The Baha'i Faith, claiming to be God's most recent message to humanity, is not just another in a series. It represents the culmination of a six-thousand year cycle of Prophets, and the transition into a new universal cycle. While the religion is now in its infancy, taking a broad view of where it falls in history provides a humbling experience to any believer, while an even broader view of the universe stirs up an unparalleled sense of awe.
As traditional religion devolves into an irrational superstition, and a strictly materialistic ideology begins to dominate society, the Baha'i Faith teaches the harmony of science and religion. True religion and science must agree, because the truth is one.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."(Gen 1:1)
A key to understanding the books of Moses is what Baha'is call progresive revelation: that religious truth is relative to the time of revelation. The people of the time of Moses were obsessed with spiritism and idol worship, with the spiritual and intellectual capacity of today's children. `Abdu'l-Baha said,
"Moses established laws and ordinances; these gave life to the people of Israel, and led them to the highest possible degree of civilization at that period."(Some Answered Questions, p. 14)
In this context the stories of Genesis - and other creation myths - are interpreted as spiritual allegories, in a way that outwardly satisfied people's curiosity of history, while inwardly describing spiritual truths that uplifted society. The common understanding at the time was of the world as an island continent on a flat disc with infinite water, surrounded by a dome with stars embedded in its surface. A modern understanding of how the world developed was not only impossible but unnecessary at the time. The account of Genesis had the advantage of conveying the essential spiritual truths about humanity's development with broad symbolism, and avoided the detail that was beyond the capacity to understand. `Abdu'l-Baha said,
"Moses taught that the world was brought into existence in the six days of creation. This is an allegory, a symbolic form of the ancient truth that the world evolved gradually... We thus have a progressive process of creation, and not a one-time happening. Moses' days of creation represent time spans of millions of years."(Science and Religion, p. 90)
As humanity has progressed with a new capacity to understand its environment, the Baha'i teachings reveal new truths about the world. Baha'u'llah teaches that the physical universe is without beginning or end, and confirms the scientists who claim that the earth developed over millions and billions of years. Yet similar to Moses, Baha'u'llah's teachings focus on the spiritual development of society and the control of one's lower nature.
On the nature of creation and existence, `Abdu'l-Baha says,
"If we could imagine a time when no beings existed, this imagination would be the denial of the Divinity of God. Moreover, absolute non-existence cannot become existence. If the beings were absolutely non-existent, existence would not have come into being."
Accordingly, the story of Adam and Eve contains "divine mysteries and universal meanings, and it is capable of marvelous explanations," but is simply a symbol, and cannot be reasonably imagined as a historical account.
On the origin of humans, Baha'u'llah similarly confirms biological development of humans over millions of years in different forms. He also taught that the human species was always distinct from the animal kingdom in potentiality. Although there is some debate in interpretation, `Abdu'l-Baha seems to suggest that humans have a unique line of descent to some seed-like form, with ancestry separate from animals.
Some of the most striking and direct comments on evolution come from `Abdu'l-Baha, where he says that man's existence on the earth has developed over a long time. He says,
"Between man and the ape, however, there is one link missing, and to the present time scientists have not been able to discover it..."The philosophers of the Orient in reply to those of the western world say: Let us suppose that the human anatomy was primordially different from its present form, that it was gradually transformed from one stage to another until it attained its present likeness, that at one time it was similar to a fish, later an invertebrate and finally human. This anatomical evolution or progression does not alter or affect the statement that the development of man was always human in type and biological in progression. For the human embryo when examined microscopically is at first a mere germ or worm. Gradually as it develops it shows certain divisions; rudiments of hands and feet appear--that is to say, an upper and a lower part are distinguishable. Afterward it undergoes certain distinct changes until it reaches its actual human form and is born into this world. But at all times, even when the embryo resembled a worm, it was human in potentiality and character, not animal. The forms assumed by the human embryo in its successive changes do not prove that it is animal in its essential character. Throughout this progression there has been a transference of type, a conservation of species or kind. Realizing this we may acknowledge the fact that at one time man was an inmate of the sea, at another period an invertebrate, then a vertebrate and finally a human being standing erect... Therefore, in the protoplasm, man is man. Conservation of species demands it."The lost link of Darwinian theory is itself a proof that man is not an animal. How is it possible to have all the links present and that important link absent? Its absence is an indication that man has never been an animal. It will never be found."(Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 358-359)
This statement was delivered in a speech in 1912. These ideas brought harmony to the diverging forces of science and religion at the time. What you might call the Baha'i position on the debate over evolution and religion is distinctly different from the atheistic view of purposelessness and also at variance with young-earth creationists. If `Abdu'l-Baha is correct about human evolution, then humans came about through natural laws, but different forces than currently assumed.
