Note: The opinions expressed in this review are personal and may not properly
be attributed to any Bahá'í institution or member thereof
See Ian Kluge's "Bahá'í Philosophy Page" for more detailed philosophical
consideration of the Bahá'í Writings. www.geocities.com/SoHo/Den/4944/
REASONING AND THE BAHA'I WRITINGS
- "... in this age the peoples of the world need the
arguments of reason.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered
Questions, p. 7, italics added. See also "Be anxiously concerned with the
needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies
Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings, CVI, p.21.
- "Every subject presented to a thoughtful audience must
be supported by
rational proofs and logical arguments."
(Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p.86; italics added ). We must
do so in light of "the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence
(Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, LXXXIII, p.164)
- "... This [the previous argument] is a spiritual proof, but one which
we cannot at the beginning put forth for the benefit of the materialists.
First we must speak of the logical proofs, afterward the spiritual
(Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.197; italics added).
- "If it [the previous explanation] were otherwise, the foundations of the
Religion of God would rest upon an illogical proposition which the mind
could never conceive, and how can the mind be forced to believe a
thing which it cannot conceive?" (Abdu'l-Bahá, SAQ, p.115; italics added).
In a faith whose teachings place enormous emphasis on reason, which requires
all members to investigate the truth for themselves and to actively teach the
Faith, a working knowledge of the use and misuse of reason and persuasive
devices is highly advantageous. This is even more true as the Faith gains
public attention. With ever increasing frequency, ordinary Bahá'ís must cope
with both well-meaning and critical inquirers who present questions and issues
that have occurred to them or been drawn to their attention by outside sources.
A Bahá'í capable of immediately providing well-reasoned answers to a seeker's
concern or of identifying a logical error in a critic's argument, will, in the
last analysis, be a more effective teacher than one who is not - provided, of
course, that s/he also conducts him/herself in a spirit of friendliness and
good will as the Writings require.
For example, a seeker may have read one of Abdu'l-Bahá'ís proofs for the
immortality of the spirit (SAQ, 223) but not understood it, or claim to have
found a flaw. Or, a guest at a fireside may challenge the proofs for God's
existence or the existence and immortality of the soul or even assert that the
Faith practices gender discrimination. The most effective Bahá'í teacher will
be able to provide immediate and direct explanations for Abdu'l-Bahá's proofs
or point out flaws in the seeker's own assertions. If the Bahá'í teacher can't
do that, s/he must find someone (or some other source) who can - and this is
the point: sooner or later, s/he must find someone or something that deal
reasonably and logically
with the seeker's objections. However, it is
obvious that an immediate and direct answer from the teacher is more effective
than a delayed answer from elsewhere.
One might argue that Bahá'ís should let the Institutions look after critiques
of the Faith. In some instances this is doubtlessly true. However, a Bahá'í
will not achieve maximum credibility - and, therefore, will not be a fully
effective teacher - if s/he cannot cope with the questions, concerns and
arguments brought to them personally by individuals, both seekers and critics.
The inability to provide clear and immediate answers inevitably arouses the
suspicion that the teacher is a victim -
and purveyor - of blind faith. This in itself misrepresents the Bahá'í Faith to
For the most thorough, accurate and far-reaching understanding of how
reasoning is used in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá, we must
recognize that both use terminology, arguments and concepts that overlap and
agree with the philosophical tradition that begins with Plato and Aristotle,
continues through Maiamonides, Avicenna and St Thomas Aquinas and flourishes
today in the various forms of neo-Thomism. Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá frame
many of their arguments in the following terms: essence, act, potency,
substance, attribute, form, matter, rational soul, existence, final, formal,
material and efficient causes, existence, natural law, faculties and powers.
The Writings use each of the terms as Plato and Aristotle used them. The
convergence with the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition is also apparent in the
emanationist metaphysics and the use of many of the arguments about the
existence of God, the nature of matter, the soul and human immortality. Thus,
all Bahá'ís can deepen their understanding of the Writings by becoming more
familiar with the Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy which provides simple,
common-sense yet highly flexible and sophisticated tools for reasoning
correctly. This tradition has endured 2500 years of enormous cultural change,
has out-lived all of its rivals and continues today as vigorously as ever
because it is capable of facilitating logically correct thought on all
Here, in an argument to prove the immortality of the soul, Abdu'l-Bahá
provides an example of this Aristotelian philosophical language as used in the
Writings, and, most significantly, in a manner completely compatible with the
Answer.--Some think that the body is the substance and
exists by itself, and that the spirit is accidental and
depends upon the substance of the body, although, on the contrary, the
rational soul is the substance, and the body depends upon
it. If the accident--that is to say, the body--be
destroyed, the substance, the spirit, remains.
Second, the rational soul, meaning the human spirit,
does not descend into the body--that is to say, it does not enter it, for
descent and entrance are characteristics of bodies, and the rational
soul is exempt from this. The spirit never entered this body, so in
quitting it, it will not be in need of an abiding-place: no, the spirit is
connected with the body, as this light is with this mirror. When the mirror is
clear and perfect, the light of the lamp will be apparent in it, and when the
mirror becomes covered with dust or breaks, the light will disappear.
The rational soul--that is to say, the human spirit-- has neither entered
this body nor existed through it; so after the
disintegration of the composition of
the body, how should it be in need of a substance through which it
may exist? On the contrary, the rational soul is the
substance through which the body exists. The personality of the
rational soul is from its beginning; it is not due to the
instrumentality of the body, but the state and the
personality of the rational soul may be strengthened in this world; it will
make progress and will attain to the degrees of perfection, or it will remain
in the lowest abyss of ignorance, veiled and deprived from beholding the signs
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 239
Before proceeding, it is necessary to ensure that we are clear about the
essential nature of logic and reason. All logical thought is based on the law
of non-contradiction which can be expressed in various forms. The most useful
of these states that "A cannot be A and not-A at the same time in the same
sense" or that "A cannot have quality C and not have C at the same time in the
same sense." For example, fire cannot be hot and cold at the same time in the
same way. It is hot to us and cold in comparison to the sun but it cannot be
hot and cold to the sun simultaneously. To claim otherwise is a logical
self-contradiction; the two statements cancel each other out.
It is also important to note that the Writings do not use one kind of logic
and reason in what Abdu'l-Bahá calls "logical" proofs and another in what he
calls "spiritual proofs" (SAQ, 195). They do not imply several types of logic.
The Writings do, indeed, employ logic to pursue different kinds of arguments
(analogies; paradoxes etc.) but regardless of particular topic and application,
all of the reasoning found in the Writings follows the law of
non-contradiction, and the laws of logical reasoning following from
Spiritual proofs, using scripture as their premises and
verification, follow the same rules of reasoning as "logical" proofs. Only the
applications vary, not the laws of logic and reasoning. Below is an example of
what Abdu'l-Bahá calls a "spiritual proof":
Therefore it cannot be said there was a time when man was not. All that we
can say is that this terrestrial globe at one time did not exist, and at its
beginning man did not appear upon it. But from the beginning which has no
beginning, to the end which has no end, a perfect manifestation always exists.
This man of whom we speak is not every man; we mean the perfect man. For the
noblest part of the tree is the fruit, which is the reason of its existence; if
the tree had no fruit, it would have no meaning. Therefore it cannot be
imagined that the worlds of existence, whether the stars or this earth, were
once inhabited by the donkey, cow, mouse, and cat, and that they were
without man! This supposition is false and meaningless. The word of God is
clear as the sun. This is a spiritual proof, but one which we cannot at
the beginning put forth for the benefit of the materialists; first we must
speak of the logical proofs, afterwards the spiritual proofs.
Bahá'í World Faith, p.311; emphasis added
It is important to notice that Abdu'l-Bahá does not abandon the laws of logic
simply because he is providing a "spiritual proof". In fact, his argument is so
logically rigorous that it can be presented as a standard two part type A
(1) All created things need a final cause (reason to exist) to exist.
(2) The universe is a created thing.
(3) Therefore, the universe needs a final cause to exist.
(1) All created things need a final cause (reason to exist) to exist.
(2) The perfect man is the final cause of the universe.
(3) Therefore, the perfect man has existed since the beginning of the universe,
i.e. the perfect man has always existed.
The reason this argument cannot at first be presented to materialists is
because materialists deny the existence of final causes in nature and
completely ignore the concept of transcendentals (being, perfection, goodness,
truth and beauty among others) which play such an important role in the
Platonic-Aristotelian tradition and the Bahá'í Writings. In addition,
materialist philosophies usually deny the concept of essences as well as the
concept of change as the actualization of potentials. All of these concepts
play a vital role in the philosophy embedded in the Bahá'í Teachings.
