Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.
Note: Regarding this summary, I want to be extremely cautious not to
collapse the distinctions between the magisteria of science and
religion. The theological dimension of The Paradigm of Emancipatory Constructionism™
(Structurizing™, Structurized Theism™,
Structurized Spirit™, and Structurized Praxis™)
relates to the Bahá'í Faith. The social scientific
dimension of the paradigm (Structurization Theory™) refers
principally to sociology. I am neither suggesting nor recommending
that they be combined into one.
The Paradigm of Emancipatory
Constructionism™ is post-Ockhamist, a synthesis of Ockhamism and
various postmodern and constructionist approaches, and post-Marxist
(conflict theory), a similar synthesis based on Marxism. It utilizes,
selectively and in part, the diverse voices of such nominalist,
particularist, social constructionist, post-Marxian, labeling,
conflict, postpositivist, poststructuralist, postmodernist,
post-neo-Platonic (Lippitt and Weil), posthistoricist (multiple
historical voices), postliberal theological ("Yale school"),
pragmatist, and spiritual writers as Ockham, Becker, van Fraassen,
Wittgenstein, Hacking, Bakhtin, Nietzsche, Goffman, Derrida, Locke,
Kuhn (post-empiricism), Garfinkel, Foucault, James, Collins, Rorty,
Mouffe, Hunsinger, Laclau, (Judith) Butler, Lippitt, and Weil.
The paradigm has been through various incarnations, beginning, when
I was 11 years old (completed book at 12), as Soulology. Over the course of its
development, I termed it, consecutively, Mental Energetics, The Reality Sciences Paradigm, Alethionomy, The Structural Dialectics Paradigm, Conflict Constructionism, Recontextual Realism, Transmodern Critical Realism, Dialectic Constructionism, and, more
recently, the Structurization Paradigm. These changes reflect my
gradual transition from Platonism to nominalism.
More specifically, the theory incorporates various approaches. From
William of Ockham's nominalism and
terminism (in the sense of conceptualism), one of the major
theories of universals in the medieval Western Church - also called
Via Moderna (contrasted with
the Via Antiqua schools of
Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus) - Structurization Theory is
contextualized in divine and human wills. Using Erving Goffman's
frame analysis, situational definitions are categorized as frames of
reference. From various postmodern
approaches, particularly the work of Michel Foucault (social
constructionism, Foucaultianism, or, as designated by Ian Hacking,
dynamic nominalism), Jacques Derrida (deconstruction), Howard Becker
et al. (labeling theory), Harold Garfinkel (ethnomethodology), Richard
Rorty (neopragmatism), and Thomas Kuhn (Paradigmatic neopragmatism)
comes an emphasis on the relative narrative structures of social
relations. From the neo-Marxisms and conflict theories derives a
consideration, analogous to labelling theory, of the priority of power
elites in structurization processes.
Emancipatory Constructionist (EC) Theory then utilizes elements of Anthony Giddens'
structuration theory, Robert Heiner's critical constructionism,
Bas Van Fraassen's constructive empiricism, George Herbert Mead's
social behaviorism (which located meaning in a social act with two
or more persons in interaction), Roy Bhaskar's critical realism,
George Lakoff's embodied realism, Peter Berger's social construction
of reality, Frank Boas' historical particularism, William James'
nominalist pragmatism, Earl Babbie's empirical research methods,
Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogic theory, and conventionalist approaches.
This paradigm is, from one standpoint, dialectic of two nominalisms,
Ockhamism and Foucaultianism (a dialectic of the particularity of the
divine Will, or divine structurizations/discourses/language games,
and the particularities of human wills, or social
structurizations/discourses/language games), and is simultaneously
conceived as theory, method, and praxis. From another standpoint, the
paradigm is a dialectic of Foucaultianism and Rorty's neopragmatism. That
is to say, paradigms become accepted because of power elite dominance
(Foucault's discourses), because of relative utility (Rorty), or both.
The paradigm may be diagrammed as follows:
naming categories of particulars ---> structurization <--- naming
The naming is, by definition, a structurization, which is itself then
named. Through conscious, critical naming, persons can, particularly
when interacting with others, become liberated from the oppressive
structurizations of power elites. Naming, or structurization, is power.
In accordance with Ockham's divine command theory, universals, such
as species, are merely names. "Goodness" is one such universal.
Whatever God wills, names, or structurizes as good is, by definition,
good. There are no essences, or universals, of goodness. In a divine
context, goodness is simply a name for what God wills. (Similarly,
human concepts of goodness are relative to social structurizations.)
The sacred and the profane (arguably, supernaturalist religions and
the sciences) need to be kept separate.
Among its propositions are:
- That a structurization, or universal, refers to the assignment of
names, attributes, categories, or rules (naming, attributing,
categorizing, or ruling) to particulars defined as belonging to the
same category (including subcategories). Names are here defined as
accidental categorizations of
relative will. (As `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote to August Forel,
"The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete ....")
