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How to study the Bahá'í Writings through the use of logic.
Workshop presentation at ABS conference, Seattle, September 2001. See also a later published article, kluge_reason_writings_2013.

Reason and the Bahá'í Writings:
The Use and Misuse of Logic and Persuasion

by Ian Kluge


  1. "... in this age the peoples of the world need the arguments of reason.
    ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 7, italics added. See also "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements."
    Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings, CVI, p.21.

  2. "Every subject presented to a thoughtful audience must be supported by
    rational proofs and logical arguments
    ." (Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p.86; italics added ). We must do so in light of "the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence of man."
    (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, LXXXIII, p.164)

  3. "... This [the previous argument] is a spiritual proof, but one which we cannot at the beginning put forth for the benefit of the materialists. First we must speak of the logical proofs, afterward the spiritual proofs."
    (Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.197; italics added).

  4. "If it [the previous explanation] were otherwise, the foundations of the Religion of God would rest upon an illogical proposition which the mind could never conceive, and how can the mind be forced to believe a thing which it cannot conceive?" (Abdu'l-Bahá, SAQ, p.115; italics added).


      In a faith whose teachings place enormous emphasis on reason, which requires all members to investigate the truth for themselves and to actively teach the Faith, a working knowledge of the use and misuse of reason and persuasive devices is highly advantageous. This is even more true as the Faith gains public attention. With ever increasing frequency, ordinary Bahá'ís must cope with both well-meaning and critical inquirers who present questions and issues that have occurred to them or been drawn to their attention by outside sources. A Bahá'í capable of immediately providing well-reasoned answers to a seeker's concern or of identifying a logical error in a critic's argument, will, in the last analysis, be a more effective teacher than one who is not - provided, of course, that s/he also conducts him/herself in a spirit of friendliness and good will as the Writings require.

      For example, a seeker may have read one of Abdu'l-Bahá'ís proofs for the immortality of the spirit (SAQ, 223) but not understood it, or claim to have found a flaw. Or, a guest at a fireside may challenge the proofs for God's existence or the existence and immortality of the soul or even assert that the Faith practices gender discrimination. The most effective Bahá'í teacher will be able to provide immediate and direct explanations for Abdu'l-Bahá's proofs or point out flaws in the seeker's own assertions. If the Bahá'í teacher can't do that, s/he must find someone (or some other source) who can - and this is the point: sooner or later, s/he must find someone or something that deal reasonably and logically with the seeker's objections. However, it is obvious that an immediate and direct answer from the teacher is more effective than a delayed answer from elsewhere.

            One might argue that Bahá'ís should let the Institutions look after critiques of the Faith. In some instances this is doubtlessly true. However, a Bahá'í will not achieve maximum credibility - and, therefore, will not be a fully effective teacher - if s/he cannot cope with the questions, concerns and arguments brought to them personally by individuals, both seekers and critics. The inability to provide clear and immediate answers inevitably arouses the suspicion that the teacher is a victim -
and purveyor - of blind faith. This in itself misrepresents the Bahá'í Faith to others.

      For the most thorough, accurate and far-reaching understanding of how reasoning is used in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá, we must recognize that both use terminology, arguments and concepts that overlap and agree with the philosophical tradition that begins with Plato and Aristotle, continues through Maiamonides, Avicenna and St Thomas Aquinas and flourishes today in the various forms of neo-Thomism. Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá frame many of their arguments in the following terms: essence, act, potency, substance, attribute, form, matter, rational soul, existence, final, formal, material and efficient causes, existence, natural law, faculties and powers. The Writings use each of the terms as Plato and Aristotle used them. The convergence with the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition is also apparent in the emanationist metaphysics and the use of many of the arguments about the existence of God, the nature of matter, the soul and human immortality. Thus, all Bahá'ís can deepen their understanding of the Writings by becoming more familiar with the Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy which provides simple, common-sense yet highly flexible and sophisticated tools for reasoning correctly. This tradition has endured 2500 years of enormous cultural change, has out-lived all of its rivals and continues today as vigorously as ever because it is capable of facilitating logically correct thought on all imaginable subjects.

      Here, in an argument to prove the immortality of the soul, Abdu'l-Bahá provides an example of this Aristotelian philosophical language as used in the Writings, and, most significantly, in a manner completely compatible with the Aristotelian tradition:
Answer.--Some think that the body is the substance and exists by itself, and that the spirit is accidental and depends upon the substance of the body, although, on the contrary, the rational soul is the substance, and the body depends upon it. If the accident--that is to say, the body--be destroyed, the substance, the spirit, remains.

Second, the rational soul, meaning the human spirit, does not descend into the body--that is to say, it does not enter it, for descent and entrance are characteristics of bodies, and the rational soul is exempt from this. The spirit never entered this body, so in quitting it, it will not be in need of an abiding-place: no, the spirit is connected with the body, as this light is with this mirror. When the mirror is clear and perfect, the light of the lamp will be apparent in it, and when the mirror becomes covered with dust or breaks, the light will disappear.

The rational soul--that is to say, the human spirit-- has neither entered this body nor existed through it; so after the disintegration of the composition of the body, how should it be in need of a substance through which it may exist? On the contrary, the rational soul is the substance through which the body exists. The personality of the rational soul is from its beginning; it is not due to the instrumentality of the body, but the state and the personality of the rational soul may be strengthened in this world; it will make progress and will attain to the degrees of perfection, or it will remain in the lowest abyss of ignorance, veiled and deprived from beholding the signs of God.
                              'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 239
      Before proceeding, it is necessary to ensure that we are clear about the essential nature of logic and reason. All logical thought is based on the law of non-contradiction which can be expressed in various forms. The most useful of these states that "A cannot be A and not-A at the same time in the same sense" or that "A cannot have quality C and not have C at the same time in the same sense." For example, fire cannot be hot and cold at the same time in the same way. It is hot to us and cold in comparison to the sun but it cannot be hot and cold to the sun simultaneously. To claim otherwise is a logical self-contradiction; the two statements cancel each other out.

      It is also important to note that the Writings do not use one kind of logic and reason in what Abdu'l-Bahá calls "logical" proofs and another in what he calls "spiritual proofs" (SAQ, 195). They do not imply several types of logic. The Writings do, indeed, employ logic to pursue different kinds of arguments (analogies; paradoxes etc.) but regardless of particular topic and application, all of the reasoning found in the Writings follows the law of non-contradiction, and the laws of logical reasoning following from that. Spiritual proofs, using scripture as their premises and verification, follow the same rules of reasoning as "logical" proofs. Only the applications vary, not the laws of logic and reasoning. Below is an example of what Abdu'l-Bahá calls a "spiritual proof":
Therefore it cannot be said there was a time when man was not. All that we can say is that this terrestrial globe at one time did not exist, and at its beginning man did not appear upon it. But from the beginning which has no beginning, to the end which has no end, a perfect manifestation always exists. This man of whom we speak is not every man; we mean the perfect man. For the noblest part of the tree is the fruit, which is the reason of its existence; if the tree had no fruit, it would have no meaning. Therefore it cannot be imagined that the worlds of existence, whether the stars or this earth, were once inhabited by the donkey, cow, mouse, and cat, and that they were without man! This supposition is false and meaningless. The word of God is clear as the sun. This is a spiritual proof, but one which we cannot at the beginning put forth for the benefit of the materialists; first we must speak of the logical proofs, afterwards the spiritual proofs.
                  Bahá'í World Faith, p.311; emphasis added
It is important to notice that Abdu'l-Bahá does not abandon the laws of logic simply because he is providing a "spiritual proof". In fact, his argument is so logically rigorous that it can be presented as a standard two part type A syllogism:

(1) All created things need a final cause (reason to exist) to exist.
(2) The universe is a created thing.
(3) Therefore, the universe needs a final cause to exist.


(1) All created things need a final cause (reason to exist) to exist.
(2) The perfect man is the final cause of the universe.
(3) Therefore, the perfect man has existed since the beginning of the universe, i.e. the perfect man has always existed.

      The reason this argument cannot at first be presented to materialists is because materialists deny the existence of final causes in nature and completely ignore the concept of transcendentals (being, perfection, goodness, truth and beauty among others) which play such an important role in the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition and the Bahá'í Writings. In addition, materialist philosophies usually deny the concept of essences as well as the concept of change as the actualization of potentials. All of these concepts play a vital role in the philosophy embedded in the Bahá'í Teachings.

