George Ronald, Publisher 46 High Street, Kidlington, Oxford OX5 2DN
' Gary L. Matthews 1993 All Rights Reserved Revised edition 1999
A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the British Library
Typesetting and cover design
by Stonehaven Press, Knoxville, Tennessee
Printed and bound by WSOY, Finland
Acknowledgements and Notes.......... vii
Further Acknowledgements............. x
One: A Turning Point in History......... 1
Two: Divine Springtime................. 8
Three: Life's Laboratory.................27
Four: Baha'i Prophecies: Historical
Events ....................... 36
Five: Baha'i Prophecies: Scientific
Six: Baha'i Prophecies: Unfinished
Business .................... 132
Seven: The Object of All Knowledge ..... 158
Eight: The Sun: Its Own Proof.......... 189
Nine: The Book of God Is Open ........235
This book is dedicated to
WINSTON G. EVANS, JR
who awakened multitudes
to the glorious challenge of Baha'u'llah
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND NOTES
First Edition - 1993
This book and its author have benefited beyond measure from the assistance of many outstanding individuals. Foremost among these is my wife and best friend, Cheri Wallace Matthews. Always my most helpful critic, she cautions me when I am too brash, urges me on when I am too cautious and pins me down when I am too vague or obscure. Beyond contributing many substantive ideas and insights, she has for the past four years sacrificed countless hours - indeed, rearranged her life - to facilitate my often awkward schedule of research and writing. Without her support, this book could never have been completed.
Four people - Marzieh Gail of San Francisco, California; Sam G. McClellan of Danville, Kentucky; Vahid Alavian of Knoxville, Tennessee; and Charles Coffey of Sanders, Arizona - kindly proofread the draft manuscript. Each offered many pages of suggestions for improving it. Kenneth Kalantar of San German, Puerto Rico, reviewed the scientific material in Chapter 5 for technical accuracy and clarity of presentation. The book's final form owes much to the expert advice and constructive criticism of these dear friends, who all gave generously of their valuable and extremely limited time.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Grenada, West Indies, allowed me to make extensive
viii THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
use of its national library. The Research Department of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, provided invaluable information concerning Baha'i teachings on the Lesser Peace. Dr Joel Brunson of the St George's University School of Medicine in Grenada furnished copies of articles and textbook chapters documenting recent research into the genesis of cancer.
The encouragement and technical assistance of the people at George Ronald - particularly May Ballerio, director, who supervised the book's publication, and Wendi Momen, who edited the manuscript - have been superb and indispensable.
To all the above, as well as to other persons and agencies too numerous to mention, I am grateful.
Source references are numbered consecutively throughout the entire text - a departure from the usual practice of starting anew the sequence of numbers with the beginning of each chapter. This makes it simpler, in my opinion, to find a particular reference when turning to the end of the book.
Spelling Persian and Arabic names in English, which employs a radically different alphabet, can be confusing. I have tried to adhere strictly to the standardized system of spelling used and recommended by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith. Despite the conventions employed in this system (or perhaps because of them), place-names familiar to Western readers will for the most part remain instantly recognizable: 'Baghdad' becomes 'Baghdad', 'Shiraz' becomes 'Shiraz and so forth. One minor wrinkle is that the capital of Persia is now generally spelled 'Teheran' or Tehran'; in Shoghi Effendi's standard system the name is transliterated as Tihran'. After some hesitation, I opted for consistency by choosing the latter spelling.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND NOTES ix
The term 'billion' means one thing in American English, another in British English. To avoid this ambiguity, I have at certain points used the expression 'thousand million', which probably will sound awkward to readers from the United States. It was a case of sacrificing familiarity for precision.
Whenever I have felt it necessary to clarify terms used in quotations from other sources, I have used [brackets] to identify my insertions. Unless specified otherwise, however, all instances of italics or (parentheses) in quotations are those of the writer being quoted.
Second Edition - 1999
The Challenge of Baha'u'llah is not primarily about 'what Baha'is believe'. It is a book about why Baha'is believe as we do - or why, at any rate, the author believes as he does. It attempts to share my admittedly personal understanding of why it makes sense, and feels right, to acknowledge the authority of Baha'u'llah as God's Messenger for this age.
In setting forth Baha'i proofs, it was my goal to reach the widest possible audience. This meant critiquing Baha'u'llah's claim from the standpoint of logic and common sense. There already are various books which seek to demonstrate His position by interpreting symbolic Bible prophecies fulfilled in His advent. This one, however, refrains from assuming the reader to be of any particular prior religious belief. It bases its appeal squarely on universal 'first principles' - premises I find both logically and intuitively compelling, and which I dare hope may prove similarly satisfying to others.
Whether it succeeds is of course something only the reader can judge. I certainly had no way of knowing, in advance, whether the information in Challenge would help others as it has helped me. I therefore feel an immense sense of gratitude to the many people who already have assured me that it does. It is customary to
FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS xi
acknowledge people who have helped in the writing and publication of any book; and I did this, six years ago, in the original edition. This reprinting affords a chance to thank those readers who, by their response, have validated its admittedly novel approach. The strength of that response, as borne out by letters, phone calls and personal conversations, far surpassed my expectations.
My thanks go especially to the numerous readers who welcomed Chapter 5. This chapter correlates Baha'i prophetic insights with recent developments in science, including relativity and quantum mechanics. Several advisers had urged me to omit such details, which they argued would be over the heads of most readers. I did not agree: Not only did I see this material as serving an important purpose, I also believed that a general audience does possess both the interest and the aptitude to follow a discussion of scientific principles. Though some findings of modern physics may make one dizzy, they can be explained in nontechnical language accessible to the average reader. Were it otherwise, I could hardly write about them myself, since I am not a scientist but a journalist.
It is now clear that my confidence in the readership was fully justified. Of all the book's sections, those which relate to science have evoked the most consistently positive feedback. (Let me add, however, that anyone who prefers to skip them may do so without losing the main thread.)
Heartfelt appreciation goes also to the many Christians who, through this book, have discovered in Baha'u'llah the fulfillment of Christianity's highest hopes. This pleases me because Challenge, though written for people of every religion and no religion, is
xii THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
meant to be completely consonant with biblical principles. Since my own roots are deeply Christian, it brings me great satisfaction to learn that the book strikes a chord with my Christian brothers and sisters. Their warm response prompted me to write a sequel and companion volume called He Cometh with Clouds: A Baha'i View of Christ's Return (George Ronald, 1996). Though covering some of the same ground, Clouds approaches Baha'i proofs from a biblical perspective, addressing in more detail the theological concerns of Christian believers.