This naming process dynamically structurizes (constructs) these
particulars into patterns of interrelationship and constructs
knowledge. Some universals (names) can function as master categories,
or taxonomies (Foucault), for other universals, such as society includes race, class, and
- Structurizations are analogous to Foucaultian discourses or
Wittgensteinian language games.
- That a structurization, or universal, is defined as a meaningful,
contextualized, and volitionally dependent, text, subtext, narrative,
name, attribute, category, rule, or taxonomy pertaining to
particulars (created/emanated realities), labeled as having similar
attributes (including individual social actions). Each
structurization is contingent on the relative Will of the divine
Particularity or on the relative wills of human particularities in
interaction. In other words, structurizations are volitional
frameworks or Paradigms. Structurizations are words (linguistic narratives).
They have no power.
The names and attributes of God, or divine constructions of reality,
are relative to God's Will.
- In Genesis, God gives humanity ("Adam") the authority to name
things. We socially construct reality by our acts of naming.
Structurization Theory incorporates the views of such writers
as Ockham (via moderna), Hacking (dynamic nominalism), Rorty
(neopragmatism), Kuhn (post-positivism), Garfinkel
(ethnomethodology), Goffman (frame analysis), Bakhtin (dialogic
theory), Wittgenstein (language games), Locke (real and nominal
essences), Foucault (social constructionism), Derrida
(deconstruction), Nietzsche (will to power), van Fraassen
(poststructuralism), and James (pragmatism and radical empiricism).
- Given that both physical and spiritual particulars exist, a
careful examination of the terms used to metaphorically describe the
spiritual particulars in divine Revelation, or the categories to which
they are assigned (constructed or named), would be a valid nominalist
enterprise. Therefore, while a text-based hermeneutics and deconstruction
is acceptable (perhaps even expected), a purely speculative hermeneutics
would be inappropriate. Indeed, since language games can, at best, point
to the attributes of entities, and name them, all interpretation is, by
definition, indirect and, with respect to spiritual or intellectual
realities, is also metaphorical and symbolic.
- Structurizations are similar to Foucaultian discourses (primarily)
and to Giddens' structurations (secondarily).
- Who can imagine a more antinominalist methodology than the twelve-step
movement? According to many, or most, practitioners of this approach, an
addict actually becomes powerless over her or his will. She or he no
longer has willpower.
- That some structurizations, or universals, are defined as master
categories which incorporate other structurizations or universals.
For instance, the structurization of oppression is defined as
including the structurizations of racism, classism, sexism, ableism,
ageism, heterosexism, etc. However, in reality, all ongoing acts of
structurization are about particulars, and structurization merely
represents attempts to categorize them. Thus, structurization can
also be defined as the naming of particulars to various categories
- That, consistent with labeling
theory, a conflict interactionist approach, the social
structurizations which manifest the greatest degree of influence on
others tend to be framed by persons in positions of social,
political, or enonomic power. Structurizations empirically
demonstrated as oppressive, such as the international corporatocracy,
should be dismantled. Certain other structurizations must be examined
relative to place.
- The approach to universals resembles John Locke's nominalist
approach. Locke's real essences approach my (particular) essences.
His nominal essences approximate my structurizations.
The divine structurizations of Structurization Theism refer to such
Bahá'í scriptural concepts as divine laws, species,
kingdoms, creation/emanation, and spiritual virtues. The social
structurizations of Structurization Theory would include human
groups, such as societies and moral codes. Empirical
structurizations, such as everyone in Kansas who owns a Ford, reflect
the process of naming (structurization) by scientists and
researchers, but not necessarily the actual patterns of social
Elements of the mineral kingdom cohere to one another because of the
actions, or manifestations, of mineral spirits. The particularity of
mineral elements (atoms) is expressed, metaphorically perhaps, by
Baháu'lláh's references to the transmutation of
elements. (They might, however, also have some prophetic content.)
These mineral spirits, alone or singly, include gravitational forces
and the dynamic processes between planets in solar systems. Atomic
substance can become differentially cohesive (structurated) in
response to divine or human will.
One can accept, only on faith, that the attributes God has assigned
to particulars bear some relation to essences (because they are
unknowable). That God Himself is unknowable tells us that the the
only possible theology is apophatic. Names or structurizations are
intentional, relative constructions of the attributes of particulars.
Such attributes do not have an independent existence, and they are
not ideal forms. They linguistic manifestations of essences in a
manner suited to the concrete limitations of human and material
perception. For instance, the attributes of God have no independent
existence. They are only names for the appearances of God's Essence
in His Prophets. Attributes, as linguistic descriptions (names) of an
entity, have no independent existence.
- There is negative nominalism and positive nominalism. Thelema
and chaos magick are examples of negative nominalism. The magician
attempts to impose her or his personal will on objects in order to
supposedly affect change. The teachings of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad,
the Báb, and Bahá'u'lláh constitue positive
nominalism. The believer submits her or his will to the Will of God
and recognizes that all things are dependent on it.