However, before we proceed, we must rid ourselves of an erroneous pre-conception. I am not saying the Bahá'í Faith is a purely rationalist religion in which the heart, intuition, faith, mysticism and revelation have no place. Quite the opposite. The structure of the philosophy embedded in the Writings is architectonic: one level builds on another in a step by step fashion until we reach the pinnacle of knowledge and understanding, namely the recognition of Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation for this age and the object of all knowledge (Gleanings, XXXV, p.84). Rational, philosophic knowledge forms the foundation this structure. However, to actualize its full potential reason needs the Holy Spirit, i.e. divine grace and inspiration:
He must also impart spiritual education, so that intelligence and comprehension may penetrate the metaphysical world, and may receive benefit from the sanctifying breeze of the Holy Spirit, and may enter into relationship with the Supreme Concourse.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 9; emphasis added
But the bounty of the Holy Spirit gives the true method of comprehension which is infallible and indubitable. This is through the help of the Holy Spirit which comes to man, and this is the condition in which certainty can alone be attained.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.297; emphasis added
In other words, while we may begin with reason, reason alone cannot reach the heights of knowledge. The supra-rational ways of knowing, i.e. intuition, feeling, and mystical experiences empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as manifest in the Writings and Institutions is necessary to complete our rational knowledge. In other words, the philosophy embedded in the Writings has an architectonic structure that accommodates rational and supra-rational knowledge.

      Philosophically, this means the Bahá'í Faith is a variant of moderate rationalism, sometimes referred to as moderate realism. When we ask the all important question, "How much can reason or logic tell us?" we get three basic answers: everything; some things; nothing.

Rationalists in their various versions and incarnations believe that reason and logic can tell us everything that is worthy of being called `truth' or knowledge. Spinoza, Leibniz and today's positivists belong in this camp. These are the champions of what they call the `scientific method' and they refuse to accept as truth any statement that cannot be explained and proven by experiment and logical explanation. They do not believe that there is any limit to the power of logical explanation and, therefore, whatever cannot be explained logically is "non-sense" .

      At the opposite extreme are skeptics and most, if not all, forms of post-modernism which, for various reasons do not believe that reason and logic can give us any truth at all. Indeed, the hard skeptics deny that there is any such thing as `Truth' in any objective sense, and the soft skeptics, while willing to admit that such a `Truth' might exist, deny that human beings can ever know it. Both positions are logically self-refuting (To say `There is no `Truth' in effect asserts there is at least one `Truth', i.e. that there is none!) but this fundamental flaw has never hindered them from advancing their arguments.

      Between the two extremes is what is called moderate rationalism (or moderate realism) which asserts that reason can tell us some things but not everything. The trick, of course, is to identify what reason can or cannot tell us. The key is that this position leaves plenty of scope for the power of reason but also recognizes that reason alone cannot tell us everything, thereby leaving room for other modes of knowing. This is the Bahá'í position, but one which the Faith shares with Plato, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas among others.

      To see why this is so, we must turn to The Promulgation of Universal Peace (p. 20-22) in which Abdu'l-Bahá shows how the four sources of knowledge are inadequate by themselves and must be augmented by the by "the breaths and promptings of the Holy Spirit which is light and knowledge Itself. Through it the human mind is quickened and fortified unto true conclusions and perfect knowledge." (PUP, 22). In other words, the four methods of acquiring human knowledge - senses, reason, tradition and inspiration - are adequate to a point - after which they require augmentation by the Holy Spirit to achieve "perfect knowledge" (ibid.) None of these methods of acquiring knowledge are wrong as far as they go but we must remember that they cannot always take us all the way to the absolute certainty and completeness we crave.


      To understand reason and logic in the Writings, it is important to distinguish between a contradiction and a paradox. A contradiction cancels itself, but a paradox does not. Paradoxes - single statements that seem to contradict themselves - can be resolved i.e. they make logical sense once we realize that there has been a shift in viewpoint and/or the meaning of a word. For example, a lover says s/he is hot and cold. How can this be? Perhaps hot by physical attraction and cold by a feeling of the love-objects perceived aloofness. We have here a viewpoint shift from physical to emotional with the resulting change of meaning of what we mean by `temperature'.

      In writing about the soul, Bahá'u'lláh says:
                  It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still. It is, in
itself, a testimony that beareth witness to the existence of a world that is contingent, as well as to the reality of a world that hath neither beginning nor end.                                    
(Gleanings, LXXXII, p. 161-2)
Appearances to the contrary, this is not a blatant self-contradiction; the word "yet" signals a paradox, though not all paradoxes contain such obvious signals. This contradiction resolves itself once we realize that the soul is related to the body as the sun is to a mirror (SAQ, 114,229,242). The sun does not actually or essentially change its location when it is reflected in a mirror. Nonetheless, it appears in two places at the same time; it exists in itself and is also present in the mirror as a reflection, i.e. has kept its place in one form and simultaneously appeared somewhere else.

      It is also clear that "move" and "soar" are used in a metaphorical and not a literal, physical sense.

      At this point the advantage of understanding the Platonic Aristotelian nature of the Writings becomes obvious because one can resolve this paradox in philosophically precise language by saying that the sun exists substantially in one place and formally in another. There is no logical contradiction between substantial and formal existence and the two need not be at the same place at the same time. A plan or photo of my car is not my car. The same applies to movement. Literal movement is a substantial change in location limited to one place at one time; formal movement is repetition (or projection). There can be many plans and photos of my car. Is this terminology necessary to resolve Bahá'u'lláh's paradox? Of course not, but it is useful for three reasons.

      First, it facilitates a deeper understanding of the Writings by revealing more clearly the logical rigour that underlies the images, metaphors and analogies used therein. They are not mere "prettyfications" and embellishments.

      Second, this knowledge allows Bahá'í teachers to refute charges that the images, metaphors and analogies are simply pretty covers for lack of precise thought or ignorance.

      Third, it instills a new level of rational confidence in the Writings. Their rationality is demonstrable in a very tangible way to those who know how to read them at this level.

Another example of a paradox is found below.
      Meditate on what the poet hath written: "Wonder not, if my Best-Beloved be closer to me than mine own self; wonder at this, that I, despite such nearness, should still be so far from Him."... Considering what God hath revealed, that "We are closer to man than his life-vein," the poet hath, in allusion to this verse, stated that, though the revelation of my Best-Beloved hath so permeated my being that He is closer to me than my life-vein, yet, notwithstanding my certitude of its reality and my recognition of my station, I am still so far removed from Him. By this he meaneth that his heart, which is the seat of the All-Merciful and the throne wherein abideth the splendor of His revelation, is forgetful of its Creator, hath strayed from His path, hath shut out itself from His glory, and is stained with the defilement of earthly desires.
                                                (Gleanings, XCIII, p.185)
      Here Bahá'u'lláh Himself resolves the paradox for us in a rational way by explaining that distance is to be interpreted as `forgetfulness' of God, a spiritual condition, while closeness is to be interpreted as the fact of the universal presence of God's revelation. God's revelation is omnipresent but human unconsciousness of this fact creates infinite distance between them.

      Here is another example of Bahá'u'lláh illustrating the principle of resolving paradoxes by adopting a different viewpoint:
Consider the sun. Were it to say now, "I am the sun of yesterday," it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character.
Gleanings, XIII, p.22
It is important to note that Bahá'u'lláh resolves the paradox in a logical manner; He does not try to flout logic by mis-using it to proclaim two mutually contradictory statements to be true at the same time and in the same way. Bahá'u'lláh's use of paradox does not indicate a theory of conflicting truths or some form of `dialectical reasoning' in which contraries are somehow simultaneously `true'.

      Why do the Writings use paradoxes? For the same reason teachers often do: paradoxes are one of the most effective devices for teasing the mind into deeper thought and reflection, something which the Bahá'í Faith encourages. Students learn more and inquire more deeply if they are required to dig for knowledge and understanding on their own.      

