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Science

It’s All About Light

Maya Bohnhoff | May 6, 2013

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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Maya Bohnhoff | May 6, 2013

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

This was a direct quote from Dr. Carey Murphy during a Science and Religion session she led at Bosch Baha’i School in Santa Cruz, CA.

I think she’s right on several levels. In mundane terms, our exploration of the Universe is about light. It is because of light that we can study other planets, stars, galaxies and other structures in our universe. Radiant light allows us to see stars and nebulae; reflected light allows us to see bodies that are not, themselves, light sources.

And that got me to thinking about albedo (the reflective capacity of a surface) and inference and how we know something exists. In this case, the “something” is God, who is often likened to the Sun in the scripture of the world’s revealed religion—that is, a source of light.

In the physical Universe, we can detect the presence of a light source and even know something about its power by observing its reflection on a non-light-emitting body such as a planet, moon or asteroid.

It’s not immediately apparent when you look up at the moon at night that the source of the brilliant light that bathes it is from another source (the Sun) that cannot be seen. Historically, it took observation and reasoning to bring early scientists to the conclusion that the moon was bright because it was reflecting the light of the Sun hidden from sight by the Earth. In a word, inference. We could infer the existence of the Sun because it was reflected on another celestial body.

Human beings have a reflective capacity (aptly named) that differentiates them from other animals. This capacity allows human beings to wonder why the moon is bright when the sky around it is dark, and further to make the observations, do the reasoning, calculate the mathematics, and imagine, design and build the tools necessary to study the phenomenon of reflected light.

The question is: what “light source” is it that the human reflective capacity, itself, reflects?

Let’s approach this from a slightly different angle. Richard Dawkins states that

“Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. …neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose… The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we would except if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (The God Delusion, 1995)

He’s right—nature is all of those things. We see this reflected in the physical aspects of nature and natural entities—including humans. Which begs the question: If nature emanates only callous, pitiless indifference, whence the human capacity to reflect empathy, selflessness, curiosity sufficient to drive discovery, invention, imagination?

What is the source of intellectual, spiritual and moral “light” that the human reflective capacity or intellect reflects when it insists on justice or mercy; when it conjures abstract concepts such as mathematics, poetry, music, philosophy; when it insists that its young learn to reflect those abstracts as well?

This source of light, according to the scriptures of the world’s revealed religions, is what we call God.

Just as different spatial bodies possess different capacities to reflect the light of their respective stars, human beings possess different “albedos”—different capacities to reflect the above-mentioned qualities. Which, to me, explains much about the state of the world. We—uniquely in nature—have a choice about whether we want to reflect “pitiless indifference” or something else—something not found in nature.

One of my favorite quotes about science is from Lord Kelvin:

“Do not be afraid of being free thinkers. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all Religion. You will find science not antagonistic, but helpful to Religion.”

The scriptures of the Baha’i Faith agree, taking the reflection metaphor further:

“Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God.” — Abdu’l-Baha

At one time, we looked at the moon and believed that it generated its own light. As we came to know more about reality, we realized that was not the case—the moon was reflecting the light of the real source. Our knowledge about the physical universe evolved and we were able to move onward and upward in our journey of discovery.

It stands to reason that this is true of intellectual and spiritual reality as well.

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Comments

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  • Mar 19, 2019
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    However it might work in other universes, in this one That Primal Point said, "Let there be light." Standing in a near a street lamp, one does have the choice to turn toward light (Something or Sat in Hindu literature) or darkness (Nothing or Asat). Baha'u'llah makes the point that light is the absence of light not the presence of something else. Then too, if one turns away from a light source, one's own shadow makes it difficult to see. You're absolutely right though: it's the choice that provides evidence of the existence the human soul and God. ...
    Read more...
  • Greg Billington
    Jan 11, 2016
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    The logic of this article must simultaneously posit that "It Is All About the Dark". Almost quoting your article:
    "What is the source of intellectual, spiritual and moral “dark” that the human reflective capacity or intellect reflects when it insists on injustice or revenge; when it conjures abstract concepts such as covetousness, greed, profanity, self-gratification; when it insists that its young learn to reflect those abstracts as well?"
    Attributeless God commands the creation of the infinitely attributed Primal Point. That Primal Will, in turn, decreeing “Let there be phôtons” is equivalent to It decreeing “Let there be skotádons.”
    ...
    The creation of attributes requires a gamut of potential manifestation of those attributes--from none to all. Hence, from dark to bright.
    Therefore. choosing hatred is as much a proof of the existence of God as choosing love. It is the potential of choice which is the proof. As Emeritus Professor Richard Dawkins pointed out, nature lacks the ability to choose.
    Read more...
  • Larry Yost
    Aug 12, 2013
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    Love what you are doing here!
  • Shahireh
    May 7, 2013
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    Great artIcle! Very thought provoking.
  • Viva Tomlin
    May 6, 2013
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    Each time I write it disappears...let's try again! I appreciate greatly your thoughts here and elsewhere about the Universe, science and science fiction, and finding that you are Baha'i. I had been thinking that I did not dare to enter a particular cosmology competition, but you made me feel that there are many who will find what Baha'u'llah has to say about the Universe, very logical and enthralling. I look forward to reading more from you, now I know of your various sites. My young but deep thinking grandson loved the moon explanation! Thank you.
    • Maya Bohnhoff
      Jun 2, 2013
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      I think many people today expect anything from religion to be irrational and superstitious, so when they hear the Bible invoked, say, they reflexively look for the most irrational construct to put on a piece of scripture. That's as true of religious people as it is of secularists. It didn't occur to me until I stopped thinking of religious texts as invoking "magical" thinking that I realized what, for example, Christ is saying in Matthew 7 when He gives that little dissertation on the nature of God ("If your son asks you for a fish, would you give him a ...stone?"), discusses the criteria of godliness ("Do to others as you would have them do to you.") then says we should judge of something (or someone) by their fruits. The progression is not only logical within it's own context, but He's demanding that His listeners think rationally and make decisions based in logic.
      I think many people read that passage and (in part because it's divided up strangely in most Bibles) and take it as a string of random images—fish, stones, snakes, gates, roads and fruit—and fail to put the entire context together. What Christ does here is give a lesson in deductive reasoning.
      Read more...
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