One of the key principles of the Baha’i Faith is the harmony of religion and science. Recent conversation have have shown me that this is a very difficult notion for many believers in religion and science. I use the notion of belief in science and religion here because the conversation weren’t with scientists or religious authority per se but lay people who have placed their faith in the religious or scientific establishment and its outcomes.
The Baha’i principle can be loosely described as the need for, on one hand, human society to have a spiritual guide for progress, without which society will tend toward destructive positions; and on the other hand, to have an evidence based approach to understanding the ‘world’ for progress, without which which society will tend toward superstitious ‘anti-progress’ positions.
The Baha’i Faith is based on Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas (a book of laws), and the hundred other volumes of His writings, including His Will and Testament. These writings provide a framework for spiritual guidance of human society for progress. While these writing encourage education and striving in science, they are not scientific writings but revelation. (While they are still phenomena and can be analysed by a variety of methods that could be called science.) Confusion with this leads some to argue that Baha’u’llah’s writings do no agree with a piece of contemporary scientific knowledge. For example, Baha’u’llah stated that every planet has its own creatures. Now, while that just creates a number of questions about what is a planet, what are creatures, it is most likely that Baha’u’llah’s response is an in principle one that is designed to promote a spiritual orientation of mind as to provide a ‘factual’ answer. My own opinion is that the spiritual orientation Baha’u’llah is asking us to take up through this response is to realise that existence is a much vaster, alive, place, than we ordinarily give heed to. The implications of this orientation of mind is to provide expectation that eventually we humans will come across other intelligences that will have their own spiritual outlook. From that expectation and other teachings of Baha’u’llah we will realise that the alien is not necessarily wrong. Baha’u’llah’s key principles are often seen as goals of the Baha’i Faith. I don’t see them that way, I see them as the starting line for real human progress. I wouldn’t be surprised (but of course I will be dead), that one of the main influences on human society in the next few hundred years is contact with another intelligence from another planet. It will take more than our post-colonial attitudes to deal with that. My faith is that the learning we will achieve primarily through working with Baha’u’llah’s framework of social life will see us on much surer footing in that future.
As to science, there are still many difficulties among scientists and the lay community understanding what science is. Some mistake a viewpoint, a philosophical position, a political position, as science because that position uses elements of scientific knowledge to support the position. However science is unbiased. In its raw, scientific evidence sits without supporters, just observers. Its information bound with the methodology accompanying that information is there for all to look at an decide what to do with it. It does not judge, although in seeing its information, we are enlightened.
So often our argument about science and religion is an argument, not of science, but of the social framework that should be used to decide what to do with certain scientific knowledge. If the believers of either camp (and I plead as someone who stands across that chasm) would more clearly understand this and develop a more appropriate discussion.