Paradoxes may also come in the form of parallelisms - a group of statements that seem to contradict each other. However, whether or not the self-contradiction is real depends on the answers to one or all of 4 questions: (1) Is there a contextual solution, i.e. are the contexts so different that the statements cannot be compared? (2) Is there a verbal solution, i.e. have the allegedly contradictory words been understood correctly? (3) Is there a theoretical solution, i.e. a difference in viewpoints, or a single principle underneath all statements? (4) Is there a practical solution, i.e. a solution that can shown through acts? If the context is different, there is obviously no contradiction. If the words have been misunderstood, the contradiction is merely be verbal and not real. If there is a shift of viewpoint or a single underlying principle, there can be no contradiction. Finally, if, the injunctions can be applied without contradiction, there is also no real contradiction though verbally there may appear to be one.

      For example, the Writings contain parallelisms on the issue of the distance between God and creation. In the previous quotation, we are told God is closer than our "life-vein" while elsewhere the Writings affirm that the distance between God and humankind is infinite and unbridgeable (e.g. Gleanings, XXVII, p. 66). How can both of these be true? We can, for example resolve this apparent contradiction in the third, theoretical way.

      In strict, logical terms, distance here can only mean existential distance (since there can be no infinite physical distance), i.e. degrees of dependence. Existentially, (in the order of being) God is 100% independent of humankind - which is existentially 100% dependent on God, just as a drawing depends on the artist. However, while the artist personally is 100% independent of or distant from the drawing, s/he is also ontologically present in the drawing insofar as the drawing is a direct manifestation of, and would not exist without, the artist's power. Every artist is both infinitely distant from, independent, and, through his/her power, intimately present in his or her work. Logically speaking, we can resolve this apparent contradiction by distinguishing between God's (a) existential independence and His (b) ontological presence just as we distinguish the existence of the artist from his/her presence through a manifestation of his/her powers.

      (It should be pointed out that the same distinction applies to such ordinary things as automobile engines. We may not know that an engine exists or anything about it but, we can have ontological knowledge of its presence through its effects. Lest anyone decry this as `mere philosophy', one should note that scientists do the same. For example, they deduced the existence of Pluto from the manifestation of its powers, i.e. its effects on other planets. The existential vs ontological distinction is real and testable at the simplest scientific level.)

      Only a little reflection is required to see that we have resolved another apparently contradictory parallelism here. The Writings make it clear that God is beyond all human knowledge and yet the Noonday Prayer pledges us to "to know" God. One resolution is strictly theological, pointing out that we know God through His Manifestations. However, there is also a logical, rational point underlying this solution; this is the distinction between our knowledge of God's existence - an impossibility - and our knowledge of God's ontological presence in our lives through the Manifestations.

      There is a tremendous advantage to being able to point out that even such theological teachings as knowing God's through the Manifestation has a solid rational and logical, i.e. scientific basis. One should hasten to add that there is a logical reason why we cannot know or comprehend God's existence other than by analogy and that is the absolute, essential, difference between two different orders of being, the independent (God) and the dependent (everything else). (Gleanings, LXXXIV, p.166.)

      However, let's try a harder test. Another, often troubling, example of self-contradictory parallelisms concern obedience to government.
1) In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness. This is that which hath been revealed at the behest of Him Who is the Ordainer, the Ancient of Days.
                              Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 23

2) Furthermore each and every one is required to show obedience, submission and loyalty towards his own government.
                              Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p.293

3) O ye beloved of the Lord! It is incumbent upon you to be submissive to all monarchs that are just and show your fidelity to every righteous king. Serve ye the sovereigns of the world with utmost truthfulness and loyalty. Show obedience unto them and be their well-wishers. Without their leave and permission do not meddle with political affairs, for disloyalty to the just sovereign is disloyalty to God himself
                                          Bahá'í World Faith, p.446-7
Examining these three statements about loyalty to government, shows there is an obvious problem: (1) and (2) demand obedience and loyalty to all government while (3) suggest loyalty is required only to every "just" and "righteous king." Is there any way to resolve this apparent contradiction?

One set of possible resolutions comes from practice or action, as illustrated by the recent Bahá'í martyrs of Iran. They were obedient and loyal to God by not renouncing their faith but, at the same time, they were fully obedient and loyal to the government of Iran by submitting to and accepting the legal consequences of their acts. They disagreed honestly with the government's decrees, thus demonstrating loyalty to God, but nonetheless also demonstrated a heroic loyalty to their government. They acted in good faith towards both and successfully rendered both God and Caesar their due.

      Another approach to resolving the apparent conflict between these statements is available through the principle enunciated in the following:
... for your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world's dominion. To this He Who is Himself the Eternal Truth will testify. The things He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men's hearts, that He may cleanse them from all earthly defilements, and enable them to draw nigh unto the hallowed Spot which the hands of the infidel can never profane.
            (Gleanings, CXXXVIII, p.304; italics added)
The principle revealed here is Christ's "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21), though Bahá'u'lláh's statement is more clear in identifying precisely what is Caesar's and what is God's. Matters of the heart and soul, of faith as defined by the Writings, the Bahá'í Institutions and, since 1963, the Universal House of Justice, belong to God; all else belongs to the rulers of the earth.

Thus, statements (1) and (2) implicitly refer to governments that stick to their properly allotted areas, while statement (3) makes it clear that kings who respect this division are "just". (They may also be just in other ways.) Bahá'ís must be loyal to government when it acts in its proper sphere and not in any sphere whatever.


      Analogical reasoning is not only frequently encountered in the Bahá'í Writings but in scientific work as well. Indeed, when used correctly it is one of the most powerful thinking tools available. Without it, daily decision making would be well-nigh impossible because only the ability to map from a known to an unknown with reasonably accurate results lets us navigate through dozens of new challenges every day. Although commonly used, analogical reasoning can be very complex because it moves through various kinds of discourse (literal, metaphorical, analogical) very rapidly. However, correct analogical reasoning still obeys the law of non-contradiction.

Even when 100% formally correct, analogical reasoning cannot provide absolute logical certainty. The acceptance of any analogical argument as perfectly certain is a personal existential act of faith.

      An analogy maps the essential features of a (a) known source and maps them onto a (b) partially known target. Both the source and the target must have some similarities as well as differences. The attributes being mapped are called the term, because we view both source and target in terms of on certain qualities.

      Careful answers to the following questions will determine whether or not an analogy is credible.

(1) Do the source and the target have essential, intrinsic and real similarities?

(2) Are there any significant differences that undermine or negate the similarities?

(3) Does the term refer to an intrinsic, real, essential attribute of both?

(4) Is the analogy rational? Can we reason our way from one to a conclusion about another without falling further and further into metaphor and away from rational discourse?

(5) Is the analogy consistent? Can it be developed logically without falling into self-contradiction or self-refutation?

            5.1) Is it consistent with the argument or `system' within which it is embedded?

(6) What is the purpose of the analogy?

(7) Does the analogy or its interpretation harmonize with its full context?

The purpose of an analogy can be:
  • Illustrative: illustrates an idea or conclusion already proven or accepted as true.
  • Demonstrative: proves a conclusion
  • Rhetorical: to influence reader response and acceptance in various ways
Strong analogies
  • Have essential, intrinsic and real similarities;
  • Have no significant undermining differences
  • Have a term that is essential, intrinsic and real
  • Are rational
  • Can be developed consistently
  • Are consistent with their intellectual context
  • Are properly used
  • Harmonize with their full context
      There can be and is considerable debate whether some analogies are non-essential or essential / real or rational or not. For example, Bahá'u'lláh compares society to a human body (Gleanings, 81, 254). How far can we take this analogy? Is it merely a non-essential rhetorical comparison or is it intended as essential and real? Can we, for example, use these metaphors as a basis for developing an organic model of a future Bahá'í society? Here is another example:
Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will ever be worthy of praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished.
... A dried-up tree, however, hath never been nor will be worthy of any mention.
Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p.257
This is a strong analogy. The similarities between tree and human - living and growing beings and productivity or fruitfulness - are essential, intrinsic, real (non-imposed). The term - fruitfulness - is also real, essential, and intrinsic. It is at best mildly metaphoric, since `fruitfulness' easily converts to a long list of specific attributes; thus the analogy is rational and goes beyond metaphorical development. There are plenty of differences between humans and trees but none are relevant to the term of this analogy. However, though this analogy is strong, its purpose (IMO) is illustrative: it is intended to illustrate the idea of ignoring or by-passing those who waste their lives in fruitless activity. This conclusion is based on the necessity of reading "fire" metaphorically instead of literally. Bahá'u'lláh is not suggesting that we burn `fruitless' individuals because we burn fruitless trees.

