At the beginning of the twentieth century, the science of physics discovered the limitations of a materialistic-mechanistic worldview. Einstein wrote:
Science did not succeed in carrying out the mechanical program convincingly and today no physicist believes in the possibility of its fulfillment. – Einstein and Infeld, The Evolution of Physics, p. 121.
The remarkable discoveries made by twentieth-century physics—the science that has been, and still is the paradigm on which other sciences have been modeled—ushered in a momentous reversal in the prevalent view of the relationship between mind and matter:
With atomic materialism, matter was the source of all action and mind was a passive by-product. The new physics reverses this perspective: matter is passive, potential, and incomplete while the mind is a source of action. – Augros and Stanciu, The New Biology: Discovering Wisdom in Nature, p. 15.
The noted physicist Freeman Dyson commented on the implications of this:
Our consciousness is not just a passive epiphenomenon carried along by chemical events in our brains but is an active agent. – Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe. p. 249.
From a spiritual perspective, the Baha’i teachings uphold the often-cited scientific principle of the independent investigation of truth. This principle asks that we should not accept religion as a familial or cultural inheritance; rather, religious truth should be the subject of critical and systematic scrutiny on the part of any serious inquirer.
Indeed, so important is this principle to the Baha’i Faith that the foremost doctrinal work of Baha’u’llah, the author of the Baha’i revelation—The Book of Certitude—is devoted to the methodology of discovering the truth in religion. In his numerous talks and writings Abdu’l-Baha, the eldest son of Baha’u’llah and the leader of the Baha’i Faith after Baha’u’llah’s passing, repeatedly stressed the importance of searching for truth in religion, contrasting it with the notion of approaching religion passively or treating it as an inherited belief system:
Now, therefore, we must be admonished and realize that mere imitation of fathers and ancestors is fruitless. Nay, rather, we must exert ourselves to the utmost in investigating and turning toward the Sun of Reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of World Peace, p. 274.
Moreover, the Baha’i teachings actually say that the realization of world peace ultimately depends on the application of this principle:
Were these various nations to investigate reality, there is no doubt they would attain to it. … So long as they adhere to various imitations and are deprived of reality, strife and warfare will continue, and rancor and sedition prevail. If they investigate reality, neither enmity nor rancor will remain, and they will attain to the utmost concord among themselves. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of World Peace, p. 221.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith after Abdu’l-Baha’s passing, wrote that the Baha’i Faith does not rely on blind acceptance, but instead is “scientific in its method:”
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. – Shoghi Effendi, Summary Statement presented to the United Nations, 1947.
Shoghi Effendi’s statement, when viewed against the backdrop of Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on the four methods of acquiring knowledge, refers to the integration of these methods into a hierarchically arranged system of thinking and inquiry.
This unified methodology requires that the study of mystical inner knowledge, traditionally kept within the domain of religion or mysticism, demands the need for finding ways to initiate dialogue with outer knowledge, typically controlled by scientific inquiries. Therefore, in order to establish a foundation for the unity of science and religion we must release them both from their traditional limitations. That search for truth, both in the domain of religion and science, impels us toward a harmonious synthesis of the four methods of acquiring knowledge, allowing for a full realization of the process of growth and the development of civilization.