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Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

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Religion and Science

‘Alí, the son-in-law of Muḥammad, said: “That which is in conformity with science is also in conformity with religion.” Whatever the intelligence of man cannot understand, religion ought not to accept. Religion and science walk hand in hand, and any religion contrary to science is not the truth.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Conflict Due to Error

One of the fundamental teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that true science and true religion must always be in harmony. Truth is one, and whenever conflict appears it is due, not to truth, but to error. Between so-called science and so-called religion there have been fierce conflicts all down the ages, but looking back on these conflicts in the light of fuller truth we can trace them every time to ignorance, prejudice, vanity, greed, narrow-mindedness, intolerance, obstinacy or something of the kind—something foreign to the true spirit of both science and religion, for the spirit of both is one. As Huxley tells us, “The great deeds of philosophers have been less the fruit of their intellect than the direction of that intellect by an eminently religious tone of mind. Truth has yielded herself rather to their patience, their love, their single-heartedness and self-denial than to their logical acumen.” Boole, the mathematician, assures us that “geometric induction is essentially a process of prayer—an appeal from the finite mind to the Infinite for light on finite concerns.” The great Prophets of religion and science have never denounced each other. It is the unworthy followers of these great world teachers—worshipers of the letter but not of the spirit of their teaching—who have always been the persecutors of the later prophets and the bitterest opponents of progress. They have studied the light of the particular revelation which they hold sacred, and have defined its properties and peculiarities as seen by their limited vision, with the utmost care and precision. That is for them the one true light. If God in His infinite bounty sends fuller light from another quarter, and the torch of inspiration burns brighter than before from a new torchholder, instead of welcoming the new lights they are angry and alarmed. This new light does not correspond with their definitions. It has not the orthodox color, and does not shine from the orthodox place, therefore it must at all costs be extinguished lest it lead men astray into the paths of heresy! Many enemies of the Prophets are of this type—blind leaders of the blind, who oppose new and fuller truth in the supposed interests of what they believe to be the truth. Others are of baser sort and are moved by selfish interests to fight against truth, or else block the path of progress by reason of spiritual deadness and inertia.

Persecution of Prophets

The great Prophets of religion have always been, at Their coming, despised and rejected of men. Both They and Their early followers have given their backs to the smiters and sacrificed their possessions and their lives in the path of God. Even in our own times this has been so. Since 1844 A.D., many thousands of Bábís and Bahá’ís in Persia have suffered cruel deaths for their faith, and many more have borne imprisonment, exile, poverty and degradation. The latest of the great religions has been “baptized in blood” more than its predecessors, and martyrdoms have continued down to the present day. With the prophets of science the same thing has happened. Giordano Bruno was burned as a heretic in 1600 A.D. for teaching, amongst other things, that the earth moved around the sun. A few years later the veteran philosopher Galileo had to abjure the same doctrine on his knees in order to escape a similar fate. In later times, Darwin and the pioneers of modern geology were vehemently denounced for daring to dispute the teaching of Holy Write that the world was made in six days, and less than six thousand years ago! The opposition to new scientific truth has not all come from the Church, however. The orthodox in science have been just as hostile to progress as the orthodox in religion. Columbus was laughed to scorn by the so called scientists of his day, who proved to their own satisfaction that if ships did succeed in getting down to the Antipodes over the side of the globe, it would be absolutely impossible for them to get up again! Galvani, the pioneer of electrical science, was scoffed at by his learned colleagues, and called the “frogs’ dancing master.” Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood, was ridiculed and persecuted by his professional brethren on account of his heresy and driven from his lecture chair. When Stephenson invented his locomotive engine, European mathematicians of the time, instead of opening their eyes and studying the facts, continued for years to prove to their own satisfaction that an engine on smooth rails could never pull a load, as the wheels would simply slip round and round and the train make no progress. To examples like these one might add indefinitely, both from ancient and modern history, and even from our own times. Dr. Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, had to battle for his wonderful international language against the same sort of ridicule, contempt, and stupid opposition which greeted Columbus, Galvani, and Stephenson. Even Esperanto, which was given to the world so recently as 1887, has had its martyrs.

