Integrative Approach to Knowledge and Action:
Converging Realities, 1:1
2. The Internal Dimension — Eight Propositions Leading to the Development of a Knowledge Based Conceptual Design
2.2 Proposition 2: A Unified View of Reality
2.3 Proposition 3: Progressive Revelation
2.4 Proposition 4: Transcendental and Historical Truth
2.5 Proposition 5: Criterion for Interpretation
2.6 Proposition 6: Modernization
2.7 Proposition 7: Potentiality and Actuality
2.8 Proposition 8: Teaching, Learning and Change
4. The External Dimension — A New Paradigm of Scholarship
in Six Major Developmental Stages
Darwin and the Theory of Natural Selection
Materialistic Conceptions of Human Nature and Behavior
The Rise of Empiricism and Experimental Methods
4.3 Stage Three: Dynamics of Consciousness
4.4 Stage Four: A New Scientific Paradigm
Evolutionary Views of Teilhard de Chardin
An Integrated Vision
4.6 Stage Six: A New Model of Scholarship
5.1 A Brief Review of the Harmony between Science6. Conclusion
This article presents the essentials of a conceptual base for the development of an integrative approach to the study of the Bahá'í Faith. Three developmental components — the internal, the transitional, and the external — are identified. The internal is defined as a process for developing a conceptual design providing a coherence of knowledge within the boundaries of religious discipline. Eight Bahá'í-inspired propositions basic to a unified framework for the internal component are proposed. The external is defined as a process for linking the internal with a core of knowledge across disciplines in order to create an integrative paradigm of knowledge. The transitional is defined as the linkage of the internal and the external. Six historical stages in the consolidation of the external component are discussed within the context of differentiation and convergence of ideas and social realities. The need for a unified philosophy, based on the harmony of science and religion, is reviewed.
An integrative approach is about achieving an optimal synthesis in the process of understanding the fundamentals of the Bahá'í Faith and the implied actions that result from such understandings. The nature of an integrative approach is two-fold, it has internal and external dimensions. The internal dimension is about the development of a synthesis of ideas within the universe of the Bahá'í teachings. The external dimension is about the articulation of a systematic relationship between the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith and a multidisciplinary core of knowledge and practice in philosophical and scientific domains. The external and internal approaches are inter-related and interchangeable in any systematic learning environment.
However, no integrative study is purely internal or external. Any internal study simultaneously receives responses from the external environment that enhance its internal core. An integrative approach to understanding the implications of the Bahá'í teachings, however, follows developmental processes that begin as primarily internal and evolve in a direction of externalization and fusion with other branches of knowledge. In transition from internal to external, a third period/stage within which an integrative study finds its identity and applicability to the issues and problems of the world is identified. This stage is defined here as an application/transitional stage in the unfoldment of an integrative approach to Bahá'í Studies.
Historically, religions show a similarity of patterns in the development of learning and scholarship methods. For instance, in earlier configurations of integrative studies, a conflict between internal and external is unavoidable since the internal values of the emerging religion are based on a prescriptive (or declarative) style of thinking that presupposes the existence of an inherent circle of unity among its teachings, while the dominant mode of scholarship in the scientific and academic community may view the validity of those presuppositions untenable. As long as an integrative study of religion focuses on establishing an internal conceptual unity, tension is excluded. This situation may change if an integrative study tries to incorporate the internal teachings with the external domains of knowledge. In a world of specialized fields of study and the corresponding vertical curriculum, attempts toward unity of knowledge or even inter-disciplinary dialogue are viewed with skepticism. Consequently, it is important to be mindful of the fact that the evolution of integrative models, to a large extent, is connected to the growth and development of ideas from both inside and outside of the emerging religion. In the process, as ideas interpenetrate, a comprehensive integrative model based on a consensus between conflicting poles of knowledge may come to fruition.
The three components of an integrative study (internal, transitional, and external) correspond to the broader stages of incubation, expansion, and consolidation that can be historically identified in the growth and development of all major religions of the world. Integrative studies move along these historical stages. As these stages unfold and the body of spiritual and scientific knowledge increases, integrative studies become more coherent and empirically verifiable in their assumptions. In the early days of a religion, however, integrative studies have an embryonic quality and tend to have a higher degree of intuition and speculative reasoning in their approaches.
Thus, an integrative study of the Bahá'í Faith should not be viewed as a finished product at any time. Nor should its development be regarded as a mechanical assemblage of fragmented parts. It should follow the dynamics of organic growth. An integrative study is potentially endowed with the capacity to bridge science and religion and to infuse spiritual insight into scientific and academic disciplines.
This article is a first attempt to shed light on the gradual and evolutionary nature of integrative scholarship and it is offered in the spirit of a contribution to the on-going elaboration of the field.
The internal dimension of an integrative study of the Bahá'í Faith needs to grow in the context of a learning environment that involves proper identification of educational goals and objectives, pedagogy, evaluation design, and a core curriculum. Integrative study, being primarily a cognitive endeavor, implies a learning process that involves a progressive acquisition of concepts and principles and their relationships. In the process, learners are constantly altering their cognitive structure in order to grasp a more refined and a more unified perception of Bahá'í ideas.
The content of the study and subjects of research during the internal period are mostly focused on the internal history of the Bahá'í Faith, commentaries on the relationships between the Bahá'í Faith and its surrounding cultural/historical environment, classifications of the laws and compilations of the writings, and defending the Bahá'í Faith against both internal and external opposition. Our understanding of the Bahá'í Faith and its system of meanings passes through the historical stages of development. For that reason, the scholarly and educational activities during the internal stage are mostly religiously oriented. The internal phase, over some period of time, will move toward an integration with the spectrum of human knowledge in art, philosophy, and science. This process, which has historically occurred in previous dispensations, will eventually result in the emergence of a widely integrative model for the synthesis of knowledge.
One purpose of the internal study is to reflect a dynamic interaction among the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. That is to say, for instance, how to relate equality of sexes to economic justice, economic justice to education, and education to spiritual transformation. There may be numerous approaches to the development of a core curriculum, but the critical consideration is to maintain a synthesis of meaning that precedes any particular method of study. No matter what the emphasis of priority might be in different learning approaches, the essential goal of an integrative study is to enable the learner to comprehend the totality of the Bahá'í teachings and to see a reflection of the whole message of Bahá'u'lláh in every part of his teachings. It seems such synthesis of understanding must be conceived within a curriculum development process that is close to the dynamic and organic nature of the Bahá'í Faith.
To avoid piecemeal approaches, any integrative study requires a coherent conceptual base to sustain the organic orientation of the Bahá'í teachings. Here, elements of a conceptual framework for an integrative study of the Bahá'í Faith will be discussed in the following eight propositions:
2.1 Proposition 1: An Ordered Organizational Structure.
The main premise upon which an integrative Bahá'í study rests is the assumption that Bahá'í concepts are organically connected yet need to be classified and arranged in a proper hierarchical ordering. Some concepts need stronger emphases and higher levels of priority. Some principles are the foundations and building blocks of Bahá'í study, while others function as secondary and auxiliary principles. The ordering is not about the priority of one subject matter or a method of organization over other subjects or methods. For instance, an integrative study may be initiated based on the concept of gender equality. The other study may concentrate on the Bahá'í peace plan. They also may radically differ in terms of curricular organization. Both plans, however, need to reflect the primacy of the spiritual foundation in their organizational structure. They also should accommodate the totality of Bahá'í teachings. In that sense, organization is not a rigid ordering of concepts or subject areas. What matters most are the hierarchical values that must underlie the organic relationships of the concepts in a coherent, logical, and meaningful way. The essential element of this value system stems from a conscious and moral commitment to Bahá'u'lláh and Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant. In other words, this Covenant itself is the cohesive force shaping the structure of integrative studies. The concept of the Covenant refers to the assumption that the reality of the Bahá'í Faith is intrinsically orderly and unified.
Thus, an integrative explanation of the Bahá'í teachings cannot be separated from the unifying perspective of the Covenant. Here, we clearly separate a systematic study of the Bahá'í Faith from an integrative study which assumes the Covenant as the primary source of coherence among the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. A systematic study is just a methodical, step-by-step procedure to study a subject analytically, while an integrative study combines systematic approaches with a unifying philosophy.
2.2 Proposition 2: A Unified View of Reality.
The development of a conceptual design and the systematization and organization of an integrative study require an examination of the concept of unity, ontologically and epistemologically, in the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í teachings provide us with the consciousness of unity in reality or unity in knowledge itself. The task of an integrative study is to infuse this unified picture of reality into diverse levels of consciousness. This paradigm of unity is viewed as an animating force that will hasten the historical rendezvous of science and religion and give rise to a grand standard of judgment.
When the totality of the Bahá'í teachings are examined, a clear view on the ultimate unity of the material and the spiritual, of the past and the future, and of the parts and the whole is identifiable. Dualism, which is an internal propensity of any one-dimensional frame of reference (secular or religious), has no existence in the integrated context of the Bahá'í definition of reality.
In the twentieth century, the dualism between the physical and nonphysical (cultural) aspects of human/social reality has resulted in a schizoid type of discourse, particularly in the social sciences. On one hand, the discourse reduces human nature to the level of biology, and, on the other hand, it tries to find higher operating principles in social interactions. The egalitarian tendency to separate physical from social posits a puzzling intellectual dilemma. The dilemma is characterized by a reductionist and purposeless interpretation of evolution that defies the emergence of consciousness-related phenomena. It could be said that for the most part of this century we have lived in a state of self-deceit. Paradoxically, material reductionism is viewed as the general condition of all species and the concept of transcendence is denied, while attempts have been made to design egalitarian social ideologies. A contradiction is clearly discernable in materialistic social philosophies. On one hand, they reduce human reality to the effect of nature, and on the other hand, they try to explain human consciousness, historical development, and ethical conduct in terms of the values that defy natural determinism. The core of academic discourses has revolved around the specter of dualism between nature and nurture. Conceptual dualism is intrinsically conflict oriented. The eminence of nature has given rise to the role of nurture, and the reaction to the ascendancy of nurture is succeeded by a call for a return to nature. The result has been shifting paradigms about human reality and behavior.
The critical point is that we need a dynamic spiritual worldview that can revitalize the momentous idea that human beings are capable of arising above and beyond their animalistic heritage — a worldview that does not twist or ignore the facts of nature but heroically withstands its onslaught; a spiritual force that gives meaning and direction to social processes throughout history.
In dualistic interpretations, one piece of the taxonomy of human character is missing. This piece is about the reality of a mysterious spiritual force, a third force, if you will, that is acting upon and transforming both nature and the social environment. The need for a third angle to resolve this dualism is necessary. Without the ideal plain of the third force (the spiritual realm of meanings and values) the whole concept of nurture (environmental influences, social interactions) ultimately falls back to the level of nature. Without the transcendental reality of the third force, the entire machinery of the nurturing process succumbs to the powerful demands of natural desires and tendencies.
A social construct that is shaped purely on the basis of social imperatives/duties and not influenced by a transcending spiritual motive will eventually recede to a lower level that is dominated by material impulses. Ideal social constructs can be established and released from the domination of nature if a higher level of purposeful reality, the realm of meanings and values, is present in the culture. In the lack of a spiritual magnet, physiological needs dictate societal constructs and instinctual impulses animate human interactions, even if the social façade pretends differently.
