COVID-19 Reflections Science & Religion World Unity

How can we prevent the next global crisis?

Today, Bahá’ís worldwide, celebrate the Declaration of the Báb. This annual event commemorates the founding of the Bábí Movement, the precursor to the Bahá’í Faith. It is one of 9 Holy Days every year during which work is suspended. Following what have been some extremely busy few weeks, I finally had some time to sit down again and reflect on the current condition of the world. Hence, I started to think about what we can do to prevent the next global crisis.

What it is that led us to an almost global lockdown? What caused this pandemic that has shaken our way of living to its very core? Countless lives have been lost, entire economies have been wrecked, and the future seems very uncertain for the vast majority of the world’s population.

What prompted my reflections?

Before I express my thoughts, I would like to point out that I am not seeking to make any politically biased statements on the source of this outbreak. Nor do I wish to judge the scientific merits of the theories that I mention. In fact, I am not trying to come to a conclusion as to how the virus was transmitted to the first human. On the contrary, I am just putting my thoughts on paper with regards to two common theories that I have seen circulating in the media.

While they both point to China, I believe that China is the country of the future, and while this time it seems to have been the source of the outbreak, tomorrow it could be any other country.

Rather than assigning blame to any one country or regime, I seek to explore how some of the Teachings that the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh brought to mankind could have prevented this situation. I believe that these teachings can help shift our way of thinking and acting to help reduce the impact of future catastrophies.

Could we have prevented this global crisis?

A scientific catastrophy

News articles have started to appear that report on efforts by UK & US intelligence bodies to try and establish how the virus was first transmitted to humans. The theory being pointed at suggests that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which played a key role in identifying the virus which we now call COVID-19, may in fact have been responsible for releasing it in the first place.

Should this have been the case, the question has been posed as to why its spread was not curbed. Assuming that there was no malignant intentions in terms of a biological warfare, another explanation that is circulating is that the government did not want the research that was being done to be known, and thus tried to cover it up.

So here we potentially have a case of groundbreaking scientific research involving a genetically modified virus. As long as the research abides by the laws of the country, or is sanctioned in some way by the regime, it is permitted to take place. However, is this right? Most people would agree that there ought to be some ethical considerations at play for any scientific research. Bahá’u’lláh goes further than this and calls for the harmony of science and religion itself. ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, the Son and authorised Interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh, further elucidates:

“Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! 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.”

There are some values that almost all world religions promote. These include truthfulness, trustworthiness, and justice. It is evident that adhering to these virtues would allow us to contain the spread of the virus and minimise the potential damage caused by one in the future.

A question to consider as a generic point is the possibility governments in the future deciding to invest in biological warfare research programme. The Bahá’í Faith calls for universal peace, a necessary requirement for which is justice. If we were to view all humanity as one, our worldview would shift from one of wanting to pursue the interests of our nation, to rendering service to humanity as a whole. Embracing this principle now could thus help save thousands of lives in the future.

“Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God.”

A natural catastrophy

Now let us turn to another theory, which would make us look at the current pandemic as a natural catastrophy. The theory says that the virus spread to humans through the wet markets. The corona virus then jumped form a bat to an unknown species, which was consumed by humans, and that constituted the genesis of the chain reaction.

It appears that what would have allowed the pandemic to assume global proportions under this theory stems from an interplay between traditions & culture on the one hand, and a country’s laws on the other. Presumably, had wet markets been banned years ago as many activists have been calling for, the virus transmission to humans would not have occurred.

Once more, I do not wish to argue whether wet markets per se should or should not be banned. However, presuming that there are good arguments for closing them down, why was this not done until recently? Presumably individuals were too attached to their own wants and desires, so as not to be able to objectively see the effects of their actions.

What I believe is required in such cases is to transcend a narrow, self-centred view, and to strive to desire that which is conducive to the common weal of a global society.


Perhaps in both the cases analysed above, we can see certain parallels between the interaction of science and religion on the one hand, and laws and culture on the other hand. In the former case, scientific endeavours unchecked by religious standards, seem to have been the cause for the spread of the pandemic. In the latter, cultural traditions unchecked by a government’s legal framework, provided the pathway for the virus to conquer the world.

A takeaway from both these possibilities is that we need to rethink at a very basic level the interactions and power dynamics between various factors in our society. Whether this be science and religion, laws and culture, or individual rights and the common weal, a framework is required according to which everything can be weighed up and a correct balance can be struck. But how are we to obtain such a framework?

A human catastrophy

While it is not certain which of the above theories, or perhaps some other theory, actually holds true, what I am absolutely convinced of, is that the root cause of the situation we find ourselves in today is, in fact, a human catastrophy. Whether the roots of this catastrophy were scientific or natural as described above, either would be but one of many outcomes of a single human catastrophic decision. For if this decision had been taken correctly, whichever the cause of transmission of the virus to the first human, the spread would have been controlled and the consequences would have been minimised compared to what we see today.