However, before we proceed, we must rid ourselves of an erroneous
pre-conception. I am not saying the Bahá'í Faith is a purely rationalist
religion in which the heart, intuition, faith, mysticism and revelation have no
place. Quite the opposite. The
structure of the philosophy embedded in the Writings is
: one level builds on another in a step by step
fashion until we reach the pinnacle of knowledge and understanding, namely the
recognition of Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation for this age and the object of
all knowledge (Gleanings, XXXV, p.84). Rational, philosophic knowledge forms
the foundation this structure. However, to actualize its full potential reason
needs the Holy Spirit, i.e. divine grace and inspiration:
He must also impart spiritual education, so that intelligence and
comprehension may penetrate the metaphysical world, and may receive
benefit from the sanctifying breeze of the Holy Spirit, and may enter into
relationship with the Supreme Concourse.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 9; emphasis added
But the bounty of the Holy Spirit gives the true method of comprehension
which is infallible and indubitable. This is through the help of the Holy
Spirit which comes to man, and this is the condition in which
certainty can alone be attained.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.297; emphasis added
In other words, while we may begin with reason, reason alone cannot reach the
heights of knowledge. The supra-rational ways of knowing
intuition, feeling, and mystical experiences empowered and guided by the Holy
Spirit as manifest in the Writings and Institutions is necessary to complete
our rational knowledge. In other words, the philosophy embedded in the Writings
has an architectonic structure that accommodates rational and supra-rational
Philosophically, this means the Bahá'í Faith is a variant of moderate
sometimes referred to as moderate realism
When we ask the all important question, "How much can reason or logic tell us?"
we get three basic answers: everything; some things; nothing.
Rationalists in their various versions and incarnations believe that reason and
logic can tell us everything that is worthy of being called `truth' or
knowledge. Spinoza, Leibniz and today's positivists belong in this camp. These
are the champions of what they call the `scientific method' and they refuse to
accept as truth any statement that cannot be explained and proven by experiment
and logical explanation. They do not believe that there is any limit to the
power of logical explanation and, therefore, whatever cannot be explained
logically is "non-sense" .
At the opposite extreme are skeptics and most, if not all, forms of
post-modernism which, for various reasons do not believe that reason and logic
can give us any truth at all. Indeed, the hard skeptics
deny that there
is any such thing as `Truth' in any objective sense, and the soft
, while willing to admit that such a `Truth' might exist, deny that
human beings can ever know it. Both positions are logically self-refuting (To
say `There is no `Truth' in effect asserts there is at least one `Truth', i.e.
that there is none!) but this fundamental flaw has never hindered them from
advancing their arguments.
Between the two extremes is what is called moderate rationalism (or moderate
realism) which asserts that reason can tell us some things but not everything.
The trick, of course, is to identify what reason can or cannot tell us. The key
is that this position leaves plenty of scope for the power of reason but also
recognizes that reason alone cannot tell us everything, thereby leaving room
for other modes of knowing. This is the Bahá'í position, but one which the
Faith shares with Plato, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas among others.
To see why this is so, we must turn to The Promulgation of Universal Peace (p.
20-22) in which Abdu'l-Bahá shows how the four sources of knowledge are
inadequate by themselves and must be augmented by the by "the breaths and
promptings of the Holy Spirit which is light and knowledge Itself. Through it
the human mind is quickened and fortified unto true conclusions and perfect
knowledge." (PUP, 22). In other words, the four methods of acquiring human
knowledge - senses, reason, tradition and inspiration - are adequate to a point
- after which they require augmentation by the Holy Spirit to achieve "perfect
knowledge" (ibid.) None of these methods of acquiring knowledge are wrong as
far as they go but we must remember that they cannot always take us all the way
to the absolute certainty and completeness we crave.
CONTRADICTIONS VS PARADOXES AND PARALLELISMS
To understand reason and logic in the Writings, it is important to distinguish
between a contradiction and a paradox. A contradiction cancels itself, but a
paradox does not. Paradoxes - single statements that seem to contradict
themselves - can be resolved
i.e. they make logical sense once we
realize that there has been a shift in viewpoint and/or the meaning of a word.
For example, a lover says s/he is hot and cold. How can this be? Perhaps hot by
physical attraction and cold by a feeling of the love-objects perceived
aloofness. We have here a viewpoint shift from physical to emotional with the
resulting change of meaning of what we mean by `temperature'.
In writing about the soul, Bahá'u'lláh says:
It is still, and yet it soareth; it moveth, and yet it is still. It is,
itself, a testimony that beareth witness to the existence of a world that is
contingent, as well as to the reality of a world that hath neither beginning
(Gleanings, LXXXII, p. 161-2)
Appearances to the contrary, this is not a blatant self-contradiction; the word
"yet" signals a paradox, though not all paradoxes contain such obvious signals.
This contradiction resolves itself once we realize that the soul is related to
the body as the sun is to a mirror (SAQ, 114,229,242). The sun does not
actually or essentially change its location when it is reflected in a mirror.
Nonetheless, it appears in two places at the same time; it exists in itself and
is also present in the mirror as a reflection, i.e. has kept its place in one
form and simultaneously appeared somewhere else.
It is also clear that "move" and "soar" are used in a metaphorical and not a
literal, physical sense.
At this point the advantage of understanding the Platonic Aristotelian nature
of the Writings becomes obvious because one can resolve this paradox in
philosophically precise language by saying that the sun exists substantially in
one place and formally in another. There is no logical contradiction between
substantial and formal existence and the two need not be at the same place at
the same time. A plan or photo of my car is not my car. The same applies to
movement. Literal movement is a substantial change in location limited to one
place at one time; formal movement is repetition (or projection). There can be
many plans and photos of my car. Is this terminology necessary to resolve
Bahá'u'lláh's paradox? Of course not, but it is useful for three reasons.
First, it facilitates a deeper understanding of the Writings by revealing more
clearly the logical rigour that underlies the images, metaphors and analogies
used therein. They are not mere "prettyfications" and embellishments.
Second, this knowledge allows Bahá'í teachers to refute charges that the
images, metaphors and analogies are simply pretty covers for lack of precise
thought or ignorance.
Third, it instills a new level of rational confidence in the Writings. Their
rationality is demonstrable in a very tangible way to those who know how to
read them at this level.
Another example of a paradox is found below.
Meditate on what the poet hath written: "Wonder not, if my Best-Beloved be
closer to me than mine own self; wonder at this, that I, despite such nearness,
should still be so far from Him."... Considering what God hath revealed, that
"We are closer to man than his life-vein," the poet hath, in allusion to this
verse, stated that, though the revelation of my Best-Beloved hath so permeated
my being that He is closer to me than my life-vein, yet, notwithstanding my
certitude of its reality and my recognition of my station, I am still so far
removed from Him. By this he meaneth that his heart, which is the seat of the
All-Merciful and the throne wherein abideth the splendor of His revelation, is
forgetful of its Creator, hath strayed from His path, hath shut out itself from
His glory, and is stained with the defilement of earthly desires.
(Gleanings, XCIII, p.185)
Here Bahá'u'lláh Himself resolves the paradox for us in a rational way by
explaining that distance is to be interpreted as `forgetfulness' of God, a
spiritual condition, while closeness is to be interpreted as the fact of the
universal presence of God's revelation. God's revelation is omnipresent but
human unconsciousness of this fact creates infinite distance between them.
Here is another example of Bahá'u'lláh illustrating the principle of resolving
paradoxes by adopting a different viewpoint:
Consider the sun. Were it to say now, "I am the sun of yesterday," it would
speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to
be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it
be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And
if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that
they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth
recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular
Gleanings, XIII, p.22
It is important to note that Bahá'u'lláh resolves the paradox in a logical
manner; He does not try to flout logic by mis-using it to proclaim two
mutually contradictory statements to be true at the same time and in the same
Bahá'u'lláh's use of paradox does not indicate a theory of
conflicting truths or some form of `dialectical reasoning' in which contraries
are somehow simultaneously `true'.
Why do the Writings use paradoxes? For the same reason teachers often do:
paradoxes are one of the most effective devices for teasing the mind into
deeper thought and reflection, something which the Bahá'í Faith encourages.
Students learn more and inquire more deeply if they are required to dig for
knowledge and understanding on their own.
