by William S. Hatcher
Of all the conflicts which exist in contemporary society none is more destructive both for individual and social life than the conflict between religion and science. For the individual, religion is the expression of a need for self-transcendence, a need to feel a purpose which is God-given and not self-created. For society, religion represents the need for unity, love, harmony, and co-operation. Science, by contrast, represents the need to know, to understand, to gain mastery over ourselves and our environment. This is true both for the individual who needs knowledge in order to function in his own life and for society which needs organized knowledge in order to progress.
Returning for the moment to the individual’s viewpoint, we might say that the religious urge is an urge to be encompassed. It is an urge to feel oneself a part of something greater. The scientific urge is an urge to encompass. It is an urge to manipulate, control, direct, and dominate. There is no contradiction in these two urges since it is clearly possible for us to be in control on one level of our functioning while, at the same time, being controlled or encompassed on another level. Indeed, since our knowledge is always relative, we are in fact constantly in the position of having a relative mastery over part of our environment (including the self) while being encompassed by that part which we do not know. Moreover, the further we make progress in knowledge, the more we realize just how great our ignorance is. There is an increasing realization of being encompassed by the unknown which accompanies the extension of the boundaries of the known, for new knowledge also reveals the existence of hitherto unsuspected unknowns. Greater knowledge gives greater mastery and, at the same time, greater humility before the ever-increasing vastness of the unknown which lies before us.
Basically, then, the religious urge and the scientific urge are complementary, as each reinforces the other.
Of course, the thrill of first mastery which the adolescent experiences gives him a sense of omnipotence and an exaggerated pride in his knowledge. Some people never outgrow this immature response to knowledge and, therefore, become blind or insensitive to the vastness of their ignorance. This is the state of an individual or a society in which the scientific urge prevails while the religious urge is excluded.
In such a case people have a sense of being in absolute control, when, in reality, their control is very limited and relative. This is the situation which largely characterizes modern Western technological society. Western man has given in almost totally to the scientific urge, the urge to dominate, manipulate, control, and direct. Because he has lost his humility before his ignorance, he has gradually overproduced, overdirected, and overcontrolled. The results of this immoderation are to be seen everywhere. It has led to pollution and destruction of the natural cycle, as we begin to discover, perhaps too late, just how much damage we may have unwittingly done. It has led to manipulation of the public through mass media. It has produced engines of war of unimaginable destructive power.
On the personal level, the use of the social science of psychology, without the counterbalance of religion, has resulted in a painful self-consciousness for the individual as he enters an increasingly vicious circle of self-analysis and introspection in a futile attempt to encompass himself with his own mind.
We might say, then, that modern society is adolescent in that it is characterized by the false sense of omnipotence that comes from having abandoned itself to the scientific urge to the exclusion of the religious urge. Let anyone who feels that science alone can provide the basis for human progress ask himself whether, at this moment, the future of society stands in greater danger from science and its fruits or from religion and its fruits.
What happens when society abandons itself to the religious urge to the exclusion of the scientific urge? Since there will be a common feeling of humility before the unknown, there will be a strong sense of unity within such a society. People will be drawn together by the shared awareness of being encompassed by and submitted to unknown (generally nonhuman) forces. The feeling or sense of unity will be strong, but if the scientific urge is neglected, the concrete realization of that sense of unity will be very limited.
For example, without the means of organization, education, communication, and transportation, which come only from a certain mastery of the environment, the gathering of large groups of people will be difficult as will be the communication between the physically separate groups. It will, therefore, be difficult for people to share ideas, languages, history, and the like. Society will remain organized in small villages, each with its particular expression of the intuitively-perceived unity and with its particular history. There will be many different dialects and religious experiences. Because of the relative lack of mastery of the environment, inhabitants of different villages will be limited in the degree to which they can share their experiences. This will make it difficult for them to go beyond superficial differences and realize the basic similarity underlying various types of experience.
The dominant feature of such a society will be its dependence on the unknown forces, We might say, then, that such a society is childlike because the lack of mastery, the dependence, and the passivity with respect to the environment are all characteristics of the stage of development in the life of an individual which we call childhood, Maturity or adulthood in the life of the individual comes with the integration and balance of these two urges. It does not come by remaining continually adolescent. The adolescent, because he is unsure of himself, needs, in his typical Western manifestation, continually to prove his independence by rebellious and exaggerated gestures. The adult, however, knows how to accept a mature and conscious dependence. The adult knows, for example, that he is dependent on society, and so he obeys its laws. The extreme form of adolescent independence is lawlessness.
To be sure, the dependence of the adult is no longer the absolute dependence of childhood. It is a dependence based on the relative mastery of the adolescent. It is a dependence which is conscious because the adult is aware of his limitations as well as of his mastery. He thus abandons his adolescent sense of omnipotence for a more realistic give and take. The giving results from the degree of mastery, and the taking from an intelligent realization of need. It is the foolish person who thinks that, because he is adult, he has no genuine needs and, therefore, does not have to take. It is the immature adult who remains in a childish state of exaggerated dependence and crippled mastery.