The Challenge of Baha'u'llah encapsulates twenty-five years of research and reflection. Of the various friends who played a part in this process, none was more central than Marzieh Gail, whose help is noted in the original acknowledgements. It was she who encouraged me, as a student, to become a writer, who set me on many of the trails explored in this book, and who, through steady correspondence, helped sort out clues and questions that cropped up along the way. When the manuscript was complete, she was kind enough to give it a thorough polishing. The earthly phase of her remarkable life ended shortly thereafter, on 16 October 1993, the very day this book was published.
Another collaborator acknowledged in the first edition, but who no longer is with us, was Sam McClellan. This deeply compassionate human being was my port in many a storm. He approached his death in the same way he approached life - with humility, humor and heroism. Without great souls such as Sam, who constitute the ultimate 'living proof of Baha'u'llah's authenticity, other considerations would ring hollow.
FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS xiii
Several minor errors, historical and typographical, crept into the first edition and have now been corrected. For help in spotting these, I am indebted to David Ruhe, Michael Kafes, Trip Barthel and others.
Challenge is the first book, so far as I know, to correlate findings of modern physics with Baha'i teachings concerning 'luminiferous ether' - that hypothetical electromagnetic substance once believed to pervade all of space, but now, in its classical form, discredited. That part of Chapter 5 is herewith expanded to include additional facts. Since first reporting my own findings, I've learned they echo conclusions reached independently in papers written under the auspices of the Australian Association for Baha'i Studies, and now on file at the Baha'i World Centre. Though I haven't yet seen these unpublished documents, I'm grateful to the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice for sharing with me a summary of their contents.
Little else has changed in this edition, except for minor updates to the sections on astronomy and palaeontology. One section I resisted any temptation to tinker with is the material in Chapter 6 concerning the 'Lesser Peace' and the twentieth century. Originally written in 1989, this section remains intact, so that the future may reveal how well it stands the test of time. (I will, however, note here that the Universal House of Justice, in its Ridvan 153 letter to the Baha'is of the world, says April 2000 'will come many months before the end of the twentieth century'. In Baha'i terms, then, the century closes at the end, rather than the beginning, of the year 2000.)
xiv THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
Contacting the Author
I want very much to know your reaction to this book. If you have comments or questions, please share them with me. If I do not have answers, I will do my best to find someone who does.
Letters may be sent to me at the following address:
Gary L. Matthews
c/o George Ronald, Publisher
46 High Street
Kidlington, Oxford OX5 2DN
I can also be contacted by means of electronic mail: < Gary.L.Matthews@esper.com >.
Religion is a system of belief, but it is also much more: it is voluntary submission to a Higher Power. This remains true whether we interpret that power as a living God, an impersonal cosmic force or simply some noble purpose. Religion means joyous surrender, a giving of ourselves to something greater than ourselves.
No one was ever argued into such a commitment, any more than anyone was ever argued into falling in love. It is not enough for religion to make sense intellectually; it must also feel right and ring true in the very depth of one's being. Beyond that, it requires deliberate choice, an act of courage and humility that must spring as much from the heart as from the head. Sometimes linear thought plays only a minor role: persons with sharp insight may embrace a religion -knowing exactly why they choose to do so - long before they can explain or justify the logic of their decision to anyone else. Instinctively, they simply know.
Just the same, we can recognize these facts and still agree with Bertrand Russell: 'What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite. ' There is deep satisfaction in thinking clearly and rationally about religion and exchanging ideas with other people. Without the illumination of spiritual intuition, reason is sterile; but without the discipline of reason, intuition can be hard to distin
xvi THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
guish from blind emotionalism - or, worse yet, from blind imitation.
The sacred writings of the Baha'i Faith clearly define the role of reason in attaining spiritual insight. These teachings advise a seeker to 'apply thyself to rational and authoritative arguments. For arguments are a guide to the path and by this the heart will be turned unto the Sun of Truth. And when the heart is turned unto the Sun, then the eye will be opened and will recognize the Sun through the Sun itself. Then man will be in no need of arguments... '1 'In divine questions we must not depend entirely upon the heritage of tradition and former human experience; nay, rather, we must exercise reason, analyze and logically examine the facts presented so that confidence will be inspired and faith attained. '2
This book is the fruit of one person's struggle to understand and fulfil these admonitions. It seeks to present, in rational terms, the basis for my belief that the Baha'i Revelation is divine in origin, and to explain why I see its claim as posing a challenge of critical importance to humanity. Since religious conviction has roots that go far deeper than words or logic, it would be presumptuous to call this book a complete statement of my reasons for being a Baha'i. Those reasons which I can explain in print constitute only one aspect (and not necessarily the most important aspect) of the experiences and promptings which have helped shape my belief. Nevertheless, I share them in the hope that they will prove useful or stimulating.
I have written primarily for two large groups of people: 1) those interested in the Baha'i Faith but not committed to it; and 2) those already committed to the Faith who want to know more about the evidence upon which its claims rest. However, some readers may be
hearing of the Baha'i Faith for the first time so I have tried to provide, as the discussion unfolds, whatever background information is needed for an understanding of the points raised.
Chapter 1 A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY
The major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur.
-Alfred North Whitehead
... we must rise above the storm, the chaos of surface detail, and from a higher vantage-point look for the outline of some great and significant phenomenon. To rise up so as to see clearly is what I have tried to do, and it has led me to accept, however improbable they may appear, the reality and the consequences of the major cosmic process which... I have called 'human planetization'.
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Humanity clearly is passing through a crisis of transition. But a transition to what? It is easy to see turbulent changes wherever we look; easier still to see we all have a stake in those changes. It is not so easy to see what they mean, where they are taking us or how we can respond constructively. Millions of people, sensing the importance of such questions, are earnestly seeking answers.
I believe those answers will elude us until we come to grips with an issue the world has evaded for more than a century:
Who was Baha'u'llah?
It may sound unlikely that the identity of this Persian nobleman, who lived from 1817 to 1892, can shed
2 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
any light on the upheavals that fill modern headlines. A 'Who's Who'-style biographical sketch would tell us little - merely that He founded the Baha'i Faith and spent forty years in prison and exile for proclaiming a message of peace and love. Marginally useful information, perhaps, in studying for a trivia quiz; but hardly crucial to an understanding of current events.