The rational soul, according to Baha'u'llah, gives humans an intelligence that makes discoveries and penetrates the reality of things. Animals and humans share the same physical powers, but an animal cannot evolve the intellectual powers of humans, who have the freewill to overcome the animalistic nature of the body.
One evidence of this power is contemplation and reflection, as described by `Abdu'l-Baha,
"It is clear that when man is thinking, it is as though he were consulting with some other person. With whom is he consulting? It is evident that it is another reality or one aside from this body with whom he enters into consultation when he thinks, 'Shall I do this work or not?' 'What will be the result of my doing this?' ... And then that reality in man communicates its opinion to him concerning the point at issue. Therefore that reality in man is clearly and obviously other than his body, an ego with which man enters into consultation and whose opinion man seeks."(Foundations of World Unity, p. 109)
Origins of Life
Humans developed on earth over millions of years, alongside plants and animals. A question then arises: how did it all get here? After all, the story of Genesis came to satisfy the most fundamental controversy. Even with a childish understanding of the world around them, the nomadic followers of Moses could see that they came from their parents, who came from their grandparents, etc. The story of Adam explained the first seed of life, by a literal account six thousand years ago. This question is where the worlds of science and religion collide.
Most scientific theories about the origins of life propose a spontaneous creation of simple molecules in high levels of energy. Another theory proposes that the seeds of life came to earth on meteorites. In other words, the potential for life is either inherent in the planet, or the seeds of life are so prevalent that they permeate the universe, the latter theory appropriately called panspermia. Either way, the implications are incredibly profound. This situation still lacks an impulse to the universe, which, according to Baha'u'llah, is a mystery that can never be fully comprehended. `Abdu'l-Baha elaborates on the idea of creation,
"No Divinity can be conceived as separate from creation, for otherwise it would be like imagining an empire without a people... So, likewise, if we say there was a time when God had no creation or created beings, a time when there were no recipients of His bounties and that His names and attributes had not been manifested, this would be equivalent to a complete denial of Divinity, for it would mean that Divinity is accidental. To explain it still more clearly, if we think that fifty thousand years ago or one hundred thousand years ago there was no creation, that there were then no worlds, no human beings, no animals, this thought of ours would mean that previous to that period there was no Divinity... It is, therefore, evident that inasmuch as the reality of Divinity is without a beginning, creation is also without a beginning. This is as clear as the sun. When we contemplate this vast machinery of omnipresent power, perceive this illimitable space and its innumerable worlds, it will become evident to us that the lifetime of this infinite creation is more than six thousand years."(Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 470)
As well as a timeless creation, the universe is also described as having no end.