The Dawn of Reconciliation

In the last half century or so, however, a change has come over the spirit of the times, a New Light of Truth has arisen which has already made the controversies of last century seem strangely out of date. Where are now the boastful materialists and dogmatic atheists who, only a few short years ago, were threatening to drive religion out of the world? And where are the preachers who so confidently consigned those who did not accept their dogmas to the fires of hell and the tortures of the damned? Echoes of their clamor we may still hear, but their day is fast declining and their doctrines are being discredited. We can see now that the doctrines around which their controversies waxed most bitter were neither true science nor true religion. What scientist in the light of modern psychical research could still maintain that “brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile”? Or that decay of the body is necessarily accompanied by decay of the soul? We now see that thought to be really free must soar to the realms of psychical and spiritual phenomena and not be confined to the material only. We realize that what we now know about nature is but as a drop in the ocean compared with what remains to be discovered. We therefore freely admit the possibility of miracles, not indeed in the sense of the breaking of nature’s laws, but as manifestations of the operation of subtle forces which are still unknown to us, as electricity and X rays were to our ancestors. On the other hand, who amongst our leading religious teachers would still declare it is necessary to salvation to believe that the world was made in six days, or that the description of the plagues in Egypt as given in the Book of Exodus is literally true, or that the sun stood still in the heavens (that is, that the earth stopped its rotation) to let Joshua pursue his enemies, or that if a man accept not the creed of St. Athanasius, “without doubt he shall perish everlastingly”? Such beliefs may still be repeated in form, but who accepts them in their literal sense and without reservation? Their hold on people’s hearts and minds has gone or is fast going. The religious world owes a debt of gratitude to the men of science who helped to tear such worn-out creeds and dogmas to tatters and allowed the truth to step forth free. But the scientific world owes an even heavier debt to the real saints and mystics who, through good report and ill, held to the vital truths of spiritual existence and demonstrated to an incredulous world that the life is more than meat and the unseen greater than the seen. These scientists and saints were like the mountain peaks which caught the first rays of the rising sun and reflected them to the lower world, but now the sun has risen and its rays are illuminating the world. In the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh we have a glorious revelation of truth which satisfies both heart and mind, in which religion and science are at one.

Search after Truth

Complete harmony with science is evident in the Bahá’í teachings regarding the way in which we must seek the truth. Man must cut himself free from all prejudice so that he may search after truth unhindered.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—

In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is essential if we would reach Truth, for Truth is one.…

No one truth can contradict another truth. Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West! Be free from prejudice; so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatever point in the horizon it may arise. You will realize that if the Divine Light of Truth shone in Jesus Christ, it also shone in Moses and Buddha. This is what is meant by the search after truth.

It also means that we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to Truth; we must not shrink, if necessary, from beginning our education all over again. We must not allow our love for any one religion or any one personality so to blind our eyes that we become fettered by superstition. When we are freed from all these bonds, seeking with liberated minds, then shall we be able to arrive at our goal.

True Agnosticism

The Bahá’í teaching is at one with science and philosophy in declaring the essential nature of God to be entirely beyond human comprehension. As emphatically as Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer teach that the nature of the Great First Cause is unknowable, does Bahá’u’lláh teach that “God comprehends all; He cannot be comprehended.” To knowledge of the Divine essence “the way is barred and road is impassable,” for how can the finite comprehend the Infinite; how can a drop contain the ocean or a mote dancing in the sunbeam embrace the universe? Yet the whole universe is eloquent of God. In each drop of water are hidden oceans of meaning, and in each mote is concealed a whole universe of significances, reaching far beyond the ken of the most learned scientist. The chemist and physicist pursuing their researches into the nature of matter have passed from masses to molecules, from molecules to atoms, from atoms to electrons and ether, but at every step the difficulties of the research increase till the most profound intellect can penetrate no farther, and can but bow in silent awe before the unknown Infinite which remains ever shrouded in inscrutable mystery.

Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies. I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower—but if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.—TENNYSON.

