It might seem strange at first to realize that the Baha’i Faith promotes the harmony of science and religion.
To many people religion represents the opposite of science, in the sense that it does not appear to be based on rationality, or at least on anything that can be proven empirically. After all, scientific discoveries have proven many ancient religious beliefs about the universe to be baseless. There has also been a historical tendency on the part of many religious people to reject the clear findings of science, thereby enhancing the sense that religion is, at heart, irrational.
But the Baha’i writings state that the human soul is a rational entity, and that the power of intellectual investigation is what distinguishes us as human beings.
Baha’is see this power as the greatest of all God’s blessings, for with it humanity can discover the secrets of reality. It is a power that we possess both in this world and the next. Not only is science compatible with religion, it is lauded in its own right. Abdu’l-Baha said:
All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research, which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominion which none may usurp or destroy. Briefly, it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. Therefore, you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of science and arts. The greater your attainment, the higher your standard in the divine purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the callous and indifferent mind is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore, seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 50.
Abdu’l-Baha was asked many questions about specific scientific issues. For example, he was frequently asked for the Baha’i position on human evolution, a topic that ignites controversy even today. He stated that the world itself has evolved over the course of considerable time, explaining:
But it is clear that this terrestrial globe in its present form did not come into existence all at once, but … gradually traversed different stages until it appeared in its present completeness. – Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 209.
He acknowledged that humanity has evolved physically over the course of time, but also asserts that humankind did not emerge by chance, destined by God from the beginning.
What of the Biblical story of creation? Abdu’l-Baha once said:
If we were to take this account according to the literal meaning of the words as indicated by their common usage, it would indeed be exceedingly strange, and human minds would be excused from accepting, affirming, or imagining it. For such elaborate arrangements and details, such statements and approaches would be implausible even coming from an intelligent person, let alone from the Divinity Himself, Who has arranged this infinite universe in the most perfect form and arrayed its countless beings in the utmost order, soundness and perfection.
One must pause a while to reflect: If the outward meaning of this account were to be attributed to a wise man, all men of wisdom would assuredly deny it, arguing that such a scheme and arrangement could not possibly have preceded from such a person. The account of Adam and Eve, their eating from the tree, and their expulsion from Paradise are therefore symbols and divine mysteries. They have all-embracing meanings and marvellous interpretations, but only the intimates of the divine mysteries and the well-favoured of the all-sufficing Lord are aware of the true significance of these symbols. – Ibid., p. 138.
Not only are religion and science complementary, they must also develop hand-in-hand for civilization to prosper. Religion without science is superstition, but science without religion is materialism, which also has its dangers. Science alone, without the moderating influence of religion, cannot establish human prosperity and happiness. Strictly materialist approaches can lead to disaster, as events of the twentieth century amply proved.
Science is our greatest gift, but it has a dark side, too. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Consider the civilization of the West, how it hath agitated and alarmed the peoples of the world. An infernal engine hath been devised, and hath proved so cruel a weapon of destruction that its like none hath ever witnessed or heard. The purging of such deeply-rooted and overwhelming corruptions cannot be effected unless the peoples of the world unite in pursuit of one common aim and embrace one universal faith. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 69.
In the same letter he added this ominous warning:
Strange and astonishing things exist in the earth but they are hidden from the minds and the understanding of men. These things are capable of changing the whole atmosphere of the earth and their contamination would prove lethal. – Ibid.