Part 1: Culture wars: Bacon vs Ham
The story behind the modern-day separation of faith and science
About 400 years ago, there lived an English nobleman, philosopher and lawyer by the name of Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), who is regarded as the father of the ‘scientific method’. As did many other great men of science, such as Sir Isaac Newton, he professed faith in God and the Bible. However, his writings, which have had a profound influence on the whole Western world, have achieved much harm as well.
Bacon’s main objective was to free up ‘natural philosophy’, as science was called back then, from any and all impediments which would hinder its proper development for the common good of mankind. The obstacles, as he saw them, which hindered scientific progress were so offensive that he called them ‘idols’ and he urged his readers to banish them completely from their minds.
‘Leave the Bible out of it’
Near the end of the list of ‘idols’1 which Bacon said must be ‘abjured and renounced’ were any systems of natural philosophy which were built on Genesis 1, Job, or any other part of the Bible.2 This wilful and untrue presupposition, that the Bible has nothing to teach us about understanding the workings of nature, is the ugly root which has influenced some of the greatest scientific minds from Bacon onwards.
The mindset among scientists to set aside the Bible did not commence with Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) nor prior to that with Lyell’s 3-Volume Principles of Geology (1830–1833). The trend had been firmly launched more than 200 years earlier in Sir Francis Bacon’s works.3 The scientific method, we were told, allowed no room for divine revelation. Bacon wrote that man ‘understands as much as his observations … permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.’ 4
A new faith
Secular scientists are nearly unanimous in their belief that, given enough time, they will eventually be able to explain all the mysteries of the universe, and will be able to fix most, if not all, the great problems which plague the human condition. This faith in scientific knowledge as the ultimate arbiter of truth, answerable to nothing but itself, is held by the greater part of our modern world.
Bacon, one of the forefathers of this new faith, offered this statement in praise and reverence of such knowledge. ‘But the commandment of knowledge is yet higher than the commandment over the will: for it is a commandment over the reason, belief, and understanding of man, which is the highest part of the mind, and giveth law to the will itself. For there is no power which setteth up a throne or chair of estate in the spirits and souls of men, and in their cogitations, imaginations, opinions and beliefs, but knowledge and learning.’5
We are told today that the true nature of science should be to say, ‘We don’t know whether there is a God or not, and if the Bible is true then it only holds true for matters of faith, and holds no authority in matters of this world.’ Most leading scientists say that ‘we will study, experiment, and learn all of the laws which govern this universe, and God may or may not still be there when we are finished. But for now we choose to disregard the miracles with a smile because we have no way to explain them.’
Such unwillingness to accept or believe anything which cannot be proven to the satisfaction of the human mind by the scientific method of observation and experimentation is true Baconian science. He writes, ‘If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.’6
The Christian origin of modern science
Many historians, representing a wide range of religious convictions ranging from Christianity to atheism, point out that the historical basis of modern science depended on the assumption that the universe was made by a rational Creator. An orderly universe makes perfect sense only if it were made by an orderly Creator (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:331). But if atheism or polytheism is true, then there is no way to deduce from these belief systems that the universe is (or should be) orderly. Genesis 1:28 gives us permission to investigate creation, unlike say animism or pantheism which teach that the creation itself is divine. And since God is sovereign, He was free to create as He pleased. So where the Bible is silent, the only way to find out how His creation works is to experiment, rather than to rely on man-made philosophies, as did the ancient Greeks.
The Christian worldview also inspired other developments essential to the rise of modern scientific method. One was the logical thought patterns of the medieval Scholastic philosophers, and another was the little-known but extensive inventiveness and mechanical ingenuity fostered by the monasteries. This does not mean they were right about everything, but the Middle Ages are unreasonably dismissed as the ‘Dark Ages’, despite a real industrial revolution, including inventions of water and wind power, labour-saving heavy ploughs, and ingenious architectural devices such as the flying buttress.2
Bacon—a creationist but …
Sir Francis Bacon was one of the most influential of the founders of modern science, which was squarely based on Christian thought (see box). He rightly advocated experiments to find out how the world worked, and was opposed to dependence on leading philosophers such as Aristotle (384–322 BC). But Bacon’s writings contain many puzzling inconsistencies. Like many early modern scientists, such as Kepler (1571–1630) and Newton (1642–1727), he wrote explicitly of his belief in a recent literal 6-day creation.7
However, Bacon made a tragic error that had baneful consequences. Not only did he oppose building science on Greek philosophies, but he also rejected the Bible itself as a basis of scientific knowledge. He stated, ‘Yet some of the moderns have indulged this folly with such consummate inconsiderateness, that they have endeavored to build a system of natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis, the book of Job, and other parts of Scripture; seeking thus the dead amongst the living. And this folly is the more to be prevented and restrained, because not only fantastical philosophy, but heretical religion spring from the absurd mixture of matters divine and human.’8
Religion and science—separate boxes?
