Essay by Sir Francis Bacon
Critique by Punkerslut
I remember long ago reading this essay be Sir Francis Bacon. I had always felt that there was little good reasoning in it. I also felt that it was a form of bigotry when the Webster's New Twentieth Dictionary quoted this essay when it came in concern to looking up Atheism. If you looked up Christianity, you might find a Bible verse describing it a quote from a theologian. If you looked up Capitalism, you might find a quote from Adam Smith (although Smith was hardly a Capitalist, he just defined the system) or another economist. When you look up these things, you find quotes that are in favor of such an entry. Yet, when you look up Atheism, they quote an essay that is against it. How bigoted and heartless. However, onto the review...
To quote Percival Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), "If God has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?" [A Letter to Lord Ellenborough, by Percival Bysshe Shelley, 1812.]
There is yet to be relevant evidence proposed in favor of miracles. To say that they prove the existence of god is to presuppose a spirit to explain a daemon. If it rains, may I not equally excuse it on account of invisible, pink unicorns, just as one may excuse a so-called "miracle" on account of god? In fact, one may take any natural phenomenon -- rain, floods, earthquakes, lightning, etc. -- and say that a god or a daemon or a spirit is responsible for them. The interesting point is that rain, floods, earthquakes, and lightning were all in fact accepted by the ancients as miracles! Another confirming evidence that religion is little more than ignorance. (When a person does not know the truth, he is only ignorant. But when a person does not know the truth and pushes it away, he is religious.) The fact is, these so-called miracles are simply natural occurrences, observed by a credulous mind.
"It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." -- Bacon
I would enjoy someone trying to prove this. It is impossible for the devoutest of any religion to study philosophy. The works of Descartes, Bentham, Rousseau, Kant, Hume, Voltaire, Mill, Bruno, Hobbes, and the other great philosophical minds, are all banned by the Roman Catholic Church in their Index Librorum Prohibitorum of 1949. How is a man to study philosophy, when all of the works of philosophy have been banned, burned, and restricted by religion? Only a small, minute portion of philosophy is left by religion and with no doubt it is the small portion of philosophy that agrees with religion. By the rights of religion, it curtails freedom of thought and conscience. It does not allow the freedom of expression when it threatens it, nor will it allow many other freedoms. It is but a monstrous institution, bent on the destruction of mankind. Even before 20th century Catholicism, though, see the Council of Trent...
It can be seen, then, without a doubt, that the only reason why any philosophy would incline men to religion is because such philosophy confirms religion. Even the works of Descartes are banned, even though he argued for justifications of god. The slightest heresy, the slightest difference of opinion, and religion will ban such a work. When men are restricted to reading works that not heretical, that do not differ in opinion of the church, who can blame them then that they are inclined towards religion? But, if a man were to study all philosophy, he would come to the conclusion that religion is little more than bunk and dogma. Immanual Kant was a Christian his whole life, but before he died he deconverted from the superstition and become an Open Theist. McCabe, Bruno, Russell, Hume, Voltaire, Paine, Diderot, Spinoza, Hobbes, Montaigne, Ingersoll, Huxley, and others who are quite familiar with philosophy, both church-allowed and church-banned, have all detested religion in some form or another. Still, though, there are many great philosophical thinkers which have accepted belief in god. Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, and Locke, for example, are considered great thinkers today yet they all confirmed to believe in god. The point is that whether or not one is fluent in philosophy, it does not mean that they will be inclined towards religion or against it.
If Bacon's obscure language speaketh of miracles, then I have already addressed this.
However, if Bacon means that everything that happens in this Universe is according to a plan of god, then he would have to draw some evidence to back up such claims. If the premise to such a conclusion is that everything needs design, then what can be said of the designer of god? And of that designer and that designer? There would be an infinite line of gods creating other gods, because of the premise that everything needs a designer. However, this is only one of the possible explanations that Bacon or one of his advocates could offer as a premise to the conclusion that everything needs a designer.
