Getting Started on Parallel Evolution E-mails

Getting Started on Parallel Evolution E-mails

From: Stephen Friberg []
Sent: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:35 AM
To: ‘Lisa Ortuno’
Subject: RE: Getting started on parallel evolution

Hi Lisa:

Can we use the compilation that Bahman, Bahran, and I are compiling and augment it?

We can target JBS, but they are quasi-defunct, so don’t have your hopes too high.  I’ve been thinking about Zygon for some time, but it would have to be something else, I think.  This topic isn’t general enough.

I didn’t see Craig.  We can try to get his e-mail, and Eberhard’s, but we need to think hard about why we want them aboard.  It is equally probable that, except for Eberhard, they will complicate our lives.

So, yes, lets get started!


From: Lisa Ortuno []
Sent: Monday, October 17, 2011 5:42 PM
To: Stephen Friberg
Subject: RE: Getting started on parallel evolution

Hi Stephen,

I think this approach sounds good to start with. I do think we’ll need a compilation of writings of some kind. I assume this will be a submission to the J Baha’i Studies as well. Yes?  As an aside, what do you think about Zygon?   Seems like we should have a presence there.  Just wondering.

Carey is very busy working on her book.  So I think she would be willing to be a reviewer. As you know, she suggested bringing in Eberhard.  Did you talk with Craig at the ABS meeting?  I don’t know him.  And I didn’t run into him.  I saw he had some kind of presentation on the environment, I think.  Just wondering what your thoughts were there, too.  I just don’t know the players, here.

If you think it might be an option to have me approach any of these people and invite them, as a “newbie” I’d be happy to do so.  So with this, I say, let’s get started.  : )


— On Mon, 10/17/11, Stephen Friberg <> wrote:

From: Stephen Friberg <>
Subject: RE: Getting started on parallel evolution
To: “‘Lisa Ortuno'” <>
Date: Monday, October 17, 2011, 8:25 AM

Hi Lisa:

So, how about this as a plan:

  1. Describe the problem.  What exactly is the issue/question we wish to address?  And why is it important? And who is the target audience?
  2. Define an approach.  Scientific, historical, or scriptural?  Or all three.
  3. Prepare a brief outline of what we are going to do, and then divide it up into areas of responsibility.  (Who is going to do what).
  4. Prepare a draft of the various sections of the paper.
  5. Prepare a combined draft
  6. Add a section of terms (I’m thinking that that will be more clear once we have a draft)
  7. Send out for review.
  8. Rewrite to prepare a final draft.

I’m not so interested in the 8-10 writings, but am willing to pursue that if you think it useful.  Also, I’m interested in historical, scientific AND scriptural approach.  My example was for what Bahman, Bahram, and I were doing where that was an important definition of focus.  Personally, I’m very interested in this trend of Baha’is reading in this parallel evolution focus – the primary issue to me – and how it conflicts with the scientific perspective.  Perhaps we could start to speculate on how to combine science and religion and use what we find in the historical use of folks trying to subsume things into a mold where they feel they can ignore the science.  Of course, we will have to be sensitive here, but this is very important to start to think about and address – in a very compassionate way, of course.

About bringing in Kevin?  He has strongly resisted all overtures from me for years and years.  My guess is not.  Courosh?  As a reviewer, but we could give him an opportunity to say no.  Eberhard? It might be a good idea to approach him now.  What about Carey?

My thoughts.


From: Lisa Ortuno []
Sent: Monday, October 17, 2011 4:16 AM
Cc: Stephen Friberg
Subject: Re: Getting started on parallel evolution

Good Morning, Stephen;

I think the first thing we need to do, as you mentioned below, is describe the problem.  What exactly is the issue/question we wish to address?  And why is it important?

I would like to ask at this time as well, who is the target audience?  My main reason for asking this here is to find out of this paper is going to end up being something so academic that the average Baha’i would not be interested or capable of following it?  (This was not the case with yours and Courosh’s paper, in my opinion.)

I think we will need a section of terms that are defined from both scientific and philosophical perspectives and include short discussions on philosophical and cultural concepts that should be borne in mind when reading a particular Writing.

