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Of Atheism

Essay by Sir Francis Bacon

Critique by Punkerslut

Image from Radical Graphics
Image: From "Religion" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: April 17, 2002
Finish Date: April 17, 2002


     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...

The Critique


"I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind. And therefore, God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it." -- Bacon

     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...


All books which have been condemned either by the supreme pontiffs or by ecumenical councils before the year 1515 and are not contained in this list, shall be considered condemned in the same manner as they were formerly condemned.


The books of those heresiarchs, who after the aforesaid year originated or revived heresies, as well as of those who are or have been the heads or leaders of heretics, as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Balthasar Friedberg, Schwenkfeld, and others like these, whatever may be their name, title or nature of their heresy, are absolutely forbidden. The books of other heretics, however, which deal professedly with religion are absolutely condemned. Those on the other hand, which do not deal with religion and have by order of the bishops and inquisitors been examined by Catholic theologians and approved by them, are permitted. Likewise, Catholic books written by those who afterward fell into heresy, as well as by those who after their fall returned to the bosom of the Church, may be permitted if they have been approved by the theological faculty of a Catholic university or by the general inquisition. [Council of Trent, Rules on Prohibited Books.]

     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.

"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." -- Bacon

     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.

"Nay, even that school which is most accused of atheism doth most demonstrate religion; that is, the school of Leucippus and Democritus and Epicurus. For it is a thousand times more credible, that four mutable elements, and one immutable fifth essence, duly and eternally placed, need no God, than that an army of infinite small portions, or seeds unplaced, should have produced this order and beauty, without a divine marshal." -- Bacon

     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 Scripture saith, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God; it is not said, The fool hath thought in his heart; so as he rather saith it, by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it. For none deny, there is a God, but those, for whom it maketh that there were no God. It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip, than in the heart of man, than by this; that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it, within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened, by the consent of others." -- Bacon

     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.

"Nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects. And, which is most of all, you shall have of them, that will suffer for atheism, and not recant; whereas if they did truly think, that there were no such thing as God, why should they trouble themselves?" -- Bacon

     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....

In this regard, does any educated person believe that religion and Humanitarianism walk hand in hand? Absolutely not. Religion's sole enemy is Humanitarianism. If you wish to make a man irreligious, there is nothing so impacting that you can do than to make him humane. To teach him to disregard the religious dogmas which made his ancestors barbaric savages, unconscionable brutes, is to make him realize that there is nothing so destructive of affectionate and compassionate behavior than the superstition and bigotry of religion.

     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.

"Epicurus is charged, that he did but dissemble for his credit's sake, when he affirmed there were blessed natures, but such as enjoyed themselves, without having respect to the government of the world. Wherein they say he did temporize; though in secret, he thought there was no God. But certainly he is traduced; for his words are noble and divine: Non deos vulgi negare profanum; sed vulgi opiniones diis applicare profanum. [Punkerslut Note (working translation): "There is no profanity in refusing to believe in the gods of the people: the profanity is in believing of the gods what the people believe of them."] Plato could have said no more. And although he had the confidence, to deny the administration, he had not the power, to deny the nature. The Indians of the West, have names for their particular gods, though they have no name for God: as if the heathens should have had the names Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, etc., but not the word Deus; which shows that even those barbarous people have the notion, though they have not the latitude and extent of it." -- Bacon

     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.

"So that against atheists, the very savages take part, with the very subtlest philosophers. The contemplative atheist is rare: a Diagoras, a Bion, a Lucian perhaps, and some others; and yet they seem to be more than they are; for that all that impugn a received religion, or superstition, are by the adverse part branded with the name of atheists. But the great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end." -- Bacon

     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.)

"The causes of atheism are: divisions in religion, if they be many; for any one main division, addeth zeal to both sides; but many divisions introduce atheism. Another is, scandal of priests; when it is come to that which St. Bernard saith, non est jam dicere, ut populus sic sacerdos; quia nec sic populus ut sacerdos. [Punkerslut's Note (working translation): "One cannot now say the priest is as the people, for the truth is that the people are not so bad as the priest."] A third is, custom of profane scoffing in holy matters; which doth, by little and little, deface the reverence of religion. And lastly, learned times, specially with peace and prosperity; for troubles and adversities do more bow men's minds to religion." -- Bacon

     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.

"They that deny a God, destroy man's nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts, by his body; and, if he be not of kin to God, by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature." -- Bacon

     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.

"It destroys likewise magnanimity, and the raising of human nature; for take an example of a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on, when he finds himself maintained by a man; who to him is instead of a God, or melior natura; which courage is manifestly such, as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain. So man, when he resteth and assureth himself, upon divine protection and favor, gathered a force and faith, which human nature in itself could not obtain. Therefore, as atheism is in all respects hateful, so in this, that it depriveth human nature of the means to exalt itself, above human frailty." -- Bacon

     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...

Many animals, however, certainly sympathise with each other's distress or danger. This is the case even with birds. Captain Stansbury found on a salt lake in Utah an old and completely blind pelican, which was very fat, and must have been well fed for a long time by his companions. Mr. Blyth, as he informs me, saw Indian crows feeding two or three of their companions which were blind; and I have heard of an analogous case with the domestic cock. We may, if we choose, call these actions instinctive; but such cases are much too rare for the development of any special instinct. I have myself seen a dog, who never passed a cat who lay sick in a basket, and was a great friend of his, without giving her a few licks with his tongue, the surest sign of kind feeling in a dog. [The Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin, chapter 4, part I.]

     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!

"As it is in particular persons, so it is in nations. Never was there such a state for magnanimity as Rome. Of this state hear what Cicero saith: Quam volumus licet, patres conscripti, nos amemus, tamen nec numero Hispanos, nec robore Gallos, nec calliditate Poenos, nec artibus Graecos, nec denique hoc ipso hujus gentis et terrae domestico nativoque sensu Italos ipsos et Latinos; sed pietate, ad religione, atque hac una sapientia, quod deorum immortalium numine omnia regi gubernarique perspeximus, omnes gentes nationesque superavimus. [Punkerslut's Note (working translation): "Pride ourselves as we may upon our country, yet are we not in number superior to the Spaniards, nor in strength to the Gauls, nor in cunning to the Carthaginians, not to the Greeks in arts, nor to the Italians and Latins themselves in the homely and native sense which belongs to his nation and land; it is in piety only and religion, and the wisdom of regarding the providence of the immortal gods as that which rules and governs all things, that we have surpassed all nations and peoples."]" -- Bacon

     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.


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