Paradoxes may also come in the form of parallelisms - a group of statements
that seem to contradict each other. However, whether or not the
self-contradiction is real depends on the answers to one or all of 4 questions:
(1) Is there a contextual solution, i.e. are the contexts so different that the
statements cannot be compared? (2) Is there a verbal solution, i.e. have the
allegedly contradictory words been understood correctly? (3) Is there a
theoretical solution, i.e. a difference in viewpoints, or a single principle
underneath all statements? (4) Is there a practical solution, i.e. a solution
that can shown through acts? If the context is different, there is obviously no
contradiction. If the words have been misunderstood, the contradiction is
merely be verbal and not real. If there is a shift of viewpoint or a single
underlying principle, there can be no contradiction. Finally, if, the
injunctions can be applied without contradiction, there is also no real
contradiction though verbally there may appear to be one.
For example, the Writings contain parallelisms on the issue of the distance
between God and creation. In the previous quotation, we are told God is closer
than our "life-vein" while elsewhere the Writings affirm that the distance
between God and humankind is infinite and unbridgeable (e.g. Gleanings, XXVII,
p. 66). How can both of these be true? We can, for example resolve this
apparent contradiction in the third, theoretical way.
In strict, logical terms, distance here can only mean existential distance
(since there can be no infinite physical distance), i.e. degrees of dependence.
Existentially, (in the order of being) God is 100% independent of humankind -
which is existentially 100% dependent on God, just as a drawing depends on the
artist. However, while the artist personally is 100% independent of or distant
from the drawing, s/he is also ontologically present in the drawing insofar as
the drawing is a direct manifestation of, and would not exist without, the
artist's power. Every artist is both infinitely distant from, independent, and,
through his/her power, intimately present in his or her work. Logically
speaking, we can resolve this apparent contradiction by distinguishing between
God's (a) existential independence and His (b) ontological presence just as we
distinguish the existence of the artist from his/her presence through a
manifestation of his/her powers.
(It should be pointed out that the same distinction applies to such ordinary
things as automobile engines. We may not know that an engine exists or anything
about it but, we can have ontological knowledge of its presence through its
effects. Lest anyone decry this as `mere philosophy', one should note that
scientists do the same. For example, they deduced the existence of Pluto from
the manifestation of its powers, i.e. its effects on other planets. The
existential vs ontological distinction is real and testable at the simplest
Only a little reflection is required to see that we have resolved another
apparently contradictory parallelism here. The Writings make it clear that God
is beyond all human knowledge and yet the Noonday Prayer pledges us to "to
know" God. One resolution is strictly theological, pointing out that we know
God through His Manifestations. However, there is also a logical, rational
point underlying this solution; this is the distinction between our knowledge
of God's existence - an impossibility - and our knowledge of God's ontological
presence in our lives through the Manifestations.
There is a tremendous advantage to being able to point out that even such
theological teachings as knowing God's through the Manifestation has a solid
rational and logical, i.e. scientific basis. One should hasten to add that
there is a logical reason why we cannot know or comprehend God's existence
other than by analogy and that is the absolute, essential, difference between
two different orders of being, the independent (God) and the dependent
(everything else). (Gleanings, LXXXIV, p.166.)
However, let's try a harder test. Another, often troubling, example of
self-contradictory parallelisms concern obedience to government.
1) In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards
the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness. This is
that which hath been revealed at the behest of Him Who is the Ordainer, the
Ancient of Days.
Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 23
2) Furthermore each and every one is required to show obedience, submission
and loyalty towards his own government.
Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p.293
3) O ye beloved of the Lord! It is incumbent upon you to be submissive to
all monarchs that are just and show your fidelity to every righteous king.
Serve ye the sovereigns of the world with utmost truthfulness and loyalty. Show
obedience unto them and be their well-wishers. Without their leave and
permission do not meddle with political affairs, for disloyalty to the just
sovereign is disloyalty to God himself
Bahá'í World Faith, p.446-7
Examining these three statements about loyalty to government, shows there is an
obvious problem: (1) and (2) demand obedience and loyalty to all
government while (3) suggest loyalty is required only to every "just" and
"righteous king." Is there any way to resolve this apparent contradiction?
One set of possible resolutions comes from practice or action, as illustrated
by the recent Bahá'í martyrs of Iran. They were obedient and loyal to God by
not renouncing their faith but, at the same time, they were fully obedient and
loyal to the government of Iran by submitting to and accepting the legal
consequences of their acts. They disagreed honestly with the government's
decrees, thus demonstrating loyalty to God, but nonetheless also demonstrated a
heroic loyalty to their government. They acted in good faith towards both and
successfully rendered both God and Caesar their due.
Another approach to resolving the apparent conflict between these statements
is available through the principle enunciated in the following:
... for your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the
care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by
virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He hath refused
to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world's dominion. To this He
Who is Himself the Eternal Truth will testify. The things He hath reserved for
Himself are the cities of men's hearts, that He may cleanse them from all
earthly defilements, and enable them to draw nigh unto the hallowed Spot which
the hands of the infidel can never profane.
(Gleanings, CXXXVIII, p.304; italics
The principle revealed here is Christ's "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's
and unto God what is God's" (Matthew 22:21), though Bahá'u'lláh's statement is
more clear in identifying precisely what is Caesar's and what is God's. Matters
of the heart and soul, of faith as defined by the Writings, the Bahá'í
Institutions and, since 1963, the Universal House of Justice, belong to God;
all else belongs to the rulers of the earth.
Thus, statements (1) and (2) implicitly refer to governments that stick to
their properly allotted areas, while statement (3) makes it clear that kings
who respect this division are "just". (They may also be just in other ways.)
Bahá'ís must be loyal to government when it acts in its proper sphere and not
in any sphere whatever.
Analogical reasoning is not only frequently encountered in the Bahá'í Writings
but in scientific work as well. Indeed, when used correctly it is one of the
most powerful thinking tools available. Without it, daily decision making would
be well-nigh impossible because only the ability to map from a known to an
unknown with reasonably accurate results lets us navigate through dozens of new
challenges every day. Although commonly used, analogical reasoning can be very
complex because it moves through various kinds of discourse (literal,
metaphorical, analogical) very rapidly. However, correct analogical reasoning
still obeys the law of non-contradiction.
Even when 100% formally correct, analogical reasoning cannot provide absolute
logical certainty. The acceptance of any analogical argument as perfectly
certain is a personal existential act of faith.
An analogy maps the essential features of a (a) known source
them onto a (b) partially known target
. Both the source and the target
must have some similarities as well as differences. The attributes being mapped
are called the term
, because we view both source and target in terms
on certain qualities.
Careful answers to the following questions will determine whether or not an
analogy is credible.
(1) Do the source and the target have essential
(2) Are there any significant differences that undermine or negate the
(3) Does the term refer to an intrinsic, real, essential attribute of both?
(4) Is the analogy rational? Can we reason our way from one to a conclusion
about another without falling further and further into metaphor and away from
(5) Is the analogy consistent? Can it be developed logically without falling
into self-contradiction or self-refutation?
5.1) Is it consistent with the argument or `system' within which it is embedded?
(6) What is the purpose of the analogy?
(7) Does the analogy or its interpretation harmonize with its full context?
The purpose of an analogy can be:
- Illustrative: illustrates an idea or conclusion already proven or accepted as
- Demonstrative: proves a conclusion
- Rhetorical: to influence reader response and acceptance in various ways
- Have essential, intrinsic and real similarities;
- Have no significant undermining differences
- Have a term that is essential, intrinsic and real
- Are rational
- Can be developed consistently
- Are consistent with their intellectual context
- Are properly used
- Harmonize with their full context
There can be and is considerable debate whether some analogies are
non-essential or essential / real or rational or not. For example, Bahá'u'lláh
compares society to a human body (Gleanings, 81, 254). How far can we take this
analogy? Is it merely a non-essential rhetorical comparison or is it intended
as essential and real? Can we, for example, use these metaphors as a basis for
developing an organic model of a future Bahá'í society? Here is another
Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will
ever be worthy of praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but
fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and
... A dried-up tree, however, hath never been nor will be worthy of any
Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p.257
This is a strong analogy. The similarities between tree and human - living and
growing beings and productivity or fruitfulness - are essential, intrinsic,
real (non-imposed). The term - fruitfulness - is also real, essential, and
intrinsic. It is at best mildly metaphoric, since `fruitfulness' easily
converts to a long list of specific attributes; thus the analogy is rational
and goes beyond metaphorical development. There are plenty of differences
between humans and trees but none are relevant to the term of this analogy.
However, though this analogy is strong, its purpose (IMO) is illustrative: it
is intended to illustrate the idea of ignoring or by-passing those who waste
their lives in fruitless activity. This conclusion is based on the necessity of
reading "fire" metaphorically instead of literally. Bahá'u'lláh is not
suggesting that we burn `fruitless' individuals because we burn fruitless
Here is an example of a weak, i.e. illustrative analogy from the Writings.
