The New Organon:

by Francis Bacon

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 Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Francis Bacon has been called the major prophet of the scientific revolution. At the age of twelve Bacon went to study at Trinity College of Cambridge, later acquired an education in law, and eventually was admitted to the bar as a barrister. He next embarked on a political career in the hope that it would allow him to advance his emerging ideas for the advancement of science. In time he acquired a seat in the House of Commons, was knighted, held the position of Lord Chancellor and Baron Verulam, and Viscount St. Albans. He gained fame as a speaker in Parliament and as a lawyer in some famous trials in which he was considered an expert on English constitutional law. An outstanding thinker, Bacon was motivated to write in areas as far reaching as science and civil government in a battle against the old order of scholasticism with its slavish dependence on accepted authorities. He advocated the view that whatever the "mind seizes and dwells upon with parculiar satisfaction is to be held in suspicion" (1, p. 56). His passion for the advancement of natural philosophy was rooted in his belief that science was dependent on and the key to technological progress. Much of his greatest philosophical effort was applied to the Novum Organum in which he described the inductive method of reasoning for the interpretation of nature.

Bacon was very critical of those in the scholastic tradition who jumped from a few particular observations, to remote axioms, and then deduced intermediate axioms through syllogistic demonstration. He also took a dim view of the empiricists who were side-tracked by experiments done in depth, without reference to related phenomena, and who then went on to make unjustifiably broad generalizations. According to Bacon there were four categories of false knowledge, or idols, that had captured the mind of man of his day. They are paraphrased as follows (1, pp. 48, 49):

- Idols of the tribe: False notions due to the human nature and common to all men. An example would be geocentricity which was due to the limits of human insight.

- Idols of the cave: Personal interpretations due to individual makeup or disposition. An example would be Gilbert's "magnetic world view."

- Idols of the market-place: The problem of language and the confusion of words and terms. An example of this relates to the problem with definitions of words which likewise depend upon words.

- Idols of the theatre: The dogmas of philosophies that are received from wrong "laws of demonstration." This involves the results of the Aristotelian method of syllogistic argumentation.

In contrast to these Bacon said that science progressed "in a just scale of ascent, and by successive steps not interrupted or broken, we rise from particulars to lesser axioms; and then to middle axioms, one above the other; and last of all to the most general" (1, p. 98). In short, his method required (1) accumulating a store of particular empirical observations, (2) from these inductively inferring lesser axioms, (3) from these inductively inferring middle axioms, (4) and then proposing the most general of notions, each in progressive steps. If we read modern meaning into the language used by Bacon we might see a foreshadowing of the idea of a hypothesis in a "lesser axiom" and a theory in the "middle axiom." This would make his method agree with the conception of science in use today, however the context indicates that his ideas were really not so fully developed. Bacon also argued that this inductive method "must be used not only to discover axioms, but also notions," which may correspond to the concept of a paradigm, but again, may be reading modern meaning into the text. In any case, it is clear that Bacon's view of the scientific method is progressive and cumulative.

The radical commitment to empiricism advocated by Bacon may imply for some that he did not accept any knowledge that was not received by personal observation. This is a mistakenly narrow interpretation of Bacon's view of natural philosophy which he believed was given as the "most faithful handmaid" of religion (1, p. 88). Bacon actually saw his new way of acquiring knowledge as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy concerning the last days, "Many shall go to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (1, p. 920, (Daniel 12:4)). Further, he saw the technological advancement of science as a restoration of the "dominion mandate" (Genesis 1:28), and thus he wrote, "man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in some parts repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences" (1, p. 267). There was, however, reason to believe that Bacon's views would eventually play into the hands of humanistic concerns since he also came to write in unjustifiably general terms that his inductive method would "extend more widely the limits, of the power and greatness of man," and one day "embrace everything" (1, pp. 106, 116). For those who later advocated a "scientific world view" this was claimed to have been fulfilled.


Analysis: Aphorism LXXXIX

The spectre of the so-called "war between science and religion" is finally addressed in this important aphorism. Recollection of the formula for the use of metaphors is instructive at this point; If the character of the interchange between science and religion were anything like that which arises between major political groups it would in this case be like a war. This war metaphor is maintained throughout this section and at times brings to mind the picture of a cold war, at others guerilla warfare, and at still others an all-out asault on the respective territories. It is also interesting that the conflict described appears very contemporary having the same tenor and tone as some modern conflicts with which we are familiar. As for example that of creationism versus evolutionism.