A critical analysis of dualism should not be interpreted as a total negation of its validity as a necessary component of human cognition. Its primary purpose as a differentiating tool is acknowledged in the Bahá'í worldview. The dialectical tension of dualism, however, must lead to a unity of understanding. Within the framework of unity, the Bahá'í teachings also establish a hierarchy of concepts that correspond to the levels of reality. Finally, hierarchy is viewed to have evolutionary potential. Therefore, a unified view of reality can be explained as an ordered expression of a reality that has dualistic, integrative, hierarchical, and evolutionary qualities.
2.3 Proposition 3: Progressive Revelation.
From a Bahá'í point of view, revelation is the essence of all truth or that general condition of life in which every other truth finds its meaning, purpose, and direction. Unlike traditional perceptions, the Bahá'í writings define revelation as a continuous and progressive process and as the animating impulse that releases the emerging properties of creation. This all-encompassing definition of revelation provides humanity with the consciousness of a unified vision of reality or a unity in knowledge itself.
The foundation of a unified view of reality is rooted in the Bahá'í definition of religion. According to the Bahá'í Faith, religion has two purposes: one universal and the other historical. The universal purpose is about the absolute and eternal dimension of religion that animates an impulse of commonality among divine revelations. The historical purpose is relative and corresponds to the requirements and potentialities of the time and place in which the revelation occurs. The universal interacts with the historical, and the mechanism of growth lies in this interaction. The universal expands the dimensions of historical necessity. In return, a new historical condition demands expansion of the universal. The two purposes are reconciled in the concept of progressive revelation. Clearly, this does not imply any differences in rank or station of the various Manifestations of God, rather, it refers only to the progressive unfoldment of divine knowledge.
In the writings of the Bahá'í Faith, the concept of progressive revelation is about a historical increase of spiritual awareness in our collective development. It acknowledges that movement and change are essential features of our existence. Human institutions, social, economic, and political theories, and religious doctrines are all subject to the universal law of change and decay. We may compare progressive revelation to the progression of scientific thought. In science, despite the fact that new theories dismantle older ones, there is a process of systematic theoretical constructs which connects, for instance, Ptolemaic cosmology to the modern scientific revolution. That is to say, a successful theory or paradigm must synthesize past achievements with future possibilities. Likewise, progressive revelation is founded upon past religions. The same creative energy has traversed through them and manifested increasing levels of complexity and coordination. This concept of progressive revelation does not belittle other religions but by illuminating all religions, brings them into a common pool of purpose and meaning. It reveals gradual unfoldment of a divine blueprint for the construction of the world. Progressive revelation, like the scientific process, pays tribute to the past and marches toward new frontiers.
The concept of progressive revelation is a condition that sustains the original health and vitality of other religions. The same way a special equilibrium among different elements of the human organism sustains the organic wholeness of the body, progressive revelation sustains a harmonious functioning of diverse elements of God's revelation. Thus, the organic reality of progressive revelation cannot be compartmentalized. Its definition reflects the totality of interacting religious orders that are organized around the cultural and spiritual evolution of humanity.
In the writings of the Bahá'í Faith, the concept of progressive revelation is not only an interpretive device but also an instrument of transformation. Its culmination marks the healing of the nations, the spiritualization of the masses, and the coming of age of the entire human race. It disclaims any intention to discard past religions and proclaims the triumph of spirit over evils of violence, war, hatred, and oppression. It makes the final victory of moral imperatives on a global scale possible.
2.4 Proposition 4: Transcendental and Historical Truth.
An integrative synthesis requires a balance between relative and absolute dimensions of religion. God's vision is absolute and unified, while the evolution of the world toward completion is a relative process that requires a multiplicity of efforts. It may be said that the central theme of progressive revelation is the dynamic interaction of God's ultimate vision and the process of evolution of humanity toward that vision. If we assume there is no universal core in religion that is beyond a multiplicity of perspectives, we may create a centerless-holism that is destined to fall into social and moral relativism. The universal or the non-negotiable area is an integral part of any coherent model in religion, philosophy, and science.
Thus, truth in the context of progressive revelation is both transcendental and historical. The historical dimension of religion is conditioned by social and cultural realities. However, the transcendental dimension (God-like vision or perfection) is given absolutely. Religion concurrently includes a mysterious and transcending dimension, and a this-worldly social structure with rites and rituals. It is a "bridge-builder" between invisible and visible dimensions of reality. Like a human being, it has a soul and a body. On the material side, the history of religion is intertwined with economic conditions and the material culture of different societies. For instance, early expressions of religion and magic-related rituals revolved around primitive systems of hunting and food gathering; or the emergence of the great religions of the world accompanied agricultural development and the rise of ancient empires. On the spiritual side, however, religion presupposes a sacred and metaphysical order of reality that has been the source of motivation for human beings to go beyond historical conditions and social structures. In the founders of religions, we observe both ordinary human life that is conditioned to the material and social culture, and divine nature that is illuminated by flashes from a mysterious world. This enigmatic nature of religion and the intrinsic interplay of mystery and facts in the history of religion have been the source of awe and wonder and at the same time the cause of perplexity and skepticism.
The point is that religion is something more than a sociopolitically determined ideology in the progression of history. The transcendental nature of religion is about this something more. Something that goes beyond dogmas of diverse religious doctrines and sees the blueprint of God as a latent capacity within the original seed of every revelation. A casual examination of dogmas, in ancient religious traditions, may not reveal the existence of this blueprint. It may even point to opposite directions. However, an insightful observation (an observation that combines all standards of judgment) will reveal a single driving force or determinant factor as the potential force in the development of the various religious traditions.
2.5 Proposition 5: Criteria for Interpretation.
An integrative synthesis requires a hermeneutic perspective. In that perspective, old scriptures need to be interpreted and given specific context in light of the new knowledge revealed by the new revelation. New interpretations may not agree with what is perceived to be the meanings of symbols and myths that are heavily mired in cultural traditions and conventions.
Any revelation has three components: (i) metaphors and theoretical interpretations, (ii) laws, and (iii) spiritual/moral imperatives. New revelation brings all three to a new level of understanding, elaborating the meaning of metaphors, abrogating or reintroducing laws, and reaffirming the universality of the spiritual/moral dimension.
The idea that a new revelation has the authority to judge the previous ones derives from the way we learn, comprehend, and reason. We invariably move from one stage of understanding to another through a process called adaptation. This refers to the continual process of intellectual development and alteration of old views in terms of new experiences. If we define the new in terms of the old, we create an intellectual fixation. If we define the new with disregard of the past, we create an intellectual vacuum. The solution is neither neglect of the past nor an obsessive return to it. The previous revelations need to be reinterpreted within the context of Bahá'í revelation so as to reflect constructive accommodations to the dynamics of a new age. Without such modifications, past religions would crystallize into dysfunctional dogmas. For instance, many Christians believe that the extraordinary metaphysical events in the Bible (examples include the story of Adam and Eve, the origin of the universe, and the bodily resurrection of Christ) are literal and factual events that took place in a region of space-time and can be validated objectively by reason and scientific findings. They claim to believe in the essentials of historical Christianity.
It is clear that the Bahá'í metaphorical perspective on these issues is more in tune with evolutionary logic than literal interpretations. Christians also believe that Jesus Christ is the pivot around which revolves the past, present, and future. Bahá'í interpretations, however, consider this as a reflection of a static type of thinking under which history stands still.
The same fixed conjecture can be observed in the Islamic view concerning the station of Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets and his religion as the last and ultimate revelation from God. The Bahá'í view, however holds that everything is in progress, including divine revelation and our perception of reality. This dynamic ontological foundation will automatically reject any view that claims to hold the final and ultimate revelation of God.
When there is a contradiction between the Bahá'í revelation and any other previous dispensation, we use the Bahá'í criteria to determine the truth of the argument. Any revelation, while maintaining its authority over past traditions, can also refer to these criteria to clarify certain issues. It is a natural way of establishing a new model about reality. It is the inevitable result of intellectual refinement and progress. For that reason, the Bahá'í writings make numerous references to the Qur'án and the Bible, and at the same time maintain an indubitable authority to weigh the Scriptures of the past. Science also follows the same logic. It uses new theoretical configurations to determine the validity of old concepts. For instance, the Newtonian model established new laws of motion that were radically different from traditional conceptions. The Newtonian model became a new paradigm and a criterion with which to judge the probable truth of past ideas. The Newtonian model, however, derived its premises from the works of previous models and cosmologies and the cumulative tradition of knowledge from Aristotle and his predecessors to Kepler and Galileo.
Bahá'u'lláh's references to previous revelations to prove himself as the long-awaited supreme redeemer of humankind, do not appeal to the literal meanings of the scriptures. He, actually, deconstructs and reconstructs them to establish a conceptual framework before entering into a technical debate about the fulfillment of prophecies. Bahá'u'lláh never attempts to decipher any specific reference in the Bible or the Qur'án by relating it to the dates or events of his revelation. But rather He explains the foundation of Bahá'í doctrine, namely, the concept of progressive revelation as the overriding method of God's intervention in human history. Bahá'u'lláh takes the position that the concept of progressive revelation is central to Bahá'í hermeneutics, as it relates a meaningful interpretation of religious experience to both transcendental origin and historical development. The recognition of this foundation, Bahá'u'lláh claims, is the master key to unlock the true meaning of the Scriptures and their prophecies.
To use an analogy, one might say, interpretation of prophecies is analogous to artistic comprehension of modern painting. Let us assume we are asked to explain a cubist painting to a naive observer. We are faced with two choices: either to explain it in such a way that fits into the observer's previously constructed sense of comprehension and appreciation, or to help the observer to develop a clarity of vision so she may be able to see beyond the appearance which is vague and anarchical and to behold subjectively the beauty of this art form. Likewise, prophecies can also be interpreted in two ways: they may be reinterpreted according to the traditional frame of reference by haggling over piecemeal methods, or they may be reinterpreted by the establishment of a new vision and truth criteria for the advent of a New World Order. The eschatological vision of a New World Order and progressive interpretation dominate Bahá'í hermeneutics.
2.6 Proposition 6: Modernization.
A perspective on modernization is necessary for developing an internal unity of learning in Bahá'í studies. The rise of modernization has brought the greatest challenge to religion. The powerful overtone of modernization has superimposed a rational and neutral method of discerning facts on religion. It also has created a new world to which traditional religions are compelled to adjust.
On the positive side, expansion of human cognition, dominance of empirical research, and separation of scientific thinking from the domain of theology have created a vast body of facts about the operation of physical reality. However, in the process, we have lost an outlook that transcends the parochial and fragmented scientific facts into a universal and integrated vision of the world and a synthesis of insight about the purpose and meaning of life. A secular view has a propensity toward reductionism and specialization. It has to define every subjective experience in material terms and to break it down to its smallest measurable units in order to provide understanding, thus relinquishing the perspective of a coherent world. This loss runs across disciplinary boundaries and reflects moribundity that has afflicted all consciousness-related domains of knowledge.
The Bahá'í Faith does not oppose modernization and experimentation. On the contrary, it claims to be the originator of monumental changes in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Modernization was a part of the historical forces that were released to break the backbone of superstitions and dogmatic patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. It forced religions to develop or to die out. It gave humankind a scientific and technological order to manipulate its physical environment and to achieve the physical unity of the world. One may even argue that the pronouncement of the death of God in the nineteenth century was, in fact, an inevitable reaction to a dogmatic definition of God.
It is however crucial to understand that the Bahá'í Faith was not just another religious movement of the nineteenth century responding to the challenges of modernization. It rather provided modernization with bounds of moderation. Interpreting the developments of the Bahá'í Faith as reactions to the whims of modernization is tantamount to negating it as the generating impulse of a new global culture and civilization.