Almost two centuries ago, Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed the need for humanity to adopt a new set of principles to guide it on its path towards its collective maturity. The worldwide adoption of these principles would have helped us prevent many a tragedy to date. For example, the principle of the harmony of science and religion, if fully enacted, could have helped prevent the current outbreak as explained above. But why did we humans reject Bahá’u’lláh’s healing message? One of the reasons that is mentioned in the Bahá’í Writings, is the influence of leaders of religions of former times.

“All religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time. Many religious leaders have grown to think that the importance of religion lies mainly in the adherence to a collection of certain dogmas and the practice of rites and ceremonies! Those whose souls they profess to cure are taught to believe likewise, and these cling tenaciously to the outward forms, confusing them with the inward truth.”

However, this was not the only reason for its rejection. Each individual has been endowed with the ability to reason independently. It appears to me that there is another parallel that can be drawn that can help us prevent the next global crisis. In parts of the Western world, there seems to be an inbalance between science and religion at a societal level. This finds expression in a prejudice against religion. At an individual level, I believe we need to look objectively at the balance between faith and reason.

Are we, professing to be the masters of reason, actually succumbing to the historically founded, yet not entirely reasonable, prejudice against religion? If dispassionately weighed, we will find that it is part of the solution to the world’s problems. I invite you, dear reader, to consider the arguments brought by Bahá’u’lláh in their purest form, and decide for yourself.

“This humble servant is filled with wonder, inasmuch as all men are endowed with the capacity to see and hear, yet we find them deprived of the privilege of using these faculties. This servant hath been prompted to pen these lines by virtue of the tender love he cherisheth for thee. The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station.”

Alongside the above principle, Bahá’u’lláh provided an entire blueprint for the regeneration of mankind. Referring to a sublime God, He says:

“The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require.”

Bahá’u’lláh brought this panacea to the world. However, the majority of the people living in His lifetime, rejected His plea for justice, peace, and world unity. In doing so, and ignoring His call, we opened the way to the further degradation of an already lamentably defective world order.

When will we, a single humanity, wake up to the reality that there is no chance of survival save by overcoming our differences and uniting as one family?

“Were man to appreciate the greatness of his station and the loftiness of his destiny he would manifest naught save goodly character, pure deeds, and a seemly and praiseworthy conduct. If the learned and wise men of goodwill were to impart guidance unto the people, the whole earth would be regarded as one country. Verily this is the undoubted truth. This servant appealeth to every diligent and enterprising soul to exert his utmost endeavor and arise to rehabilitate the conditions in all regions and to quicken the dead with the living waters of wisdom and utterance, by virtue of the love he cherisheth for God, the One, the Peerless, the Almighty, the Beneficent.”

How can we prevent future global crises?

Clearly, the effects of the lack of a global response to this pandemic in exasperating the suffering worldwide has become obvious. Unless we are able to provide a global, unified response to delicate situations now and in the future, this surely will not be the last catastrophy in our lifetime.

“The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody.”

Whether we be worried about climate change, a nuclear war, or indeed, biological warfare, each one of us better get up now and do something. While the bright end is unquestionable, the amount of suffering that mankind will need to endure in the process of getting there, now depends solely on each one of us.

“World peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet—in the words of one great thinker, “the planetization of mankind”.”

So how can we, as individuals, contribute to processes that could help us prevent the next global crisis?

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”

Worldwide, Bahá’ís and likeminded souls, are striving to bring about a process of transformation at the grassroots of every neighbourhood and village. This movement of global proportions seeks to ensure that the material and spiritual progress of every people and nation on this planet is enabled and supported as part of one human family.

“Is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God’s universal Manifestations would be apparent.”

To find out more about how you can play your part in averting the next global crisis and in offering a lasting contribution to the fortunes of mankind, click here.

Should you be interested in exploring my thoughts on the oneness of mankind and some other lessons that we can take from this pandemic, you may wish to take a look at my previous blog post.

Essays Science & Religion

Paths to knowledge – Religion & Science

What, if anything, makes science a privileged path to knowledge?

There are two sources of knowledge – science and religion. While it is often thought of them as two entirely separate ones, I would like to draw from my personal religious beliefs and my understanding of scientific theory and practice to date, to construe a model of harmony and collaboration between the two. I will therefore not be arguing over the privilege of science over any other field of human endeavour, but rather the elements that make both science and religion a privileged intertwined path to knowledge.

To start off with, I would like to clarify my understanding of what knowledge is and what our purpose in acquiring it is, as this is the basis on which I will be constructing the following essay. For me, the ultimate purpose in life is the recognition of God, through his Manifestations or Divine Messengers. This recognition, I classify as true knowledge.