From a Christian perspective, this war is not really between science and religion at all, but rather between man and God and beginning in the Garden of Eden. The problem in the garden, even as it is now, hinges on the human desire to acquire knowledge of the universe without submission to the Creator of that universe. When told by the serpent that the acquisition of such knowledge would lead to personal autonomy and power, Eve "saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, [and] she took some and ate it." This conflict has been properly called The Long War Against God in the book by Henry M. Morris who chronicles the ideological battle that courses through all human history (2).

Bacon urges us to not forget the battle between Natural Philosophy, superstition, and a "blind and immoderate zeal of religion" (1, p.87). By Natural Philosophy we understand Bacon to make reference to the then popular synthesis between Aristoteliain typopology and certain Christian beliefs. This philosophy attacted many orthodox Christians and Deists to the study of the natural world for at least two centuries (1650-1850) through its appologetic for intelligent design. Bacon appears to lean toward the orthodox side of these two camps, however it is important to note the places at which his views play into the hands of humanistic concerns through a quest for human power. In any case, Bacon has already offered an appologetic for the superiority and broad scope of Natural Philosophy which he equates to his own method for investigation of the natural world.

In contrast to his approach is superstition for which Bacon gives the example of the Greeks who relied on gods and demi-gods as explanations for storms and thunder which were later recognized as natural phenomena. And for them the error was doubly compounded because they were not only guilty of scientific ignorance, but also of impiety toward a higher Truth. In reference to the latter we could assume that Bacon was thinking of the judgement of the idolatrous Greek culture by Biblical Christianity as seen in the words of the Apostle Paul, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).

Next Bacon turns to some of the ancient fathers of the Christian church. These, he said, did not show much forbearance toward those who believed that the earth was round and had poles. The history of the flat-earth myth is interesting and complex, but the fact is that part of the myth is that the majority of the church fathers ever did beleive that the earth was flat. Today evolutionists often accuse Biblical creationists of believing in a flat earth. But neither history nor modern scholarship may be used to claim that Christians ever widely believed that the earth was flat.

The earliest advocate of a flat-earth was the African Lactantius (AD 245-325), a professional rhetorician who converted to Christianity mid-life. Lactantius rejected all the Greek philosophers, and in doing so also rejected a spherical earth. His views were actually considered heresy by the church fathers because of his reliance on a wide range of pagan sources as the basis of his work which was ignored until the Renaissance when it was revived because of his mastery of Latin. Next was the sixth century Eastern Greek Christian, Cosmas Indicopleustes, who claimed that the earth was flat and lay beneath the heavens (consisting of a rectangular vaulted arch). His work was likewise ignored and, or, rejected by the church fathers. Further, the well-known argument at the Council of Salamanca was concerned with the incorrect calculations of Columbus about the distance between Europe and Japan and had nothing to do with the shape of the earth (3).

In the end, the reason that the orthodox church did not teach that the earth was flat is that the Bible does not teach any such thing. Rather, the Bible simply describes the earth in reference to the transcendent God who "sits enthroned above the circle of the earth" (Isaiah 40:22), "spreads out the northern skies over empty space; ... [and] suspends the earth over nothing" (Job 26:7). While the background for this one particular observation of Bacon may not be clear, it could be that the publication of the Novum Organum in 1620 was in close enough proximity to the censure of Gallileo in 1616 that these comments reflect his overall concern about ecclesiastical cosmology.

The next concern raised by Bacon relates to the theological school of thought known as Scholasticism. This tradition was largely dominant in the High Middle Ages and was based on the authority of the Latin Church Fathers and of Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas brought this school of thought to its zenith in 1273 with his Suma Theologica which systematically, and as though "fashioned it into the shape of an art," advanced this method into what later came to be known as "Thomism." As a theological method it is associated with organized textbook theological and philosophical method.

