Author: Ian Taylor
The history of the rise of humanism in Europe is the record of society’s change in the way of thinking from being God-centered to human-centered. This change was a reaction against the authoritarian rule by theologians who used Scripture to interpret nature but relied upon the writings of Aristotle to make those interpretations. This change in thinking began in the 1600s and has continued into the present day; two names are recognized by historians as being more responsible than any others for initiating this humanist worldview. Those names are Francis Bacon and René Descartes. For example, the Harvard political historian Mark Henrie, writing in 1987, said:
“. . . modern rationalists with their complete skepticism about and animus towards existing social arrangements are most directly the heirs of Francis Bacon and René Descartes, who defined knowledge as universal human agreement based upon an infallible technique available to all: the scientific method. This narrow theory of knowledge is largely responsible for the prevalence of a mechanistic metaphor for reality and for the modern triumph of moral relativism, a perennial philosophical heresy which only in our age has presumed the robes of sacred truth.”
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) gave the world the scientific method, sometimes known as the Baconian method, tentatively at first in 1605, then more forcefully in his Novum Organum in 1620. This was further amplified in his Advancement of Science, published in Latin in 1626, then finally in English in 1640. The French philosopher-scientist René Descartes published his “scientific method” anonymously at first in 1637 as the Discours de la Méthode. Known as the “Cartesian method,” this had been received as an inspiration 13 years earlier in 1619.
Each of these scientific methods differs slightly from the other, but the first step common to both is that the investigator clear his mind of preconception or bias. This sounds perfectly laudable but is, in fact, quite contrary to human nature and in practice is seldom, if ever, achieved. More significantly, by making this the first demand, Scripture is abandoned as the basis for enquiry and, by default, is replaced by human reason. This is the foundation for humanism and was introduced by the Baconian and Cartesian scientific methods.
However, it is not the purpose of this essay to compare these scientific methods or to comment upon their deceptive nature but rather to trace and compare the source of each idea. In the case of Descartes, this is rather well documented, but in Bacon’s case the documentation is more obscure. Both men received their inspiration at about the same time; we will consider Bacon first, since he appeared on the scene earlier than Descartes.
Historian James Spedding produced a seven-volume work on the life of Francis Bacon in 1861, and this has become the definitive work. However, much more information has been unearthed since that date, and the darker pages of Bacon’s life have slowly been revealed. In the late 19th century, the correspondence of Anthony Bacon, the brother of Francis Bacon, was discovered in the archiepiscopal library of Lambeth Palace, London. In his commentary on this material, historian Alfred Dodd noted that Francis Bacon not only had great poetical gifts but had confessed to taking the goddess Pallas Athene as his Muse and inspirer. Athene was the Greek goddess of wisdom and knowledge, represented in mythology and classical sculpture with the spear of knowledge in her right hand ready to destroy the serpent of ignorance writhing at her left foot.
Several other researchers working in the late 19th century made another surprising discovery about Bacon. Francis Bacon moved in the royal circles of Queen Elizabeth I, and at this time it was not unusual for written communications to be in cipher. Bacon was a master in the use of cipher, and the researchers, including Dr. Orville Owen in America and, working independently, Elizabeth Gallup in England, broke the code used by Bacon. Owen relates how at an early age Bacon was inspired after he had accepted Athene as his Muse:
A heavenly voice came to him which said:
“The Divine Majesty takes delight to hide his work, according to the innocent play of children; surely for thee to follow the example of the most high God cannot be censured. Therefore put away popular applause, and after the manner of Solomon, the king, compose a history of thy times and fold it into enigmatical writings and cunning mixtures of the theater . . . .”
Another 19th-century researcher, Constance Pott, unearthed a mother lode of documents that show the intimate association of Francis Bacon with the Rosicrucians of Germany and the Freemasons of England. From one such cache Pott explains that there are over 60 letters that show that Francis Bacon was the recognized head of a secret society bound together to advance learning and to uphold religion. In this century Alfred Dodd has produced massive documentation to show that this secret society of which Bacon was the father was, in fact, Freemasonry. He further shows a direct relationship between Freemasonry and the Royal Society of London. More recently, the works of the Italian philosopher-historian Paolo Rossi have been translated, and in his book Francis Bacon he makes the statement:
It [Bacon’s programme] recurs with further alterations in the Novum Organum and De Augmentis, but he did not set it down in its final consistent form till the New Atlantis, in a passage describing Salomon’s House, where it is no longer presented as a project but as a Utopian dream. Indeed, this plan, never visualized during Bacon’s lifetime, marked the birth of scientific humanism for the founders of the Royal Society and later for the Encyclopedists; and through humanism it has inspired some of the more progressive forms of European culture.