The issue of extraterrestrial life is inextricably bound up with the subject of creation and evolution. Baha'u'llah made a dramatic statement about life in the universe,
"The learned men, that have fixed at several thousand years the life of this earth, have failed, throughout the long period of their observation, to consider either the number or the age of the other planets. Consider, moreover, the manifold divergencies that have resulted from the theories propounded by these men. Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute."(Gleanings, p. 163)
It was over a century after Baha'u'llah's writing this that science confirmed the nebular hypothesis, which states that the formation of planets is a natural part of star formation. As previously described, if life on earth developed inherently or externally, it is a logical conclusion that the same potential for life exists everywhere in the universe. Clearly, though, life as we understand it could not survive to the same extent on Jupiter, with clouds of ammonia. `Abdu'l-Baha taught that life develops on other planets according to the environment (note: this is unauthenticated),
"The earth has its inhabitants, the water and the air contain many living beings and all the elements have their nature spirits, then how is it possible to conceive that these stupendous stellar bodies are not inhabited? Verily, they are peopled, but let it be known that the dwellers accord with the elements of their respective spheres. These living beings do not have states of consciousness like unto those who live on the surface of this globe: the power of adaptation and environment moulds their bodies and states of consciousness, just as our bodies and minds are suited to our planet. For example, we have birds that live in the air, those that live on the earth and those that live in the sea... The components of the sun differ from those of this earth, for there are certain light and life-giving elements radiating from the sun. Exactly the same elements may exist in two bodies, but in varying quantities. For instance, there is fire and air in water, but the allotted measure is small in proportion. They have discovered that there is a great quantity of radium in the sun; the same element is found on the earth, but in a much smaller degree. Beings who inhabit those distant luminous bodies are attuned to the elements that have gone into their composition of their respective spheres."(Divine Philosophy, pp. 114-115)
The nature of extraterrestrial life remains elusive, but it's clear that there are creatures in the universe that have similar intellectual powers and spiritual perception that humans have on earth. Given the infinite time span of the universe, it's obvious that other planets have gone through a similar process of evolution with Manifestations of God guiding them through various stages of unity until a universal cycle culminates in a planet-wide unity, which is the transition to a new era, a new universal spiritual cycle of the planet. Other planets have progressed past that cycle into further cycles that are beyond the dimmest comprehension of humans at this time.
The Adamic cycle began about six thousand years ago, and its supreme Manifestation is Baha'u'llah. The Baha'i cycle will span half a million years, and Manifestations of God will appear about every thousand years during that time.
This is a great post Bryan! I hadn't read that last quote by Abdu'l Baha in "Divine Philosophy", although it makes a lot of sense and is an exciting thought. If only we could get some fundamentalist Christians and dogmatic Darwinian's locked in a room together and have them read and discuss this until they recognized Baha'u'llahReplyDelete
WOW, guys!!! we are in the 21st century and you still dont accept the evolution and darwin???? WOWWReplyDelete
Can't tell if sarcastic or applauding post? Seems this blog entry embraces evolution and Darwin's 'discovery' of the evolutionary theory. I take it as a supportive comment. :)Delete
Actually, the Baha'is believe in the harmony of science and religion. This includes the theories of Darwin and of evolution. We believe that evolution (the process of random mutation and natural selection) is the process by which humans eventually came into being. Where we might differ is that we believe humans, or possibly beings similar to humans, in that they have the capacity for self reflection, free will, and the development of divine attributes were destined to come about from the very beginning. Everything we see today was there potentially in the very first seeds of life and creation.ReplyDelete
Hey Jason, It seems that you are not a bahai, because u dont know about this faith. Bahais dont believe in evolution and ESPECIALLY NATURAL SELECTION. Go to this website and judge:ReplyDelete
Thank you for posting this link. You might find it interesting that this article appeared in a Baha'i journal. As Baha'is we are willing to calibrate our interpretation of spiritual teachings to new advancements in scientific discovery. I think the concept that Abdu'l Baha lays out, that we have always been potentially human, from the first single cell organism all the way up homosapien, does not contradict Darwin's notions of evolution. Instead I would argue it is a conceptual difference based upon the same reading of science.
How about this part that Abdulbaha says "it in the sense of progress or development within a single species, not in the meaning of the followers of Darwin, who believed that one species, by the force of natural selection alone,"ReplyDelete
and how about this part:According to this view, the "modern" species is defined for an existing population of interbreeding organisms, by a common gene pool. For many modern biologists evolution is not the unfolding of a set of time invariant laws of nature or a God-given natural order, but evolution is believed to consist of new self-creations.(6) According to this view biological characteristics, which are not even potentially pre-existing, are assumed to be created de novo on the path of evolution. From the view point of an essentialist this position implies the evolution of species essences. Such concepts of self-creational evolution clearly contradict 'Abdu'l-Bahá's thesis that humanity mirrors the timeless names and attributes of God.
You know what you religious people are doing. you taking the scientific evidence and make them FIT with you religious ideas. In other word, you are rationalizing, you know you are wrong but dont want to admit it.
