Hol­i­day read­ing, any­one? Try two of Eng­land’s best

Calhoun Times - - Second Front -

Ac­cord­ing to the Re­nais­sance/El­iz­a­bethan Age writer Sir Fran­cis Ba­con, “Read­ing maketh a full man; con­fer­ence a ready man; and writ­ing an ex­act man.” I gather Ba­con meant that read­ing can broaden and deepen us, con­ver­sa­tion can sharpen us, and writ­ing can fo­cus us.

Inas­much as Christ­mas slows us down, though briefly, and can pro­vide a time for con­tem­pla­tion, those with some ex­tra read­ing time over the New Year’s hol­i­days might want to ex­plore Fran­cis Ba­con’s life and work. He will stim­u­late and in­spire. So will an­other English writer and thinker who has sparked the minds and deep­ened the souls of many, namely G.K. Chester­ton.

These two writ­ers have made dis­tinct con­tri­bu­tions to how we think and what we think about. Ba­con was a politi­cian and sci­en­tist; Chester­ton, a jour­nal­ist and a tow­er­ing Chris­tian apol­o­gist. Vir­tu­ally un­her­alded to­day, these two men il­lus­trate that true science is not the en­emy of faith and vice versa, a con­cept we might think about at this time of year.

Ba­con was the first west­erner to speak and write on in­duc­tive rea­son­ing, that is, draw­ing a prin­ci­ple from direct ob­ser­va­tion or a con­clu­sion from ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Un­like Aris­to­tle who taught us de­duc­tive rea­son­ing, Ba­con ex­plained how to ar­rive at a con­clu­sion the op­po­site way. Whereas Aris­to­tle started with a gen­eral state­ment or hy­poth­e­sis and drove to­ward a spe­cific con­clu­sion (“All men are mor­tal / Socrates was a man / Socrates was mor­tal”), Ba­con started with a ques­tion, then ex­per­i­mented and drew a con­clu­sion: Does ivory soap float? Place a bar in wa­ter 10 times and see. Then de­clare what you saw.

A de­vout Angli­can, Ba­con was as in­ter­ested in phi­los­o­phy and faith as he was pol­i­tics and sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments. Mind­ful of man’s cre­ative as well as his prac­ti­cal, sci­en­tific side, he once wrote, “Imag­i­na­tion was given to man to com­pen­sate for what he is not and a sense of hu­mor to con­sole him for what he is.”

It was Ba­con who made the es­say pop­u­lar as a lit­er­ary form. Be­fore Ba­con there were long tomes and dis­courses, but no short pieces of anal­y­sis or opin­ion or what jour­nal­ism calls ar­ti­cles or col­umns. True to his in­ves­tiga­tive spirit, Ba­con bought a chicken, killed it, and stuffed the corpse with snow, all in an at­tempt to pre­serve it for later con­sump­tion. Dur­ing his ex­per­i­ment, a fa­tal case of pneu­mo­nia en­sued. Serv­ing as a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment never kept Ba­con f rom writ­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing.

It’s com­monly said that Chester­ton said some­thing about ev­ery­thing. Hav­ing had lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion, the 300-pound jour­nal­ist wrote for the Lon­don News and au­thored 100 books. As funny as he was se­ri­ous, Chester­ton de­fended Chris­tian­ity and the Catholic faith, nei­ther of which, even in his day (1874-1936), played well in the univer­sity or the me­dia.

Call­ing athe­ists such as Bertrand Rus­sell and H.G. Wells his “friendly en­e­mies,” Chester­ton once re­marked in a de­bate with Rus­sell, “Athe­ism is the most dar­ing of dog­mas. It is the as­ser­tion of a univer­sal neg­a­tive. If there were no God, there could be no athe­ists.” Chester­ton’s book, “The Ev­er­last­ing Man,” in­flu­enced the young athe­ist C.S. Lewis to be­come a Chris­tian as well as an equally in­flu­en­tial Chris­tian apol­o­gist.

Nei­ther Ba­con nor Chester­ton shunned the word or­tho­doxy. Nei­ther be­lieved that all re­al­ity was phys­i­cal but that there are truths and re­al­i­ties that lie beyond man’s abil­ity to see, touch or un­der­stand. As Ba­con put it in his work, “The Ad­vance­ment of Learn­ing,” “There is more to us than what we can see be­tween the cra­dle and the grave.”

Un­for­tu­nately, to Amer­i­cans and specif­i­cally to ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents, the word “his­tory” means po­lit­i­cal his­tory (dates, po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, wars, elec­tions). This may be the rea­son it is dis­liked by so many. If schools taught in­tel­lec­tual his­tory such as the ideas of Socrates, Jef­fer­son, Marx, Ein­stein, Rus­sell, Adam Smith, Gandhi, or Ba­con and Chester­ton, and an­a­lyzed how their ideas have played out in the ad­vance­ment of the hu­man race, we would then be say­ing “Ideas have con­se­quences” in­stead of the pre­vail­ing ver­biage, “Elec­tions have con­se­quences.”

Ba­con, the very “Fa­ther of Mod­ern Science,” be­lieved in un­fath­omable mys­tery, which is some­thing to think about around Christ­mas. Chester­ton (who was wel­comed into the world on the same day as Win­ston Churchill, an­other con­se­quen­tial English­man of great girth), was the master of pro­pound­ing the un­fath­omable. Nei­ther Ba­con nor Chester­ton con­sid­ered a life of faith a source of lim­i­ta­tion or re­pres­sion, but of joy. That, to me, is a rel­e­vant Christ­mas thought.

Happy read­ing, I hope your Christ­mas was merry and Happy New Year!

Hines

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