The irony of the statement made here by Bacon is that he is factually incorrect. In the time when the church had control of thought -- that is to say, in the time when nobody was allowed to think for themselves -- it was in this time that Bacon lived. Here, it was accepted that the Universe was composed of four elements: air, earth, water, and fire. Today, however, we understand that fire is not at all an element. It is a reaction between elements; it is the vibration of atoms. Today, scientists have observed electrons with experiments. Other scientists are studying fusion and fission between atoms, the nucleus, the protons, and the neutrons, the quarks, and the other components that make up atoms. Bacon made the dogmatic assertion that only four elements composed the Universe, as the other clergymen of his did without evidence. However, today evidence confirms the Atomic Theory and it is just as widely believed as the Germ Theory. (However, there are still religious cults that deny both theories.)
I cannot defend Democritus or Epicurus in their claims of the Atomic Theory. I have searched for manuscripts of their writings yet have failed to produce much of anything original. There certainly are original documents by Epicurus, however, as Thomas Jefferson once lamented that he was an Epicurean from reading original works of Epicurus. (Whereas, he said, the original works of Socrates had been lost and all that was left of him was what others quoted him, such as Plato.) Although it is true that their Atomic Theory did prove to be largely correct, the methods they used were likely to be philosophizing, using analogies to prove their points, among other corrupt methods of attaining knowledge. They may have said, "Everything is a substance, so everything must be composed of the same component, the atom." Such reasoning is credulous and unscientific. There would have to be evidence of some sort. However, I delve from my point... Bacon claims that a divine marshal is necessary for things to work. If this is true, then who is the marshal of the divine marshal, unless the divine marshal does not work at all?
The claims made here by Bacon are ridiculous and non-exclusive. Every religion can say this of every other religion. A Christian may say, "Hindus and Buddhists truly know that Christianity is correct, but they only profess their creeds in fear of persecution of each other," just as a Hindu may say, "Buddhists and Christians truly know that Hinduism is correct, but they profess their creeds in fear of persecution of each other." The fact is, all Bacon attempts to do is claim to know what others believe more than they know. This is outrightly ridiculous. Consider this scenario. If someone were trying to prove to Congress that more strict environmental laws need to be passed, and they bring well-researched evidence of their claims, how would it look if a congressman said, "You may say you think more environmental laws need to be passed, but you know in your heart that they don't." Would that prove that environmental laws need to be passed? It would not. It would only make the congressman look arrogant and foolish, much the way Bacon appears here when he makes his outlandish claims. Bacon does manage to make one point, though: that since he has no evidence or logical reasoning for his claims, denying that the opponent believes their own claims is his only tactic for defending superstition and ignorance.
This is a Circumstantial Ad Hominem argument. It questions the motives of the debater rather than the argument itself. If someone, for example, were trying to make it legal for children 15 and older to have sex with people who are over 17, you may be likely to hear someone argue, "You only want those laws so you can molest children yourself." The reasons why a debater fights for their cause is irrelevant. It does not weaken their arguments at all. Furthermore, for a brief reason as to the chaos and destruction caused by religion, see the article "Should Atheism Be Defended?" Numerous tortures, genocide, massacres, wars, murders, rapes, among other crimes against compassion are made because of religion. In this essay, it was written....
Of course, even beyond the brutality that religion has wrought upon the army of progress, are not philosophers and intelligent men concerned with truth? Not with Christianity or Atheism intrinsically, but just this one institution: truth? Will they not search for it, no matter what road it takes them upon, no matter how far they must travel? Truth -- that is one of the reasons why anyone will argue for any belief, be it Christianity or Atheism.
This is an Appeal to Belief argument. Just because something is largely believed, it does not make it any more correct. For hundreds of years, people believed that the world was flat. This does not make it true.
A hypocrite is not so much someone who fails to understand rather than someone who understands and acts oppositely. For example, if someone were to examine the scene of a crime and from other evidences, conclude that one person did it, while they are wrong, it does not make them a hypocrite. If it is true that a god exists, then it is not the fault of an Atheist that he finds no reason to believe. If anything, this is the fault of god, who has given little evidence to his existence, who has created a creature who would doubt credulous claims. (And, if the dogma is correct, then the creature he had created, so skeptical and scientific, will be damned to eternal flames, all due to the fault of this omnipotent, omniscient, "omnibenevolent" god.) However, the point is made: an Atheist is not a hypocrite if there is a god just because he overlooked evidence. Similarly, a Christian is not a hypocrite if they too easily accepted evidence for the existence of god. A hypocrite would be an Atheist who had evidence for god, or a Christian who had no evidence for a god. (Of course, there are Hebraic roots for the word "hypocrite" that mean "heathen" that may need to be taken into account.)
