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

Our Human Right to Science

Victoria Welborn | Nov 9, 2019

PART 2 IN SERIES How Science and Religion Can Agree

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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Victoria Welborn | Nov 9, 2019

PART 2 IN SERIES How Science and Religion Can Agree

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

Baha’is view science as the discover of realities and the highest human attainment – not only essential for our individual spiritual growth but essential to the entire world’s progress. 

As we learn and implement the scientific processes of reasoning and research, we will grow in our knowledge of reality. As we grow in our knowledge of reality, the Baha’i teachings say, we will make more significant contributions to our communities and nations:

The development and progress of a nation is according to the measure and degree of that nation’s scientific attainments. Through this means its greatness is continually increased, and day by day the welfare and prosperity of its people are assured. – Abdul-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 49.

This close correlation between science and humanity’s progress was recognized by the General Assembly of the United Nations when it proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This document sets out basic human rights to ensure their global protection. Article 27 states:

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

The Baha’i International Community has also proclaimed the universal right to science:

Development strategy, while acknowledging the wide differences of individual capacity, must take as a major goal the task of making it possible for all of the earth’s inhabitants to approach on an equal basis the processes of science and technology which are their common birthright. – The Baha’i International Community, The Prosperity of Humankind, 3 March 1995, p. 16.

While general consensus exists in the global and the Baha’i community concerning the essential importance of science to humanity, little work has been done to define what a “right to science” might actually look like. Recognizing the need to bring this essential concept into the realm of practicality, UNESCO proclaimed November 10 as World Science Day for Peace and Development in 2001.

The celebration of this day highlights the important role science plays in society, and seeks to involve the wider public in discussions on current science-related issues.

Around a decade later, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) began working with scientists to try to define the human right to science. In 2017, after years of work including questionnaires sent to scientists world wide, AAAS published Giving Meaning to the Right to Science: A Global and Multidisciplinary Approach. This report investigated the benefits of science, the importance of looking at science as a whole, and the role governments can play to guarantee the human right to science.

Among the top benefits scientists identified were advancing knowledge, educating and training the general public, and providing an empirical basis for laws and policies. The report stressed “science” is best viewed as “science as a whole.” A right to science as a whole means individuals not only have the right to benefit from scientific progress, but that they also have a right to participate in science, to have access to scientific information, and to be protected from the abuses of science. 

The importance of the human right to science as a whole is reflected in UNESCO’s choice to celebrate World Science Day 2019 under the umbrella theme of Open Science, Leaving No One Behind. This theme was chosen to encourage all of us to “… embrace open science as a tool for making science more accessible, scientific process more inclusive and the outputs of science more readily available for all!”

AAAS also asked scientists worldwide how governments could facilitate the human right to science. Funding was the number one issue; other actions included providing science education to all, promoting a positive view of science and scientists to the public, and providing open access to scientific information.

One excellent way to celebrate World Science Day for Peace and Development (WSDPD) and the International Week of Science and Peace (IWOSP) involves relating these recommendations on facilitating a human right to science to the Baha’i teachings, to the concept of Open Science, and how they can both be implemented in our own lives and communities. 

Investigating science does not have to be arduous, nor presented to children as akin to eating their vegetables. As Albert Einstein noted, we are born with a love of learning and a strong desire to understand reality:

But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. – Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, p. 26.

The Baha’i teachings expressed strikingly similar concepts even before Einstein did:

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. …. 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. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 49.

Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created beings embody the potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment. God has created or deposited this love of reality in man. – Ibid., p. 60.

Families and groups can celebrate WSDPD (November 10) and the IWSOP (November 6-12) and ultimately encounter science in several enjoyable ways. Many museums and science/technology centers will have events during this week. Whole new world views open to us when visiting a planetarium, looking through a telescope, or observing the teeming life in a drop of water though a microscope. Celebrating science and participating in science education can be as easy as watching a science or nature documentary.

Many will assume that the demands of scientific funding far exceed any contribution an individual or small group can meet. But volunteering for a Citizen Science project, where the public volunteers their time and/or expertise to benefit a scientific project, makes science more affordable by directly reducing costs. You can learn about Citizen Science projects for all ages in your community by contacting local parks, zoos, aquariums, and universities.

The growth in Citizen Science has also provided a venue for all individuals, regardless of education or culture, to participate in science.  One example is the Indigenous Observation Network (ION), an international indigenous initiative. This project combines indigenous knowledge with western science to monitor, protect, and preserve the Yukon River Watershed from local to global levels. Projects such as this not only allow the participation of non-scientists, they expose western science to other ways of knowing, an integral part of Open Science.  

However we choose to celebrate science or answer the mandate to study science, when we couple the inductive processes of science with our studies to deepen our understanding of our spiritual reality, we deepen our understanding of the world and ourselves. Ultimately, the Baha’i teachings say, this search for reality provides the infrastructure for world peace and the unification of humanity:

Therefore, all souls should consider it incumbent upon them to investigate reality. Reality is one; and when found, it will unify all mankind. Reality is the love of God. Reality is the knowledge of God. Reality is justice. Reality is the oneness or solidarity of mankind. Reality is international peace. Reality is the knowledge of verities. Reality unifies humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 372.

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  • Nov 9, 2019
    What a different approach to science this article presents. Science sounds exciting and within the reach of all. Thank you Victoria!
    • Victoria Welborn
      Nov 10, 2019
      Thank you for your comment! I hope many people realize science is exciting and both easy and fun to learn about. Victoria
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