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Security for a Failing World

by Stanwood Cobb

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Chapter 13


Science and Religion

THE present conflict between science and religion is unfortunate, for humanity cannot advance normally with this gulf separating the rational function of the soul from its devotional function.

What can heal this breach? Men of science are already showing a willingness and even a desire to penetrate into the deeper mysteries of the universe and to realize the Infinite in terms of spirit as well as in terms of matter. Religion, for its part, must show a willingness to acknowledge the plain truths of science and to reconcile itself cordially, harmoniously, and whole-heartedly to the evident truths gleaned from the physical investigation of the universe.


The quarrel between science and religion is primarily the fault of religion — or, let us say, of those theological traditions and superstitions which too often parade in the name of religion. This superstitious attitude of the Church, based upon blind dogmas and creeds, for centuries completely blocked the advance of science — that free investigation of the universe which was the creation of the Greek spirit.

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But science persisted with much the same spirit of self-sacrificing devotion to truth, of willingness to face martyrdom, which religion has shown. It persisted and won out. Men of great intellect set themselves to find the causes of things, the meaning of natural phenomena. And they discovered not only what they were seeking, but something even more marvelous. Through finding the causes of things they learned how to control things — how to rule nature and exploit her for man's welfare and pleasure.

It is this latter power which has given science its preeminent authority today — winning awe-inspired respect in the minds of the laity and invading formidably the terrain of religionists. For however much religious fanatics may dispute scientific assertions as to the cause of things, they are helpless before the prestige which science constantly gains by its ability to control things.

It is the marvels of scientific discovery and invention which have given science such a hold on the mentality of the civilized world today — a hold with which religion finds itself helpless to cope.

I recall the argument advanced by a scientific materialist from New York who once discussed with me in a kayak on the beautiful sunset waters of the Bosphorus this conflict between science and religion. "Science," he said, "has brought more of benefit to humanity in the last hundred years than religion has brought during all recorded history." And I found it hard to combat his statement.

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Certainly religion must demonstrate results as immensely valuable to humanity, both individually and collectively, as those science has achieved, before it can regain its prestige. Theoretical claims are not enough. Science has produced seeming miracles of enormous benefit to man. Religion must produce its miracles, also, in the sphere of human conduct and human organization. Can religion successfully meet this imperative challenge of today?


If science, indeed, could guarantee the continuance of comfort, happiness and security to all individuals in increasing and progressive degree, man would perhaps feel no need for religion. But science stands today convicted of gross failure to establish any such security or stability upon the face of the earth. Science cannot control man's emotions. And man's destructive emotional nature has a constant tendency to disrupt, to break down all that man's constructive intellect through science builds up.


Today men of thought in all countries stand baffled before the great problem: — What can establish and maintain universal welfare on this planet? Science gives us the means whereby to live, but not the goals. It contributes inestimable materials

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but no values. Its dreaded power, like the strength of Jason's warriors, can through the quarrelsome mettle of humanity easily be turned upon itself in forms of racial suicide.

Science is so neutral as to morals, so ineffective as to character that we have the spectacle of a Leopold and a Loeb, brilliant students in university science courses, perpetrating crimes of the most horrible character.

Science can control experiment; can control matter; but it cannot control the soul of man. Scientists themselves, as well as religionists, are perceiving this.

Said Professor John Scott Haldene, veteran Oxford scientist, before a meeting of the Christian Evidence Society of London:--

"I am a member of no church because there is so much that I cannot accept in the theology associated with existing churches. It is, therefore, as a free thinker that I am addressing you; though one whose reasoning has led him to a clear recognition of spiritual reality as the only reality.

"The ordinary world which we see and feel around us is a spiritual world of values, in which we find the manifestation of God. We find it in our comradeship with others, in the honest and diligent carrying on of our occupations, in our care for one another, in public services and in our joint recognition and furthermore of truth and beauty.

"If we lose sight of this spiritual world, we have lost sight of what is alone ultimately real in ourselves,

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and we are not realizing ourselves. Science by itself cannot guide us, since from its very nature it does not deal with values which are supreme.

"Science is not enough. Reason in its highest form as religion, and real religion extending into every part of our lives, is what the world is most in need of, and particularly just now, with old theological beliefs, which to a large extent embodied religion, along with old scientific beliefs, as well as old political beliefs, disintegrating in every direction."


Science, in the prime of its power, not only has failed to train and sublimate man's emotional nature but it has actually demoralized man's religious consciousness by taking out from under him all the foundations of religious belief. That many of these foundations were theological dogmas rather than spiritual truths is the one benefit accruing to humanity during this drab process.

Religion, the most conservative department of human life, has even up to today been proclaiming and attempting to justify dogmas based upon an ancient cosmogony thoroughly unacceptable to man's present scientific reasoning. Therefore every educated individual has been obliged to choose between two courses — either to separate himself from the claims of theology or to deny the claims of science. In whatever way individuals, each in his own way,

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have been solving this problem, the patent fact is that the Church has been losing ground before the inroads of science.