, This being so, we must clarify the deeper sense in which it is important to ask who Baha'u'llah really was. First, however, some historical observations may make it easier to see the modern relevance of this question.
It is an intriguing fact that each major world religion - Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam - has given birth to a great civilization. These historic civilizations all have certain things in common. Each, in its turn, became the highest and most advanced culture the world had known until that time. Each, at its height, absorbed and unified hundreds of warring ethnic groups into a spiritual brotherhood. Each later declined and decayed, to become more a source of conflict than of cooperation. This cyclic rise and fall of civilizations - deriving their initial impulse from religion - has largely shaped the modern world. For example, the Hebrew culture derived from Judaism fertilized the philosophy of ancient Greece and left a code of law that became the basis for every modern legal system. When the Roman Empire collapsed, Christianity rose from its rubble, founded the new world of the West and institutionalized a spirit of charity and philanthropy that still survives. As Western Europe sank into the Dark Ages, Islam moulded primitive Arab tribes into an empire more vast than that of Rome at its peak, adorned its cities with flourishing universities and libraries, invented soap, algebra, Arabic numerals
A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY 3
and hundreds of other modern conveniences, and (during its centuries in Spain) indirectly triggered Europe's Renaissance. Moreover, it was Islam that introduced nationalism in the modern sense - a concept that, whatever its limitations, has spurred social and economic development throughout the world. Similar comments could be made about the magnificent civilizations engendered by Hinduism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism.
Each of these religious systems arose from the teachings of a single remarkable individual. Thus Moses became the central figure of Judaism, Jesus of Christianity, Muhammad of Islam, Krishna of Hinduism, Buddha of Buddhism and Zoroaster of Zoroastrianism. These spiritual guides are easily the most influential figures in history, for it is they who shaped and inspired the civilizations that followed them. Their lives and teachings display uncanny similarities. Each claimed to derive His influence and authority directly from God. Each was known for saintly character and vast intuitive knowledge. Each was bitterly opposed by me civil and religious authorities of His time. Each attracted a small community of followers who (often after centuries of struggle) triumphed over persecution to establish the given faith as a major force in society. Each taught the same spiritual basic concepts regarding belief in God, life after death, prayer, self-discipline, ethical principles such as die Golden Rule, and the like. Each, however, modified the previous religion's social laws and regulations according to the needs of the changed time. Each reaffirmed the divine origin of previous religions, and each promised that God would send future messengers with new and fuller revelations.
The most remarkable parallel among these religions is found in their prophecies concerning the 'last days'.
4 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
Each faith anticipates a culmination of human history when the earth, as a result of fiery tribulations, will be transformed into paradise. Cataclysmic changes will produce the 'Kingdom of God on earth'3 in which the nations 'shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. '4 The various religions will be gathered under 'one fold and one shepherd'5 and 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea!. 6 Substantially identical prophecies abound not only in the Old and New Testaments but in the scriptures of all the world's historic faiths.
', These same prophecies, with one voice, foretell the appearance of a World Reformer or Divine Teacher destined to initiate the promised changes. The central hope of every world faith revolves around the coming of such a spiritual leader, often identified as the 'return' of the founder of the religion embodying the prophecy. In Judaism this Promised One is known as the Lord of Hosts; in Christianity, as the Second Coming of Christ; in Islam, as the Mihdi or Twelfth Imam; in Hinduism, as the return of Krishna; in Buddhism, as the Fifth Buddha; and in Zoroastrianism, as the promised Shah-Bahram.
Simply stated, the histories, teachings and prophecies of these religions offer parallels far too numerous and too remarkable to be explained as mere coincidence. How can this seemingly arbitrary pattern repeat itself, age after age, in movements so widely separated by time, geography and culture? Does this not suggest die possibility that all of them (not merely one or two) are truly divine in origin, that their founders were each inspired by a merciful God as agents of one vast civilizing process guiding humanity towards maturity? Would
A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY 5
it not follow that their latter-day prophecies, foreshadowing the radical transformation of society through the influence of a promised redeemer, all point to the same mysterious figure?
Baha'is believe that such is indeed the case. The hallmark of their faith is acceptance of Baha'u'llah's claim that He Himself is the Promised One of all religions - the long-awaited Peace-bringer whose revelation, as foretold in past scriptures, will bring into being a worldwide divine civilization.
"The Revelation which, from time immemorial, hath been acclaimed as the Purpose and Promise of all the Prophets of God, and the most cherished Desire of His Messengers, hath now... been revealed unto men, ' writes Baha'u'llah. "The advent of such a Revelation hath been heralded in all the sacred Scriptures. Behold how, notwithstanding such an announcement, mankind hath strayed from its path and shut out itself from its glory. '7
If this claim is true - and if we can confirm or substantiate it by objective investigation - then clearly it marks the most important turning point in human history. Baha'u'llah says the upheavals and convulsions of today are those foretold in the sacred books of all past religions, that they are preparing the world for the promised era of peace and justice, and that His revelation has set in motion the forces that will gradually bring it about. He has also given to the world approximately a hundred volumes of guidance on how individuals and institutions can best meet the challenges of this time, hastening the Golden Age that must follow.
In deciding whether Baha'u'llah's claim merits investigation, we must bear in mind two points. The first is that He does not ask anyone to accept a literal interpretation of ancient prophecy. According to
6 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U LLA'H
Baha''u'lla'h, most prophecies of past religions have important meanings that are to be understood symbolically, not literally. For example, He teaches that the 'end of the world' - a recurring theme of scripture -means not the physical destruction of the planet, but rather the end of civilization as we know it through its transformation into a higher, global civilization 'with a fullness of life such as the world has never seen nor can as yet conceive'.8 This process is viewed not as something magical or instantaneous, but as the result of an unfolding, divinely ordained process of social evolution.
, Further examples illustrate this same first point. For instance, Baha''u'lla'h interprets the 'return of Christ' (or Buddha, Krishna or any other Divine Messenger) not as the return of the physical individual but as the mystic return of the Voice of God that spoke through Him. It is, He teaches, the return of the light rather than the lamp, the reappearance in a new human temple of the perfections, power and authority vested in Christ and the other Divine Educators. Baha''u'lla'h expounds other prophetic themes - resurrection, judgement and the like - in a similar allegorical manner.
