The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything – And it’s not 42

In Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ the travellers encounter ‘Deep Thought’, the greatest and most powerful computer in all time. The computer, however, considers itself to be the second most powerful after the one that succeeds it. Nevertheless, encountering it is seen as an opportunity to answer the ultimate question, ‘Life, the Universe and Everything!’ The philosophers, fearing redundancy, are outraged and threaten a strike but Deep Thought reassures them it will take seven and half million years to come up with the answer so they have many years to enjoy their lifestyle and privileges.

Due to time travel Deep Thought is encountered seven and a half million years later and is excitedly asked for the answer, which turned out to be forty two – devastating news for the travellers. The computer explained that it is only possible to know what the answer is when we know what the question is. The original question was too vague. However, in compensation Deep Thought assures them that the next computer, to be created by Deep Thought itself, will have an answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. It will be of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix. That computer will be called ‘Earth’.

Deep Thought was correct that the Earth, after many millions of years, would come up with the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’ and the answer is ‘Radiant Acquiescence’.

Radiance

When my Sunday school teacher reassured me that Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam I had not realised at the time the profundity of what she was saying. A sunbeam is the most significant phenomenon there is. Pure energy without which I would not exist to be able to write this. There would be no earth and people on it. Therefore, what she was saying was that Jesus wanted me to be an energetic source of enlightenment, to give metaphorical warmth, to bestow life through encouragement of others and be of service to them. Sunbeams are brilliant in every sense of the word and if nothing else, Jesus wanted me to be brilliant, in fact – to radiate.

There is a Baha’i prayer that has the line, ‘make this youth radiant’. Radiance is not always associated with the period of youth. When Adrian Mole reached thirteen and three quarters he determined to paint his bedroom walls black in keeping with his pending teenage sombreness and cynical gloom. A time when the inadequacies of adults, particularly in failing to make the planet a happy paradise, are the focus of disgust and despair. Unfortunately for Adrian his current wallpaper was festooned with Noddy and his cohorts and no matter how many coats of black were applied, Noddy was still visible.

The reality is that most youth across the world do radiate and their radiance, because of the vibrancy of this energetic period of life, is infectious, especially among peers and the following generation of youth. The trick is not to just radiate when young, that’s easy. Success is to continue throughout life with all its ups and downs. When Baha’u’llah briefly summarised all religion in the Hidden Words His ‘first’ council was to have a ‘pure, kindly and radiant heart’.

There is a very mistaken but popular philosophy abounding concerning the importance of ‘taking in’, the opposite of ‘giving out’. For this reason, currently, one percent of the world’s population own fifty percent of its wealth and when that’s stretched to ten percent they own around eighty eight per cent. Ironically the fastest growing group in this category is in China. Thus, if communism, as in sharing wealth, is considered a philosophy then by the same token greed and unbridled acquisition must also be a philosophical decision. Similarly, such countries have established a lead in the world for teaching by rote learning and head international league tables for educational mechanical tasks such as computing numbers, punctuating grammar and remembering facts. Some politicians in countries low in such league tables are panicking and legislating rote learning for their own charges. However, several countries at the bottom of ‘rote’ learning league tables are much higher on international problem solving tests. The U.K., for example, is eighth in the world. Pupils regurgitating the facts are repeating what they have taken in. Pupils solving problems are giving out from their personal learning and insights and most probably working cooperatively in teams.

If Deep Thought struggled for an answer it might have said – I know what is absolutely not the answer – ‘take in’. Baha’u’llah has said that each person is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value and only education can cause it to reveal its treasures. Thus, the teacher radiates knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and attitudes to the children not for the children just to ‘take in’ but for them to be enabled to radiate themselves for the good of the world and themselves. Deep Thought might then interject that while not knowing the answer, ‘giving’ seems to be key.

Acquiescence

To explain the meaning of acquiescence it is possibly easier to start with what it is not. It is clearly not agreement or submission despite what dictionaries might say. Dictionaries sometimes focus on it being ‘tacit’ agreement meaning unexpressed. Acquiescence has a term and condition. It can only take place in full knowledge. Thus, before acquiescence can even be considered, knowledge must be pursued and, possibly more importantly, available. Acquiescence is not a state, it is an understanding. Agreement is a state and may subsume unhappiness and disquiet. Submission could now be a synonym for unhappiness and thus a state of accepting unhappily an imposed position. Submission may have had a part to play in the past as a glue for feudalistic societies, but it has no place in either democratic politics or an understanding of democratic religion. Baha’u’llah refers to submission in the Hidden Words when He says; ‘Wert thou to speed through the immensity of space and traverse the expanse of heaven, yet thou wouldst find no rest save in submission to Our command and humbleness before Our Face‘. This submission refers to man’s relationship to God and not man’s relationship to each other in the fabric of society. Now the call is not to believe and obey, it is to know and observe. Acquiescence, therefore, being based on knowledge and understanding, is a declaration, albeit sometimes silent, that an action or state is accepted as the most appropriate and beneficial to all in the current circumstance.

