The Impact of Francis
Bacon and Thomas Reid in History and on Christendom
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
The listed historical figures will give a
perspective for the life and times of Francis Bacon.
Baconian Philosophy. “The
empiricist tradition dominating much of English thought was
gripped by the hopes for dramatic advances in knowledge promised
by the scientific method described by Francis Bacon.
Newton symbolized the spectacular fulfillments of such
promises. For a
time this vision of reality was so compelling and the
possibility of human advance so promising that few would
challenge it. In
the early nineteenth century this vision persisted especially in
Baconian philosophy,’ said Edward Everett in 1823, ‘has become
synonymous with the true philosophy.’
So great was the reverence in America among scientists,
theologians, and most academics for this ideal that a recent
historian’s phrase, ‘the beatification of Bacon,’ seems aptly to
This blanket endorsement of the
Baconian-Newtonian scientific assumptions and method, shared by
Christians and non-Christians, had the important implication
that, outside of theology, Christians did not consider
themselves to belong to any special school of thought.”
Evolution almost blindly accepted.
again the Baconian view of science prevented many Christians
from recognizing what was happening.
An example is the way
some responded to the appearance of Darwinianism in 1859…. As
good Baconians, evangelicals denied the role of philosophical
assumptions in science—and thus they were powerless to critique
and count the new assumptions when they appeared on the
intellectual horizon. A
great many of them simply took the
facts that Darwin
presented and inserted them in to the
older philosophy of
nature as an open system—not realizing, apparently, that
the older philosophy was
precisely what was under attack.
In the late nineteenth
century, explains Edward Purcell, the majority of thinkers
failed to realize that Darwinianism implied (posited—Ed?) a
‘fully naturalistic worldview.’
They inserted Darwinianism into a religious and
providential framework, trying to somehow fit it into a ‘belief
in nature as part of a comprehensive divine order, and in
science as part of a larger and morally oriented natural
place of Special Revelation.
“The position of Francis Bacon is a clear illustration …
(that the philosopher’s God was not the theologian’s God).
(Bacon) divided theology into the natural and the
theology, he taught, is that knowledge of God which we can get
from the study of nature and the creatures of God.
It gives convincing proof of the existence of God, but
Anything else must come from revealed theology.
Here we must ‘quit the small vessel of human reason and
put ourselves on board the ship of the church, which alone
possesses the divine needle for justly shaping he course.
The stars of philosophy will be of no further service to
us. As we are
obliged to obey the divine law, though our will murmurs against
it, so we are obliged to believe in the word of god, though our
reason is shocked by it.”
Repairing the Fall in “some part.”
“The early scientists regarded technology as a means of
alleviating the destructive effects of the curse recorded in
Genesis 3. As Francis Bacon expressed
it, man ‘fell at the same time from his state of innocency and
from his dominion over creation.” Yet, “both of these losses
can, even in this life, be in some part repaired; the former by
religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.’ As humans
used the sciences to restore their dominion over creation, they
could alleviate the suffering imposed by the Fall.”
Unity of science.
“Separating history from the natural sciences required a fierce
struggle. From the days of the scientific revolution,
philosophers strove for a ‘unity of knowledge.’
They hoped that a single method would uncover truth in
all fields of inquiry. Francis Bacon argued for the unity of
subject areas based on the fact that a ‘common logic’ (the
syllogism) applies to them all.
Descartes and Leibniz called for a universal method based
on mathematics. After Isaac Newton’s impressive successes, many
held up mathematical physics as the pattern for all knowledge.”
“The emergence of a distinctive tradition of
scientific thought addressed the question of unity through
science's designation of a privileged method, set of concepts,
and language. In the late 16th century Francis Bacon held that
one (sic) unity of
the sciences was the result of our organization of discovered
material facts in the form of a pyramid with different levels of
generalities; these would be classified in turn according to
disciplines linked to human faculties. In accordance with at
least three traditions, the Pythagorean tradition, the Bible's
dictum in the Book of Wisdom, and the Italian commercial
tradition of bookkeeping, Galileo proclaimed at the turn of the
17th century that the Book of Nature had been written by God in
the language of mathematical symbols and geometrical truths; and
that in it the story of Nature's laws was told in terms of a
reduced set of objective, quantitative primary qualities:
extension, quantity of matter and motion. In the 17th century,
mechanical philosophy and Newton's systematization from basic
concepts and first laws of mechanics became the most promising
framework for the unification of natural philosophy. After the
demise of Laplacian molecular physics in the first half of the
19th century, this role was taken over by ether mechanics and
has been asserted that Francis Bacon or his thinking was
responsible for the origin of freemasonry, but this assertion
seems to be in error.
Unity with Scottish
"Common Sense" Realism. “Common
Sense realism was crafted by the Scottish philosopher Thomas
Reid in response to the radical skepticism of a fellow Scot,
David Hume…. The way to avoid skepticism, Reid proposed, is to
realize that some knowledge is ‘self-evident’—that is, it is
forced upon us simply by the way human nature is constituted.
As a result, no one
really doubts or denies it. It
is part of immediate, undeniable experience.
For example, no one
really doubts that he or she exists (not in practice, at least).
No one doubts that the
material world is real (we look both ways before crossing the
street). Nor do we doubt
our inner experiences like memories or pain.
(If I say I have a
headache, you don’t ask,
How do you know?) If
someone does deny these basic facts, then we call him insane—or
Reid recommended the work of Francis Bacon….
The reason earlier ages got their science all wrong, Bacon had
said, was that they deduced their ideas about nature from
metaphysical speculations. Genuine
science must start not with philosophy but with facts, and then
reason strictly by induction. ‘Taught
by Lord Bacon,’ Reid wrote, ‘people had at last been freed from
the treadmill of medieval ‘deductivism,’ and set on ‘the road to
the knowledge of nature’s works.’
To a wide range of Americans, this linkage of
Common Sense realism with Baconian induction seemed an
unbeatable combination for countering the skepticism of Hume and
other radical Enlightenment philosophers.
Soon it was to be
applied to every field of thought: science, political
philosophy, moral theory, and even biblical interpretation
(hermeneutics—see below). Its
central concept was enshrined in the Declaration of
Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident.’
Where did the idea of
self-evident truths come from? From
common sense realism.”
Baconian hermeneutics. “Applied
to biblical interpretation, the Baconian method stipulated that
the first step is to free our minds from all historical
theological formulation (Calvinist, Lutheran, Anglican, or
whatever). With mind
washed clean from merely human speculations, we confront the
biblical text as a collection of ‘facts’ that speak for
themselves—and then compile individual verses inductively into a
theological system. Statements
in Scripture were treated as analogous to facts I nature,
knowable in exactly the same way.
Among the most
influential to embrace the Baconian method were the Old School
Presbyterians at Princeton (Ed—because of their identity with
Scottish realism?)…. Charles Hodge even compared the
propositions in the Bible with the ‘oceans, continents, islands,
mountains, and rivers’ studied by geography.
That’s why he could say,
‘The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of
science. It is his
store-house of facts.’’
** For a more thorough discussion of the
errors, but powerful influence of Bacon and Reid on early
America, see Chapter 11 of Nancy Pearcey’s book,
Total Truth, cited
several times herein.
Protestants in an Age of Science, (Chapel Hill,
1977), page 3.
Collapse of American Evangelical Academia,” in Nicholas
Faith and Rationality,
S. E. Frost,
of the Great Philosophers, page 214-215.
differed from the
Common Sense of Thomas Paine.