Francis Bacon was the founder of the modern scientific method. The focus on the new scientific method is on orderly experimentation. For Bacon, experiments that produce results are important. Bacon pointed out the need for clear and accurate thinking, showing that any mastery of the world in which man lives was dependent upon careful understanding. This understanding is based solely on the facts of this world and not as the ancients held it in ancient philosophy.
This new modern science provides the foundation for modern political science. Bacon’s political science completely separated religion and philosophy. For Bacon, nothing exists in the universe except individual bodies. Although he did not offer a complete theory of the nature of the universe, he pointed the way that science, as a new civil religion, might take in developing such a theory.
Bacon divided theology into the natural and the revealed. Natural theology is the knowledge of God that we can get from the study of nature and the creatures of God. The convincing proof is given of the existence of God but nothing more. Anything else must come from revealed theology. Science and philosophy have felt the need to justify themselves to laymen.
The belief that nature is something to be vexed and tortured to the compliance of man will not satisfy man nor laymen. Natural science finds its proper method when the ‘scientist’ puts Nature to the question, tortures her by experiment and wrings from her answers to his questions.
The House of Solomon is directly related to these thoughts. “It is dedicated to the study of Works and the Creatures of God” (Bacon, 436). Wonder at religious questions was natural, but, permitted free reign, would destroy science by absorbing the minds and concerns of men.
The singular advantage of Christianity is its irrationality. The divine soul was a matter for religion to handle. The irrational soul was open to study and understanding by man using the methods of science. The society of the NEW ATLANTIS is a scientific society. It is dominated by scientists and guided by science. Science conquers chance and determines change thus creating a regime permanently pleasant. Bensalem, meaning “perfect son” in Hebrew, has shunned the misfortunes of time, vice and decay.
Bensalem seems to combine the blessedness of Jerusalem and the pleasures and conveniences of Babylon. In Bacon’s NEW ATLANTIS, the need for man to be driven does not exist. Scarcity is eliminated thereby eliminating the need for money. “But thus, you see, we maintain a trade, not for gold, silver or jewels… nor for any other commodity of matter, but only for God’s first creature which was light” (Bacon, 437). This shows a devotion to truth rather than victory and it emphasizes the Christian piety to which the scientist is disposed by virtue of his science.
As man observes and brings the fruits of his observations together, he discovers likeness’ and differences among events and objects in the universe. In this way, he will establish laws among happenings upon which he can base all subsequent action. Bacon realized that sometimes religious ideas and the discoveries of nature and careful observations were contradictory but he argued that society must believe both. The NEW ATLANTIS begins with the description of a ship lost at sea.
The crew “lift up their hearts and voices to God above, who showeth his wonders in the deep, beseeching him of his mercy” (Bacon, 419). Upon spotting land and discerning natives the sailors praise God. When a boarding party comes to their ship to deliver messages, none of the natives speak. Rather, the messages are delivered written on scrolls of parchment. The parchment is “signed with a stamp of cherubins’ wings… and by them a cross” (Bacon, 420). To the sailors, the cross was “a great rejoicing, and as it were a certain presage of good” (Bacon, 420). After the natives leave and return to the ship, they stop and ask “Are ye Christians?” (Bacon, 421).
When the sailors confirm that they are, they are taken to the island of Bensalem. On Bensalem, the sailors are ‘confined’ to their resting place and are attended to according to their needs. The sailors reply, “God surely is manifested in this land” (Bacon, 424). Upon talking to the governor the next day, he exclaims “Ye knit my heart to you by asking this question, [the hope that they might meet heaven], in the first place, for it showeth that you first seek the kingdom of heaven” (Bacon, 427). This is not true.
The sailors have already sought food, shelter, and care of the sick. In other words, they had sought self-preservation. As Bacon put it, “they had already prepared for death” (Bacon, 419). After the Feast of the Family, the father of Salomon’s House has a conference with the travelers. The father says, “I will give the greatest jewel that I have. For I will impart to thee… a relation of the true state of Salomon’s House” (Bacon, 447). The greatest ‘jewel’ is not one of monetary value but of knowledge.
The father continues, “The End of our Foundation is the Knowledge of Causes and secret motion of things, and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible” (bacon, 447). This is the turning point from religion to science and science becoming the new civil religion. From this comes the ability of human to rule over Nature.
It was stated before that they were interested in “God’s first creature which was light” (Bacon, 437). This contradicts an earlier statement that “It is dedicated to the study of Works and Creatures of God” (Bacon, 436). The former obviously an indication of science as the latter is to religion.
Bacon stresses the importance of ‘light’ as the precursor of ‘fruit’ to suggest that they are following the divine instrument. There are two images used by Bacon to refer to knowledge, torture and light. Torture refers to the violent twisting of nature’s secrets. Nature must be conquered but is not adverse to the conquest. The forces of Nature are against us but in a rather passive manner. Light, on the other hand, is the meaning of natural philosophy.
From Salomon’s house there go forth ‘merchants of light’ and ‘lamps’. Light is identified with truth. Supposing that light is symbolic of natural philosophy, then it dismisses the case of light being divine philosophy. The light in Bacon is primarily the light of Nature. The obvious contrast here is one between “gold and silver and light” (Bacon, 437). Light here is noble where gold and silver are base.
The ‘noble light’ is for the beneficence of all men. Bacon took the modern spirit and weaved them together so as to suggest a method by which man could master the universe. He did this to the end that he might exhibit therein a model or description of a college instituted for the interpreting of nature and the producing of great works for the benefit of man.
The island community of Bensalem also has “two long and fair galleries” (Bacon, 456). In one gallery the native place all manner of patterns and samples of rare and excellent inventions. In the other gallery are placed statues of inventors. It is interesting to note here that while the island and its natives act in “so civil a fashion” (Bacon, 423) in professing to be Christian and religious that they place science so high on their list.
Science is placed so high that instead of having statues of God and his works, they erect statues of inventors of the western world thereby showing their commonness and baseness to human preservation. They do, however, have “certain hymns and services, which (we) say daily, of laud and praise to God for his marvelous works” (Bacon, 457). But, even this is done “for the illumination of (their) labors and the turning of them into good and holy uses” (Bacon, 457). The statues are erected to the memory of what the natives consider most important for, in Bacon, the scientists are a consecrated priesthood.
In Bacon’s NEW ATLANTIS, religion plays an important role. However, it is a role of cover-up. It covers up the true idea that Bacon is trying to get across – science as the new civil religion. Although he relegated religion into a realm of its own outside of and different from philosophy, he held that there were religious laws that man must obey whether or not they appeared reasonable.
By freeing theology and philosophy, Bacon was able to shape philosophy so that it might undertake an unbiased study of the universe. This left man subject to the will of God and thereby shorn of his freedom. It is obvious that this creation could not long satisfy the thinking mind as it was far too contradictory. The laymen have a genuine thirst for knowledge yet they cannot know what is uncovered either by religion or by science.
Well written! Thank you!