2.7 Proposition 7: Potentiality and Actuality.
A theoretical foundation for an integrative design for Bahá'í Studies requires a perspective on necessary interactions between potentiality and actuality. Potentiality and actuality denote aspects of development and change. Potentiality reflects the internal propensity toward development that exists in phenomena. Actuality reflects the realization and appearance of that propensity. Potentiality refers to the inherent qualities that are imminent in beings. Actuality is about the coming into being of those qualities.
The passage from subatomic units to life forms is a transition from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality. The emergence of consciousness represents the presence of the potential mind as a latent reality in the evolution of life. The development of cultures and civilizations from the unification of the tribe to a new world order demonstrates an ordered expression of potentialities inherent in the units of social organization. The process of actualizing human potentialities becomes the central theme of proper education, a necessary condition under which humanity can become the supreme talisman. The continuous and progressive process of divine revelation, from embryonic stages to the full blossom of the golden age, expresses a transition from potential forces that the Manifestations of a God set into motion to the complete realization of God's vision. The creative power of the Manifestation of God generates a field that releases the potentialities inherent in existing phenomena. This educative act nurtures the realization of those potentialities. Thus, potentiality and actuality are inherently linked in an organized pattern. They are reconciled in a direction toward increased order and unity.
2.8 Proposition 8: Teaching, Learning and Change.
The spiritual truth, in the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, finds a social dimension that is destined to transform human circumstances and to achieve world unity and peace. Unlike utopian visions, the Bahá'í Faith asserts that the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth is an inevitable process. This overarching social goal, indicating a unique and historical phase in the process of progressive revelation, provides a "this-worldly" orientation for Bahá'í Studies to become conducive to the well-being of humanity and an instrument of transformation rather than an interpretive device. The social goal of the Bahá'í Faith relates Bahá'í learning and education to the act of teaching as a means to change the world. Therefore, the act of teaching, in its broadest sense, dominates the motive and the process of Bahá'í Studies.
To explain this theme we must, first, elaborate on the definition and function of the teaching act. The act of teaching integrates two inseparable faculties of knowledge and action. Knowledge of the Manifestation of God is the primary source of one's internal transformation. This knowledge, however, cannot remain a hidden treasure. It must manifest itself in the external and visible dimension of reality and flow in the world of experience to become real and meaningful. It must have some kind of impact on the lives of other human beings. If this impact is the result of a systematic and intentional process of change in one's pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting, animated by the knowledge and love of Bahá'u'lláh, it could be defined as "teaching." Teaching, in this context, becomes an external reflection of the totality of internal changes within the soul of the individual.
By accepting Bahá'u'lláh and his teachings, a Bahá'í scholar is naturally aligned with a process that begins with knowledge but ends in action; and the action, in the process, becomes one with the knowledge. In fact, action is considered to be an inherent property of knowledge. True knowledge must necessarily create a compulsion for action and positive change in the human condition. If scholarship is severed from purposeful human activity, it will be confounded with inert knowledge and its ultimate efficacy vitiated. Teaching is a part of scholarship, as it means constant learning and alterations and modifications of one's thought and behavior. The act of teaching, in its broadest sense, brings the worlds of knowledge and experience together. Teaching challenges thought patterns of society and in turn induces a reaction from the social environment. The way that a Bahá'í teacher/scholar is educated to respond to this reaction has profound epistemological value. Scholarship bent on teaching changes passive contemplation into revolutionary action. It also challenges scholars to account for their actions.
In short, Bahá'í scholarship must be oriented toward changing the human condition. Changing the human condition, from a Bahá'í point of view, depends upon a process that begins with the knowledge of the Manifestation of God for this age and ends with the reflection of "self" and inner processes (thoughts, feelings, and attitudes) in the realm of action. This process is called "teaching."
3. The Period of Transition to Practical Application
Integrative studies, in their development, will eventually break their internal shell and begin to relate to problems of the people of the world and to address their concerns and needs. An integrative approach, at this point, is geared toward the adaptation of Bahá'í Studies to changing of the human condition and the transcendence of the piecemeal functions of research and scholarship into dynamic processes for moral and spiritual transformation of humanity over time. In other words, this component part of integrative studies is about distilling universal features of the Bahá'í Faith into particular areas of needs and interests through a process that requires deductive skills and knowledge of various modes of cultural and academic thought.
In applying Bahá'í thought to various cultural modes, it is of critical importance to maintain a delicate balance between unity and diversity without compromising the integrity of the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í teachings, while enhancing the hidden treasures of various cultures, discard their outdated, superstitious traditions. Here, we need a broad understanding of the Bahá'í Faith as it applies to cultures and civilizations.
In applying Bahá'í teaching to problems of the world, we need to be cognizant of the fact that some of these problems are addressed in academic discourses and that these discourses shape the opinion of peoples and leaders of thought. Therefore, the application phase of integrative studies may include an embryonic dialogue with philosophy and the sciences outside of the Bahá'í teachings. As a part of this dialogue/orientation, we may also begin to realize that there are emerging academic discourses that have separated themselves from the secular mainstream and have adapted humanist or even spiritual orientations.
The external dimension refers to an emerging, organic, and future-oriented process that will ultimately result in the development of a new paradigm of scholarship that combines the Revealed Word with the world of experience. A new paradigm of scholarship is derived from the union of two evolutionary sources: The spiritual and scientific traditions of humanity.
This is the stage in which Bahá'í thoughts, ideas, and values will eventually attract thinkers and scientists in their quest for a new model of scholarship. At the present, this model has an embryonic life, and its emergence corresponds to the gradual spiritual and mental maturation of humanity. Thus, the details of this "implosive meeting" between science and religion cannot be described with precision. One can only draw a mental picture on the generalities of this epoch-making enterprise, which is destined to eradicate the dichotomous perception of reality, put into motion the unifying forces of life, and develop a spiritual/scientific model of reality. A new scheme of the sciences may include theoretical constructs which address the relationships of empirical with consciousness-related phenomena.
A full blossoming of the external dimension of integrative studies requires the emergence of a new paradigm of reality based on a complete blending of Bahá'í and scientific perspectives. This process, therefore, is presented here as a set of six developmental and interconnected stages.
4.1 Stage One: Materialistic Empiricism
Stage one refers to a historical process that began with the rise of empiricism as the dominant mode of scientific inquiry and that changed into a powerful materialistic philosophy which is still dominating all aspects of cultural life. At this stage, the world of science is controlled by empirical methodologies. Subjective and abstract phenomena, especially human consciousness, are considered to be products of material evolution and to derive from the complexity of organizational structure. The belief is expressed that the knowledge of subjective phenomena is possible only after reduction to the level of the concrete domains of physics, chemistry, and biology. Materialistic philosophies underlie scientific thinking and constitute the overarching system of values and meaning. Metaphysical systems are considered as unclear and incoherent sets of propositions. Any concept that is beyond empirical cognition is believed to be either unscientific or irrelevant.
In the West, the dominance of secular and "this-worldly" culture roughly began in the sixteenth century. Initially, this historical process was set into motion as the dogmatic patterns of thinking in the Judeo-Christian culture were progressively challenged by empirical findings of a powerful and efficient science. While Christianity was crystallized into its medieval worldview, the emerging scientific frame of reference underwent continual development. Scientific observations and philosophical models changed human perception of the universe. Galileo's insights paved the ground for the foundation of modern cosmology. Newton theorized on the infinite and dynamic nature of the universe. Darwin, Durkheim, and Weber initiated the study of evolution and sociology. Pavlov and Freud ushered in scientific psychology. Karl Marx gave a new interpretation of human history and the course of historical development. Finally, accompanying the emerging perceptions about reality, scientific and social events — including the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of capitalism and liberalism, and the separation of Church and State — changed the productive forces, economic structure, and ideological culture of Western society.
Scientific empiricism can be traced back to the works of Locke and Hume and some other philosophers. These thinkers were influenced by Newtonian physics, which was grounded in a mechanistic/atomistic conceptualization of reality, a reality that operates based on fixed qualitative and quantitative relationships and on an epistemology that recognizes empirical data (and propositions) and observable, sensory experiences.
In a way, their formulation was a modification of Aristotelian associationism that assumed knowledge was the result of basic sensations that occur contiguously and in association with each other. For that reason, Locke, Hobbes, and others called themselves British Associationists. In the late 1800s, empiricism was refined by the experimental methods established in Germany by Wundt and Muller, and the movement of scientific psychology. Edward Thorndike wrote his doctoral dissertation titled "Animal Intelligence" and John Watson wrote "Animal Education". Both works were landmark research in the use of controlled laboratory situations as the only reliable method for the actual observation of human behavior. It is also important to mention Pavlov and his theory of classical conditioning. Later, empiricism applied to psychology found widespread academic recognition in America in the form of behaviorism.
Empiricism by itself is just a method of acquiring knowledge, albeit a very important method. Even in an integrated method for acquiring knowledge, empiricism is applied to inquire into the physiological and genetic components of the human organism and the relationship between physicochemical properties of the human brain and psychological dimensions of behavior which often have profound philosophical, spiritual, and moral ramifications. However, the various methods of study have philosophical backgrounds and are conditioned historically and culturally by the evolution of scientific thinking. From its origin, empiricism had materialistic overtones.
Materialism has always had a historical presence as a major way of thinking about reality. Materialistic philosophies are more substantial than to be classified as a mere response to religious dogmatism. In ancient Greece, the dawn of philosophy was inaugurated in the works of materialist philosophers, for example, Democritus and Epicurus. At times, the influence of materialism has been dimmed by the rise of idealist thinking, and at certain other historical times, it has found profound influence and ascendancy in shaping cultural values and norms is found. For instance, materialism gained an unprecedented stronghold in the West since the eighteenth century and the rise of the Enlightenment movement. Some of the significant developments of this era and the factors that contributed to the strengthening of materialist thinking are summarized as the following:
Newtonian Physics. Newtonian theory profoundly influenced the domains of philosophy and theology in the eighteenth century. Even though the theory itself was a scientific configuration of reality, it had repercussions in the development of materialistic thinking in social and human sciences. Its deterministic nature captured a view of God that was impersonal and aloof — a God who created the world and then let it run by its inexorable laws. Materialistism's reductionist element paved the ground for a further concentration on behavior of the smallest constituents of systems, including living systems and a tendency to reduce consciousness to the physics and chemistry of the human brain and nervous system.
Darwin and the Theory of Natural Selection. A materialistic interpretation of Darwin's scientific work postulated that humankind was the product of accidental evolution, and thus in the order of the world there was no need to believe in a creator or to attribute special station to the human being as a unique creature with spiritual qualities.
Materialistic Conceptions of Human Nature and Behavior. Philosopher David Hume, who argued in favor of extending empiricism to human and social sciences, and logical positivists who advanced scientific and philosophical analysis believed that a theory of knowledge based on empirical or sense perception and logical verification seriously undermines the explanation of human nature in spiritual terms.
Modern psychology, particularly Freudianism and behaviorism, rejected a nonmaterial conception of human nature. Freudianism regarded the raw, unconscious forces of instinct as the determining force of human personality. Behaviorism, approaching human nature from an opposite direction but united with Freudianism in its underlying materialistic assumptions, regarded environmental influences through associative learning as the source of all complex behaviors, including thinking and ethical conduct. Empiricists insisted that human nature is a blank tablet and that knowledge and the mind are understood through a process of connecting peripheral events like primitive sensations and reflexes — basic components of learning — together. The founders of behaviorism argued that a human being is an animal. The only difference between humans and other animals, they asserted, is that humans have acquired a more complex behavior.
