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The purpose and destiny of our human life is shown to be compatible with the facts of biology and paleontology.
This book was originally published as an extended essay at the author's website (now offline, but archived here) in 1996 and updated in 1999. It was then revised for publication in 2001. The book here is the 1999 version, and is not identical to the published book.

See also: Keven Brown, Are Abdu'l-Bahá's Views on Evolution Original?; Brown, Evolution and Bahá’í Belief; Stephen R. Friberg, Commentary; von Kitzing, Is the Bahá'í view of evolution compatible with modern science?; and Courosh Mehanian and Friberg, Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution.

Origin of Complex Order in Biology:
Abdu'l-Baha's concept of the originality of species compared to concepts in modern biology

by Eberhard von Kitzing

published in Evolution and Bahá'í Belief, Studies in the Babi and Baha'i Religions vol. 12, pages 137-252
Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 2001
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  1. Introduction
    1. Darwinism discussed by the early Bahá'í community
    2. About "some European philosophers"
    3. Recent evolution discussions in the Bahá'í community
    4. The organization of this essay
  2. Evolution of the Term "Species" in Occidental Biology
    1. Classical concept of the species
    2. "Species" in modern biology
    3. "Species" in classical and modern biology
  3. The Origin of Order in Our Universe
    1. Explaining complex order
    2. Order in modern cosmologies
    3. Order in modern biology
    4. Willful Design--assuming a complex origin
    5. Willful design--a proof of the existence of God
    6. The origin of complex order
  4. Originality of Species
    1. The theory of "some European philosophers"
    2. `Abdu'l-Bahá's critique of the "theory of the European philosophers"
    3. `Abdu'l-Bahá's concept of the human species
    4. Substantial evolution
    5. Compatibility of species essences with an evolving universe
    6. Parallel evolution
    7. The originality of species
  5. Discussion
    1. Origin of complex order in our universe
    2. Can species essences definitely be ruled out?
    3. A non-trivial origin of order
    4. The spiritual dimension of the human origin discussion
  6. Conclusions
  7. References


The author would like to thank especially Ralph Chapman, Kamran Hakim, Mark Towfiq, Viktoria Sparks-Forrester and Gerhard Schweter for their open discussions and valuable comments. The present essay owes a lot to Keven Brown's contributions. He made many constructive suggestions during the development of the essay, pointed my attention to the concept of substantial evolution, provided the still unpublished retranslations of the cited passages of Some Answered Questions and kindly retranslated certain passages from Promulgation of Universal Peace. The discussions with Ron Somerby clarified important points in this work.

An artist's view of the origin of life

© by Constanze von Kitzing 1997


During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Darwinism was discussed in the Occident, the New World and in the Orient. The public more populistic disputes were not very much concerned with Darwinism as a biological theory, but with its pretended and factual philosophical implications. What is the origin of order of our universe and the well adapted forms of life in our terrestrial biosphere? Is this order based on God's creation as widely believed before Darwin? Or is it the result of a blind mechanism, of the ad hoc formation of increasingly complex structures without purpose or goal, as claimed by many Darwinists and neo-Darwinists? If the natural order has no higher purpose, than social order would likewise be arbitrary, and the social institutions such as the monarchies or democracies would be merely human inventions!

A central concept which distinguishes Darwinism from most previously accepted ideas is that the complex order in our universe is assumed not to be the outcome of the design of a wise, caring Creator, but it is understood as the result of a self-organizing universe. `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the prophet founder of the newly developing Bahá'í Faith addressed the problem of evolution. Talks in Palestine with visitors from the West were recoded, as well as many speeches given by `Abdu'l-Bahá during His visit in Europe and the United states. There He presents evolution in the light of the Teachings of His father. He claims the principle compatibility of evolution with the existence of a wise, caring Creator. `Abdu'l-Bahá addresses the question of the origin of complex biological order by presenting a meta-biological species concept: the originality of species which occupies a central place in `Abdu'l-Bahá's teachings about the origin and evolution of the human species.

The existence of humanity is proposed to ground in non-trivial, time invariant laws of nature, in timeless species essences, in the reflection of the eternal names and attributes of God. Consequently, the potential to form human beings exists from the very beginning of our universe and is not created at some time point as suggested by literal interpretations of the Old Testament, nor were the human characteristics ad hoc self-created as for instance proposed by Monod. `Abdu'l-Bahá combines two arguments supporting the existence of a human species essence: the classical Platonic idea of a harmonious and perfect universe and the modern concept of the time invariance of the fundamental laws of nature. Thus, `Abdu'l-Bahá assumes the principle reproducibility of the results of nature. By means of these arguments `Abdu'l-Bahá rebuts the self-creational concepts of evolution held by "some European philosophers".

In classical as well as modern biology the concept of species essences is generally equated with static and unchanging biological populations and is considered to be incompatible with evolution. By means of the analogy between embryonic ontogeny and human phylogeny `Abdu'l-Bahá demonstrates, how timeless species essences can account for evolution, for an essentially dynamic biosphere, and how they are consistent with the concept of substantial evolution. The concept of cause and effect relates a substantially dynamic world to an essentialistic fundamental reality. The complex, timeless reality, created by God's Command, a mirror of His names and attributes, defines the "space" of physically and biologically possible worlds. The eternal reality unfolds it's potentials within time in a dynamic fashion. Evolution and development is the central theme of the world of being. The kind of essentialism proposed by `Abdu'l-Bahá, which applies to the whole contingent world, does not imply a closed formal system of accidental and necessary causes. To avoid the trap of the infinite regression `Abdu'l-Bahá postulates a kind of open cosmos where voluntary causes, particularly Divine Will, plays a crucial role.

Whereas the origin of the diverse biological strata represents a problem of mainly academic interest, the question of the origin of our moral values and our social order is certainly of general importance. If we believe in the unity of nature, that our universe does not split up into several unrelated pieces of reality, than the same fundamental driving forces should apply to the origin of our universe, to the evolution of the well adapted, complex and diverse terrestrial biosphere, to the development of the human society, and its social order, and to our moral values as well. If the universe, if biological evolution has no destiny, and if we believe in the unity of nature, we should not expect a purpose for our lives. Thus, the question of the origin of complex order in biology should not only interest some specialized biologists, but due the the far-reaching consequences of the answers of this question to our life, it is a question of general concern. The concept of the originality of species proposed by `Abdu'l-Bahá, presents an answer to the far-reaching question where the assumption of a purpose and destiny of our human life is shown to be compatible with the facts of biology and palaeontology.

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