The Structurizing Program

Science of Reality & Foundation for the Science of Reality

Listserv Postings

By Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.


[This page, which combines, in whole or in part, six "Talisman" listserv postings from 1995, represents an earlier stage of my thinking. At the time, I was still very much a Neoplatonist and a foundationalist. Many of my views have substantially changed since that time. Furthermore, the Foundation for the Science of Reality is now the Foundation for the Investigation of Reality, and I am no longer its academic director. The only changes made to this document were to italicize terms which were, in the original, enclosed in asterisks or underscores and to add diacriticals to transliterated words.]

... we need to develop a new discourse which will integrate all of these approaches. To me, it is an essential element of the Bahá'í metaphysic of unity in diversity.

... I do not know if you intended this paragraph to refer to the position I have put forward. However, I will assume that you did and will comments accordingly. I agree that the first part of what you say represents my POV quite well. My thinking is that all statements in the teachings are true - regardless of on what plane, or planes, of meaning that truth lies.

However, I do not see how _Scientific American_ readers would slice my argument into "little tiny pieces" and how, even if that were to happen, it would impinge on the correctness or incorrectness of a particular set of evaluative statements. Among the nineteenth-century defenders of miasma, many of whom were medical doctors, Louis Pasteur was regarded as a quack. For years, he could not even get his colleagues to examine his evidence. However, they have been forgotten, while Pasteur's name has lived on in chronicles of nineteenth-century medical history.

To my understanding, everything in the teachings is symbolic - regardless of whether it has a literal referent. The object of the laws and ordinances in the Aqdas is to effect a collective and an individual spiritual transformation and to prepare us for our existence in the Great Beyond. The physical universe itself is an emanation of spirit (mineral, vegetable, or animal), and, throughout the Prophetic Cycle, the divine Teachers have called on humanity to actualize the spiritual reality of existence through conformity to the Will (love, Law, or Covenant) of God.

Knowledge is not fixed. It is always relative to our understanding. For example, how do we know what the Master meant by "ether"? How can we be sure that it was literal (which might lead to the conclusion that His statement was, God forbid, incorrect), symbolic, or a combination of the two? If we use the past as our teacher, how many times has something been assumed to be absolutely true only to be overturned by subsequent research? How much more so can we expect the same to happen through the eventual unity of the religion of God with the material sciences? Why should the views of Bahá'ís be conditioned by the responses of a scientific community which, for the most part, has not accepted the words of Bahá'u'lláh? Should not we be the ones in the forefront of a revolution in our fields - whatever they may be?

IMHO, science, as the process of discovery, must include both spiritual and material investigations. From my reading of what the Master and the House of Justice has said, Bahá'ís are being asked to find new ways of blending the spiritual and the material - and, while learning from as many sources and modes of thinking as possible, not to be dependent on present-day philosophies - whether of science, ethics, art, or knowledge. Ambiguity is not, IMV, something to be avoided. As the Office of the Secretariat at the World Centre said (to me), it is an inevitable feature of the process of the investigation of reality.

Also, as I said the other day, I do not think that anyone has differed with the concept of "standpoint epistemology" in principle. The disagreement has been over what one Talismanian (I forget who) distinguished as "either-or" and "both-and" thinking. While it might be difficult to combine the insights of material scientific investigation with the science of reality, that does not, IMO, mean that it cannot be done. I believe that as the years go on, we will find that new discourses will be developed in all fields which will simultaneously demonstrate sensitivity to the truths in the divine teachings and in material scientific inquiry. The two, I suspect, will develop in tandem, as research into both becomes complementary. Continual exploration of the meaning of the divine teachings in relation to the human and physical sciences will replace the current distrust which is so common in both domains of knowledge.

I would basically agree with your summary of my views. However, I am not saying that the science of reality (the systematically revealed divine teachings) can comprehend the material sciences. Rather, IMHO, both divine science ("the science of reality") and the material sciences ("bridges to reality") are expressions of progressive Revelation. Through the unified investigation of the divine teachings and the material universe, with a recognition that each can inform the other, our knowledge of reality will increase. However, I suspect that there will continually remain some creative tension. What does "ether" mean? Is there actually a literal elixir which can transform a mineral into any other mineral - or is this alchemy only meaningful as a metaphor for the transformative effect of the Word (knowledge) of God? IMV, these are questions will be answered gradually.

Your fascinating posting on either-or contrasted with both-and thinking (or is that a dichotomy, too? ) reminded me of recent posts here on Talisman which appear to bifurcate science from religion, the left hemisphere of the brain from its right hemisphere, or spirituality from materiality. From my perspective, all such divisions are completely artificial and unneccessary.

Seeing things from a God's-eye viewpoint enables us to reconcile apparent contradictions in the light of reality. Therefore, East and West, heart and mind, faith and works, religion and science, feminine and masculine, etc. can now, in the cycle of fulfillment, been perceived in light of the Bahá'í metaphysic of unity in diversity.

