Truth seekers defy conventional wisdom!

Truth seekers are two kinds. Those who advance knowledge and those who advance our morality! Truth seekers are the most god-given people. Or, the chosen people, we can say without any religious overtones!

Just now I read about Francis Bacon, the founder of modern science. Born on January 22, 1561, he was many things, politician, lawyer, and a brilliant essayist and moralist. After an adversity that saw him with lot of time and he devoted his time to do well. This for Bacon meant to promoting science. Though success in this enterprise didn’t come in his lifetime, he inspired many with his dream of improving the lot of mankind by scientific method. He found followers all over the Western world; consider the times, the 16th century and yet here we find Bacon questioning the philosophy taught in his time, the old scholastic philosophy. It was tied to theology, taught by Christian clerics; it was a Christian view of life. He sought to understand the universe, as Newton did later and he sought scientific evidence to the existence of God.

Bacon argued for separating science from theology. The pursuit of knowledge of the physical world conducted by methods that were different from the methods of theology. This was the new beginning of Bacon’s own method of discovering knowledge. As expected, resistance to Bacon’s teaching in his own lifetime was the strongest in the seats of learning’s, in the universities and monasteries.

It was the Platonic philosophy, words, spinning words out of words! Aristotelian philosophy which tried to explain the working of nature by methods appropriate only to explain human activities. Bacon’s methods were to gather evidence, seek empirical evidence, though not like the European style as evolved by Decartes, the rationalist philosophy, and yet the more crude, yes and yet more partial and more step by step, the inductive methods.

Yes, this inductive method of seeking evidence and proving a thesis, this was Bacon’s scientific method. The British empirical philosophic tradition originates from Bacon. Bacon was an enthusiast, his enthusiasm led to a sort of naive  championing of empiricism, says a writer and he was an intellectual leader and it is said this enthusiasm, this leadership is needed ,but just abstract thinking and as he said:” It is enough for me if set the thing on foot’. It was the reform of the scientific method he affected and for which he is remembered.

There is always the popular belief, popular disbelief in any radical new thinking. This Bacon faced and where he saw despair he went ahead and created hope. Bacon was a great observer of the world outside, the Marco Polo travels, discovery of Columbus, new cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo, new inventions, printing, gunpowder and Bacon said:” these had changed the whole face and condition of the world-the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation”.

The world was changing, the impact of the new knowledge, new discoveries was so great and therefore, Bacon said, hope was justified, the future of sciences looked unstoppable. He died in debts, to the extent of 22,000 pounds; he died not with honor but with accusations of corruption etc. But he initiated a revolution in the way the new knowledge would proceed and knowledge he defined, he defined as a certain relationship between the mind of man and the whole of nature. Knowledge:” as a rebuild of the sciences, arts, and all human knowledge on a firm and solid basis”.

Science or scientific knowledge as such was born because of Bacon’s radical way of thinking and looking at the world and seeking knowledge thro7ugh what is called the empirical method. Proof of truth through logical reasoning and argument. This is scientific method. Science and its growth has changed humanity’s many ills, there is now more health, happiness, conquest of hunger and has given so many material comforts everyone takes for granted. But science grew against such steep walls of opposition, from theology, religion and the clerical classes. So, Francis Bacon remains as the beginner of this great science revolution. Yes, such men in their lifetimes, go through so much resistance and misunderstanding and even personal shames. That is the price one pays for being a seeker of truth.

Charles Darwin

There is a story that when Charles Darwin’s elder brother Erasmus read The Origin of Species, he wrote a letter congratulating his brother” on the a priori reasoning”. The brother (the Darwin family has a pedigree of scholarly minds) said” if the facts don’t fit in, then, the worse for facts”! What does this mean?

It means simply that Charles thought he was full of facts to prove his theory of natural selection and he had overwhelmed the readers with facts. Yet, his brother thought otherwise, the brother saw so much of theoretical proof in Charles’ own thesis! In the pace of qualitative diversity, the biological theory of the time, under Charles Darwin acquired the needed scientific quantitative, mechanistic rigor. No!

There were others in those times who were also thinking of evolution. It is said neither the idea of evolution nor the theory natural selection were Darwin’s original ideas, we all imagine. There were others too, who thought on similar lines. But the Origin of the Species succeeded where others didn’t, simply because we are told that external circumstances also favored Darwin. The timing, it is said, was just right for the scientist. Fellow scientists and the public were ready to accept the thesis. Even Darwin is accused of playing up with the public opinion, he was unfair to his predecessors, and he didn’t acknowledge his debt to them who anticipated all his main ideas. Darwin said: he, like other scientists persuaded the public to accept his thesis; his organization of evidence was superior to that of his predecessors! It is observed that” effective originality consists not only in having ideas but also in knowing how to exploit their scientific consequences to the full”.

Darwin was original in the sense he always looked for causes and meanings of everything that happens. He was also intensely concerned with scientific methods and explanations. It is even said that Darwin left much that is informal, unproven and also” as an extreme exponent of speculative thinking”. He was puzzled by various observations, always used hypotheses to probe the question with further observations.” The test of his hypothesis of evolution by natural selection was its range of applications”.” He concluded that a theory that explained so much could not be false”.

He knew what he was doing. He was intellectually very alive, he formulated his evolutionary theory by the age of 28, and he wrote out his first sketch at 38, when the Origin of Species was published Darwin was 50.  

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