Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
“I have taken all knowledge to be my province”--Sir Francis Bacon
is one of the most remarkable men of the English Renaissance. He was involved in government, science, philosophy and literature. He is regarded by many as the father of the scientific method. He anticipated the invention of televisions, airplanes, submarines, and lasers in his work New Atlantis
which describes a society governed by scientists.
Bacon was born in London, England January 22, 1561 to Anne Bacon and Nicholas Bacon. His father was the keeper of the Great Seal for Elizabeth I.
As a child, Francis Bacon always had an interest in science. In those days, most science was based on Aristotle’s thought and categories. Bacon favored the new Renaissance humanism over Aristotelian thought and he challenged the Scholasticism of the universities.
His method of investigating natural phenomena involved inductive reasoning, in contrast to deductive reasoning, which had dominated science since Aristotle.
Bacon introduced an inductive method of testing and refining hypotheses by observing, measuring, and experimenting. An Aristotelian might deduce that water is necessary for life since it is evident that organisms cannot survive without water. Bacon would test the hypothesis by experimenting. The results of those experiments lead to more informed conclusions.
Many Aristotelian ideas, such as the geocentric universe, had been overturned, but the Aristotelian methodology was still being used. According to this method, scientific truth could be reached through debate by clever men who discussed a subject at length. Bacon challenged this, arguing that truth required observed evidence from the real world.
Bacon attended Trinity College at 12 years and was there from in April 1573 to 1575. The following year, he enrolled in Gray’s Inn in London. Bacon held the position of Treasurer at Gray's Inn, Dean of the Chapel, and he developed plays called “Masques” and “Devices” which were performed in the dining hall.
He described his tutors at Gray's Inn as "men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells with a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their dictator."
In 1577 Bacon went to work under Sir Amyas Paulet, the British ambassador to France. When his father died on February 20, 1579 Bacon left France and sought the help of his uncle, Lord Burghley, to find a government post. When his uncle did not help him, Francis began a political career in the House of Commons. He also resumed his studies in Gray's Inn. He lived at Number 1 Gray's Inn Square for many years.
In 1603, he married Alice Barnham (1592–1650). After her father's death, Alice was brought up in the family of Sir John Pakington, who was a great favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Bacon's letters mention young Alice beginning in July 1603. He describes her as "an Alderman's daughter, an handsome maiden to my liking." They were married 10 May 1606 at St Marylebone's Chapel, a suburb to the North of London. Alice was 14 and Francis was 45.
In 1607, Bacon became a solicitor general and in 1610, he became attorney general. In 1616, he joined Privy Council, and went on to become Lord Chancellor, the same position as his father.
Unfortunately, Bacon was set up by his enemies and was found guilty of accepting a bribe. He was fined 40,000 pounds and was sentenced to the tower of London. After that, by God’s grace, his sentence was reduced, and his fine was lifted. He decided to set aside his political ambitions and he finally retired.
Instead of political work, he decided to focus on philosophy of science. In doing this, he hoped to alter the face of natural philosophy. During his work, he pioneered the the scientific method, a new way of conducting research.
Bacon wrote many books on this new way of doing science and recorded his experiments. He showed that the senses can be fooled and that appearances can be deceptive. Yet more than any other thinker of his time, he urged that the senses be used in a methodical way to discover the nature of heat, light, wind, motion, the tides, the stars, and even the human being. The future belongs to "Those who aspire not to guess and divine," he wrote, "but to discover and to know... who propose to examine and dissect the nature of this very world itself, to go to facts themselves for everything."
Bacon was a Christian. He had a great deal to say about the Faith. He wrote that, "Knowledge is the rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate."
Bacon believed that God acts through a chain of causes, rather than directly. He thought that atheism was a product of not looking deeply into the chain of causes:
It is true that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity. (From The Works of Francis Bacon: The Wisdom of the Ancients and Other Essays, Black's Readers Service Company, 1932, p.53)
Statue on the tomb of Sir Francis Bacon
Sadly, after exposing himself to the elements Francis Bacon developed bronchitis and became extremely sick. He died in 1626, leaving a great legacy of scientific inquiry. He was buried at the Church of St. Michael, St. Albans in the United Kingdom. The Latin inscription on the base of his memorial reads (in translation):
"Francis Bacon, first Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans, better known as the Light of Knowledge and the Law of Eloquence, used to sit thus. In the year of Our Lord 1626, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, after he had unravelled every secret of the natural world and of the world of man, he fulfilled the decree of nature that whatosever things have been joined together must be sundered."
In his will, he included this final prayer: "When I thought most of peace and honor, thy hand [was] heavy on me, and hath humbled me, according to thy former loving kindness. … Just are thy judgments upon my sins. … Be merciful unto me for my Savior's sake, and receive me into thy bosom."
Francis Bacon should be remembered and honored as an example of a Christian who advanced science by insisting that truth is proven by doing empirical research; that knowledge is derived from sense-experience. Bacon saw himself an advocate for science and though he contributed little to any particular field of empirical science, his legacy is a lasting one.