The Bahá’í principle of the unity of religion and science applies this same principle of complementarity, so clearly true for individuals, to human society as a whole. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said:
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! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.2
Concerning the state of religion without science, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has further stated:
Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth.3
All religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time.4
Concerning the positive effects of the unity of religion and science, He says:
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.5
Concerning the result of science without religion, Bahá’u’lláh has written:
The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.6
Concerning the attempt of man to find happiness through purely material pursuits, He has also written:
Say: 0 people! Let not this life and its deceits deceive you, for the world and all that is therein is held firmly in the grasp of His Will. Are ye rejoicing in the things which, according to the estimate of God, are contemptible and worthless, things wherewith He proveth the means of the doubtful?7
In another passage He states flatly:
Your sciences shall not profit you in this day, nor your arts, nor your treasure, nor your glory, Cast them all behind your backs, and set your faces towards the Most Sublime Word through which the Scriptures and the Books and this lucid Tablet have been distinctly set forth.8
Since it is the adolescent excess of the scientific urge that characterizes the modern world, the move to maturity can only come by the rebirth of religion on a mature, adult level. Man must acquire again a genuine humility and deep respect for God, the creative force of the universe. He must realize that it is only by this force, and this force alone, that all of his discoveries and technological advances have been made. In this regard, Bahá’u’lláh says:
Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. All the wondrous works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the operation of His supreme and most exalted Will, His wondrous and inflexible Purpose.9
Obstacles to the Unity of Science and Religion
A half century ago, the prime obstacle to the unity of science and religion was probably religion. In 1911, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá affirmed as much when he described the results of prevailing religious dissension and discord:
The outcome of all this dissension is the belief of many cultured men that religion and science are contradictory terms, that religion needs no powers of reflection, and should in no wise be regulated by science, but must of necessity be opposed, the one to the other. The unfortunate effect of this is that science has drifted apart from religion, and religion has become a mere blind and more or less apathetic following of the precepts of certain religious teachers, who insist on their own favourite dogmas being accepted even when they are contrary to science.’
Thus it was the outmoded and narrow views of religionists which initially created the opposition between religion and science.
This opposition has, if anything, worsened in the years since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made the above statement. Religious dogmatism and dissension have continued, giving rise to open religious conflict in such places as the Middle East, India, and Northern Ireland. Each of the traditional religious orthodoxies has continued to press, harder and harder, its claims to possess an absolute or final truth, excluding the possibility of reconciliation with other orthodoxies. Even such a movement as Christian Ecumenism is severely limited in that its goal is only an institutional unity of certain Christian denominations rather than a genuine move towards universal religious reconciliation.
Moreover, to the voices of traditional orthodoxy have been added a host of newer movements, each with its own claim to possess a unique or absolute path to the truth. Various cults, various forms of meditation, of spiritual and physical discipline have been put forth as the answer to man’s religious quest. At the same time, a rebirth of interest in astrology, in occultism, in satanism, in witchcraft, and in other forms of supernatural experience has taken place.
Since it is clearly impossible to reconcile the absolute and exclusive claim of each of the various sects, movements, and orthodoxies in the world today, what is the rational seeker after religious truth to do? One commonsense answer, and one which many individuals have undoubtedly adopted as a solution, is to consider that there is some truth in each of these movements and that their basic fault lies precisely in the arrogant attempt of each one to erect a partial and relative vision of truth into an absolute. The historian and religious thinker Arnold Toynbee has described poignantly his own reaction to this dilemma:
It is, of course, impossible that each of the higher religions can be right in believing that it has a monopoly of truth and salvation, but it is not impossible that all of them should have found alternative roads to salvation and should have seen truth, “through a glass, darkly”, in one or other of truth’s different facets…. A belief in the relative truth and relative saving-power of all the higher religions alike will seem tantamount to unbelief in the eyes of an orthodox believer in any one of them.
…It lies with the orthodox, not with me, to decide whether, in their eyes, I am within their pale or am beyond it. But it lies with me, not with them, to feel the feelings I, too, feel towards those sublime figures that are revered and adored by me as well as by their orthodox followers or worshippers. No human writ of excommunication can come between those saviours and me.11
One senses a strong integrity in a position such as that taken by Toynbee. Yet such a position, though helpful for the individual himself, does not solve the social problems resulting from the religion-science opposition. For there is no identifiable community of the various individuals who may have arrived at a view like Toynbee’s. Indeed, Toynbee himself makes a similar remark in a footnote to the above-quoted passage:
In any case, whatever light my critics may, or may not have thrown on my position, they have thrown much light, I should say, on a far more interesting point. They have brought out the truth that, at the present time, the Western World is a house divided against itself on the fundamental issue of religious attitude and belief.12
We may summarize, then, by saying that the first major obstacle to the unity of science and religion is the widespread feeling that there is no religious voice which recognizes the relativity of religious truth and which, at the same time, speaks with deep wisdom and authority on the spiritual questions of life which every man sooner or later must face and ask himself. There is widespread confusion in the realm of religion, and this confusion has been made worse, rather than being helped, by the multiplication of claims to absolute authority and absolute truth which are now heard from all directions.