This weakness of the Church before the invading power of scientific knowledge and scientific method of approach to truth is apparent not only in America and Europe but also throughout Asia wherever modern education and science have come in contact with old dogmas and creeds. There has been a universal world-wide tendency for higher education to result in positivism, materialism, a denial of religion as reality.

Thus youth — not only throughout Christendom but also throughout Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam — are departing from the creeds of their fathers and are ranking themselves with the great army of free-thinkers who are bent on scientifically discovering the universe.

If there is to be a reconciliation between science and religion, it is plain that religion must come more than half way. It must abandon its false doctrines and its limited creeds, its superstitious ideas derived from an ancient theology and cosmogony wholly irreconcilable with the nature of the universe as we know it today.

There can be but one Truth about the universe. Science cannot discover the universe to be one thing, while religion discovers it to be another. There is only one Universe. That Universe, when understood in its reality, should appear the same both to scientists and to religionists.

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It is an Oriental, not an Occidental, who today utters the strongest note for the reconciliation of science and religion, denouncing in the severest terms those religious traditions which oppose themselves to the known truths of science. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, commenting in his Paris talks on this subject of science said: "Ali the son-in-law of Muhammad said, 'That which is in conformity with science is also in conformity with religion.' Whatever the intelligence of man cannot understand, religion ought not to accept. Religion and science walk hand in hand, and any religion contrary to science is not the truth."

Again, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, speaking in Washington in 1912, said: "Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God. All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominion which none may usurp or destroy. Briefly, it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. Therefore you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of science and arts. The greater your attainment, the

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higher your standard in the divine purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the mind callous and indifferent is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status conditions, and happenings. He studies the human body-politic, understands social problems, and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without the basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal."[3]

    [3. The Promulgation of Universal Peace.]


It is evident that today, if never before, religion must be reasonable. It must convince the intellect as well as the heart. Today the intellect is king, and its desires and needs must be respected by religion.

It is a distinct cause of chronic psychological disease to a spiritually inclined individual — this daily

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battle between science and religion; this endeavor to hold to a religion which violates reason or to hold to a reason which violates the creeds of religion. Herein man is torn as between two opposing forces. No harmony can be established until this battle is ended. Yet no truce can be declared in the battle between science and religion until the demands of the reason are satisfied.

If the harmonization of religion and science is needed in the Occident, how much more it is needed in the Orient — where ignorance and superstition hold men still in such thrall that their lives are lived at the level of the beast-captives to, rather than intelligent rulers of, nature.

In the Orient the battle between science and religion is hardly yet begun. How much Asia, for her material welfare, needs the scientific attitude! And yet it is unfortunate that the Oriental, in his quest for science, should discard his spiritual attitude toward life.


Harmonious cooperation between science and religion is one of the leading principles of the World State of Bahá'u'lláh, who gives strong praise to the man of science as the investigator of reality and holds him up to the respect and reverence of mankind.

In fact, there is no religious movement in the

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world today doing more to reconcile and harmonize religion with science than is the Bahá'í Faith.

"Between religionists and scientists there always has been warfare for the reason that the former have proclaimed religion superior to science and considered science opposed to religion. For this reason strife and enmity have existed between them. Bahá'u'lláh declared this to be a mistake, for religion is in harmony with science and reason. If it be at variance, it proceeds from the mind of man only and not from God and is therefore unworthy of belief and not deserving of attention. The heart finds no rest in it and confidence is not established. How can man believe that which he knows to be at variance with reason? Is this possible? Is it possible for the heart to accept that which reason refuses? Reason is the first faculty of man and the religion of God is in harmony with it. Bahá'u'lláh has removed this form of dissension and discord from among mankind and reconciled science with religion. This is His unique accomplishment in this Day."[4]

    [4. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Bahá'í Scriptures."]

Because of its reasonableness, its strong defense of the scientific intellect, and its utter freedom from traditional dogmas such as make existing creeds impossible of complete acceptance by the scholarly mind of the Twentieth Century, the Bahá'í Movement makes a strong appeal to college youth the world over, who see in it a means of bridging the

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gulf between their intellectual and spiritual natures.[5] Here too they find instead of ritual and ecclesiasticism a practical working religion embracing in its scope all the great humanitarian aims which today are enlisting the interest of idealists the world over.

    [5. Two points in the teachings of the Bahá'í Cause prove especially satisfactory to men of intellect and of science: — the refutation of the validity of miracles as a convincing proof of religion, and the statement that God in His Infinite Essence is unknowable and cannot be grasped or comprehended by the intellect. Thus the chief obstacles to religion in the mind of the educated man--miracles and an anthropomorphic God which is the creation of man's imagination — are removed from the field of discussion.]

Of what inestimable benefit to humanity, claim the Bahá'ís, is a religion in which reason is reconciled with reverance; in which all the higher powers of man's intellect can be dedicated to noble goals for humanity, consciously supported and inspired by contact with that Divine Power which regulates the affairs of the universe.

True religion, they say, is as simple as sunshine, since it consists in availing oneself of the divine source of power and inspiration — a Source which, like the sun, is of unfailing and inexhaustible beneficence to all existing beings. And a prompt and valid solution to great world-problems is foreseen, when the scientific leaders of humanity dedicate their lives to the destiny and divinity of progress.

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