If the flower in the crannied wall, if even a single atom of matter, present mysteries which the most profound intellect cannot solve, how is it possible for man to comprehend the universe? How dare he pretend to define or describe the Infinite cause of all things? All theological speculations about the nature of God’s essence are thus swept aside as foolish and futile.

Knowledge of God

But if the essence is unknowable, the manifestations of its bounty are everywhere apparent. If the first cause cannot be conceived, its effects appeal to our every faculty. Just as knowledge of a painter’s pictures gives to the connoisseur a true knowledge of the artist, so knowledge of the universe in any of its aspects—knowledge of nature or of human nature, of things visible or of things invisible—is knowledge of God’s handiwork, and gives to the seeker for Divine truth a real knowledge of His Glory. “The Heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.—Ps. xix, 1–2.

The Divine Manifestations

All things manifest the bounty of God with greater or less clearness, as all material objects exposed to the sun reflect its light in greater or less degree. A heap of soot reflects a little, a stone reflects more, a piece of chalk more still, but in none of these reflections can we trace the form and color of the glorious orb. A perfect mirror, however, reflects the sun’s very form and color, so that looking into it is like looking at the sun itself. So it is with the way in which things speak to us of God. The stone can tell us something of the Divine attributes, the flower can tell us more, the animal with its marvelous senses, instincts and power of movement, more still. In the lowest of our fellowmen we can trace wonderful faculties which tell of a wonderful Creator. In the poet, the saint, the genius, we find a higher revelation still, but the great Prophets and Founders of religions are the perfect mirrors by which the love and wisdom of God are reflected to the rest of mankind. Other men’s mirrors are dulled by the stains and the dust of selfishness and prejudice, but these are pure and without blemish—wholly devoted to the Will of God. Thus They become the greatest educators of mankind. The Divine teachings and the Power of the Holy Spirit proceeding through Them have been and are the cause of the progress of humanity, for God helps men through other men. Each man who is higher in the ascent of life is the means of helping those who are lower, and those who are the highest of all are the helpers of all mankind. It is as if all men were connected together by elastic cords. If a man rises a little above the general level of his fellows, the cords tighten. His former companions tend to draw him back, but with an equal force he draws them upwards. The higher he gets, the more he feels the weight of the whole world pulling him back, and the more dependent he is on the divine support, which reaches him through the few who are still above him. Highest of all are the great Prophets and Saviors, the Divine “Manifestations”—those perfect men Who were each, in Their day, without peer or companion, and bore the burden of the whole world, supported by God alone. “The burden of our sins was upon Him” was true of each of Them. Each was the “Way, the Truth and the Life” to His followers. Each was the channel of God’s bounty to every heart that would receive it. Each had His part to play in the great divine plan for the upliftment of humanity.

Creation

Bahá’u’lláh teaches that the universe is without beginning in time. It is a perpetual emanation from the Great First Cause. The Creator always had His creation and always will have. Worlds and systems may come and go, but the universe remains. All things that undergo composition, in time undergo decomposition, but the component elements remain. The creation of a world, a daisy or a human body is not “making something out of nothing”; it is rather a bringing together of elements which before were scattered, a making visible of something which before was hidden. By and by the elements will again be scattered, the form will disappear, but nothing is really lost or annihilated; ever new combinations and forms arise from the ruins of the old. Bahá’u’lláh confirms the scientists who claim, not six thousand, but millions and billions of years for the history of the earth’s creation. The evolution theory does not deny creative power. It only tries to describe the method of its manifestation; and the wonderful story of the material universe which the astronomer, the geologist, the physicist and the biologist are gradually unfolding to our gaze is, rightly appreciated, far more capable of evoking the deepest reverence and worship than the crude and bald account of creation given in the Hebrew Scriptures. The old account in the Book of Genesis had, however, the advantage of indicating by a few bold strokes of symbolism the essential spiritual meanings of the story, as a master painter may, by a few strokes of the brush, convey expressions which the mere plodder with the most laborious attention to details may utterly fail to portray. If the material details blind us to the spiritual meaning, then we should be better without them; but if we have once firmly grasped the essential meaning of the whole scheme, then knowledge of the details will give our conception a wonderful added richness and splendor and make it a magnificent picture instead of a mere sketch plan.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—