It is no wonder that Bacon came to hold such a tradition in contempt since it appeared to give credence to the of the Aristotelian method of syllogistic argumentation by its aplication to Biblical hermenuetics. It was this synthesis that Bacon considered to be the worst enemy of Natural Philosophy. One of the central problems with such a system was that many came to believe that they were justified in placing human philosophy on the same level as divine revelation. This was illustrated at the Counter-Reformation Council of Trent, where "the works of Aquinas lay open on the high altar along with the Bible as works of reference" (4, p. 886). Bacon seems to be alluding to those who had taken the authority of Aristotle as the starting point and then went on to "demonstrate" many absurd, but logical conclusions. When such a system of authority was taken to it logical end, then the condemnation of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo was inevitable. Unfortunately for the advance of science, because the "contentious and thorny philosophy of Aristotle" (geocentricity) was incorporated "with the body of religion," the only logical conclusion was that heliocentricity was a heresy. By way of contrast, it is interesting to note that while Aquinas used the "doctrine of analogy" to explain how we may understand God (4, p. 61), Bacon used literay analogy to explain how we may understand nature.

At the next juncture Bacon seems to take a big step in the direction of Christian Orthodoxy. Here, he disapproves of those who would drag the scriptures down to the philosopher's level. These, he says, imagine that they have the power "to deduce the truth of the Christian religion from principles of philosophers." Such arguments would be erroneously assumed to be "first principles arguments" even though no person could possibly have been present at the beginning to acquire the neccessary maxims. Yet these philosopher-theologians were not concerned with their lack of genuine authority since all they sought for confirmation are the conclusions of those with which they began. Bacon seems to feel that such circular reasoning is a characteristic of the pompous philosopher-theologian. The Apostle Paul sumarized this type of reasoning in this way, "When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Bacon then brings before us the picture of an unlawful marriage which is first arranged and later legitimized by the originating parties. In this, Bacon depicts the pompous philosopher-theologian as one who imagines that he can also deduce from his philosophical first principles, the transcendant truths of the Christian religion. With such power to reconstruct divine things, he expects that a little more exertion in the empirical realm is all that is required to deductively leap to the universals of natural philosophy. And so, for Bacon, the marriage of sensory empiricism to revelational faith is an illegitimate union based on pride. Such arranged marriages only beget unnatural children who may appear to grow like others, but who are actually an unhealthy mingling of the sacred with the corrupt. At this point, Bacon appears to affirm what we would properly expect to come only from the orthodox. He has argued that divine revelation comes from God alone and must not be adulterated by human wisdom. He says that to attempt any such mixture will eventually cause one to disparage "things divine." This is just as revealed in the scriptures:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8,9)

After developing the noble concerns about mingling the sacred with the corrupt, Bacon moves on to his central point. He rightly asserts that such dogmatic philosophy is not progressive, and therefore, only the "received doctrines of philosophy are included, while new ones, albeit changes for the better, are all but expelled and exterminated." If we take Bacon at face value he has correctly argued against the elevation of short-lived philosophies constructed by men to the same level as the eternal truths revealed by God. And if this is true, then he has also diagnosed the problem that led to the censure of Galileo. In that case there was an unholy mingling of the "received" Aristotelian doctrine of a geocentric universe with the revealed truth that the Creator of the universe is minful of man (Psalm 8). Bacon says it is this "blind and immoderate zeal of religion" which is the most "troublesome adversary" of science.

Lastly, Bacon turns his attention to the "simpleness of certain divines" for which "access to any philosophy, however pure, is well nigh closed." This particular species of theologian is a cowardly sort who secretly fears that if he turns over the wrong rock he may overturn his own faith. For this reason these divines misinterpret scripture to say that we must not delve too deeply into any sort of mystery since God may take it for presumption. But where did these divines find scriptural support for thier idea? One potential area is the recurrent Biblical contrast between the limitless knowledge of God and the finite knowledge of man. Yet in practice, this sort of "sobermindedness" should only lead us to humbly consider our own wisdom. Another commom complaint from the skeptic relates to the original restriction of access to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, while the God of the Bible has clearly warned man about the consequences associated with knowledge acquired by disobedient experience of good and evil (Genesis 2:17), he does not barr access to knowledge about good or evil (Matthew 10:16) if it is exposed to the light of his truth (5). Bacon seems to also see in the scriptures a questionable teaching that there are "sacred mysteries" which men may know exist, but from which they are barred. Yet the pattern of the scriptures is not to bait us with mysteries witheld, but rather to celebrate what were once mysteries and now revealed (Colossians 2;2,3). There are, of course, notable cases where beleivers are promised greater revelation in the future, but this is contingent on a change in capacity receive that new knowledge (1 John 3:2). Nevertheless, the cowardly divines have lifted the scriptural teachings from their proper context and added a questionable one to support their fear that investigation of the natural world will end in disbelief. Clearly, these spiritual cowards are not excercisng faith when they ignore the open invitation to investigate nature since "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1).