Here is an example of a weak, i.e. illustrative analogy from the Writings.
And now concerning thy question regarding the nature of religion. Know thou that they who are truly wise have likened the world unto the human temple. As the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must needs be adorned with the mantle of justice and wisdom. Its robe is the Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God. Whenever this robe hath fulfilled its purpose, the Almighty will assuredly renew it. For every age requireth a fresh measure of the light of God. Every Divine Revelation hath been sent down in a manner that befitted the circumstances of the age in which it hath appeared
Gleanings, Bahá'u'lláh, p.81
It is obvious here that the analogies used here - wise man and temple; a cloak and justice and wisdom - are non-essential, unreal (imposed) and not intrinsic. The purpose here is illustrative and rhetorical. Bahá'u'lláh is not arguing that society needs justice because a human body needs a cloak but just as the human body needs a cloak. He sets up a comparative and not a causative relationships. The mantle analogy helps arouse feelings and memories of cold, and thereby, helps create assent for what Bahá'u'lláh is saying on the basis of our experience. The purpose of the analogy is rhetorical more than anything else. It certainly cannot prove anything even in the mildest sense.

      Here is an example of a correctly used demonstrative analogy from Abdu'l-Bahá's proof of the immortality of the soul.
      Second, the rational soul, meaning the human spirit, does not descend into the body--that is to say, it does not enter it, for descent and entrance are characteristics of bodies, and the rational soul is exempt from this. The spirit never entered this body, so in quitting it, it will not be in need of an abiding-place: no, the spirit is connected with the body, as this light is with this mirror. When the mirror is clear and perfect, the light of the lamp will be apparent in it, and when the mirror becomes covered with dust or breaks, the light will disappear.
            Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 239; italics added.
This is a strong analogy. The similarities between three elements, i.e. sun, body and mirror are essential, intrinsic, real and specific. They (a) are material; (b) giver/ origin and receiver/ imitator; (c) show a `reduction' from substantial form to form; (d) based on reflectivity; (e) show an asymmetrical dependent relationship.
Both sides are viewed in terms of relation and function.

      This analogy does not prove that the soul exists, but it does show that if the soul exists, then it is reasonable to believe that this is the kind of relationship it has to the body. The real existence of the sun/image in mirror relationship proves that such relationships are possible, and, thereby strengthens the analogy, as does the fact that the analogy can be developed by strictly rational and non-metaphorical means through a precise analysis of essences and relationships. This analysis can be used to as part of a sustained logical debate.

      What is the relationship between the sun and the mirror? In this analogy, the sun has two kinds of being - its substantial-formal being in its own right and its purely formal being in the mirror. This image has a purely formal and participatory mode of being, because all of its attributes have their origin in the sun. It participates, albeit only formally and not substantially, in the sun's existence. This participation is limited by the qualities of the mirror in which it appears.

      At this point we need to remember the architectonic nature of the Writings and that Abdu'l-Bahá has already established the existence of the soul (see "The Existence of the Rational Soul After the Death of the Body" Chap. 66, Some Answered Questions)
as the substantial form of the body. If the soul is the substantial form of the body, then by logical necessity the body reflects, imitates, participates in this substantial form, i.e. it has the same relationship to the body as the sun does to the mirror.

      The main reason this is a good example of a valid demonstrative analogy is that it can sustain analysis into abstract logical elements that are correctly used to form part of a logical argument. It is rational, not purely illustrative or rhetorical. Finally, its conclusion can be accepted as probably true.


Deductive reasoning means reasoning from a general principle either known or accepted as true and analyzed for its various possible conclusions. Sometimes this is called a priori reasoning) Although often criticized as `unscientific', deductive reasoning is as common in the sciences (and above all mathematics) as inductive reasoning which reasons from specific examples. Each type of reasoning has its strengths and weaknesses: principles may be wrong or overlook significant individual differences whereas specific examples may be poorly selected. In reality we need both kinds of reasoning. To select `rabbits' from all other phenomena, you must apply a principle or have an idea of what as `rabbit' is which is derived from seeing individual rabbits but how do you know you are seeing rabbits unless you have an idea of ...

In "Some Answered Questions", Abdu'l-Bahá makes considerable use of deductive arguments. A clear example is found in chapter 63, "The Progress of Man in the Other world' which begins with the premise,
Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose - that is to say, all things are in motion ...This state of motion is said to be essential - that is, natural; it cannot be separated from beings... (SAQ, 233).
Translating Abdu'l-Bahá's argument into syllogistic form, we get a two inter-related syllogisms.

(1) No thing (existing entity) exists in a state of repose
(2) The soul is a thing (an existing entity)
(3) Therefore, the soul does not exist in a state of repose.

This is standard E form syllogism and is 100% valid.

(1) Change means coming into being (growth) or going out of being (decline)
(2) The soul has change
(3) Therefore, the soul is either growing or declining.

This is a standard A form syllogism and is 100% valid. I believe that it is possible to translate many of the arguments and explanations used by Bahá'u'lláh into the standard syllogistic logic devised by Aristotle and developed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers. In other words, it is possible to show the formal logical validity of many of the Writings; thus faith receives a logical grounding.

The only way to disprove these deductive sequences is to deny what it seems to assume, namely, the existence of the soul and/or its changeability. At this point, however, the architectonic nature of reasoning in the Writings comes into play. The Bahai Writings are architectonic, i.e. arguments build on each other. The fact is, Abdu'l-Bahá has already proven the existence of what is called `soul' elsewhere and he builds on it here. The architectonic nature of these arguments suggests that there is, in fact, a vast intellectual unity underlying the Writings, a Grand Intellectual Narrative by which we rationally understand ourselves and the world in which we live.

      Of course, someone might object that formal logical validity is not the same as truth. Indeed. There are several ways to test the truth of a conclusion.

First, we can test the truth of its premises. Disproving a premise
is the only way to conclusively disproving a deductive argument.

In fact, most articles, essays and books do nothing but compile evidence in favour of a major premise, called the `thesis'.. To read with understanding means to be aware of this premise and to assess whether or not the evidence actually supports it.. One must also assess whether the author reasons correctly from the premise to his conclusion(s).

Second, we can test the truth of the conclusion itself empirically either (a) directly or (b) indirectly. (An observation is a direct verification; and indirect verification is a logical deduction based on the behavior of related things, such as an unseen planet moving seen ones.)

For example, the second syllogism can be tested indirectly by examining the changing things we see around us. The law of entropy assures us that everything is in a state of decline, (disorder, loss of form) while all growing things (increasing order and form) violate this law at least for a time. Thus, science supports Abdu'l-Bahá's premise about change. His conclusion about the soul follows. Can the first syllogism be tested empirically? Certainly; no natural object in repose has ever been found and certain laws seem to forbid it such a thing.

      It is important to know that deductive reasoning is the most frequently used logical device used in the Writings. This tells us that both Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá thought that many of the Teachings could be logically deduced from a number of key premises which we received through revelation or which we could deduce from some basic observations in the natural world. An example of the latter is the teaching that nothing that exists is ever at rest. Or that God's essence can never be known in itself (Gleanings, 1, p.3-4) An example of the latter is the teaching that the Bab is the Primal Point. The Bahá'í confidence in deductive reasoning is also based on the fact that the universe is considered to be an inherently ordered (patterned) place; all forms of order are based on rules or principles from which we can deduce a variety of conclusions.

There is a reason for the prevalence of deduction in the Writings: if done correctly, i.e. done from correct premises and adhering to proper logical procedures, deductive reasoning provides as much certainty as is possible within the natural realm alone.

This statement does not contradict Abdu'l-Bahá's teaching that "intellectual proofs" (SAQ,297) or "the method of reason" (ibid.) are deficient. When we examine his argument carefully (SAQ, chapter 83, p.297) we find that he rejects reason alone as inconclusive not because the method is flawed - after all, reason is used throughout the Writings - but because the practitioners are flawed: they disagree, misperceive, misunderstand, find new evidence, change their minds and so on. Above all, the reliance on reason alone is flawed because it requires the completion from "the bounty of the Holy Spirit" (SAQ, 299) This is because the natural realm can only be completely viewed from a higher level, i.e. the super-natural realm of the spirit.

