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COLLECTIONBook reviews
TITLEDialogues with Scientists and Sages: The Search for Unity, by Renee Weber: Review
AUTHOR 1Kishan Manocha
TITLE_PARENTBahá'í Studies Review
PUB_THISAssociation for Bahá'í Studies English-Speaking Europe
TAGSPhysics; Science; Unity
CONTENT Dialogues with Scientists and Sages: The Search for Unity
Author: Renee Weber
Publisher: London and New York, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986
Review by: Kishan Manocha

The idea of unity is very much alive in our times. For so long the domain of poets and visionaries, in recent times the intuitive, vague and idealistic notion of 'oneness' is being shown to have a solid basis in fact. Leading scientists are declaring that their observations of the physical world reveal to them that everything in the universe is held together in an 'unbroken wholeness'.

Such insights should not come as a surprise to students of the Bahá'í Revelation who not only acknowledge the fundamental oneness and unity operating in all spheres of existence but readily appreciate and celebrate the unique contributions of science and mysticism/revelation in the search for unity. As we can expect the Bahá'í teachings to continue to inspire, inform and transform present and future understanding of the unity paradigm, it makes it increasingly valuable, at this stage, to explore and identify ways in which the new theories of physical nature echo the insights contained within the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, thereby leading us to a more profound understanding that unity lies at the heart of our world'.

In this regard, one of the most inspiring and readable of all books exploring this theme is a volume by the philosopher Renee Weber, Dialogues with Scientists and Sages: The Search for Unity. Contained in this book are the best of her interviews conducted over a number of years with four spiritual leaders and four scientists: the Dalai Lama, Father Bede Griffiths, Lama Anagarika Govinda, J. Krishnamurti, and David Bohm, Ilya Prirogine, Stephen Hawking and Rupert Sheldrake.

Among the contributions, those offered by Bohm, a physicist, and Sheldrake, a biologist, are particularly worthy of consideration. Both scientists agree that there is an overlap between science and metaphysics, presenting science and religion as complementary aspects of human experience, each operating within their own limits, but equally central to the search for correct values and, ultimately, their application to the creation of a peaceful and progressive society.

David Bohm features in more of the discussions than anyone else, not surprising as he is considered to be one of the world's foremost theoretical physicists. His work has largely been responsible for the fact that we know that two sub-atomic particles can respond to each other instantaneously as though they were parts of one whole even though they might occupy completely different parts of the universe. Bohm explains the immediate 'action at a distance' of sub-atomic particles by saying that 'everything in the universe is a kind of total rapport'. In Dialogues, Bohm expounds on his philosophy of an 'unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence', proposing that at the heart of this universe of wholeness there is an implicate or unfolded order, an order which is creative, dynamic, alive and essentially one. The implicate order, he maintains, is the inner world which lies behind the outer world.

At this stage readers may well have noted the remarkable parallel that exists between these ideas and the knowledge of the existence of a world of unbroken wholeness and unity. Equally illuminating is 'Abdu'l-Bahá's teaching propounded in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh.

Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other... Since We have created you all from the same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth, and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. (Bahá'u'lláh, Arabic Hidden Words, No. 68)

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great Light. How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop! (Gleanings 177)

Indeed, the spirit of modern science's search for unity and a unified field theory seem to have been anticipated in 'Abdu'l-Bahá assertions that nature is governed by one 'universal law' which is in operation from the invisible atom to the stars:

I mean that this limitless universe is like the human body, all the members of which are connected and linked with one another with the greatest strength. How much the organs, the members, and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another! In the same way, the parts of this infinite universe have their members and elements connected with one another, and influence one another spiritually and materially. ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions 245)

Equally illuminating is 'Abdu'l-Bahá's teaching on the concepts of the physical and spiritual, of internal and external reality. Ultimately, a more complete picture is painted, that of unity as constituting far more than simply the sum total of two descriptions: the one derived from scientific study, the other inspired by religion. What it eventually allows us to appreciate is that the 'smallest atoms in the universal system are similar to the greatest beings of the universe' since 'it is clear that they come into existence from one laboratory of might under one natural system and one universal system.' (Some Answered Questions 182)

Another scientist interviewed in the book is biologist Rupert Sheldrake, whose controversial views on morphogenetic field theory were first advanced in 1981. He proposed that there is a field, or spatial structure, which is responsible for the development of the form of an organism, and that these fields are built up through patterns of memory and habit. At one stage in the discussion between Renee Weber and Sheldrake, a question is raised about the fields set up by great religious figures such as the Buddha and Jesus Christ. In his conversation with Weber, David Bohm expresses the view that the power of the Buddha 'came from the level of wholeness deep within the implicate order from where the Buddha operated' and at that level 'only compassion and order are possible, not hatred and disorder', a rather challenging concept of the Manifestation of God, which is sadly only briefly touched upon in the course of these conversations, leaving the reader anxious to know more about the metaphysical nature of this Reality, His relationship to the created universe and to other major figures in religious history such as Krishna, Moses, Christ and Confucius.

In an absorbing book, Weber has done well to bring to the attention of the lay reader how modern science now points dramatically towards a harmony between the scientific and spiritual. But, as in any collection of interviews, some stars shine more brightly and, if anything, the ideas and insights of the scientists interviewed in Dialogues stand out and apart from their counterparts in religion as being more visionary and incisive. Dialogues with Scientists and Sages is indeed a book to stimulate reflection and meditation. Like many of its contemporaries (Uncommon Wisdom by Fritjof Capra and The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav), it has done a great service to mankind, clearly demonstrating the new spirit of carriage that exists between science and religion in the quest for unity.

Works Cited

  • 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Trans. L.C. Barney. 4th. ed. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.
  • Bahá'u'lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. rev. ed. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976.
  • _____. The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh. Trans. Shoghi Effendi. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1975.
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