​​The Aristotelian Substratum 

  of the Baha'i Writings


by Ian Kluge

 



 

Presented at the Irfan Colloquium

London, UK, July 2001

 

Published in Lights of Irfan, Volume IV, 2003.

  

 

Note of Thanks:

 

As always my thanks to my wife, Kirsti for her unfailing support, to Rhett Diessner for his comments and suggestions and to Iraj Ayman for his encouragement. 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 1 Introduction

1.1)  Using Aristotle

1.2)   Plato and Neoplatonism

 2 Physics

            2.1)  The Co-eternity of Matter

2.2)   Motion and Change

2.3)   Autopoesis

2.4)   God as First Mover

2.5)   Emanationism and Divine Personalism

2.6)   A Theoretical Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

2.7)   Causality in Physics

2.8)   Consequences of Four-Fold Causality

2.9)   The Consequences for Biology and Evolutionism

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology 

            2.12) The Great Chain of Being

            2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 3 The Soul

            3.1)  Rational Soul as Humankind’s Essential Attribute

            3.2)  Rational Soul as Immortal

            3.3)  Soul as Substance

            3.4)  Mind / Matter – Mind / Body Dualism

            3.5)  The Body / Soul Connection

 4 Epistemology: Mind and Brain

            4.1)  Reality is Discovered Not Constructed

            4.2)  Epistemological Realism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth

            4.3)  The Reality of Attributes

 5 The Analysis of Reality

            5.1)  A Brief Crash Course: Subsistence, Attribute, Essence

            5.2)  God as Substance

            5.3)  The Soul as Substance

            5.4)  Other Uses of Substance

            5.5)  Hylomorphism: Matter and Form

            5.6)  Essences

            5.7)  Essences and Epistemology

            5.8)  Potential

            5.9)  Essences and Potentials

            5.10) Essence vs Existence

            5.11) Substance-Attribute Ontology

 6 Logic and Rationality

 7 Ethics

            7.1)  Happiness as Final Goal

            7.2)  Happiness as Appropriate Actualization

            7.3)  The Acquisition of Virtues

            7.4)  The Acquisition of Virtues and Free Will

            7.5)  Evil

            7.6)  Agreement on Particular Virtues

 8 Statecraft

            8.1)  The Active State

            8.2)  The Organic State

            8.3)  Rational Rights and Freedoms

 9   A Difference Regarding God

10 Why the Aristotelian Foundation?

11 Practical Applications.




1) Introducton

 

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that the Baha’i Writings re-affirm many of the philosophical insights first developed by Aristotle. Although a paper of this length can only be a survey of the evidence, it will at least provide an idea of the enormous wealth of material available on this subject. The pervasive and far-reaching congruence of Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings can be seen in seven main areas: physics; the analysis of reality; epistemology; ethics; theology; statecraft and anthropology or the study of humankind. The Aristotelian substratum not only makes it is possible to resolve many apparent paradoxes in the Writings, but also to explicate the Writings in a way that harmonizes with common human experience and common sense. On this basis it is possible to develop a systematic and rational apologetics that can be linked with several developments in modern philosophy.

 

In order to prevent any initial misunderstandings, it is important to clarify what our thesis does not mean. Certainly there is no intention of suggesting that the Baha’i Writings are nothing but a permutation of Aristotle or crudely reducible to his thought. Rather, I would emphasize that the Baha’i Writings re-affirm many – though by no means all – of Aristotle’s philosophical ideas and methods of studying reality and adapt and develop them to their own unique purpose of laying the philosophical foundations for a Baha’u’llah’s new world order. This Aristotelian substratum links the Baha’i Writings with an intellectual heritage that, in the persons of Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, not only unites thinkers from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions but also shows itself sufficiently versatile to accommodate fresh re-formulations in light of new discoveries and intellectual developments especially in relationship to Heidegger’s existentialism and Whitehead’s process philosophy.  Indeed, once we recognize substances as activities, this tradition is also capable of harmonizing itself with other, non-western process philosophies such as Buddhism’s doctrine of dependent arising. In other words, the Aristotelian substratum provides a highly flexible, far-reaching yet orderly way for us to develop our understanding of the Baha’i Writings and see their connection to a variety of other traditions. I believe that the Writings re-affirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy precisely because it allows enormous flexibility and capacity for growth in new directions. 

 

1.1) Using Aristotle

 

At this point it would be natural to ask whether the Baha’i Writings do not simply use Aristotle as a vehicle for expressing certain ideas in a form more easily comprehensible to modern and specifically western audiences. Does this use really imply any systematic intellectual continuity with Aristotle’s philosophy?  I believe so, for reasons the body of my paper shall make clear. For now, it suffices to make three points.  First, if the use of this philosophy was an attempted adaptation to modern and especially western audiences, it was a remarkably infelicitous and short-sighted thing to do. Even in Abdu’l-Baha’s time, in the mind of the western public and certainly in the minds of most scientists, Aristotelian philosophy and analysis had been discredited scientifically since Galileo and philosophically since Descartes. If cultural adaptation is the reason for the choice of terminology, it is hard to see how any worthwhile advantage could be derived therefrom. This is even more true now than in Baha’u’llah’s and Abdu’l-Baha’s time. Moreover, how such a putative cultural adaptation to the west could help teach the Cause among the non-western cultures that form the majority of humankind, is also hard to fathom. A far more likely reason, aside from the fact that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha lived in an intellectual culture heavily influenced by Aristotelian thought, is that Aristotle’s analysis of reality is common sense and accessible in principle by anyone. A curious mind and probing thoughtfulness but no specialized equipment and no specialized experimental experiences are needed to verify the value of Aristotle’s analysis of reality. We shall touch on this issue again later.

 

This brings us to our second reason for rejecting the notion that the Aristotelian terminology was used only for illustrative or other pedagogical purposes. Not only do the Writings make pervasive and continuous use of this terminology, they usually use it precisely as Aristotle did. The terminology and the associated concepts are not merely employed for illustrative purposes but to develop, expound and prove particular conclusions, as for example, Abdu’l-Baha’s employment of Aristotle’s Prime Mover argument. Abdu’l-Baha clearly expects the logical processes on which he builds his argument to be accepted – and inherent in those processes are the concepts and premises derived from Aristotle’s analysis of reality. If we do not accept them, neither can we accept the argument based on them. However, to reject the argument is to reject Abdu’l-Baha’s teaching – and that is obviously not what Abdu’l-Baha expects us to do. He clearly presents these arguments in the belief that they reflect reality and that the arguments are, therefore, true, or, at least reflect one reasonable view of reality. 

 

With this consideration in mind, we can see a third reason to reject the argument of cultural adaptation and pedagogical uses: one cannot simply make use of, let alone make extensive use of a philosophical terminology without committing oneself to a considerable degree to the ideas embodied in these terms especially if one employs  those terms in their original way. The pervasive use of any particular terminology lays a foundation which has logical implications, and sets certain limitations, on the nature of what one can build on it. For example, as we shall see, the Writings are clearly committed to Aristotle’s theory of causation and this commitment not only rules out acceptance of absolute chaos but also implies a particular theory of ‘chance’ and the fortuitous. This, in turn, affects Baha’i views on evolution not to mention autopoesis and self-organization.

