Science and Technology for Human Advancement

Statement to the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development

Vienna, Austria
20-31 August 1979

The Bahá'í Faith has, since its inception over 100 years ago, considered science and technology essential to the full development of the individual and of society. It has always regarded development as an all-encompassing process -- including the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of all peoples -- and has considered that science and technology, channeled properly, can help to achieve this goal for all nations.

The Bahá'í world community has also stressed the importance of education -- of training in the arts and sciences on a universal scale. The growth of the mind, the breadth of human learning, and the person's ability to solve complex problems are a cause of individual happiness, greatness, and peace. A man or a woman well-trained and accomplished in the scientific method is, in the Bahá'í view, a "true index of humanity," and possessors of scientific knowledge have a great right among peoples. Science and technology that are directed toward the good of humanity are indeed praiseworthy achievements.

A Balanced Civilization

In the Bahá'í view, human beings exist to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Science and technology have in this century made possible the physical unification of the planet and made evident the interdependence of all nations and peoples. While social, economic, and political structures have not yet caught up with this oneness of humanity, rapid scientific development continues to perfect the instruments that make this unity possible. Since the poor, particularly in developing countries, are still deprived of most of the benefits of scientific progress, national and international means for a better distribution and application of existing knowledge are essential. It has become clear, however, that even in the most advanced countries, present material development cannot be sustained into the future; and even more important, that it does not lead to the happiness and tranquillity of mankind. For if material civilization outruns the social and spiritual progress of man, as it does today, it will cause great harm and threaten the survival of the human race.

Curing Disunity

It is not surprising to the Bahá'í International Community, therefore, that a permanent solution to global problems may still seem elusive and distant, since all efforts at development, including those using science and technology, will have only temporary effect unless the basic problem of our age, the disunity of the peoples of our planet, is first recognized, its fundamental cause understood, and its expression in individual and social behavior eliminated. Regarding this span of earth as "but one homeland and one habitation," Bahá'ís see the establishment of unity among peoples of all backgrounds as a paramount condition for the peace and happiness of individuals and nations. The development process should accordingly employ science and technology first of all to reflect fully the fundamental organic oneness of the human race, by helping to abolish all prejudice and divisiveness, whether of class, creed, sex, race, or nationality.

Agents for Human Enrichment

We know that, if correctly employed, science can lead to the betterment of the human race, to the development of the qualities of humanity, and to an understanding of the mysteries of the universe. we know that it has the potential to eradicate poverty, enrich humanity, and free it from the struggle for existence. If the material exists, as Bahá'ís believe, for the benefit of human beings, it is through science that we can understand the potential of existing resources and learn to develop this natural heritage for ourselves and future generations. Science should, therefore, be pursued to improve human life, and have as its conscious and ultimate goal the establishment of world peace and the unification of the human race.

Unfortunately, science can similarly perfect instruments of war, support the concentration and abuse of power, undermine social and cultural values, and endanger the existence of mankind. It is not sufficient, therefore, by itself, to guarantee progress. It must be directed by the civilizing aims and values of the society it is intended to serve.

Such a foundation of values instilled in individual scientists can be a most effective way to eliminate obstacles to the application of science and technology to development. These scientists will immediately see the priority need for development and will want to apply their knowledge in service of their fellow beings. So motivated, they will encourage the appropriate transfer of technology, stimulate new scientific and technical advances in development problem areas, and bring about quite naturally the integration of science into economic and social development.

The Most Potent Forces

Much of the difficulty in applying science to development today has come from the failure to link science with the basic spiritual and moral values upon which each society is built. Such values, the basis for real progress in science and technology for development, are, in the Bahá'í view, derived from religion. Religion has traditionally provided standards and goals for the individual and society, but misunderstanding and distortion of its fundamental teachings have brought prejudice -- dogmatism, superstition, fanaticism -- all major hindrances to human development. On the other hand, scientific progress, without the religious values brought by the founders of the world's revealed religions, has spawned materialism -- greed, selfishness, distrust, injustice.

If lasting development is to occur, religion and science, "the most potent forces in human life," must be brought into unity. These aspects of one truth must be reconciled, cooperate, and develop harmoniously. We know that science and technology cannot by themselves solve all human problems; they are tools to be used or abused depending on social, economic, and political factors. It is the Bahá'í conviction that only when scientific progress is balanced with spiritual advancement will development be of lasting value and lead to a peaceful world civilization capable of releasing the enormous potential of the physical world for the well-being of humanity.

Today, in more than 340 countries and territories, Bahá'í communities composing the Bahá'í International Community accept a pattern of life that sees scientific and religious values as aspects of one reality. Such an approach enables them to be receptive to scientific and technological advances, and to encourage the channeling of this new knowledge in ways that will raise the spiritual, intellectual, and material life of the human race.

BIC Document #79-0820