- The term "attributes" refers to the limited manner in which we
humans approach particulars, i.e., our inability to perceive
essences. Attributes are not things. They refer to a mode of human
perception and are names we give to our imperfect, human
understandings of particulars. Since essences are unknowable, we can
only accept on faith that attributes are connected with, or provide
us with indirect (attributional) knowledge of, quiddity. For
instance, in Some Answered
Questions, `Abdu'l-Bahá uses the Neo-Platonic concept
of "essence," but He particularizes it. In other words, to Him, each
being, including God, has its own essence. There are no universal
- Truths are relative to a structurization (paradigm, narrative,
dialogue, etc.). Rather than asserting absolute truth, one might
instead say that certain truths are more useful than others, i.e.,
they work. However, the fact that certain structurizations, or truth
narratives, may work, does not necessarily indicate that other, even
entirely contradictory, truth systems might not work, too, i.e.,
Attributes are manifestations of particular essences. Names are
designations for volitionally ascribed categories (universals) of
Clear individuation is found in the mineral (elemental), vegetable,
animal, and human kingdoms. Since life only comes from God, a
genetically engineered plant or animal would be somewhat analogous to
performing plastic surgery.
- Any individual being created by God would be a particular.
- Each of the kingdoms (mineral, vegetable, etc.), given that
relationships between beings or substances within them are named or
specified in the Bahá'í scriptures, would be a divine
structurization. In other words, they are structurized by the
names and attributes of God.
- In terms of anthropological incluences, I prefer Julian Steward's
multilinear evolution ("specific evolution" according to Marshall
Sahlins and Elman Service) and cultural ecology and Franz Boas'
- As a nominalist, I believe in looking for how God's Light, or
Will, is reflected in different people and religious systems.
- One of the best evidences against New Thought idealism, viz., that
one can manifest stuff by thinking of it, was the Y2K scare. Similarly,
for the vast majority of terminally ill people, positive thinking does not
- Epistemically, one's knowledge of any subject is attained only
through particulars. These particulars may be acting alone or in
arbitrary social constructions.
- Truths can be defined as solutions emerging from dialogue,
whether it is the internal dialogues of a single person, the
interactive dialogues of people in small groups, or the social
dialogues which take place through the various media (including mass
media and the Internet). In other words, truth is not a thing. It is
the result of a process. More specifically, and neopragmatically,
truths are narrative-based puzzle-solving skills. A postulate is
true to the extent to which it
solves problems in a particular paradigmatic, narrative, social, or
Furthermore, a truth as a statement which supports, or lends
credemce to, a particular construction of reality or "language game."
Truths cannot be distinguished from context. Reality systems, whether
divine (scriptural) or human, are constructed. They are language
games (Wittgenstein). The criteria for truth verification depends on
the reality system. (The position I am taking is generally called
post-empiricism or post-positivism.) If, in the context of a reality
system, a statement cannot be verified, it is not a truth.
- Words are socially constructed and reflect our observations of the
attributes of particulars and our usually collaborative efforts to
place those attributes into categories. They can also refer to
non-existent particulars, such as those created by science fiction
writers. At best, one might say that words, and the meanings we decide
to associate with them, are acts of a willer. We organize attributes
into categories and species of our choosing.
The structuralist perspective, especially as developed by Sapir and
Whorf (the linguistic relativity hypothesis), posits that meaning is
dependent on words. Many poststructuralists and social
constructionists would reverse that proposition: Words have no necessary relation to meaning and,
as Jacques Derrida said, can be deconstructed.
Children (and adults) learn, though socialization, to apply certain
sounds and shapes (words) to concepts, events, and particulars.
However, the connections we make are contextual. They operate only
within a particular social framework.
Should one suggest that a child may possess a degree of understanding
of an apple without knowing who created that word and why, I would
respond that most people, except for linguists and some other
academics, will rarely be interested in etymology. One commits the
teleological fallacy by conflating the effect of a phenomenon with its
This entire subject is, in my view, enormously important. Many people,
including politicians, speak as if there were an inherent relationship
between words and events. Deconstructing those words, or using them in
a contrary fashion (as I could in referring to the U.S. and UK as
terrorist nations and the radical Islamists as counter-terrorists),
can free us from the linguistic tyranny of the elites. Indeed, one of
the principal ways in which the masses are controlled is through
language, i.e., when we are convinced that narratives are themselves
Briefly, meaning is in our minds. Rejecting the structuralist notion
that words determine meaning frees us from the taxonomies of others
while requiring that we exercise extreme care in choosing and defining
Most constructions of divine wisdom (theosophia) have been
essentialist and realist. They have sacrificed the particular to
various imagined universal essences and natures.
- Divine structurizations can be deconstructed by God (in later
Revelation) or by humans. Likewise, human structurizations can be
deconstructed by God (in divine Revelation) and by covenantal
agencies or by humans.
- The nominalist approach taken here selectively synthesizes the
Via Moderna of William of
Ockham, Martin Luther, and others with the more contemporary
postmodernist thought of such writers as Michel Foucault,
Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.