I would agree with your statement that we are rationalizing, but I would add that we are doing it in both directions...also taking religious ideas and making them fit with scientific evidence. It is true that we attempt to harmonize science with a spiritual view of reality, a spiritual view that is based upon a faith in the existence of some kind of higher intelligence. Of course it is impossible to prove the existence of God, just like it is impossible to disprove the existence of God. To argue either side is an exercise in faith. Probably the most rational view to take given the information we have is to be agnostic.ReplyDelete
Given that Baha'is do take a leap of faith that there is a higher intelligence which we cannot even begin to understand, we also view the universe in terms of spiritual purpose. The purpose for humans we believe is to grow spiritually and surrender ourselves to the suseptibilities of the higher intelligence. We also believe that we have developed (through physical evolution but spiritual determinism) intelligence for a reason, and to deny that faculty of reason is folly.
Baha'is believe that as humans evolve scientifically and philosophically, their conception of meaning must also adapt. For example, while Baha'is say they believe in the Bible (in addition to many other Holy books), we certainly wouldn't subscribe to the literal idea that the earth was created in seven days, or that Moses saw a literal burning bush, or that Christ physically resurrected. Christ said himself that he spoke to his followers using parables, and would speak much more plainly the next time around. This was the truth for them which gave them meaning in their lives, but a relative truth in a hierarchy of truth.
Continuing with this train of thought, Baha'is fully expect that our understanding of the universe will constantly change. Abdu'l Baha spoke as a spiritual philosopher working to understand the current scientific view of reality. We do not believe that Abdu'l Baha carried the creative word; he was not a manifestation of God (in the sense that we view the two prophet-founders of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah and the Ba'b to be). Instead we see him as a perfect example of human virtues at our stage of evolution. Somebody who interpreted the teachings of his father and gave guidlines regarding the protection, propagation, and organization of the Faith, but also somebody whose knowledge of scientific matters was limited to the evidence that everybody faced at that time.
Baha'is don't believe in the deriving of science from religion, but in the harmony. Humans are distinctly endowed with the faculties of reason which makes the scientific method the best means of advancing scientific understanding of reality. Science does a poor job however of advancing moral, ethical, and spiritual virtues. (the atom bomb is an obvious example, or the rampant materialism in our society today, the latter of which religion is often vulnerable to).
Now to the current discussion of evolution, I have to admit that much of it is over my head and I thank you for challenging me in this way, you have given me something to chew on. I would refer you to a review given of the book these two authors (whom you linked to) put out. What is interesting is that this review praises but also critizes parts of the book which present justification for Abdu'l Baha's explanations.
Here is the link:
The other problem of Abdulbaha is that he thought evolution is a progress (that each specie is superior that the previous specie), but this is wrong. As he said the spirituality of men has progressed. but evolution is not progressing.ReplyDelete
everything is at the same level. Humans, worms, chimps, elephants, dolphins. we are not superior to worms and worms are not superior to humans, we can not live where worms live, and worms can not live where we live. so nobody is superior.
also, people think that we used to be apes, but no, we evolved from apes as apes did evolve. (we are called "late apes")
Abdulbaha was thinking of evolution as a hierarchy, but again he was wrong, nothing goes up the hierarchy, but they evolve in the same level.
Also, bahais tried to make science and religion go hand in hand, but couldn't. one example is the theory of evolution that we discussed and the other one is homosexuality. Shoghi efandi really did not do a good job discussing that point.
lets look at the original quote from Abdulbaha about evolution:ReplyDelete
"[F]rom the beginning of man's existence he is a distinct species."
Ok, we have fossils that indicate that man has evolved from apes. so he is not a distinct specie.
Also he said FROM THE BEGINNING, what does that mean? the beginning of the universe? the beginning of life?
"In the same way, the embryo of man in the womb of the mother was at first in a strange form; then this body passes from shape to shape, from state to state, from form to form, until it appears in utmost beauty and perfection."
We know that we have not evolved to be beautiful and perfect, we evolved to survive, not for beauty.