Certainly, the Central Figures of our Faith and the Guardian did not encourage polarized thinking; and the Universal House of Justice, in its approach to the issue of Bahá'í scholarship, encourages the believers to seek out new ways of bridging the gap between Western academic scholarship and a revelatory perspective. For instance, in the letter written to me on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, it states that living with ambiguity is an inescapable feature of process of investigating reality.

Ultimately then, we have no way of knowing whether references to ether in our teaching are alllegorical, literal, or some combination of these. Saying definitely that it is one or the other is, IMV, premature. We will know when we will know. What we can be certain of, I think, is that references to ether, or to anything else in the science of reality (the progressive divine teachings), are not imaginary. And, IMO, even if ether were to be found to be a literal substance of some sort, it would still be symbolic in the sense that all of nature is a facsimile of the inner world of spirit.

I hesitated before deciding to write this message, since I will be returning to a subject I introduced back in the spring, when I first joined Talisman, which, IMHO (in my humble opinion), led to considerable divisiveness and name-calling. However, I am hopeful that "the list" (possibly a reified category ) has matured since that time, and that this subject can be discussed in a manner which is respectful of the views of others.

Although we see terms in Bahá'í primary sources (the authorized texts of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice) which may resemble, or even be borrowed from, those in common usage, the meaning (i.e., the spiritual reality pointed to by the revealed or inspired utterances) is not necessarily the same. IOW (in other words), if we wish to understand the meaning of a passage, especially the words of the three Central Figures, we need to look at it as a symbol vehicle or thought bridge for something beyond the realm of outward appearances, i.e., the spiritual Kingdom revealed.

The example I used back in the spring was "science," which, I wrote, is defined by the Master as the independent investigation of reality (the essence of "justice," according to the second numbered verse of _The [Arabic] Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh_). Science can then be divided into the science of reality (a.k.a. the divine teachings, "the words He hath revealed, spiritual science, and divine science) and the material sciences ("bridges to reality").

As I argued, science/the scientific method (the independent investigation of reality) is, therefore, one of the keys to developing an understanding of the principle of the harmony of science and religion. Moreover, since both the science of reality (and divine civilization) and material scientific "progress" (and material civilization) result from the presence of the revealed Word in the Reality of the Messenger, these two sorts of knowledge are interdependent.

Likewise, with the principle of the the equality of the sexes, while there are certain similarities between the various popular and academic forms of feminism and the Bahá'í teachings on the equality, and unity in diversity, of the sexes, and these areas of convergence can and, IMV (in my view), should be explored to the enrichment of all parties, Bahá'í approaches to this topic should not, IMO (in my opinion), actually depend on other definitions, or linguistic structurings, of gender relations.

The narrative framework of sexual equality forms part of the Sacred Text and the interpretations or elucidations of the Master, the Guardian, and, the Universal House of Justice. A dialogical reading of, or reflection on, these texts, coupled with an appreciation for the contextualized use of analogical teaching, can, as I see it, result in a greater understanding of this important issue.

Finally, the _ultimate_ meaning of equality, of science, of law, etc., and our expected "response" to the Prophetic "challenge," is, from my POV (point of view), given by the divine Manifestation and by those appointed to authoritatively speak for Him. That meaning (the Logos) exists in the spiritual Kingdom of God manifested (the Greater World of Prophethood) and, in this world, can, to a limited extent, be _seen_ on the empirico-rational levels as the Sacred Text (in the world of human reason) reveals the true significance of materiality (nature or the kingdom of names and attributes) as spiritual metaphor.

My own approach to religious truth, as you know from our discussions on CompuServe, was originally structured around the ideas of Marian Lippitt, Henry Weil, and Elizabeth Thomas, and I continue as one of four regional directors of the Foundation for the Science of Reality (devoted to preserving Marian's work). All things, IMV, can be seen within the framework of the worlds of God - including the rational one (historical context).

My feeling is that one can begin to understand the language of the Kingdom (a discourse on reality) through meditation, or reflection, and by examining the eisegetical keys which are provided by the the Central Figures of subsequent revealed religions. Although adapted to time and place, the language of the divine Teachers, IMO, also has a profoundly universal quality and can, on that level, be approached through meditation or reflection and irrespective of formal training in one or more religious traditions. All methodologies, including a strict textual one, produce their own dilemnas, and I do not feel as though the one I used is inappropriate.

You raise a subject which, as you know, has been discussed a great deal here on Talisman. However, it appears to me that any *answer*, if it can be called that, would need to be given as a gestalt, a matrix or configuration, which would acknowledge its multiple permutations, rather than as nominal measurement. Simply stating that religion does "this" and science does "that" will not, IMO, resolve the dilemna.