Epistemically, I favor a radical separation of supernaturalistic
religions from the sciences. The core competencies of particular
religions and of the various sciences can best be explored through a
functional partition between each magisterium or office.
- Mark Foster, the entity, is a name for a concrete particular.
However, Mark Foster, the actor (the "looking-glass self"), designates
a dynamic social construction (via interpersonal relationships) of
that particular. The particular remains even if the acts and meanings
do not. The meanings are imprints on one's brain; and the acts are
names for intentional (willed) relations between different particulars
Relationships do not "exist." They have no concrete reality.
Relationships are, however, socially constructed (contingent or
conventional) realities. If they are constructed, they can also be
deconstructed or modified. Therefore, although they have no
naturalistic existence, they are sociological (socially constructed)
realities. You, the person reading this text, and I, the writer of the
text, are in relationship.
- I begin with the assumption that truth or knowledge can only be
defined in the context of a particular structurization
(construction). There are as many sets of truths as there are
structurizations. (The Aristotelian law of noncontradiction is
rejected as a universal.) I am free to believe that one or more of
these structurizations may approximate God's Will more closely than
the others while continuing to define truths as relative knowledge
- Embracing a tiered
relativism™, structurizations are relative to divine or
human wills, are accepted in response to dominance, utility, or both,
and can be deconstructed.
- The Bahá'í Revelation focuses on ethics and
teleology. It is not a propositional handbook on the sciences and
"Every other word of Bahá'u'lláh's and
'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings is a preachment on moral and ethical
conduct; all else is the form, the chalice, into which the pure
spirit must be poured; without the spirit and the action which must
demonstrate it, it is a lifeless form."
-- From a letter dated October 25, 1949, written on behalf of Shoghi
Effendi to an individual Bahá'í and cited: Living the Life, page 20
- Dialectical materialism is nominalist, in that consciousness is
historicist. It is embedded in particular historical periods. While
the dialectic can be conceptualized as a law, the consequences of
that law are situated, particular, and non-universal.
- Postmodernism is used to refer to so many different concepts. For
instance, to some Marxists, postmodernism is late, or corporate,
capitalism; while, epistemically, postmodernism has been defined, by
Jean-François Lyotard, as an "incredulity towards
metanarratives." I have tended to gravitate toward the latter
Methodologically, I prefer a weak postmodernism. That is to say,
I have no problem using conventional sociological research techniques
(surveys, content analyses, social experiments, ethnographies,
secondary data analyses, etc.). However, I would reject the
proposition that these conventional methodologies should be
privileged, i.e., the metanarrative of scientism.
In my view, a methodology can only be viewed "neopragmatically"
(Rorty et al.). In other words, one should examine whether a
particular methodology or theory works in the context of its
assumptions. Advocates of this approach, sometimes called
postempiricism or postpositivism, are, unlike most of the
conventional empiricisms or positivisms, willing to listen to
"different voices" but demand to be shown supporting evidence (data)
consistent with the assumptions of those voices.
Consequently, as a nominalist (i.e., divine command theory), I reject
the legitimacy of "natural theology," that, for instance, it is
possible to determine ethics through an observation of nature. Many
humanists and intelligent
design "theorists" believe in natural theology. However, most of the
contemporary the humanisms probably would not exist were it not for
their natural theological assumptions. (The only other alternatives I
can think of, off the top of my head, are divine command theory and
something like Sartre's brand of existentialism.)
Nonetheless, I would favor deconstructing one or more of the natural
theologies in order to determine the degree to which they predict
what their proponents claim they predict. For instance, if one
eliminates all prior assumptions of what is supposedly is good or
bad, is it possible to learn value by observing and interacting with
so-called "nature." How would one do so?
- A universal human nature has no inherent reality. Only individuals
exist. We place particular beings into categories of our choosing based
on their observed attributes. Then, certain people may elect to
refer to such similarities in attributes as a nature or essence.
However, these essences are nothing more than names or designations.
Similarly, good and evil are only constructions. They are voluntary, a
product of human wills, not inherent in "nature" (whatever that is).
That we call some actions good, and others bad, is merely a choice.
Sometimes the incentive may come from a religion or philosophy. At
other times, it may simply be an arbitrary product of consensus.
For instance, suppose I decide to call the policies of the U.S., UK,
and certain other governments "terrorism" and the actions of various
radical Islamists "counter-terrorism," i.e., that these Islamists are
provoked by Western hegemony and a colonial, crusader mentality. Based
on my values, which would condemn all varieties of self-serving
violence, whether by the Western powers or the Islamists, I can do so.
Given that there is no essential relationship between descriptions and
events, I am free to narrate these events in any manner I choose.
- Constructive processes occur in what Jurgen Habermas referred to as
lifeworlds, the context in
which meanings are constructed, maintained, and refreshed. (His
usage differed from phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, who defined a
lifeworld as the place where the scientist spends his life and
operates her or his instruments. Husserl's usage resembles that of
phenomenological sociologist Alfred Schutz's world taken for granted.)