Acquiescence can only manifest itself as a result of knowledge, consultation and equality. To be acquiescent it is necessary to have a voice, to listen and to feel completely at one with everyone involved in the process and feel a place in the decision making process. I believe Deep Thought did not give much of the seven and half million years to the ultimate question. Quite soon after it was asked it realised that the question was too vague and asked itself another question – what is seven times six? Had it persevered it might have begun to consider notions of ‘giving’, ‘consulting’ and ‘equality’ as essential building blocks of the answer to life, the universe and everything.

It is not for me to judge whether I successfully achieved anything in my life. However, I am conscious of fulfilling two actions endorsed in Baha’u’llah’s Writings. I earned a livelihood by my calling and I spent on myself and my kindred. The most effective way for me to spend on my wider kindred, the family of man, was through taxation. Thus, I can put my hand on my heart and say I was happy to pay tax. I am aware that the governments I paid tax to were not perfect and some money went on arms and other expenditure not winning my approval but on a worldwide scale and through history they were generally acceptable and there was nothing else available to me. Thus, I acquiesced to paying tax and felt buoyed by the hospitals, schools, smooth roads and news of foreign aid donations I had contributed to. Most importantly, subsumed in my acquiescence, was that if the government began to squander much of my wealth on, in my mind, unworthy causes I could express my concern at the ballot box. If at the next election my choice did not prevail I would be acquiescent as long as the policies had been discussed freely and fairly and as a consequence the people had made their choice. The peace that abounds in truly democratic societies is a result of the acquiescence of the population, secure in the accessibility of fairness and justice.

Radiant Acquiescence

When acquiescence is radiant it takes on a new dimension. For the reasons cited above acquiescence is good for the world. In the same way that submission was glue for feudalistic societies and religious institutions acquiescence is glue for democratic societies and religious institutions. The alternative to submission is rebellion and ultimately violence. Acquiescence doesn’t have an alternative because it doesn’t need one as it is not absolute. Submission is absolute in that once established by force or surrender there is no room for manoeuvre. Acquiescence, on the other hand, due to being based on knowledge is fluid because knowledge is constantly changing and expanding. Thus, those experiencing acquiescence are always reviewing their situation in the light of new understanding. If everyone is doing this there cannot be opponents, just fellow travellers comparing notes and learning from each other.

I first came across the idea of radiant acquiescence in reading about and discussing the Baha’i ‘tithe’ known as the ‘Right of God’, an idea in religion that the faithful make a donation in thanks to God for all the bounties and blessings of life, that money being for the benefit of others. When Baha’u’llah established this His explanation of it in various ‘tablets’ is very revealing and exceedingly uplifting. In one message He makes the point that it should be observed with, ‘the utmost radiance, gladness and willing acquiescence.’

In a small collection of quotes about ‘Huquq’ullah – The Right of God – Baha’u’llah mentions joy and radiance eleven times. As well as acquiescence, Baha’u’llah also mentions gladness, good-pleasure and contentment, surely vital ingredients of acquiescence. Reference to humility and lowliness might be expected but Baha’u’llah’s forbidding of solicitation for payment rests on upholding the dignity of His cause. In one statement He says, ‘Ye may relinquish the whole world, but must not forgo even one jot of the dignity of the Cause of God.’ Dignity is emphasised five times in these short passages. He recommends that a reminder is only given once which will suffice. Basically Baha’u’llah is saying say something clearly once and if the listener chooses not to heed what you are saying, that is their problem, not yours. Interestingly, three times Baha’u’llah mentions acting spontaneously, but the spontaneity He encourages is anchored in assuredness, steadfastness and insight. It is made clear the donation is not acceptable unless it is given with joy, radiance and acquiescence. In essence God does not want it unless you fully understand why, and giving it brings you joy. Giving reluctantly would evidence that the ‘sweetness of the commandments enjoined by God’ had not been appreciated or felt and the ‘benefits’ arising from joy and eagerness not discovered.