As I have mentioned here before, `Abdu'l-Bahá seems to have used the term "science" (in translation, of course) in at least two senses:

  1. The science of reality: the "words He hath revealed," divine science, spiritual science, the progressive teachings of the Prophets, or "the science of the love of God"
  2. Material science: "bridges to reality" or sometimes just as "science"

Likewise, IMV, the harmony of science and religion can also be viewed from more than one angle:

  1. The fact that, from a God's-eye viewpoint, _true_ material science and true religion are not in conflict with one another. Of course, we a long way from developing true material science and from comprehending the revealed verities which constitute true religion. However, ambiguities will, from my POV, always exist since our own human vision of reality is inevitably partial while the knowledge of the Manifestation is universal. "Seeing" the worlds of God which Bahá'u'lláh reveals can enable us to begin to view spiritual matters from an overall perspective.
  2. The application of the scientific method, defined by the Master as the investigation of reality, to religion (the divine verities of the science of reality/the progressive Prophetic teachings). In both the science of reality (spiritual science) and in the bridges to reality (material science), the Bahá'í is counseled to be free of superstition and to be practice justice (the essence of science, i.e., to see things with one's own eyes and not through the eyes of others). Since we cannot be certain about the meaning of verses such as "... every planet its own creatures ...", intellectual and spiritual humility is essential.

The task of reconciling the science of reality with material scientific investigation should, IMHO, incorporate the realization that:

  1. Sacred Texts point us to a higher spiritual reality, and many statements, such as those seemingly speaking to creatures on every planet, may be either parablical, or literal, or both. The primary purpose of sacred Text is not to reveal material scientific knowledge but to inform us on the reality which underlies outward appearances. However, possible material meanings cannot be entirely discounted - even if they contradict current scientific views. Material science, of course, is not fixed but continually evolving. Ambiguity is an inevitable result of the relative state of human knowledge.
  2. The acceptance of the Revelation as foundational to scientific and other scholarly investigations is foremost at the spiritual, or metaphysical, level - what I referred to in my paper on "Moral Development: A Narrative Approach," presented at the ABS meeting, as the Bahá'í metaphysic of unity in diversity - beginning with the Unity of God and the diversity of His Manifestations and emanations.

IMHO, unity in diversity is the underlying metaphysic of the eternal religion of God. More specifically, here is how I see it:

Ultimately, true unity is the Unity of God. It is the Most Great Spirit, the Source of all existence, and the Greatest of all unknowable essences (spirits). It is what the Master, speaking to Laura Clifford Barney, referred to as the condition of Deity. However, as humans, we have no way of directly linking with, of loving, or of entering into a covenantal relationship with the Supreme Reality and Sun of Truth.

Therefore, God manifests His Unity in the Unity of Prophethood (the condition of Manifestation, the Greater World, or "the divine Appearance and heavenly Splendor"). It is on this plane of Manifestation where all the Prophets sit on the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith. As the Messengers or Representatives of the innermost Essence of all things, They are like one soul in one body.

The realm of divine Mediatorship witnesses the highest expression of `Abdu'l-Bahá's statement that nothing can be accomplished without knowledge, volition, and action. IMHO, these are the three conditions found in the Kingdom of Manifestation: First, we see the Word of God as divine Knowledge ("the sumtotal of infinite meanings"). Second, we encounter the Will of God as divine Volition (love, law, linking, Covenant, or Revelation). And, finally, we come to recognize the Cause of God as divine Action (God's causing of creation).

The animating influence, or essence, of the Prophets is the Holy Spirit - the Purposeful (loving and knowing) power of divine Grace. It is through the stepped-down emanations of the Holy Spirit (the spirit of faith, the human spirit, the animal spirit, the vegetable spirit, and the mineral spirit) that the various conditions of creation (such as the spiritual kingdom beyond, the spiritual kingdom revealed, the human kingdom, and the kingdom of names and attributes) come into being and the Word, Will, and Cause of God (the Image of God) are reflected in all created realities. The fact that creation is an emanation of the manifested Unity of God results in the unity of humanity and the unity (vahid) of all things.

In creation, unity appears in diversity and in a virtual panorama of uniquenesses (not in sameness); and each created thing, when viewed from the particular standpoint of our material matrix, expresses distinct names and attributes. Emanations, like paintings, are never the same as the painter (God manifested). Creation is like an impressionistic piece of art. It is a divine design. When viewed as a complete picture, with all the individualities, capacities, interconnections, patterns, colors, and interconnections, one can get a sense of the how the Blessed, the Ancient, Beauty reveals Himself in the creative displays. Consultation and the progressive stages of human unity are signs of the divinely decreed relations in the pattern of existence.

On another subject, the Foundation for the Science of Reality (FSR), of which I am the Academic Director, is always looking for new members. I just returned from the SED conference in Orlando where we were doing some networking with persons representing various Bahá'í-related groups, institutes, and foundations. The purpose of FSR is to preserve and to develop the work initiated by Marian Lippitt (whose own work was based on that of Emogene Hoag, who spent time in the household of the Master) who chaired the American NSA's National Reference Library Committee. The attempt is to index the divine Teachings using the basic classifications of existence explained to us by the Central Figures of the Faith. If you would like membership information, you may contact me.