“Knowledge is power”

He might not be a young-Earther, but he’s not at all happy with the modern age. Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical – “‘SPE SALVI facti sumus’ – in hope we were saved” – earns him a front page report in today’s Irish Times. The report identifies the key theme in the encyclical, which ploughs a familiar furrow, “Man cannot be redeemed by science”.

Benedict points the finger of blame for, among other things, the French Revolution, Marxism and the Russian Revolution at “the foundations of the modern age” which “appear with particular clarity in the thoughts of Francis Bacon [added link]” – and, in particular, Bacon’s ‘New Instrument for Rational Thinking’ – Novum Organum, published in 1620.

As a supernaturalist it isn’t a surprise that Benedict seeks redemption in terms of the “salvation of the soul” but, I’d suggest, it is the threat to those supernatural beliefs, through the use of Bacon’s New Instrument for Rational Thinking which leads him to argue that

“In order to find an answer to this we must take a look at the foundations of the modern age. These appear with particular clarity in the thought of Francis Bacon. That a new era emerged—through the discovery of America and the new technical achievements that had made this development possible—is undeniable.

But what is the basis of this new era? It is the new correlation of experiment and method that enables man to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve “the triumph of art over nature” (victoria cursus artis super naturam).

The novelty—according to Bacon’s vision—lies in a new correlation between science and praxis. This is also given a theological application: the new correlation between science and praxis would mean that the dominion over creation —given to man by God and lost through original sin—would be reestablished.

Anyone who reads and reflects on these statements attentively will recognize that a disturbing step has been taken: up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay “redemption”.

Now, this “redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise” is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis.”

And, as highlighted in the Irish Times, he goes on to argue

“Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it.”

However, Francis Bacon himself had a view on such thinking, from Novum Organum

“Finally, if anyone objects that the sciences and the arts have been perverted to evil and luxury and such like, the objection should convince no one. The same may be said of all earthly goods, intelligence, courage, strength, beauty, wealth, the light itself and all the rest.”

And Bacon also added an argument which, if Benedict did not seek to criticise that which followed – The Enlightenment – could have seen him call for a return to Bacon’s original ideas.

“Just let man recover the right over nature which belongs to him by God’s gift, and give it scope; right reason and sound religion will govern its use.”

But perhaps the criticism of Bacon is also down to some of his other thoughts.. and their clarity.

Idols of the cave have their origin in the individual nature of each man’s mind and body; and also his education, way of life and chance events. This category is varied and complex, and we shall enumerate the cases in which there is the greatest danger and which do most to spoil the calrity of the understanding.

Men fall in love with particular pieces of knowledge and thoughts: either because they believe themselves to be their authors and inventors; or because they have put a great deal of labour into them, and have got very used to them. If such men betake themselves to philosophy and universal speculation, they distort and corrupt them to suit their prior fancies.”

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