In other words, to provide certainty, reason must be guided by and in harmony with the Holy Spirit as made manifest in the Writings. Harmony with the Writings provides final and complete assurance of correct reasoning, be it inductive, deductive, analogical


      While deductive reasoning clearly predominates in the Writings, inductive reasoning, i.e. the "inferring of general law [conclusions] from particular instances" (OED) is also present. This is called a posteriori reasoning. It is sometimes claimed that inductive reasoning is more scientific than deductive reasoning but such a claim is impossible to sustain logically. For example, a scientist cannot select particular instances to study until s/he knows what kind of things to select. In other words, the selection process begins with an implicit a priori principle about the identity or essence of what will be selected for study and what rejected. From this it is clear that both deductive and inductive reasoning are needed in the acquisition of acquire knowledge.

      The following is an example of inductive reasoning I in the Writings.
Consider the pettiness of men's minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.
Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, # 122.
The conclusion about "the pettiness of men's minds" (ibid.) is not assumed as a principle from which to start but is announced as a conclusion after considering, i.e. selecting and examining human behavior and discovering a pattern: humans often ask for that which does them harm. The same inductive procedure is evident in the following:
Consider the former generations. Witness how every time the Day Star of Divine bounty hath shed the light of His Revelation upon the world, the people of His Day have arisen against Him, and repudiated His truth. They who were regarded as the leaders of men have invariably striven to hinder their followers from turning unto Him Who is the Ocean of God's limitless bounty.
Gleanings, XXIII, p.56
Here is another example:
How shall we determine whether religion has been the cause of human advancement or retrogression?

We will first consider the founders of the religions--the prophets-- review the story of their lives, compare the conditions preceding their appearance with those subsequent to their departure, following historical records and irrefutable facts instead of relying upon traditionary statements which are open to both acceptance and denial.
Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith, p.274
Here Abdu'l-Bahá proves his point not deductively, i.e. by asserting, for example, that spiritual progress is good, that God sends Manifestations for human good and therefore, the divine religions are spiritually progressive. Instead, he turns to specific cases and examples to prove his point. In fact, he not only outlines what will be selected "the founders of religions" (ibid.) but also the procedure by which to evaluate - "review ... compare ... following historical records..." (ibid.) and outlining what is to be rejected - "instead of relying on traditionary statements..." (ibid.)

This is a correct example of the standard scientific method: observation; hypothesis: religion is progressive; evidence: past religions; rejected material: "traditionary statements"; procedure: review, comparison; Conclusion: affirmed - religion is progressive.

From the examples that follow it is clear that by "religion", Abdu'l-Bahá means religion as presented by the Manifestations and not as later misunderstood or even distorted by the followers. Whenever we evaluate an inductive argument we must be very sensitive to implicit definitions
      If the formal logical procedure is correct, there are only 2 ways to attack this argument: (a) proving that one of the examples supporting the conclusion is factually wrong or (b) find a counter-example wherein religion acts for human regression. Abdu'l-Bahá implicitly recognizes this and therefore sets out the conditions for a correct inductive argument on this matter:
If we wish to discover whether any one of these great souls or messengers was in reality a prophet of God we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history; and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles,
Compilation, Bahá'í World Faith, p.273 emphasis added
In other words, if we have our facts right and if no counter-examples are to be found, then we have an irrefutable inductive argument.

      The problem with all inductive arguments is that they cannot, by themselves, provide more than any provisional conclusions. They are always open to refutation by a new discovery that requires a change from a universal, "all' statement to a limited `some' or `most' statement.

      All logical thinking depends on correct classification or definition: if we cannot make proper distinctions between things, if we mix apples with goats, and algae with shoe-horns because we ignore essential distinctions, we cannot reach correct conclusions about them.

      To think correctly, we need to classify things. Valid classifications must be based on attributes that are (a) real; (b) essential and (c) intrinsic i.e. attributes that actually exist in the entity (not only in the mind of observers), and which cannot be changed without turning the entity into another kind of thing. Essential attributes are those that a thing needs to be the kind of thing it is and constitute absolute differences. A raven will never actually be a writing desk.

For example, colour is not an essential attribute of my blue coffee cup; it is a non-essential (or `accidental') attribute because the cup would not turn into another kind of entity if I painted it red. However, being capable of holding liquids is essential since without it we would not have a container of any kind nor the particular kind of container called a `cup'.

Arguments and explanations by classification do not prove a thesis in the same way as deductive or inductive reasoning. Rather than leading us point by point to a necessary conclusion, they make the conclusion immediately self-evident by providing us with the means - correct essential definitions - to `see' the conclusion for ourselves in a kind of intuitive grasp. (How precisely they do this is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper.)

      Some obvious examples from the Writings of classifications based on real, intrinsic and essential distinctions are between (a) God and creation; (b) God and humankind; (c) Manifestations and human kind (d) simple and composed entities; (e) matter and spirit; (f) material and spiritual knowledge (PUP, 138); essential and acquired infallibility; contingent and independent; mind, body, spirit (SAQ,208).

The distinctions between these are absolute and not relative, i.e. they do not depend on adopting a particular point of view, they are not constructed or imposed for our conscious and/or conscious purposes, nor can they be logically resolved as we resolve paradoxes. If such a claim was made (as is the case with a family of philosophical views known as `nominalism') the foundations of the philosophy embedded in the Bahá'í Writings would be threatened.

Two fatal problems immediately arise. First, such `relativist' views flatly contradict clear and explicit statements in the Writings about the essential nature of things. For example, the difference between God and humankind is real, intrinsic and essential, as seen in the following quotes.
Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man to unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even to hint at the nature of Thine Essence. For whatever such strivings may accomplish, they never can hope to transcend the limitations imposed upon Thy creatures,
Gleanings, I, p.3

And since there can be no tie of direct intercourse to bind the one true God with His creation, and no resemblance whatever can exist between the transient and the Eternal, the contingent and the Absolute, He hath ordained that in every age and dispensation a pure and stainless Soul be made manifest in the kingdoms of earth and heaven.
Gleanings, XXVII, p. 66
These quotes, among myriad others, show that according to Bahá'u'lláh, the distinction between God and humankind is a essential, real and intrinsic, and not merely a relative difference. Relativizing this difference logically undermines one of the foundation blocks of Bahá'í theology.

Second, relativizing these distinctions between God and humankind logically negates a key point of Bahá'í theology, namely, the need for a Manifestation to mediate between God and man. If the distinction between God and humankind were not real and essential and absolute, no Manifestation would be necessary. The use of the word "since" (used here as `because') makes it clear that there is a causal relationship between the absolute essential difference between God and His creation and the consequent need for a Manifestation.

The difference between humankind and Manifestations is real, intrinsic, and essential, i.e. absolute:
Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself. He hath, moreover, conferred upon Him a double station. The first station, which is related to His innermost reality, representeth Him as One Whose voice is the voice of God Himself.
Gleanings XXVII p.66
No human possesses this two-fold essential nature which is why the Manifestation is described as "subtle", "mysterious" and "ethereal" (ibid.)

It bears repeating that relativizing the distinction between Manifestation and humankind would, in effect, destroy the logical foundations of Bahá'í theology. The reason is simple: if the essential (i.e. absolute) distinctions between God, Manifestation and humankind are removed, then we need no Manifestation to know God (another key point in Bahá'í theology) and everybody can become their own `manifestation', an antinomian position that threatens the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh with new personal `revelations' many of which will be contradictory. As we can see, such relativizing causes us to "join partners with God" (Gleanings, VIII, 12) , to think that we differ from God only in degree and not kind. In Epistle to the Son of The Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh describes those who do this as having "turned aside from His sovereignty that hath encompassed the worlds!" (Wolf, p.33) and having denied God's unity (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, 124.)

      Below are more examples of classifications based on essential and absolute differences.
      Know that proceeding is of two kinds: the proceeding and appearance through emanation, and the proceeding and appearance through manifestation.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.205
Relativizing this distinction would destroy the logical foundations of Bahá'í theology, cosmology, and eventually, psychology.