The Rise of Empiricism and Experimental Methods. Modern philosophy viewed sense perception as the main reliable method of acquiring knowledge. There was greater emphasis to either define all subjective phenomena in experimental, factual terms or to drop them from the scientific vocabulary. David Hume, for instance, in his insistence to study the human mind scientifically, resented any traditional religious interpretation of mind and came to a conclusion that the mind is nothing but the commingling of several perceptions.
Marxism. Marxism, in some respects, represents a culmination, a coming of age of materialism. First, it masterfully brought several threads of philosophical thinking, both idealist and realist in their orientation, to a sophisticated and coherent materialistic conclusion about reality and the course of human development. Second, it created a matrix for all modern developments from scientism to Darwinism to form a united front, an all-embracing ideology, for all human needs in order to fill the intellectual and spiritual vacuum in a culture that had declared the death of God. Third, Marxism tried to invigorate the definition of materialism by distancing it from mechanistic and crude definitions of matter espoused by Feuerbach. In Marxism, matter exhibits the characteristics of a vital and evolving force that is shaping human history and ultimately capable of transforming itself into subjective forms. Fourth, Marxism did not remain at the level of abstraction or merely an intellectual configuration. Marx vigorously applied dialectical materialism as a powerful interpretive device for social revolution, political change, and cultural reconstruction. A very important feature of Marxism was its separation from empiricism. Since Marxism is a materialistic philosophy, one may assume that it naturally embraces an empirical methodology. This, however, is not the case. Marxism comes to the conclusion that, if there is any hope for materialism, it has to be connected to the subjective idea of liberation. Materialism must attune itself with the rhythm of transformation and becoming. Here, dialectical materialism enters into the picture and empiricism leaves the scene. This was a profound conceptual development because a powerful materialistic worldview postulated that materialism could not survive if it followed a mechanistic methodology that is limited in its scope of inquiry.
In short, stage one in the development of an integrative paradigm of knowledge represents a historical cultural mode that looks upon the world and even consciousness-related phenomena in terms of materialistic and mechanistic philosophies. During the past four-hundred-year period, the tendency has been to view reason over intuition, science over religion, and matter over mind. It seems that the creative energies produced at the outset of the adoption of this system have now reached a stage of exhaustion. This exhaustion has caused the ascendancy of a materialistic pattern of culture. Sociologist P.A. Sorokin describes the characteristics, implications, and consequences of the materialistic culture in these words:
The social and psychological sciences begin to imitate the natural sciences, attempting to treat man in the same way as physics and chemistry treat inorganic phenomena... until finally all relative truths and values are completely reduced, so to speak, to atoms. Sooner or later relativism thus gives place to skepticism, cynicism, and nihilism. The very boundary line between the true and false ... disappears, and society finds itself in a state of veritable mental, moral, and cultural anarchy.... Men prefer, and delight to deal with, concrete phenomena.... It cannot see the forest for the trees. The theories of science grow progressively thinner and shallower ultimately resolving themselves into imaginary, make-believe propositions. Science and philosophy come to be imbued with utilitarian aims.... Psychology as a science of the human soul, turns out to be a physiology of the nervous system and its reflexes. Religion, as a revelation of God, degenerates into a political creed. [sensate art] is divorced from ... values. Its aim is to afford a refined sensual enjoyment. It must be sensational, pathetic and increasingly new .... In such a culture, material values naturally become paramount, beginning with omnipotent wealth and ending with all the values that satisfy man's physiological needs and material comfort.(Sorokin, 1945)Historically, a culture that had evolved around a secular core could hardly manifest the life and vitality of an integrated cultural system. There are now ample evidences that Western culture is also experiencing the same precarious crisis of one-dimensional materialistic development. It is a crisis from within that has overshadowed every aspect of life. Some historians and social scientists believe that Western culture may not escape the death pang of the cultural evolution. They strongly argue that Western culture is destined for a general breakdown comparable to that of Greco-Roman civilization.
4.2 Stage Two: Crisis in the Social Sciences.
This stage of crisis is a conceptual stage that usually follows the development of materialistic empiricism. Our premise in the discussion of the preceding stage was that findings and theoretical configurations of physical and natural sciences by themselves cannot be considered as materialistic. This is rather the realm of the larger culture that under certain historical conditions interprets the scientific findings in terms of the materialistic position.
This is also the same culture whose thought patterns determine the content of the social sciences (here, the social sciences are referred to as the totality of the mind-related fields of study above biology in the scheme of the sciences; the human sciences may also be used interchangeably). Therefore, if materialism poses a challenge to the physical and natural sciences, it is a challenge from outside, while the social sciences encounter a deep philosophical and theoretical crisis of materialism from within. This crisis, in the second half of the twentieth century, has gained a more rapid acceleration. The social sciences, which are still under the influence of materialistic and mechanistic philosophies of the nineteenth century, are gradually being faced with a deteriorating internal conflict. Multiplicity of ideas and theories without a unifying framework to solve human problems and to explain the complexity of human behavior have created a deep theoretical and moral bankruptcy at the core of these disciplines.
In the formation of their ideas, the social sciences have borrowed from and followed the theoretical frameworks of natural and physical sciences. Consider how Newtonian cosmology and the Darwinian model of evolution have influenced and shaped both the ideas and methodologies of the social sciences. For decades, behavioristic and mechanistic models in psychology, sociology, history, and political sciences established their theoretical foundations on the materialistic interpretations of Newtonian cosmology and Darwinian biology. In recent times, however, the social sciences have not incorporated the limitations of reductionist mechanistic thinking that are demonstrated by quantum physics and Einstein's theory of relativity.
Therefore, a new vision of social reality and processes cannot have philosophical cohesiveness while its interpretations of physical reality reject the inclusion of the properties of consciousness in the equations of theories about the physical world. The relationship between the physical/natural and the social/human sciences lies at the core of the unity of knowledge. Two interrelated propositions are necessary for this unification. First, the social sciences need to relate to the development of ideas that try to study and explain the physical domain of reality. In this, the synthesis of knowledge will be based on a firm conceptual ground. In the Bahá'í writings, material reality is defined in terms of its metaphorical nature to guide humanity to the world of spirit. The knowledge of the world of spirit stands above the physical and natural sciences; yet, it cannot be separated from the lower levels of knowledge. Even though the world of the spirit is real and the material reality is just a shadow, the seeker is conditioned to find the truth through the agency of material phenomena and relationships. Second, the synthesis of knowledge must acknowledge the special environment of the human spirit. In this, the reductionist scheme of theences will be avoided. In the hierarchy of knowledge, the spiritual reality flows within a cyclical pattern. In its descending flow from the ultimate source of all knowledge, it brings a sense of oneness and unity to lower levels of understanding. In its ascending flow, it transcends every branch of knowledge to reach a higher and ultimately infinite realm of meaning. As a result, the social/human sciences are conceptually related to the force of material factors, while physical/natural sciences must include the properties of the potential spirit as the origin of matter and the emerging quality of biological evolution. Thus, we can say that the concepts and values of the social/human sciences are generated by two sources of knowledge: physical sciences (particularly physics and cosmology) that take into account an explanation of the universe and the tangible element of reality, and a dynamic definition of religion that takes into account the phenomenon of transcendence and the organizing principles of transformation.
We can logically argue that the first principles for the unity of knowledge (and consequently the harmony of science and religion) involve these two ultimate sources of knowledge. The evolving nature of these two fields determines the vitality and validity of the discourse in social sciences. In other words, in the dialogue between science and religion, the social sciences have a contingent and limited presence set by these two realities. Today, many conceptions of the social sciences are, however, divorced from both sources of knowledge. These conceptions are often presented as a basis to discredit the possibility of a reconciliation between science and religion. As a result, an illusion has persisted that there is a permanent rift between science and fundamentals of religious belief, for example, the soul and life after death. If that were true, the Bahá'í Faith, for instance, would be forced to abandon its fundamental core in order to comply with the tenets of a materialistic philosophy that has imposed itself on social sciences in the name of scientific thinking.
Let us examine some particular cases: Today, mainstream psychology (a social science and probably the most sophisticated one in terms of its hard work in developing concrete methods of studying human behavior) denies or considers irrelevant the existence of the human soul. Does this mean Bahá'ís should throw away the core of their religious belief that centers around the reality of the human soul as a nonmaterial entity and life after death in order to comply with this science?
Economics, another social science where efforts are made to establish a scientific basis, study is directed to models that attempt to describe economic forces in exact mathematical terms with the goal of predicting the direction of the market. To many academicians in this field, the idea of a spiritual solution to economic problems is sheer fantasy. Should Bahá'ís agree with current assumptions in this science and compromise their views on spiritual/moral foundations and the normative premises of economics?
In history, many academic schools frown on the idea of presupposing a direction for the course of historical development. Does that mean Bahá'ís have to abandon the bedrock of their belief system concerning the progressive evolution of humankind toward perfection and the presence of God as the Lord of history?
The examples are numerous. If we attempt to modify Bahá'í teachings so that they may bow to the whims of social sciences, sooner or later there remains nothing but pieces of something that was once called the Bahá'í religion.
In recent years, social sciences have been challenged to offer a viable solution to catastrophic social, economic, and political events that have disturbed the world's equilibrium. Foremost is the challenge of acknowledging the supremacy of moral values as the ultimate answer to the multiplicity of human problems. There are also the challenges of defining a meaningful context for unity in diversity and of creating a balance between freedom and discipline. An increase in global interdependence and planetization of the human race are clearly discernable; and yet, to the social sciences, the dynamics of a world culture and characteristics of a new world order continue to remain elusive. In short, these challenges and crises seem to act as a catalyst that may precipitate the emergence of a more complex, universal system of epistemology and ethics.
It is not our intention to belittle the social sciences or to advance a fanatical attitude against them. In fact, these branches of human knowledge have contributed immensely to the dismantling of dogmatic patterns of thinking in our culture and to building new perceptions about social reality. For example, we may not agree with Freud, but we have a moral obligation to acknowledge his contributions to a more enlightened interpretation of human behavior. At the least, his intellectual presence gradually stopped the drilling of holes in the skulls of mental patients to free them from evil possessions.
A thorough examination of the social sciences, however, demonstrates that these disciplines are still under the influence of the materialistic and mechanistic philosophies of the nineteenth century and are approaching a crisis stage in the face of rapid deterioration of the social and intellectual order. Sociologist P.A. Sorokin (1948) once wrote that aridity in the social sciences "has gone so far that Plato's Republic would unquestionably be rejected by many departments if it were written now for the first time and submitted as a doctoral dissertation" (p.154).
John Lewis Gaddis (1992), professor of history and director of the Contemporary History Institute at Ohio University, commented on the crisis of social sciences, particularly political theories of international relations after the Cold War's end in these words:
What accounts for the bankruptcy of a field that promised so much? The problem, I think, was not with the claim that one could turn politics into a science; but rather it was with the kind of science that theorists of international relations tried to turn politics into. Seeking objectivity, legitimacy and predictability, social scientists in the United States set out after World War II to embrace the traditional methods of the physical and natural sciences. But they did so at a time when physicists, biologists, and mathematicians, concerned about disparities between their theories and the reality they supposedly modeled, were gradually abandoning old methods.There are critical differences between physical (and biological) sciences and social sciences. They both use reason and observations to make statements about reality. In the social sciences, however, the subject of study (individual or social interactions) evades empirical observation. Unlike natural phenomena, inquiry into social sciences demands something more than facts and logical proofs. Facts and logical proofs can only operate within the mechanism of a social (cultural) context. This is exactly the reason why the operation of reason and observation in the social sciences is conditioned to the dictates of the dominant cultural paradigm.