The second, and more important, point is that Baha''u'lla'h does not ask anyone to accept His claim without supporting evidence. Faith is often misunderstood to mean blind acceptance of authority. Baha''u'lla'h denounces this pseudo-faith as 'blind imitation' and places the independent investigation of truth in the forefront of His moral principles. Real faith is defined in His teachings to mean conscious knowledge expressed in action.9 Although Baha''u'lla'h asks us to take His word for many things, He upholds the right and responsibility of each individual to verify independently His Faith's central premise - namely, that
A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY 7
'This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing.'10 He marshals a host of compelling reasons - both logical and intuitive - to support this claim, inviting seekers to 'consider His clear evidence'11 and to 'gaze, with an open and unbiased mind, on the signs of His Revelation, the proofs of His Mission, and the tokens of His glory.'12'... the evidences of His effulgent glory,' He writes, 'are now actually manifest. It behoveth you to ascertain whether or not such a light hath appeared.'13
My purpose in this book is to 'consider His clear evidence' by which we can 'ascertain whether or not such a light hath appeared'. The details of Baha'u'llah's life, the history of His Faith, and the specifics of His teachings will be examined primarily for the light they shed on the central issue: Who was Baha'u'llah? In other words, was He - as He claimed - the promised World Redeemer foretold in the sacred books of past ages and is His message a genuine revelation from God?
If the correct answer is 'Yes', then clearly it is vital that we know it. Baha''u'lla'h's revelation, if genuine, would enable us to understand the changes shaking the world today, to foresee the results they will produce and to make the most of the challenges and opportunities they offer.
The second chapter of this book will provide a brief summary of Baha'i history and of Baha''u'lla'h's major teachings; the third will suggest a few of the many ways an inquirer can test His claim. The remaining chapters will present the actual evidence which supports my own belief as a Baha'i. Whether my personal reasons seem convincing to others is less important to me than whether they stimulate independent investigation. That, of course, will be for the reader to decide.
Chapter 2 DIVINE SPRINGTIME
We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Baha'u'llah in 'Akka, Palestine, who had the key.
- Leo Tolstoy
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
Some great Cause, God's new Messiah ... -James Russell Lowell
This chapter consists of three parts: 1) an outline of Baha''u'lla'h's major teachings, 2) a capsule history of His Faith and 3) further details about the nature of His claim. I will refrain, both in this chapter and the next, from offering any arguments or evidence to support that claim; these will come later. For the moment, my purpose is simply to familiarize the reader with the events and concepts to which any such discussion must refer.
Baha'u'llah's fundamental teaching is that all human beings are children of one God, who, by successively revealing His will in each of the world's historic faiths, has patiently guided humanity towards spiritual and social maturity. Having passed through infancy and adolescence, humanity is now coming of age. Its collective life is undergoing a profound transformation, akin
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 9
to that of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. The product of this metamorphosis must and will be the world's first truly global society.
This pivotal concept - planetary unification as the fruit of humankind's dawning maturity - is the principle Baha'is call the 'oneness of mankind'. As formulated by Baha'u'llah in the latter half of the nineteenth century, this principle is much more than a vague platitude. It incorporates a bold and detailed plan for world reconstruction, involving an 'organic change' in the very nature of society. When Baha'u'llah says 'The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens', 14 He means it in every sense of the phrase: political, economic, social, institutional - even military.
All of Baha'u'llah's other teachings revolve around the oneness of mankind, as spokes revolve around the hub of a wheel. In order to support and implement this overriding goal, He calls for widespread application of the following principles:
Independent investigation of truth: Each human being is born with the right and obligation to investigate reality - especially the reality of religion - without undue influence from others. '... see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, ' writes Baha'u'llah, 'and... know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbour. '15 'The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation ... and look into all things with a searching eye. '16
Acceptance of the divine origin of all world religions: The time has come, Baha'u'llah says, for the world's contending faiths to recognize one another as different stages of one ever-evolving religion of God. In every age, God speaks through a chosen mediator, adapting
10 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
His teaching to the specialized needs of the time and the growing capacity of humanity. Baha'u'llah states that despite these outward differences (compounded by many centuries of human misunderstanding and prejudice): 'Every true Prophet hath regarded His Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other Prophet gone before Him. '17
Eradication of prejudice in all its forms: Baha'u'llah demands vigorous effort, through individual action as well as education and public policy, to abolish the root causes of prejudice. Baha'is therefore cherish unity in diversity, cultivating an integrated community life wherein members socialize, work together and even intermarry across barriers of colour, nationality, religion and social status.
Equal rights and opportunities for men and women: The two sexes are likened in the Baha'i teachings to two wings which must be balanced before the bird of humanity can soar aloft. In particular, Baha'u'llah identifies equal participation by women in government decision-making as a vital key to world peace.
Reconciliation of science and religion: Both disciplines, according to Baha'u'llah, are different paths to a single truth. Rightly understood, science and religion are therefore in complete harmony, for truth can never contradict itself. 'Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism... When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then there will be a great unifying, cleansing
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 11
force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles... '18
World peace through collective security: Baha'u'llah urges all nations to limit armaments and, by joining in a global federation, unitedly to resist aggression from any member-state. His plan goes far beyond current United Nations activities: He envisages a world constitution, a world parliament, a world court with binding authority to settle disputes among nations and a world executive to carry out decisions of the parliament and court. While safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all members, such a system - representative self-government on a planetary scale - would empower humanity as a whole to implement its collective will peacefully through international law.
Adoption of a universal auxiliary language: He calls upon the nations to choose, by mutual consent, a single language to be taught in schools throughout the globe in addition to each country's mother tongue. This would provide a powerful tool for international understanding and cooperation, while respecting the cultural heritage of all.
Universal compulsory education: This principle is one which Baha'u'llah forcefully enunciated long before it became routine policy in most of today's developed nations. Its importance remains tragically underestimated throughout much of the world.
Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty: Public policy, according to Baha'u'llah, must limit dire poverty on the one hand and gross accumulation of excessive wealth on the other. The intent of this principle is to preserve degrees of wealth, which are necessary, while abolishing extremes, which are not. Baha'u'llah
12 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
encourages private initiative while condemning as unjust and unworkable all attempts to impose complete economic equality.
Recognition of love and unity as the central purpose of religion: Baha'u'llah categorically forbids not only religious violence but all forms of religious conflict and contention as alien to the true spirit of faith. He states that God's purpose in sending His Messengers has always been to unite human hearts; if religion has the opposite effect, we would be better off without it.
