Saturday, May 14, 2005

One Common Faith, paragraph 12

12
Clearly, materialism's error has lain not in the laudable effort to improve the conditions of life, but in the narrowness of mind and unjustified self-confidence that have defined its mission.


Well, as I said earlier, I'm not sure "materialism" has a mission, except if you're talking about Marxism. But since the previous paragraph was complaining about consumerism, I assume they're talking about the West.

The importance both of material prosperity and of the scientific and technological advances necessary to its achievement is a theme that runs through the writings of the Bahá'í Faith. As was inevitable from the outset, however, arbitrary efforts to disengage such physical and material well-being from humanity's spiritual and moral development have ended by forfeiting the allegiance of the very populations whose interests a materialistic culture purports to serve.

I'm trying to make sense of this. Are they complaining that religion has not been injected into scientific endeavors? One reason for that is that religion very often has fought against, and sought to place limits on scientific experimentation that would destroy its very foundation. The relationship between scientists and religionists has not, historically, been very friendly. The last thing any scientist is going to want is interference by any religion, telling them that they can't investigate in certain areas, or that their conclusions must be rejected on the basis of religious dogma. I'd like to know exactly how the UHJ thinks the two should be blended. Would they like scientists to talk about God or scold us about risky behaviors while they try to cure disease? Would they prefer certain avenues of research to be prohibited on a religious basis?

7 comments:

Paul said...

OTOH, Newton famously believed that he would be remembered more for his contributions to Theology than for his contributions to science (who ever know Newton was a theologian?)

In the days when religion still had the political power to retard or slow the advance of science, it is still true that most scientists were also men of faith. Sometimes, I think we do a lot of that "reading back the attitudes of the present into the past" thing when we talk about the conflicts between science and religion in the past.

Paul said...

meant to say "retard or speed" clearly...

Karen said...

Hey, I knew Newton was a theologian. :-)

I didn't mean to suggest that all conflicts between science and religion were in the past -- obviously, they are still going on. However, religion has less power to threaten scientific exploration. There stil are battles going on over science education, however.

Actually, now that you mention it, one reason that religion had the power to threaten those early scientists was because they were "men of faith" i.e. they would care if they were excommunicated or not.

I actually don't know the percentage of religious scientists these days. I heard once that biologists tend to be atheists (can't get past the evolution thing), but that physicists tend to believe in God, even if only in a vague way. Certainly, there are a lot of religious medical doctors around. My dentist is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and of course, there are a lot of Baha'i physicians.

However, what the House is saying here is seems to be that science and religion ought to, in some way that I can't figure out, be connected. This is a very weird statement:

arbitrary efforts to disengage such physical and material well-being from humanity's spiritual and moral development have ended by forfeiting the allegiance of the very populations whose interests a materialistic culture purports to serve.

Since when did science ever seek the "allegiance" of anybody? I just had the thought that the UHJ is so deep into the Baha'i "Plan" mindset that it thinks everything everybody else does is a "plan", too. Not everything is. Sometimes research is done as "pure" science, just to advance knowledge -- but they talk like there was some big plan somewhere to advance material well-being. Sometimes it is just simple curiosity carried to its conclusion.

Paul said...

Well, I think we're onto this paper's confusion of terms, taking parts for the whole, etc., etc. For instance, many of the criticism they level at "science" would make a hell of a lot more sense if levelled at, for example, Logical Positivism, which basically is the philosophy that take materialism as its world view, and Science as virtually its religion. But then, this view was quite common among scientists and engineers who bothered to think about such things back in the 30s and 40s, but it's not a very popular view any more - ever since the 60s people have tended to take science and technology with as much skepticism as anything else - nowadays we don't think "Nuclear Energy = cheap electricity" or imagine that boffins will somehow manage to solve all of our problems in the lab and we should just trust the men in white coats. Similarly, the time when communism seemed attractive to many liberals of good will (at least, in Europe) was back in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Like many other things Baha'i, this paper appears to be stuck in a time-warp in Shoghi's time and doesn't seem to have much feeling for events in the world since the sixties, when "Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintainance" became a best-seller, and most everyone became "spiritual, but not religious"...

Paul said...

Oh - I meant to comment on Evolution. It's never been that much of a faith breaker or maker for me - and I've never really seen why it matters that much to some religious people whether God made humans by cleverly setting up the way the DNA molecules work in reproduction such that intelligent spiritual beings resulted, or whether God did it my making a clay statue and breathing the breath of life into it. I liked Abdu'l Baha's view on what was a big hot topic when he came to the West - okay, it avoids the question saying that even though men used to look like fishes, they were always potential men - but I think it does what Abdu'l Baha did so elegantly - refocusing your attention on the spiritual, which is what is really important for religion.

Karen said...

Like many other things Baha'i, this paper appears to be stuck in a time-warp in Shoghi's time and doesn't seem to have much feeling for events in the world since the sixties, when "Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintainance" became a best-seller, and most everyone became "spiritual, but not religious"...

Yes. There doesn't seem to be much awareness that the idea that science and technology will solve all of humanity's ills has been passe for quite sometime. It certainly isn't an idea that I grew up with; one only runs across it in retrospectives on the 50s. And, as I mentioned, this wasn't a deliberate "plan" or "scheme" as the UHJ implies, but simple optimism about forces that were already evidently at work. I'm finding, overall, that this paper doesn't seem to recognize social and economic forces that aren't planned, but are the result of masses of people, individually making decisions.

Karen said...

I liked Abdu'l Baha's view on what was a big hot topic when he came to the West - okay, it avoids the question saying that even though men used to look like fishes, they were always potential men - but I think it does what Abdu'l Baha did so elegantly - refocusing your attention on the spiritual, which is what is really important for religion.

Well, that's what fundamentalism does; it confuses the material with the spiritual. And, I'm not sure there's a way to get past that in the modern world, because we are taught to think materially, and not spiritually. We even end up with our own Baha'i version of an anti-evolution stance, precisely because of 'Abdu'l-Baha's comments that you mention.