I like your idea of choosing a set of Writings and beginning by starting to understand them and posing questions.

I am fine with attempting to not bring in scientific evidence at the start, but it will have to be included in some form in the end.

So as far as other folks to bring in, are we interested in having them come in as contributors or reviewers? (Courosh, Kevin Brown, von Kitzing, Craig Loehle (?) )

So can we begin, perhaps, by having each of us define what we think the problem is, or describe the scope of the issue we are attempting to address?  It would be good to make sure we are on clear on this from the start.

Then maybe we can each work on our own list of 8-10 Writings and pool them together in CG for consideration.

Thank you.


— On Thu, 10/13/11, <> wrote:
From: <>
Subject: Getting started on parallel evolution
To: “Lisa Ortuno” <>
Cc: “Stephen Friberg” <>
Date: Thursday, October 13, 2011, 12:48 PM

Hi Lisa:

I’ve been working on getting things going with Bahman (and Bahram) on the study of the writings front for some time now, and it looks like we’re getting things going (see below).

Shall we get our part started?  I suggest a plan as a first step.

Lets decide what to do – I think, write up parallel evolution inside and outside the Baha’i Faith – and how much to do, who is going to do what and maybe who else will join us, and the media (I’m thinking of a wiki in Common Ground), as well as the final form it will take

Are you ready?  If so, can you write out your ideas on what our plan, etc. should be?



Hi Bahman, Bahram:

I’m thinking that the kind of discussion we are doing now is very unsystematic – and the way we are currently doing it is less than helpful.

For it to become helpful, I suggest the following, and I suggest that we take it off line and do it between you, Bahram if he is willing, and myself.

1. I suggest that we compile a set of texts – scriptural and including Shoghi Effendi and the UHJ – that we will put up and concentrate on understanding.  I suggest eight or nine at first, then a few more later with other people’s input .

2. From these we can define the questions that we will discuss, then outline some different points of view that can be brought to them, and then discuss the support for main different points of view in the Writings.  At this stage, we should compile a set of references and make them easily accessible

3. Only then are we ready to talk about individual words and their meaning in the context of understanding what the writings mean.

4.  The end product should be a “scriptural” review.  What are the various possible perspectives and interpretations support by the Baha’i Writings.

We need to concentrate and guide the effort if it is to be successful, I’m very sure.

I suggest that we NOT address the issues of scientific evidence at this time.  There is a huge set of very interesting issue about how to bring in the scientific evidence in the Faith, but not even the House has addressed that in a comprehensive way, so we have to be careful to avoid that for now if we are to get anything done.  (Of course we can start compiling some ideas later, or let someone else do it.)

For all of this, we will compile a document with our overview results and our references.  I suggest that we do it online on Common Ground as a Wiki or as a page that is confined to our team (us + the others) who will be signed up.  That way, we can build things up and have people comment but not get out of hand.


— On Wed, 10/12/11, Bahman nadimi <> wrote:

From: Bahman nadimi <>
Subject: Re: Also a question for stephen–Summary of my views on evolution–
To: “Bahram Nadimi” <>,
Date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 11:34 AM


This is great..You can take the lead to break it down to more granular tasks..I think the process that you have outline is very good and more important than the conclusion…If we do this right we can really help others in the future..This issue, as we have noticed can be very contentious, and if we can bring more unity to this subject, it would be a great achievement..


— On Wed, 10/12/11, <> wrote:

From: <>
Subject: Re: Also a question for stephen–Summary of my views on evolution–
To: “Bahman nadimi” <>, “Bahram Nadimi” <>
Date: Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 11:24 AM

Hi Bahman (and Bahram too):

All of this stuff is looking really good – this is substance – and I think we are ready to systematize.

What I’m thinking of is the classic approach, the type that engineers and scientists use all the time:

  • First, we describe what the issue is, in this case, the need to develop and compare differing interpretations off how the evolution of man came about (do we want to put in evolution of kingdoms here, or let it emerge later?, I’m in favor of later because it is less generic).
  • Then we describe our outcome (for example, a white paper describing and comparing different interpretations of `Abdu’l-Baha’s description of evolution.
  • Then we describe in high level our method is.
  • Then we detail the tasks and owners, timeline, etc.