If Bacon treated Atheism as though it was an honest opinion held by some righteous and noble men, then perhaps he would stop acting like it was a social disease. The fact is, in this previous passage, Bacon acts as a psychologist. Instead of arguing against Atheism, he creates an explanation as to why people believe it, and yet he leaves out many critical reasons. In concern to the Bible, Thomas Paine said, "Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics." [The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine, part II, chapter III.] Reading the Bible has produced countless Atheists. Understanding religion, knowing what it preaches, knowing its dogmas and superstitions, its bigotry and ignorance, has produced innumerable people who detest religion. Critical thought and skepticism have also produced Atheists. Yet instead of relying on these philosophical reasons, Bacon excuses Atheism as something that is created by current events, rather than admit the fact that Atheism has existed as long as doubt, that it has existed as long as there have been men who are defiant to authority, men who want the truth, men who are rational.
That is the exact truth: man is man, just another creature. But, like other creatures, he owes affections and kindness to all who are capable of suffering. Bacon's attempt to say that man is of god and that non-men are not of god is a justification not for Christianity but for brutality. (One may wonder if the two words are not synonymous.) By his own righteous claims, Bacon believed that animals had fewer rights than animals, like many other men of his time. Chains for slavery and a flog for beating -- these were the tools of this tyrant, who was not only a person opposed to Atheism, but simultaneously opposed to freedom and liberty.
The analogy made here is poor. It compares man to a dog, saying that a dog can only be good and kind under the rule of a human, and that a man can be good and kind under a god. First, there is the factual flaw. Animals have long been known to show affection and moral behavior towards each other without the aid of a human to do so. To quote Charles Darwin...
Further, although it is true that a dog may need a man to be obedient to man, obedience certainly is not equivalent with moral behavior. A dog can be programmed to do exactly what the master wants it to do. The analogy that Bacon makes simply states that religionists are nothing but mere cattle that are to be herded by a shepherd, whereas an Atheist makes out his own path and thinks for himself. This is not an argument against Atheism so much as it is for Atheism!
Cicero only stated that Rome was better than other nations when it came to religion. This was more of a mockery of Rome than a compliment, as Cicero was an Atheist. Some other quotes by Cicero, "What old women is so stupid now as to tremble at those tales of hell which were once so firmly believed in?" [Ira D. Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, (Christopher Publishing House, 1945; reprint New York: Arno Press, 1972)] -- "When men became less credulous, the power of the Pythian Oracle vanished." [Ibid.] -- "The life of the dead rests in the remembrances of the living." [Ibid.] -- "...There are no miracles." [Quoted in Time, April 10, 1995, page 67.]
Bacon did not really attack Atheism in this essay. Instead, his arguments and apologetics were bent on denying its existence. An Atheist certainly would not be convinced that Atheism was wrong from this essay. Only the most credulous of Atheists would believe the thesis of this statement: that Atheists do not existence. The reasoning offered by Bacon was non-exclusive. Even beyond denying the existence of Atheists, he argued that an Atheist would have no reason to defend Atheism. Like a psychologist, he offered excuses for Atheism, but only from a believer's perspective. Bacon also offered the argument of Appeal to Belief. He contended that since everyone believed in the gods -- and since we should do what everyone else does -- that Atheists should believe in god. However, the truth is that Atheists are only more courageous and more bold for denying what is commonly believed on the basis of truth. One of the arguments brought up by Bacon was that Atheism brings man and non-human animal together, equal. He states this as a reason against Atheism, but this is only a reason against established religion: its cruel and torturous creed concerning those who can feel as much as man, but does not grant them a soul. Bacon's remarks here were not in concern to arguing against Atheists, except arguing against their existence. As an Atheist, I can firmly say that Bacon failed miserably in even the slightest to make me doubt my own existence. Further, he only made himself look foolish, dogmatic, and ignorant.