While these themes accurately reflect the spirit of the Baha'i Faith, they in no way exhaust its teachings. Baha'u'llah touches on literally thousands of vital issues, ancient and modern, disclosing in the process a comprehensive blueprint for a unified world society. No summary can capture so vast a panorama of ideas; it can only hint at their scope and direction.
Baha'u'llah's teachings emphasize, moreover, that 'ideas and principles are helpless without a divine power to put them into effect'. The primary function of divine revelation, He explains, is not to introduce new teachings (important though these are), but to provide such a power. Here is part of what He says about this all-important topic.
The Messengers of God, according to Baha'u'llah, are far more than simply great teachers or reformers. They are Spiritual Suns through whom God floods the world with divine energy. This intangible yet dynamic influence - traditionally called the Holy Spirit - is the power by which God stirs the Divine Messenger and, through Him, all humanity. The Messenger from God is 'luminous in Himself, while all other souls must borrow His light; 20 and His recurring appearance
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 13
affects human society much as springtime affects the physical world. Whenever a new Messenger 'shines upon the worlds of spirits, of thoughts and of hearts, then the spiritual spring and new life appear, the power of the wonderful springtime becomes visible, and marvellous benefits are apparent. '21 New thoughts, new trends and new movements surface everywhere (even among those unaware of their source in the new revelation), and a universal fermentation sweeps away obsolete ideas and institutions. As the mystical impulse generated by the new Messenger gradually penetrates society, it attracts ever-increasing numbers to rally around Him and recognize His divine authority. Sooner or later it culminates in the birth of a new social order based on the newly revealed laws and teachings. Baha'is believe it is this divine impulse that has enabled every past revelation to create a new and higher civilization; it is this, they believe, that ensures the eventual emergence of a world commonwealth based on Baha'u'llah's social principles, and the continued growth and development of that commonwealth under the influence of future Messengers from God. Baha'u'llah indicates, however, that while this divinely ordained process is both irresistible and inevitable, it is not automatic. The social transformation that follows the appearance of a Messenger from God may be relatively quick and benign; it may be exceedingly long and painful; or it may fall somewhere between these extremes. How easily humanity navigates the transition is determined primarily by the readiness of individuals to investigate and accept the new Messenger's divine mandate. Our response also determines the extent to which we as individuals benefit spiritually from the new revelation.
14 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
Our expectations concerning the feasibility of Baha'u'llah's social reforms will depend greatly on whether we accept the reality of this mystical animating power - the power from which (Baha'is believe) the teachings derive their spiritual force. Most of His principles by now command widespread acceptance as desirable goals. Something many people still question, however, is whether such goals can ever be translated into practice. It should be clear that if the Baha'i programme is truly a divine revelation, its aims are attainable because 'the power of the Kingdom of God will aid and assist in their realization'. 22
Another question often raised about the Baha'i Faith is whether it offers anything really new. The answer is a resounding 'Yes'. Baha'u'llah's broad social principles are, of course, no longer new in the sense of being unfamiliar to the general public (although they were radically new and unfamiliar when He first propounded them in the nineteenth century). They certainly are new, however, in the sense that they are not explicit in the sacred books of any previous religion. When we move beyond broad principles to detailed specifics, we can easily identify many elements of the Faith that are new both in the sense of being still unknown to the public and in that of being unparalleled in previous religions. Baha'u'llah set forth detailed new laws and ordinances covering marriage and divorce, burial and inheritance, prayer and fasting, personal conduct and countless other matters; created a revolutionary new type of administrative order, designed to implement His laws and principles throughout the world and serve as a pattern for future society; and provided vast amounts of never-before-revealed information concerning God's purpose for humankind, the nature of life after death and how to prepare for it, and many similar
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 15
topics. His followers believe that this astonishing system of laws, institutions and doctrines, being of divine rather than human origin, is destined to uplift and regenerate society. Be that as it may, one can hardly deny either the novelty or the originality of the overall structure.
The admitted importance of these two questions -'Is the Baha'i programme really practical?' and 'Does it offer anything really new?' - is reflected in the fact that they are frequently asked by persons investigating the religion. For the reasons stated above, I believe the answer, in each case, hinges on a deeper, logically more fundamental issue: Who was Baha'u'llah? If He was the bearer of a genuine revelation from God, then that revelation must contain much that is both new and practical. To doubt that it does so is to doubt that Baha'u'llah Himself is who He claims to be.
That is why this book will keep the spotlight on the crucial question of Baha'u'llah's identity. One must, of course, know something of His teachings in order to gauge the truth or falsity of His claim, and the book will discuss these teachings extensively in connection with that central issue. It also will provide an extensive bibliography for those seeking more information. The point I wish to stress, however, is that one cannot logically investigate the Baha'i message without reference to the Messenger.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Persia (currently called Iran) was in biblical times the heart of a fabulous empire. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, it had entirely lost its ancient glory and was regarded throughout most of the world as backward and insignificant. A reactionary monarchy
16 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
held absolute sway over a mostly superstitious and apathetic populace; government and people alike were subject, in turn, to the pervasive influence of a fanatical Muslim priesthood. The prevailing religion was the Shi'ih sect of Islam. It was a closed - one might say locked - society, hostile to all progressive ideas and particularly those of the 'satanic' West.
It was in this darkened corner of the world that the Baha'i Faith began in 1844. Its destiny was shaped by the lives of three Central Figures - the Bab, Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha.
The Bab (1819-50)
On 23 May 1844, Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad, a twenty-four-year-old merchant from the Persian city of Shiraz. declared that He was a Messenger from God and the Herald of a still greater Messenger soon to follow. He took the title of the Bab, meaning 'Gate', indicating that His mission was to pave the way for the imminent appearance of the Promised One foretold in the holy books of all religions.
The Bab's teaching stirred Persia to its depths, igniting violent opposition from both government and clergy. He was arrested, tortured, imprisoned and eventually executed by firing squad in Tabriz on 9 July 1850. More than twenty thousand of His followers (known as Babis) perished in a subsequent bloodbath initiated by authorities in their effort to exterminate His Faith.
The Bab's riddled remains were dumped on the ground outside the city's moat, in the hope they would be eaten by wild animals. His followers, however, risked their lives to rescue His body surreptitiously from careless guards and move it to a safe hiding place.