Every adult has an acquired default mode. On waking each morning your general character, kind, vindictive, generous, selfish, energetic, apathetic is core to your day and any spontaneous act will radiate out from that. People cannot decide to pretend to be like someone else and be spontaneous in that mode. The very act of reflecting means an action might be quick but could not be considered spontaneous. A Hungarian journalist caused outrage by purposely tripping up a fleeing migrant child and an adult in a distressing panic. It appeared spontaneous. Maybe spontaneity is more a window on the soul than the eyes? Baha’u’llah lauds spontaneity in giving, which, although unplanned, can only stem from a giving person. Giving comes in a sandwich. On one side wanting to give, the middle the act of giving and on the other side feeling joy in giving. To be able to radiate that acquiescence, especially spontaneously, both by your social setting encouraging it and your persona desiring it – could that be the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’?

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The Reason for Science and the Science of Reason

At the heart of science is questioning and at the heart of any religion once it has lost sight of its roots and original purpose is not questioning. If religion and science had never opposed each other would they be known today by different names? Perhaps a word, currently above ‘syllables and sounds’ would be the description of our being, subsuming our essential reliance on both religion and science for successful survival and progress.

History decreed that priests and scientists at different times would find each other challenging and, thus, a popular dichotomy emerged, an antagonism and mutual mistrust still not resolved today. Nevill Mott, a Nobel Prize winning physicist talked of a ‘pre-scientific’ age but was there one? Archaeologists are constantly discovering more and more ancient signs of intelligent behaviour and if man has always been a distinct species with intelligence and free will then the application of those two must go right back to the earliest of times. Recorded scripture is only known to have existed for around five thousand years and man coped admirably without it for hundreds of thousands of years – learned about flora and fauna and survival in their environment, how to make tools and cook food and how to organise themselves. If most of that behaviour resulted from the accumulation of observations, comparing ideas and experiences and experimentation then perhaps science came before religion and not the other way round.

Carl Sagan has noted that ‘science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality’. That brings us full circle to the idea that religion and science might not have had different labels if disagreement had not accrued. For pre-scriptural man religion and science were, indeed, united in purpose. Thus, it might be said mankind could not have experienced a ‘pre-scientific’ age or a ‘pre-spiritual’ age. Thus, comparisons were and are based, not on our understanding of religion, but on our understanding of scriptural religion as explained by its priests, which may only be a small part of the whole picture.

The problem with comparing religion and science is the fundamental different evolution each experiences. Religions, like so much in life, are subject to birth growth, maturity and disintegration, to be replaced by new birth. Thus, in simplistic terms, when Islam was reaching its maturity with libraries and universities, its scholars went in search of science, exploring the legacy of Greece. When their baton was taken up in Europe, its major church, now declining and entrenched, had become opposed to learning and saw scientific discoveries as a form of blasphemy. The overarching notion was that if God had not revealed it in the scriptures we did not need to know. Scientists became those who dared claim ‘Ignoramus’, meaning ‘we do not know’, and sought, by observation and experimentation, to find out. From the point of declaring ‘ignoramus’ science evolves not in a cyclical fashion, peaking and then declining, but in a linear fashion, each piece of science built on previous science. This diverse development model of each is a major cause of friction between them.

Science generally comes from several motivations including intelligent musing, insatiable
curiosity and urgent necessity. The resultant new knowledge from musing and curiosity may stay in a vacuum or may later serve a practical purpose or be a building block leading to a practical outcome. Scientific knowledge resulting from necessity is, on the other hand originated in its practical application.

The mind is generally focussed most easily on any science that changes the lives of those contemplating it and the greater the number of lives effected by scientific progress the more the focus is on the source of that science. The one event that fundamentally changed more people’s lives across all classes than any other was the industrial revolution which could be considered technical rather than scientific. However, technology is science and the only possible reason it is separated in our minds is snobbery. Universities and their scientists, like the church, distanced themselves from any activity seen as profit motivated. Prior to the industrial revolution all scientist were drawn from the wealthy elite who had access to education. Science, then, did not have a profit motive subsumed within it. It was, in the main, the result of musings and curiosity and very risky in the light of church opposition. Ironically, both Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin had their sights set on a career in the church.

Labels have limited value as evidenced by separately labelling science and religion, which at the outset were integral to life. Technology was then labelled as if it was something separate from science and then it was at first propounded that technology’s development had no spiritual connotations. I am not mindful that any of the ‘manifestations’ of God in their pronouncements ever made a distinction between science and religion. Baha’u’llah has said; ‘Tear ye asunder the veils of names and cleave ye their kingdom.’ (Gleanings CXXI) Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘Sapiens’ talks of ‘modern science’ stemming from ‘ignoramus’ meaning ‘we don’t know’ but also included ‘what we know could be wrong’ and ‘no knowledge is sacred’.

