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The Harmony of Religion and Science: Both Principle and Prophecy

Christopher Buck | Sep 16, 2023

PART 80 IN SERIES Figuring Out Prophecy

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Christopher Buck | Sep 16, 2023

PART 80 IN SERIES Figuring Out Prophecy

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

In June of 1933, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote a powerful letter to the High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, and made this important claim: 

The Revelation proclaimed by Baha’u’llah, His followers believe, is divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men.

Here, the phrase “scientific in its method” refers to the well-known primary Baha’i principle of the harmony of science and religion, which, when applied in action, can be rephrased as: “Religion respects science.” 

The harmony of science and religion is a basic and foundational Baha’i principle. In a sense, it advances the logical and practical application of the compatibility of faith and reason, and also extends another primary Baha’i principle, the independent search for truth. 

RELATED: Science and Religion: Can They Work Together?

In principle and in practice, the idea that “religion respects science” is a comparatively and relatively new principle in the history of religions, as Abdu’l-Baha pointed out and emphasized in his talks and writings.

He repeatedly said that humanity requires a balance of physical and metaphysical – of moral, ethical, and otherwise principled knowledge upon which an “ever-advancing civilization” may be founded upon, so civilization can prosper and progress. Unlike ancient times, science now is at the forefront of human endeavor – therefore religion must be in keeping with this new reality and modality. 

Consequently, religion must play a useful role in the furtherance of scientific pursuits, ensuring that technological achievements are for the greater good, and contribute to the solidarity of the world as a whole. Moreover, just as the human reality has a spiritual dimension as well as a physical one, so does the collective world of humanity as well, which operates optimally if and when its unity is firmly established, energized and activated, as Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

For every era hath a spirit; the spirit of this illumined era lieth in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. For these lay the foundation of the oneness of the world of humanity and promulgate universal brotherhood. They are founded upon the unity of science and religion and upon investigation of truth. They uphold the principle that religion must be the cause of amity, union and harmony among men. They establish the equality of both sexes and propound economic principles which are for the happiness of individuals. They diffuse universal education, that every soul may as much as possible have a share of knowledge. They abrogate and nullify religious, racial, political, patriotic and economic prejudices and the like. Those teachings that are scattered throughout the Epistles and Tablets are the cause of the illumination and the life of the world of humanity. Whoever promulgateth them will verily be assisted by the Kingdom of God.

The principled relationship between science and religion is a relatively modern phenomenon — one that did not exist in antiquity. This represents a relatively new and important role for religion, as Abdu’l-Baha confidently asserted: “And that religion must accord with sound reason and accurate science—in what Book is this mentioned?” 

RELATED: Answering Two Major Scientific Challenges to Religion

He also said, in this 1912 talk in New York:

The fifth teaching of Baha’u’llah, which is new for this Day, is that religion must be in accord with science and reason. If religion is not in conformity with science and reason, then it is superstition. This is one of the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Down to the present day it has been customary for a man to accept a thing because it was called religion, even though it were not in accord with judgment or human reason. 

The Baha’i principle of the harmony of science and religion also represents a prophecy. How might this principle and prophecy unfold in the future? Shoghi Effendi, in his book, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, explained:

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. … In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will coöperate, and will harmoniously develop. …

The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.

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Comments

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  • Christopher Buck
    Sep 17, 2023
    -
    Correction: “Esther Foster” (stenographer). See “Certain New Teachings of the Bahai Revelation Not Found in the Religious Books of the Past,” Star of the West, Vol. 4, No. 15 (Dec. 12, 1913) pp. 253–255, 258. On Sept. 14, 2023, Adib Masumian notified me of this link, www[.]bahai[.]org/r/918230707, described in the subject heading of his email message as “Persian text of a talk by Abdu’l-Baha on the new teachings of Baha’u’llah.” I quickly checked, and identified this talk as that of Dec. 2, 1912. Adib agreed. So did Steven Phelps. The rediscovery of the authentic Persian transcript further validates my focus ...this key talk (and Nov. 15, 1912) in Bahá’í Faith: The Basics (Routledge, 2021), “Principles: Bahá’í Social Teachings” (Chapter 3).
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  • Christopher Buck
    Sep 17, 2023
    -
    Dr. Walker: Thanks for your welcome comment. On August 14, 2023, the original Persian text of Abdu’l-Baha’s December 2, 1912 talk was published online as an “authoritative text.” (I have requested an authorized translation.) After reading the notes published in Star of the West to Nahzy Abadi Buck, who listened while reading the original Persian transcript, I can confidently say that the English translation by Ali Kuli Khan, as recorded in real time by professional stenographer Edith Foster, is highly accurate. So this is among “certain new teachings which are not to be found in any of the religious books ...of the past”: “The fifth teaching of Baha’u’llah, which is new for this Day, is that religion must be in accord with science and reason.”
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  • Ned Walker
    Sep 17, 2023
    -
    Thank you, Dr. Buck, for this highly informative article.
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