 

A related question might be whether or not we are possibly being misled by a series of mere coincidences which in turn leads one to question to what degree these coincidences are meaningful. I think the best way to answer is to point out that the congruencies between Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings are not merely numerous and superficial, but rather, are numerous and deep, that is, related to a set of fundamental issues in physics, metaphysics, epistemology, anthropology, ethics and statecraft.  In other words, these congruencies reflect essential agreements in underlying premises and attitudes. They show that Aristotle, of whom Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha thought very highly1, was at least beginning to think along the same lines and from the same and / or similar premises and axioms. Conversely, one might say that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha regarded Aristotle with enough esteem to adopt his philosophy as the best philosophical vehicle for expressing the new revelation. Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha lavished special praise on Plato and Aristotle for exploring natural and supernatural phenomena, and then adds,

 

Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.2

 

 Some might argue that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha had no choice given that the Baha’i Faith arose in a culture whose philosophical tradition was heavily imbued with Aristotelian influence. However, this argument fails for two reasons. First, nothing in the cultural environment could force anyone, let alone a Manifestation of God, to make such extensive, deep and far-reaching use of the tradition. He could have used it strictly for illustrative purposes but the fact remains, He did not, nor did His official interpreter. The inescapable conclusion is that the Manifestation found the Aristotelian philosophy especially useful in leading us to the truth on a wide variety of important issues. This suggests that Aristotle’s philosophy and its associated modes of thought are especially apt for discovering truth and understanding the Writings. Second, for theological reasons, it is doubtful that any human factors, even cultural milieu, could constrain the Divine to act in a certain way. God could, for example, have anointed the Manifestation in places other than Persia, but instead, chose a cultural locale heavily imbued with Aristotelianism.

 

 

 

1.2) Plato and Neo-Platonism

 

Finally in this introduction, I need to say that I certainly do not mean to deny or diminish the obvious neo-Platonic aspects of the Baha’i Writing though I do wish to point out that neo-Platonism itself is heavily influenced by Aristotle. Even such an author as Keven Brown, whose article in Evolution and Baha’i Belief inclines to see heavy Platonic influences, cannot help but wage his pro-Platonic arguments with concepts, terms and arguments originating in Aristotle. Thus, the presence of neo-Platonic elements in the Baha’i Writings tends to support rather than deny my assertions about the Aristotelian substratum insofar as neo-Platonism itself resulted at least in part from Aristotle's effect on Platonism. The neo-Platonists accepted such key Aristotelian concepts as essence, substance, actuality and actualization, potential, the transcendentals and the Unmoved Mover.

 

One of the reasons Platonism needed to be recast was precisely because thinkers such as Plotinus took Aristotle’s critique of Plato’s independent world of ideas as decisive and final. They tried to answer Aristotle’s critique while maintaining the existence of Ideas or exemplars by placing them in the First Mind or First Will or what Baha’u’llah calls “the Kingdom of Names.”3 Moreover, we must recall that emanationism itself does not necessarily make one a neo-Platonist as can be seen in the case of St Thomas, an Aristotelian who also espouses emanationism.4 Indeed, the concept of emanationism, is already logically implicit in Aristotle’s doctrine of God as the Divine thinking Itself. In this situation, we have God the thinker and God, the object of God’s thought; the object is obviously dependent upon the thinking subject, and this relationship of dependence is precisely the relationship between God and His emanations. Without question, Plotinus and the neo-Platonists developed this idea to a far greater extent than Aristotle ever did, but it is important to recognize that even this neo-Platonic doctrine has some Aristotelian roots. 

 

The issue concerning Plato’s forms or Ideas is, of course, vital in this debate. The bottom line is that the Baha’i Writings are clearly Platonic insofar as they present a variation of Plato’s forms or Ideas, called the “Names of God”5 as residing as independent substances in a separate realm called “the Kingdom of Names6 which is itself identified with the First Mind.6 For Aristotle, the forms, essences, ideas or universals do not reside as independent substances in a separate realm but rather are found in particular things. In short, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings differ on the issue of where and how the original essences or forms reside, an issue on which the Writings take a decidedly Platonic turn. However, it must be noted that Aristotle’s view is not entirely excluded, since the Writings tell us that the Names of God are reflected in every created thing, and so, in that sense, formally or virtually present in every particular.7 This means that while the Writings take a Platonic view about the original essences, exemplars or Names, they do not entirely abandon the Aristotelian view that these are present in all created things. From this perspective, the Writings may be seen as synthesizing Plato’s and Aristotle’s views, a project of great importance to the neo-Platonists.

 



2) Physics       

 

I shall begin my survey of the Aristotelian substratum of the Baha’i Writings with an examination of physics. To put it plainly, the foundations of ‘Baha’i physics’ are Aristotelian, by which I mean that there is a pervasive and systematic overlap between Aristotle’s book Physics and the Baha’i Teachings. Although this may, at first sight, seem, at best, an academic curiosity, it does, in fact, have profound consequences for any future Baha’i metaphysic and epistemology and has a serious impact on our understanding of the unity of science and religion. It also requires a logical commitment to some metaphysical and epistemological views and the rejection of others.

 


2.1) The Co-eternity of Matter or Creation

 

One of the key issues on which Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings also agree is the eternity of the world or creation. According to Aristotle, prime matter, which is the capacity or potential to receive form, has always existed along with the Unmoved Mover since a mover without something to move or affect is logically impossible.8 In other words, Aristotle’s matter is co-eternal although logically dependent on the Unmoved Mover. There was no moment at which matter was suddenly created after a period of non-existence, because the nature of the Unmoved Mover required its existence. This, of course, is precisely the Baha’i doctrine that creation has always existed because “a creator without a creature is impossible.”9 In other words, both

Aristotle and the Writings hold that creation is co-eternal or co-existent insofar as it has existed with God since the “beginning that hath no beginning.”10

 

Unfortunately, this is misunderstood in Evolution and Baha’i Belief. Keven Brown claims that Aristotle recognized “no transcendent cause for the existence of things, saw the universe as self-existent”11, a belief that would clearly separate Aristotle from the Writings. However, Brown  ignores the fact that the nature of God as Unmoved Mover, is logically prior to its consequence, the existence of matter, so that in a logical sense, God is, indeed, the cause, the necessary prior condition, of matter.

 

As already noted, the Unmoved Mover requires something to move. Furthermore, if by “self-existent”12 Brown means ‘self-created’, then he is mistaken about Aristotle’s doctrine. According to Aristotle, matter did not create itself; instead, matter has always existed though dependent upon the eternal Unmoved Mover; that is, Aristotle’s matter is co-eternal which is exactly what the Writings teach.

 

If by there being “no transcendent cause for the existence of things”13 Brown means that matter is independent of God, he is in error from yet another perspective because according to Aristotle, matter also depends on God for order and form. Aristotle’s God, as we recall, is the universal “the object of desire”14, that is the final cause for which all things strive. However, by being the final cause of all motion, the Divine is also the efficient cause of all motion, that which actually sets things into movement; moreover, by being the final cause, the Divine is also the formal cause.15 Nor can matter form itself according to Aristotle since it is a fundamental principle of his system that actuality precedes potentiality16, which is to say that all potentials must be  actualized by an actuality or, in this case, God, who is pure actuality. We must, therefore, reject Brown’s effort to erect the co-eternity of matter or creation as a barrier between Aristotle and the Writings.