Another major obstacle to the unity of religion and science derives from the fact that a complex of science and technology, divorced from all moral and ethical influence, has now become the dominant force in society. This all-pervasiveness of science and technology has led many to a feeling of hopelessness. People often feel that science has shown religion to be a farce, and yet they recognize that science and technology have not made us deeply happy. In fact, widespread unhappiness—unhappiness on a scale never before seen—is one of the most striking features of the contemporary scene.
In spite of this dissatisfaction with the sterility of modern technological existence, many still feel that they cannot turn with integrity to religion since, they believe, science has proved that God does not exist and that religious experience is a sham. Because religious experience is much more intensely subjective than technology, people are led to mistrust their own deepest emotions and their profoundest religious and spiritual longings. In this way does the misguided belief about technology lead to a certain self-alienation—people are led to deny the validity of their own truest needs and deepest longings. These longings are relegated to the domain of childish and immature emotions (perhaps to be “cured” by psychoanalysis).
This second major obstacle to the unity of religion and science is, then, the feeling that science has somehow proved the non-existence of God or at least invalidated spiritual and religious experience and longings.
We now want to discuss certain aspects of some of these obstacles.
The Obstacle of Scientistic Materialism
The characteristic feature of science, and the basis of its unity, is scientific method. Scientific method consists in the systematic and organized use of our various mental faculties in an effort to arrive at a coherent understanding of whatever phenomenon is being investigated.
Of course, every human being on earth knows things and uses his mental faculties in order to attain this knowledge. What distinguishes the method of science is the systematic, organized, and conscious nature of the process. Science is self-conscious common sense. Instead of relying on chance experiences, one systematically invokes certain types of experiences. This is experimentation (the conscious use of experience). Instead of relying on common-sense reasoning, one formalizes hypotheses explicitly and formalizes the reasoning leading from hypothesis to conclusion. This is mathematics and logic (the conscious use of reason). Instead of relying on occasional flashes of insight, one systematically meditates on problems. This is reflection (the conscious use of intuition).13
The practice of this method is not linked to the study of any particular phenomenon. It can be applied to the study of unseen forces and mysterious phenomena as well as everyday, common occurrences. Failure to appreciate this universality of scientific method has led many people to feel that science is really only the study of matter and purely material phenomena. This narrow philosophical outlook, plus the historical fact that physics was the first science to develop a high degree of mathematical objectivity, has led to a common misconception that scientific knowledge is inherently limited only to physical reality and material phenomena.14 Such a misconception naturally retards the unity of science and religion since religion definitely claims to have knowledge of nonmaterial aspects of reality. Once we see that the basis of science is its method and not any particular object of study, we can discard this misconception.
Physics and chemistry result when we turn scientific method to the study of the phenomena of nonliving matter. But if, keeping the same method, we turn to the study of living matter, the result is biology. If we turn to human beings as the objects of our study, we obtain psychology, sociology, and the other “human sciences”. Bahá’u’lláh has referred to religion as the “science of the love of God.”15 Thus religion results when we turn scientific method to the study of the unseen creative force of the universe which we call God.
It might be objected by some that the unity of science lies not in its method but in its goal, which is to know. However, there are other disciplines such as magic and occultism, both contemporary and historical, which claim knowledge as their objective. Yet these disciplines are not compatible with science and are rejected by science because their method is unscientific. Thus to be scientific it is not sufficient to desire knowledge or to proclaim knowledge as one’s goal.
Another feature of scientific knowledge is its relativity. Because science is the self-conscious use of our faculties, we become aware that man has no absolute measure of truth. The conclusions of scientific investigations are always more or less probable. They are never absolute proofs. Of course, if a conclusion is highly probable and its negation highly improbable, we may feel very confident in the results, especially if we have been very thorough in our investigation. But realization and acceptance of this essential uncertainty and relativity of our knowledge is important, for the exigencies of human existence are often such that we are forced to act in some instances before we have had time to make such a thorough investigation. It, therefore, behooves us to remain constantly alert to the possibility that we may, in fact, be wrong.
Such a realization is also important for the unity of science and religion, for there are many who take the materialistic personal philosophy of some scientists as indication that science has proved that God does not exist. There are even some scientists who claim that science has proved that God does not exist. Such claims are foolish and ridiculous in the light of the universally recognized relativity of scientific conclusions, and especially as no scientist or scientific discipline has ever claimed to have undertaken a systematic, scientific study of the question of God’s existence and come up with the carefully validated conclusion that there is no God.
