Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Epistemological Implications of the Gradated Claims to Divine Authority in the Bahá'í Writings & Reflections on Infallibility

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Epistemological Implications of the Gradated Claims to Divine Authority in the Bahá'í Writings & Reflections on Infallibility

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Historically, claims to divine authority, and in particular to infallible authority, have been most often associated with such things as power politics (for example, the supposed divinity of the Roman emperors or, in modern times, of the Emperor of Japan), religious dogmatism (as in the Catholic claim to papal infallibility), the preservation of privilege (as in the "divine right" of the European kings), or with psychopathic and manipulative cult leaders. In the light of this history, it would be very easy to dismiss all possible claims to divine authority as prima facie false and, when such claims are made, to consider them extravagant and exotic.

However, this history only shows that claims to infallible authority should be closely scrutinized and critically examined. It does not exclude that de facto infallibility (accompanied or not by a claim to such authority) has played a role in the rise of human civilization. Indeed, as we show in the second of the following two essays, the facts attending the negen tropic rise of civilization suggests that such "external truth referents" may well have been an essential and periodic feature of humanity's forward movement.

That such external truth referents have indeed existed is the fundamental premise of the theory known as "progressive revelation," first fully articulated by Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. According to Bahá'u'lláh, it is only God's periodic intervention into history through an infallible Manifestation (or Prophet) that has generated human progress. If left to his own natural devices, and absent such divine intervention, man would inevitably have erred not merely frequently but continually. The human rational faculty is like a perfect mirror in a dark room. Unless illumined by the light of valid inner experience, it cannot be truly effective.

Based on explicit texts from the Bahá'í writings and also on certain considerations arising from the modern philosophy of science, the two essays which follow attempt to show the compatibility and complementarity between autonomous scientific and rational thought, on one hand, and reference to valid divine texts, on the other. …

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