Searching for the Scientific in the Spiritual
by Moshe Sharon
[ excerpt; download the full original at www.hum.huji.ac.il ]
. . .
If we return for a moment to Buber’s primary word, I-Thou, it would not be farfetched to say that the medieval philosophers looked for the Thou in the It, and found God in the mystery of the unique creature - Man endowed with a speculative mind. It is very interesting that this spiritual foundation of science, or the scientific contents of the spiritual, forms one of the major foundations of Bahá’í theology.
Man’s intellectual capacity, the Bahá’í point of view maintains, is the prime consideration when one regards science, because only this capacity makes science possible. “The ideal faculties of Man,” says ‘Abd al- Bahá’, “including the capacity for scientific acquisition, are beyond Nature’s ken. These are powers whereby Man is differentiated and distinguished from all other forms of life.” (Promulgation of Universal Peace, 57)
This special capability of Man for intellectual activity is the mystery of creation, it is regarded as part of the divine system. It was given to man for purpose, and from a theological point of view, this purpose is to enable Man to discover God in his creation, to come to acknowledge His infinite greatness through perceiving, if not fully understanding, the orderly system of the universe.
In this regard how fitting are the words in the book of Psalms: “The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His Handiworks.” (Psalms 19:12) Exactly because of the presence of God in His creation that it is incumbent upon Man to acquire information, to indulge in science.
“God has created in Man the power of reason,” says ‘Abd al- Bahá’, “whereby Man is enabled to investigate reality ... He has endowed him with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which , he is to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept.”
‘Abd al- Bahá’ is thus very clear: Tradition, imitation of ancestors, blind faith, negate the purpose of the creation of Man as a unique thinking creature. “The greatest cause of bereavement and disheartening in the world of humanity is ignorance based upon blind imitation.” (Promulgation of Universal peace, 291)
In that ‘Abd al- Bahá’ voiced clearly the idea which forms the scientific outlook of the Bahá’í faith, whereby Man is called upon to use the powers of his mind which enable him to create abstraction rather than to rely “on passive absorption of information.” (Khurshid, 111)
Religion and science, in Bahá’í thinking, are not two realms opposing or different from each other. The real progress of religion is by freeing it from prejudices, and basing it on the free investigation which is in the heart of the human being. The investigation of the It of the universe as an object is necessary for the progress of religion, for establishing the relation of the I-Thou. There is no science without religion, and no religion without science. For religion without science deteriorates to mere superstition, and science without religion becomes mere materialism.
How near this attitude is to the thinking of the Jewish and Muslim philosophers of the Middle Ages. There are, however, two differences. The first is that then, the medieval philosophers were talking to each other. Their ideas, their debates, their doubts and their solutions never left their circle of intellectuals. The Bahá’í writings wish to bring this idea to all. The second is that the medieval philosophers, following in the footsteps of their Greek masters, applied their logical examination to God Himself; to his actual existence, to His attributes, and to His involvement with creation. These are subjects which the Bahá’í teachers regard to be beyond the ability of human mind. The attainment of the Divine Presence can be achieved only through the knowledge of God’s Dispensation in the intermediate world of Cause. This is the essence of the opening verse of al-Kitab al-Aqdas. The key word in it is the Arabic word ‘irfân which combines the idea of knowledge and mental recognition in regards to the Dispensation - the only possible representation of the Divine Being.
Let me conclude with two quotations from ‘Abd al-Bahá’ that sum up this idea:
“Religion and science are the two wings upon which Man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try and fly with the wing of religion alone, he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism ...” (Paris Talks, 143)
religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions and unintelligent dogmas,
shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying
cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements,
discords and struggles - and then will mankind be united in the power
of the Love of God.” (Paris Talks, 146).
[ end of excerpt; download the full original at www.hum.huji.ac.il ]