Posted by Jonah on April 26, 2101 at 15:11:36:
In Reply to: Baha'u'llah can't be a prophet of God. posted by David on April 24, 2101 at 16:01:49:
The first place the issue of the scientific/historical infallibility of the Prophets is addressed is Juan Cole's "Problems of Chronology in Baha'u'llah's Tablet of Wisdom," in World Order, 13.3 (Spring 1979). This is not yet available online. Here I'll offer two comments.
1) I believe many Baha'is don't look to the Manifestation for historical or scientific truth, but rather for spiritual and social guidance. Where there is a contradiction between a "scientific" statement of a Prophet and the findings of contemporary science, the scientific consensus is the one Baha'is are supposed to accept.
Here are some quotations supporting this:
The third teaching or principle of Baha'u'llah is that religion and
science are in complete agreement. Every religion which is not in
accordance with established science is superstition. Religion must be
reasonable. If it does not square with reason, it is superstition and
without foundation. It is like a mirage, which deceives man by leading
him to think it is a body of water. God has endowed man with reason that
he may perceive what is true. Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, 63.
The third principle or teaching of Baha'u'llah is the oneness of
religion and science. Any religious belief which is not conformable with
scientific proof and investigation is superstition, for true science is
reason and reality, and religion is essentially reality and pure reason;
therefore, the two must correspond. Religious teaching which is at
variance with science and reason is human invention and imagination
unworthy of acceptance, for the antithesis and opposite of knowledge is
superstition born of the ignorance of man. If we say religion is opposed
to science, we lack knowledge of either true science or true religion,
for both are founded upon the premises and conclusions of reason, and
both must bear its test. Promulgation of Universal Peace, 107.
Here's what I mean. To make Baha'u'llah's statement about "fixed stars" having planets carry scientific weight, we would have to precisely define or discover a number of things, such as: the original words He used for "fixed," "star," and "planet"; the meanings of those words in the language he was speaking at the time; the meanings of those words as they would have been understood by his immediate audience and/or as they were defined by the science of the culture and time in which Baha'u'llah was speaking; and finally, we'd have to know the skills of and the scientific literacy of the person who made this translation. As you can see, none of these four items can be assumed. In other words, at the moment, none of us involved in this conversation know what Baha'u'llah *actually said* nor what he might have meant by it.
In the example of copper transmuting to gold, it is, I think, even easier to settle the issue. One, we all now know that any one element *can* be transmuted to another. That is how elemental evolution takes place, as for example in supernovae or in particle accelerators. Just because current science can not transform copper into gold does not mean it is impossible. Two, we also know that there are a whole host of clear and clearly-intended metaphorical meanings associated with such transmutation, viz. spiritual alchemy. Yes, the Guardian did affirm that this statement was meant scientifically; however, elsewhere he also affirmed that it was meant metaphorically.
As I think can be discerned in all the above, the key is to understand which statements of Baha'u'llah are intended to carry *scientific* meaning and which statements are intended to carry religious, spiritual, social, cultural, and personal meaning. The former may at times contradict the findings of contemporary science, in which case Baha'is must accept science and regard the apparent "scientific" statement of Baha'u'llah as either not-yet understood, or as not-yet properly translated, or as metaphor. The latter are statements wholly within the Manifestations sphere of jurisdiction, and are to be accepted at face value by Baha'is. (Even then, of course, remember that Baha'u'llah endorsed this hadith: " Every knowledge hath seventy meanings, of which one only is known amongst the people." (Iqan, 255)
So finally I'll close with a statement from Shoghi Effendi in reference to the copper-->gold issue, which seems to me to say that, pending further scientific investigation, we can not fully understand some of Baha'u'llah's statements:
We as Baha'is must assume that, as He had access to all knowledge, He was referring to a definite physical condition which theoretically might exist. Because we don't know what this condition is in scientific terms does not refute Baha'u'llah's statement at all. Lights of Guidance #1580
There are many items in the Baha'i Library addressing infallibility, both the Greater Infallibility of the Manifestations and the Lesser "Conferred" Infallibility of Abdu'l-Baha and the spheres of infallibility as applied to the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. Do a search at http://bahai-library.org/search for these items. -Jonah
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