Ideas in the social sciences evolve within the context of cultural values and meanings. Analogously, this may be likened to growth of a fetus in the womb. The fetus moves and shows signs of life but within the boundaries of a limited environment. The fetus is not even aware of such limitations. Likewise, social sciences operate within a larger process (the realm of meanings and values). This process continues until a higher level of maturity results in the birth of a new set of values.
The rise and fall of Marxism is a contemporary case in which a thought pattern of society provided a frame of reference, a value-based vision for the social sciences. For a good period of time in this century, a clear majority of theoretical schemes in the social sciences were influenced by the Marxist cultural paradigm (dialectical materialism) that superimposed itself on the interpretation of social processes. It is true that post-Marxist theories in the social sciences can claim a sense of freedom from fixated thoughts. They are, however, faced with accelerating internal conflicts and the specter of conflicting trends in a conceptual jungle. These days, it is fashionable to dismiss Marxism, but it was once the science of history not only in the Communist bloc but also in many academic and intellectual circles of the United States and Western Europe. The problem with Marxism did not lie in its attempt to advance a unifying model to eliminate all societal contradictions. Marxism was in fact a response to a historical necessity for the resolution of duality and the reintegration into a higher unity. The problem was not in its universal orientation but rather in its one-dimensional scientific logos that ignored the world of spirit. Disenfranchisement and frustration with false utopias need not be a reason for abandoning humanity's need for a universal philosophy of life. It is now a conceptual and practical necessity that the dichotomous arguments which divide reality into oneness versus multiplicity find a historical reconciliation.
The question of inquiry in the social sciences is primarily resolved in the context of cultural values that are created through the linkage of the sciences and spiritual/moral values. This linkage enables the social sciences to organize raw information and to develop a sense of coherence and direction. Generally, the intrinsic presence of values in the social sciences differentiate them from the knowledge of inorganic and organic phenomena. In physical and biological sciences, values are superimposed from outside, while in the social sciences values are an intrinsic necessity of the subject matter. Thus, the subjective nature and wide spectrum of values make the synthesis of knowledge in social sciences more complex. If a coherent frame of reference cannot be found, diversity of values degenerates into a crisis.
In short, the crisis in the social sciences due to the lack of a coherent frame of reference can be seen from two perspectives. One is that among academics there is no universal truth or a megasynthesis, and hence the current piecemeal approaches are the best method of scholarship. The second is that various models in the social sciences are partial representations of a larger truth about reality. In this author's understanding, the Bahá'í view is in agreement with the latter.
4.3 Stage Three: Dynamics of Consciousness
At this stage, scientists, through their own recognition, will acknowledge their inability to design an all-embracing, life-sustaining frame of reference for human life. They also will gradually come to the conclusion that harnessing a unified field requires tapping into the dynamics of consciousness. This is not to suggest that scientists will suddenly abandon empirical observation, but rather after careful observation they will realize that materialistic, mechanistic, and atomistic views of reality are progressively deteriorating and giving birth to a new structure of knowledge with life-like characteristics.
In the basic domains of science, particularly in physics, new findings open wider horizons of understanding to human beings and change man's perception of reality. Physics, which is the core of experimental sciences, is moving to increasingly abstract ideas to explain the universe. Science at higher levels of model building explains phenomenal relationships in terms of abstract mathematical constructs, rather than pure experimental methodologies. Theoretical physicists, after scientific observation, would ask questions that have long been in the particular domains of philosophers and theologians. Typical questions include: Has the universe come into being as a result of accident or purposeful creation? What is the relationship between subjective and objective dimensions of reality?
Philosophical implications of the order and symmetry of the universe as observed by science imply a perfect design and a highly improbable role for chance in the shaping of the universe. Scientists increasingly conclude that experimental sciences only study shadows and symbols, not the essence of reality. The symbolic nature of science teaches us that the world of phenomena is a partial manifestation of a higher reality; a higher reality that is nonmaterial in origin and causes the emergence of phenomenal realities according to the organizational structures of material systems. Science, as a result, acknowledges its inability to resolve the question of duality between spirit and matter, subject and object, and values and facts.
In short, scientists employing the empirical method will acknowledge their inability to penetrate into the real substance of reality and will consider the world of phenomena as a manifestation of a higher reality that is beyond human comprehension. Physicists will try to design a universal theory for science in which a coherent and unifying framework is drawn to combine major forces of the universe into one. Scientists will gradually come to the conclusion that harnessing a unified field requires a greater understanding of the dynamics of consciousness.
4.4 Stage Four: A New Scientific Paradigm.
The scientific side of the paradigm shift needs to arise out of science itself. This process cannot be imposed from outside by various cultural configurations. Despite its clearly stated materialistic overtone, science has the potential to find its own way out. This becomes more understandable when we realize that from a Bahá'í point of view both science and religion are the interwoven threads of one reality unraveling God-given potentialities in the course of scientific development and progressive revelation. Hence a limited interpretation of science (for example empiricism) should not discourage us from the promising future of scientific discoveries. Historically, this can be clearly observed through the triumphant universal march of science that has traversed from universities of Baghdad in Islamic civilization to engulf the revitalization of scientific thinking in the West.
The following four sections represent some thoughts and developments that are shaping the emergence of a new scientific paradigm:
A Basic Framework.
The scientific dimension of the paradigm shift needs to incorporate physical and biological sciences as well as social sciences, because social sciences borrow from and follow the theoretical frameworks and methodologies of physical sciences. A clear example is the way modern sociology (in the works of Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte) was influenced by Lamarckian views and reductionist philosophies. If a paradigm shift is not acknowledged at the lower levels of reality (mainly, physics and biology), its manifestations at the upper dimensions of reality remain on a shallow foundation, and this will perpetuate the cosmic riddle that has paralyzed human thought throughout history.
Currently, new conceptions of cause, motion, and matter, the quest for a grand synthesizing theory, complexity, nonequilibrium thermodynamics, systems theory, and new biology, demonstrate promising signs as to the development of a new scientific paradigm. In physics and cosmology, promising developments are in quantum theory, relativity, and complexity. Physicists are trying to design a universal theory for science in which a coherent and unifying framework is drawn to combine major forces of the universe into one. Also, superstring theory represents one of the most exciting frontiers in theoretical physics.
At the biological level, strong arguments are being heard on the directionality of evolution and the attribution of a higher role to DNA. As Ian Barbour observes, "The patterns in the DNA do not violate the laws of physics and chemistry, but they could never be deduced from those laws. Information is recorded and utilized in hierarchically organized patterns. The meaning of the parts is determined relationally by their participation in the larger whole" (1997, p. 229).
There is a growing recognition that the theory of natural selection may not be an unquestionable revelation of the truth. It seems the theory by itself lacks explanatory power to render an adequate picture of evolution. Proponents of modern synthesis and neo-Darwinists acknowledge the limitations of natural selection in explaining the dynamics of biological evolution. There is increasing support for proposals that the phenomenon of evolution needs to be studied in an inter- and multi-disciplinary environment of inquiry. Modern synthesis, geobiology, chaos theory, general theory of systems and other empirical data have something to say about the subject. At this period of transition when a comprehensive theory of evolution is being articulated, there is a legitimate place for philosophical speculations, intuition, and imagination in our discourse.
Evolutionary Views of Teilhard de Chardin.
Studies in genetics hypothesize that DNA organization acts as a self-organizing force which contradicts the blind action of natural selection. These studies indicate that genes react additively to environmental stress in a favored direction. This subject demands a closer look at the ideas of one of its leading proponents, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Teilhard de Chardin saw preferential factors as a responsible force in "canalization" of the evolutionary landscape. He wrote:
No 'mysticism' . . . is implied in the recognition of this phenomenon which inevitably reminds us of the entirely material, phenomenon of a river gradually establishing its course to conform with the terrain over which it flows. But just as, in the example, I have chosen of the river tracing its bed, there is (whatever the breadth and the form of the basin under consideration) the same gravity acting everywhere and always on the flowing water, so in the case of 'speciating' matter also (that is to say in order to explain the formulation of any phylum), is there not — must we not inevitably postulate — the existence of a single basic factor in operation? (1966, p. 272)Teilhard de Chardin viewed this as the law of complexity consciousness.
Evolution is the central theme of Teilhard de Chardin's system of thought. He writes:
Reduced to its ultimate essence, the substance of these pages can be summed up in this simple affirmation: that if the universe, regarded sidereally, is in process of spatial expansion(from the infinitesimal to the immense), in the same way and still more clearly it presents itself to us, physiochemically, as in process of organic involution upon itself (from the extremely simple to the extremely complex) — and, moreover, this particular involution 'of complexity' is experimentally bound up with a correlative increase in interiorisation, that is to say in the psyche or consciousness. (1975, p. 301)Teilhard de Chardin attempted to relate the science of geology (inorganic evolution) to the processes of organic life (biogeology) and the world of social history. He observed the same process of increasing organization in the passage from subatomic units to organic molecules, living units, cells, primitive humans and finally complex social organizations. In all, he observed the presence of the potential mind becoming more intense, more complex as the result of increasing complexity in the organization of material systems. Teilhard de Chardin identified the consummation of this vast evolutionary process as the formation of a global civilization based on the universal solidarity of humankind and development of a single psychosocial unit with organic characteristics.
His philosophical intuition lead him to observe the oneness of the world of spirit in all material systems. Instead of choosing a dualistic approach or a belittling of matter, Teilhard de Chardin began his philosophy by acknowledging matter as the stuff of the universe, capable of generating intense spiritual energy. The following statement clearly shows his fascination with the physical organization of reality: "To push anything back into the past is equivalent to reducing it to its simplest elements. Traced as far as possible in the direction of their origins, the last fibers of the human aggregate are lost to view and are merged in our eyes with the very stuff of the universe" (Teilhard de Chardin, 1975). As the result of increasing complexity, matter, which he calls the Alpha point, gradually attains higher degrees of completion (which are not manifest at lower levels) until it reaches the point of Omega, where Spirit accomplishes its purpose by animating the emergence of a new organism with a new destiny. Here again, we can see complexity and systems theory were introduced in Teilhard de Chardin's vision of the world.
In recent years, emerging interdisciplinary ideas/theoretical configurations are giving impetus to exploring organismic/evolutionary views of change. Among these ideas are "evolutionary synthesis" and "systems theory" that discuss the relationships between physical, biological, and social evolution. Teilhard de Chardin was a leading figure in the development of these integrative models. He was deeply influenced by the upward mobility and optimistic pattern of evolution toward higher degrees of perfection. He also observed a contradiction between the upward direction of biological evolution and the so-called downward arrow of time. To him, there must have been an interior force that propelled the vector of complexification to advance. Teilhard de Chardin identified this internal propensity toward complexity as a characteristic of cosmological and biological evolution. In his view, the rise of consciousness was a necessary step in a series of emerging properties in the evolution of the universe. His concept of Noosphere is about the growth of 'thinking substance' that has occurred 'outside and above biosphere'.
Teilhard de Chardin believed that the emergence of consciousness corresponds to the directionality of evolution. "Threshold events" such as the complexity of consciousness indicate the presence of self-organizing evolutionary trends that defy the chaos of life. In applying this to genetics, he writes: "This is a proof that, followed along major tracts of time, chromosomic characteristics are not the inert 'grains' and 'isotropes' that geneticists suppose, but in fact elementary vectors, consisting of very short oriented segments, reacting additively, always in a single favored direction, to the complex 'topography' of the geographical and biological milieu in which they find themselves" (1966, p.272).