Bacon then explains a closely related error which was the idea that if we remain in ignorance of the "second causes" of the natural world then these will "more readily be referred to the divine hand and rod." Essentially the lie that Bacon refuses to tolerate is this: Ignorance of the creation will glorify the Creator since we are left with no better explanation but that "God did it." Of course such reasoning is flawed on many counts. First of all is the fact that the God of the Bible is contiuously calling every reasonable person to look the natural order to see that the "heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). Second is the fact that Chriatains are called to have a "Biblical world view" such as was generally true of Bacon and who was properly called the "major prophet of the scientific revolution." In point of fact it was the Biblical world view that was the motivating cause of the rise of the modern scientific method. In the words of Joseph Needham, "in order to believe in the intelligibility of Nature, the Western mind had to presuppose ... the existence of a Supreme Being who, himself rational, had put it there" (6). And thus the Biblical view of Nature, with its foundation based on the existence of a Creator God, was the ground in which modern science arose.

Today we know through modern scinece that the "second causes" in the natural world demand a "first cause" explanation outside of the natural world--which is, by definition, the supernatural Creator God (7). This fact does not prevent those who are determined to hide from the Creator from speculating about the only alternative to supernatural design, which is naturalist evolutionism. Another fact of our day is that while there has never been more empirical evidence for intelligent design of the universe there is still a very large proportion of the world that believes that the evidence is in favor of evolutionism. Today the problem is not so much that Christians are seeking to glorify God with the "lie" of ignorance, but rather that the majority of the non-Christian world is ignorant of the evidence for intelligent design and thus, come to beleive "the lie" (Romans 1:25). In any case, Bacon has persausively argued that Christians do not honor God by choosing to remain in ignorance of the natural world, but rather, we come to know him better as we investigate the creation to see how it was designed to glorify him. The words of Johann Kepler as just as true today as they were in his, "I had the intention of becoming a theologian... but now I see how God is, by my endeavours, also glorified in astronomy, for 'the heavens declare the glory of God" (8).

The final concern raised by Bacon relates to the historical pattern of Christian appologetics. Because Biblical faith is, by definition, non-progressive since it is based on eternal turths given by revelation, it is often under attack from new philosophies that arise from time to time. Science, on the other hand should be, by definition, progressive since it is based on limited empirical evidence which is used to test tentative theories with limited scope. The "past examples" alluded to by Bacon would probably include the early thirtheenth century where theologians were "caught in a new wave of thought as they were forced to cope with the influx of vast philosophic and scientific literature, including the advanced work of Aristotle translated from Arabic and Greek" (4, p.885). It is ironic, that it was Thomas Aquinas who was most successful in abating a move away from the Biblical revelation through systematic organization of "Christian thought" according to Aristotelian categories. As noted before, Bacon seems to be calling for a complete overthrow of such concessions to temporal philosophies by recognition of the limited scope of natural philosophy and the higher status of special revelation. To do otherwise is to "savour utterly carnal wisdom"



1. Fulton H. Anderson (ed.), The New Organon. (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1960).
2. Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God. (Grand Rapids: Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989).
3. Jeffrey B. Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997).
4. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas, ed. (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1978).
There are obviously Biblical warnings against secret evil thoughts, but the scriptural answer is to prudently expose these to the light. ''For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible" (Ephesians 5:12,13). The progressive plan of the God of the Bible is to reveal all myseries. (Ephesians 1:9; 3:2-6, 1 Corithians 13:12)
6. Joseph Needham, The Grand Titration, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.), p. 325.
7. The two most fundamental laws of nature are the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. They can be stated as follows: (1) In nature there is now nothing being created or destroyed, and (2) all things in nature proceed from high energy to low energy, from order to disorder. Therefore, since the universe is not now dead and disordered, there must have been a beginning, and the energizing source of organization in the universe must exist outside of nature--that is, the supernatural Creator God.
8. Johannes Kepler, quoted in: J. H. Tiner, Johannes Kepler-Giant of Faith and Science, (Milford, Michigan: Mott Media, 1977), p. 197.


Tim Nordgren,  9-20-97