Thanks to Charles Darwin and the brilliant scientists who subsequently continue to demonstrate the reality of evolution, we now understand that all life evolves.
In the early 1970s, a century post-Darwin and two decades after science began to unearth the secrets of our DNA, the evolutionary biologist and geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Those who study evolution understand that it coherently explains the relationships of millions of previously disjointed facts from the natural world, by arranging them into one logical explanatory body of knowledge that describes and predicts the observable realities of life on Earth. This overall scientific theory, now called the “modern evolutionary synthesis,” has the overwhelming support of the global scientific community.
This larger idea of evolution has become, as a result of its success in explaining the origins of life and the modification of species, a useful tool for understanding many different phenomena. Evolutionary psychology, for example, explains much of human behavior as the result of psychological adaptations that gradually evolved to solve the problems our ancestors encountered.
Baha’is believe in the evolution of religion, and in the evolution of each individual being, as well:
All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees. The organization of God is one; the evolution of existence is one; the divine system is one. Whether they be small or great beings, all are subject to one law and system. Each seed has in it from the first all the vegetable perfections. For example, in the seed all the vegetable perfections exist from the beginning, but not visibly; afterward little by little they appear. So it is first the shoot which appears from the seed, then the branches, leaves, blossoms and fruits; but from the beginning of its existence all these things are in the seed, potentially, though not apparently.
In the same way, the embryo possesses from the first all perfections, such as the spirit, the mind, the sight, the smell, the taste — in one word, all the powers — but they are not visible and become so only by degrees.
Similarly, the terrestrial globe from the beginning was created with all its elements, substances, minerals, atoms and organisms; but these only appeared by degrees: first the mineral, then the plant, afterward the animal, and finally man. But from the first these kinds and species existed, but were undeveloped in the terrestrial globe, and then appeared only gradually. For the supreme organization of God, and the universal natural system, surround all beings, and all are subject to this rule. When you consider this universal system, you see that there is not one of the beings which at its coming into existence has reached the limit of perfection. No, they gradually grow and develop, and then attain the degree of perfection. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, pp. 198-199.
This sophisticated Baha’i cosmology, which actually preceded Darwinian thought, links the gradual evolution of every living thing—but also extends it to entire systems. In other words, entire systems evolve just as individuals evolve over the course of their lives. When Abdu’l-Baha says “the Divine system is one,” he refers not only to the biology of nature but to the entire system of revelation and religion.
In other words—every living organism has to evolve, grow and adapt as it matures; and every large organizational system, if it expects to survive, must do the same. The law of evolution and adaptation holds true for businesses, governments, educational institutions—and religion.
This new understanding of the unity of all Faiths resonates with the contemporary science called systems theory, which explains how complex systems interact by exploring their inter-relationships. For Baha’is, all religious systems come from one God, and that loving God does not intend to create competing or conflicting camps among people. Instead, the Creator gives humanity a sequential series of evolutionary beliefs that link together as one overarching system:
Baha’u’llah continually urges man to free himself from the superstitions and traditions of the past and become an investigator of reality, for it will then be seen that God has revealed his light many times in order to illumine mankind in the path of evolution, in various countries and through many different prophets, masters and sages. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 8-9.
The Baha’i teachings pivot around this central point. For Baha’is, believing in Baha’u’llah never involves rejecting or giving up the love they have for the founders and prophets of their ancestral religions—instead, it means accepting the teachings of the world’s major Faiths and their great Teachers as a unified system of spiritual education and enlightenment.