A Religious Case for Scientific Literacy

A Religious Case for Scientific Literacy

“I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the earth moves closer to the sun every year—you know the rotation of the earth. We’re moving closer to the sun… We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.”

This strange case for the insolubility of climate change/global warming was uttered by a state senator and gubernatorial candidate. If readers want to be comforted that he is not their senator nor is trying to become their governor, they can perform a search on any distinct set of words such as ”earth moves closer to the sun” or ”climate change warm bodies.” The identity of the person or his political persuasion are not what I want to address, but what he said.

The Earth is not moving closer to the sun every year. That is scientifically inaccurate. And adding warm bodies to the planet does not create a warmer climate either. It’s also an odd argument against human-caused climate change.

A certain number of people will hear what this community leader says and believe it. They may believe it because he is an official and therefore must certainly be an educated man (or at least you would hope that was the case), or because he belongs to their political party or their faith, or because they simply like him.

That belief would be misplaced and unfortunate, because he is wrong on both counts, and we know this because: science.

Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote: “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!”

The harmony of science and religion, of faith and reason, is at the heart of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Bahá dedicate many words to promoting scientific literacy.

“In like manner, the moment the word expressing My attribute “The Omniscient” issueth forth from My mouth, every created thing will, according to its capacity and limitations, be invested with the power to unfold the knowledge of the most marvelous sciences, and will be empowered to manifest them in the course of time at the bidding of Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.”— Baha’u’llah

“Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created things embody the potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment.” — Abdu’l-Bahá

A dear friend of mine and fellow Baha’i and blogger at CommonGroundGroup, Stephen Friberg (who is a physicist by trade), wrote in an earlier article:

Stephen Friberg

If we are to fully use the power of science, then it must be harnessed for the benefit of all. This should be viewed as the next step in an ongoing series of scientific revolutions – and it is a step that is just dawning. It includes the expansion of scientific literacy and the extension of the capacities of science to all the members of the world’s communities and all the members of their various component social groups. When this happens, it will level the playing fields for all of the world’s peoples and allow them to take their destiny into their own hands. When this happens, science will belong to all. It will more radically change the world than anything in the most fevered dreams of the most ardent revolutionaries of the past. Truly, universal scientific literacy will be “power to the people”, for there is no greater power known than the power of the mind.

This is one of the goals of the Baha’i Faith—to make scientific literacy worldwide and available to people at all levels of society, including those whose opinions weigh more than is probably wise.

The internet gives us a marvelous tool for determining whether the words this statesman said are true or not. We have the ability to look things up, or locate scientists who can speak to the veracity of these ideas. And, as Abdu’l-Bahá states, along with the individual endowment of reason, comes the responsibility to know whether what we are told by someone who, by his own admission hasn’t been in a science classroom for a very long time, is true or false.

This is the challenge. Now more than ever, the capacity and resources for the independent investigation of truth and reality are in our own hands. Who shall we blame if we fail to use them?


“God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has … conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. … Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. … Turn to God … that God may rend asunder the veils that obscure your vision.” — Abdu’l-Bahá

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One thought on “A Religious Case for Scientific Literacy

  1. That politician is just another example of Republicans trying to dismiss the evidence that a major reason for the global warming is the release of CO2 due to human burning in cars, power plants etc. Many Republicans believe in this conspiracy theory that this evidence of CO2 caused global warming is just a socialist conspiracy to enable socialist politicians to regulate our industry. It is sad. I live in a coastal city that is likely to be more and more flooded over the decades due to global warming. You live in a state affected terribly by drought due to global warming. My sister lives near you, in a town also in Silicon Valley. The drought has eased this winter in California due to lots of rain, but it is likely to be terrible again in the future years. We can combat global warming, but the current administration does not want to. We can thank the archaic electoral college for the election result. Too bad.

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