Science and Religion
Bahá’ís reject the notion that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion, a notion that became prevalent in intellectual discourse at a time when the very conception of each system of knowledge was far from adequate. The harmony of science and religion is one of the fundamental principles of the Bahá’í Faith, which teaches that religion, without science, soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism. “Religion,” according to the Bahá’í writings, “is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive.”1 “Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created things embody the potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment.”2
So far as earthly existence is concerned, many of the greatest achievements of religion have been moral in character. Through its teachings and through the examples of human lives illumined by these teachings, masses of people in all ages and lands have developed the capacity to love, to give generously, to serve others, to forgive, to trust in God, and to sacrifice for the common good. Social structures and institutional systems have been devised that translate these moral advances into the norms of social life on a vast scale. In the final analysis, the spiritual impulses set in motion by the Founders of the world’s religions—the Manifestations of God—have been the chief influence in the civilizing of human character.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá has described science as the “most noble” of all human virtues and “the discoverer of all things”.3 Science has enabled society to separate fact from conjecture. Further, scientific capabilities—of observing, of measuring, of rigorously testing ideas—have allowed humanity to construct a coherent understanding of the laws and processes governing physical reality, as well as to gain insights into human conduct and the life of society.
Taken together, science and religion provide the fundamental organizing principles by which individuals, communities, and institutions function and evolve. When the material and spiritual dimensions of the life of a community are kept in mind and due attention is given to both scientific and spiritual knowledge, the tendency to reduce human progress to the consumption of goods, services and technological packages is avoided. Scientific knowledge, to take but one simple example, helps the members of a community to analyze the physical and social implications of a given technological proposal—say, its environmental impact—and spiritual insight gives rise to moral imperatives that uphold social harmony and that ensure technology serves the common good. Together, these two sources of knowledge are essential to the liberation of individuals and communities from the traps of ignorance and passivity. They are vital to the advancement of civilization.