 

Indeed, a correct understanding of Aristotle’s doctrine not only allows a resolution to the apparent self-contradiction between a creation that is co-eternal with God and the doctrine of a specific moment of creation, but also allows a reconciliation or synthesis with Brown’s views about “God’s actional Will”17and the “first creation”18 in the world of possibilities. The co-eternity of creation refers to the co-eternity of matter, that is, the capacity or potential to manifest form whereas the specific moment of creation refers to the actualization and manifestation of particular forms. Thus, insofar as the potentials are co-eternal with God, creation is also timeless, whereas the actualization of form is something that occurs at some particular point in time. As we can see, this beginning or actualization of form, has, from the perspective of potentials, no beginning itself: the potentials have always existed.  That is why Baha’u’llah is able to refer to the “beginning that hath no beginning.”19 Using Aristotle’s definition of matter as the potential to receive and manifest form, it becomes obvious that matter in this sense may be identified with “God’s actional Will as part of His ‘First Creation’ ” of the universe in potentia.” 20 With this in mind, an Aristotelian reading of the Writings can fully agree with Brown when he says “This Will, which corresponds to the possible, manifests the realities of things as a sea manifests itself in the forms of the waves.”21Moreover, this actualization is voluntary insofar as the Divine must select which potentials to actualize and which to leave in their potential state at least for the present.

 

2.2) Motion and Change

 

Motion or change is the next issue we must explore. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

There are different degrees of motion. There is motion of transit, that is from place to place . . . Another kind is the motion of inherent growth . . . The third kind is the motion of condition – the sick man passes from the stage of sickness to the state of health. The fourth kind is that of spirit. For instance, the child while in the mother’s womb has all the potential qualities of the spirit, but those qualities begin to unfold little by little, as the child is born and grows and develops and finally manifests all the attributes and qualities of the spirit. The fifth is the motion of the intellect, whereby the ignorant become wise  . . . the carnally minded spiritual . . .  the sixth is that of the eternal essence. That is to say, all phenomena either step from the arena of non-existence into the court of objectivity, or from existence to non-existence. Just as being in motion is the test of life, so being stationary is the test of death . . . 22

                       

This passage reveals its Aristotelian nature in various ways. First of all, we see the nature of change as being from one thing to its contrary or contradictory, that is, from one place or condition to its opposite.23 Next, we see that Abdu’l-Baha has explicitly adopted Aristotle’s definition of change as the motion from potentiality to actuality24, which is to say that in motion or change qualities and attributes that were potential but not overtly present or active become actualized, that is, overtly present and active.25 In other words, it is evident that Abdu’l-Baha has adopted Aristotle’s concept of motion as self-actualization in one or more of three areas: quantity, quality and place. (On this point Brown’s belief that Aristotle defines change as “the exchange of one accidental quality for another”26 is a serious error that leads to a distorted view of Aristotle’s system as being fundamentally static.) Like Aristotle, Abdu’l-Baha identifies growth as a kind of motion, being a positive change in quantity and quality which is more complex than what Aristotle calls “locomotion”27 or “transit . . . from place to place.”28 Change of quality is evident in the change from sickness to health, from a baby’s unactualized potentials to their actualization and in the change from ignorance to wisdom and carnality to spirituality. Aristotle’s view that change includes coming into existence29 is evident in Abdu’l-Baha’s sixth form of motion, the movement from non-existence to existence.

 

It should be noted that the qualitative changes mentioned here are what Aristotle sometimes calls “alteration”30 in order to distinguish them from “coming to be and passing away”31namely, Abdu’l-Baha’s sixth sense of change or motion. This is a noteworthy development because in effect, it shows Abdu’l-Baha expressing a preference for one Aristotelian term over another. For Baha’is this raises an interesting and important question: is there any significance in this? I believe there is because this question relates to the Baha’i Teaching that existence and non-existence are relative.32 In other words there are degrees of existence just as Abdu’l-Baha says there are “degrees of motion.”33

 

 Moreover, this question relates to Abdu’l-Baha’s categorical statement that nothing comes from absolute nothingness: “absolute nonexistence cannot become existence. If the beings were absolutely nonexistent, they would not have come into being34 and “therefore, nonexistence is only relative and absolute nonexistence inconceivable.”35 Logic forces us to admit that if this is the case, then all existing things, including us, have had a potential pre-existence, (albeit it a phenomenal pre-existence caused by God, the Prime Mover)36 before they stepped “into the court of objectivity.”37 In short, we all pre-existed potentially before we attained material existence, a fact confirmed by Abdu’l-Baha when he says, “Before we were born into this world did we not pray, "O God! Give me a mother; give me two fountains of bright milk; purify the air for my breathing; grant me rest and comfort; prepare food for my sustenance and living"? Did we not pray potentially for these needed blessings before we were created?”38 In Some Answered Questions, he tells us that “all creatures emanate from God – that is to say, it is by God that all things are realized”39, in other words, the potentials of things become real, are real-ized or brought into material existence by God’s action. This explains why Abdu’l-Baha considered the movement from existence into existence as a degree of change, even though Aristotle thought of specifically differentiated types of change: for Baha’is, “generation”40, that is, the movement from non-existence to existence is simply the change from potentiality to actuality, which is Aristotle’s original and fundamental definition of movement. “Alternation”41 is a change from a something to something else, and in the Baha’i view, the movement from non-existence, that is, potential existence, to existence is simply the actualization of an already existing potentiality.

 

            This choice by Abdu’l-Baha is of extreme importance because it provides another perspective from which the Baha’i Writings resolve the apparent contradiction between the eternity of the universe and the creation of the world. How can the universe be an eternal emanation from an eternal Creator and the world be created at a point in time by a Prime Mover? Aristotle’s notion of potential existence allows us to resolve this seeming self-contradiction by defining the ‘creation’ of a particular world or being in an Aristotelian manner as the actualization of pre-existing potentials from an infinite store of such potentials. This change requires a mover and, according to Aristotle – as well as the Baha’i Writings and prayers – ultimately there is only one such mover, namely the Divine. Aristotle’s concepts of  ‘potential’ and ‘actual’ also provide a philosophical reason why God is the “Sustainer”: He sustains the universe by being the Prime Mover in a causal chain that leads to the continuous actualization of potentialities in all the kingdoms of material existence.

 


2) Physics       

 

I shall begin my survey of the Aristotelian substratum of the Baha’i Writings with an examination of physics. To put it plainly, the foundations of ‘Baha’i physics’ are Aristotelian, by which I mean that there is a pervasive and systematic overlap between Aristotle’s book Physics and the Baha’i Teachings. Although this may, at first sight, seem, at best, an academic curiosity, it does, in fact, have profound consequences for any future Baha’i metaphysic and epistemology and has a serious impact on our understanding of the unity of science and religion. It also requires a logical commitment to some metaphysical and epistemological views and the rejection of others.

 


2.1) The Co-eternity of Matter or Creation

 

One of the key issues on which Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings also agree is the eternity of the world or creation. According to Aristotle, prime matter, which is the capacity or potential to receive form, has always existed along with the Unmoved Mover since a mover without something to move or affect is logically impossible.8 In other words, Aristotle’s matter is co-eternal although logically dependent on the Unmoved Mover. There was no moment at which matter was suddenly created after a period of non-existence, because the nature of the Unmoved Mover required its existence. This, of course, is precisely the Baha’i doctrine that creation has always existed because “a creator without a creature is impossible.”9 In other words, both

Aristotle and the Writings hold that creation is co-eternal or co-existent insofar as it has existed with God since the “beginning that hath no beginning.”10

 

Unfortunately, this is misunderstood in Evolution and Baha’i Belief. Keven Brown claims that Aristotle recognized “no transcendent cause for the existence of things, saw the universe as self-existent”11, a belief that would clearly separate Aristotle from the Writings. However, Brown  ignores the fact that the nature of God as Unmoved Mover, is logically prior to its consequence, the existence of matter, so that in a logical sense, God is, indeed, the cause, the necessary prior condition, of matter.