An Integrated Vision.
At the level of model building, very valid propositions are being discussed concerning systematic constructs to explain the relationships between levels of analysis and levels of reality. Systems theory is in the forefront of these developments.
At the philosophical level, attempts are being made to develop a conceptual base for a unifying philosophy. For instance, Alfred North Whitehead offers one of the most sophisticated and serious works in this area. His idea of process philosophy clearly connects theology to the evolutionary ideas of science. Process philosophy has the potential to add a philosophical dimension to the illuminating concept of progressive revelation.
Finally, in applied sciences from medicine to the dynamic nature of information technology, new conceptions are contributing to the emergence of integrative models. In short, we are witnessing the emergence of an integrated vision in science and philosophy. A vision within which the materialistic view of reality is progressively deteriorating and giving birth to a new hierarchical structure of knowledge with life-like, dynamic-organic characteristics. The emergence of the axioms of this integrated vision of reality that is beginning to be articulated in modern science and thinking will inevitably lead to a transition from a mechanistic to an organismic view.
4.5 Stage Five: Catastrophic Events
Catastrophic cultural, social, economic, and political events are disturbing the world's equilibrium. This disequilibrium will precipitate a reexamination of the epistemological value of some social constructs and cultural configurations that, at present, support certain interpretations of scientific research.
4.6 Stage Six: A New Model of Scholarship
This is the stage in which Bahá'í thoughts, ideas, and values will eventually attract thinkers and scientists in their quest for a new model of scholarship. At the present time, the details of this anticipated process cannot be imagined. One can only draw a mental picture of the generalities of this epoch-making enterprise, which is destined to eradicate the dichotomous perception of reality, put into motion the unifying forces of life, and develop a scientific/spiritual model of reality with a hierarchical structure of knowledge that relates all the sciences to each other. Bahá'í teachings provide us with the consciousness of a unified picture of reality, a unity in knowledge itself. The task of a Bahá'í scholar is to integrate diverse and consciousness-related phenomena with this unified picture of reality . The interpenetration of Bahá'í scientific and philosophical ideas will hasten the historical encounter of science and religion and give rise to a Grand Standard of Judgment.
In other words, when the majority of the scientific community acknowledges the need for a coherent corpus of spiritual knowledge in the general framework of science, then the totality of ultimates, absolutes, values, and meanings in the Bahá'í teachings will act as a unifying philosophy for human sciences, making the organization of separate bodies of theory possible.
The totality of Bahá'í teachings is about that ultimate unity of the material and spiritual, of the past and the future, and of the many and the one. Ábdu'l-Bahá reminds us that spiritual insight is the true method to comprehend the realities of things. It seems He is suggesting that the need for the presence of the bounty of the Holy Spirit in the process of acquiring knowledge is vital. That is to say, different methods of acquiring knowledge are valid in their own frames of reference. However, they all must be incorporated with the spiritual standard to achieve certainty in the search for truth.
In the Bahá'í view, the relationship between religion and advancement of knowledge must be examined within the processes of integration and disintegration of religious systems. Historically, during the time of integration and renewal, religion has a profound impact on human thought and progress. As this expression is distilled with deductive skills and permeates the lower levels of the hierarchy of knowledge, it ultimately becomes the nucleus of understanding around which branches of knowledge revolve. Conversely, when a religion is crystallized into dogmatic patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting, its creative potentialities are exhausted over time, and its generating impulses are dimmed. As a result, its role as the transcendental dimension of knowledge or the highest expression of human experience is cut off from the schema of the sciences. At this point, the schema of the sciences resembles a retarded organism whose attempt for progress is internally fixed at a certain level.
Traditional religions (though limited in their scope) transformed not only the ideology and the realms of meanings and values but also penetrated into the behavioral and material levels of culture and established an overarching spiritual and intellectual system. In the past, the advent of the Manifestation of God or archetypal figure has released spiritual energy that has manifested itself in the fine arts, law, ethics, philosophy, science, and technology. Ábdu'l-Bahá reminds us that the Manifestation of God or universal educator is at the same time a material, human, and spiritual educator and the realm of the Manifestation's influence is the world of existence. Manifestations of God establish a theory of true reality and value that transforms spiritual, social, and scientific values and creates corresponding religious, moral, and technological orders.
For instance, Islám, which is now in its age of scholasticism, at its beginning, upheld the spirit of scientific inquiry and established a great civilization from India to Spain with such universities that later became a model for institutions of higher learning in Europe. Ábdu'l-Bahá, refers to the verses in the Qu'rán that contradicted the old cosmology and provided knowledge of the movement of the sun, of the moon, of the earth, and of other bodies. Then, he goes on to say, "Even the doctors of Islám, when they saw that these verses were contrary to the accepted Ptolemaic system, were obliged to explain them away. It was not until after the 15th century of the Christian era, nearly nine hundred years after Muhammad, that a famous astronomer made new observations and important discoveries by the aid of the telescope, which he had invented. The rotation of the earth, the fixed position of the sun, and also its movement around an axis, were discovered.... During the Middle Ages, while Europe was in the lowest depths of barbarism, the Arab peoples were superior to the other nations of the earth in learning, in the arts, mathematics, civilization, government, and other sciences" (1981, pp. 23 — 24).
Bahá'í views on the interrelationship of consciousness and matter, and the Bahá'í concept of the organic evolution of humankind and the corresponding concept of progressive revelation will have a profound impact on the mental configuration of scholars and the development of a coherent view of reality. This can be considered as the process of experiencing "the theme of cosmology," which is, as Whitehead states, " the story of the dynamic effort of the world passing into everlasting unity, and of the static majesty of God's vision, accomplishing its purpose of completion by absorption of the world's multiplicity of effort" (1962, p. 57).
The emerging vision of reality will stress the need for a transcendental methodology to bring empirical-analytic models, cultural and historical experiences, models of symbolic interaction, intuition, spiritual insight, rational consensus, and historical-hermeneutic disciplines into an organic whole. At the present time, there are signs indicating a paradigm shift in modern science that tries to question pragmatic materialism and philosophical reductionism and to re-evaluate the role of consciousness in the establishment of physical reality. This new schema of the sciences reverses a dichotomous view of reality and offers a unified picture of the world in which both matter and mind are incorporated into all the sciences. An integrated approach as Kenneth Cauthen conceives is beginning to be articulated in all disciplines:
It is beginning to be articulated by physiologists, biologists, economists, ecologists, planners, system analysts, anthropologists, political scientists, futurists, and visionaries. The new vision speaks of dynamic connectedness, of apposites rather than opposites, of organic processes capable of creative transformation . . . Contemporary science tends to see nature at its fundamental levels as made up of dynamic, organic systems, of organisms with life-like characteristics. The materialistic, deterministic, mechanistic, atomistic physics of previous centuries is gone. Human individuals are best seen as members of one another, having a genuine autonomy but organically related to the total natural, social, and ultimate enviromentals in which they live and have their being. (1985, p. 323)Boulding refers to the same urgent issue of science when he says: "In recent years increasing need has been felt for a body of systematic theoretical constructs which will discuss the general relationships of the empirical world" (1968, p. 84). He, then, identifies "levels" of theoretical constructs or complexity in the hierarchy of knowledge and formulates the new skeleton of science that consistently unites the level of the static structure of the universe with the biological level, the human level, the level of social organization, and the transcendental level (pp. 83 — 97).
In this system of thought, the process of spirituality will be viewed as a dynamic process that encompasses every aspect of life. The traditional view of spirituality as an abstract concept will be replaced with a new concept, which defines spirituality as the central element of all individual and collective experiences. Life is a spiritual reality that has manifested itself in different forms and finally has achieved its perfection in humankind. The spiritual dimension of life is not limited to esoteric ideas, but rather it should be found in nature, in daily experiences, in politics and economic life, and in scientific and artistic pursuits. A new understanding will emerge which sees the world of phenomena as a metaphor to teach humankind about the spiritual reality and the meaning and purpose of life.
The restructuring of values and re-establishment of spirituality is not intended to downgrade physical reality, rather, the goal is to obliterate the age-old perception of the world of nature as profane and to replace it with a sacredness that encompasses the entire world of creation. A new spiritual worldview will emerge and align itself with the requirements of the time and place. The spiritual potentialities inherent in the Bahá'í dispensation will gradually unfold as humankind undergoes its evolutionary process of completion and maturation.
At this stage of synthesis, the study of human behavior will not be reduced and limited to the study of the function of the nervous system. However, inquiry into the physiological and genetic components of the human organism will continue to grow and pose serious questions about the relationship between physicochemical properties of the human brain and psychological dimensions of human behavior. As research and scholarship find a transcendental and purposeful direction, experimental and mathematical models will be used extensively to understand and elevate human nature instead of reducing it to the lower levels of being.
The scientific-spiritual method of research views evolution, on the one hand, as the immutable law of the universe, and, on the other hand, as a spiritual process which, in its journey toward perfection, has actualized God-created potentialities of existence. In the final analysis, evolution will be viewed as the organizing principle of life that, as a result of a tension between life and death, composition and decomposition, has brought the innate qualities of life into being.
In the Bahá'í model of scholarship, history will be neither a story of random and haphazard events nor a mechanical pursuit of a predestined end. History, in this context, combines the scientific analysis of the fall and rise of civilizations with the guiding principles of human social and cultural evolution. Unfortunately, the majority of historical studies in today's Western tradition of scholarship consist of reductionist approaches to historical events and a disregard for organic views and analysis of history.
On that basis, if history defines itself in the materialistic scheme of the sciences and limits its method of discovery to purely empirical observation, it may reduce the subjective dimensions of human experience to material causes. Conversely, if it expands its boundaries and aligns itself with emerging ideas that relate social history to the organismic view of evolution, it may open the possibility of stressing a generative process of development for history.
An organic view of history does not necessarily mean an imposition of a rigid theocracy or orthodoxy upon social sciences. On the contrary, social scientists, through discourse and consultation and by achieving consensus, will develop a comprehensive method for historical and social research in which intellectual freedom and diversity of ideas will be maintained while a spiritual-evolutionary scheme will provide them with a unifying conceptual framework. In the same way, the evolutionary/ empirical model has been universally accepted by the mainstream scholarly community and not viewed as a fanatical imposition of an orthodoxy, the emerging model also will not be considered as intrusive. It, rather, will be viewed as a liberating phenomenon that can release the process of inquiry from the limitations of materialism. The historical/cosmic view of the Bahá'í Faith regards evolution as an irrefutable reality. It, however, takes the physical process of collective evolution and breathes into it an evolving consciousness. The Bahá'í Faith sees the different stages of the evolutionary process as the outward manifestations of the spiritual energy and blueprint latent within the original seed of creation. We use the analogy of a tree to explain this further: We know the driving force behind the growth of a tree is to bear fruit. This force exists as a potential force in the seed of the tree and later manifests more of its power as the tree grows. However, at any stage of growth, if we dissect any part of the tree, stem, branch, or leaf, it is impossible to observe the invisible determinant upon which the very life of the tree depends. For the same reason, scientists are not able empirically to observe the march of the spirit in the evolution of life because no remains of human ancestors can, singly, exhibit the invisible spiritual determinant behind the evolutionary process. Only when a new thought paradigm permeates and harmonizes scientific thinking with a unifying philosophy of life, will the totality of the evolutionary process be viewed. This is far from being a rigid orthodoxy. It is a lucid view that will guide the course of human development into an unimaginable and noble future.