If we do things this way, we take an absolutely giant step forward, one that is very much in line with what the House is urging us to do with interpretation (well, more exactly, Paul Lample).  AND, it becomes a really important template for how these things should be addressed, not just for Baha’is but for everybody.

Shall we do it this way?


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4 thoughts on “Getting Started on Parallel Evolution E-mails

  1. Hi All,
    Here’s what I have for the basics.

    Describe the problem.

    At a most basic level it is the confusion about the term “parallel evolution”. What does this mean to Baha’is who have written and spoken about it? And what does it mean as a biological or scientific term? Why and where are there differences of understanding among some Baha’is and those in the scientific community? At a deeper level lies the question of beliefs about human evolution, the nature of man and the existence or non-existence of God.

    Who is the target audience?

    I see this paper as being geared for Baha’is of all backgrounds who are interested in this topic, as well as non-Baha’is who are seeking a better understanding of what we believe. To me, one goal of this paper is also to underscore that biological evolution is consistent with Baha’i belief and provide counterpoint to previous statements that have been made by other Baha’is who have made statements denying the natural history of man. Because of this design scope, I feel the paper should be written in such a way that non-scientists and non-Baha’i scholars should be able to read it, understand it and derive lasting benefit from it. Additionally, my goal would be to leave the reader with the sense that material Creation through biological means is not only consistent with the Baha’i Faith, but is marvelous and profound, beautiful and wholly complementary with and necessary for our spiritual growth.

    Why is this important?

    At the most basic level, the Baha’i Faith needs to be and appear informed. If the majority of voices that are heard from the Faith on this and related topics are ignorant of biology and well-established biological and scientific principles, we look stupid. We will not be taken seriously in a world that is moving ever forward with science and technology. We will lose members and not see an increase in membership from the youth. Today evolution is an established fact of science that is integrated into everything we know about biology and medicine. As Baha’is we are called to accept the established science of the day to maintain unity, stay rational and avoid superstition. As people whose field of study this is, it is our obligation to help others understand the science and think about and talk with others about how to integrate science with the writings of the Faith.

  2. Describe the problem.

    `Abdu’l-Baha wrote and spoke extensively on evolution to Western audiences in the first two decades of the 20th century, saying that the universe requires man’s existence and that man is not an animal:

    One of the things which has appeared in the world of existence, and which is one of the requirements of Nature, is human life


    … as man in the womb of the mother passes from form to form, from shape to shape, changes and develops, and is still the human species from the beginning of the embryonic period — in the same way man, from the beginning of his existence in the matrix of the world, is also a distinct species — that is, man — and has gradually evolved from one form to another.

    These writings and the above quotations have lead some Baha’is and some scientifically-inclined non-Baha’is to view the Baha’i Faith as endorsing the pre-Darwinian concept of “parallel-evolution”, the idea that man was created and evolved independently from other forms of life.

    The problem is that the idea of “parallel-evolution” is starkly in contradiction to the findings of the modern biological sciences and seems very much at odds with the core Baha’i principle of the unity of science and religion.

    Who is the target audience?

    The target audience includes:

    (a) Baha’is and non-Baha’is who are confused by claims that the Baha’i Faith supports parallel evolution in contradiction to the findings of science and at odds with the Baha’i principle of the unity of science and religion,

    (b) Baha’is and non-Baha’is interested in what the Writings say about evolution,

    (c) Baha’is and non-Baha’is interested in how the Baha’i Faith approaches the problem of conflict over differing interpretations in general and evolution in particular, and

    (d) those looking for means to resolve conflicting interpretations of evolution in the United States and the world at large.

    Why is this important?

    The importance, to my way of thinking, lies in preventing dissemination of misinformation about the Baha’i teachings about evolution and in developing ways to talk and address conflicting interpretations of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith in a way that builds on the Baha’i teachings about the unity of science and religion and consultation.

