Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mmm... Bacon

The other day, I brought up Bacon along with his four idols (the Idols of the Tribe, Idols of the Cave, Idols of the Market-place, and Idols of the Theater). I threw up a brief description of why he was concerned with the idols along with an explanation of each one.

But, as promised, it is time to get down to why these idols matter.

Bacon had been trying to find a way to rid himself of the influences that plagued his mind. He knew that the world outside of himself effected everything he thought, did, and knew. He saw that his perspective tainted his thinking, his self-built surroundings enclosed him in a particular fashion, the company of the market-place gave him a specific understanding of sorts, and there were even people out there purposely spreading their own dogma and propaganda. He attempted to tear down the walls of influence in order to finally get down to the pure, unedited, truths of the world.

Yet, after all of the thought put into this, Bacon came up empty. Without acknowledging the influence of others in the world, it becomes even easier to "loosely grasp at shadows and abstract forms." We may try to attempt to hold onto vague ideas because we know that we cannot trust the influences around us. We would be like a man trying to hold sand (106).

So, Bacon realized that he needed to stop his truths from being "supplied with wings." Instead, they should be "hung with weights" to keep them from "leaping and flying." He wanted the sound-mindedness of a truth that could stand on solid ground. Instead of leaving our heads up in the clouds, he wanted to bring us back down to earth. He needed some sort of anchor (104).

The anchor that he chose to supply are the facts of science. By doing this he thought "at last shall we see the dawn of a solid hope" (106).

Well.... What's wrong with this? O_o

The idols make sense, to stay well-grounded it would fit to need something to weigh us down, science is good, and bacon is good. So, could anything be possibly wrong with this picture?

I believe that Bacon's biggest flaw is due to his first Idol, his aspect. He opened up a can of worms that can't be resealed (let alone returned). Once, he took the rug out of his own two feet by saying that "It is a false assertion that the sense of man is the measure of things," it's almost impossible to trust one's own instincts. No matter how many scientific facts a person believes their view is held on, Bacon has already defeated them. They have no way to accurately see their own figures. Their idol has them fooled (41).

So, in essence, we know nothing.

Without the ability to trust our own minds, we delve into skepticism. We wish that we could trust our thoughts, but realize we can't. We want to trust our surroundings, but we've already set ourselves up to fail there. We yearn to reach out and trust the people around us, but they are filled with their own idols. And, I hesitate to bring up those who purposefully trick you into following their own agenda.

Nothing retains its truth. Nothing is reliable. Everything from faith to science falls apart.
There is an immutable hole left empty.

This leaves Descartes, one of my favorite modern philosophers, to pick up the pieces.

While Bacon leaves us nothing but grasping at shadows and standing on suspicious science, Descartes rediscovers how he is able to retain his ability of trust while attempting to establish the truth (3). He begins right where Bacon left off. "I realized that it was necessary... to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last" (17).

Descartes ceases to give into the Idols of the Tribe: "Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once" (18).

He decides to start from scratch. What ground can Descartes find to stand on in the midst of all this skepticism? Bacon saw the need of a foundation. But, science was not a trustworthy source. It is effected too much by the first idol. It's just as untrustworthy as anything else from an individual's perspective. Descartes needed to find firmer ground.

The first thing that Descartes acknowledges a belief in is himself. Still, a belief in himself is unfounded unless he has a source for believing in himself. He knows that even his own mind has played tricks on him in the past. Therefor, it is not as trustworthy as it might seem. This requires him to look for more. There needs to be something bigger, something grander, something stronger to enable him to trust his own instincts. He sees this source as God. Only the existence of God, being the good God, is enough for him to be able to trust even his own senses.

Because God is good, he would not fool Descartes completely. God is not a sadistic monster who pleases himself with the knowledge that we, as lesser creatures, no nothing (not even being able to trust ourselves or our own instincts). God, more than anyone, is good. He wants us to know the truth. He does not wish to trick us, but he wishes that we may trust our senses. And, trust in him.

"Now, however, I have perceived that God exists, and at the same time I have understood that everything else depends on him, and that he is no deceiver; and I have drawn the conclusion that everything which I clearly and distinctly perceive is of necessity true" (70).

