Faith and reason are attributes of the human soul through which insights and knowledge can be gained about the physical and the spiritual dimensions of existence. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: “By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds.”1 He describes reason as “the first faculty of man”2 and notes that reasoning power “singles man out from among created beings, and makes of him a creature apart.”3 “God has given us rational minds for this purpose, to penetrate all things, to find truth. If one renounce reason, what remains?”4 Faith and reason together make it possible to discover the powers and capacities latent in individuals, and in humanity as a whole, and enable people to work for the realization of these potentialities.
It is often claimed that a duality exists between faith and reason—that the heart and the mind exist in a state of perpetual opposition. Yet such a duality is based on inadequate descriptions of both faith and reason. Faith, for example, is all too often understood as fanciful thinking, superstition, irrationality, and blindness to fact—it is defined as the antithesis of knowledge. Similarly, reason is reduced to a particular type of rationality that confines itself to the realm of the empirical, excluding everything that cannot be calculated and claiming to be free from assumptions. In reality, faith and reason are complementary faculties of the human being that together make possible the understanding of reality; they are both tools that enable society to apprehend truth. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes: “If religion is opposed to reason and science, faith is impossible; and when faith and confidence in the divine religion are not manifest in the heart, there can be no spiritual attainment.”5
To have faith is not merely “to know” the truth. True faith is conscious knowledge expressed in action. Bahá’u’lláh states that “The essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds…”6 On the same subject, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes: “it is first ‘to know’ and then ‘to do’.”7 If we know of a truth, then, it is incumbent on us to act in accordance with it, detached from the things of this world. “[T]hey that tread the path of faith,” Bahá’u’lláh has written, “must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly—their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth. They should put their trust in God, and, holding fast unto Him, follow in His way.”8
In numerous passages, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá underscores the importance of reason and rationality, noting that these faculties distinguish the human being “above all other forms of life.”9 He states that “The greatest gifts of man are reason and eloquence of expression.”10 He asks: “How can man believe that which he knows to be opposed to reason?…Can the heart accept that which reason denies?”11 and, “How can a man believe to be a fact that which science has proved to be impossible?” concluding that if a person believes in spite of their reason “it is rather ignorant superstition than faith.”12 He explains that we should devote our senses and faculties to “service of the general good” so that human beings, who are “distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason” should continually work “until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge.”13