We should not be overly surprised at such contradictions in behaviour, however, since scientists are human and are subject to some of the same disastrous prejudices which afflict the generality of mankind.
There are, in fact, those who have consciously attempted to use science as a “cover” or support to buttress some particular social or philosophical prejudice, or to justify some desired (but not necessarily justifiable) course of action. We must be constantly on our guard against such false uses of science; for they corrupt science, and they block effective attempts to establish the unity of science and religion. Such false uses of science are comparable to false uses of religion, as for example, when religious institutions in the past have lent support to oppressive and immoral persecution of minorities.
It is heartening to note that, in recent years, increasing numbers of scientists have become sensitive to such false uses of science and have begun to raise their voices in public to point them out. Over the years there has been a small but persistent intellectual tradition of intelligent criticism of the false uses of science. The writings of Lewis Mumford are a strong contemporary example of this tradition. The closing paragraphs of his cogent The Pentagon of Power are virtually poetic in their appeal:
Reformers who would treat the campaign against environmental and human degradation solely in terms of improved technological facilities, like the reduction of gasoline exhaust in motorcars, see only a small part of the problem. Nothing less than a profound re-orientation of our vaunted technological “way of life” will save this planet from becoming a lifeless desert… For its effective salvation mankind will need to undergo something like a spontaneous religious conversion: one that will replace the mechanical world picture with an organic world picture, and give to the human personality, as the highest known manifestation of life, the precedence it now gives to its machines and computers… Of only one thing we may be confident. If mankind is to escape its programmed self-extinction the God who saves us will not descend from the machine: he will rise-up again in the human soul.16
Toynbee states a similar conclusion in more general terms:
Religion is Man’s attempt to get into touch with an absolute spiritual Reality behind the phenomena of the Universe, and, having made contact with It, to live in harmony with It. This activity is all-pervading. It comprehends all the others. Moreover, it is Man’s lifeline. When once a creature has acquired, as Man has, a conscious intellect and a free will, this creature must either seek and find God or destroy itself.17
Even though science has not disproved the existence of God, there still persists a feeling that the success of science and technology, independent of any religious orientation, has undermined the credibility of such belief. Belief in God is often seen as a hangover from primitivism. Primitive man saw God, the unseen creative force, in everything. He was in awe of the forces of nature. This sense of awe of primitive man is commonly attributed to his ignorance of the basis of natural phenomena. To many, our modern scientific understanding of these phenomena seems to have taken all the “mystery” out of reality. Modern man feels guilty or childish about such feelings of awe about his need to be encompassed. Science seems to have gradually reduced the possible domain of God’s existence to a vanishing point. Physics has removed God from nature, and psychology has removed Him from the human heart.
Again, further analysis reveals such an attitude as a misconception. For science has revealed to man not only “facts” and “things” but also a fascinating world of energy and unseen forces. Consider, for example, the view of matter and the material world which physics soberly presents to us for our consideration as the rational explanation for natural phenomena. The astonishing diversity of matter which we daily encounter is really due, we are told, only to different combinations of a small number of basic elements. Moreover, these elemental substances are themselves just different configurations of certain basic elementary particles which, in themselves, have no individuality. Furthermore, these basic particles are really just relatively stable forms of energy, and each of them is convertible, under suitable conditions, into energy. Thus all the stuff of everyday experience is ultimately just different configurations of energy.
And what, we may ask, is energy? We may be successful in describing some of the ways energy works—some of the effects it produces. But when we ask what energy is, we come up against a mystery. And if we are humble enough, we realize that this is the same mystery primitive man intuitively perceived. Our science has served only to render our ultimate ignorance more explicit by showing how truly universal is this mysterious force, for now we see everything as a configuration of this one force.
The most striking feature of this energy, this ultimate mysterious force whose existence has been so strongly confirmed by science, is its ability to organize itself in ever more subtle forms and configurations. It is easy, for example, to characterize the direction of biological evolution. Biological evolution represents the organization of matter (thus energy) in ever more complex units, involving greater and greater complexity and specialization, and greater interdependence among the component parts. Man is “higher” than other mammals precisely because of his relatively greater complexity of physiological organization.
Let us compare man with, say, a colony of one-celled organisms of comparable size. On the one hand, there is man with his cells specialized to form tissues which combine to make organs which combine to form systems which combine to form the human organism. This hierarchical structure enables man to function in an incredibly multifaceted way. Moreover, the continued, moment-to-moment existence of man is dependent on a host of favourable conditions. On the other hand, we have the colony of, let us say, bacteria which are capable of functioning only individually on the crudest level, each individual being virtually immortal (some bacteria can remain dormant for centuries without dying).
In particular, the human brain is the most complex physical structure known to us in the universe. Even the galaxies of stars and the movements of the planets cannot begin to compare in complexity to the subtle and highly, organized human brain. The most complex computers invented to date are roughly equivalent to the brain of an ant when compared with the structure and complexity of the human brain.