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 17
Today, surrounded by magnificent gardens, it rests in a golden-domed shrine on Mount Carmel, at Haifa, Israel.
Among the Bab's early followers was Mirza Husayn-'Ali, later known as Baha'u'llah ('the Glory of God'), a title by which the Bab addressed Him. A descendant of Persian royalty and son of a high government official, He inherited great wealth which He might easily have augmented by taking a position at court. However, He raised many eyebrows by turning away from the halls of power, devoting Himself and His fortune instead to humanitarian service. Upon learning of the Bab's message, Baha'u'llah became the movement's most effective and articulate spokesman.
As a highly visible leader of the Babi community, He was a natural target for the persecution which followed the Bab's martyrdom. In 1852 Baha'u'llah was chained, beaten, imprisoned, stripped of His wealth and marked for death. However, at the last moment, the authorities, fearing awkward repercussions from the slaying of so prominent a figure, decided instead to deport Him and His family to Baghdad, 'Iraq. ('Iraq at that time was part of the Turkish Empire, also known as the Ottoman Empire. )
For a while, the government and clergy felt they had extinguished the Faith of the Bab. Their relief was short-lived, however, as the movement again surged forward under Baha'u'llah's now-distant but vigorous leadership. Seeking to remove Him even farther from their borders, Persia prevailed upon the Ottoman government to banish Him again. Baha'u'llah and His family were therefore 'invited' to Constantinople,
18 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
capital of the Turkish Empire, where authorities assumed they could watch and control His activities with relative ease.
On the eve of this transfer, in April 1863, Baha'u'llah declared to His companions that He was the promised Messenger whose coming it had been the Bab's mission to announce. Almost all of the Babis eventually accepted this claim, thereafter becoming known as Baha'is.
Baha'u'llah's removal to the Ottoman capital, far from silencing Him, had the opposite effect. A cosmopolitan trade-centre, Constantinople was a frequent stopover for visiting Persians and other travellers, who carried His teachings far and wide. Moreover, leaders of thought residing in Constantinople itself gravitated increasingly towards Baha'u'llah. Though He and His followers shunned political pursuits, Baha'u'llah's growing spiritual influence eventually alarmed Turkish officials, already under pressure from the government of Persia to send Him still farther away. Once again He was uprooted and banished, this time to distant Adrianople - the Turkish equivalent of Siberia. This latest counter-measure, however, proved to be simply another exercise in futility; its chief result was to amplify the proclamation of Baha'u'llah's message and fan the flames of His Cause. In 1868 His dismayed adversaries responded by locking Him and His retinue in the remote Turkish fortress-prison of 'Akka, now a city in Israel, though at that time within the Ottoman Empire. This punishment was intended as a death sentence, conditions in 'Akka being so foul and inhumane that the hardiest prisoner seldom survived more than a year. Many of Baha'u'llah's companions, including His beloved youngest son Mirza Mihdi, did perish in the
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 19
prison; He Himself was strictly confined within the fortress walls for no less than nine years.
Throughout this grim incarceration, Baha'u'llah continued guiding His movement to new victories and adding to the already vast collection of His writings. From 'Akka He proclaimed His mission in letters to the kings and rulers of the world, urging them to compose their differences and create a global federation to secure a just and lasting peace. 'Had they hearkened unto Me, ' He later wrote, 'they would have beheld the earth another earth. '23 Nevertheless, He vowed that God would ensure victory for the Baha'i Cause, with or without assistance from any king.
The harsh confinement eventually was relaxed as Baha'u'llah's character and personality won the friendship of His gaolers. Towards the end of His life, though still nominally a prisoner, He was allowed to move about as He pleased, continue His writing, and meet with the many pilgrims and visiting dignitaries who sought His presence.
When He passed away on 29 May 1892, the news reached the Turkish government in a cable opening with the words 'the Sun of Baha has set'. 24 His earthly remains are interred near 'Akka in a shrine at Bahji (Delight), across the Bay of Haifa from Mount Carmel.
Baha'u'llah's eldest son, 'Abbas Effendi, was born 23 May 1844 - the night of the Bab's declaration. As He grew to manhood He shared fully in the persecutions that rained upon Baha'u'llah, becoming His father's ablest supporter and assistant. Known to Baha'is as 'the Master', He preferred the title He Himself chose -'Abdu'l-Baha, 'servant of the Glory'. Baha'u'llah's Last
20 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
Will and Testament named 'Abdu'l-Baha the head and interpreter of the Faith and made His word equal in authority, though not in rank, to Baha'u'llah's own.
While still a prisoner in 1898, 'Abdu'l-Baha greeted the first Western Baha'i pilgrims to 'Akka. After His release in 1908 He undertook a series of journeys that brought Him in 1911-13 to Europe and America. Here He expounded Baha'u'llah's message before large audiences in churches, auditoriums and private homes, drew extensive press coverage and met with many leaders of thought.
Returning to Palestine, 'Abdu'l-Baha received a knighthood from the British Crown for His relief work during World War I, supervised preliminary construction of the Shrine of the Bib, began implementing the Administrative Order envisioned in the writings of Baha'u'llah, and designed a long-range teaching plan to carry the Baha'i Faith throughout the earth.
'Abdu'l-Baha passed away in 1921 and is interred in a northern room of the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa.
The Baha'i Administrative Order
Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha provided for continuing leadership of the Faith through two institutions: the Guardianship, a hereditary office holding the exclusive right to interpret authoritatively the Baha'i teachings; and the Universal House of Justice, a democratically elected body of men empowered to legislate on all questions not covered in the sacred texts.
'Abdu'l-Baha Will and Testament named His grandson Shoghi Effendi the first Guardian of the Cause. Shoghi Effendi worked tirelessly towards the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, which was first elected in 1963. He also produced masterful
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 21
translations of the Baha'i sacred writings, wrote extensively on the administration, history and goals of the Faith, completed construction of the Shrine of the Bab, vigorously assisted with the construction of America's first Baha'i House of Worship and launched the successive teaching campaigns planned by 'Abdu'l-Baha When he died in 1957 at the age of sixty-one, he had no children and was unable to appoint a successor under the terms of 'Abdu'l-Baha Will; there is thus no incumbent to the Guardianship. Although this development came as a shock to the Baha'is, it had been envisioned and provided for in Baha'u'llah's Book of Laws, the Kitab-i-Aqdas. 25 The Universal House of Justice, in keeping with those provisions, today directs the Faith from the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa.