      The Writing's vision of the entire hierarchy of being depends on essential differences between the various kinds of spirits. (See SAQ, 178)
It has been before explained that spirit is universally divided into five categories: the vegetable spirit, the animal spirit, the human spirit, the spirit of faith, and the Holy Spirit.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.208
      The doctrine of progressive revelation depends on the existence of essential differences between essential (eternal) and non-essential teachings.
The second classification or division comprises social laws and regulations applicable to human conduct. This is not the essential spiritual quality of religion. It is subject to change and transformation according to the exigencies and requirements of time and place.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.365
      If, as shown above, eternal spiritual truths are based on differences in classification, then there can be no logical doubt that the differences are absolutely real, non-relative and essential. From this it follows that the philosophy embedded in the Bahá'í Writings is essentialist and perennialist not just in subject matter but also in rational method.

      The Writings contain numerous examples of explanations and arguments based on classification. For example, in SAQ, chapter 57 is entitled "The Causes of the Differences in the Characters of Men" and classifies three types of character (innate, acquired and inherited) as the cause of differences. The explanation in "The Trinity" (Chapter 27) is also carried out by means of careful definition and classification. Once these are made clear, Abdu'l-Bahá's argument ends quickly because here, as in all arguments by classification, the thesis is proven and self-evident once proper definitions are applied.

      The only way to defeat an argument by classification is to show that its classifications are incorrect. Arguments can be incorrect in 3 ways: (a) they contain a essential error of fact; (b) they contain an essential error of omission or (c) are applied inconsistently. If an argument by classification contains none of these errors, then it is logically, formally correct and cannot be rejected without falling into self-refutation. This makes arguments by classification logically powerful if properly used.


      Because logic and rhetorical or persuasive devices are subject to intentional or unintentional mis-use, it is essential for a credible and effective Bahá'í teacher to recognize when confronted with instances of abuse. The importance of this skill will grow as the Faith increasingly emerges from the intellectual shadows and becomes the object of critical scrutiny from the general public, not to mention scholars, and even intellectually alert seekers. Using a number of concrete examples, we shall examine some specific instances of logical and rhetorical mis-usages.

Before beginning, it is essential to clarify the distinction between logical and rhetorical devices. Logic leads to necessary conclusions, i.e. conclusions which one must accept - or fall into self-contradiction, self-refutation or error of fact. There is no choice about logic and personal preferences play no role.

However, rhetorical devices are persuasive; no matter how logical they might appear, they can never prove logically necessary conclusions. Like logic, they persuade, they elicit assent, they convince and forge commitment - but not by logic. Rather they appeal to our various emotions and to our personal, social and cultural assumptions, prejudices, fears, aspirations and loyalties. They activate personal and cultural responses by strong sensual stimuli, by wit and humour, by shock and outrage and by `seduction'. Rhetoric may use facts, pseudo-logic (See Shakespeare's and Donne's sonnets), a wide variety of linguistic devices such as inversion, incremental repetition or climactic phrasing - but whatever it does or uses, rhetoric's primary goal is personal assent rather than intellectual conviction.

      Where, and how is the use of rhetoric appropriate? First, in literary works whose primary goal is to create empathy and sympathy; also in commercial and political propaganda - though these often have an unnecessary - though strong - tendency to intellectual dishonesty. They are used in holy scriptures as well. Finally, they are used in academic/scholarly works.

The proper use of rhetorical devices in scholarly / academic work is pedagogical, i.e. they should be used to illustrate ideas that have already been proven true or openly accepted as such. Their purpose is to clarify and improve understanding. They must never be used to hide gaps in logical thinking or circumvent it, or to `disprove' a logical argument. The moment such misuses appear in a scholarly / academic work, we must be aware that a non-rational, non-scholarly agenda is at work and that the author is not really proving anything - s/he can't with rhetorical devices - but merely becoming political by trying to create assent and consent by non-logical means. This is utterly inappropriate in scholarship.


      The single worst error in logical reasoning is the failure to classify properly, i.e. the failure correctly abstract the essential properties of the objects under study. This is a pre-operational error because it is made before other logical operations such as induction, deduction, analogical or statistical reasoning take place. It is obviously impossible to reason correctly when the essential nature of things has been misunderstood. If we do not understand the essential differences between iguanas and frying pans, we cannot arrive at correct conclusions about them. This inevitably leads to misrepresentation.

      A good example of essential misapprehension is found in Juan Cole's "The Bahá'í Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997". Cole fails to identify (abstract) two essential qualities of the Bahai Faith: it (1) a voluntary and (2) a purposive organization. This leads him to conflate it with a panopticon, a type of prison in which convicts are visible from all angles at all times (Bentham) or, by extension, a society in which people keep themselves and each other under surveillance by their inward adherence to the rules (Foucault). In one way or another, a panopticon requires compulsion and thus denies individual freedom.

      Consequently, Cole's attempt at analogical reasoning fails as per analogy rule # 2: there is a significant essential difference that undermines all other similarities. By nature, panopticons are prisons; they require compulsion to work whether this compulsion be physical or social via fellow inmates. However, the Bahá'í Faith is a voluntary organization; one enters by choice and may leave - i.e. absent oneself from all further surveillance and compulsion - by choice. By definition, no genuinely voluntary organization can be described as a `panopticon' without seriously compromising the proper usage of the term. A panopticon which one may leave at will is simply not a panopticon.

The conflation here is either an inadvertent, but fatal error of reasoning or it is intentional, in which case it is nothing other than a propaganda ploy known as "fear mongering". Conflation is one of the most commonly used propaganda devices.

      Referring to the Bahá'í Faith as a theocracy is another example of essential misapprehension leading to outright misrepresentation. Unlike any theocracy that ever existed, the Bahá'í Faith has no clergy; all authoritative and executive offices are held by election: LSA's, NSA's, delegates to the annual convention and the Universal House of Justice. Any decision made by appointees such as Auxiliary Board Members and Counselors may be appealed to the elected bodies, which, in the case of the Universal House, have the final word. This is so unlike any historical examples of theocracy that it is a gross misuse of the word to apply it to the Bahá'í Faith. Nor have there ever been examples of theocracies as voluntary organizations. The use of such philosophically and historically inaccurate descriptions is a blatant use of a rhetorical (and propaganda) device called "guilt by association".
      A second type of essential misapprehension is the failure to recognize the purpose of the object of study, its final cause. The Bahá'í Faith exists for a purpose, to unify humankind. It has a purpose that extends beyond its own collective self-interest. Consequently, it is a `purposive organization' and even in the most democratic societies, such organizations do not give absolute priority to individualism and civil rights; rather, they balance individual aspirations with common goals. Those who join such organizations, voluntarily set aside some of their preferences, civil privileges and even curtail some of their own civil rights for the good of the organization as a whole. They do so because they have a greater loyalty to the goals of the cause they have chosen than to their own views and `rights'. Such individuals understand - as Cole does not - that restrictions are a necessary and inevitable part of any purposive organization and that personal sacrifices are required for the organization to work. Membership has privileges - but also its duties.

      It is obvious that essential misapprehension could lead someone to portray any purposive organization as undemocratic and repressive, and its members as manipulated tools. To do so, however, would constitute a serious error in reasoning.

      A third type of essential misapprehension is the failure to see the object of study as a whole. For example, the Bahá'í Faith is not a fragmented smorgasbord of teachings but an integral entity, in which all parts must be seen in relationship to each other. The fact that women cannot be elected to the Universal House must be seen in light of women's stated priority in education, their absolute right for economic support and their exemption from military service. This error also underlies many attempts to `prove' the repressive nature of the Faith by means of single quotes taken in isolation.


      Essential misapprehension may also lead to the straw man fallacy, i.e. the fallacy of false attribution by which we attribute qualities, intentions, motives and powers that do not really exist.

      An example of such false attribution of motive is Cole's claim that "the Bahá'í authorities wish to project an image more liberal than the reality" (ibid.) However, this cannot stand up to rational analysis. The Bahá'í Faith has never hidden its commitment to supposedly less `liberal' teachings, among them the ban on non-marital sex and homosexual acts, the ban on alcohol and illicit drugs, the strong discouragement of abortion, the fact that only men may be elected to the Universal House of Justice, the principle of obedience to the elected institutions and the acceptability of capital punishment in some cases. These `un-liberal' Teachings have always been widely available to seekers.