 

As already noted, the Unmoved Mover requires something to move. Furthermore, if by “self-existent”12 Brown means ‘self-created’, then he is mistaken about Aristotle’s doctrine. According to Aristotle, matter did not create itself; instead, matter has always existed though dependent upon the eternal Unmoved Mover; that is, Aristotle’s matter is co-eternal which is exactly what the Writings teach.

 

If by there being “no transcendent cause for the existence of things”13 Brown means that matter is independent of God, he is in error from yet another perspective because according to Aristotle, matter also depends on God for order and form. Aristotle’s God, as we recall, is the universal “the object of desire”14, that is the final cause for which all things strive. However, by being the final cause of all motion, the Divine is also the efficient cause of all motion, that which actually sets things into movement; moreover, by being the final cause, the Divine is also the formal cause.15 Nor can matter form itself according to Aristotle since it is a fundamental principle of his system that actuality precedes potentiality16, which is to say that all potentials must be  actualized by an actuality or, in this case, God, who is pure actuality. We must, therefore, reject Brown’s effort to erect the co-eternity of matter or creation as a barrier between Aristotle and the Writings.

 

Indeed, a correct understanding of Aristotle’s doctrine not only allows a resolution to the apparent self-contradiction between a creation that is co-eternal with God and the doctrine of a specific moment of creation, but also allows a reconciliation or synthesis with Brown’s views about “God’s actional Will”17and the “first creation”18 in the world of possibilities. The co-eternity of creation refers to the co-eternity of matter, that is, the capacity or potential to manifest form whereas the specific moment of creation refers to the actualization and manifestation of particular forms. Thus, insofar as the potentials are co-eternal with God, creation is also timeless, whereas the actualization of form is something that occurs at some particular point in time. As we can see, this beginning or actualization of form, has, from the perspective of potentials, no beginning itself: the potentials have always existed.  That is why Baha’u’llah is able to refer to the “beginning that hath no beginning.”19 Using Aristotle’s definition of matter as the potential to receive and manifest form, it becomes obvious that matter in this sense may be identified with “God’s actional Will as part of His ‘First Creation’ ” of the universe in potentia.” 20 With this in mind, an Aristotelian reading of the Writings can fully agree with Brown when he says “This Will, which corresponds to the possible, manifests the realities of things as a sea manifests itself in the forms of the waves.”21Moreover, this actualization is voluntary insofar as the Divine must select which potentials to actualize and which to leave in their potential state at least for the present.

 

2.2) Motion and Change

 

Motion or change is the next issue we must explore. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

There are different degrees of motion. There is motion of transit, that is from place to place . . . Another kind is the motion of inherent growth . . . The third kind is the motion of condition – the sick man passes from the stage of sickness to the state of health. The fourth kind is that of spirit. For instance, the child while in the mother’s womb has all the potential qualities of the spirit, but those qualities begin to unfold little by little, as the child is born and grows and develops and finally manifests all the attributes and qualities of the spirit. The fifth is the motion of the intellect, whereby the ignorant become wise  . . . the carnally minded spiritual . . .  the sixth is that of the eternal essence. That is to say, all phenomena either step from the arena of non-existence into the court of objectivity, or from existence to non-existence. Just as being in motion is the test of life, so being stationary is the test of death . . . 22

                       

This passage reveals its Aristotelian nature in various ways. First of all, we see the nature of change as being from one thing to its contrary or contradictory, that is, from one place or condition to its opposite.23 Next, we see that Abdu’l-Baha has explicitly adopted Aristotle’s definition of change as the motion from potentiality to actuality24, which is to say that in motion or change qualities and attributes that were potential but not overtly present or active become actualized, that is, overtly present and active.25 In other words, it is evident that Abdu’l-Baha has adopted Aristotle’s concept of motion as self-actualization in one or more of three areas: quantity, quality and place. (On this point Brown’s belief that Aristotle defines change as “the exchange of one accidental quality for another”26 is a serious error that leads to a distorted view of Aristotle’s system as being fundamentally static.) Like Aristotle, Abdu’l-Baha identifies growth as a kind of motion, being a positive change in quantity and quality which is more complex than what Aristotle calls “locomotion”27 or “transit . . . from place to place.”28 Change of quality is evident in the change from sickness to health, from a baby’s unactualized potentials to their actualization and in the change from ignorance to wisdom and carnality to spirituality. Aristotle’s view that change includes coming into existence29 is evident in Abdu’l-Baha’s sixth form of motion, the movement from non-existence to existence.

 

It should be noted that the qualitative changes mentioned here are what Aristotle sometimes calls “alteration”30 in order to distinguish them from “coming to be and passing away”31namely, Abdu’l-Baha’s sixth sense of change or motion. This is a noteworthy development because in effect, it shows Abdu’l-Baha expressing a preference for one Aristotelian term over another. For Baha’is this raises an interesting and important question: is there any significance in this? I believe there is because this question relates to the Baha’i Teaching that existence and non-existence are relative.32 In other words there are degrees of existence just as Abdu’l-Baha says there are “degrees of motion.”33

 

 Moreover, this question relates to Abdu’l-Baha’s categorical statement that nothing comes from absolute nothingness: “absolute nonexistence cannot become existence. If the beings were absolutely nonexistent, they would not have come into being34 and “therefore, nonexistence is only relative and absolute nonexistence inconceivable.”35 Logic forces us to admit that if this is the case, then all existing things, including us, have had a potential pre-existence, (albeit it a phenomenal pre-existence caused by God, the Prime Mover)36 before they stepped “into the court of objectivity.”37 In short, we all pre-existed potentially before we attained material existence, a fact confirmed by Abdu’l-Baha when he says, “Before we were born into this world did we not pray, "O God! Give me a mother; give me two fountains of bright milk; purify the air for my breathing; grant me rest and comfort; prepare food for my sustenance and living"? Did we not pray potentially for these needed blessings before we were created?”38 In Some Answered Questions, he tells us that “all creatures emanate from God – that is to say, it is by God that all things are realized”39, in other words, the potentials of things become real, are real-ized or brought into material existence by God’s action. This explains why Abdu’l-Baha considered the movement from existence into existence as a degree of change, even though Aristotle thought of specifically differentiated types of change: for Baha’is, “generation”40, that is, the movement from non-existence to existence is simply the change from potentiality to actuality, which is Aristotle’s original and fundamental definition of movement. “Alternation”41 is a change from a something to something else, and in the Baha’i view, the movement from non-existence, that is, potential existence, to existence is simply the actualization of an already existing potentiality.

 

            This choice by Abdu’l-Baha is of extreme importance because it provides another perspective from which the Baha’i Writings resolve the apparent contradiction between the eternity of the universe and the creation of the world. How can the universe be an eternal emanation from an eternal Creator and the world be created at a point in time by a Prime Mover? Aristotle’s notion of potential existence allows us to resolve this seeming self-contradiction by defining the ‘creation’ of a particular world or being in an Aristotelian manner as the actualization of pre-existing potentials from an infinite store of such potentials. This change requires a mover and, according to Aristotle – as well as the Baha’i Writings and prayers – ultimately there is only one such mover, namely the Divine. Aristotle’s concepts of  ‘potential’ and ‘actual’ also provide a philosophical reason why God is the “Sustainer”: He sustains the universe by being the Prime Mover in a causal chain that leads to the continuous actualization of potentialities in all the kingdoms of material existence.