    Specifically, it is important to provide materials on different interpretations of evolution inspired by the Baha’i teachings for seekers, interested Baha’is, Baha’i authors and presenters, and those interested in the Baha’i teachings on science and religion.

    Similarly, it is important provide counter arguments for those who have embraced the “parallel evolution” perspectives.

    It is important to archive information about “parallel evolution” interpretations.

    Finally,it is of the utmost importance to develop approaches to addressing problems of conflict over evolution that can be tried out and developed using Baha’i problem resolving techniques and principles.

  3. Define an Approach

    We’ve agreed that “some scientifically-inclined non-Baha’is view the Baha’i Faith as endorsing the pre-Darwinian concept of “parallel-evolution”, the idea that man was created and evolved independently from other forms of life.” And we’ve agreed that “the problem is that the idea of ‘parallel-evolution’ is starkly in contradiction to the findings of the modern biological sciences and seems very much at odds with the core Baha’i principle of the unity of science and religion.

    Therefore, I think one approach might be to begin by hitting hard right up front with what parallel evolution means. It is a scientific term – not a religious term. So placing this concept in its historical context right at the beginning I think would be impactful. This would have to be done while explaining, succinctly, the history of the development of concepts of evolution, Darwin’s key concepts and where we stand today.

    Then we fold in the Baha’i Writings. This may naturally lend itself to a transition into why some Baha’is have jumped on the term and claimed parallel evolution for the Faith. Then we would gently explain why we feel this is a misunderstanding of the Writings. (At this point I feel that we actually should state that these are misunderstandings and not just present our view as an alternative.) We would present a more holistic picture that pulls in several key passages from many sources. I am not saying that we should present a view that we feel is “the right one,” but one that is, perhaps, “more right” than what has been presented and more in line with what science is telling us.

    I was thinking about a few other things that might be pulled in, as well. Providing historical and philosophical context for Some Answered Questions might be a really nice thing to include. I think that looking at what some Christian thinkers and writers have been saying about the synthesis of science and religion would be worthwhile as well. The paper would culminate with the beautiful story of our progressive development on this planet with an emphasis on how we were created with an amazing potential for cooperation and love. It is built into our material and spiritual selves with clear ramifications for civilization building.

  4. Define An Approach

    I’ve been thinking in a different way. Can I brainstorm?

    What I have been thinking is that we talk about the issue as an exploration of the Baha’i teachings of the unity of science and religion in action. In other words, when there are different opinions and views on a topic where there is a scientific consensus and an entirely different and widespread set of views among the religious in a society, how do Baha’is approach the potentially highly contentious issues in a way that creates unity. What does the unity of science and religion mean in such a case?

    In other words, I’m thinking that we should explore this not in what could be viewed as a polemical way – here is the right way to see things (although I think we do have to say what our perspective is and support it) but rather as an exploration of new territory – how the Baha’i approach to the unity of science and religion deals with a highly sensitive and potentially explosive issue in such a way as to be unified and be unifying. After exploring this in the context of the Baha’i Faith, we then might explore how this might apply to, say, the New Atheism debates, or evolution in the United States.

    One of the advantages of this approach is that we could then explore sympathetically some of the anti-evolutionary approaches – highlighting how they pick up on attitudes from wider debates in society, from older views of evolution (parallel evolution) and why people would hold these views.

    From this angle of view, after a succinct introduction, we might first describe the broader debates about evolution and their dysfunctional and highly divisive results in our larger society, then outline and document some of the different points of view in the Baha’i community on evolution (historical, informational), the outline both the Baha’i points of view on science and religion in general and evolution in particular, then on unity, the development a set of proposals – partly historical, partly new thinking on our part – on how to address the issues in the community without creating disunity, and finally – and in a sense after declaring victory for the Baha’i approach – discuss how the lessons learned might be applied to the problems of the larger non-Baha’i community.

    Can you give me some feedback? I think that are two approaches dovetail, but I’m suggesting a slightly larger target with definitely a larger audience – a non-Baha’i audience.

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