Does the singularity of God require singularity of religion?

Vahid Houston Ranjbar
6 min readMay 26, 2016

Many who hold more traditional beliefs take this as axiomatic. For example it is often said, “Why would God confuse and contradict himself?” They also will point to scripture which seems to indicate an exclusive, final and singular revelation from God. For example in Islam the finality of Islam is often related to Quranic verse, “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets”. In Christianity Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Hubble UDF after fine noise reduction & histogram optimization. Minimal data loss for visual clarity.

Assuming one has at least a marginal belief in science, is this idea consistent with what is know about our universe? Given the size and age of the known universe such assertions of singularity of revelation in time and place would seem to defy any sense. The claim, that over 14 billion years and the billions more to come, across uncountable star systems and planets the divine only revealed itself several times a thousand or two thousand years ago in a very small section of the planet and then never more until the universe ends, would appear impossible to maintain. From the point of view of simple, cultural and information preservation, such an idea is ludicrous. For example assuming a ‘final’ revelation has already come to pass, how could it be possible to preserve the information related to it over just 100 thousand years let alone a billion. Thus one must conclude one of the following 1.) God is terribly unjust or 2.) There are an infinite number of revealers of God in time and space and Revelation is not singular. In fact its impossible that revelation could be singular.

But of course the question will arise, why are the revelations so different? How can one reconcile the observed differences between existing revelation?We observe multiple laws of God, multiple types of metaphysics, and multiple ways to achieve salvation or enlightenment. Then of course there are the apparent claims of exclusivity and finality? How does one reconcile these facts?

In the mid to late 19th century, the prophet founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah offered a way to explain this apparent paradox of religion. Baha’is term this concept “Progressive Revelation”:

The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require”

From this statement of Baha’u’llah we see the concept that religious truth is not absolute but relative to the time and place of revelation. Thus the Divine reveals itself from age to age according to the capacities and needs of humanity. The prophets are compared to Divine physicians who minster to the ills of society and prescribe the appropriate remedy. This remedy may be different from age to age since illness and the state of humanity changes.

To my thinking, I find that the explanatory power of Progressive Revelation in describing the cause of the diversity of religions somewhat similar to how Darwin’s evolution and natural selection theory explains diversity of natural organisms.

Shoghi Effendi at Oxford 1921

Shoghi Effendi the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith stated it this way:

“Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind.

“All the Prophets of God,” asserts Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith.” From the “beginning that hath no beginning,” these Exponents of the Unity of God and Channels of His incessant utterance have shed the light of the invisible Beauty upon mankind, and will continue, to the “end that hath no end,” to vouchsafe fresh revelations of His might and additional experiences of His inconceivable glory. To contend that any particular religion is final, that “all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the daysprings of eternal holiness no sun shall rise again, that the ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest” would indeed be nothing less than sheer blasphemy.” — Shoghi Effendi

Now if we go back and reconsider religious history in this light we can see many elements of this concept in previous revelations. For example, the Christian Bible narrates a history of revelation evolving from Old testament focused on “law” and punishment to that of love and forgiveness. In it we see many examples of laws changing (Sabbath, Divorce). The Quran links all Judeo-Christian revelation into a continuous belief system and calls them all ‘Muslim’. Here again, there many examples of Laws being changed (changing Qibla from Jerusalem to Mecca.) In Hinduism this concept already exists in the form of recurring Avatars and basically stated outright in the Bhagavad Gita: “Whenever there is decay of righteousness and there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth, for the destruction of evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age”. In Buddhism which grew out of Hinduism, the idea of re-current and progressive revelation is carried forward in the concept of eternally recurring Bodhisattva.

Depictions of Return of Christ, 10th Avatar and 5th Buddha

All dominant religions tell of a future revelation of the Divine. Despite apparent claims of finality, all await a future time when God or the Divine, will manifest itself. These include predictions of the Messiah, return of Christ, Imam Mahdi, 10th Avatar, 5th Buddha, Sháh Bahrám (Zoroaster). Traditional interpretations have always held that whenever the future revelation comes it will uphold the same laws and occur in a fantastic and super natural manner. As such most new revelations are rejected initially by the leaders of the existing religion in which it appears. For example most Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, most Christian’s rejected Mohammed as fulfilling the prophecies in the gospel.

Thus we see that the existence of multiple religions and revealers is a natural consequence of living in very large and old cosmos. The differences in the laws and teachings between these revelations can be attributed to the differences of each age and place. Progressive Revelation provides a natural mechanism which differentiates these religions, examples of which can be observed in most religious traditions.

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Vahid Houston Ranjbar

I am a research physicist working on beam and spin dynamics. I like to write about connections between science and religion.