- For us, in accordance with Ockham's divine command theory, universals,
such as species, are merely names. "Goodness" is one such universal.
Whatever God wills, names, or structurizes as good is, by definition,
good. There are no essences, or universals, of goodness. Goodness is
simply a name for what God wills (or, in human contexts, for whatever
we as humans will in certain social settings). Similarly, Martin
Luther, a nominalist, argued that God has the authority to name as
saved those persons who
repented and became Christians. Given that God's Essence is unknown,
the statement, "God is love," refers to His active agency - to the
Cause or action of His Will which is wholly dependent on Him. (This
idea is not fatalism, which would constrain God's Will in some fixed
Platonic (fascist) framework.
"Now, formation is of three kinds and of three kinds only:
accidental, necessary and voluntary. The coming together of the
various constituent elements of beings cannot be accidental, for
unto every effect there must be a cause. It cannot be compulsory,
for then the formation must be an inherent property of the
constituent parts and the inherent property of a thing can in no wise
be dissociated from it, such as light that is the revealer of things,
heat that causeth the expansion of elements and the solar rays which
are the essential property of the sun. Thus under such circumstances
the decomposition of any formation is impossible, for the inherent
properties of a thing cannot be separated from it. The third
formation remaineth and that is the voluntary one, that is, an unseen
force described as the Ancient Power, causeth these elements to come
together, every formation giving rise to a distinct being."
--`Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablet to
August Forel, pages 16-17
The following comments refer only to evolutionary teleology - the divine Will underlying evolution - not to the naturalistic mechanisms of evolution. The processes of evolution are the business of biologists and allied scientists, and I don't think `Abdu'l-Bahá was denying that. Evolutionary teleology is the subject of `Abdu'l-Bahá's comments in
Some Answered Questions, not evolution itself.
From a teleological standpoint, the best one can say, in my view, is that the general process of
(or laws governing) evolution, not necessarily its specifics is God's Will. I see no reason to believe
that God micromanages His creation. The lack of micromanagement, and
the recognition that, simply, evolution is God's Will, moves my view away from
a divinely deterministic "theistic evolution."
According to my understanding of `Abdu'l-Bahá, beings with souls were the first creations. Their descendents included some beings with souls and others without souls. `Abdu'l-Bahá names those creatures with souls, both the original ones and their descendents, "man."
In other words, He used evolution as a metaphor or allegory to discuss evolutionary teleology - the divine Will behind evolution. However, the evolutionary metaphor He used came largely from the views of Thomas Henry Huxley (who was sometimes called Darwin's "bull"). He also appropriated elements of the nominalist philosophy of Islamic Neo-Platonism (Ishrá'qí) in the metaphor
I would suggest that `Abdu'l-Bahá's references to evolution are metaphorical. As per His defined method in
Some Answered Questions, He used "evolution" as a "sensible figure" (a parable or metapor) for the containment of the animal, vegetable, and mineral categories within that human kingdom, and He used "species" as a "sensible figure" for the rational soul or human spirit.
There is, in my view, no essence of man. Only particular beings with souls exist. "Man" is merely a name or an abstraction. While the designation "human being" is, as I use it, an informal designation for a homo sapiens sapiens, if those creatures with souls looked like fish, although they would conform to `Abdu'l-Bahá's definition of "man," they were obviously not human beings.
We should, therefore, clearly distinguish between `Abdu'l-Bahá's use of the term "man" and what scientists call "hominids." A "man" is simply any being, no matter how it may have appeared, which is associated with a soul. "Hominids", however, constitute a defined category of biological beings whose ancestors have evolved from other categories of biological beings.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, while implicitly acknowledging the empirical fact of evolution, insisted that beings with souls ("man") have always existed. Far from proposing a new evolutionary theory, He is, rather, affirming the preexistence of human souls and spirits to all created things. Since "man" incorporates the conditions of the lower kingdoms of creation, this preexistence is also seen today. It is not only a statement on evolutionary teleology.
In effect, `Abdu'l-Bahá is trying to establish the existence
of the spirit by drawining analogies from the sciences (irrespective of
the correctness of those analogies, e.g., Huxley's model of evolution
and ether. Likewise, in His "Tablet to Dr. Forel," He is trying to
establish the existence of God by drawing analogies to the sciences.
Spiritually, not biologically, beings classified by `Abdu'l-Bahá as falling under the human and lower (animal and vegetable) kingdoms of creation descended from beings associated with souls ("man"). In other words, just as each person expresses attributes of the lower kingdoms (cohesiveness, sensation, and growth), so the beings defined as belonging to those lower kingdoms branched off from, and continue to be branches or subcategories of, "man," i.e., the human kingdom.
Spiritually and teleologicaly, not biologically, the human kingdom, as defined by `Abdu'l-Bahá, is the tree. The lower kingdoms of creation are the branches of that tree.
