A political novel called Utopia was published in 1516 by Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) followed a hundred years later by Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, outlining a new experimental method.
People have always been afraid of the unknown and have gone out of their way to find answers to the mysteries and terrors of life. Most have done this by seeking reassurance from creative stories told by people everywhere from the earliest of times. In many of these, both good and bad gods were created and civilisations built around their myths. The gods were appeased by the vulnerable people, as they worshipped and pleaded for protection from each threatening environment.
I, like most other people, have had to find a god to help me express my creativity. The written word has helped with this task particularly since the sixteenth century when facts and ideas started to be printed so changing communication forever. So it is with these that I will begin this daunting task of figuring out a pattern within this history of how life and its evolution has been understood. In most of Europe through this time, the word and work of the Christian God accounted for all of nature on the planet and in heaven.
The defender of Roman Catholicism in England, Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), wrote his personal manifesto in 1516 as a 134 page story of fiction. It was a brave act to publish such a document because everyone realized it really set out a list of complaints about the State and its political system. In it, More expressed the fears of himself and many others about how money was wasted and wars were fought recklessly and needlessly. Most of the complaints fell at the feet of the Crown, and inevitably they led to More’s execution.
In Utopia, More told of Raphael setting off for Brazil in 1507. From there he made a short journey to the island of Utopia where his mythical society lived in what More must have thought to be his kind of paradise. The island had a well-worked-out set of rules by which its society was structured. But they were mere supplements to the Christianity that Raphael and most of his fellow-utopians believed. Atheists were tolerated, though despised, and there was not much time or space for any free-thinking ways of life.
More’s socialist State had a strong welfare system with free hospitals and household support. Life was simple and equal for everyone with no unemployment. The law was kept simple and so there was no need for lawyers, and punishments placed the guilty into slavery. This was how the system kept going, for all households were allocated at least one slave and they also did the nasty jobs. Adultery was a crime, pre-marital sex was punished by celibacy. There were both male and female priests but wives were subject to their husbands’ wishes.
In Greek “utopia” means “no place” and some say that More wrote the story as a joke. Certainly its idealism is hard to take seriously. For example, if the number of inhabitants became excessive the extra people were sent off to the mainland where special colonies were established. At least More was aware of some of the potential difficulties. And he really believed in the ethics that he described for his ideal island, especially that people should have the materialist Epicurian life they so much wanted. But if they broke the rules favouring the majority, he expected that they should be punished.
450 years after More’s novel was published, a feature film starring Paul Scofield put his ideals in a modern context and telling of Moore’s struggle with the corrupt authorities. The film was based on Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons.
With much the same theme, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) published New Atlantis in 1624, also just before his own death. His island was called Bensalem, on the Pacific side of South America, and with the same respect of Christianity. But here, the new social custom was based on its State sponsored scientific institution, Solomon’s House. In effect, his was a description of everything involved in Bacon’s ideas for a scientific methodology. It was the first recognition that the dark ages were over and together with the forthcoming technological incentives from the Industrial Revolution, that was soon to be inevitable.
Bacon’s story of New Atlantis began, only a few years after the Ascension of Jesus, with the miraculous arrival on the island of a copy of the Bible. The event was celebrated each year as the “Feast of the Family” and was accepted by everyone as the mainstream morality that would continue to keep society together. This vision of the future of human discover was quite compatible with Christianity and the role of the church.
As with More’s political rules on Utopia, so Bacon formulated rules for science and each was to be the responsibility of a management group. These officials:
went off to other countries to find out their progress in science and the kinds of experiments they performed,
collate all known experiments of the “mechanical arts”, the “liberal sciences”,
will try new experiments that they “themselves think good”,
others recorded results and set out conclusions.
A final group was to put each new discovery into the context of previous knowledge and to present each advance as a written rule.