Annotation: Abdu’l-Baha, Einstein, and Ether

While not directly relating to spirituality or mysticism, I recently came across a small book about the Faith’s take on modern science, in particular the 19th century concept of Ether. It interested me, and seemed topical enough to read and comment on. The book is short, and consists of a great deal of reiterating the same point over and over again, the entire piece written as a counterpoint to some scientists’ refutation of Abdu’l-Baha’s infallibility (and by inference, Baha’u’llah’s infallibility), based on some statements Abdu’l-Baha made in reference to Ether around the turn of the century. Even the brevity of this book still felt too long to the point of irrelevance: it makes a valid point combined with defensive spin doctoring, which frankly I think could have been addressed with a single page containing Abdu’l-Baha’s actual commentary and an explanation thereof.

The whole hullabaloo is silly. The concept of Ether (the mechanical, physical medium found in space which facilitates the passage of light, not the chemical) has been largely discredited for years, disproved shortly after the turn of the century by Einstein with a specialized application of the Theory of Relativity. Unfortunately, Abdu’l-Baha made several references to Ether over the course of his Guardianship (along with a variety of other scientific breakthroughs that have all since proven to be true), and this has been apparently an arguing point for scientists to disprove the claims of Baha’u’llah’s divinity (since Abdu’l-Baha was Baha’u’llah’s son and the Guardian of the Faith after Baha’u’llah passed on, he was theoretically infallible).

It’s true, he comments on Ether on several occasions. The only issue here is that the scientists who are arguing against the Baha’i Faith are ignoring the fact that he also explicitly qualified the use of the term as an intellectual concept, not a mechanical medium. Much in the same way that there is a current push to return to using the term ether (or aether) as a conceptual terminology for the space-time “fabric.” Abdu’l-Baha applied precisely the same attributes to Ether as Einstein did to his Space-Time fabric: it is a difference in terminology, not in idea.

That’s all. It’s really that simple. What I just explained in two paragraphs is really all that Matthews says. He just says it over the course of a few pages (albeit with a bit more background, explanation, and quotes from relevant sources), and then reiterates the exact same information again, repeating this process for a good 40 pages (as I said, this was not a very long book). He comments on the independent conclusions found by a group of scholars examining the subject down in Australia. He adds quotes from the Universal House of Justice’s take on the matter, which is just another reiteration of the same information, namely that Abdu’l-Baha was talking about a concept, not the physical medium known as Ether. He adds quotes of various prominent scientists, Einstein included, who use the term Ether in exactly the same way.

I understand that he really wanted to hammer his point home, but to a certain extent it felt like he was just padding the length in order to justify the cost of the book. Not only was it lengthened by the heavy use of quotes and citations, but the references list of where he got his information was easily an extra 6 pages. I will admit that I have a certain bias in favor of brevity, thus I do think that sometimes you just need to know where to stop.

Matthews, Gary L. Abdu’l-Baha, Einstein, and Ether. Stonehaven Press.