‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Darwin, and the Evolution of All Things 1
On the evening of October 10, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the Open Forum in San Francisco — a group devoted to the discussion of economic and philosophical ideas — and he tackled the issue of evolution head on. He argued in favor of evolution, albeit with critical differences from the physical mechanics of Darwin’s theory, and he drew an entirely different set of metaphysical conclusions. …
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk at the Open Forum was one of the longest and most intricate he delivered during his time in America. But its underlying logic rested on two principles. First, while human beings have developed biologically through many stages of evolution, we were always destined to be human, realizing a latent potential over time. Second, the qualities that distinguish us — reason, abstract thought, scientific advancement, and so on — are not merely minor differentiators, but characteristics that separate us fundamentally from animals.
Every matter that is contrary to sound reason and science and is opposed to the fundamental principles of the divine religions is an obstacle to progress and a cause of people avoiding and rejecting the laws of God. 2
Some physicians were in His presence today. The Master spoke with them about the use of diet to heal diseases. He then dealt with the spiritual remedy for the intellectual diseases of the people and nations:
Today, the greatest and speediest remedy and the sole effective antidote that the Divine Physician has prescribed for the world’s ills is the oneness of humanity, universal peace, the explanation of the principles of the divine religions and the removal of dogmatic imitations and customs which are contrary to science and reason. Indeed, one of the chief reasons for irreligion among people is that the leaders of religion, such as the Catholic priests, take a little bread and wine, blow a breath over it and then say that the bread is the flesh of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ. Of course, a man of understanding would not accept these dogmas and would say that if this bread and wine is turned into the flesh and blood of Christ by the breath of a priest, then the priest must be superior to Christ. Thus Bahá’u’lláh has said, ‘Every matter that is contrary to sound reason and science and is opposed to the fundamental principles of the divine religions is an obstacle to progress and a cause of people avoiding and rejecting the laws of God.’
A Bahá’í children’s meeting was held in the afternoon at the home of Mrs Goodall and Mrs Cooper. When the Master saw the children, He remarked: ‘Praise be to God! What radiant children they are!’ He spoke briefly, encouraging and praising them for their courtesy and upbringing. Kissing them one by one, He greeted each child in short English sentences and each received from Him some flowers and sweets.
He then went upstairs to meet with some Hindus who had come to visit Him. His conversation with them was this:
Man must irrigate the Blessed Tree which has eternal fruits and is the cause of life for all on earth. This goodly Tree, though hidden at first, will erelong envelop the whole world, and its leaves and branches will reach the heavens. It is like the Tree which Buddha planted: although at first it was a small sapling, it eventually enveloped the countries of Asia.
The Master left Mrs Goodall’s home to go for a walk. He stopped at a neighbor’s door. The lady of the house brought a chair for Him. He sat for awhile, pleased with the woman’s reverence and thoughtfulness, and bestowed His loving kindness upon her.
In the evening the Master spoke before a joyful gathering of the Theosophical Society. The president of the society introduced ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in glowing terms, referring to the appearance of perfect souls and divine manifestations, saying:
Each of those teachers was an educator of the world of humanity and each brought a Book for the training of the souls. This evening we have the exalted honor to have one of these educators among us. He has brought a new Message for the evolution of humanity and will speak to us this evening. I have the utmost honor to introduce to you His Holiness ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whom you know well.
The Master then spoke about the rising of the Sun of Reality from different signs of the zodiac, the immortality of the spirit and the universality of the new Revelation. The audience was very interested and requested His permission to ask questions. Their enthusiasm and admiration was heightened when they heard His persuasive answers.
10 October 1912, Talk at Open Forum, San Francisco, California 3
Virtue, or perfection, belongs to man, who possesses both the capacity of the senses and ideal perception. For instance, astronomical discoveries are man’s accomplishments. He has not gained this knowledge through his senses. The greater part of it has been attained through intellect, through the ideal senses. Man’s inventions have appeared through the avenue of his reasonable faculties. All his scientific attainments have come through the faculty of reason. Briefly, the evidences of intellect or reason are manifest in man. By them he is differentiated from the animal. Therefore, the animal kingdom is distinct and inferior to the human kingdom. Notwithstanding this, the philosophers of the West have certain syllogisms, or demonstrations, whereby they endeavor to prove that man had his origin in the animal kingdom; that although he is now a vertebrate, he originally lived in the sea; from thence he was transferred to the land and became vertebrate; that gradually his feet and hands appeared in his anatomical development; then he began to walk upon all fours, after which he attained to human stature, walking erect. They find that his anatomy has undergone successive changes, finally assuming human form, and that these intermediate forms or changes are like links connected. Between man and the ape, however, there is one link missing, and to the present time scientists have not been able to discover it. Therefore, the greatest proof of this western theory of human evolution is anatomical, reasoning that there are certain vestiges of organs found in man which are peculiar to the ape and lower animals, and setting forth the conclusion that man at some time in his upward progression has possessed these organs which are no longer functioning but appear now as mere rudiments and vestiges.
- Sockett, Robert. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Darwin, and the Evolution of All Things.” 239 Days in America, 11 Oct. 2012, https://239days.com/2012/10/11/abdul-baha-darwin-and-the-evolution-of-all-things/. [return]
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=8#section202 [return]
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 357-358. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/27#962400967 [return]