I don't think that `Abdu'l-Bahá was saying that all life
branched from a single-cell organism. Rather, He was saying that all
life branched (and continues to branch) from man - a being with soul.
In other words, man, a being with a soul, contains, or developed to
the point where he would contain the perfections of all the lower
kingdoms of creation. As the human kingdom (which includes the lower
kingdoms) developed, these lower kingdoms spiritual branched off
into distinct categories, He has always contained those perfections -
regardless of his outward appearance:
"If this composition, organization, perfection, beauty and completeness which now exist in the human body were different, it would be absolute imperfection. Now, if we imagine a time when man belonged to the animal world, or when he was merely an animal, we shall find that existence would have been imperfect - that is to say, there would have been no man, and this chief member, which in the body of the world is like the brain and mind in man, would have been missing. The world would then have been quite imperfect. It is thus proved that if there had been a time when man was in the animal kingdom, the perfection of existence would have been destroyed; for man is the greatest member of this world, and if the body was without this chief member, surely it would be imperfect. We consider man as the greatest member because, among the creatures, he is the sum of all existing perfections. When we speak of man, we mean the perfect one, the foremost individual in the world, who is the sum of spiritual and apparent perfections, and who is like the sun among the beings."
-- `Abdu'l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions, p.178
The most noble being on the earth is man. He embraces the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms - that is to say, these conditions are contained in him to such an extent that he is the possessor of these conditions and states; he is aware of their mysteries and of the secrets of their existence.
-- `Abdu'l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions, p.158
I wish folks would avoid revisiting Aquinas' cosmological fallacy,
i.e., his "natural theology." It makes much more sense to simply say
that human origins (or, if they really want to be daring, evolution) are God's Will. They can
make this statement without assuming that God micromanages biology and
without repeating the nonsensical idea that evidences of design are found through scientific
research. In this way, they can be good nominalists and maintain the
Ockhamist separation between theology and the sciences. They can also
affirm the fact of evolution without drifting to the silly extremes of
ontological atheism or theistic evolution.
Although there is a Bahá'í view of ultimate origins (God), which is outside the competency of the natural sciences, there is no Bahá'í perspective on biological origins.
In 'Abdu'l-Bahá's discussions of evolution, including the table talks incorporated into
Some Answered Questions, He used a combination of Thomas Henry Huxley's late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century views of evolution and Islamic Neo-Platonism as a literary context for the supremacy of the human spirit or rational soul.
"Species," for instance, is used in a fashion closer to Neo-Platonism than to Huxley, Darwin, or Spencer. Those who have understood "species" in its Darwinian sense have arrived at a form of old-earth creationism, i.e., that man did biologically not descend from other apes.
Although these Bahá'ís have generally regarded their views as a type of evolution (often misuing the term "parallel evolution" to describe it), to my knowledge, no biologist would agree. The views of such persons are, with some minor exceptions, virtually indistinguishable from those of Christian old-earth creationists.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's idea, as I see it, is that man, defined as a being with a rational soul, is not contained, **spiritually**, within the lower kingdoms of creation. Rather, the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms (the categories of cohesion, growth, and sensation) are contained within the human kingdom. In other words, rational souls do not arise from mineral, vegetable, and animal spirits. (The reverse is true.)
However, when it comes to issues of human origins, I, as a Bahá'í, have no problem acknowledging that, in spite of the spurious claims of creationists and proponents of so-called intelligent design, there is overwhelming evidence supporting a shared ancestry of hominids (including homo sapiens) and other apes (hominoids).
I would distinguish my own views from those of the so-called theistic evolutionists, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Generally speaking, theistic evolutionists have proposed that evolution is divinely directed, i.e., that God manages, even micromanages, evolution.
However, I would simply say that evolution is the Will of God (and leave it at that). In my view, this statement respects the different core competencies of the Bahá'í Faith and the sciences without allowing one to be dominated (hegemonized or colonized) by the other.
Species are names for categories. What may have remained constant
throughout the evolutionary processes is God's names for categories
of beings. Thus, it is a category which, according to God's Will,
does not become another category (irrespective of appearances).
However, since those categories refer to a divine naming process,
they have no direct relationship with what scientists study as
The Aristotelian original substance (primary matter), referred to by
`Abdu'l-Bahá, is the rational soul or human spirit.
- terms do not have durability per se. They have context. The
Bahá'í texts incorporate terminologies utilized in much
of the Islamic world. However, the Prophet's intended meanings for
many of those terms may differ from how they are understood by most
- How many sexes are there? One (female, i.e., that all new
fetuses are female)? Two (female and male)? Five or more (Anne
Fausto-Sterling's accounting for so-called intersexuality):
My response; All of these may be valid structurizations, paradigms,
discourses, or narratives. Since constructions are not "real,"
there may be many ways of doing it.
- herm (a true hermaphrodite)
- merm (a nominally male person born intersexed whose karyotype
- ferm (a nominally female intersexed person whose karyotype was
- Covenant-breaking, or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, might, strictly from a Bahá'í perspective, be one of the symbolisms of demon possession. However, demons, Satan, evil spirits, etc. are explained in our primary sources as references to the human ego in general. Not only Covenant-breakers are "possessed" by their egos.