Indeed, the artificial imposition of foreign categories such as 'liberal' and 'conservative' is a straw man device. This extrinsic attributions must be imposed from without because they have no natural place within the Faith. They are drawn from adversarial party politics and the ensuing political culture and as such are irrelevant to a culture that rejects adversarial politics in all forms. Moreover, as already noted, the Bahá'í teachings on various issues impinge on both "liberal" and "conservative" portions of the political spectrum. This false attribution is a good example of a propaganda ploy known as `divide and conquer'.


      Essential misapprehension easily leads to self-contradiction because the object of study is not clearly conceived. In effect, the author no longer understands his/her own work. For example, having missed another essential attribute of a panopticon - universal participation - Cole says, "One solution to this difficulty [of growth with strict internal controls] is to attempt to control what are thought of as key pressure points - vocal intellectuals, media, prominent institutions - and to give greater leeway to ordinary believers" (ibid.)

      In other words we have a panopticon with selective focus - but that is no longer a panopticon! One cannot, on one hand, claim that the Bahá'í Faith is a panopticon where everyone is informing on everyone else to ensure orthodoxy and, on the other hand, also claim that the vast majority of members are given "greater leeway", that is, less supervision, for their thoughts. A panopticon in which the vast majority are free or even relatively free of supervision is not a panopticon.


            False attribution of cause is one of the most common, and serious, logical errors. It is sometimes called 'dog logic' or 'madhouse logic'. Each day the mailman comes; my dog barks and each day the mailman leaves - and once again my dog struts proudly convinced that yet again he has driven off the threat.

      According to Cole, "[t]he problem with strict internal controls for missionary religions, however, is that they are most often incompatible in Western societies with significant growth" (Cole, 1998). He blames what he sees as the slow growth in America on 'repression' instituted by the Universal House of Justice. Yet, oddly enough, he recognizes that groups "with strict internal controls" ("Panopticon") such as the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses as well as a wide variety of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have experienced "significant growth".

      It is logically obvious that if other religions with "strict internal controls" (ibid.) are experiencing "significant growth", such controls cannot be used to explain why the Bahá'í Faith is not growing as fast as he thinks it should be. Some other factor must be at work. He attributes causal agency without showing any causal connection. At best, one might say that he mistakes a correlation (slow growth and alleged repression) for a cause.


      One of the oddest errors in reasoning is refusal of the conclusion, which is not so much a logical error as an existential error, i.e. an error rooted in personal willfulness or a conflict with other commitments.

      For example, there are those who fully understand that the Bahá'í Faith is a religion, and that three things follow from this: first, the material world is only a part of reality; second, there exists a non-material realm which has a role in the unfolding of events in the material, natural realm; and third, no simple empirical-materialist methodology can provide adequate knowledge about reality, especially when relating to historical events involving God.

      From these three premises it follows logically that strictly material explanations demanded by contemporary academic scholarship are, by definition, incomplete and, therefore, logically inadequate and inaccurate. Yet, oddly enough there are those who will accept the premises but, for various reasons, refuse the conclusion and thus embroil themselves in needless disputes.


      Without reliable sources, any work of research is bound to outrun its evidence. The single most important element in reliability is independent corroboration, and material that does not have at least some corroboration is suspect. Thus, evidence from anecdotes (especially from many years in the past), e-mails, personal communications and rumours is always weak simply because corroboration is difficult, sometimes impossible, to obtain. Any article or argument that relies on such evidence to establish its major points is, for this reason alone, unreliable.


      One of the most pervasive logical errors is proof by selected instances. The physicist Richard Feynman provided a good example: he once dreamed a relative was going to die, but the relative didn't. Feynman did not write a parapsychology institute about this negative example; if, on the other hand, the relative had died, he probably would have and thus his letter would have become additional `proof' for a theory of pre-cognition. From the number of all death-dreams, only a few are selected.

      Similarly, from the entire repertoire of e-mails (conversations, letters etc.) about the American Bahá'í community, Cole has selected those that support his case. However, without some sort of statistical study comparing the number of e-mails supporting Cole's views with the total number of e-mails written about the Aministrative Order, it is a logical error to assume Cole's selected examples represent anything other than isolated instances. No selection means anything except in comparison with the whole.


      In rational debate, anecdotes have a single purpose: they may properly be used to illustrate and support conclusions already been proven in other ways in order to convey nuances and subtleties that are difficult if not impossible to describe in abstract language. Anecdotes must also be carefully chosen to provide maximum support for one's contentions and must always be seen in the entire context.

      Anecdotal evidence creates problems when it is used to support general, as opposed to specific, assertions because the anecdote may only be an isolated incident, memory may be faulty, the anecdote may embed a hidden agenda or it has been selected from other, perhaps contrary anecdotes.


      These errors occur when essential information is left out and thus creates a misrepresentation. Critical of the ban on partisan political involvement, Cole leaves readers with the impression that this is somehow an unnatural imposition on the Faith, a deviation Abdu'l-Bahá's instruction to "take part in the election of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic" (Abdu'l-Bahá, 1099-1916,II,342-343, quoted by Cole). In order to misrepresent the Faith on this matter, Cole leaves out two pieces of information that contradict his assertions.

      First, Bahá'ís may perform the most essential of all democratic acts - voting, which, the case of the U.S. means voting for a party. This requires them to be watchful and intelligent observers of the political scene, something which undermines Cole's claims about the political isolation of Bahá'ís. They may be removed from personal activity but are certainly not removed from thoughtful concern which is in itself a form of involvement.

      Second, partisanship in the wranglings of political parties is not the only way to "take part in the affairs of the republic" (Abdu'l-Bahá, ibid.) Nothing, for example, forbids Bahá'ís from discussing the philosophical issues that underlie political or social issues, or, for example, publishing an article on the role of government in family matters. What the writer may not do is identify his views with a particular party or publish them in a party forum. Such a discussion or article is certainly involvement "in the affairs of the republic" (Ibid.). Furthermore, Cole assumes that all involvement in public life must be personal, partisan political involvement, ignoring the fact that Bahá'ís can get involved in all kinds of reform groups and committees and in service clubs.


      False assumptions are those which are erroneous, unsupported or inappropriate to the object of study. For example, the assumption that the avoidance of partisan politics isolates Bahá'ís more than the large numbers of Americans who, like Bahá'ís, do no more than cast their ballots. Such a far-reaching assumption cannot simply be accepted and built on; it must be proven or, at least, shown as a reasonable possibility.
      In his critiques of the Bahá'í Faith, Cole also assumes that the American political-judicial system is the standard towards which the Bahá'í Faith must aspire and by which it should measure itself. He provides no justification for this assumption which ignores the existence of very different but viable democratic systems elsewhere such as in Canada, Britain and France.


      Over-simplification is another result of essential misapprehension. It means that essential attributes or aspects have been ignored, which in turn paves the way for erroneous reasoning and misrepresentation. Over-simplification means that our premises will be false and this in turn leads to false conclusions.

      One example of oversimplification concerns the issue of interpretive authority. Cole writes that "With the end of the guardianship, conservative Bahá'ís are eager to invest the House of Justice with de facto interpretive authority ..." (ibid.). By presenting matters in such a black and white manner, Cole ignores the genuine complexities of the situation. How can any legislative and executive body like the Universal House of Justice, fulfill its functions without at least some interpretation? To put a law or teaching into practice means to interpret it, to decide what it means under particular circumstances. To divide it into two mutually exclusive 'sides' is untenable.


      Another common logical error is special pleading in which one makes an exception. This may be legitimate but there have to be good, i.e. essential reasons to justify doing so. For example, "Bahá'í elective institutions are not beholden to the electorate and may decide as they please" (ibid.). Logically, this statement is true - but trivial because it says nothing more than the obvious. This is true of any elected institution, Bahá'í or non-Bahá'í : they can do as they please until the next election. But if this is true of virtually all elected bodies, why is it evidence of control and manipulation in the case of the Administrative? Consequently, this critique has no rationale, and does nothing to prove the alleged control and manipulation.


      A circular argument is one in which the premise depends on its conclusion and vice versa. On the subject of `tripping' "the wire" (ibid.) of the alleged "informant system" (ibid.), Cole writes, "The independent-minded, however, usually discover fairly early on in their Bahá'í careers and then have to decide whether they wish to live the rest of their lives in a panopticon" (ibid.). In other words, anyone who `trips the wire' is independent and anyone who is independent trips the wire. The argument is obviously circular.