It is in human nature to be attracted to beauty – whether this be physical beauty, beauty seen in nature, the harmonious blending of musical notes or the systematic and clear pattern described by a mathematical formula. We are inherently attracted to things beautiful, and seek to spend our time in the acquisition of beauties, or perfections, the ultimate source of which is God. Thus, the beauty that we see in the world around us, can be considered as rays emanating from the Divine Sun, expressions of the source of true beauty.

This beauty, and therefore the knowledge that lies hidden in it, can be accessed through two channels. Think of the world as consisting of two vast systems of knowledge, each of which is served by a particular Book – the Book of Creation and the Book of Revelation. The first of these consists of all the material substance that surrounds us, together with the laws to which all created things are subjected. Some would refer to this as nature. The second of these, the Book of Revelation, consists of the Teachings that the founders of the world’s great religions have brought, and are another way of trying to catch a glimpse of God’s unknowable essence.

These two bodies of knowledge are often presented as being conflicting one with the other, of being alternative methods of describing the world, and supporters of either claiming that their body of knowledge is more sound and that the other one should be discarded of. This can be clearly seen in the attacks of certain atheists on religious belief, and the insistence of religious fundamentalists on the importance of the Holy Writing and its literal interpretation even when in stark disagreement with scientific evidence. Another viewpoint, that of the non-overlapping magisterial, advocates that science and religion are both valid, and that there are certain fields that each of them can and must address. Clearly, the first viewpoint has resulted in no more than a great deal of conflict amongst the two groups worldwide, and the second of these is analysed in quite some detail by Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion”. I will therefore not dwell on rejecting either of these, but suggest an alternative “unified” view.

As a Bahá’í, I believe that nature is an expression of God’s will, and that in its varied phenomena are hidden signs of God, his attributes or qualities. Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, encourages the independent investigation of truth, and promotes the harmony between science and religion. He says that in every atom there are signs of God, and urges men to engage in science. The Bahá’í Writings extol science as the highest form of human endeavour, and encourage the acquisition of excellence in scientific fields. The Bahá’í Faith also teaches that if science and religion are found to disagree on a subject, then one should follow the scientific explanation, lest dogmatic explanations become the norm.

On the other hand, Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh has revealed the Words of God and His Will for today. While there is not much in terms of scientific claims as to how the world works in the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, it is said that through meditation, prayer, and service to one’s fellow men, one can grow spiritually and thus grow closer to God. By doing so, one acquires true knowledge, and without making it sound overly mystical, one might come to understandings of natural phenomena that otherwise would not have occurred. Scientific studies have also shown that meditation increases concentration and aids in intellectual reasoning.
Both science and religion have the potential to achieve great good or cause a lot of harm – in both cases it’s a question of use or abuse. It is therefore of paramount importance that one recognise the paths that one’s decisions lead to, and act conscientiously. When analysing science and some of its praiseworthy characteristics, one is drawn to the principles it promotes of a systematic, just and true approach. Even if such a concept as “the scientific method” cannot be clearly defined, nor its elements enumerated, it is the mindset that science tries to nurture that has helped such marvellous advances in scientific and technological achievements to occur. In the Bahá’í Writings, one is called to adopt a scientific approach in all one’s endeavours, and to investigate everything with an open mind or heart. According to Bahá’u’lláh, anyone who considers himself/herself as a true seeker of knowledge, must first of all rid himself of all attachments and cleanse his heart of every trace of love and hate – lest the love lead him to error or the hate repel him from truth.

Another commonality that I see between science and religion, is the importance given to education. A lot of scientific knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation. A systematization of this process and its accessibility were vastly improved with the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, and the popularization of the internet in the late 20th century. A lot of effort has also gone, and still goes, into the education of children and youth in scientific fields, which lays importance not only on the acquisition of knowledge, but also on the advancement of one’s understanding. This continuity in the transfer of scientific knowledge has been the key in expanding the pool of understanding held by the scientific community as a whole, as it allows for what has taken centuries to be discovered to be taught in a much shorter span of time. Furthermore, the specialization of individuals in specific fields of scientific endeavour, has allowed for the expansion in scope of the natural phenomena that science as a whole has analysed and can now explain. However, there is still a general apprehension of religion by the majority of scientists, and a denial of the existence of God by many. This has prevented science reaching its full potential in the amount of knowledge it has been able to generate thus far.

Similarly, the Bahá’í Faith also lays great emphasis on the importance of education – both intellectual, and spiritual. It preaches a close link between the two, which although not outwardly visible, can produce great results. Education of a child’s character is given great importance to, as “every child is potentially the light of the world, and at the same time its darkness.” And it is through a well-trained character that a person can excel in the sciences, by showing good reasoning abilities, determination to complete tasks to the best of their ability, and a willingness to collaborate with others in their quest of truth.

Thus, as science and religion provide access to true knowledge, the knowledge of our Creator, they are privileged. However, this privilege can only be maintained if they work hand in hand, and aid each other in the process. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”