Local and national Baha'i affairs are administered by a network of Spiritual Assemblies, each consisting of nine believers elected without regard to gender, race, class or other social or economic distinction. Elections are by secret ballot, with no campaigns or nominations; and the religion has no clergy, paid or otherwise. Financial support is accepted only from declared believers, all contributions being both voluntary and confidential.
As part of their global teaching effort, Baha'is have sought consistently to disperse throughout the world. As a result, though there are relatively few large concentrations of Baha'is, the Faith has become the second most widely-spread religion on earth, with a significant following in more countries than any other except Christianity. (The Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook, in successive editions beginning with 1988, lists Christianity as first with 254 countries, the Baha'i Faith as second with 205 and Islam as third with 172. 26) Moreover, the Faith exhibits extraordinary cultural and
22 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
ethnic diversity and rapidly accelerating growth. Its broadly based unity has made it an effective champion of such causes as international peace, women's rights, social and economic development, environmental conservation, and literacy training.
THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD
Only by clearly understanding Baha'u'llah's claim can we decide how best to evaluate it. To better grasp the specifics of that claim, let us now consider what Baha'u'llah says about the nature of God and His Messengers.
Baha'u'llah teaches that there are three distinct planes of existence or levels of reality: the world of God, the world of humanity and the world of the Messengers (or 'Manifestations') who mediate between God and humanity. A few comments are in order about each of these worlds.
Regarding the highest plane of existence, Baha'u'llah 'proclaims unequivocally the existence and oneness of a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty'. 27 The God thus described 'is a God Who is conscious of His creation, Who has a Mind, a Will, a Purpose, and not, as many scientists and materialists believe, an unconscious and determined force operating in the universe... To say that God is a personal Reality does not mean that He has a physical form, or does in any way resemble a human being. To entertain such belief would be sheer blasphemy. '28 Baha'u'llah writes that God is 'immeasurably exalted beyond every human attribute such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress... He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 23
Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men'. 29
At the other end of the spectrum is the human world. Baha'u'llah states that God created all humanity 'to know Him and to love Him'30 and 'to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization'. 31 Moreover, every human being is created in 'the image and likeness of God' (cf. Genesis 1: 25-6) - not in any physical sense (for God has no physical form), but in the sense of being able to express God's attributes such as knowledge, love, mercy, justice, kindness, will, loftiness and countless others.
However, finite man cannot conceive or comprehend the Infinite Creator, nor can he reflect God's attributes except within the limits of his own capacity. He is able, at best, to make continual progress towards perfection without ever actually achieving it. Moreover, he cannot do even this much by his own unaided effort, since he has no direct access to the knowledge of God or His will. God therefore intervenes periodically in history, at intervals typically varying from five hundred to one thousand years, providing humankind with guidance through a chosen Christ-figure or Manifestation.
Baha'u'llah teaches that 'this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being', 32 the Manifestation of God, has two aspects - one human, the other divine. His human personality is 'in the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which no man can possibly attain'. 33 His inner reality, however, manifests the infinite perfections of God as a polished mirror reflects the image of the sun. He is a relay station linking the world of God with that of man. This unique capacity is a divine gift that cannot be acquired by study or effort: 'However far the disciples might progress, they could
24 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
never become Christ. '34 The Divine Manifestation belongs to a different sphere altogether.
Elaborating this theme, Baha'u'llah writes that God
hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance... and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self... Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above, and the Standard of His Truth unto every one in the kingdoms of earth and heaven. 35
These sanctified Mirrors, these Day Springs of ancient glory are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. Rom Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty... These Tabernacles of Holiness, these Primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles ... these illuminated Souls... have, each and every one of them, been endowed with all the attributes of God, such as sovereignty, dominion, and the like, even though to outward seeming they be shorn of all earthly majesty. 36
In saying the Manifestations are 'endowed with all the attributes of God', Baha'u'llah means just that. God is the All-Knowing; the Manifestations are therefore 'omniscient at will'. 37 God is the All-Powerful; for the Manifestations, therefore, 'any difficult or impracticable thing is possible and easy... for They have all power'. 38 God is infallible; consequently, 'whatever proceeds from them is identical with the truth, and conformable to reality'. 39 God is love; He is the source of all goodness and perfection; the Manifestations are therefore 'the supreme embodiment of all that is lovable. '40 These divine qualities notwithstanding, the Messengers of God also are fully human - a duality often reflected in
DIVINE SPRINGTIME 25
their utterances. Sometimes the Manifestation speaks from His human position, evincing complete humility and self-effacement. At other times, His human personality fades into the background, leaving only 'the Voice of Divinity, the Call of God Himself. 41 These two modes of speech may alternate within a single discourse, or even engage in dialogue with each other. In one of His prayers Baha'u'llah expresses this delightful paradox:
When I contemplate, O my God, the relationship that bindeth me to Thee, I am moved to proclaim to all created things 'verily I am God!'; and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay!42
Baha'u'llah's claim to fulfil prophecies of Christ, Buddha, and other Divine Messengers in no way exalts Him above His predecessors. Though their revelations vary according to the receptivity of the age, no Manifestation is intrinsically superior to another. So perfect is their inward spiritual unity that they may be 'regarded as one soul and the same person... They all abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith. '43
Moreover, the Baha'i Faith 'emphatically repudiates the claim to be regarded as the final revelation of God's will and purpose for mankind'. 44 Baha'u'llah specifically affirms:
God hath sent down His Messengers to succeed to Moses and Jesus, and He will continue to do so till 'the end that hath no end'; so that His grace may, from the heaven of Divine bounty, be continually vouchsafed to mankind. 45
26 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
He does state, however, that a period of at least one thousand years must separate His revelation from the one to follow. 46
From these and many similar statements, we can see that there is nothing vague or ambiguous about the claim of Baha'u'llah. It is simple in concept, detailed and specific in its implications, and awesome in its magnitude.
We turn now to the problem of evaluating that claim. What kind of evidence might have a bearing on its truth? What credentials could a Manifestation offer that would vindicate His mission, and how might we verify them? These are, of course, subtle and intricate questions - yet they lie directly in our path. Before discussing any specific evidence in connection with Baha'u'llah's claim, let us try in the next chapter to map out a strategy for collecting such evidence and testing its validity.
Chapter 3 LIFE'S LABORATORY
... the years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels, but cannot express; the intense desire and the alternations of confidence and misgiving, until one breaks through to clarity and understanding, are only known to him who has himself experienced them.