And now concerning thy question regarding the nature of religion. Know thou
that they who are truly wise have likened the world unto the human temple. As
the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must
needs be adorned with the mantle of justice and wisdom. Its robe is the
Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God. Whenever this robe hath fulfilled its
purpose, the Almighty will assuredly renew it. For every age requireth a fresh
measure of the light of God. Every Divine Revelation hath been sent down in a
manner that befitted the circumstances of the age in which it hath
Gleanings, Bahá'u'lláh, p.81
It is obvious here that the analogies used here - wise man and temple; a cloak
and justice and wisdom - are non-essential, unreal (imposed) and not intrinsic.
The purpose here is illustrative and rhetorical. Bahá'u'lláh is not
arguing that society needs justice because
a human body needs a
cloak but just as
the human body needs a cloak. He sets up a
comparative and not a causative relationships. The mantle analogy helps arouse
feelings and memories of cold, and thereby, helps create assent for what
Bahá'u'lláh is saying on the basis of our experience. The purpose of the
analogy is rhetorical more than anything else. It certainly cannot prove
anything even in the mildest sense.
Here is an example of a correctly used demonstrative analogy from
Abdu'l-Bahá's proof of the immortality of the soul.
Second, the rational soul, meaning the human spirit, does not descend into
the body--that is to say, it does not enter it, for descent and entrance are
characteristics of bodies, and the rational soul is exempt from this. The
spirit never entered this body, so in quitting it, it will not be in need of an
abiding-place: no, the spirit is connected with the body, as this
light is with this mirror. When the mirror is clear and perfect, the
light of the lamp will be apparent in it, and when the mirror becomes covered
with dust or breaks, the light will disappear.
Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 239; italics added.
This is a strong analogy. The similarities between three elements, i.e. sun,
body and mirror are essential, intrinsic, real and specific. They (a) are
material; (b) giver/ origin and receiver/ imitator; (c) show a `reduction' from
substantial form to form; (d) based on reflectivity; (e) show an asymmetrical
Both sides are viewed in terms of relation and function.
This analogy does not prove that the soul exists, but it does show that
the soul exists, then it is reasonable to believe that this is the
kind of relationship it has to the body. The real existence of the sun/image in
mirror relationship proves that such relationships are possible, and, thereby
strengthens the analogy, as does the fact that the analogy can be developed by
strictly rational and non-metaphorical means through a precise analysis of
essences and relationships. This analysis can be used to as part of a sustained
What is the relationship between the sun and the mirror? In this analogy, the
sun has two kinds of being - its substantial-formal being in its own right and
its purely formal being in the mirror. This image has a purely formal and
participatory mode of being, because all of its attributes have their origin in
the sun. It participates, albeit only formally and not substantially, in the
sun's existence. This participation is limited by the qualities of the mirror
in which it appears.
At this point we need to remember the architectonic nature of the Writings and
that Abdu'l-Bahá has already established the existence of the soul (see "The
Existence of the Rational Soul After the Death of the Body" Chap. 66, Some
as the substantial form of the body. If the soul is the substantial form of the
body, then by logical necessity the body reflects, imitates, participates in
this substantial form, i.e. it has the same relationship to the body as the sun
does to the mirror.
The main reason this is a good example of a valid demonstrative analogy is
that it can sustain analysis into abstract logical elements that are correctly
used to form part of a logical argument. It is rational, not purely
illustrative or rhetorical. Finally, its conclusion can be accepted as
Deductive reasoning means reasoning from a general principle
either known or accepted as true and analyzed for its various possible
conclusions. Sometimes this is called a priori
reasoning) Although often
criticized as `unscientific', deductive reasoning is as common in the sciences
(and above all mathematics) as inductive reasoning which reasons from specific
examples. Each type of reasoning has its strengths and weaknesses: principles
may be wrong or overlook significant individual differences whereas specific
examples may be poorly selected. In reality we need both kinds of reasoning. To
select `rabbits' from all other phenomena, you must apply a principle or have
an idea of what as `rabbit' is which is derived from seeing individual rabbits
but how do you know you are seeing rabbits unless you have an idea of ...
In "Some Answered Questions",
Abdu'l-Bahá makes considerable use
of deductive arguments. A clear example is found in chapter 63, "The Progress
of Man in the Other world' which begins with the premise,
Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose - that is to
say, all things are in motion ...This state of motion is said to be essential -
that is, natural; it cannot be separated from beings... (SAQ, 233).
Translating Abdu'l-Bahá's argument into syllogistic form, we get a two
(1) No thing (existing entity) exists in a state of repose
(2) The soul is a thing (an existing entity)
(3) Therefore, the soul does not exist in a state of repose.
This is standard E form syllogism and is 100% valid.
(1) Change means coming into being (growth) or going out of being (decline)
(2) The soul has change
(3) Therefore, the soul is either growing or declining.
This is a standard A form syllogism and is 100% valid. I believe that it is
possible to translate many of the arguments and explanations used by
Bahá'u'lláh into the standard syllogistic logic devised by Aristotle and
developed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers. In other words, it is
possible to show the formal logical validity of many of the Writings; thus
faith receives a logical grounding.
The only way to disprove these deductive sequences is to deny what it seems to
assume, namely, the existence of the soul and/or its changeability. At this
point, however, the architectonic nature of reasoning in the Writings comes
into play. The Bahai Writings are architectonic
, i.e. arguments
build on each other. The fact is, Abdu'l-Bahá has already proven the existence
of what is called `soul' elsewhere and he builds on it here. The
architectonic nature of these arguments suggests that there is, in fact, a vast
intellectual unity underlying the Writings, a Grand Intellectual Narrative by
which we rationally understand ourselves and the world in which we
Of course, someone might object that formal logical validity is not the same
as truth. Indeed. There are several ways to test the truth of a conclusion.
First, we can test the truth of its premises. Disproving a
is the only way to conclusively disproving a deductive argument.
In fact, most articles, essays and books do nothing but compile
evidence in favour of a major premise, called the `thesis'.. To read with
understanding means to be aware of this premise and to assess whether or not
the evidence actually supports it.. One must also assess whether the author
reasons correctly from the premise to his conclusion(s).
Second, we can test the truth of the conclusion itself
either (a) directly or (b) indirectly. (An
observation is a direct verification; and indirect verification is a logical
deduction based on the behavior of related things, such as an unseen planet
moving seen ones.)
For example, the second syllogism can be tested indirectly by examining the
changing things we see around us. The law of entropy assures us that everything
is in a state of decline, (disorder, loss of form) while all growing things
(increasing order and form) violate this law at least for a time. Thus, science
supports Abdu'l-Bahá's premise about change. His conclusion about the soul
follows. Can the first syllogism be tested empirically? Certainly; no natural
object in repose has ever been found and certain laws seem to forbid it such a
It is important to know that deductive reasoning is the most frequently
used logical device used in the Writings. This tells us that both
Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá thought that many of the Teachings could be
logically deduced from a number of key premises which we received through
revelation or which we could deduce from some basic observations in the natural
An example of the latter is the teaching that nothing that
exists is ever at rest. Or that God's essence can never be known in itself
(Gleanings, 1, p.3-4) An example of the latter is the teaching that the Bab is
the Primal Point. The Bahá'í confidence in deductive reasoning is also based on
the fact that the universe is considered to be an inherently ordered
(patterned) place; all forms of order are based on rules or principles from
which we can deduce a variety of conclusions.
There is a reason for the prevalence of deduction in the Writings: if done
, i.e. done from correct premises and adhering to proper logical
procedures, deductive reasoning provides as much certainty as is possible
within the natural realm alone.
This statement does not contradict Abdu'l-Bahá's teaching that "intellectual
proofs" (SAQ,297) or "the method of reason" (ibid.) are deficient. When we
examine his argument carefully (SAQ, chapter 83, p.297) we find that he rejects
reason alone as inconclusive not because the method is flawed - after all,
reason is used throughout the Writings - but because the practitioners are
flawed: they disagree, misperceive, misunderstand, find new evidence, change
their minds and so on. Above all, the reliance on reason alone is flawed
because it requires the completion from "the bounty of the Holy Spirit" (SAQ,
299) This is because the natural realm can only be completely viewed from a
higher level, i.e. the super-natural realm of the spirit.