      This circularity itself leads to the fallacy of false alternatives because it suggests that people are either independent thinkers (and, therefore ex-Bahá'ís or Bahá'ís `in trouble') or they are not genuinely independent thinkers. He rejects out of hand the reasonable possibility that people may independently have come to agree with the Faith or do not interpret the actions of the Administrative Order as he does.


      The appeal to patriotism is one of the standard tools in the propagandist's tool-box. It is also regarded as intellectually dishonest since such appeals are rarely relevant to the subject matter. Furthermore, like all propaganda, this technique appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect. As such it has no place in rational and scholarly debate. Below is an example of a blatant patriotic appeal:
"Another way in which many Bahá'ís are isolated from social supports is their disparagement of the institutions and values of mainstream American society. Many Bahá'ís exalt their own community, values and procedures and denigrate those of what they call the "Old World Order". The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights are often criticized by conservative Bahá'ís as embodying the Old World Order values and inferior to those found in the Bahá'í Writings. Bahá'í antagonism to existing American society is expressed in a number of ways. (italics added)"
The use of emotive diction makes it obvious that the author wants to portray Bahá'ís as un-American. Bahá'í disagreement, i.e. difference of opinion with some aspects of American political life is portrayed as "disparagement", i.e. an emotionally dismissive contempt. `Disparage' has a nasty and hostile connotations which are reinforced by Cole's use of two other strongly emotional words: "antagonism" (ibid.), which directly brings up the issue of hostility, and "denigrate" (ibid.), which means to "blacken; defame" (OED). By using the word "denigrate" (ibid.) Cole presents Bahá'í disagreement with some aspects of American political and social life as an odious and hostile attack. This reinforces his suggestion that Bahá'ís - or least, Bahá'ís in good standing - are enemies of the United States. Further reinforcement of this portrait of Bahá'ís as disloyal Americans is the statement that they "exalt their own community" (ibid.) over what currently exists. In other words, not only are Bahá'ís (except `liberals') of dubious loyalty, they also have the gall to believe they have something better from which America may learn. The word exalt means to praise, dignify, ennoble (OED), but it also carries connotations of exaggeration, irrationality and of what today is termed `triumphalism'. This supports the portrait of Bahá'ís as enjoying a fanatic and malicious sense of their own superiority. Here too we see all the standard techniques of demonization.


      The purpose of scare tactics in propaganda is to turn readers against the target by making them afraid for their own well-being and/or safety without presenting any rational or adequate reason for such fears.

      One of Cole's most obvious scare tactics is guilt by association. He works hard to link the Bahá'ís with the threat of a theocratic dictatorship which would deprive non-Bahá'í Americans of their civil rights. Leaving aside Cole's misunderstanding and misrepresentation of this issue (See above) let us focus on Cole's propaganda. He raises irrational fears, by linking the Bahá'í Faith specifically with the Khomeinist regime in Iran. For example, he writes that Bahá'ís "do not see them [their institutions] - - as Protestants would - - as a mere church, but rather as an embryonic theocracy (in this they resemble the Khomeinists)" (ibid.). `Khomeinist' with its associations with Iran, the hostage crisis of 1979, the failed rescue attempt and Hizbollah suicide bombers is an effective way of making readers, especially those in the U.S., nervous.

      Introductions to scholarly articles are intended to prepare readers by providing necessary background information either about the subject and/or the author so that readers can achieve genuine understanding of the topic and evaluate the article rationally. The task of an introduction is to construct a frame of reference that contextualizes the material and provides guidance for understanding; it exists to clarify. Introductions to scholarly work should not aim at arousing emotions since emotionality is not conducive to rational and critical reflection. Such introductions are appropriate to propagandistic, not scholarly works.

      "Panopticon" is blatantly propagandistic. To create reader receptivity for his thesis that Bahá'í Faith in the U.S. has become deceptive, controlling and manipulative, Cole begins the article with diction carefully chosen to arouse suspicions and negative emotions. Indeed, his first sentence encourages readers to adopt a suspicious, paranoid mind-set and engage in conspiratorial thinking: "Despite the large literature on American religious bodies, some groups remain curiously off-limits to investigation" (ibid.)

      The phrase "curiously off-limits" (ibid.) suggests that something odd or `fishy' is going on. "Off-limits" has strong authoritative (police, military) connotations, which, of course, is exactly what Cole wants to suggest about the Administrative Order. The word "curiously" insinuates that perhaps somebody may even be hindering a "careful investigation" (ibid.), a possibility that feeds Cole's portrait of a dishonest and manipulative Administrative Order. that, according to him, maintains a network of spies.
      Cole's attempt to arouse emotions is reinforced in the second sentence of "Panopticon" which points out how these "curiously off-limits" (ibid.) religions "carefully cultivate public images that hide important facets of their outlook and internal workings" (ibid.; italics added). As used here, both of the italicized words carry strong suggestions of intentional deceit. To complete this orchestration of connotations, Cole refers to the disastrous "collapse of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's Oregon commune" (ibid.). This reference is intended to arouse reader's emotions by recalling the extreme isolation and regimentation undergone by Bhagwan's followers as well as the absolutely uncritical adulation they accorded him. Cole wants readers to transfer such associations to his portrait of the Administrative Order. ]


      When gathered, interpreted and used correctly, statistics are a valid source of information. However, as the Faith becomes better known, Bahá'ís can expect to encounter pseudo- statistics from critics and even honest, but uneducated seekers. Below is brief check-list for diagnosing statistics.

(1) Do the numbers come from a SLOP (Self-selected Opinion Poll)? All write-in, phone-in, e-mail us if ... poll is a SLOP and has absolutely no general validity beyond the specific group who chose to participate. This excludes a large number of polls.
E-mail discussion groups obviously fall under this heading. Statistics derived from these have no general validity.
(2) Were the respondents pre-selected? For example, statistics about general eating habits gathered at a MacDonald's or statistics about the general incidence of spousal abuse gathered at a women's shelter have no general validity.
      Statistics based on e-mails fall under this heading.
(3) Was the poll random? If a poll is not truly random, we cannot draw any general conclusions about the population at large.
      Only one of the polls used by Cole was random - and that reached a conclusion that contradicted an absolutely known number! Obviously this SUNY poll was not done properly since it erred by over 100% .
      Oddly enough, Cole still tried to use this statistic as an argument from authority, i.e. appealing to SUNY's good name as a guarantee of its correctness!

(4) Are the conclusions properly contextualized? To know the validity of any statistic it is absolutely necessary to know (a) the total number of responses and (b) the total number on which the conclusion was based.

(If I have 5 e-mails on a subject saying XYZ, I cannot make any claims about the prevalence (incidence) of the belief in XYZ until I know the total number of e-mails sent/received on that subject.)
      If this information is not produced, the statistics cannot be trusted.
      never provided.
(5) Is comparative data being supplied in order to permit meaningful interpretation?

Compared to a 100% possible attendance rate, a 33% rate is poor; compared to the 20% attendance rate similar groups gets, 33% is high.
Domestic violence statistics are notorious for failing to supply comparative data.

Omitting this information is one of the strongest indicators of propaganda purposes, i.e. trying to manipulate emotions dishonestly.
(6) Were trigger words being used to elicit and steer responses?
"Do you believe in capital punishment?" vs. "Do you think men who torture and kill small children should be executed?"
(7) Were words being used in their ordinary definitions? Were definitions consistently applied?
      In one well-known and often cited statistic, the definition of the word `rape' was revised (without telling respondents) to "unsolicited intimate touching".

For a complete review of Juan Cole's article, see either of these two web sites: or

Ian Kluge is a poet, playwright and independent scholar who lives in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. He and his wife Kirsti have four children. He works as a part-time teacher. His plays have been performed in Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George and numerous smaller communities throughout the north. His most recent plays are "The Gender Wars Trilogy" ("Medea: The Bitch is Back"; "Jason: Semen and Victory" and "Showdown at Sunion"). He is recognized specialist in the poetry and philosophy of Conrad Aiken and maintains a web journal on this author. His two most recent books of poetry are "For the Lord of the Crimson Ark" and "Elegies". He is currently working on a logical analysis of Nagarjuna's "Mula" and "Vigra".
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