>Finally, a new race of scientist, transformed by moral principles, will not use science and knowledge for personal gains and selfish desires. Scientific findings will be released from the corruptive influences of money, power, and prejudices of all kinds and will instead be universally applied to the interests of humanity. The scientific method will be applied to objective studies of different cultures, races, and religions having diverse historical backgrounds; it does not limit itself to cultural limitations of any particular group.
In short, at this stage of scientific development, a new spiritual-scientific paradigm will emerge to bring about a historical coalescence between subjectivity and objectivity, spirit and matter, idealism and materialism. The world will be viewed in terms of the necessary relationships between the dynamic forces of the visible and invisible dimensions of reality.
5. A Philosophical Hindsight
Clearly, we are not speaking of the philosophy of the Bahá'í Faith. We do not have an explicit philosophy of the Bahá'í Faith at the present. This is because the Bahá'í Faith is a young and growing religion. Philosophy is traditionally associated with religious traditions as they pass the dynamic phase of their development and enter into an era of scholasticism. This is not of course a negation of their rich philosophical background but a statement that the development of knowledge in a faith tradition is usually preceded by a process of expansion and consolidation. Historically, as the faith traditions have left their periods of heroism and persecution behind and established a base of authority, their sense of urgency and mission is also replaced by a calm environment for intellectual discourse.
This general statement, however, need not be interpreted as a suggestion that Bahá'ís have to wait for their golden age to establish their philosophical thinking. On the contrary, if philosophy means turning to higher reflective considerations, solid reasoning, a sense of inquiry, and an ability to synthesize and integrate, then we need philosophy now more than ever. Caution is needed to prevent identification of any system of thinking with the emerging characteristics of an organic model of Bahá'í philosophy destined to come to full fruition in the future. An understanding of philosophy will enhance our understanding of the Bahá'í Faith, and a higher understanding of the Bahá'í Faith will enable us to reinterpret philosophical ideas in a new light. In this regard, two points need to be closely integrated into our thinking. First, we need to remember that ideas have history and background. No idea comes out of an intellectual vacuum. Thus, we need to recognize that many teachings of the Bahá'í Faith have a philosophical genesis. Second, we need to be cautious not to form a fixation with the past. Ideas from the past, in light of the philosophical system of the Bahá'í Faith, find a new meaning and vitality. As we learn how Bahá'í teachings stir up the possibilities for new meanings in the body of past philosophical discourses, we also need to reflect on the way a historical synthesis among conflicting schools of philosophy may come into being.
Religion in its broadest sense represents a complete philosophy. It has propositions concerning the nature of reality, both physical and metaphysical (ontology). Religion deals with the nature and organization of knowledge (epistemology). It has ideas about social organization, political life and the question of justice (political philosophy). It originates and promotes a system of ideal conduct (moral philosophy/ethics). Finally, religion tries to find beauty in the order and design of the universe and also in striving for nobility (aesthetics). Religion like philosophy tries to synthesize, to bring diverse ideas together in a coherent way. In that, like philosophy again, its role is to work as a complementary force with science.
A brief discussion about the origins of Western philosophy may provide us with a better understanding of the prevailing dichotomy in human perceptions of reality. Roots of philosophical and scientific ideas in the West must be traced back to the philosophical tradition of ancient Greece. In fact, the origins of scientific disciplines and different manifestations of Western culture and civilization were inaugurated in the ideas and writings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Socrates, contrary to the materialistic ideas of his predecessors, believed in the superiority of mind over matter and the study of human subjectivity as the core of all studies and discoveries. He believed in life after death and the indestructibility of the human spirit. He tried to develop a common moral philosophy acceptable to both idealists and materialists.
Plato, the renowned student of Socrates, extended the ideas and methodology of his mentor and established a comprehensive system of philosophy based upon a cognitive and subjective consciousness of the world. According to Plato, the reality of existence consists of ideas and the organizing principles governing and regulating the function and interaction of ideas. Ideas manifest an ideal pattern for things to come about. Only ideas are universal in nature and thus worth contemplating. In Plato's worldview, subjective realities are recognizable only through mental configuration rather than experimental observation. The philosophy of Plato, known as idealism, became a major branch of philosophy with theoretical ramifications for scientific and artistic pursuits.
Contrary to Plato, Aristotle, who was Plato's eminent student, established the foundation of his philosophy based upon objective and palpable observations of reality and heavy reliance on experimentation and empirical analysis. Aristotle believed that ideas lack genuineness and usefulness since they live and thrive only in the mind of the philosopher. Aristotle, in his philosophical workshop, with the help of logical reasoning, studied the nature and relations of perceptible and observable phenomena, and laid the bases of his philosophy, known as realism. For centuries, his philosophy provided a conceptual framework for the development of ideas in the West. In the Middle Ages, his thoughts nourished the fermentation of scholasticism in Europe. In the thirteenth century, Thomas Acquinas integrated Aristotelian philosophy with Christian ideology and moral philosophy, which resulted in the formation of a broad and powerful philosophical framework for Western thought until the dawn of Renaissance.
Even after the scientific revolution, Aristotle's ideas about associationism and empiricism coupled with his method of logical reasoning known as syllogism, remained valid and were used as powerful ideas and tools for scientific development. As a result, he was crowned with the title of the "father of science."
A glance at the history of ideas and philosophy in the West indicates the presence of a chronic condition in Western thought, namely, a dichotomous view of reality; a condition in which reality has been observed as either subjective or objective. Even though the origin of this dichotomy can be traced back to the classic philosophy, however, its intensification is a modern phenomenon. Plato and Aristotle used two methods of cognition; yet in their systems of philosophy, reality was viewed as one. In a systematic, harmonious, and logical way, they combined different branches of human knowledge, including the physical sciences, mathematics, medicine, aesthetics, ethics, and metaphysics, into one philosophical scheme. Aristotle himself was a divine philosopher. For him, being an empiricist was not a reason to exclude theology, ethics, and value-laden questions from the broad cover of philosophy. In the Middle Ages, Aristotelian cosmology provided Christian doctrine with a solid scientific background, and together they established a comprehensive system of thought comparable to the Greek culture in the fourth and fifth centuries BC.
However, roughly at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the decline of Christian-based medieval culture and the emergence of science and secular principles, the rift between the two ways of seeing the world widened. This time religious values were blamed for contributing to the Inquisition and to systematic persecution of human thought and progress. Newly liberated minds questioned the very existence of a world outside of direct human experience and gradually laid down the foundation of a materialistic pattern of thought and interpretation.
As Christian doctrine was crystallized into dogmatic patterns of thinking, science and philosophy had no other choice but to see reality in terms of objective and "this-worldly" interpretations. However, what was unknown to the European thinkers of materialistic persuasion was the fact that during the reign of rigid scholasticism of the West, another religious tradition, Islam, was taking giants leaps forward on several fronts of human progress and cultural renewal.
The advent of modern times caused another significant change in the domain of philosophy. Philosophy used to enjoy a broad domain of influence. In fact, the term "philosopher" referred to a generalist whose subject matter was the entire universe. However, scientific developments that broadened the human horizon and awareness and created a vast body of knowledge about physical and social reality could not be contained within the boundaries of philosophy. Philosophy was not able to organize such a vast body of knowledge and animate the creation of new knowledge. Expansion of human cognition, dominance of empirical research, and separation of scientific thinking from the domain of theology caused the disintegration of the classic form of philosophy and the emergence of various independent scientific disciplines.
The specialization of human knowledge was one of the consequences of rapid expansion in different scientific domains. It was practically impossible for an individual to master one fraction of a sub-branch of a discipline. Specialization, to some extent, was an unavoidable result of scientific progress. However, in the process of specialization, something very important was also lost. The loss was a philosophical outlook that transcends the parochial and fragmented sciences into a universal and integrated vision of the world and a synthesis of insight into the purpose and meaning of life. Learning about different branches of the physical sciences requires specialization, but knowing about the philosophy of life and the necessary values for human existence is a universal necessity and cannot be considered a specialized field for only a few.
A materialistic view incorporates a propensity toward reductionism and specialization. To provide understanding, every subjective experience must be defined in material terms down to the smallest measurable units. A specialist's view regards the schema of the sciences as vertically fragmented domains of knowledge. The scientific specialist, thus, loses the perspective of a coherent world. Every subject matter that is not studied in this manner is considered "unscientific" and speculative.
With the emergence of independent scientific disciplines, classical philosophy has gradually lost its sphere of influence as the unifying frame of reference for all the sciences. If modern philosophy desires to reclaim its past glory, it needs to align itself with the historical forces that are shaping the emergence of a new reality. This philosophical paradigm must incorporate mental/philosophical views with analytical/scientific descriptions. It must become the backbone of a new scientific scheme in which matter and mind, physical and human sciences, and the realism of Aristotle and the idealism of Plato are permanently incorporated into a coherent model about reality. It must also develop a theory of human nature that unites human inner experience with external reality.
5.1 A Brief Review of the Harmony between Science and Religion
The foundation of knowledge and cognition in the Bahá'í Faith is based upon the eradication of the above mentioned dichotomy and reconciliation of scientific facts and religious values. From a Bahá'í point of view, the urgent issue is to recognize what elements have contributed to the historical separation of religion and science.
Generally speaking, absolutist positions and authoritarian attitudes expressed by the gatekeepers of knowledge in both science and religion have obscured people's clarity of vision and hindered the union of these two essential entities of human life. In the Bahá'í view, universal teachings of religion should be interpreted within the context of the relativity of human comprehension and the historical nature of knowledge. To explain further, the direction of acquiring infinite knowledge of God is universal, while the process of ever attaining such a favor is relative and conditioned to the parameters of time and place.
Religious leaders have always claimed to possess an absolute version of religious truth. Such a dogmatic view of religion negates the central mechanism of life — that is, change and evolution — and causes the fixation of religion into a static and frozen entity. Defiance of evolution, naturally, turns the living reality of religion into a meaningless, soulless, and reactionary phenomenon.
Conversely, science has claimed to be the panacea for all human ills and an answer to every human need. This, by itself has created a new pattern of dogmatism in scientific thinking. As the absolutist position of religion has denied humanity the benefits of science, likewise, the absolutist position of science has discarded spiritual and moral values of religion to the point of total disintegration of culture and civilization.
Thus, it could be said that the dogmatic hardening of religion and the materialistic overtone of science are the two main obstacles for the unity of science and religion. However, it should be said that the goal of the Bahá'í Faith is not to bring science and religion together superficially. Bahá'í teachings claim that if religion is freed from superstition and if science is unfettered from shackles of Godlessness and valuelessness, they (science and religion) will, naturally and inevitably, attract each other and establish the pillars of a new pattern of thinking and a new model of civilization in human history.
It is also important to distinguish between the various scientific domains and principles of the scientific method. Harmony of science and religion refers, primarily, to the possibility of the application of the scientific method to the study of disciplines that investigate subjective domains of reality, including religion. That is to say, since reality is one, the universal principles of the scientific method can be applied to explore the various manifestations of reality in both the natural and spiritual spheres. In all scientific domains of whatever nature, the dividing line between observable and nonobservable continues to puzzle us, and it may remain undefined. If the line is removed, there will remain no unknown element to animate life. Therefore, we need to expand the definition of the scientific method. Perhaps the first thing we have to do is to separate it from the narrow confines of empirical methodology. This is not, of course, something easy to do overnight or by magical forces. We are speaking of the gradual configuration of a new frame of reference that includes the properties of consciousness. It requires patience and humility on the part of empiricists to realize and admit the internal conflict in the mechanistic conceptualization of reality. It demands open-mindedness on the part of spiritualists to recognize the complexity of the task and to avoid reducing knowledge to fanatic and simplistic statements.
