The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
When I worked at UCLA I had a third floor office with big windows in a building overlooking Westwood Boulevard. Looking west and south, those windows afforded me a beautiful view of Westwood Village, which has the big trees and the quaint old buildings you’d expect in a university’s sylvan campus setting.
I admit it–sometimes at work I’d catch myself gazing out those windows as life moved by outside. One day while a co-worker of mine and I met she said “Wow! Look at that beautiful hawk!” I turned around and there, outside my window, we saw a big red-tailed hawk circling high in the sky above a murder of crows. (That’s the name for a flock of crows—a “murder.” I promise I didn’t make that up.)
Anyway, as we watched all these graceful birds in flight I realized I could hear the murder cawing madly, obviously not happy about the threatening presence of the hawk. In a second we found out why—as we watched the hawk stooped over into a high-speed dive, falling like a bullet, and slammed hard into one of the crows. As the crow fell, the hawk rapidly recovered and hooked its talons into its stunned victim in mid-air, a dazzling aerial feat. The other crows went nuts, screaming at the hawk and strafing it.
But the hawk ignored them, landed on a rooftop and began to literally eat crow. My co-worker turned away, now completely grossed out. “Oh, that’s horrible!” she said. “Wait a minute,” I asked her, “a minute ago you called that hawk beautiful–what changed?”
We talked about it for a while, reflecting on the cruelty of the natural world, and agreed that the old phrase “Nature, red in tooth and claw” definitely applied in this situation. Then we got curious and wondered where we both had heard that familiar saying, so I looked it up. Turns out the great poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, heavily challenged in his faith in God by the theory of evolution, started putting his feelings about the subject into a poem called The Way of the Soul. After working on it for years, Tennyson finally published it in 1849, under the title In Memoriam A.H.H., dedicated to his recently-departed friend Arthur Henry Hallam. The poem contains these immortal lines:
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.
Tennyson’s beautiful poem, about the search for hope after great loss, touches not just on human mortality but on the death of spiritual belief in the light of science. The poet told people the concept of evolution had heavily influenced his work–he had read about it in an anonymous book published in 1844, called Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Preceding Darwin’s theory by 15 years, the book caused enormous controversy–because it sharply contrasted the newly-emerging scientific understanding of a harsh, impersonal and bloody natural world with society’s prevailing belief in God, a literal interpretation of the Bible, and an unquestioning acceptance of the revealed truths of religion.
During that same period, the Baha’i Faith arrived in the world. It brought a new kind of religious belief to humanity—one that emphasized the independent investigation of the truth along with a full acceptance of reason, logic and the complete harmony of faith and science.
So how do the Baha’i teachings deal with this question of evolution and God? Simply, Baha’is believe that the natural world, red in tooth and claw, evolves just as science says it does—but that human beings, who have both animal and spiritual characteristics, can transcend the struggle for existence:
In the world of nature there are aggression, bloodthirstiness, oppression, struggle for existence, rapacity. These qualities are the natural laws of nature. Just as these animals are captives of nature, similarly man is conquered, subjugated and humbled by nature. For example, anger gets the better of man, ferocity prevails upon him, and he becomes the subject of the lower passions. What are all these? They are no other than the mandates of the world of nature.
Only those persons who are in reality believers in God, who have witnessed the Signs of God, are attracted to the Kingdom of God and turned their faces toward God–they and they alone are freed from the bloody claws of nature. Whereas formerly they were the subjects of nature, now they become the rulers. Whereas before they were vanquished by nature, now they become its victors. In brief, while nature invites man to the baser propensities of ego and self, the Love of God attracts him to the worlds of sanctity and holiness, justice and generosity, mercy and humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, pp. 181-182.