 


2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 

2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 

2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 

2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 

2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 

2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 


2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 


2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 


2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 


2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105

 

In regards to the first two, sense perception and reason, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are in complete agreement: the process of knowing begins with sense knowledge to which animals, though not humans, are confined.106 We then rise to reason in order to draw rational conclusions that take us beyond the senses and particular objects but which we can trust if we have reasoned correctly. His brief reference to intuition aside, Aristotle’s epistemology stops at this point. Abdu’l-Baha, however, while not rejecting these four sources of knowledge finds them inadequate107 and points out the need for revelation. This leads to the conclusion that while Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree on the role of sense knowledge, reason and possibly intuition, from the Baha’i view, Aristotle’s epistemology is not so much mistaken as incomplete.

 


2.11) The Consequences for Epistemology

 

Finally, the commitment to causality and especially Abdu’l-Baha’s endorsement of Aristotle’s four causes of phenomenal existents commits a Baha’i epistemology to the view that all knowledge of phenomenal entities is knowledge of causes – which is precisely Aristotle’s view.108 This also provides another reason why humans cannot comprehend God: as phenomenal beings preceded by causes we are simply incapable of understanding a being that is not. We may recognize the fact that we cannot and even why we cannot; we may be able to deduce the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes, but we are unable to provide any explanation whatever for an uncaused Being.

 

2.12) The Great Chain of Being

 

            At this point in our necessarily cursory survey of Aristotelian and Baha’i cosmology, it makes sense to pause and reflect on the profound implications of what has been discovered so far. First, we see the universe portrayed as fundamentally causal. As Abdu’l-Baha writes, in an Aristotelian argument that once again employs causality to prove the existence of God:

 

And likewise, those outside influences are subjected to other influences in their turn. For example, the growth and development of a human being is dependent upon the existence of water, and water is dependent upon the existence of rain, and rain is dependent upon the existence of clouds, and clouds are dependent upon the existence of the sun, which causeth land and sea to produce vapour, the condensation of vapour forming the clouds. Thus each one of these entities exerteth its influence and is likewise influenced in its turn. Inescapably then, the process leadeth to One Who influenceth all, and yet is influenced by none, thus severing the chain.109

                                                             

In effect, both Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings promulgate the doctrine known as “the great chain of being” 110 in which all parts of the created world are joined together by causality or mutual influence and in which each part builds upon and augments what is below it. This cannot help but rule out any rigorously non-causal interpretations of the universe, that is, any view which asserts that events – regardless of whether they are micro or macrocosmic –  simply happen without prior cause. The concept of absolute randomness is simply not an option in this view. Causality ensures that there is at least some fundamental order in the universe111 and rules out any understandings of the universe as genuinely chaotic. It bears noting here that causality and determinism are not the same things. As Aristotle pointed out, two unrelated lines of causality may meet and generate a coincidence, an event that could not be determined by even the most minute analysis of either line of causality. If I go to the market to buy fruit and Ann goes to buy bread, our meeting was not pre-determined though every movement has a cause. Further, if Ann pays me the money she owes me, that too is not determined by our mere meeting. These causes, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to explain the events fully from which we may conclude that causality does not necessarily lead to the loss of free will.

 

There is, however, another sense in which the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree on a great chain of being, namely, the existence of a cosmic hierarchy, “an order of perfection in the kinds of existence, with man highest among the biological existents.”112 This, of course, is readily apparent in the Baha’i Writings, when Abdu’l-Baha says, for example, that the differences in reflecting the divine bounties are “of degree and receptivity”113 and that “ all beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”114 Humankind is the acme of natural, phenomenal beings because it is “the collective reality, the general reality and is the center where the glory of all the perfections of God shine forth.”115

 


2.13) The Structure of the Cosmos

 

Would Aristotle agree with Abdu’l-Baha on the nature of this cosmic hierarchy? We must answer positively because the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle share identical views on the hierarchical structure of the physical world. According to Aristotle and the Writings, nature is divided into four kingdoms with ever-increasing powers of action: the mineral, vegetable, animal and human116 where every step up includes the powers below it in addition to a new power that provides an essential identity. Humankind, of course, comprehends all the levels below it, that is, has all the powers of the mineral, vegetable and animal in addition to a distinguishing and essentially human power of reason.117 Aristotle’s views on this matter receive one of their most through explorations in Book III of On the Soul.

 


2.3) Autopoesis

 

            The belief in potentials and a fundamental order in the universe affects Baha’i apologetics insofar as it puts constraints on the concept of autopoesis or self-organizing. From the Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, what is called ‘self-organizing’ is simply the actualization of possibilities for order already present in matter itself – not to mention the entire experimental situation – both of which are already highly organized. In what appears to be the ‘self-organizing’ we are not witnessing the emergence of order from absolute chaos but rather the emergence of one kind of order from another under special circumstances. This means that from a Baha’i / Aristotelian point of view, we cannot logically accept the argument that the existence of ‘self-organization’ as a so-called proof that God is unnecessary to explain order in the cosmos. 

 


2.4) God as the First Mover

 

            At this point we have arrived at the question of the origin of motion and this, of course, is one of the various ways by which we can approach the subject of the Prime Mover. Here again we see how Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings overlap significantly. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

 

Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose – that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from non-existence into being, or going from existence into non-existence. . . This state of motion is said to be essential – that is natural; it cannot be separated from beings because it is their essential requirement . . .42

                                     

Similarly, Aristotle tells us that motion is an inextricable aspect of nature: “Nature has been defined as a ‘principle of motion and change’.”43 In other words nature and motion are necessarily correlated, and whatever is in nature, whatever exists, as Abdu’l-Baha says, is in motion.  The fact of motion in nature, or in creation, leads inevitably to the concept of a Prime Mover because whatever is moved is moved by something.44 Now things either move themselves or they are moved by another and since matter cannot bring itself into existence or set itself into motion (in effect, the same thing given the correlation between nature and movement) a first mover is required to avoid an infinite regress of movers. Aristotle lays out his arguments on this issue in Book VIII of the Physics. The various arguments and deviations require no explication here but the conclusions he draws are important to our subject: (a) there must be a prime mover to first impart motion45; (b) this prime mover must be unmoved46; (c) it must be apart from nature47; (d) it must be one and eternal.48 Every Baha’i will recognize these characteristics as some of the descriptors applied to God in the Writings: “the One, the Single”49 the “Prime Mover”50, the “Self-Subsisting.”51 The notion that the Prime Mover must be apart from nature is seen in Baha’u’llah’s statement that “the one true God is in Himself exalted beyond and above proximity and remoteness.52 Aristotle, who thought of God as pure form thinking on Itself (and knowing creation through knowing Itself) would certainly agree.

