interpret reality. Shoghi Effendi confirmed this position and provided the most comprehensive statement of it (p. 2): “[T]he fundamental principle enunciated by Bahā'u’llāḥ ... is that religious truth is not absolute but relative.”

The concept of cognitive relativism underlies all Bahai statements on cosmology and cosmogony. On the controversy within Islam between the two schools of waḥdat al-wojūd and waḥdat al-šohūd Bahāʾ-Allāh declared that both are stations or points of view (maqām) within the belief in divine unity (tawḥīd; n.d., pp. 105-16; cf. University of Leiden, ms. Or. 4971). On the origin of the world, Bahāʾ-Allāh stated that both the traditional views (one that the world has a point of origin and will have an end, the other that the world has neither a beginning nor an end) are correct and that the differences arise from variations in men’s hearts (al-afʾeda) and points of view (al-anẓār; 1980, p. 82). Finally, on the controversy within Islam over the attributes of God, whether they are eternal and un­created or are created in time, ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ provided the analysis referred to above (1330/1912, p. 48).

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