"Covenant-breaking" is a name which focuses our attention on similarities in those negative qualities.
`Abdu'l-Bahá and the Guardian applied the term "Covenant-breaker" to individuals who had the attributes they associated with the term.
Covenant-breakers may, symbolically, have a spiritual "disease," but they are very human.
By not "othering" them, we can attempt to learn from them.
Since we do not have the authority to call someone a Covenant-breaker, we can only rely on the nominal designations by the Head of the Faith. To us, a Covenant-breaker is one who has been so labelled. Presumably, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Guardian, and the House of Justice are assisted in some fashion to make these determinations of similarities in attributes. "Covenant-breaking" is the name applied to persons regarded as expressing those attributes.
Biblical demon possession can be interpreted (eisegesis, not exegesis), from a Baha'i standpoint, as referring to domination by ego. However, I would not want to restrict this metaphorical "possession" to Covenant-breakers. I have known many people who were possessed by their egos, and they were not Covenant-breakers.
- In Emancipatory Constructionist theory, conflict is expressed as
ideologically-based oppression. In Structurization Wiwdom Teachings,
the conflict is between the divine Will and human wills (resolved
through submission or surrender to God's Will). In other words,
social structurization, one of the focuses of Structurization Theory
(along with empirical structurization), focuses on conflict and
oppression as a socially structurated hegemony of wills. Divine
structurization, among the focuses of Structurization Theism,
is concerned with the conflict between God's Will and human wills;
it is overcome through surrender to the Will of God.
- The statement, God is
love, could be rephrased, God
is His Will.
- Analytical schemes, models, Paradigms, etc. are social
constructions using names or labels. Those names and labels may
describe, from the writer's or speaker's perspective, the relations
between particulars (individual things), but they are not identical
with so-called reality. In other words, there are many ways to model
or construct reality (the relations between particulars).
Since, as a relativist/nominalist, I believe that all models are
language games (including the ones revealed by God's Prophets), I
have no problem acknowledging that contradictory systems (actually, not merely seemingly, contradicting ones) may
be valid constructions of reality. (In other words, there is no
direct relationship between the particular "out there." Language
refers only to language and language games. Therefore, a linguistic
contradiction is a
contradiction.) Thus, my approach opposes realism (especially naive
realism). Language has no direct connection with realities. Indeed
the relativism of language games is the reason I do not connect my
religion with my neo-Marxism.
From my perspective, the individual stages of that one religion
(Judaism, Zoroastrianism, etc.) are language games. They are relative
presentations of the Will of God, as it changes from age to age,
through the limited medium of human language.
Since there is no direct connection between language and the
realities discussed through it, a linguistic contradiction is a contradiction. In that sense,
contradictions between the Holy Books of the various Prophets are not
only possible. They are inevitable.
I also advocate a radical separation of the sciences from the
Bahá'í Faith. It is, in my view, only through such a
radical separation that each of these two magisteria (the sciences
and the Bahá'í Faith) can become harmonized, i.e., with
the Bahá'í Faith as a baseline for scientific ethics
and with the sciences protecting Bahá'ís from falling
into religious superstitions (like the creationisms).
- Particulars are understood through the rules (structurizations)
which we assign to them. Rules, structurizations, categories, or
universals are basically names for particulars defined as belonging
to a category (broad or narrow).
- Particular essences are unknowable. Therefore, any discussion
of them, or the degree to which their divinely named attributes tell
us about them, is pure imagination. Determining whether particular
objects, such as the sun or moon, have an essence is, short of
scriptural evidence, also imaginary.
- In the kingdom beyond, the next world, there will be no
nominalization, or accidental attribution of names to individual
essences and categories. (Attributes are accidental, convenient
linguistic devices, not essential.) There will only be
particularization, i.e., particular souls. Here, owing to our
epistemic limitations, we have both nominalization and
particularization. There, we will have only particularization.
- Societies and other groups would be social, or popular,
structurizations (social constructions).
- Social and empirical structurizations supported by those in
positions of power are more likely to be accepted than those which do
not enjoy elite support.
- Everything is constructed,
including, for instance, the earth and the moon. The fact that most
people chose to regard these words as names for separate entities
is nothing more than a preference for material over physical
connections. Although the earth and moon are not connected
materially, they are physically connected through gravity and
magnetism. From that standpoint, it would be logical coin a single
word for this physically connected entity.
- Bahá'í nominalism is wedded to particularism. One
may, on that basis, distinguish it from Buddhist nominalism which,
for the most part, rejects particularism. More specifically, in
Bahá'í nominalism, particulars are real, and
universals are abstractions and names. In Buddhist nominalism,
universals (such as human interconnectedness) are real, and
particulars are merely abstractions. From this perspective, many of
the poststructuralisms and postmodernisms more closely resemble
Buddhist, than Bahá'í, nominalism.