In other words, to provide certainty, reason must be guided by and in harmony
with the Holy Spirit as made manifest in the Writings. Harmony with the
Writings provides final and complete assurance of correct reasoning, be it
inductive, deductive, analogical
While deductive reasoning clearly predominates in the Writings, inductive
reasoning, i.e. the "inferring of general law [conclusions] from particular
instances" (OED) is also present. This is called a posteriori
It is sometimes claimed that inductive reasoning is more scientific than
deductive reasoning but such a claim is impossible to sustain logically. For
example, a scientist cannot select particular instances to study until s/he
knows what kind of things to select. In other words, the selection process
begins with an implicit a priori principle
about the identity or essence
of what will be selected for study and what rejected. From this it is clear
that both deductive and inductive reasoning are needed in the acquisition of
The following is an example of inductive reasoning I in the Writings.
Consider the pettiness of men's minds. They ask for that which injureth
them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those
that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves
therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.
Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, # 122.
The conclusion about "the pettiness of men's minds" (ibid.) is not assumed as a
principle from which to start but is announced as a conclusion after
considering, i.e. selecting and examining human behavior and discovering a
pattern: humans often ask for that which does them harm. The same inductive
procedure is evident in the following:
Consider the former generations. Witness how every time the Day Star of
Divine bounty hath shed the light of His Revelation upon the world, the people
of His Day have arisen against Him, and repudiated His truth. They who were
regarded as the leaders of men have invariably striven to hinder their
followers from turning unto Him Who is the Ocean of God's limitless
Gleanings, XXIII, p.56
Here is another example:
How shall we determine whether religion has been the cause of human
advancement or retrogression?
We will first consider the founders of the religions--the prophets-- review
the story of their lives, compare the conditions preceding their appearance
with those subsequent to their departure, following historical records and
irrefutable facts instead of relying upon traditionary statements which are
open to both acceptance and denial.
Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith, p.274
Here Abdu'l-Bahá proves his point not deductively, i.e. by asserting, for
example, that spiritual progress is good, that God sends Manifestations for
human good and therefore, the divine religions are spiritually progressive.
Instead, he turns to specific cases and examples to prove his point. In fact,
he not only outlines what will be selected "the founders of religions" (ibid.)
but also the procedure by which to evaluate - "review ... compare ... following
historical records..." (ibid.) and outlining what is to be rejected - "instead
of relying on traditionary statements..." (ibid.)
This is a correct example of the standard scientific method:
observation; hypothesis: religion is progressive; evidence: past religions;
rejected material: "traditionary statements"; procedure: review, comparison;
Conclusion: affirmed - religion is progressive.
From the examples that follow it is clear that by "religion", Abdu'l-Bahá means
religion as presented by the Manifestations and not as later misunderstood or
even distorted by the followers. Whenever we evaluate an inductive argument we
must be very sensitive to implicit definitions
If the formal logical procedure is correct, there are only 2 ways to attack
this argument: (a) proving that one of the examples supporting the conclusion
is factually wrong or (b) find a counter-example wherein religion acts for
human regression. Abdu'l-Bahá implicitly recognizes this and therefore sets out
the conditions for a correct inductive argument on this matter:
If we wish to discover whether any one of these great
souls or messengers was in reality a prophet of God we must investigate the
facts surrounding His life and history; and the first point of our
investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind.
If He has been an educator,
if He has really trained a nation or people, causing
it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of
knowledge, then we are sure that He was a prophet.
This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do
not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles,
Compilation, Bahá'í World Faith, p.273 emphasis added
In other words, if
we have our facts right and if
counter-examples are to be found, then
we have an irrefutable inductive
The problem with all inductive arguments is that they cannot, by themselves,
provide more than any provisional conclusions. They are always open to
refutation by a new discovery that requires a change from a universal, "all'
statement to a limited `some' or `most' statement.
All logical thinking depends on correct classification or definition: if we
cannot make proper distinctions between things, if we mix apples with goats,
and algae with shoe-horns because we ignore essential distinctions, we cannot
reach correct conclusions about them.
To think correctly, we need to classify things. Valid classifications must be
based on attributes that are (a) real; (b) essential and (c) intrinsic i.e.
attributes that actually exist in the entity (not only in the mind of
observers), and which cannot be changed without turning the entity into another
kind of thing. Essential attributes are those that a thing needs to be the
of thing it is and constitute absolute differences. A raven will
never actually be a writing desk.
For example, colour is not an essential attribute of my blue coffee cup; it is
a non-essential (or `accidental') attribute because the cup would not turn into
another kind of entity if I painted it red. However, being capable of holding
liquids is essential since without it we would not have a container of any kind
nor the particular kind of container called a `cup'.
Arguments and explanations by classification do not prove a thesis in the
same way as deductive or inductive reasoning.
Rather than leading us
point by point to a necessary conclusion, they make the conclusion
by providing us with the means - correct essential
definitions - to `see' the conclusion for ourselves in a kind of intuitive
grasp. (How precisely they do this is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this
Some obvious examples from the Writings of classifications based on real,
intrinsic and essential distinctions are between (a) God and creation; (b) God
and humankind; (c) Manifestations and human kind (d) simple and composed
entities; (e) matter and spirit; (f) material and spiritual knowledge (PUP,
138); essential and acquired infallibility; contingent and independent; mind,
body, spirit (SAQ,208).
The distinctions between these are absolute and not relative, i.e. they do not
depend on adopting a particular point of view, they are not constructed or
imposed for our conscious and/or conscious purposes, nor can they be logically
resolved as we resolve paradoxes. If such a claim was made (as is the case with
a family of philosophical views known as `nominalism') the foundations of the
philosophy embedded in the Bahá'í Writings would be threatened.
Two fatal problems immediately arise. First, such `relativist' views flatly
contradict clear and explicit statements in the Writings about the essential
nature of things. For example, the difference between God and humankind is
real, intrinsic and essential, as seen in the following quotes.
Exalted, immeasurably exalted, art Thou above the strivings of mortal man to
unravel Thy mystery, to describe Thy glory, or even to hint at the nature of
Thine Essence. For whatever such strivings may accomplish, they never can hope
to transcend the limitations imposed upon Thy creatures,
Gleanings, I, p.3
And since there can be no tie of direct intercourse to bind the one true God
with His creation, and no resemblance whatever can exist between the transient
and the Eternal, the contingent and the Absolute, He hath ordained that in
every age and dispensation a pure and stainless Soul be made manifest in the
kingdoms of earth and heaven.
XXVII, p. 66
These quotes, among myriad others, show that according to Bahá'u'lláh, the
distinction between God and humankind is a essential, real and intrinsic, and
not merely a relative difference. Relativizing this difference logically
undermines one of the foundation blocks of Bahá'í theology.
Second, relativizing these distinctions between God and humankind logically
negates a key point of Bahá'í theology, namely, the need for a Manifestation to
mediate between God and man. If the distinction between God and humankind were
not real and essential and absolute, no Manifestation would be necessary. The
use of the word "since" (used here as `because') makes it clear that there is a
causal relationship between the absolute essential difference between God and
His creation and the consequent need for a Manifestation.
The difference between humankind and Manifestations is real, intrinsic, and
essential, i.e. absolute:
Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a
twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the
spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself. He hath, moreover,
conferred upon Him a double station. The first station, which is related to His
innermost reality, representeth Him as One Whose voice is the voice of God
Gleanings XXVII p.66
No human possesses this two-fold essential nature which is why the
Manifestation is described as "subtle", "mysterious" and "ethereal" (ibid.)
It bears repeating that relativizing the distinction between Manifestation and
humankind would, in effect, destroy the logical foundations of Bahá'í theology.
The reason is simple: if the essential (i.e. absolute) distinctions between
God, Manifestation and humankind are removed, then we need no Manifestation to
know God (another key point in Bahá'í theology) and everybody can become their
own `manifestation', an antinomian position that threatens the World Order of
Bahá'u'lláh with new personal `revelations' many of which will be
contradictory. As we can see, such relativizing causes us to "join partners
with God" (Gleanings, VIII, 12) , to think that we differ from God only in
degree and not kind. In Epistle to the Son of The Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh describes
those who do this as having "turned aside from His sovereignty that hath
encompassed the worlds!" (Wolf, p.33) and having denied God's unity (Tablets of
Below are more examples of classifications based on essential and absolute
Know that proceeding is of two kinds: the proceeding and appearance through
emanation, and the proceeding and appearance through manifestation.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.205
Relativizing this distinction would destroy the logical foundations of Bahá'í
theology, cosmology, and eventually, psychology.