The Bahá'í Faith is a religion of balance and harmony. When we are pulled to one corner by the gravitation of an idea, it reminds us of the mutual attractions of the other ideas so that the ideal synthesis may gradually shine forth. If scientific vigor is ignored, we may cultivate a potentially lethargic way of thinking that may lead Bahá'í Studies toward mediocrity, and emotional/popular-based rationalization. There is also a danger of rethrowning magical thinking and "mythologizing" the emerging paradigm.
Let us examine an example from modern medicine. As it is well recorded, traditional Western medicine is now challenged with powerful alternative modalities concerning health and healing. Clearly, these new approaches have detected some fundamental flaws in materialistic views of science and the mechanistic conceptualization of matter, life, and the mind in traditional medicine. They also have offered methods of re-integration of the total biological and spiritual elements of health that are increasingly supported by scientific evidence. An alternative to health and healing, however, cannot deny the strides and miraculous successes of modern scientific medicine in the eradication of disease and in the application of the basic principles of the physical and biological sciences. If alternative medicine longs for greater recognition, it has to dismantle its marginalized image and submit to the requirements of research and acknowledge the validity of some premises in traditional medicine so that both approaches may find greater areas of reconciliation and finally merge in a unifying frame of reference.
We may rightfully be weary of materialistic and elitist overtones of academic-like approaches, but that does not justify raising the specter of dualism by shifting to a polarized extreme as a reaction to the excesses of preceding trends. Today, as scientism and materialistic philosophies have failed, a sort of dogmatism, fetishism, and mythmaking is on the rise. A bewildered world, weary of materialism, is being overtaken by religious fundamentalism. In the midst of scientific advances, one can see a critical counterpoint in the reemergence of superstitions, bizarre mixtures of science and science fiction, astrology, magic, primitive religions and lifestyles, and nostalgic feelings towards the doctrines of the Dark Ages. In a brilliant statement, The Prosperity of Humankind, the Universal House of Justice (the world administrative center of the Bahá'í Faith) demonstrates the necessity of harmony between science and religion as the pillars of a true civilization (Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, 1995). This harmony must be the guiding light and the organizing principle of our endeavors in integrative studies of the Bahá'í Faith.
Modern thinking also stands identified with new theories of science and process-oriented philosophical configurations. The flow of knowledge is in a process of separating itself from the materialistic and moving toward mentalistic impressions of reality. A new methodology is thus intertwined with the emergence of a new mode of thought or a common frame of reference that can synthesize different modes of inquiry that operate independently in diverse levels of experience into a purposeful and interconnected view of reality. In fact, a powerful revolution is reshaping the theory of knowledge and the schema of the sciences. At each level in the schema of the sciences, the method of inquiry finds a new dimension that is not present at a lower level. The progressive and evolving method of inquiry (from sense perception to reason to revelation, as explained by 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1981, pp. 297 — 298), corresponds to the advancing levels of reality (from material to spiritual) that are well-established in the Bahá'í Writings as the core of the process of translating potentiality into actuality. The way to understand the phenomenon of transcendence (likewise the concepts of evolution and transformation) is in the context of its necessary relations and dynamic interaction with other sequential steps of reality.
In a sense, empirical methodology is not sufficient for the study of religion (not only religion but also all consciousness-related phenomena). It is suitable, however, for inquiry into inorganic and organic processes. We witness a precarious situation when empirical methodology is applied to psychology and the social sciences. It works at times and thwarts the research at other times. If it is imposed on "subjective" disciplines as the only method of inquiry, it has a propensity to define their character, techniques, and goals in materialistic overtones.
However, scientific thinking cannot be limited to empiricism. As we have discussed above, there are signs indicating the emergence of a new culture of scientific thinking that goes beyond the materialistic and deterministic thinking of previous centuries and tries to stress the need for a unified methodology to bring empirical-analytic models, cultural and historical experiences, models of symbolic interaction, intuition, spiritual insight, rational consensus, and historical-hermeneutic disciplines into an organic whole.
Science and religion are processes that manifest themselves as a result of human interaction with the environment. Human consciousness in interaction with the material environment leads to the discovery of the necessary relations within the material kingdom and assists in establishing scientific models and technological order. As a result of interaction with the social environment, the principles and values of social life are organized resulting in the creation of culture and civilization. Finally, consciousness, in interaction with the metaphysical environment, leads to the acquisition of self-knowledge, awareness of the meaning and purpose of life, and the mechanism of spiritual transformation. Thus, religious truth and scientific knowledge are relative phenomena. They are conditioned by the requirements of time and space and are manifested according to the stages of human development.
Knowledge of the inner essence of reality is beyond human comprehension. The foundation of both religious and scientific cognition is based upon the knowledge of the relations that are derived from the inner realities of things. A human being is the only creature in the hierarchy of creation capable of acquiring this knowledge. The emergence of intellectual and spiritual qualities in humankind are the result of an evolutionary process in which the creative energy of the will of God has traversed through different states of reality and in each state, according to the material composition of things, has manifested its qualities and attributes, and, finally, has appeared, in the human kingdom, as the power of the soul. In the Bahá'í Writings, we learn about the presence of potential spirit in the process of evolution. That is to say, the gradual maturation of the spirit corresponds to the levels of complexity and evolution of material systems. The inherent potentialities of the spirit (immanent causation) are the internal properties of life. These internal (emerging) properties have been animated by the historical forces (external causation) released by the Manifestations of God. This external force that reveals itself to humanity in a progressive pattern both animates and transcends the inner potential that exists in the evolutionary process. The interaction of inner potential and outer energy creates a cycle of growth and development, and infuses a sense of meaningful wholeness to the evolution of life. It is a condition within which the progressive revelation of God and the path of historical development coalesce and converge. The Bahá'í teachings speak of a grand synthesis that unites physical and biological evolution with human social history. The process of material evolution has reached its ultimate degree of perfection in the human kingdom, and from this point on evolution must continue to develop the inherent potentialities of consciousness-related phenomena.
Based on this encompassing view, it is natural, then, to conclude that integrative studies must be freed from dualistic orientations. Traditionally, the station of the Manifestation of God is viewed as a divine being. Modern interpretations, however, consider the Manifestation to be a historical figure. Bahá'í teachings negate this dualism and proceed to define religion as both transcendental and historical.
The aim of the universal truth proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh is to end division and separation. Division, historically, has generated antagonism, which has led to struggle and suffering. Bahá'u'lláh has brought a framework for overcoming contradiction and realizing true universality. Rational discourse alone cannot form a basis for the resolution of contradiction. Revealed knowledge is necessary to illumine reason and understanding and to direct individualization and separation into unity and wholeness.
5.2 Facts and Values: A Unified Philosophy
Emerging views in research and scholarship suggest a complementary relationship between empirical and normative models. Swedish sociologist Gunner Myrdal says,
Scientific facts do not exist per se, waiting for scientists to discover them. A scientific fact is a construction abstracted out of a complex and interwoven reality by means of arbitrary definitions and classifications... Scientific terms become value-loaded because society is made up of human beings following purposes. A "disinterested social science" is, from this viewpoint, pure nonsense. It never existed, and it never will exist. We can make our thinking strictly rational in spite of this, but only by facing the valuations, not by evading them. (1984, p. 5)
The Bahá'í Faith regards the highest value of any intellectual activity in terms of its contribution to changing the human condition. If scholarship is severed from purposeful human activity and the ultimate values and meanings of life, it will be confounded with a content that begins with words and ends with words.
The Bahá'í Faith does not consider any particular branch of knowledge as valueless. All scientific domains, to some extent, may contribute to the material, intellectual, and spiritual development of humanity. However, if they are devoid of meaningful purpose, they may lose their potential benefit and eventually degenerate into another means by which only the basest of human instincts are satisfied. It is a misconception to assume that by reference to sciences which "begin with words and end with words", Bahá'u'lláh is implicitly discouraging philosophy and humanities and by alluding to sciences that "can profit the peoples of the earth" (1988, p. 52), Bahá'u'lláh is encouraging experimental sciences, for example, physics, chemistry, or applied disciplines such as medicine. Bahá'u'lláh did not refer to any particular domain of science as unproductive and useless. He basically referred to a double-edged nature of science that has the potential to be the source of good or a veil between the seeker and the truth. This is the same veil that Bahá'u'lláh alludes to in describing the cause of the injustices that the Manifestations of God have endured at the hands of the exponents of arts and sciences. Physical and applied sciences as well as social and human disciplines need the illumination of the spiritual reality to become the cause of enlightenment and true understanding.
In the physical sciences, the crisis of values cannot intervene directly in the process of the organization of information and model building. In the physical sciences, values have only the potential to manipulate the outcome. Conversely, human and social sciences can hardly tolerate the crisis of values because it causes a major implosion in these disciplines and shatters their conceptual bases into fragmented pieces.
Today, the absence of a unifying philosophy capable of absorbing the multiplicity of values has created an internal conflict in human sciences — a conflict that runs across disciplinary boundaries and reflects a moribundity that has afflicted all consciousness-related domains of knowledge.
Bahá'u'lláh invites scientists to investigate the symbolic meaning of the physical reality and further human understanding by developing a new schema of the sciences in which physical and spiritual experiences are unified and organized according to the hierarchical processes of life. Bahá'u'lláh claims that all branches of knowledge are the manifestations of an eternal truth that has progressively illumined life and infused it with meaning, value, and purpose. The evolution of spiritual truth, Bahá'u'lláh says, is a universal condition to which arts and sciences must continually refer.
The Bahá'í teachings also indicate that the merits of the arts and sciences are measured according to the degree of their contributions to the values that ensure the prosperity of humankind and animate the process of carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization. Scientific facts are bereft of these values and ideals. They are impartial and do not affect the status quo. Facts can serve both animal impulses and spiritual inclinations in human nature. If scientific thinking is not coordinated by spiritual wisdom and moral principles, research and scholarship will become highly potent instruments for the satisfaction of human's material desires and tendencies. A science without perspective is destined to be manipulated by the forces of materialism. In that case, science degenerates into a tool for the acquisition and glorification of material possessions, sexual indulgence and conspicuous consumption. The scientific spirit of truth seeking is, then, replaced by an attitude of haughty intellectualism. Institutions of learning and scholarship are turned into a commercialized environment that is driven by competition and rivalry and run by irresponsible military-industrial barons. In this environment, forces of a valueless marketplace permeate the process of inquiry and knowledge is used as a commodity to be sold for riches and fame, dominance and control. The Bahá'í integrative paradigm maintains a progressively advancing balance between critical thinking and moral values, asserting that if spiritual conditions and moral qualities are maintained, contradictory views in social interactions are inevitably sublimated into an organic rhythm of becoming because the encounters of opposite views are advanced by a higher affirmation of universal truth.
In summary, an integrative approach to the study of the Bahá'í Faith must necessarily address the essential unity of knowledge. This is more than an intellectual exercise since the Bahá'í vision of world unity is intrinsically intertwined with the emergence of a unified system of knowledge. The epistemological challenges of this enterprise are likely to determine the parameters of Bahá'í education and scholarship in the years to come.
Within the context of this analysis, it is concluded that the modern scientific paradigm is suffering from a reductionist view of human nature and a materialistic conceptualization of reality, that a new paradigm of knowledge is emerging , that consciousness-related phenomena are to be incorporated into this emerging reality, that the organic philosophy of the Bahá'í Faith has the potential to be viewed as a basis for a united system of knowledge, and that if it is distilled into the scheme of the sciences it can give human understanding a sense of meaningful wholeness.