Welcome to this week’s Friday Philosophy post. Today we’ll be shining the spotlight on the English philosopher and politician Sir Francis Bacon, who lived between 1561–1626 AD and has been referred to as the Godfather of Science.
Who Was He?
Francis Bacon was a polymath, distinguished in a range of fields from law and literature to philosophy and science. He was born into a privileged family – his father was Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of Elizabeth I, a position within the British nobility which he would eventually hold himself.
He became a member of parliament at the age of only 23, having been educated at Cambridge University. At the age of 36, Bacon published his book Essayes, his most famous work, in which he gave his views on a range of subjects both personal and political.
Two of the most famous British scientists, Charles Darwin and Issac Newton, both acknowledged their indebtedness to Bacon’s work. Immanuel Kant placed a quotation from Bacon at the beginning of the revised edition of his Critique of Pure Reason.
What’s the Big Idea?
Bacon is often credited as being the first philosopher in a line of thought known as British empiricism. The work of Bacon marked a shift away from Renaissance thinking, with its reverence for the knowledge of the ancient world, and into the modern science we are more familiar with today.
Bacon placed a real focus on promoting the usefulness of science when it comes to transforming people’s lives. He did a lot of work developing the scientific method, with a focus on experimentation, and he did significant work in refining the way scientific observations should be carried out.
It’s interesting to consider why in the present day there is so much conflict between scientific and religious thinkers. I believe much of the conflict is unnecessary because, despite being a theist myself, I am able to celebrate and appreciate the tremendous contribution scientific thinkers like Bacon have made to the modern world with all its material benefits.
Bacon was criticised for focusing too heavily on scientific experimentation to the exclusion of the kind of imaginative leaps that characterise human progress. I believe the world religions have produced wonderful contributions to the story of humanity, and more recently, so have scientists.
Because I am convinced that God exists, I don’t think there will ever be a time when humans unanimously agree that science has superseded religion. I find it hard to believe God would let that happen. On the contrary, I think the future offers tremendous opportunity for the greatest achievements of science and religion to be celebrated alongside one another.
In an age where the world is getting smaller (metaphorically speaking) due to the pacy march forward of technologies like the internet, there is more opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue than ever before. Perhaps theologians can learn from scientists like Bacon, and scientists can also learn from theologians.
In next week’s philosophy post we’ll be shining the spotlight on Thomas Hobbes, who has been described as the the first modern materialist. If you’re interested in following this series, which looks at the most important philosophers in history, please consider subscribing to this blog. Thank you for reading!