Now, one well-known feature of the human organism is its self-awareness. Furthermore, scientific investigation has confirmed what man has always suspected: he did not create himself. It is not man who has organized himself in this subtle and complex way. Rather man awoke to his self-awareness and his subjectivity which he owes to the energy of which he is but a configuration.
We can thus pose the following clear question: Is it more reasonable to assume that a force capable of producing an effect (man) which is endowed with subjectivity and intelligence has also such characteristics, or is it more reasonable to assume that this force is deprived of such features? It is clearly more reasonable to suppose that such a force is at least as subtle as the effect it has produced. In fact, we know that energy is capable of subjectivity and intelligence because we have self-awareness and intelligence and we are configurations of this energy. Moreover, this force has produced other effects which man cannot produce (namely, it has produced man as well as the universe). Man has discovered himself and the universe, but he has not produced these phenomena. Thus we are inevitably led to hypothesize that this force is, in fact, even more subtle than man himself. Following a long-established tradition, we call this force God.
Thus an unprejudiced application of scientific method to the facts of human existence leads to the probable conclusion that God exists and that He has consciousness and intelligence. Notice, however, that although reasoning and logic can lead us to the existence of God, they cannot give to us the experience of God. This is the role of religion, of which more will be said later on.
It is as if we had arrived at the conclusion, by scientific investigation, that there must be humanoid creatures on a planet which we lacked the technical means of visiting. The knowledge of the existence of these creatures would not in itself give us the intersubjective experience of their personalities.
There are several objections which are often raised against the otherwise clear conclusions we have drawn in the preceding. It is often objected that the process which has produced man is due to chance and not to any force. Let us examine briefly this contention.
In scientific observation, a phenomenon is said to be due to chance when all logical possibilities occur with equal relative frequency. When such is not the case, and more especially when such deviations occur in some consistent way, we infer the existence of a force which is said to “cause” the deviation from random behaviour. For example, it is logically possible for a dropped object to move in any direction (or not to move at all). But we observe that dropped objects do not move at random. They all move perversely in a downward direction. We infer the existence of an unseen force, called gravity, which produces this effect. The effect is, in a word, a consistent deviation from presumed equiprobability. We do not call gravity God because the effect produced by this force (the downward falling of objects) is not so marvelous as the effect we call man. Notice also that in space, when one is outside the reaches of the earth’s gravity, randomly dropped objects do move in a random direction.
In scientific investigations of phenomena it, therefore, becomes important to decide what events are probable and what events are improbable. In this way we can have some idea when a phenomenon is due to an unseen force and when it is due to chance. Science has discovered such a principle, it is called the second law of thermodynamics or Carnot’s principle. This principle says, simply stated, that order is improbable and disorder is probable. This is so because order represents a limited number of stable configurations whereas any possible configuration represents disorder.
Let us compare, for example, a brick house and a pile of bricks. I can transform a brick house into a pile of bricks by moving the bricks one by one in any possible sequence. I am free to take a top brick or a bottom brick or a middle brick first. But to build the house, it is physically impossible to put in a top brick before putting in any bottom brick. Only a certain limited number of possible sequences will produce the house. The house represents order, and the pile of bricks disorder (relative to each other).
Thus Carnot’s principle is nothing more than a precise statement of what we all intuitively feel about chance phenomena. The nonscientist would be just as shocked as the scientist to find that the wind or a thunderstorm had transformed a pile of bricks into a well-built house (even if we had left the pile of bricks to itself for many years). But we are not at all shocked if such a storm transforms a house into a pile of bricks.
Now we have earlier on remarked that man, in particular man’s brain, is the most highly ordered structure in the universe. Thus, by Carnot’s principle, it is also the least probable. It is, therefore, the least likely to have been produced by a purely random process.
Biologists point out that the fundamental mechanisms of evolution are mutation, by which is meant spontaneous genetic change, and natural selection, by which is meant the superior survival rate over successive generations, and within a given population, of those genotypes whose phenotypical (physically observable or behavioural) characteristics better suit them to function within the natural milieu in question.18 Natural selection eliminates forms and organisms which are less well adapted, and thus tends to decrease variation (diversity) within a population. Mutation, however, has the opposite effect, that of increasing the genetic diversity. Evolution is a process of moving from lower (less complex) to higher (more complex) forms. Such a process necessarily involves periodic (though not necessarily regular) significant increases in variation and thus cannot depend on natural selection alone. In other words, the contribution of natural selection to the evolutionary process depends ultimately on the occurrence of mutations since if there are no mutations there will ultimately be an insufficient diversity of forms from which nature can select. But since, as we have already stressed, the direction of evolution is precisely from lower (that is, less ordered and thus more probable) to higher (that is, more ordered and thus less probable) forms, it is unreasonable to suppose that the occurrence of mutations in the evolutionary process was wholly or primarily due to chance. We cannot reason from the fact of mutation to the conclusion that the cause of mutations in evolution is chance alone. We must be careful to distinguish between the known facts of the evolutionary process and the possible theoretical models used to explain and interpret the facts.
