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RELIGION AND FRANCIS BACON'S SCIENTIFIC UTOPIANISM

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Abstract.

Francis Bacon often is depicted as a patriarch of modernity who promotes human rational action over faith in divine Providence and as a secular humanitarian who realized that improvement of the human condition depended on human action and not on God's saving acts in history. Bacon's New Atlantis is usually described as a “scientific utopia” because its ideal order, harmony, and prosperity are the result of the investigations of nature conducted by the members of Solomon's House. I challenge these characterizations by showing that Bacon's so-called scientific utopianism is grounded in his religious convictions that his age was one of Providential intervention and that he was God's agent for an apocalyptic transformation of the human condition. I examine the centrality of these religious themes in two of his philosophical works, The Advancement of Learning and The Great Instauration, which are well known for setting out Bacon's critique of the state of learning and for presenting the principles of his epistemology. Analysis of The Advancement of Learning demonstrates Bacon's conviction that his reform of natural philosophy was part of a Providentially guided, twofold restoration of the knowledge of nature and the knowledge of God. Examination of The Great Instauration reveals that Bacon sees his age as one of apocalyptic transformation of the human condition that restores humanity to a prelapsarian state. Analysis of the New Atlantis shows that utopian perfection can be achieved only through a combination of right religion and the proper study of nature. Moreover, when the “scientific” work of Solomon's House is recontextualized within the religious themes of salvation and deliverance that permeate the New Atlantis, the full scope of Bacon's “scientific utopianism” can be seen, and this project is not the one usually portrayed in scholarly treatments. Bacon's program for rehabilitating humanity and its relation to nature is not a secular, scientific advance through which humanity gains dominion over nature and mastery of its own destiny but rather one guided by divine Providence and achieved through pious human effort.
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Keywords: Adam; Bible; Christianity; Francis Bacon; God; James I; New Atlantis; Solomon's House; Solomon's Temple; The Advancement of Learning; The Great Instauration; apocalyptic restoration; biblical themes; creation; human nature; instauration; natural philosophy; nature; new Jerusalem; original sin; religion; science; scientific utopianism; the Fall; utopianism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Florida, 72 Silver Knob Drive, Mars Hill, NC 28754;, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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