- Albert Einstein
Faith... plucks at a twig of evidence.
- Emily Dickinson
We cannot logically justify a claim of authority by invoking the very authority in question. Such an approach would commit the fallacy of circular reasoning. On the other hand, it would be pointless for an invisible Deity to reveal His will through a human envoy unless He also furnished clues or indications enabling us to recognize that envoy.
Baha'u'llah assures us that God can and does provide such signs. He states that it would be 'far from the grace of the All-Bountiful and from His loving providence and tender mercies' to send His Messenger with incomplete identification, while holding humanity accountable for failure to accept Him. 47 'Abdu'l-Baha, who defines faith as conscious knowledge expressed through good deeds, 48 rejects 'blind imitation' as a basis for such acceptance. 'You must come into the knowledge of the divine Manifestations and Their teachings through proofs and evidences, '49 He says, indicating
28 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
that those who seek such knowledge have at their disposal 'every manner of evidence, whether based on reason or on the text of the scriptures and traditions'. 50
But what constitutes evidence? How do we know that any particular statement is true? For simple questions, like whether it is raining outside, there is no problem: we simply look and see for ourselves. If we are not in a position to look, we ask someone else. Sometimes we can look up answers in a book; this works well for things such as telephone numbers or the height of Mount Everest.
When we confront the truly pivotal questions of life, however, we must work out the answers for ourselves. If there is such a thing as divine revelation, then the soul's response to that revelation is easily the most vital issue anyone will ever confront. Certainly we should benefit from the insights and experiences of others in this connection - but it is our destiny, not theirs, that is affected; and it is we, not they, who will bear ultimate responsibility for our own actions. For all the really important questions - questions like 'Who was Baha'u'llah?' - we are on our own. There is too much at stake to gamble on someone else's judgement.
Naturally, there can be no rigid formula for assessing Baha'u'llah's authenticity. There are as many ways as there are individuals, and the way that works for one will not necessarily work for another. Also, we should stipulate at the outset that there is no way to 'prove' the claim of Baha'u'llah in the sense of providing an ironclad, unchallengeable guarantee: one cannot force a sceptic to accept it; the evidence will not demonstrate it with mathematical certainty, nor is there any way to rule out every conceivable alternative. Proof in this absolute sense does not exist even in the physical sci
LIFE'S LABORATORY 29
ences, much less in so sensitive and personal an area as religion.
These reservations notwithstanding, there is every reason to press on with our investigation. If absolute certainty is beyond our reach, perhaps a high degree of relative certainty is not. It is instructive, by way of comparison, to consider how conviction is obtained in science.
Science insists that since we have no absolute guarantee of truth, it is essential that we test every important proposition in as many ways as possible. There are, as 'Abdu'l-Baha points out, four ways of testing or judging any conclusion: sense perception, reason, intuition and authority. Scientists freely use all four. They use their senses (perhaps extended by instruments such as microscopes and telescopes) to gather and verify raw data. They use reason to formulate explanatory ideas and ferret out implications for further testing. Contrary to the stereotype of the coldblooded technician, scientists rely heavily on intuition (insight, inspiration, gut feeling, the 'still small voice' - call it what you will): every great scientist has a highly developed sixth sense, which may manifest itself in flashes of insight while meditating on a knotty problem or in hunches as to which lines of research are most likely to bear fruit. As to authority, a scientist will be as quick as anyone else to look up needed facts in a reference book and - all other things being equal - will prefer conclusions that fit smoothly into the framework of knowledge already generally accepted as verified.
Scientists realize that each of these four criteria, used by itself, is flawed. The human senses are notoriously prone to error. Reason, unguided by intuition and unchecked by observation, is sterile and frequently misleading. Valid intuition can be hard to distinguish
30 THE CHALLENGE OF BAHA'U'LLAH
from mere prejudice or wishful thinking. The voice of authority is suspect until we have verified its credentials and understood its pronouncements; to do either, we must rely on our own fallible minds and hearts. Nevertheless, by applying in concert all the criteria at our disposal, we can obtain conclusions which, while not absolute, are highly reliable. Once we reduce uncertainty to a practical minimum, it even serves a useful purpose: our awareness of it creates an exhilarating incentive to keep our minds and hearts open and thus to grow continually in knowledge.
The goal Of science is to explain reality as we encounter it. This being so, scientific method may be defined as the systematic testing of proposed explanations ('hypotheses') using data derived from experience. Nothing in the nature of science compels us to define experience in narrow physical terms: it includes whatever is knowable through any legitimate human faculty (these being, as stated above, sense perception, reason, intuition and validated authority). As a practical matter, however, the experience must be potentially public -that is, open to repetition by peers. Simply stated, a scientific explanation is one which, in any field, can be validated by means of open experience.
Now validity, like certainty, is a somewhat subjective and relative concept - a matter of degree. The explanation preferred by scientists as most valid will generally be that which best satisfies two criteria: 1) it must account for the widest range of phenomena using the simplest model and 2) it must correctly predict specific, testable results for our observations of those phenomena.
Long before astronauts could view the earth from space, human beings knew beyond any reasonable doubt that the planet's approximate shape was that of
LIFE'S LABORATORY 31
a globe or sphere. Why? Because the spherical-earth theory is the simplest model that predicts all the relevant facts we observe and experience. The theory implies, for instance, that a departing ship should disappear by sinking slowly below the horizon and that the North Star should appear higher in northern countries than in southern ones. These predictions match what we see - a fact well known to the ancient Greeks, among others. Some predictions of the theory could not be tested at once; for example, it implies that a traveller who continues far enough in any direction should return eventually to his starting point. When Magellan circumnavigated the globe, he provided an important confirmation of the spherical-earth theory.
Many predictions of a new idea are not necessarily obvious at first sight. Aristotle cleverly worked out a hidden implication of the spherical-earth theory. Knowing already that a lunar eclipse is the earth's shadow against the moon, cast by the sun from below the earth, he realized that a flat, coin-shaped body must at times cast an oval shadow. On the other hand, he reasoned, a sphere must always cast a circular shadow. (This insight strikes me as fantastically ingenious. ) By watching eclipses and checking ancient records, Aristotle verified that the earth's shadow is the ever-circular type cast only by a globe. On this basis, plus observations of the North Star and vanishing ships, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers concluded correctly that the earth is spherical.