 

Albeit very succinctly, Baha’u’llah Himself makes use of the unmoved mover argument when He says, “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause. This fact, in itself, establisheth, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the unity of the Creator.”53 Here Baha’u’llah simply states the conclusion of the argument first advanced by Aristotle, namely that all motion and contingent beings have a cause; this requires the existence of an uncreated First Cause to bring them into being and set them into motion. Indeed, it proves not just the existence of God but His unity, because oneness is the origin of multiplicity. Abdu’l-Baha uses the same argument:

 

. . . we observe that motion without motive force and an effect without a cause are both impossible: that every being hath come to exists under numerous influences and continually undergoeth reaction. These influences, too, are formed under the action of still other influences  . . . Such a process of causation goes, and to maintain that this process goes on indefinitely is manifestly absurd. Thus such a chain of causation must of necessity lead eventually to Him Who is the Ever-Living, the All Powerful, Who is Self-Dependent and the Ultimate Cause.”54

                                               

This is, in effect, nothing less than a paraphrase of Aristotle’s argument using causality and the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes to prove the existence of God. We can also recognize Aristotle’s argument in the following quote from Abdu’l-Baha:

 

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.55

 

In this case, Abdu’l-Baha is simply applying the same craftsman argument used by Aristotle to the things of this world. Having no necessary existence, they are all contingent. The sheer fact of their actual existence means that there must be a non-contingent entity whose existence is necessary and which is capable of bringing the mere potentials into actuality or existence.  The denial of such an entity results in an infinite regress which, as Aristotle and Abdu’l-Baha point out, is logically absurd: there cannot be an indefinite number of definite things. Here, too, the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle are of one mind.

 


2.5) Emanationism and Divine Personalism

 

It might be objected that whatever the similarities between Baha’i and Aristotelian concepts of God, two great differences irremediably separate them: emanationism and divine personalism. Emanationism, the belief, as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, that God originates the universe by divine radiation and not by divine mutation, is generally associated not with Aristotle but with Plotinus, Proclus and other neo-Platonists. Oddly enough, there are no specific references to emanation in Plato’s works to support the term neo-Platonism, invented by Thomas Taylor in the early nineteenth century; indeed, if anything, Plato’s Timaeus with its world-making demiurge suggests a creationist doctrine. That aside, the fact remains that the concept of emanation can be logically derived directly from Aristotle’s notion of God as the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself. As already noted, this concept sets up the archetypal emanationist situation: a producer and a product, a thinker and a thought. It is evident that in the order of logic, the thinker is prior to the thought. There can be no thought without a thinker, and thought obviously lacks the power to think the thinker whereas the opposite is not true. Consequently, the thought is related to but distinct from the thinker and, because of its logically derivative nature, belongs to an ontologically secondary level of being. This order – which could also be repeated with the concept of Will – is precisely what emanationism asserts. We even see Baha’u’llah setting up this very situation: “Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves?”56 The only reasonable conclusion left us is that emanationism is logically derivable from Aristotle’s concept of God and need be neither Platonic in origin nor in nature.

 

As to the second objection, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s concept of God is impersonal, but even this must be understood in a carefully hedged way because there is nothing that logically requires Aristotle’s God to be absolutely impersonal. When we ask if the Unmoved Mover thinking upon Itself can think about us, the answer that immediately suggests itself (and was, in fact adopted) is that the Divine can do so insofar as in contemplating Itself it contemplates supreme perfection which, of course, includes creation, the universe, and us. In other words, God does not perceive us as a subject perceives an object, but rather contemplates us through thoughts focussed on the Divine perfections – which includes the perfection of actualization of potentials. This makes it virtually self-evident that whereas the Unmoved Mover described by Aristotle is impersonal, there is no logical objection to developing his ideas in a personalist direction. Aristotle’s God can be harmonized with the God of the Baha’i Writings who takes sufficient personal interest in creation to send Manifestations.

 


2.6) A Theological Interlude: Other Similarities Regarding God

 

Because Aristotle and the Writings do not recognize a hard and fast distinction between physics and metaphysics and / or theology – a fact of enormous significance in our consideration of the unity of science and religion –  the Divine is an inevitable part of any discussion of the universe’s physical constitution.  Not only do both see God as the “Prime Mover”57 but they also regard God as utterly self-sufficient, meaning, philosophically speaking, as not preceded by a cause58 or, as the Baha’i Writings say, “Self-Subsisting”59 and, therefore, independent of all other existing things. According to Aristotle, God is also the First Mover Who is Himself unmoved or unchanged.60 This is because the Unmoved Mover is pure actuality61, that is, has no potentials, and is, therefore, beyond all change62 because there are no potentials left to actualize. One might also express this by saying that God has no privations, no lacks or deficiencies requiring fulfillment. Moreover, the Divine is one and eternal63 that is, undivided and beyond time, characteristics which also suggest that God is not in space among other phenomenal beings. God is not limited by the normal attributes of all phenomenal, material beings.64 God is also alive65 conscious and thinking.

 

            Because God is ‘beyond’ the phenomenal realm, both the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle agree that God is essentially unknowable and do so for similar reasons. According to Aristotle, God, unlike all phenomena which are composed of matter and form, is one because the Divine has no matter and is pure form. The Divine is, moreover, pure existence, that is, a non-contingent entity66 whose nature is to exist; It is also pure thought thinking only on Itself. As time-and-space bound, composite beings, we can understand these concepts verbally, but cannot comprehend or understand what it is or means to enjoy this sort of being. Similarly, Abdu’l-Baha says,

 

It is evident that the human understanding is a quality of the existence of man, and that man is a sign of God: how can the quality of the sign surround the creator of the sign?--that is to say, how can the understanding, which is a quality of the existence of man, comprehend God? Therefore, the Reality of the Divinity is hidden from all comprehension, and concealed from the

minds of all men. It is absolutely impossible to ascend to that plane.

67

 

By the “Reality of Divinity”68 Abdu’l-Baha means the essence of divinity which is beyond human comprehension. The attributes of divinity can, of course, be known or comprehended, but not the essence of Divinity.69 As pure form thinking Itself70, Aristotle’s God also enjoys a form of being whose nature can be deduced by Its attributes and actions in the phenomenal realm but cannot be known immediately. This is because, according to Aristotle, true knowledge is knowledge of causes71 and not mere description. That, however, is the level at which we must remain with the Unmoved Mover.

 

The similarities between Baha’u’llah’s and Aristotle’s concept of God do not end here. In both views, God is seen to set things into motion not by a direct physical impetus but rather by attracting them to Himself, by being the “object of desire.”72 In the Baha’i Writings this idea is expressed in three ways. First, it is implicit in the prime mover argument used by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha: God Who is beyond change and motion is, nonetheless, the source of all movement, a feat that can only be accomplished by being – to borrow a term from fractal geometry – the Great Attractor towards which all beings strive, though only humans may do so consciously. Second, the notion of God as the Great Attractor is also seen in the belief that all beings seek their own perfection, that is, their final cause which can ultimately be found only in God Who is the final goal of their endeavours. They strive to reflect God’s bounty more adequately and, thereby, perfect their own existences. Their varying capacities constitute the diversity and very order of the universe from the mineral up through the angelic. Third, the concept of attraction to God is implicit in the Teaching that all things in their own degree reflect the perfections of God, that is, are essentially identified by their capacity to manifest, reflect or turn themselves to the Divine. Such reflection is also a return to the Divine and Its bounties. Humankind is no exception to this; as Abdu’l-Baha says, “God has created all and all return to God.”73 Indeed, the role of the Manifestation is to both renew and expand the scope of our conscious and willful effort to return to the Divine. One need hardly explain that at the simplest, material level, such a return can only mean physical motion for which reason God is the Prime Mover.