- Particulars (creations) can be observed. Divine structurizations
can be understood through Revelation. Empirical structurizations,
by scientists, can be studied. The utility of an empirical
structurization is in the functionality of its Paradigm-based
predictive function (the nominalist theory of pragmatism). In
addition, Paradigms, such as Aristotelian logic, are rejected as
absolutes or essences but contextually evaluated on the basis of
Kuhnian pragmatism. Some, but not all, forms of pragmatism are
- Empirical structurizations are connected with what might be
termed "preferred narratives." All narratives, or structurizations,
include truth claims which can only be evaluated in the context of
the narrative. Nonetheless, some narratives are more efficient than
others; the predictions, or hypotheses, based upon them are more
consistently supported. One, can therefore, recognize the relativity,
or contextuality (in relation to a narrative), of truth while not
being blind to superior heuristics.
- Empirical structurizations would be categories (names) of
particulars (all Kansans who own a Ford) or categories (names) of
structurizations (different societies) where the purpose is research
comparison. Some empirical structurizations can function as master
categories (or Paradigms) for other structurizations, e.g., symbolic
interactionism as a master category including looking-glass selves
and various schools of symbolic interactionism. The rules (sets of
names) are attributed by researchers, not, where possible, by those
particulars being observed. Empirical structurization, through
theory, does not necessarily impact social structurization.
- With the demise of positivism and classical empiricism,
post-positivist or post-empiricist researchers are increasingly
recognizing that research data can be used to construct different
frameworks of truth.
- The eternal Covenant, discussed in the teachings of the
Bahá'í Faith, is not a metanarrative. It is, like
Kuhn's Paradigmatic pragmatism, a statement about the relativity or
contextuality of narratives. Statements on truth are only relative
to a particular Revelation.
- Structurizations, including knowledge systems, are entirely
dependent on Paradigms. In this sense, the theory is a synthesis
between authority (divine command theory with respect to God's
Paradigms) and Foucault's social constructionism (postmodernism).
- A manifestation is an
appearance of a particular. So, a Prophet is a Manifestation of God.
Quddús was a manifestation of the Báb. The insight,
capacities, mental faculties and physical body of a person would be
manifestations of a particular soul.
- The American Heritage
Dictionary defines name
as, "A word or words by which an entity is designated and
distinguished from others." The structurizational (naming) process of
distinguishing categories of particulars (universals) from other
categories of particulars results in structure.
- Divine, social, and empirical structurizations are nothing more
than relative divine or human constructions ever subject to the
vagaries of will.
- Light and magnetism (the electromagnetic spectrum), as well as
gravity, would be divine mineral structurizations. The various
evolutions would be divine dynamic structurizations.
- If we recognize, and assign, the divine attributes, revealed by
the Prophets, to ourselves, and to nature, we can be transformed.
- Constructionism is a broad perspective, and the term is used with
varying meanings by writers. For instance, social constructionists in
sociology and in psychology tend to have quite different approaches.
In psychology, but rarely in sociology, constructionism is often
combined with constructivism. In sociology, some constructionists
are, following the philosophy formulated by Roy Bhaskar, critical
realists; while others, like myself, are nominalists and rely more
heavily on certain poststructural and postmodern perspectives.
- I do not deny the logic of interpretation. However, I do believe,
following Harold Garfinkel's ethnomethodology (a social
constructionist perspective in sociology), that all logics are bound
by sets of rules. The disconnection between words and meanings makes
all communications and interpretations problematic. Precision,
including an avoidance of the assumption that others understand
terms exactly as oneself, can reduce these difficulties.
- The statement, God is
love, could be rephrased, God
is His Will. For us, in accordance with divine command theory, goodness
refers to the operations (or Cause) of God's Will (wholly dependent
on Him). It does not refer to His unknowable Essence. Whatever God wills is, by
- Sacred Texts, including those containing prophecies, have no
inherent meanings. They are solely in the minds of the writer and the
interpreter. Therefore, the issue I would consider would center
around the relationships, if any, between authorial intent (meaning)
and eisegetical intent (meaning). The connection between these two
intentionalities is divine inspiration, whether received by the
writer of the prophecy or by the eisegete (such as `Abdu'l-Baha.) If
God is the source of that inspiration, He can choose to associate a
new, and perhaps even thoroughly different, set of ideas with a text,
i.e., ones which were not in the mind of the author. Consequently,
the words in the prophecy become merely names for the distinctive
inspirations given to the author and the interpreter.
- All particulars are structures, but not all structures are
particulars. An atom is both structured and a particular. American
society is structured but not a particular.
- Any research methodology can be used, so long as it is recognized
that the results may only be operative within a particular Paradigm
- Lifeworlds are the structurizations of wills.
- Volitionism differs significantly from New Thought idealism. One of
the best evidences against New Thought idealism - that one can "manifest"
through thought - was Y2K, viz., the disasters which were widely
anticipated to occur by the masses on January 1, 2000.