"But even when in the womb of the mother and in this strange form, entirely different from his present form and figure, he is the embryo of the superior species, and not of the animal; his species and essence undergo no change."
As i said in my previous point we are not superior. secondly, he is comparing evolution to fetus in the womb. it is like comparing a bridge and the cement that the bridge is made of. the fetus in the womb is the result of the evolution (the bridge) but it is not the evolution (the cement)
"Now, admitting that the traces of organs which have disappeared actually exist, this is not a proof of the impermanence and the non-originality of the species. At the most it proves that the form, and fashion, and the organs of man have progressed."
Again, he is making the mistake that evolution is a hierarchy and we progress to get to the top. no, not at all, evolution does not have a plan for future, it is not goal directed and it is not a progress. (this is one of the misconceptions that Darwin was concerned about, Darwin knew people would think that way)
"Man was always a distinct species, a man, not an animal."
Yes, we are an animal and we should be proud of that. we are Late-apes. we evolved from animals, like other animals, so we are an animal.
"So, if the embryo of man in the womb of the mother passes from one form to another, so that the second form in no way resembles the first, is this a proof that the species has changed? that it was at first an animal, and that its organs progressed and developed until it became a man? No indeed! How puerile and unfounded is this idea and this thought! For the proof of the originality of the human species, and of the permanency of the nature of man, is clear and evident.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 300)"
this sentence makes me laugh:"How PUERILE and unfounded is this idea and this thought!"
1. he is making fun of Darwin
2. he said this Idea and Thought, not a theory, so he was not recognizing that in future Darwin's theory will be the best proven theories. (im wondering why God didn't tell him or help him?!)
On your last point...As I said before, Baha'is respect the scientific process as an independent branch of human development. Abdu'l Baha was using the science available at the time to make some comments about the spiritual nature of humans. His intention was not to give us a science lesson, or to establish scientific truths...that wouldn't be his funtion, his funtion was the ethical, moral, social, and spiritual guidance of the Baha'i community at that time. I think we can both obtain from Abdu'l Baha's writings that he believed in the physical process of evolution. I grant that the idea of man always as a distinct species would not make sense if said in its current context. It would imply that there isn't common ancestory...science tells us that there is so I agree with it. I am not quite sure what Abdu'l Baha meant by that, it is possible that by 'species', he meant something spiritual or allegorical, not scientific...Nevertheless, even given the current theory of evolution, I would disagree that it invalidates the possible existence of God. Of course evolution was not deterministic, humans were not destined to have the exact physical features that they do today. Instead I would argue that it was stochastic, meaning it could have gone in many different ways with a very high probability that some species would develop that had the same spiritual capacities of humans.ReplyDelete
This leads me to your other point about the heirarchy of kingdoms. Of course in one sense we are all on the same level, we all branched out and and we have all carved out a particular niche. On the other hand, what other species has the capacity for self reflection, for the capacity of objectivity, for unimaginable horror and unimaginable beauty? Humans have the capacity to express almost any attribute. Can you say that of any other species? Every species has certain spiritual capacities, but do they have them all?
This capacity is the reason Baha'is believe that true human purpose is to grow spiritually and thereby reflect the incredible majesty of the universe. We are uniquely capable of doing this (at least on this planet, you should peruse what Baha'u'llah says about potential life on other planets).
Science can explain human evolution but it cannot explain why. If humans feel lack of purpose in their lives, they become depressed and even suicidal. What makes you think that a universe this expansive and majestic could operate without a higher purpose? What makes you an athiest as opposed to an agnostic? I understand why you are frustrated with religion. We believe not only that there is a God, but that it has made itself known unto humans. That's a big claim. It is equally as big of a claim to say that there is no God at all.
We are both taking leaps of faith in our discussion, so lets keep it going.
