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Francis Bacon and the Society of New Atlantis


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 which we
can get from the study of nature and the creatures of God.
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 discover 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 affecting 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 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 to 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. The 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 for 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 man. Bcaon 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


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