The Writing's vision of the entire hierarchy of being depends on essential
differences between the various kinds of spirits. (See SAQ, 178)
It has been before explained that spirit is universally divided into five
categories: the vegetable spirit, the animal spirit, the human spirit, the
spirit of faith, and the Holy Spirit.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.208
The doctrine of progressive revelation depends on the existence of
essential differences between essential (eternal) and non-essential
The second classification or division comprises social laws and regulations
applicable to human conduct. This is not the essential spiritual quality of
religion. It is subject to change and transformation according to the
exigencies and requirements of time and place.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.365
If, as shown above, eternal spiritual truths are based on differences in
classification, then there can be no logical doubt that the differences are
absolutely real, non-relative and essential. From this it follows
that the philosophy embedded in the Bahá'í Writings is essentialist and
not just in subject matter but also in rational method.
The Writings contain numerous examples of explanations and arguments based on
classification. For example, in SAQ, chapter 57 is entitled "The Causes of the
Differences in the Characters of Men" and classifies three types of character
(innate, acquired and inherited) as the cause of differences. The explanation
in "The Trinity" (Chapter 27) is also carried out by means of careful
definition and classification. Once these are made clear, Abdu'l-Bahá's
argument ends quickly because here, as in all arguments by classification, the
thesis is proven and self-evident once proper definitions are applied.
The only way to defeat an argument by classification is to show that its
classifications are incorrect. Arguments can be incorrect in 3 ways: (a) they
contain a essential error of fact; (b) they contain an essential error of
omission or (c) are applied inconsistently. If an argument by classification
contains none of these errors, then it is logically, formally correct and
cannot be rejected without falling into self-refutation. This makes arguments
by classification logically powerful if properly used.
PART TWO: THE MISUSE OF LOGIC AND PERSUASIVE DEVICES
Because logic and rhetorical or persuasive devices are subject to intentional
or unintentional mis-use, it is essential for a credible and effective Bahá'í
teacher to recognize when confronted with instances of abuse. The importance of
this skill will grow as the Faith increasingly emerges from the intellectual
shadows and becomes the object of critical scrutiny from the general public,
not to mention scholars, and even intellectually alert seekers. Using a number
of concrete examples, we shall examine some specific instances of logical and
Before beginning, it is essential to clarify the distinction between logical
and rhetorical devices. Logic leads to necessary
conclusions which one must accept - or fall into self-contradiction,
self-refutation or error of fact. There is no choice about logic and personal
preferences play no role.
However, rhetorical devices are persuasive; no matter how logical they might
appear, they can never prove logically necessary conclusions
logic, they persuade, they elicit assent, they convince and forge commitment -
but not by logic
. Rather they appeal to our various emotions and to our
personal, social and cultural assumptions, prejudices, fears, aspirations and
loyalties. They activate personal and cultural responses by strong sensual
stimuli, by wit and humour, by shock and outrage and by `seduction'. Rhetoric
may use facts, pseudo-logic (See Shakespeare's and Donne's sonnets), a wide
variety of linguistic devices such as inversion, incremental repetition or
climactic phrasing - but whatever it does or uses, rhetoric's primary
goal is personal assent rather than intellectual
Where, and how is the use of rhetoric appropriate? First, in literary works
whose primary goal is to create empathy and sympathy; also in commercial and
political propaganda - though these often have an unnecessary - though strong -
tendency to intellectual dishonesty. They are used in holy scriptures as well.
Finally, they are used in academic/scholarly works.
The proper use of rhetorical devices in scholarly / academic work is
i.e. they should be used to illustrate
that have already been proven true or openly accepted as such. Their purpose is
and improve understanding. They must never be used to
hide gaps in logical thinking or circumvent it, or to `disprove' a logical
argument. The moment such misuses appear in a scholarly / academic work, we
must be aware that a non-rational, non-scholarly agenda is at work and that the
author is not really proving anything - s/he can't with rhetorical devices -
but merely becoming political by trying to create assent and consent by
non-logical means. This is utterly inappropriate in scholarship.
The single worst error in logical reasoning is the failure to classify
properly, i.e. the failure correctly abstract the essential properties of the
objects under study. This is a pre-operational error
is made before other logical operations such as induction, deduction,
analogical or statistical reasoning take place. It is obviously impossible to
reason correctly when the essential nature of things has been misunderstood. If
we do not understand the essential differences between iguanas and frying pans,
we cannot arrive at correct conclusions about them. This inevitably leads to
A good example of essential misapprehension is found in Juan Cole's "The
Bahá'í Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997". Cole fails to identify
(abstract) two essential qualities of the Bahai Faith: it (1) a voluntary and
(2) a purposive organization. This leads him to conflate
a panopticon, a type of prison in which convicts are visible from all angles at
all times (Bentham) or, by extension, a society in which people keep themselves
and each other under surveillance by their inward adherence to the rules
(Foucault). In one way or another, a panopticon requires compulsion and thus
denies individual freedom.
Consequently, Cole's attempt at analogical reasoning
per analogy rule # 2: there is a significant essential difference that
undermines all other similarities. By nature, panopticons are prisons; they
require compulsion to work whether this compulsion be physical or social via
fellow inmates. However, the Bahá'í Faith is a voluntary organization; one
enters by choice and may leave - i.e. absent oneself from all further
surveillance and compulsion - by choice. By definition, no genuinely voluntary
organization can be described as a `panopticon' without seriously compromising
the proper usage of the term. A panopticon which one may leave at will is
simply not a panopticon.
The conflation here is either an inadvertent, but fatal error of reasoning or
it is intentional, in which case it is nothing other than a propaganda ploy
known as "fear mongering"
. Conflation is one of the most commonly
used propaganda devices.
Referring to the Bahá'í Faith as a theocracy is another example
of essential misapprehension leading to outright
. Unlike any theocracy that ever existed, the
Bahá'í Faith has no clergy; all authoritative and executive offices are held by
election: LSA's, NSA's, delegates to the annual convention and the Universal
House of Justice. Any decision made by appointees such as Auxiliary Board
Members and Counselors may be appealed to the elected bodies, which, in the
case of the Universal House, have the final word. This is so unlike any
historical examples of theocracy that it is a gross misuse of the word to apply
it to the Bahá'í Faith. Nor have there ever been examples of theocracies as
voluntary organizations. The use of such philosophically and historically
inaccurate descriptions is a blatant use of a rhetorical (and propaganda)
device called "guilt by association
A second type of essential misapprehension
is the failure to
recognize the purpose
of the object of study, its final cause.
The Bahá'í Faith exists for a purpose, to unify humankind. It has a purpose
that extends beyond its own collective self-interest. Consequently, it is a
`purposive organization' and even in the most democratic societies, such
organizations do not give absolute priority to individualism and civil rights;
rather, they balance individual aspirations with common goals. Those who join
such organizations, voluntarily set aside some of their preferences, civil
privileges and even curtail some of their own civil rights for the good of the
organization as a whole. They do so because they have a greater loyalty to the
goals of the cause they have chosen than to their own views and `rights'. Such
individuals understand - as Cole does not - that restrictions are a necessary
and inevitable part of any purposive organization and that personal sacrifices
are required for the organization to work. Membership has privileges - but also
It is obvious that essential misapprehension could lead someone to portray any
purposive organization as undemocratic and repressive, and its members as
manipulated tools. To do so, however, would constitute a serious error in
A third type of essential misapprehension
is the failure to see
the object of study as a whole. For example, the Bahá'í Faith is not a
fragmented smorgasbord of teachings but an integral entity, in which all parts
must be seen in relationship to each other. The fact that women cannot be
elected to the Universal House must be seen in light of women's stated priority
in education, their absolute right for economic support and their exemption
from military service. This error also underlies many attempts to `prove' the
repressive nature of the Faith by means of single quotes taken in isolation.
THE STRAW MAN FALLACY
Essential misapprehension may also lead to the straw man fallacy, i.e. the
fallacy of false attribution by which we attribute qualities, intentions,
motives and powers that do not really exist.
An example of such false attribution of motive is Cole's claim that "the
Bahá'í authorities wish to project an image more liberal than the reality"
(ibid.) However, this cannot stand up to rational analysis. The Bahá'í Faith
has never hidden its commitment to supposedly less `liberal' teachings, among
them the ban on non-marital sex and homosexual acts, the ban on alcohol and
illicit drugs, the strong discouragement of abortion, the fact that only men
may be elected to the Universal House of Justice, the principle of obedience to
the elected institutions and the acceptability of capital punishment in some
cases. These `un-liberal' Teachings have always been widely available to
Indeed, the artificial imposition of foreign categories such as 'liberal' and
'conservative' is a straw man device. This extrinsic attributions must be
imposed from without because they have no natural place within the Faith. They
are drawn from adversarial party politics and the ensuing political culture and
as such are irrelevant to a culture that rejects adversarial politics in all
forms. Moreover, as already noted, the Bahá'í teachings on various issues
impinge on both "liberal" and "conservative" portions of the political
spectrum. This false attribution is a good example of a propaganda ploy known
as `divide and conquer'.
