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The Baha’i teachings, which call for the essential harmony and agreement of science and religion, contain a great deal of actual science.
In fact, several of the ideas that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha express clearly in many places are not yet completely understood in modern scientific thought. They address big issues, too—the creative power of nature, the attractive force of love and information as the cause of order in the universe. To me, these concepts seem to indicate fruitful avenues of scientific research and practice. Let’s take a look at just a few of them.
Nature is Possessed of a Power which Creates
The Baha’i teachings give us hints about a transcendent, creative power embedded in Nature itself:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion. It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 142.
Of course, it’s almost axiomatic to say that Nature creates if one is a naturalist—and scientists by definition are naturalists, examining and studying the natural world. However, it seems that Baha’u’llah actually makes a much stronger statement here. He appears to claim that there is an as yet undiscovered power in Nature which drives and generates order in the universe. This idea is also repeated in several of Abdu’l-Baha’s writings and talks. For example, in a letter to the renowned naturalist Dr. Auguste Forel, Abdu’l-Baha seems to refer to this force as the “the Ancient Power.”
Love is the Cause of Life
Perhaps related to this creative power of Nature, Abdu’l-Baha identifies “love” with the power of bringing forth life itself:
Love is the very cause of life …. We declare that love is the cause of the existence of all phenomena and that the absence of love is the cause of disintegration or nonexistence. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 255.
He then goes on to make an interesting definitional shift by relating the physical “attractive force” at the atomic level to a basic, primitive form of love:
Every existent phenomenon is composed of elements and cellular particles. This is scientifically true and correct. If attraction did not exist between the elements and among the cellular particles, the composition of that phenomenon would never have been possible. For instance, the stone is an existent phenomenon, a composition of elements. A bond of attraction has brought them together, and through this cohesion of ingredients this petrous object has been formed. This stone is the lowest degree of phenomena, but nevertheless within it a power of attraction is manifest without which the stone could not exist. This power of attraction in the mineral world is love, the only expression of love the stone can manifest. – Ibid., p. 267.
Gravity seems to also play a role here, as it appears to be the dominant attractional force which drives the creation of order in our universe.
Recent work by Barbour and his colleagues studying dynamical models of a universe governed by simple Newtonian gravity show that there is something unique about systems under the operation of an attractive force like gravity. In this paper they say, “self-gravitating systems exhibit “anti-thermodynamic” behavior that is not fully understood.”
Thermodynamics as it was originally conceived didn’t take into account gravitation. Indeed the operation of self-attractive forces leads to symmetry breaking and clustering which is very different from how ideal gases behave. They also show that by itself the operation of gravity might explain the origin of the universe from a singular divergent core as one of the system’s natural modes.
Information is Positively Involved in the Generation of Order
What orders the universe? Why don’t atoms, planets and stars crash into each other in chaotic, random ways? Perhaps, physicists are beginning to suggest, order comes from information. Based on my understanding of the description of the creative properties of the word of God in the Baha’i teachings, that formulation makes sense:
… (the) Word of God which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all else besides His Word are but the creatures and the effects thereof. Verily thy Lord is the Expounder, the All-Wise. Know thou, moreover, that the Word of God — exalted be His glory — is higher and far superior to that which the senses can perceive, for it is sanctified from any property or substance. It transcendeth the limitations of known elements and is exalted above all the essential and recognized substances. It became manifest without any syllable or sound and is none but the Command of God which pervadeth all created things. It hath never been withheld from the world of being. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 140-141.
If we abstract beyond the profound mystical import of the word of God, we can see that on the simplest level a word is a container for information. That information can help generate order shouldn’t be surprising to us, based our day to day experience with information technology, knowledge and life. However, uncovering this fundamental relationship from a physics point of view is much more challenging, and only recently have physicists begun to sort this out.