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.
Some Personal Thoughts on Mr. Lample’s “In Pursuit of Harmony between Science and Religion”
As the editor of the Journal of Baha’i Studies, I have the pleasure of reading hundreds of wonderful articles and papers submitted on a variety of subjects relating to the Baha’i Faith.
In the most recent issue of the Journal of Baha’i Studies (volume 26 number 4), an article by current member of the Universal House of Justice, Mr. Paul Lample, really grabbed my attention, as it is, in my opinion, a milestone treatment of the often discussed topic, and attempts to clarify what is intended in the Baha’i texts by harmony (or unity) of science and religion. Titled In Pursuit of Harmony between Science and Religion, this discussion is a highly organized and insightful rendering of a talk given by Mr. Lample on 20 May, 2016 at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, but it is much more than a mere transcript, and I wanted to share some of my personal thoughts on the article, which you can read in full here.
Beginning with some of the many misunderstandings of what this Baha’i principle intends, Mr. Lample clarifies that harmony of science and religion does not mean that science must be configured to comply with our present understanding of Baha’i axioms about reality; nor should it be taken to mean the converse, that, somehow, we must interpret the authoritative texts so as to have them comply with present conclusions about reality derived from the strict and inflexible materialist perspective prevalent in the various sciences. After all, with regard to our understanding of physics and metaphysics, we are far from attaining any conclusive or final understanding of reality, whether at the quantum/astrophysical level or at the spiritual/metaphysical level.
The overriding message of the piece is thus that the ultimate harmony of these two dimensions of learning will result from the fact that both are examining a single reality, a creation that possesses both physical and metaphysical properties in what Abdu’l-Baha describes as a counterpart relationship: “The spiritual world is like unto the phenomenal world. They are the exact counterpart of each other”. 1 In short, two categories of learning are required to accommodate two distinct (albeit corresponding) aspects of reality.
As Mr. Lample points out, if one or the other branch of learning disdains or ignores the counterpart relationship—how reality is the precise correlation and collaboration of these dual dimensions—then that branch necessarily becomes incomplete, at best, and totally erroneous and misleading at worst. Our understanding of reality must not, therefore, be fragmented into a strictly materialist approach or a strictly spiritual or metaphysical examination. Put simply, if reality is an integrated organism, then any useful study, understanding, and application of enlightenment gained from it must itself be integrative in its approach because neither approach has value if dissevered from the other.
As we study reality in the light of this logical paradigm, an explicit reciprocity between the material and spiritual aspects of our nature begins to emerge. For example, the attentive student of more recent scientific studies will observe the increase in theories maintaining the non-locality of consciousness articulated in the realm of scientific discourse. Overall, the article demonstrates effectively how the study of science must become freed from the constraints of a strictly materialist study of reality, even as religion must become freed from superstition that defies or ignores logical discourse.
After examining the extant conflict and the urgent need to resolve this false dichotomy, Mr. Lample examines how Baha’is might “understand and increasingly contribute to the effectuation of this principle through action and involvement in contemporary discourse.” Mr. Lample then examines some of the irrationality of present-day global systems, whether in the distributions of human resources, the construction of systems for human health and welfare, or the protection of the environment.
He then proceeds to explain how the source of these dysfunctional structures—as well as every other human conflict, injustice, and deficiency—can be precisely traced back to the lack of understanding regarding the harmony between science and religion. Thereafter, Mr. Lample provides a useful diagnosis of the forces afflicting humanity, one of the most grievous being religious fanaticism, which he describes as the degeneration of much of religion into superstition, and the unwarranted division of the world and its peoples into simplistic categories of good and evil.
Part and parcel of this irrational bifurcation, he goes on to note, is the simultaneous clash between fanatical and materialistic world views. And yet, he explains, the truth about reality and our need to comprehend it is not some middle ground. Rather, the solution is found in the advancement of human understanding resulting from a religious view based on rational exploration of the metaphysical dimension, and a study of the material dimension as it is informed by, related to, and an expression of metaphysical reality.
Mr. Lample then presents the reader with an expansive examination of a strictly materialist interpretation of reality and the effects and influence that such a philosophical orientation has upon society. He next explores strides and attitudes in science that transcend reductionist materialist views of reality—human reality in particular (the conscious mind), followed by an equally rich examination of the influence of religion on the evolving theories in anthropological and sociological studies.
The article concludes with an elegant treatment of “true religion” and of the “practice of true religion,” in which Mr. Lample discusses precisely what the Baha’i plans are designed to do by way of community building throughout the world. Suffice it to say that carefully integrated into this initial framework for the World Order of Baha’u’llah is the collaboration between a rational spirituality—as studied and exercised at every level of daily life—combined with an ever-advancing understanding and appreciation of how our knowledge of the mechanics of physical reality must be complementary to our knowledge of the realm of the spirit, of which this nether world is but a composite replication.
NOTE: The Journal of Baha’i Studies, is a peer-reviewed journal published by the Association for Baha’i Studies North America. The Association for Baha’i Studies engages with participants across Canada and the United States and holds an annual conference and sponsors seminars and symposia. besides the The Journal of Baha’i Studies, it also publishes occasional books and monographs, as well as other publications. It is also engaged in a number of initiatives to advance Baha’i studies among students and young adults and to stimulate broader interest in Baha’i studies.
All volumes of The Journal of Baha’i Studies can either be purchased in print, or downloaded for free here.
John S. Hatcher is Professor Emeritus in English Literature, a widely known author and speaker, and editor of the Wilfrid Laurier University Press Baha’i Series and the Journal of Baha’i Studies. His most recently published book is 'In the Beginning Was a Word: How Language Knits Reality Together'.