Essential misapprehension easily leads to self-contradiction because the
object of study is not clearly conceived. In effect, the author no longer
understands his/her own work. For example, having missed another essential
attribute of a panopticon - universal participation - Cole says, "One solution
to this difficulty [of growth with strict internal controls] is to attempt to
control what are thought of as key pressure points - vocal intellectuals,
media, prominent institutions - and to give greater leeway to ordinary
In other words we have a panopticon with selective focus - but that is no
longer a panopticon! One cannot, on one hand, claim that the Bahá'í Faith is a
panopticon where everyone is informing on everyone else to ensure orthodoxy
and, on the other hand, also claim that the vast majority of members are given
"greater leeway", that is, less supervision, for their thoughts. A panopticon
in which the vast majority are free or even relatively free of supervision is
not a panopticon.
FALSE CAUSE FALLACY
False attribution of cause is one of the most common, and serious, logical
errors. It is sometimes called 'dog logic' or 'madhouse logic'. Each day the
mailman comes; my dog barks and each day the mailman leaves - and once again my
dog struts proudly convinced that yet again he has driven off the threat.
According to Cole, "[t]he problem with strict internal controls for missionary
religions, however, is that they are most often incompatible in Western
societies with significant growth" (Cole, 1998). He blames what he sees as the
slow growth in America on 'repression' instituted by the Universal House of
Justice. Yet, oddly enough, he recognizes that groups "with strict internal
controls" ("Panopticon") such as the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses as well
as a wide variety of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have experienced
It is logically obvious that if other religions with "strict internal
controls" (ibid.) are experiencing "significant growth", such controls cannot
be used to explain why the Bahá'í Faith is not growing as fast as he thinks it
should be. Some other factor must be at work. He attributes causal agency
without showing any causal connection. At best, one might say that he mistakes
a correlation (slow growth and alleged repression) for a cause.
REFUSAL OF THE CONCLUSION
One of the oddest errors in reasoning is refusal of the conclusion, which is
not so much a logical error as an existential error, i.e. an error rooted in
personal willfulness or a conflict with other commitments.
For example, there are those who fully understand that the Bahá'í Faith is a
religion, and that three things follow from this: first, the material world is
only a part of reality; second, there exists a non-material realm which has a
role in the unfolding of events in the material, natural realm; and third, no
simple empirical-materialist methodology can provide adequate knowledge about
reality, especially when relating to historical events involving God.
From these three premises it follows logically that strictly material
explanations demanded by contemporary academic scholarship are, by definition,
incomplete and, therefore, logically inadequate and inaccurate. Yet, oddly
enough there are those who will accept the premises but, for various reasons,
refuse the conclusion and thus embroil themselves in needless disputes.
Without reliable sources, any work of research is bound to outrun its
evidence. The single most important element in reliability is independent
corroboration, and material that does not have at least some corroboration is
suspect. Thus, evidence from anecdotes (especially from many years in the
past), e-mails, personal communications and rumours is always weak simply
because corroboration is difficult, sometimes impossible, to obtain. Any
article or argument that relies on such evidence to establish its major points
is, for this reason alone, unreliable.
PROOF BY SELECTED INSTANCES
One of the most pervasive logical errors is proof by selected instances. The
physicist Richard Feynman provided a good example: he once dreamed a relative
was going to die, but the relative didn't. Feynman did not write a
parapsychology institute about this negative example; if, on the other hand,
the relative had died, he probably would have and thus his letter would have
become additional `proof' for a theory of pre-cognition. From the number of all
death-dreams, only a few are selected.
Similarly, from the entire repertoire of e-mails (conversations, letters etc.)
about the American Bahá'í community, Cole has selected those that support his
case. However, without some sort of statistical study comparing the number of
e-mails supporting Cole's views with the total number of e-mails written about
the Aministrative Order, it is a logical error to assume Cole's selected
examples represent anything other than isolated instances. No selection means
anything except in comparison with the whole.
PROBLEMS WITH ANECDOTAL SOURCES
In rational debate, anecdotes
have a single purpose: they may properly be used to illustrate and
conclusions already been proven in other ways in order to
convey nuances and subtleties that are difficult if not impossible to describe
in abstract language. Anecdotes must also be carefully chosen to provide
maximum support for one's contentions and must always be seen in the entire
Anecdotal evidence creates problems when it is used to
support general, as opposed to specific, assertions because the anecdote may
only be an isolated incident, memory may be faulty, the anecdote may embed a
hidden agenda or it has been selected from other, perhaps contrary anecdotes.
ERRORS OF OMMISSION
These errors occur when essential information is left out and thus
creates a misrepresentation. Critical of the ban on partisan political
involvement, Cole leaves readers with the impression that this is somehow an
unnatural imposition on the Faith, a deviation Abdu'l-Bahá's instruction to
"take part in the election of officers and take part in the affairs of the
republic" (Abdu'l-Bahá, 1099-1916,II,342-343, quoted by Cole). In order to
misrepresent the Faith on this matter, Cole leaves out two pieces of
information that contradict his assertions.
First, Bahá'ís may perform
the most essential of all democratic acts - voting, which, the case of the U.S.
means voting for a party. This requires them to be watchful and intelligent
observers of the political scene, something which undermines Cole's claims
about the political isolation of Bahá'ís. They may be removed from personal
activity but are certainly not removed from thoughtful concern which is in
itself a form of involvement.
Second, partisanship in the wranglings
of political parties is not the only way to "take part in the affairs of the
republic" (Abdu'l-Bahá, ibid.) Nothing, for example, forbids Bahá'ís from
discussing the philosophical issues that underlie political or social issues,
or, for example, publishing an article on the role of government in family
matters. What the writer may not do is identify his views with a particular
party or publish them in a party forum. Such a discussion or article is
certainly involvement "in the affairs of the republic" (Ibid.). Furthermore,
Cole assumes that all involvement in public life must be personal, partisan
political involvement, ignoring the fact that Bahá'ís can get involved in all
kinds of reform groups and committees and in service clubs.
False assumptions are those which are erroneous, unsupported or
inappropriate to the object of study. For example, the assumption that the
avoidance of partisan politics isolates Bahá'ís more than the large numbers of
Americans who, like Bahá'ís, do no more than cast their ballots. Such a
far-reaching assumption cannot simply be accepted and built on; it must be
proven or, at least, shown as a reasonable possibility.
In his critiques of the Bahá'í Faith, Cole also assumes that the American
political-judicial system is the standard towards which the Bahá'í Faith must
aspire and by which it should measure itself. He provides no justification for
this assumption which ignores the existence of very different but viable
democratic systems elsewhere such as in Canada, Britain and France.
Over-simplification is another result
of essential misapprehension. It means that essential attributes or aspects
have been ignored, which in turn paves the way for erroneous
means that our premises will be false and this in turn leads to false
One example of oversimplification concerns the issue of interpretive
authority. Cole writes that "With the end of the guardianship, conservative
Bahá'ís are eager to invest the House of Justice with de facto interpretive
authority ..." (ibid.). By presenting matters in such a black and white manner,
Cole ignores the genuine complexities of the situation. How can any legislative
and executive body like the Universal House of Justice, fulfill its functions
without at least some interpretation? To put a law or teaching into practice
means to interpret it, to decide what it means under particular circumstances.
To divide it into two mutually exclusive 'sides' is untenable.
Another common logical error is special
pleading in which one makes an exception. This may be legitimate but there have
to be good, i.e. essential reasons to justify doing so. For example, "Bahá'í
elective institutions are not beholden to the electorate and may decide as they
please" (ibid.). Logically, this statement is true - but trivial because it
says nothing more than the obvious. This is true of any elected institution,
Bahá'í or non-Bahá'í : they can do as they please until the next election. But
if this is true of virtually all elected bodies, why is it evidence of control
and manipulation in the case of the Administrative? Consequently, this critique
has no rationale, and does nothing to prove the alleged control and
A circular argument is
one in which the premise depends on its conclusion and vice versa. On the
subject of `tripping' "the wire" (ibid.) of the alleged "informant system"
(ibid.), Cole writes, "The independent-minded, however, usually discover fairly
early on in their Bahá'í careers and then have to decide whether they wish to
live the rest of their lives in a panopticon" (ibid.). In other words, anyone
who `trips the wire' is independent and anyone who is independent trips the
wire. The argument is obviously circular.