In summary we see that Francis Bacon dabbled in the occult workings of the Rosicrucians, sought wisdom from the Greek goddess Pallas Athene, and confessed to hearing a voice giving him instructions for his life’s work. The crucial part of the work, the scientific method, came to him in its completed form about 1619 and was published in 1620 as his Novum Organum.
René Descartes (1596-1650) was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, educated by the Jesuits and, as an intelligent 23-year-old soldier-philosopher, was full of scientific enthusiasm and a burning desire to systematize all knowledge. He had just spent the previous 20 months studying mechanics and acoustics under Isaac Beeckman when he learned that the secret Rosicrucian sect in Germany were likewise in quest of knowledge. He sought out the mathematician Johann Faulhaber, a professor at Ulm who was known to be a senior member of the Rosicrucians and spent the entire winter of 1619-1620 with him. Many biographers believe that Faulhaber initiated young Descartes into some of the secrets of that society; however, since membership in the Rosicrucians was at that time considered a crime in both Holland and France, there is no concrete evidence that he actually joined. Descartes was always interested in the occult, but had he joined he would have risked losing his properties to the church if discovered. Early in his relationship with Faulhaber, he records that he spent the entire day of November 10, 1619, alone in a heated room (poêle) at Ulm meditating on the acquisition of knowledge. That night he had a dream, also carefully recorded; he always claimed that his life’s vocation was revealed to him in this dream. The dream experience consisted of three parts:
1. In the first part a tempestuous wind was whirling him about in the street as he struggled, hardly able to keep his feet, to reach the church of the College of La Fleche to say his prayers. At the very moment he turned to show courtesy to a man he had neglected to greet, the wind blew him violently against the church. Soon someone in the middle of the college courtyard told him that an acquaintance of his had something —a melon — to give him. . . . He awoke feeling pain, prayed to God for protection and fell asleep again.
2. The second part filled him with terror. He was awakened by a burst of noise like a crack of lightning, and he saw thousands of sparks in his room.
3. In the third and final part, he saw upon his table a dictionary and a Corpus poetarum, open at a passage of Ausonius: quod vitae sectabor iter? (What path shall I follow in life?). An unknown man handed him the words Est et Non (the “yes” and “no” of Pythagoras representing truth and falsity in human attainment and in secular sciences. Pythagoras studied the occult arts in Egypt, then taught the Greeks).
The exact meaning of the symbolism in these vivid dreams has been the subject of much dispute. However, for the present purposes it is sufficient simply to know that Descartes was convinced by these dreams that he had a divine mission to found a new philosophical system. He records that he vowed to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin at Loretto, Italy, and this was in all likelihood fulfilled the following year when he did, in fact, go to Italy. In the months that followed his strange dream, Descartes produced his Meditations, and these are at the very core of all Cartesian philosophy; later these were expanded into his Discours de la Méthode. Descartes held the dream itself to be “the most important thing in my life” and even spoke of the “genius” of his Meditations and that this genius or spirit had forecast these dreams to him before he had retired to his bed. Many philosophers and scientists since, including the German mathematician Leibnitz, who was himself a Rosicrucian, downplay these dreams, arguing that the account of them lessens the credibility of an otherwise very important philosophical system.
In summary, we see that René Descartes was seriously involved with the same occult organization as Francis Bacon and, as a devout Roman Catholic, paid homage to the Virgin goddess. At just about the time Bacon received the inspiration for his scientific method, Descartes received his strange dream (1619). This dream was at the root of the Cartesian method and, like the Baconian method, ushered in the humanist worldview. We find that Scripture is not silent about these matters and, in the case of Descartes, is almost specific. Bearing in mind that the Hebrew makes the distinction between God’s light and human light, which is the analog for God’s wisdom and human wisdom, we find that seeking knowledge by human light will inevitably lead to destruction:
Look all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with sparks: Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled —This you shall have from My hand; you shall lie down in torment (Isa. 50:11).
The theologians of the Middle Ages had quite rightly begun with Scripture. If they had followed this through with observation and experiment rather than relying upon the “Ancients,” e.g. Aristotle, the course of history would have been very different. The “Ancients” were eventually dismissed, but so was Scripture, and science has been based upon human reason ever since. The lesson is that true knowledge can only be attainted by beginning with Scripture in its complete context, then making proper observations and controlled experiments. Early biographies of those responsible for many of the major scientific discoveries foundational to our technological age show that many were Bible believers, though not necessarily Christians, e.g. Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin and others.
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