The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
…the favors vouchsafed by Him unto mankind have been, and will ever remain, limitless in their range. First and foremost among these favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man, is the gift of understanding. His purpose in conferring such a gift is none other except to enable His creature to know and recognize the one true God… This gift giveth man the power to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation. Next in rank, is the power of vision, the chief instrument whereby his understanding can function. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 194.
How do you see the Kingdom of God?
Baha’u’llah wrote that vision is the “chief instrument” by which we develop an understanding of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, one of the first things we might want science to consider is how sight works.
This is precisely what Abu Ali al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan attempted 994 years ago in his Book of Optics. The book attempts to answer the question: “What is vision?” Hasan’s experiments effectively disproved Euclid and Ptolemy’s notion that sight originated with rays from the human eye. The book is ground-breaking, not only for the conclusions advanced, but also for the innovative process by which he arrived as his results. Hasan is widely credited as one of the first scholars to lay out a coherent process for investigating truth using the scientific method. His work influenced subsequent generations of scientists from Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei to Johannes Kepler and René Descartes. These men put process before preference and evidence before dogma in order to systematically advance the frontiers of human knowledge.
Does an element exist if you are the only one who can see it?
Over 146 years ago Dmitri Mendeleev organized the world’s known elements into one of the most robust frameworks for understanding how the world works—the periodic table of elements.
The development of the periodic table emerged from Mendeleev’s careful observations of nature’s fundamental tendencies. For example, he noticed and then codified the periodic repetition of the basic traits of elements, which allowed him to envisage the existence of heretofore unknown elements. Using the scientific method and his own insights, he perceived the truth of the existence of atoms before humanity had the capacity to verify his findings.
Mendeleev accurately calculated the atomic weight, conductivity, melting point and other distinguishing characteristics of elements like 31Ga Gallium and 75Re Rhenium long before they were discovered. One of the elements he hypothesized– 43 Tc Technetium—was not discovered until 1937, some 30 years after he died.
How was he able to have faith in the existence of elements he couldn’t see or prove?
Dmitri Mendeleev, like Abu Ali al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan and several other scientists, had faith in the fruits of a process—the scientific method. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, “a… procedure … consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”
Using a similar process, and having faith that it would work, Adventists in the nineteenth century anticipated and readied themselves for the coming of a new prophet of God. In Persia, followers of the teachings of Shaykh Ahmed had performed their own careful analysis and determined that the time had come for another revelation. What was the basis of their conviction? They believed the radical notion that the Holy Spirit periodically returns according to the needs of the time.
Careful observation and systematic testing led Medeleev to predict the specific characteristics of heretofore unknown elements. The students from the Shaykhi sect fanned out in search of a prophet who could unravel their perplexing spiritual questions. They surmised that they would be able to determine the advent of God’s new prophet by his capabilities and characteristics. The primary characteristic of any prophet of God is his ability to enable the spiritually deaf and dumb to see and to enter the Kingdom of God. Consider Christ’s explanation of this power to his followers:
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them…. This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. – Matthew 13:10-13
Using inspired utterance to infuse humanity with useful insights into spiritual realms is a touchstone characteristic of every prophet of God. On May 23, 1844, a seeker named Mulla Husayn arrived at the city of Shiraz, Iran with a test he thought would prove the advent of the Promised One. On a vision quest, Mulla Husayn determined to give his heart and his allegiance to the one whose explanation of the Surah of Joseph endowed him with a fresh perspective on the Kingdom of God.
Mulla Husayn’s preparation and diligence were rewarded when he was met at the gate of the city of Shiraz by Siyyid Ali Muhammad. The young Ali Muhammad welcomed Mulla Husayn to his home, where he claimed to be the Promised One—the Bab, which means The Gate. Mullah Husayn considered the Bab’s extraordinary claim in the light of deliberate reason. The Bab, for his part, answered Mulla Husayn’s tests as a token of God’s mercy to humanity, and as a celebration of our budding capacity to discern the truth through independent investigation of facts and evidence. Mulla Husayn became the first follower of the Bab that night, and a new religious dispensation came into being. Ultimately, the Bab’s mission—to prepare the way for another prophet of God, Baha’u’llah—brought about the conditions for a new period of religious revelation in human history.
For the first time, a prophet of God declared his station to a representative of the human race who had sought him out.