23 September 2011

New Book

About one year ago I started writing a post for this blog about evolution. I had just finished reading Keven Brown's Evolution and Baha'i Belief, and I had some thoughts in response.

It was to go something like this. `Abdu'l-Baha talked quite a bit about human origin, and in a way that seems contrary to the consensus of modern science, because he described humans as having evolved over many millions of years from a primitive form, but humans were not derived from animals. This is a serious subject, and one of those controversial topics that polemics like to discuss. Brown's is the only full length book on the subject, but there are tons of shorter articles floating around in various journals and online media. Basically all of them take the same view. They take the scientific consensus as fact, then they try reconcile the issue somehow.

Most of these take the same approaches. Either they redefine the term "human" to be something that shows human traits (i.e. the human line about 200k years ago), or they take `Abdu'l-Baha's statements as a whole as a refutation of the godless direction of society at the time, and then downplay the details. There are also attempts to retranslate the original texts to something that is more in line with science, and yet another approach was to simply say that `Abdu'l-Baha made errors and was not infallible in scientific matters.

After reading all these I became a little frustrated that nobody gave much thought to the possibility of a change in science over time. I think there is a fear of Baha'is being associated with creationists, but there is a huge difference between saying that the earth was created by a supernatural event six thousand years ago and saying that the branching pattern on the tree of life is a little different than first imagined.

18 September 2011

The Problem of Incumbency

With six months left until Ridvan, it’s time to start thinking about the election of the Local Spiritual Assembly!

I’ve been thinking a lot about an issue with Baha’i elections. What is the role of incumbency? Generally speaking, Assemblies don't have natural turnover. Once someone is elected, it is extremely rare that they are removed in the normal voting process, instead they leave due to personal reasons, retirement, or moving to another community. If this is a problem, it should be given serious thought by Baha'is.

I feel the Writings are clear that it is a problem. It can cause stagnation. Shoghi Effendi quite explicitly says that having new members elected "would be nice" and provides "new blood" that "always adds to the energy of the group." In another place he says that he was “happy to see changes” in membership of an NSA, because, "change itself is good and brings a fresh outlook into the discussions of any assembly." Shoghi Effendi was “pleased to see that these changes involved more younger people being on the N.S.A.” Having the election annually, he says, allows "the quality of membership in Baha'i assemblies" to be "continually raised and improved."