The Covenant of Baha’u’llah and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity – by Mike Moum

It is often stated that the physical world is a metaphor for or analogous to the spiritual world, and in that context, while reading a popularized presentation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, I wondered whether there was anything in the spiritual realm that the theory might be a metaphor for. After giving the matter some thought, I realized that the Baha’i Covenant “fit the bill”, as it were. Here is my thinking.

“It is indubitably clear, that the pivot of the oneness of mankind is nothing else but the power of the Covenant….”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in “God Passes By”, pp. 238-39)

“No power can eliminate misunderstandings except that of the Covenant. The power of the Covenant is all-embracing, and resolveth all difficulties, for the Pen of Glory hath explicitly declared that whatever misunderstanding may arise should be referred to the Centre of the Covenant….”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a Tablet – translated from the Persian)

Seat of the Universal House of Justice, Courtesy Bahai.org

“The Covenant is the “axis of the oneness of the world of humanity” because it preserves the unity and integrity of the Faith itself and protects it from being disrupted by individuals who are convinced that only their understanding of the Teachings is the right one…”
(3 January 1982, from a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

We can deduce from the above that the Covenant is the “pivot of the oneness of mankind” because it can “eliminate misunderstandings” and “resolve all difficulties, and protects it from disruption by those who are convinced that only their understanding of the Teachings is the right one…” In other words, the Covenant provides the common and constant reference upon which all can agree, and which can, therefore, reconcile individual understandings without requiring those who hold them to abandon them because everyone can see that their own understanding is part of the whole picture, and so are the understandings of others. An individual can correct any misunderstandings that they may have by reference to the Absolute Standard while still seeing with their own eyes and seeing with their own ears. (In practice, because of our shortcomings, the process doesn’t always play out this way, but the theory is sound regardless.)

The fundamental foundation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity parallels that of the Covenant. That statement seems patently absurd when viewed from the perspective of the common misunderstanding that the theory shows that “all things are relative”, which is little more than a flawed deduction made from the theory’s name rather than an understanding of what it actually says. Although it is known among both scientists and the public as “Theory of Relativity”, Einstein himself wanted to call it “Theory of Invariance”. (1) Let us see why.

Without going into details of the theory, it is based on two fundamental axioms:
1. the speed of light (299,729 km/sec or 186,282 miles/sec) is constant for all observers
2. the laws of physics are identical from the perspectives of all observers in their own reference frame.
(For those interested in a fuller but short and simple explanation, go to http://www.dummies.com/education/science/physics/einsteins-special-relativity/)

Rather than going into an abstract explanation, I will use a simple example to illustrate these principles. Let us imagine two spaceships passing each other at a velocity of 0.866 times the speed of light. Each observer has a clock visible to themselves and to the other spaceship. When the observer on spaceship 1 sees one second elapse on his clock, they will see two seconds elapse on spaceship 2’s clock. However, when the observer on spaceship 2 sees one second elapse on their clock, they will see 2 seconds elapse on spaceship 1’s clock. The “frame of reference” for observer 1 is spaceship 1, and the “frame of reference” for observer 2 is spaceship 2. When both observers measure the speed of light, each will measure 299,729 km/sec, even though they are moving in opposite directions at 0.866 times light speed. When they look at their own clocks, both will measure 1 second as 1 second, which they can determine by seeing how long it took light to travel 299,729 km. In other words, when making measurements relative to their own reference frame, each will get the same results. However, when looking at the “other guy”, each sees two seconds elapse.

One can easily imagine an argument ensuing when the two observers get together and compare notes, each arguing that the other made a mistake measuring their own clocks because clearly two seconds elapsed for the “other guy” because that is what each saw. However, the Theory of Relativity allows them to understand why one made a different measurement than the other, when in fact, both measurements, although seemingly contradictory, are both correct when understood in the context of the theory. In other words, the theory provides an objectively true context in which apparent contradictions can be harmonized.

We can, therefore, see how the Theory of Relativity, like the Covenant, can “resolve difficulties”, and protect physics from those who are convinced that only their measurements are the correct ones.

Like most analogies, it would be a mistake to try to extend this too far. My intent is simply to show that foundations of the Baha’i Covenant and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity are similar. One rests on the authority of God’s Manifestation, and the other on the authority of physical law. Neither can be successfully challenged.

(1) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/views/invariance.htm

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