Alláh'u'Abhá, Atheist, I thought I'd add to the discussion here. I certainly applaud your knowledge and your desire to promote understanding of the wonderful discoveries science has made possible, especially in relation to the distortions that past religious hierarchies have tried to perpetuate (for example the persecution of scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo by the Christian clergy 400 years ago).ReplyDelete
Regarding your criticisms of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's discussion of evolution, I think it would be helpful for you to read his writings, on many topics, more extensively, so you can be more familiar with the style and vocabulary he uses. Many of the objections you've raised seem to me to be a result of differences between what 'Abdu'l'Bahá meant by a word, writing 100 years ago, and the meaning we give to that word today. For example, you rightly point out that, from a material or scientific viewpoint, organisms (including humans) are not inherently superior or inferior to each other - a worm and a human being are equal in that they are both biological organisms, each having evolved to best adapt to the conditions of the environment in which it lives, as are all organisms. Biologically, worms and humans are both classified as 'animals', where the modern meaning of this term is an organism that is multicellular, and whose cells have mitochondria and lack cell walls. This applies equally to worms and humans. However, at the time 'Abdu'l-Bahá was writing, the term 'animal' was part of an older view of classification, where animals are those organisms that are capable of movement, but do not possess self-awareness or intelligence - they were part of a more limited division of the natural world into mineral (the inorganic), vegetable (organisms not capable of movement), animal (capable of movement), and man (possessing self-awareness and intelligence). In this classification, each division is part of a hierarchy from 'most inferior' (mineral) to 'most superior' (man). This is the meaning of the term 'animal' as used by 'Abdu'l-Bahá when speaking to his audiences 100 years ago, while now, of course, we have a different understanding of the natural world, and a different definition of the term 'animal'. So, to sum up, it would help your argument to reflect upon how those terms and assertions which 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes that you object to were intended for audiences of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and how we understand those terms and assertions today. I look forward to more discussion with you.
After reading that nice and lengthy discussion, I would have to say that I agree with Jason's explanation that baha'is believe in the HARMONY of science and religion. If you look back 10-15 years ago when I was in school, the big bang theory explained the creation of existence while religions explanation failed to gain ground in acceptance among the masses. It was for this reason why so many scientists including Darwin himself did not accept religious beliefs.ReplyDelete
Now with the concept of the big bang theory out of the way and theories such as string and m theory proving the existence of multiple worlds or universes, we can say that science and religion is beginning to show signs of harmony. Reflecting on this, I think you can appreciate that in the goodness of time, we (human kind) will reach a stage where we can see more clearly, this harmony in its greater form as we have the attributes and capacities of intelligence, reason and understanding. However, to say that we can fully comprehend this matter would be quite foolish.
The Atheist got quite...ReplyDelete
Proud to be Baha'i - WORLD PEACE IS COMING GUYS!!ReplyDelete
I came into the Baha'i Faith when I was 22 years old. I am now 67. Accepting Baha'u'llah came to me through a revelation. Baha'u'llah stated that regardless of shape/form/epoch..what became man was always destined to be man. Man did not evolve from apes. Therefore, it is disingenuous to argue the reality of the origins of human beings. Lastly, the writings do confirm that any planet that revolves around a fixed sun..has life forms.ReplyDelete
There is a place where Abdul'Baha mentions the fact that before this planet existed man existed, that the highest fruit of creation is man. Just as the tree, which represents this planet, first appears, the fruit which is man will eventually show itself up.ReplyDelete
It was in Some Answered QuestionDelete
Science is about the material world, religions is about the spiritual world and human behavior, that is what the Bahá'í Writings state.ReplyDelete
The only problem I see is that the lost link does was found. There's no lost link anymore, currently modern science have already all the levels of human evolution from the most primitive to the immediate before modern biological humansReplyDelete
The lost link was conceived as half-human half-chimpanzee, or a proto human that was a mix of characteristics of both. Modern understanding is that the concept of a missing link is false. The fossils of the human line have continually surprised researchers by pushing back the timeline of a perceived split. When Australopithecus was discovered (Lucy) people said that it was right after the split. When Ardipithecus was discovered (Ardi), the split was pushed back from 4 million years to 6-8 million years. Ardi also changed the whole concept of what a common ancestor would look like, forcing the conclusion of convergent evolution of traits like knuckle walking. Meanwhile, there are no fossils of proto-chimpanzees, so there is no lineage tracing back to a common ancestor. I could go on... the point is, the conception of a missing link at a certain time period has already been shown wrong.Delete