 

If God sets and keeps all phenomenal beings in motion, if God is the goal which all phenomenal beings strive to emulate as best they can, then it follows that the Divine is their final cause, their purpose, their reason for being. This idea, is, of course, reflected in the Baha’i Noonday Prayer which states that we were created “to know Thee and to worship Thee.” However, in being the final cause of creation, the Great Attractor, God sets it and keeps it in motion, thereby also becoming its ultimate efficient cause. The ordinary events of daily life of course have immediate or proximate efficient causes. Up to this point, Aristotle and the Baha’i Writings agree. However, the Baha’i Writings do not stop here, but rather develop Aristotle’s theory of causation one step further: according to them, God is also the ultimate formal cause because creatures are formed, given an essence, by their varying capacities to reflect God’s Names and attributes.74 Difference in this capacity create essential distinctions among creatures, a fact most readily seen in humankind’s exalted position.75

 


2.7) Causality in Physics

 

Another far-reaching agreement between the Baha’i Writings and Aristotle concerns the all important subject of causality. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha states that all phenomena require four causes: ”the existence of everything depends upon four causes-- the efficient cause, the matter, the form and the final cause. For example, this chair has a maker who is a carpenter, a substance which is wood, a form which is that of a chair, and a purpose which is that it is to be used as a seat. Therefore, this chair is essentially phenomenal, for it is preceded by a cause, and its existence depends upon causes. This is called “the essential and really phenomenal.”76 Abdu’l-Baha’s statement simply elaborates Baha’u’llah’s statement that “All that is created, however, is preceded by a cause.”77 The views promulgated here, and most  specifically Abdu’l-Baha’s, are exactly those first propounded in Aristotle in his Physics 78 and the Metaphysics.79 Here, too, Aristotle discusses the four causes, using precisely the terminology confirmed later by Abdu’l-Baha: the material cause, or matter; the formal cause, or form; the efficient cause, or mover or maker; and the final cause, or purpose. Not only does Abdu’l-Baha employ Aristotle’s terms, he uses them exactly as Aristotle used them in order to analyze causality and, furthermore, he uses them to draw a general conclusion about the nature of reality. As we have already seen previously, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use the Prime, Unmoved Mover argument first promulgated by Aristotle.

 

In examining Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, we notice, first of all, the categorical nature of his statement: “the existence of everything depends on four causes.”80 He is not using Aristotle’s theory to illustrate an answer he has already given in other words or to make something more comprehensible to westerners: he is making an unequivocal statement about the nature of phenomenal, that is, emanated reality. Indeed, the immediate context of this statement is a metaphysical question about the kinds of preexistence and phenomena to which question he provides the answer we have quoted.  From this alone it is clear that Abdu’l-Baha is committed to the answer he provides as a physical and metaphysical truth that we must understand, accept and work with. At this point we might also recall Baha’u’llah’s statement that “[a]ll that is created, however, is preceded by a cause”81 and his reference to God as “the King of the entire creation and its Prime Mover.”82 The description of God as the “Prime Mover”83 of reality is itself a term that harmonizes with Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics.

 


2.8) Consequences of Four-Fold Causality


The far-reaching significance of this agreement regarding causality cannot be stressed too much because Baha’u’llah’s commitment to causality per se, and Abdu’l-Baha’s commitment to Aristotle’s theory of causality lays a particular kind of

foundation for the further development of any Baha’i cosmology, metaphysic and epistemology. This, in turn, will impact on Baha’i views on the unity of science and religion, indeed, on the very definitions of these terms.

 

Let us briefly examine why. As already noted above, the belief in causality inescapably commits the Baha’i Faith to a causal understanding of the physical universe and all physical events. Moreover, the categorical nature of the statements made both by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha make it irrelevant whether or not we are discussing macro or quantum events. This, in turn, limits the physical theories and interpretations of quantum physics which can be logically harmonized with the Baha’i Writings. A far-reaching example of this impact would be our understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Baha’i Writings and their explicit commitment to causality requires us to understand this principle epistemologically, as a statement about the limitations of human knowledge rather than metaphysically as a statement about the supposedly indeterminate nature of the particles themselves. Moreover, it is important to understand that the use of statistics in sub-nuclear science does not logically force us to deny causality. Employing statistical methods merely concedes that we humans cannot comprehend and calculate all of the causes at work, and, therefore make do with knowing degrees of likelihood. There is nothing in this method that requires us to admit that any of the events are uncaused in and of themselves; we need only admit that we cannot know all the relevant causal actions. Consequently, the Baha’i Writings incline us to one of the variously available causal interpretations of quantum theory, such as David Bohm’s.

 

The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the Baha’i Teaching about the unity of science and religion cannot simply mean uncritical agreement between the Writings and any and all scientific theories or interpretations even though accepted at a particular point in time. While the ultimate goal is agreement, that is, harmony between science and religion, it is apparent that the Writings provide us with a basis – an Aristotelian basis – from which to carry out a critical examination of scientific theories. Such a view is strongly supported by Abdu’l-Baha’s epistemology which accepts material, sense knowledge as necessary, but denies that such knowledge is sufficient to attain a complete and true understanding of the universe.

 

Furthermore, commitment to the Aristotelian theory of causes, commits the Baha’i Writings to a teleological view of the natural, phenomenal world, a viewpoint in which all entities, and, most obviously, all living entities84 exist for a purpose which dictates the form and even the materials used. Nature never acts in vain Aristotle tells us, and, elsewhere he says, “God and nature make nothing at random” 85, and still elsewhere that “Nature never makes anything without a purpose and never leaves out what is necessary.”86 This requires us to conclude that in nature the final cause, the formal cause and, in at least some cases, the material cause are one; stated otherwise, the study of the formal, and sometimes, the material causes, is also implicitly knowledge of the final cause. Now, there is no question that for Aristotle, “nature works like the artist or craftsman”87, a concept that is often reiterated throughout his work with a variety of metaphors: the sculptor, the builder, the painter, and, frequently, the doctor who, along with the gardener, is often found in the Baha’i Writings. The “craft analogy”88 between natural and craft production is seen in Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the universe as a “Great Workshop”89 and as “one laboratory of might under one natural system”90 which, without humankind” would lack its “consummation”91 and has no purpose, “no result, no fruit.”92 This argument implicitly sees the entire universe as a garden, that is, a craft work requiring certain pieces to be complete and to attain its purpose. At this point we need only recall that craft work is undertaken for a purpose to see that the “craft analogy”93 operates pervasively throughout the Baha’i Writings.

 

This fact is of enormous importance in our understanding of science and religion because the “craft analogy”94 of creation means that a science which purports to provide complete understanding of the universe must include final causes as part of its explanation. If we limit ourselves, as current science does, at least theoretically, to material and efficient causes, our explanations will be incomplete and, to that extent, mistaken. True scientific explanations must include both immediate and ultimate final causes, that is, must admit that full explanations of nature inevitably take us beyond the material realm. To one extent or another, they must take the supernatural into account, a point so important to Abdu’l-Baha that he specifically praises Aristotle along with Socrates and Plato, for doing so: 

           

The philosophers of Greece--such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and others--were devoted to the investigation of both natural and spiritual phenomena. In their schools of teaching they discoursed upon the world of nature as well as the supernatural world. Today the philosophy and logic of Aristotle are known throughout the world. Because they were interested in both natural and divine philosophy, furthering the development of the physical world of mankind as well as the intellectual, they rendered praiseworthy service to humanity.95

 

 

2.9) The Consequences for Biology and Evolution

 

Applied to biology, the concept of final causes leads readily to the subject of entelechy, the notion that all things and most especially, all living things, contain particular potentials which they strive to manifest or actualize in order to be ‘the best they can be’. To one extent or another – and there is room to make a case that this includes material objects albeit it to a minimal extent  – all things strive to manifest their potential for self-perfection. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “All beings, whether large or small, were created perfect and complete from the first, but their perfections appear in them by degrees.”96 This not only accords with Aristotle’s view about the nature and growth of all things but leads readily to a specifically Aristotelian and Baha’i view of development and evolution. Both accept what some call ‘micro-evolution’, meaning that there can be some change and variation within a species but not a transformation of one species into a completely different one. For Aristotle and the Writings, while “species and genera are eternal”97; species evolve over time by actualizing, manifesting or displaying their store of potentials in the physical world without changing into different species.