While Bacon's answer became dismissed by his own idol, Descartes recognized an even stronger foundation. This foundation, God, is needed before any other idea may be seen as sound. Only God, being a good, all-powerful, all-knowing God, would have the ability of separating truth from deception. And, he is willing to be just that, the rock and cornerstone that we need. He is the way, truth, and life. He even made the commitment to live and dwell among us in order to share this good news (Gospel) with us. Christ came not only to fulfill the covenant of the Law, living the perfect life and becoming the final offering, but to point us back to the Father. He had a three year ministry not only to make disciples, but to help us know him and the one who sent him even better.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Proverbs 9:10.

So, why were those idols important?

Like Bacon claimed, "The idols and false notions... have taken deep root [in human understanding].... Unless men being forewarned of the danger fortify themselves as far as may be against their assaults" (38). These idols not only keep us from understanding simple things of science, they are sins affecting our own very basic judgments. They keep us from ever clearly seeing the truth of God.

The First Idol (Aspect): Our own perceptions beg us to recreate God in our own image. We want to be able to make the claim that we know Him best. But, do we really someone else for Him (like Tash)? As a culture, we strive to fit Him into a tiny little box. We often wish that God would become a genie, granting us whatever we ask without putting up a fuss. We forget the honor and blessing of actually being made in His image. As soon as the idol takes root, turning the tables, we become our own master. We are God. But, are we really? No matter how we see Him, whether we see Him as a wish-granter or don't see Him at all, He is still in control. The moment we start to put our own ideas first, instead of knowing and trusting Him (by reading His Word), is the moment that we begin to lose our grasp of who He really is.

The Second Idol (the Cave): Do our surroundings take us away from Him? Have you plagued your own home with other idols? Idols, that take you away or distract you from the truth? It's an easy thing to do. It doesn't take much for something to be an idol. Luther said in the explanation of the First Commandment, everyone has a god. Because, a god is what or whom you set your heart and trust upon. This can be money. It can be sex. It may be romance, penance, or independence. Whatever you trust the most, whatever your faith is in, is your god. Do not allow the things you surround yourself with take the place of God. Instead let them lead you to Him.

(Here's a devotion on sin and idols.)

The Third Idol (the Market-Place): A mere step out of our comfort-zone is the public. In public, we often do whatever it takes to regain comfort. One of the worst things we tend to do is "conform." A common philosophy is to shoot down those who are opinionated. Everyone must at least appear to agree. Being "nice" is mandatory. But, is being nice really relevant when souls are at stake? While we are out there, in the world, we are called to stand up for what we believe in. We are to be witnesses, martyrs, of what and who we believe in. Although we might not notice it at first, over time our rock of faith becomes whittled away. Secular philosophies and ideas beat down on it like waves on the shore, our very own foundation begins to erode. Our, once rock-solid, faith in Christ becomes no more than a pebble being washed ashore. This is why we need Christian fellowship (κοινωνία). Even though our rock is solid, firm, perfect, holy, Jesus Christ himself, our faith can still fall away. We are mortal. We are sinful. We fail. Christian fellowship like church, Bible study, or even just chillin' with good Christian friends is crucial so that we have some way to regain the ground that has eroded during our time apart. And, to take it a step further, this is just another reason why Communion is so important. Not only do we have fellowship with one another, but also fellowship with God Himself.

The Fourth Idol (the Theater): Well, I guess everyone likes a show. But, the worst thing you can tell yourself is that it's ok to just watch. There are people out there (Satan specifically) who want to tear you down. There's a whole religion called anti-theism. They base their beliefs on tearing away the beliefs of others. That's just one type of the various sharks in the water. The theater is everywhere. In our current world of mass txts, internet, and television, we are bombarded with data. Most of this data is meaningless, harmful, or just plain wrong. Even if we intend to watch something sober-mindedly, its influence and ideas effect our own in the most unnatural ways. Just by viewing a sick joke on Youtube, we think of performing it. Just by reading a hateful post about someone, we think twice the next time we decide to talk with them. Just by seeing someone with their skirt down, we picture it the next time we see someone who should be admired for their beauty. And, just by witnessing idea like the anti-theists insisting there is no god, we allow ourselves to plant our own seed of doubt.

Bacon's idols reveal serious threats to the truth.
And, they are serious determents to the faith.
Although Bacon might have been lost, we can still learn from what he had to say.

**All of these quotes have been taken from Bacon's Novum Organum and Descartes Meditations as quoted in Forrest E. Baird's fifth edition of Philosophic Classics Volume III: Modern Philosophy. I have made note of the paragraph numbers above. It's definitely a good selection and worth the buy if you are interested.

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