Thought Bomb #2

 As one explosion sets off another, the thinking of William of Occam led to the more direct and raw approach of Francis Bacon.

Bacon’s era (1561-1626) was still a time with little distinction between alchemy, magic and scientific enquiry. Bacon, building on Occam, changed all that, and laid the seeds for a naturalistic (and ultimately atheistic) worldview.

What Bacon claimed was that man was hopelessly chained to his own prejudices and judgements, through which he views the world. These views Bacon called idols – not in the biblical sense – but in the sense that they obstruct man from perceiving reality as it is.

His theory for understanding reality was essentially a step up from William of Occam. Individual things (particulars) must be examined – ‘taken to pieces’ – in his words, and, ‘by a due process of exclusion and rejection lead to an inevitable conclusion.’

Bacon was suggesting something never consistently done before – a methodical interrogation of natural phenomena. Essentially – Bacon was advocating controlled and careful experiments. Moreover, his motive in doing so was to understand and control human life. By careful experimentation, one could arrive at axioms, hypotheses and interpretations – and predictable, controllable results.

This was a major shift from the haphazard investigations and experiments in ‘natural philosophy’ of Bacon’s time. This was the beginning of ‘modern science’ as we know it.

While his methods undoubtedly laid the foundation for many advances in quality of human life, we should note the drift even further from the Medieval consensus. The view of life as ordered by an Omnipotent God, Who rules by moral law, Who is to be known through faith in Revelation was rapidly being replaced by an altogether different view. The ‘real world’ is what we can test, experiment with and predict. The real world is the stuff of repeatable experiments – matter. The real world is material.

Forget the questions of universals, absolutes and the eternal. These are mere speculations, errors and fallible judgements built up over time through tradition, personal preference, human fallibility and the weakness of human language. What we can know with certainty is what we can prove by repeatable demonstrations.

Further, reality is not controlled by a sovereign, personal God to whom we owe obedience. It is controlled by natural laws. The more of these laws we discover, the more of them we can manipulate – and be the masters of our own destinies. Whereas faith and obedience used to be the keys to understanding life, knowledge through experience is now the true friend of mankind.

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