This circularity itself
leads to the fallacy of false alternatives
because it suggests
that people are either independent thinkers (and, therefore ex-Bahá'ís or
Bahá'ís `in trouble') or they are not genuinely independent thinkers. He
rejects out of hand the reasonable possibility that people may independently
have come to agree with the Faith or do not interpret the actions of the
Administrative Order as he does. APPEAL TO PATRIOTISM
The appeal to patriotism is one of the standard tools in the
propagandist's tool-box. It is also regarded as intellectually dishonest since
such appeals are rarely relevant to the subject matter. Furthermore, like all
propaganda, this technique appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect.
As such it has no place in rational and scholarly debate. Below is an example
of a blatant patriotic appeal:
"Another way in which many Bahá'ís are isolated from social supports is
their disparagement of the institutions and values of mainstream American
society. Many Bahá'ís exalt their own community, values and procedures and
denigrate those of what they call the "Old World Order". The U.S. Constitution
and its Bill of Rights are often criticized by conservative Bahá'ís as
embodying the Old World Order values and inferior to those found in the Bahá'í
Writings. Bahá'í antagonism to existing American society is expressed in a
number of ways. (italics added)"
The use of emotive diction
makes it obvious that the author wants to
portray Bahá'ís as un-American. Bahá'í disagreement, i.e. difference of opinion
with some aspects of American political life is portrayed as "disparagement",
i.e. an emotionally dismissive contempt. `Disparage' has a nasty and hostile
connotations which are reinforced by Cole's use of two other strongly emotional
words: "antagonism" (ibid.), which directly brings up the issue of hostility,
and "denigrate" (ibid.), which means to "blacken; defame" (OED). By using the
word "denigrate" (ibid.) Cole presents Bahá'í disagreement with some aspects of
American political and social life as an odious and hostile attack. This
reinforces his suggestion that Bahá'ís - or least, Bahá'ís in good standing -
are enemies of the United States. Further reinforcement of this portrait of
Bahá'ís as disloyal Americans is the statement that they "exalt their own
community" (ibid.) over what currently exists. In other words, not only are
Bahá'ís (except `liberals') of dubious loyalty, they also have the gall to
believe they have something better from which America may learn. The word exalt
means to praise, dignify, ennoble (OED), but it also carries connotations of
exaggeration, irrationality and of what today is termed `triumphalism'. This
supports the portrait of Bahá'ís as enjoying a fanatic and malicious sense of
their own superiority. Here too we see all the standard techniques of
. SCARE TACTICS:
of scare tactics in propaganda is to turn readers against the target by making
them afraid for their own well-being and/or safety without presenting any
rational or adequate reason for such fears.
One of Cole's most obvious
scare tactics is guilt by association
. He works hard to link the
Bahá'ís with the threat of a theocratic dictatorship which would deprive
non-Bahá'í Americans of their civil rights. Leaving aside Cole's
misunderstanding and misrepresentation of this issue (See above) let us focus
on Cole's propaganda. He raises irrational fears, by linking the Bahá'í Faith
specifically with the Khomeinist regime in Iran. For example, he writes that
Bahá'ís "do not see them [their institutions] - - as Protestants would - - as a
mere church, but rather as an embryonic theocracy (in this they resemble the
Khomeinists)" (ibid.). `Khomeinist' with its associations with Iran, the
hostage crisis of 1979, the failed rescue attempt and Hizbollah suicide bombers
is an effective way of making readers, especially those in the U.S., nervous.
CREATING A PARANOID MIND-SET
scholarly articles are intended to prepare readers by providing necessary
background information either about the subject and/or the author so that
readers can achieve genuine understanding of the topic and evaluate the article
rationally. The task of an introduction is to construct a frame of reference
that contextualizes the material and provides guidance for understanding; it
exists to clarify. Introductions to scholarly work should not aim at arousing
emotions since emotionality is not conducive to rational and critical
reflection. Such introductions are appropriate to propagandistic, not scholarly
"Panopticon" is blatantly propagandistic. To create reader receptivity for his
thesis that Bahá'í Faith in the U.S. has become deceptive, controlling and
manipulative, Cole begins the article with diction carefully chosen to arouse
suspicions and negative emotions. Indeed, his first sentence encourages readers
to adopt a suspicious, paranoid mind-set and engage in conspiratorial thinking:
"Despite the large literature on American religious bodies, some groups remain
curiously off-limits to investigation" (ibid.)
The phrase "curiously
off-limits" (ibid.) suggests that something odd or `fishy' is going on.
"Off-limits" has strong authoritative (police, military) connotations, which,
of course, is exactly what Cole wants to suggest about the Administrative
Order. The word "curiously" insinuates that perhaps somebody may even be
hindering a "careful investigation" (ibid.), a possibility that feeds Cole's
portrait of a dishonest and manipulative Administrative Order. that, according
to him, maintains a network of spies.
Cole's attempt to arouse emotions is reinforced in the second sentence of
"Panopticon" which points out how these "curiously off-limits" (ibid.)
religions "carefully cultivate public images that hide important facets of
their outlook and internal workings" (ibid.; italics added). As used here, both
of the italicized words carry strong suggestions of intentional deceit. To
complete this orchestration of connotations, Cole refers to the disastrous
"collapse of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's Oregon commune" (ibid.). This reference
is intended to arouse reader's emotions by recalling the extreme isolation and
regimentation undergone by Bhagwan's followers as well as the absolutely
uncritical adulation they accorded him. Cole wants readers to transfer such
associations to his portrait of the Administrative Order. ]
When gathered, interpreted and used correctly, statistics are a valid
source of information. However, as the Faith becomes better known, Bahá'ís can
expect to encounter pseudo- statistics from critics and even honest, but
uneducated seekers. Below is brief check-list for diagnosing statistics.
(1) Do the numbers come from a SLOP (Self-selected Opinion Poll)?
write-in, phone-in, e-mail us if ... poll is a SLOP and has absolutely
no general validity
beyond the specific group who chose to participate.
This excludes a large number of polls.
E-mail discussion groups obviously fall under this heading. Statistics derived
from these have no general validity.
(2) Were the respondents pre-selected?
For example, statistics about
general eating habits gathered at a MacDonald's or statistics about the general
incidence of spousal abuse gathered at a women's shelter have no general
Statistics based on e-mails fall under this heading.
(3) Was the poll random?
If a poll is not truly random, we cannot draw
any general conclusions about the population at large.
Only one of the polls used by Cole was random - and that reached a conclusion
that contradicted an absolutely known number! Obviously this SUNY poll was not
done properly since it erred by over 100% .
Oddly enough, Cole still tried to use this statistic as an argument from
, i.e. appealing to SUNY's good name as a guarantee of its
(4) Are the conclusions properly contextualized?
To know the validity of
any statistic it is absolutely necessary to know (a) the total number of
responses and (b) the total number on which the conclusion was based.
(If I have 5 e-mails on a subject saying XYZ, I cannot make any claims about
the prevalence (incidence) of the belief in XYZ until I know the total number
of e-mails sent/received on that subject.)
If this information is not produced, the statistics cannot be trusted.
(5) Is comparative data being supplied in order to permit meaningful
Compared to a 100% possible attendance rate, a 33% rate is poor; compared to
the 20% attendance rate similar groups gets, 33% is high.
Domestic violence statistics are notorious for failing to supply comparative
Omitting this information is one of the strongest indicators of propaganda
purposes, i.e. trying to manipulate emotions dishonestly.
(6) Were trigger words being used to elicit and steer responses?
"Do you believe in capital punishment?" vs. "Do you think men who
torture and kill small children should be executed?"
(7) Were words being used in their ordinary definitions? Were
definitions consistently applied?
In one well-known and often cited statistic, the definition of the word
revised (without telling respondents) to "unsolicited intimate touching".
For a complete review of Juan Cole's article, see either of these two web sites: bahai-library.com/reviews/panopticon.kluge.html
Ian Kluge is a poet, playwright and independent scholar who lives in Prince
George, British Columbia, Canada. He and his wife Kirsti have four children. He
works as a part-time teacher. His plays have been performed in Vancouver,
Victoria, Prince George and numerous smaller communities throughout the north.
Hs most recent plays are "The Gender Wars Trilogy" ("Medea: The Bitch is Back";
"Jason: Semen and Victory" and "Showdown at Sunion"). He is recognized
specialist in the poetry and philosophy of Conrad Aiken and maintains a web
journal on this author. His two most recent books of poetry are "For the Lord
of the Crimson Ark" and "Elegies". He is currently working on a logical
analysis of Nagarjuna's "Mula" and "Vigra".