Baha’is champion rationality and science as essential for human progress. The harmony of science and religion is one of the fundamental principles of the Baha’i Faith, which teaches that truth is one and that religion, without science, soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism.
Growing up on a small farm on the Sunshine Coast, Michelle Hobbs spent much of her childhood whiling the days away in the outdoors, mucking around in the creek with her siblings and cousins.
“I enjoyed biology and chemistry in high school, and had some wonderful, intelligent and kind women science teachers,” the Bidjara woman recalls. “If I’m honest, Dana Scully in the X-Files probably also seeped into my subconscious as a no-nonsense woman scientist who is eminently practical.”
As well as finding inspiration from these women in her life, Michelle’s father went from being a farmer to attaining a doctorate in Environmental Science, “so I had great role models”, she says. “While I loved art and drama at school, I was drawn to science because of its inherent connection with and enquiry of the natural world, its logical approach, and because I liked looking at and drawing specimens.”
Michelle is an Associate Lecturer and PhD candidate at the Australian Rivers Institute and School of Environment and Science at Queensland’s Griffith University. Her area of research includes freshwater ecology of inland and tropical rivers, and recognition of Indigenous knowledge and land management practices.
There’s no doubt Michelle’s identity as a First Nations woman inspires her work with the natural world, and has significantly influenced the respect and honour she holds for the land–something she hopes to instil in others.
“Indigenous peoples are the original environmental custodians of the land,” she says. “Aboriginal peoples have an inherent drive and cultural responsibility to look after the land and waters, and it’s distressing when we are prevented from doing so.
“Being able to make some contribution to caring for the land in my work is really important, as is making room for other Indigenous peoples to contribute their extensive knowledge.
“I recognise that our First Peoples have been here for an extraordinary amount of time, and in that time have used and actively managed resources with the goal of sustainability, not just for the next generation, but for an endless number of generations to come.”
As a Baha’i, I believe that the attributes of God are made manifest in every living thing. The trees, the waterways, the mountains, the valleys and the land are all physical manifestations of the one Creator. Baha’u’llah, the Prophet Founder of our Faith, states that:
“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.”
Similarly, Michelle speaks of the sacredness of the land in Aboriginal traditions and the utmost respect given to nature due to it being fundamental to our survival.
“I can’t speak to how Indigenous Peoples view Creator/s, as there is an incredible diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, languages and perspectives each unique to their Country,” she says. “But to an extent all are based in connection with the land and waters, which is not entirely religious or spiritual, it’s also practical – in recognition that ultimately our survival depends on them.
“Thus treating the land and waters with the utmost respect because it’s sensible, as much as because it’s sacred.”
This understanding has a significant impact on how we treat the natural world. The resounding respect for the environment and its preciousness found in First Nations traditions is something everyone can learn from. But whether we view the environment through a spiritual lens or in a more practical sense, I believe that the responsibility we all have towards its care cannot be ignored. Not only for the good of the earth, but also for our own spiritual progress. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, states that:
“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”
According to Michelle, it’s important that we all contemplate our actions and motives regularly, and take that step towards doing right by ourselves and, as a result, the world.
“Our throwaway consumer society is one of the biggest environmental issues we have,” she says. “Do I really need a new phone, or is it just that everyone else has a new one? These things come with an enormous environmental footprint, and we have to remember that, even though it’s kind of uncomfortable to think about.
“I think spirituality can help remind us that life is not all about material comfort, the most important things are doing the ‘right thing’, looking after others (both human and non-human) and often this is not the easy choice.
“Making good environmental choices can also involve some sacrifice, like putting on an extra jumper and doing some exercise instead of turning up the heater – while access to housing and heating is a human right, we don’t have to live in complete comfort at all times either. While solar panels are certainly a step forward, it doesn’t mean we can carry on living large. We really need to reduce our overall resource use as well.
“Thinking deeply about these tough decisions can teach us a bit of mental discipline, like learning to meditate–it takes practice, but has so many benefits for us and those around us.”
National Science Week takes place in Australia between August 13 and 21. Running each year in August, the nationwide celebration of science and technology features more than 1000 events held across the country.
Dellaram is a Baha'i, wife, and mother of three, who works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in her hometown of Ballarat, Australia. She is passionate about building community and loves the thrill that comes with op-shopping!