 

To understand why the Writings take this position, let us examine the issue from the point of view of Aristotle’s potentials. It becomes immediately apparent that the potentials required to be a member of a particular kind (or species or genera) cannot change: certain potentials are eternally necessary to be a spoon as opposed to a knife, a house cat as distinct from a walrus. This is not surprising because a spoon and a walrus have different essences and one can never become the other. No one would dispute this. Thus, if we understand Abdu’l-Baha and Aristotle to be discussing the essences of things or species, there is no real conflict with current scientific beliefs in regarding the stability of essences or species. No one would claim that a million years ago the essence of a spoon was different than it is today. The fact that essences don’t change is true whether we are discussing non-living spoons or developing entities in which the various attributes appear over a period of time.

 

Thus the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appears in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. . . . In the same manner, it is evident that this terrestrial globe, having once found existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organization.98

 

The most striking point here is that like humankind, the physical earth itself came into existence with a cluster of particular potentialities and has been manifesting these over time. One of these potentials was for the development of various forms of life among which humans are included. Had there been no such potentials for manifesting life inherent in the earth, no such life forms would have developed here. 

 

Equally important is Abdu’l-Baha’s point that once in existence, all things, be they babies or planets, develop according to their potentials, and that, for various reasons, at different stages, they have different outer forms. Even though outwardly, phenomenally, they may lack certain potentials, inwardly, or essentially they may well have them. We cannot judge strictly by the outer, apparent form at one moment because potentials manifest over a period of time. Thus, the conclusion drawn by an examination of bones (outward forms) that by reason of resemblance to animals, humankind was once an animal is logically unwarranted. As convergent evolution shows, similarity is no proof of any relationship, let alone ancestry; logically speaking, similarity is not identity. Moreover, similarity of bone might be covering up differences in soft, non-surviving organs such as the brain. Abdu’l-Baha does not deny that humankind once appeared more primitive than today; he simply denies the conclusion that because of their primitive appearance, our ancestors were animals. He does not deny the data, but rather the conclusion drawn from it. And he does so for good reason: no matter how dissimilar or similar they appear to other species, humans have potentials lacking in animals.

 

            To see what this means, let us perform the following thought experiment. Imagine a population of the alleged common ancestor of apes and humans being subjected to random mutations. It takes only a little thought to realize that even random mutations can only attain certain results in an organism that has the potential to be affected by the mutation in a certain way. A random mutation in a carrot will not produce a hummingbird; carrot’s lack the capacity for such a change. In this population of alleged common ancestors, some had the potential for being randomly mutated in this way and some did not. That’s why some mutated and some didn’t. At this point it becomes clear that the difference between those that have the potential or capacity for a change that will allow them to manifest certain human abilities and those that don’t, is an essential difference, a difference in kind, not degree. In other words, even then at the stage of unmanifested potentials, there was already a difference between the two populations despite similarity or even identity of outward appearance. In short, the notion that humans were once essentially animals is not only not supported by data drawn exclusively from surviving bones, but also is not supported by logical reasoning about potentials.

 

It might be argued that this pits the Baha’i Writings against current scientific consensus and thus violates the Baha’i teaching of the harmony of science and religion. Whether or not this objection holds true depends on how we interpret what this teaching means. I shall argue that it does not mean that religion and science must agree on each and every point at all times and under all circumstances. This is because science itself is evolving; today’s truth is tomorrow’s ‘myth’ or falsehood. For example, at one time, science was certain that sunlight was somehow necessary to all life yet the discovery of life near deep-sea vents disproved that assertion. Rather than demanding absolute detailed agreement, in my view the doctrine of harmony between science and religions means a mutual and fundamental commitment to reason and rational inquiry as far as they can go. Rational critique by either side of the other is not ruled out by the demand for harmony between them just as rational critique among scientists themselves does not deny their harmonious co-operation in the project of discovering the truth. Aristotle’s four-fold teaching about causality lets us develop this theme even further.   


           

2.10) The Consequences for the Unity of Science and Religion

 

            Aristotle’s doctrine of four-fold causality lays the foundation for the unification of science and religion in a single, coherent scheme. Science restricts itself to the study of the material and efficient causes of all phenomena whereas religion studies the formal and final causes. In this sense, they complement, that is, complete, each other and, thereby, help us make complete sense of the phenomenal world.

 

The issue of final causes will, of course, lead to some controversy about the nature of science and the role of empiricism in the quest for knowledge. However, much of this conflict is spurious insofar as much of the debate on this subject is based on Galileo’s and Descartes’ misunderstanding of what Aristotle actually said. As Henry Veatch points out, final cause is a perfectly commonsensical notion, applicable to nature as well as products of conscious work once we understand what Aristotle meant. Here is how Veatch explains final causes:

 

In other words, since natural agents and efficient causes as far as we understand them, are found to have quite determinate and more or less predictable results, to that same extent we can also say that  such forces are therefore ordered to their own appropriate consequences or achievement: it is these they regularly tend to produce, and it is these that may thus be said to be their proper ends . . .  Aristotelian final causes are no more than this: the regular and characteristic consequences or results that are correlated with the characteristic actions of various agents and efficient causes that operate in the natural world.99

                                     

In other words, Aristotle’s concept of final causes is no less scientific than a chemical formula that successfully predicts the results of certain actions or the belief in the law of gravity. One might also express this by saying that final causes are the potentials that will actualize when certain preconditions are met either naturally or through conscious human manipulation. They are not, as has been so often claimed, mere anthropomorphisms and do not undermine the doctrine of the unity of science and religion. 

           

It has already become obvious that neither Aristotle nor the Writings countenance an absolute division between the natural and super-natural, that is between at least some aspects of natural science and what Aristotle calls ‘theology.”100 In the Physics, for example, Aristotle uses logic to move smoothly from a consideration of causality to the argument for the existence of God, a non-sensible substance and cause, as a First Mover. Abdu’l-Baha, as we have already seen above, also makes use of this argument. In short, both see God, regarded as a logically necessary First Mover, as an integral part of physics. Moreover, both see science as being at least in part, deductive, that is, able to attain certainty on the basis of carefully formulated premises. This is not to say they deny induction101 but rather that they realize that science requires both.

 

Though there is no space to pursue it in detail here, it seems evident that the Baha’i Writings about epistemology and philosophy of science confirm much of Aristotle’s philosophy and then add revelation as the crown of its epistemic / scientific edifice. Here is another example: the Writings accept Aristotle’s enumeration of the soul’s powers as the nutritive, the appetitive, the sensory, the locomotive, and the power of thinking102, the last being confined to humankind.103 Moreover, Aristotle is even willing to countenance the idea of “immediate intuition”104 although he points out it represents a different epistemological problem and does not pursue it anywhere else in his works. In his discussion of epistemological issues, Abdu’l-Baha says,

           

Briefly then, these four criteria according to the declarations of men are: first, sense perception; second, reason; third, traditions; fourth, inspiration.105