“Among … principles of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings was the harmony of science and religion“, with words such as these Abdu’l Baha introduces us to another core principle he identifies in Baha’u’llah’s teachings and thought.
But what does this principle mean and how does it relate to the quite fractious debates that emerge from time to time in society?
Abdu’l Baha goes further:
Religion must stand the analysis of reason. It must agree with scientific fact and proof so that science will sanction religion and religion fortify science. Both are indissolubly welded and joined in reality. If statements and teachings of religion are found to be unreasonable and contrary to science, they are outcomes of superstition and imagination.
Historical perspective often assists and that is true here also. There is no question that in western experience, religion became a “gate-keeper” to knowledge. Religious institutions became barriers to and opponents of scientific investigation. The hostility we sometimes see in today’s debates is an echo of a time when scientists struggled against strictly maintained orthodoxy to enable the truth to emerge.
As Abdu’l Baha put it “truth is one”.
For a spiritual leader visiting from the East, in 1912, his perspective was not what his hearers would have expected. He praises science.
The greatest attainment in the world of humanity has ever been scientific in nature. It is the discovery of the realities of things … The highest praise is due to men who devote their energies to science, and the noblest center is a center wherein the sciences and arts are taught and studied. Science ever tends to the illumination of the world of humanity.
In Bahá’u’lláh’s writings we find:
Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation. Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world.
Abdu’ Baha looked to science to dispel superstition, fanaticism and religious division.
… science is penetrating the mysteries of the universe, the oneness of the world of humanity is being established, and service to mankind is the paramount motive of all existence. Shall we remain steeped in our fanaticisms and cling to our prejudices? Is it fitting that we should still be bound and restricted by ancient fables and superstitions of the past, be handicapped by superannuated beliefs and the ignorances of dark ages, waging religious wars, fighting and shedding blood, shunning and anathematizing each other? Is this becoming? Is it not better for us to be loving and considerate toward each other?
Scientific truth – Abdul Baha believed – would lead us to the oneness of humanity. There are other implications of the harmony of science and religion. Here we have only looked at one – in which science improves religion. In another article we will look at the role of science in the service of peace – and by implication – how religion improves science.
(This article is the 41st in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)
Image Credit: “The center third of “Education” (1890), a stained glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios, located in Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University. It depicts Science (personified by Devotion, Labor, Truth, Research and Intuition) and Religion (personified by Purity, Faith, Hope, Reverence and Inspiration) in harmony, presided over by the central personification of “Light·Love·Life”.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tiffany_Education_(center).JPG
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