Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone![
Socorro, New Mexico – my hometown – is at the northern end of the great Chihuahuan desert. My daughter and I just spent two weeks there, visiting friends and family, hiking on high mountain peaks and at White Sand, feasting on New Mexican chile enchiladas and sopapillas, doing research at the New Mexico Institute of Science and Technology Library and the Socorro Public Library, and generally soaking up the land, people, climate, and the multitude of cultures. We even enjoyed a warming hot spring along side of the Rio Grande in Truth or Consequences.
New Mexico, ancient home of the Mogollon, Ancestral Puebloan (sometimes called Anasazi), and Apachean (modern Navajo and Apache) peoples, has a long and continuing history of sophisticated and artistically advanced native American (or indigenous) civilization.
New Mexico was the first portion of the continental United States to be colonized by Europeans (St. Augustine was established by the Spanish in 1565 was an isolated fort city). In 1598, more than 600 colonists and their extensive flocks marched 1200 miles north from the rich Mexican silver mining town of Zacatecas along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro to the Santa Fe area. Led by a wealthy silver baron – Don Juan de Onate – the settlers fanned out over northern New Mexico. Their descendants form a network of interrelated families with a rich and unique Hispanic Catholic New Mexican heritage that still play a dominant role in New Mexico.
In 1821, New Mexico became part of an independent Mexico with commercial links to an expanding United States. In 1846, conquering United States expeditionary forces occupied New Mexico preceding its annexation by the United State soon after the United States invasion of Mexico. Important Civil War battles (Val Verde, Glorieta Pass) occurred in 1862, resulting in the defeat of confederate forces in the Southwest. With the advent of the railroads in 1880 – most notably the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe – and mining booms in the same time period, New Mexico began the slow process of integrating with the rest of the United States. It became a state in 1912. American and European artists discovered the unique mix of New Mexico’s cultures at the beginning of the 20th century, leading to long-lived art-colonies in Santa Fe and Taos. During World War II, reservation and ranch land was appropriated near Santa Fe, near Albuquerque, and in south central New Mexico to form Los Alamos National Laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories, and the huge White Sands Missile Range, still dominant factors in the modern New Mexico economy.
In these blogs, we are exploring science and religion from the standpoint of the Baha’i teachings. My daughter offers a good summary of those teachings: “science and religion should be on the same table.”
Our last blog gave an overview of those teachings. Addressing the need to take advantage of the positive aspects of both science and religion, the Baha’i Writings urge us to “weigh all things in the balance” of science and religion:
God made religion and science to be the measure, as it were, of our understanding. Take heed that you neglect not such a wonderful power. Weigh all things in this balance. … Put all your beliefs into harmony with science; there can be no opposition, for truth is one.
If we do this – and we currently don’t – a brilliant future beckons:
When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles — and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God.
Of course, it is more involved than this. The transformation of society and the extensive effort and engagement that will be required is likely to be equivalent of something like the European Enlightenment in scope. A glimpse of how the process can work can be seen by looking at what the Baha’is have learned about the process of social and economic development.
Baha’i social and economic development provides a framework for how science and religion can work together. Central to this framework are (a) capacity building, (b) learning in action, and (c) a recognition that progress necessarily has both spiritual and material dimensions. Civilization, according to the Baha’i Teachings, has “both a material and a spiritual dimension” and that we have to learn to distinguish between destructive and constructive forces at work in the world. Capacity building means that “activities should start on a modest scale and only grow in complexity in keeping with available human resources”. Learning in action requires adapting a learning mode, one “characterized by constant action, reflection, consultation, and study.” It requires that “visions and strategies are re-examined time and again” and readjustment and changes are made:
As tasks are accomplished, obstacles removed, resources multiplied, and lessons learned, modifications are made in goals and methods. The learning process, which is given direction through appropriate institutional arrangements, unfolds in a way that resembles the growth and differentiation of a living organism. Haphazard change is avoided, and continuity of action maintained.
Another essential aspect of the Baha’i teachings is that development is for everybody – for everybody from every religion, economic level, and economics background:
A civilization befitting a humanity which, having passed through earlier stages of social evolution, is coming of age will not emerge through the efforts exerted by a select group of nations or even a network of national and international agencies. Rather, the challenge must be faced by all of humanity.
Every member of the human family has not only the right to benefit from a materially and spiritually prosperous civilization but also an obligation to contribute towards its construction. Social action should operate, then, on the principle of universal participation.
One of the things this means is that social change is not something done for one group of people by another group of people:
“Social change”, the Universal House of Justice made clear in its Ridván 2010 message, “is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another”, and in general Bahá´ís from one area do not establish development projects for others. … the idea of an expert from outside being allowed to impose his or her professional aspirations on the local population is thus avoided.
Application to New Mexico
In the next blog, we apply the discussion of the Baha’i principles of science and religion combined with Baha’i experience in social and economic development to an evaluation of the historical process of development in New Mexico.
The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.