A Brave Learner Admits and Corrects Misconceptions about Evolution

Dean Belway, a Bahá’í living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has taken three Wilmette Institute courses, including most recently Science, Religion, and the Bahá’í Faith. At the end of the course, he reflected in a way that many people find difficult—admitting to misconceptions and erroneous understandings of a number of Bahá’í teachings. Even more important, he owned up to “advancing arguments based” on his misconceptions that “can only be detrimental to the Faith’s objective of promoting the harmony of science and religion.” The crux of Dean’s change in understanding of evolution is from the idea that humans evolved completely independently from the animal kingdom (a view held by many Bahá’ís) to his new understanding that the human body evolved as part of the animal kingdom, though the capacity for rational consciousness is not found in the animal kingdom. (You may want to read the Universal House of Justice’s explanation in the foreword to the new translation of Some Answered Questions, pages xiv–xv.) Here are Dean’s self-reflections:

“The course [Science, Religion, and the Bahá’í Faith] was very eye opening for me. In particular, I found the discussions on evolution helpful in shaking some of my own misconceptions and shaping a new understanding, and I developed a whole new appreciation about the urgency surrounding climate change and the depth of supporting scientific evidence.

“I also feel I have a better understanding and new perspectives on some central themes in cosmology, evolution, and climate change. I plan to continue to review the readings and peer responses in the course over at least the next year for further study. I hope to continue to share some of the understanding with my friends and colleagues and to better present the scientific arguments on these topics.

“I tend to be a rigid thinker, but the course made me more open-minded. The direct comments and constructive feedback provided through the Forums really helped me identify some of the flaws in my understanding and brought an entirely new perspective on some of the topics discussed in the course, particularly the Bahá’í teachings on evolution.

“The number one change in values and beliefs for me relates to my own personal understanding of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings on evolution. With the help of the faculty and fellow students, I learned that my previous understanding was not only mistaken but that I was advancing arguments based on those misconceptions that could only be detrimental to the Faith’s objective of promoting the harmony of science and religion.

“An unexpected outcome of the science and religion course (which was not part of my Personal Learning Plan) was the faculty’s inspiration that has encouraged me to write a paper based on the themes of ethics, science, and religion. Dr. Robert Sarracino, one of the faculty, has responded with interest to a proposal to collaborate on the project. The idea is to develop a paper for publication and, I hope, oral presentation at a professional meeting.”

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