Know that it is one of the most abstruse spiritual truths that the world of existence, that is to say this endless universe, has no beginning.…

… Know that … a creator without a creature is impossible, a provider without those provided for cannot be conceived; for all the divine names and attributes demand the existence of beings. If we could imagine a time when no beings existed, this imagination would be the denial of the Divinity of God. Moreover, absolute nonexistence cannot become existence. If the beings were absolutely nonexistent, existence would not have come into being. Therefore, as the Essence of Unity, that is the existence of God, is everlasting and eternal—that is to say, it has neither beginning nor end—it is certain that this world of existence … has neither beginning nor end.… it may be that one of the parts of the universe, one of the globes, for example, may come into existence, or may be disintegrated, but the other endless globes are still existing.… As each globe has a beginning, necessarily it has an end, because every composition, collective or particular, must of necessity be decomposed; the only difference is that some are quickly decomposed, and others more slowly, but it is impossible that a composed thing should not eventually be decomposed.—Some Answered Questions.

The Evolution of Man

Bahá’u’lláh also confirms the biologist who finds for the body of man a history reaching back in the development of the species through millions of years. Starting from a very simple, apparently insignificant form, the human body is pictured as developing stage by stage, in the course of untold generations, becoming more and more complex, and better and better organized until the man of the present day is reached. Each individual human body develops through such a series of stages, from a tiny round speck of jelly-like matter to the fully developed man. If this is true of the individual, as nobody denies, why should we consider it derogatory to human dignity to admit a similar development for the species? This is a very different thing from claiming that man is descended from a monkey. The human embryo may at one time resemble a fish with gill-slits and tail, but it is not a fish. It is a human embryo. So the human species1 may at various stages of its long development have resembled to the outward eye various species of lower animals, but it was still the human species, possessing the mysterious latent power of developing into man as we know him today, nay more, of developing in the future, we trust, into something far higher still.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—

… it is clear that this terrestrial globe in its present form did not come into existence all at once; but … gradually passed through different phases until it became adorned with its present perfection.…

… man, in the beginning of his existence and in the womb of the earth, like the embryo in the womb of the mother, gradually grew and developed, and passed from one form to another … until he appeared with this beauty and perfection, this force and this power. It is certain that in the beginning he had not this loveliness and grace and elegance, and that he only by degrees attained this shape, this form, this beauty, and this grace.…

… man’s existence on this earth, from the beginning until it reaches this state, form, and condition, necessarily lasts a long time.… But from the beginning of man’s existence he is a distinct species.… admitting that the traces of organs which have disappeared actually exist [in the human body], this is not a proof of the impermanence and the non-originality of the species. At the most it proves that the form, and fashion, and the organs of man have progressed. Man was always a distinct species, a man, not an animal.—Some Answered Questions.

Of the story of Adam and Eve He says:—

If we take this story in its apparent meaning, according to the interpretation of the masses, it is indeed extraordinary. The intelligence cannot accept it, affirm it, or imagine it; for such arrangements, such details, such speeches and reproaches are far from being those of an intelligent man, how must less of the Divinity—that Divinity who has organised this infinite universe in the most perfect form, and its innumerable inhabitants with absolute system, strength, and perfection.…

Therefore this story of Adam and Eve who ate from the tree, and their expulsion from Paradise, must be thought of simply as a symbol. It contains divine mysteries and universal meanings, and it is capable of marvelous explanations.—Some Answered Questions.

Body and Soul

The Bahá’í teachings with regard to body and soul, and the life after death, are quite in harmony with the results of psychical research. They teach, as we have seen, that death is but a new birth—the escape from the prison of the body into a larger life, and that progress in the afterlife is limitless.