Moreover, what is needed to explain biological evolution is not just an occasional favourable mutation (almost all observed mutations are unfavourable) but a consistent sequence of favourable mutations in the right place and at the right time intervals (if the first one happens in Australia and the next one in Europe there cannot be any process of evolution). Nor did evolution take place in an “unlimited” amount of time. Rather, the whole process occurred in a period no greater than three billion years, and the major part of it (from small, primitive animals to man) in about one-half billion years. Thus there was not time for an “infinite” or unlimited “experimentation” to take place.
In other words, the phenomenon of biological evolution presents us precisely with a clear, consistent deviation from randomness of the sort discussed above. We must therefore conclude the existence of a force which is the cause of biological evolution. Anyone for whom this conclusion is unacceptable must decide for himself why he feels such an inference to be unacceptable here while being generally and universally acceptable elsewhere in science.
It is obviously impossible in a short article such as this to enter into extended detailed discussion of these points on which scores of books have been written. The reader who is interested in pursuing the technical side of the question can do so on his own.
In closing this discussion, let us treat one last point, however. Recent advances in biology have led to speculation that man may one day be able to reproduce life in a test tube. Such knowledge or control over the vital process would, it is sometimes said, show that God does not exist after all because man would have discovered the secret of life. But no such conclusion is logically forthcoming. After all, man already knows how to reproduce life. Babies are born every day. What man clearly did not create is the process by which life is reproduced. Thus, even if the human brain finally succeeds in discovering the secret of life, this will not change the fact that man did not create the vital process which he would then understand. Moreover, man’s brain which does the understanding would itself owe its existence to this vital process which it did not create. Discovery is not creation.
Indeed, no discoveries that man can ever make in the future can change the eternal fact that man is not responsible for bringing into being the process which has produced his brain and its understanding. Man is not responsible for his own existence; and he depends, therefore, on something other than himself to which he owes his existence.
A Solution to Religious Dissension
False concepts and false uses of science are only one-half of the problem. For even if one is quite willing and desires to turn to religion, the question remains: where to turn? For the author of this article, and for many others on this planet, the answer to this question has turned out to be: the Bahá’í Faith. Rather than engaging in any abstract dissertation on the details of Bahá’í doctrine—which are already adequately available in other sources—we have thought better to describe in a straightforward manner those features of the Bahá’í experience which have led so many to feel that it furnishes a deeply satisfying answer to their religious quest.
First, and most important, the Bahá’í Faith renders accessible to the individual that experience of self-transcendence and mystic communion with the Spirit of God which is the heart of religion. We have previously remarked that logic and reason can prove to us the existence of God but cannot give us the experience of communion with God. Concerning proofs of the existence of God, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said:
…apply thyself to rational and authoritative arguments. For arguments are a guide to the path and by this the heart will be turned unto the Sun of Truth. And when the heart is turned unto the Sun, then the eye will be opened and will recognize the Sun through the Sun itself. Then (man) will be in no need of arguments (or proofs), for the Sun is altogether independent….19
In other words, the reality of the experience of communion with God carries with it a deeper conviction and sense of the reality of God than the purely intellectual acknowledgement of God’s existence which comes from logic and reasoning.
How, we might well ask, is this communion obtained? How does God reveal to us something of His personal and subjective nature in a way that is accessible to us? Since, as we have already, observed, man is the most highly ordered and refined phenomenon accessible to us, it would be only logical that God might choose precisely this instrument for his Self-Revelation, it is clearly impossible for God to reveal His most personal and subjective attributes to man through an instrument such as a rock or a tree which does not itself possess consciousness. Bahá’ís believe that this act of Self-Revelation through a chosen human instrument has occurred periodically in history, (our collective experience). This is clearly necessary if the intersubjective knowledge of God is to remain constantly accessible to us, for with the passage of time the immediacy and force of such a revelation tends to be lost and dissipated.
Bahá’ís call these chosen human instruments Manifestations of God. The Manifestations are none other than the great religious founders of history, some of whose names we know: Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Zoroaster, and most recently Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. Concerning the revelation of God through these Manifestations, Bahá’u’lláh has said:
…all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them…. Man, the noblest and most perfect of all created things, excelleth them all in the intensity of this revelation, and is a fuller expression of its glory. And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished, and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace. 20
Is it, therefore, as a result of the comings of these Manifestations that man has the possibility of communion with God. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá puts it simply:
The knowledge of the Reality of the Divinity is impossible and unattainable, but the knowledge of the Manifestations of God is the knowledge of God, for the bounties, splendours, and divine attributes are apparent in them. Therefore if man attains to the knowledge of the Manifestations of God, he will attain to the knowledge of God; and if he be neglectful of the knowledge of the Holy Manifestation, he will be bereft of the knowledge of God.21
The primary key to maintaining this communion of consciousness with God is the daily discipline of prayer and meditation on the words of the Manifestation. Bahá’u’lláh states: Say: The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth. This is, verily, an evidence of His tender mercy unto men. He hath endowed every soul with the capacity to recognize the signs of God.