Bacon is sometimes regarded as a devout man of faith. He referred, as do many believers today, to the ‘two books’ of God; His Word and His works. Also, he claimed that it is possible to hold at the same time faith in God and the Bible for matters of the spirit and soul, and faith in science for matters of this physical world. The difficulty with this position is that the Bible has got a whole lot to say about how this world came to be, how it will end, and how and why human history has been shaped by divine intervention and decree.
The Bible truthfully claims to be the historical account by an eyewitness of events in the past, which the experimental scientific method cannot reach. Therefore it is folly to build any model of the past that ignores the Biblical teaching of Creation about 6,000 years ago, the Fall and the resulting Curse, and the global Flood. Bacon’s stance paved the way, first, for old-Earth geologists to reject the Flood and Biblical chronology in Genesis 11.9 And then, for Darwin to undermine the Bible completely, since Darwin expressly applied the Baconian method to biology.10 He reasoned that if small changes accumulated over vast ages to produce geological features, then so also could small changes in livings things accumulate to produce new biological structures.
Choosing which you will follow
Today’s ‘science’ and the Bible present two diametrically opposed views on how and when this world came into being, what is really happening in the world today, and what we can expect to see happen in the future. It is true that most of the founding fathers of modern scientific disciplines were Bible-believing creationists. But from the outset there has been a significant current within the scientific establishment which has despised Biblical revelation and set it aside.
In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we find the Apostle Paul in the business of ‘pulling down strongholds’ and ‘casting down imaginations [arguments and speculations], and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’. Just as the prophet Elijah had to challenge the people to serve either the Lord or Baal (1 Kings 18:21), so one would ask the man or woman professing faith in Christ today: if ‘science’ convinces you that Genesis can’t really be true, how then do you answer Jesus’ question in John 5:47: ‘But if you believe not his [Moses’] writings, how shall you believe my words?’
The presuppositional approach
The Bible stands on its own authority because it is the Word of the Living God. It has met and passed every test that men or devils have ever devised against it, because it really is God’s Word and so is true from cover to cover. As we have repeatedly emphasized, and modern philosophers of science acknowledge, ‘facts’ never speak for themselves. If one starts with Biblical assumptions (presuppositions) in interpreting the facts, the evidence is seen to be strongly consistent with the Bible.11 However, starting with Bacon’s inconsistent and contradictory man-centered assumptions, one inevitably ends up with humanistic conclusions.
Summary and conclusion
The philosophical foundations for our modern scientific mindset were in place long before any so-called evidence against the Bible was ever put forward. The subsequent rise of Lyell, Darwin and many others, leading to today’s near-universal evolutionism as an explanation for all of reality, was the all-but-inevitable result—along with the associated moral and social decline. Seduced by Baconian notions of science, the church failed to grasp the vital matter of presuppositions in defending the faith.
As a consequence, the Bible was attacked (and defended) within an arena in which the rules were slanted in advance by the replacement of Biblical presuppositions with Baconian (man-centred, humanistic) ones. As the apparent defeats mounted, the church often retreated into the comfort zone of pretending that origins was ‘not an issue’, or fell further into the Baconian trap by claiming that the Bible was ‘not about’ issues of science and history, but only about faith and morality.
Our main focus is not a ‘young Earth’ or literal creation days as such, but the authority of the Bible. A recent creation in six normal-length days is something that follows from Biblical authority, not an end in itself. By driving a wedge between the study of the Bible and the study of the physical creation, Bacon, despite his own apparent belief in the Creation account, enabled his followers to reject it.
The answer to evolutionary humanism, first and foremost, is a restoration of Biblical authority in the thinking of God’s people, the church.
Special thanks to Paul Blackmore, whose essay on Bacon inspired, and provided much material for, this article.
References and notes
- These he listed as idols of the tribe (universal intellectual faults), idols of the cave (intellectual peculiarities of individuals), idols of the marketplace (errors for which language is responsible), and idols of the theatre (mistaken systems of philosophy). See Encyclopædia Britannica 14:566–567, 1992. Return to text.
- Bacon, F., Novum Organum, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., Chicago, 1952, p. 114, published in Great Books of the Western World, Hutchins, R.M., ed. in chief, No. 30, Francis Bacon. Return to text.
- In his 1607 book, Advancement of Learning, as well as Novum Organum, 1620. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 107. Return to text.
- Bacon, F., Advancement of Learning, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., Chicago, 1952, p. 27, published in Great Books of the Western World, Hutchins, R.M., ed. in chief, No. 30, Francis Bacon. Return to text.
- Ref. 5. p. 16. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, p. 17. Return to text.
- Ref. 2. Return to text.
- Mortenson, T., British Scriptural geologists in the first half of the nineteenth century: Part 1, J. Creation 11(2):221–226, 1997. Return to text.
- ‘Francis Bacon’, Encylopædia Britannica, 15th edition, 14:568, 1992. Return to text.
- That does not mean one will have all the answers, as human knowledge is finite and more is being added all the time. But the same is true for evolutionary science, and both evolutionists and creationists have to change their arguments (though not their conclusions) from time to time as more information comes in. Return to text.