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Every scientist wants to understand how to distinguish the known from the unknown, and how to push the boundaries of knowledge.
Recently I wrote two articles exploring some aspects of the correspondence between Baha’i scripture and modern physics. The first centered on Plato, Modern Physics and Baha’u’llah, the second a brief analysis of Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of the Universe. In the process of my writing, several questions arose which made me question the relationship of the science of contemporary physics to my Faith. I also came away with a desire to categorize those ideas contained in the Baha’i writings which seemed to clearly prefigure many aspects of modern physics.
I hoped, in this search, that I could better identify those ideas which, though not yet established by physics as correct, have some considerable likelihood of being right. Also, I wanted to know more about those concepts in modern physics we don’t yet understand, but which that might point us in worthy directions.
Simply put; I wanted to see if I could distinguish the known from the unknown, to differentiate, as the Baha’i teachings say, between “the knowledge of what hath been and what will come to pass:”
Praised be to God Who made the Point to be outstretched within the Book of Origination, an Ornament through which is the Genesis of Creativity. From it He differentiated the knowledge of what hath been and what will come to pass. – Baha’u’llah, provisional translation by Stephen Lambden.
As I wrote in my previous articles, these musings represent just that, my own very flawed thoughts, ideas and speculations. In presenting these thoughts, I’ve tried to remain unafraid of speculation—even wild speculation. However, hopefully in this process I’ll make a clear distinction between what is established by science, what has some probability of being recognized as true, and what is purely my own wild speculation.
For me, Baha’u’llah’s revelation and Abdu’l-Baha’s exposition of the Baha’i teachings represent a huge, fertile ocean of knowledge for the spiritual and social development of humankind. However I also believe, as Abdu’l-Baha says in his “Tablet of the Universe,” that:
These are spiritual truths relating to the spiritual world. In like manner, from these spiritual realities infer truths about the material world. For physical things are signs and imprints of spiritual things … – provisional translation.
So taking that advice, I would like to see how far our minds and current understanding can carry us in this direction. Our goal: to attempt to understand how our universe works, and even more important, to go beyond how to what it means.
This mode of inquiry, however, offers many perils for a practicing scientist. History shows us that faith can be a very powerful force in subverting rationality. One only has to look at the long list of respectable scientists who have at various points in their career fallen down the hole of questionable pseudoscience. Renowned people like Newton, who in addition to creating the foundation of physics out of just about thin air, nevertheless spent a lot of time on Alchemy, for example.
I know many scientists of faith who dislike this direction of thought. Although they believe that faith and science are not mutually exclusive, they still think that the domains of science and religion should not intersect beyond the mechanics of ethics and the vagaries of spiritual inspiration. They may be right. However, my reading of the Baha’i teachings, and my intuition, tells me much more remains to be discovered at that fascinating intersection of belief and scientific knowledge:
There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance.
How can a man believe to be a fact that which science has proved to be impossible? If he believes in spite of his reason, it is rather ignorant superstition than faith. The true principles of all religions are in conformity with the teachings of science. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 141.
So, as a scientist and as a Baha’i, I’ve decided to stick my toe into this opaque water.
Often, when individuals engage in such activities, they spend a lot of time fitting scripture into the current scientific narrative—or worse yet, trying to fit and distort current science to fit their theology. While this might be necessary as a starting point, one should always bear in mind the dangers of ‘over-fitting’. After all, anything can fit, simply by including enough variables. Just about any wild theory can be made consistent with observation if we twist it enough. This occurs at the various “creation science” institutes, where they try and cram current science into an absurd 6,000-year-old narrative of the world, or from those who try to divine all sorts of modern science or predictions from the numerology of the Bible or the Quran.
For these activities to have any merit beyond a curious entertainment, they must produce a valid, new and verifiable prediction. So far, that hasn’t happened, and I suspect it won’t. On the other hand, could we possibly gain some deep scientific insight from the newest global religious revelation, the Baha’i Faith? Let’s explore that question in this series of essays, and start out by examining what we do know.