A large body of scientific evidence has gradually been accumulating which in the opinion of impartial but highly critical investigators is amply sufficient to establish beyond all question the fact of a life after death—of the continued life and activity of the conscious “soul” after the dissolution of the material body. As F. W. H. Myers says in his Human Personality, a work which summarizes many of the investigations of the Psychical Research Society:—

Observation, experiment, inference, have led many inquirers, of whom I am one, to a belief in direct or telepathic intercommunication, not between the minds of men still on earth only, but between minds or spirits still on earth and spirits departed. Such a discovery opens the doors also to revelation.…

We have shown that amid much deception and self-deception, fraud and illusion, veritable manifestations do reach us from beyond the grave.…

By discovery and by revelation certain theses have been provisionally established with regard to such departed souls as we have been able to encounter. First and chiefly, I, at least, see ground to believe that their state is one of endless evolution in wisdom and in love. Their loves of earth persist, and most of all, those highest loves which find their outlet in adoration and worship.… Evil to them seems less a terrible than a slavish thing. It is embodied in no mighty Potentate; rather it forms as isolating madness from which higher spirits strive to free the distorted soul. There needs no chastisement of fire; self-knowledge is man’s punishment and his reward; self-knowledge and the nearness or the aloofness of companion souls. For in that world love is actually self-preservation; the Communion of Saints not only adorns but constitutes the Life Everlasting. Nay, from the laws of telepathy it follows that that communion is valid to us here and now. Even now the love of souls departed makes answer to our invocations. Even now our loving memory—love is itself a prayer—supports and strengthens those delivered spirits upon their upward way.

The measure of agreement between this view, which is founded on careful scientific research, and that of the Bahá’í teachings, is truly remarkable.

Unity of Mankind

“Ye are all fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, the flowers of one garden.” That is one of the most characteristic sayings of Bahá’u’lláh, and another is like it: “Glory is not his who loves his own country, but glory is his who loves his kind.” Unity—unity of mankind, and of all created beings in God—is the main theme of His teaching. Here again the harmony between true religion and science is evident. With every advance in science the oneness of the universe and the interdependence of its parts has become more clearly evident. The astronomer’s domain is inseparably bound up with the physicist’s, and the physicist’s with the chemist’s, the chemist’s with the biologist’s, the biologist’s with the psychologist’s, and so on. Every new discovery in one field of research throws new light on other fields. Just as physical science has shown that every particle of matter in the universe attracts and influences every other particle, no matter how minute or how distant, so psychical science is finding that every soul in the universe affects and influences every other soul. Prince Kropotkin, in his book on Mutual Aid, shows most clearly that even among the lower animals, mutual aid is absolutely necessary to continued life, while in the case of man, the progress of civilization depends on the increasing substitution of mutual aid for mutual enmity. “Each for all and all for each” is the only principle on which a community can prosper.

The Era of Unity

All the signs of the times indicate that we are at the dawn of a new era in the history of mankind. Hitherto the young eagle of humanity has clung to the old aerie in the solid rock of selfishness and materialism. Its attempts to use its wings have been timid and tentative. It has had restless longings for something still unattained. More and more it has been chafing in the confinement of the old dogmas and orthodoxies. But now the era of confinement is at an end, and it can launch on the wings of faith and reason into the higher realms of spiritual love and truth. It will no longer be earthbound as it was before its wings had grown, but will soar at will to the regions of wide outlook and glorious freedom. One thing is necessary, however, if its flight is to be sure and steady. Its wings must not only be strong, but they must act in perfect harmony and coordination. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—“It cannot fly with one wing alone. If it tries to fly with the wing of religion alone it will land in the slough of superstition, and if it tries to fly with the wing of science alone it will end in the dreary bog of materialism.”

Perfect harmony between religion and science is the sine qua non of the higher life for humanity. When that is achieved, and every child is trained not only in the study of the sciences, and arts, but equally in love to all mankind and in radiant acquiescence to the Will of God as revealed in the progress of evolution and the teachings of the Prophets, then and not till then, shall the Kingdom of God come and His Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven; then and not till then shall the Most Great Peace shed its blessings on the world.

“When religion,” says ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “shorn of its superstitions, traditions and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then there will 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.”

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