The Harmony of Religion and Science: Both Principle and Prophecy

In June of 1933, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote a powerful letter to the High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, and made this important claim: 

The Revelation proclaimed by Baha’u’llah, His followers believe, is divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men.

Here, the phrase “scientific in its method” refers to the well-known primary Baha’i principle of the harmony of science and religion, which, when applied in action, can be rephrased as: “Religion respects science.” 

The harmony of science and religion is a basic and foundational Baha’i principle. In a sense, it advances the logical and practical application of the compatibility of faith and reason, and also extends another primary Baha’i principle, the independent search for truth. 

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In principle and in practice, the idea that “religion respects science” is a comparatively and relatively new principle in the history of religions, as Abdu’l-Baha pointed out and emphasized in his talks and writings.

He repeatedly said that humanity requires a balance of physical and metaphysical – of moral, ethical, and otherwise principled knowledge upon which an “ever-advancing civilization” may be founded upon, so civilization can prosper and progress. Unlike ancient times, science now is at the forefront of human endeavor – therefore religion must be in keeping with this new reality and modality. 

Consequently, religion must play a useful role in the furtherance of scientific pursuits, ensuring that technological achievements are for the greater good, and contribute to the solidarity of the world as a whole. Moreover, just as the human reality has a spiritual dimension as well as a physical one, so does the collective world of humanity as well, which operates optimally if and when its unity is firmly established, energized and activated, as Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

For every era hath a spirit; the spirit of this illumined era lieth in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. For these lay the foundation of the oneness of the world of humanity and promulgate universal brotherhood. They are founded upon the unity of science and religion and upon investigation of truth. They uphold the principle that religion must be the cause of amity, union and harmony among men. They establish the equality of both sexes and propound economic principles which are for the happiness of individuals. They diffuse universal education, that every soul may as much as possible have a share of knowledge. They abrogate and nullify religious, racial, political, patriotic and economic prejudices and the like. Those teachings that are scattered throughout the Epistles and Tablets are the cause of the illumination and the life of the world of humanity. Whoever promulgateth them will verily be assisted by the Kingdom of God.

The principled relationship between science and religion is a relatively modern phenomenon — one that did not exist in antiquity. This represents a relatively new and important role for religion, as Abdu’l-Baha confidently asserted: “And that religion must accord with sound reason and accurate science—in what Book is this mentioned?” 

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He also said, in this 1912 talk in New York:

The fifth teaching of Baha’u’llah, which is new for this Day, is that religion must be in accord with science and reason. If religion is not in conformity with science and reason, then it is superstition. This is one of the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Down to the present day it has been customary for a man to accept a thing because it was called religion, even though it were not in accord with judgment or human reason. 

The Baha’i principle of the harmony of science and religion also represents a prophecy. How might this principle and prophecy unfold in the future? Shoghi Effendi, in his book, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, explained:

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. … In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will coöperate, and will harmoniously develop. …

The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.

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