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Praise be to God that this century is the century of sciences! This cycle is the cycle of reality! The minds have developed; the thoughts have taken a wider range of vision; the intellects have become keener; the emotions have become more sensitized; the inventions have transformed the face of the earth, and this age has acquired a glorious capacity for the majestic revelation of the oneness of the world of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 162-163.
We live, without any question, in the era of science.
Only a handful of people on the face of the Earth today still exist in conditions untouched by modern science. The vast majority of the world’s population, during the past two centuries, have had their lives revolutionized by the scientific discoveries and technological advances we all take for granted today.
Scientific inventions have, as Abdu’l-Baha suggested more than a hundred years ago, “transformed the face of the earth.” Science has had a profound impact on us all, extending our lifespans, providing many of us with relatively inexpensive and reliable sources of food, eradicating and taming the deadly diseases that once scourged humanity, and allowing us the potential to travel to, communicate with and befriend just about every group of people on the planet.
Of course, the advances of contemporary science have also brought us modern mass warfare and genocide, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the widespread pollution of our Earth’s biosphere.
So how do people interested in the spiritual realities of life relate to science? Should we consider it a great benefit to humanity, or a great threat? If you believe in science, does that preclude a belief in God? How should we go about making decisions—should we prioritize science or religion? Does science represent hope for coming generations, or does it represent a clear and present danger to our future?
The Baha’i teachings say that science and religion are “the two most potent forces in human life.” In fact, the Baha’i Faith has a unique relationship to science—rather than opposing it, ignoring it or denying its profound impact, the Baha’i principle of the essential harmony and agreement of science and religion brings an entirely new vision of how scientific progress and progressive religion can potentially co-exist and cooperate.
Unlike any other religion, the Baha’i teachings assert that religion itself must conform to the dictates of science and reason:
Until now it has been said that all religions were composed of tenets that had to be accepted, even if they seem contrary to science. Thanks be to God, that in this new cycle the admonition of Baha’u’llah is that in the search for truth man must weigh religious questions in the balance of science and reason. God has given us rational minds for this purpose, to penetrate all things, to find truth. If one renounce reason, what remains? The sacred texts? How can we understand God’s commands and to what use can we put them without the balance of reason?
The priests are attached to ancient superstitions and when these are not in keeping with science, the priests denounce science. When religion is upheld by science and reason we can believe with assurance and act with conviction, for this rational faculty is the greatest power in the world. Through it industries are established, the past and present are laid bare and the underlying realities are brought to light. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 102-103.
For this main reason, many observers and commentators have called the Baha’i Faith “the scientific religion.” That term not only highlights the primary Baha’i principle of the essential agreement of science and religion; it also characterizes the approach of the worldwide Baha’i community to our modern questions of science, technology, medicine and ethics; it explains why so many Baha’is pursue scientific and technical educations and become scientists, engineers, medical professionals and researchers; and it generally describes the attitude of Baha’is toward the rational, reasonable and logical explanations underlying the existence of a spiritual reality.
So in this short series of essays on science and religion, we’ll take a closer look at the specifics: how do Baha’is relate to the controversial questions modern science poses? What about the claims of atheists and agnostics that science has made religion and belief in God obsolete? Why hasn’t the scientific community fully taken advantage of the contributions of women to the field? How do Baha’is view pseudoscience? How can the spiritual teachings of the Baha’i Faith help alleviate the damage done by the dominant scientific worldview of humans as a conquering army, subduing, mechanizing and industrializing the natural world?
Please follow along as we explore these powerful topics and examine the novel, unprecedented Baha’i teachings on the relationship of religion to the rigors of science.
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