These words are the instrument which creates the consciousness of the presence of God: for meditation, to be successful, must have some object or focus.
Although the experience of communion with God is an individual, subjective one, there are two things in the Bahá’í experience which tend to give it a sense of universality and objectivity. First, it is repeatable for the individual. If one had only an occasional “flash” of mystic feeling, one could well doubt whether such experience was valid and was not, rather, some form of autosuggestion. But Bahá’ís find that when they practice the daily discipline of prayer and meditation on the words of Bahá’u’lláh, the experience of communion is constantly renewed, accessible, and repeatable.
In a striking statement, Bahá’u’lláh boldly promises that the experience of communion with God will always be accessible through this discipline:
Intone, 0 My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul.23
Second, the experience is general or universal. It is not reserved for some elite and withheld from others. It is not vague or uncommunicable. All Bahá’ís experience it and find that they can discuss it and share it with others with the same feeling of clarity and coherence that one naturally has about any other multisubjective experience such as seeing a red object or eating a delicious meal.
Another important feature of Bahá’í experience is the explicit acceptance by the Bahá’í Faith of the principle of the relativity of religious truth. Shoghi Effendi has said:
The Revelation proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, His followers believe, is divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men. The mission of the Founder of their Faith, they conceive it to be to proclaim that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is continuous and progressive….24
Such total and explicit recognition of the principle of the relativity of religious truth is a hallmark of the Bahá’í Faith and an important element in permitting its followers to reconcile scientific method with religious and spiritual needs.
The Bahá’í Faith is not exclusive and creates unity rather than dissension. This aspect of Bahá’í experience naturally derives from the fundamental principle of the relativity and progressive nature of truth mentioned above. Bahá’u’lláh has said that the fundamental purpose of religion is to create love and unity and that whenever it happens that a religion ceases to perform this function and creates division and opposition, then it is better for such a religion not to exist.
Some people who are otherwise attracted to Bahá’í teachings and principles sometimes hesitate to identify themselves with the movement for fear that such identification will somehow cut them off from other people. Because the Bahá’í Faith is numerically smaller than some other religious groups, or because the Bahá’í Faith is new and therefore sometimes unknown to or misinterpreted by the public, individuals perhaps fear that identification with it will subject them to similar attitudes of mistrust on the part of others.
However apparently reasonable such fears may seem, this is not the experience which Bahá’ís have. Genuine human relations are based on truth, honesty, love, and the ability to communicate deeply with others. Bahá’ís find that their Faith gives them new inner resources and tools which permit them to approach human relationships in the light of these principles. Rather than feeling “cut off”, Bahá’ís experience a feeling of vastly increased ability to communicate and indeed commune with others, be they Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í. These new personal resources compensate a hundredfold for any superficial and ignorant criticism which may, from time to time, be forthcoming. Moreover, both psychologists and philosophers have pointed out that the crowd togetherness and superficial conformities of modern life are only a poor substitute for genuine human relationships. Such genuine relationships are seen to be largely absent from modern life due to the “self-alienation” created in part by the illusion of easy togetherness which leads the individual to suppose that satisfying human relationships can be attained without a strong and conscious effort of will on his part. Once the individual pierces the veil of this illusion and accepts the fact that effort and suffering are necessary to attain deep friendship and lasting love, he will naturally seek that which will give him the resources necessary for the task. It is the experience of Bahá’ís that their Faith gives them these resources.
Moreover, because the Bahá’í Faith is a living community, and not just an abstract idea, the striving for love and unity can take place in a new context not otherwise available. It is the context of a community in which each individual member has a similar commitment to this new quality of human relationship based on communion with God, Who is the ultimate source of man’s ability to love in the first place.
The Bahá’í Faith illuminates our history and our personal experience. The inclusiveness of the Bahá’í Faith is not just a passive principle of tolerance. It is experienced by Bahá’ís rather as a clarifying and ordering force which enables them to “see” the truth in other movements, perhaps even truths which orthodox followers of these movements may have missed. In talking about their Faith, Bahá’ís often find themselves in the position of defending or explaining the validity of certain teachings of past Prophets which the followers themselves have abandoned or rejected. The dedication which Bahá’ís feel to such founders of religions as Christ, Muhammad, Moses, and Buddha, is very real. It often surprises and amazes the followers of these religions, for it has even happened that Bahá’ís have vigorously defended the rights and doctrines of religious communities who have actively persecuted the Bahá’ís themselves.