According to Abdul’-Baha, no religion is ‘sacred’ either. It, too, has responsibilities and as he pointed out, ‘Divine religion is not a cause for discord and disagreement. If religion becomes the source of antagonism and strife, the absence of religion is to be preferred. Religion is meant to be the quickening life of the body politic; if it be the cause of death to humanity, its non-existence would be a blessing and benefit to man’. (‘Foundations for World Unity’). In Paris in 1911 he had stressed, ‘There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance.’(Paris Talks)

The Baha’i religion focuses on unity in all realms, religious, political, intellectual and social. The reality of these cannot have lines between them other than imaginary ones drawn up by people with the power and authority to invent such boundaries for self-seeking purposes. Equally a person cannot have lines created between their spiritual, physical and intellectual life. Every aspect of a person’s existence is a united whole. Any label cannot have firm edges in the same way that the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean are one body of water and the border between them only exists in the mind. It is possible to devote much time arguing about where the boundary lies exactly but it is pointless because there is no boundary. Science and religion are one and the same thing unless they are badly executed. Thus, science can say on occasion to religion, ‘you are getting it wrong’ and religion can sometimes say the same to science. Abdu’l-Baha has assured us that, ‘from the clash of opinion comes the spark of truth’.(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 44)

Abdu’l-Baha used two words, true and divine, to distinguish sensible religion from dysfunctional religion. The current disagreements between established religions’elaborate priesthood and scientists derives from Yuval Noah Harari’s implication that religions claimed we know all we need to know and we get our knowledge from God while scientist objected to this closed mind – leading to the likes of Richard Dawkins going to great lengths to prove all religion is myth.

The type of ‘religious’ dogma that disturbs scientists includes banning teaching evolution across much of the United States, Jehovah Witnesses refusing blood transfusions and birth control issues and its relationship to over-population in poor areas and the spread of HIV/Aids. (It may also include a Saudi Arabian priest justifying women not driving cars because it would damage their ovaries – which is only true if they insist on driving Hillman Imps)

When a serious ethical issue arises from scientific work it is not just the religious world that calls for debate. Atheists, humanists and agnostics of all persuasion also enter the consultation due to a shared sense of what is right and acceptable in our current society. Some of those consulting from an established and traditional religious position can be hamstrung by cherished and ancient dogmas.

In explaining ‘divine’ Abdu’l-Baha has said, ‘the divine teachings are intended to create a bond of unity in the human world and establish the foundations of love and fellowship among mankind.’ Many see the dichotomy between science and religion pivoting on scientific empiricism. In other words, proving what it propounds. Religious teachings, on the other hand, can be seen by scientists as advice in an unproven vacuum. The call now is to ‘know’ rather than ‘believe’. Imagine a room full of representatives of different religions. In their minds there are barriers between them. If suddenly, as one, they decided to just focus on their religion’s Golden Rule they would discover it’s the same – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – the imagined barriers would melt away. A scientist in their midst contemplating that science’s golden rule is discover and invent for others what you would want to have discovered and invented for you would realise, too, they are all now bound together and united by one motive, to serve others. Everything else in life is interesting but, ultimately, does not matter.

Two recent events brought home the ‘empiricism’ of religious ideas. If an event changes a person’s life that experience can now be labelled ‘knowledge’. Volkswagen Car Company, one of the world’s largest, discovered that honesty is, indeed, the best policy. Commentators are running out of noughts to estimate the financial loss the company will eventually face through dishonesty but the loss of trust and goodwill can never be calculated. A wake up call to everyone pushing the boundaries of honesty. A second event hitting the news concerned a hedge fund manager acquiring a pharmaceutical company and raising the price of Daraprim, a drug used for the last sixty two years against parasitic infections, from $13.50 to $750. He obviously had his own justification but, by and large, the rest of the world disagreed with that.

Unless people are professionally involved in science or religion, it is likely that knowledge of its differences will come through the media, originally newspapers and then radio and television. If the media is predominantly commercial, as is increasingly the case around the world, this news will be filtered to us through the media’s bias stance and so we may not have an accurate understanding of what is important. An example is ‘climate change’. However, media commentators point out that the audience for any ‘news’ media is now dwarfed by participants in social media and people gaining information from the internet. Thus, while only a few people could have had their letters printed in newspapers or got through to the switchboard at radio stations to rail against Martin Shkreli’s transparent greed, millions took to social media to condemn this action.

Social Media has enabled billions to participate in opinion giving and, ultimately, shape it. Those billions, in one way or another have had their lives shaped by the principles of religion but are free to voice their personal ‘sensible’ morality without the shackles of ancient religious affiliation. For this reason increasing numbers of people describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’. Is this development and the importance of empiricism in morality leading to a science of reason?