Another important aspect of Bahá’í experience is that it does not tend to extremes in any form. At the basis of the Bahá’í Faith is a principle of moderation. This principle means that the individual feels continually pulled towards greater balance, calm, and integration in his life. He does not feel torn between extreme desires or called upon to become fanatical or unbalanced in his dealings with others or with himself. This sense of moderation does not imply a static or passive state or an indifference. It means rather the integration and balance among the deep emotions one feels.
A final and extremely important aspect of the Bahá’í experience is its focus on society and its goal of establishing world unity. We have seen religion as an answer to man’s need to be encompassed by something greater than himself. Quite clearly the individual is already encompassed by society as a whole. Therefore, there can be no ultimate answer to man’s religious quest and his religious needs unless and until society itself is spiritualized. The individual cells of a body cannot long remain healthy if the body itself is sick. Society’s influence on the individual is too great and too pervasive to be neglected. Indeed, the focus on the social aspects of religion and the goal of establishing world unity constitute the most fundamental contribution of the Bahá’í Faith to man’s collective religious consciousness. Shoghi Effendi states:
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.25
Moreover, this consummation of human society can only be accomplished on the basis of religion:
The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it.26
The writings of Bahá’u’lláh contain a veritable blueprint for the establishment of this new planetary society, involving, among others, such principles as the establishment of a universal auxiliary language, a world court, a world legislature, a world police force, and universal education. The Bahá’í community is viewed as, in some sense, the spiritual embryo of this future society. Thus the common goal of working to achieve unity gives a sense of purpose to the life of each individual in the Bahá’í community, while the experience within the community itself furnishes practical opportunities for growth and for the practice of this oneness. To anyone seriously seeking a solution to the current disunity and opposition between religion and science, the answer given by the Bahá’í Faith merits deep investigation.
Who, contemplating the helplessness, the fears and miseries of humanity in this day, can any longer question the necessity for a fresh revelation of the quickening power of God’s redemptive love and guidance? Who, witnessing on one hand the stupendous advance achieved in the realm of human knowledge, of power, of skill and inventiveness, and viewing on the other the unprecedented character of the sufferings that afflict, and the dangers that beset, present-day society, can be so blind as to doubt that the hour has at last struck for the advent of a new Revelation, for a re-statement of the Divine Purpose, and for the consequent revival of those spiritual forces that have, at fixed intervals, rehabilitated the fortunes of human society? Does not the very operation of the world-unifying forces that are at work in this age necessitate that He Who is the Bearer of the Message of God in this day should not only reaffirm that self same exalted standard of individual conduct inculcated by the Prophets gone before Him, but embody in His appeal, to all governments and peoples, the essentials of that social code, that Divine Economy, which must guide humanity’s concerted efforts in establishing that all-embracing federation which is to signalize the advent of the Kingdom of God on this earth?27
1. This essay has been revised for this compilation. The original is reprinted by permission from World Order, 9, No.3 (Spring 1975), 22-29, 32-38. Copyright ©1975 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.
2. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks: Addresses Given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris in 1911-1912, 11th ed., (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969), p. 143.
3. Ibid., pp. 130-131.
4. Ibid., p. 143.
5. Ibid., p. 146.
6. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi. rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1952), pp. 342-343.
7. Ibid.. p. 209.
8. Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, trans. Shoghi Effendi. rev. ed. (Wilmette. Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1953). pp. 97-98.
9. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 141.
10. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 143-144.
11. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History: Reconsiderations (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961). XII, 99-100, 102.
12. Ibid., XII, 101n.
13. For a more detailed and exhaustive discussion of the scientific method, see essay 1 of the present volume.
14. This is why we have used the neologism “scientistic” in the title of this section. The current materialism is scientistic in that it is generally attributed to science, but it is not scientific since it is not really in harmony with the principles of science. We might say that this materialism is the result of an unscientific use of the results of science.
15. Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, trans. ‘Ali-Kuli Khan and Marzieh Gail, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1952). p. 49.
16. Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine (New York: Harcourt, 1970). p. 413.
17. Toynbee. Study of History, XII, 663.
18. The somewhat technical, though nonetheless important, point is that the genetic configuration of an organism is determined at conception and does not interact directly with the environment. It is rather the physical and behavioural characteristics of the organism which interact directly with the environment. Thus, natural selection can only operate on the phenotypic level, but this affects genetic diversity indirectly to the degree that such physical and behavioural characteristics are genetically based.
19. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ‘Abbas, 3 vols. (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Society, 1909-1916), 1, 168.
20. Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings, pp. 178-179.
21. ‘Abdu’1-Baha, Some Answered Questions, comp. and trans. Laura Clifford Barney, rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1964), pp. 257-258.
22. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, pp. 105-106.
23. Ibid., p. 295.
24. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1938), p. xi.
25. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Selected Letters, 2d rev. ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1974), pp. 202-203.
26. Ibid., p. 43.
27. Ibid., pp. 60-61.