Saturday, June 27, 2009

Clue #7: Certainties, Doubts, and Francis Bacon

The 7th Twitter clue, posted at 7:05 a.m. PDT on Thurs., June 25th, is a quotation:

"If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties."
This is a famous passage from the works of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626, pictured above). Bacon was a jurist and politician, but today is remembered for his philosophical works, particularly his contributions to the philosophy of science.

The choice of Bacon as a reference for the tweet opens some interesting possibilities for The Lost Symbol, as does the choice of this particular quotation itself. To understand those possibilities, we need to consider the relationships between Bacon, the Royal Society, and Freemasonry.

Bacon, Science, and the Royal Society

Bacon made no scientific discoveries. However, contributed to the philosophical foundations of experimental science.

Bacon wrote an incomplete draft for a utopian novel, New Atlantis, published the year after his death. In this novel, his European explorers discovered a sophisticated culture on an uncharted South Pacific island, one of whose inhabitants described an organization that one of their kings had established long before:

It was the erection and institution of an Order or Society which we call Salomon's House; the noblest foundation ... that ever was upon the
earth; and the lanthorn [i.e., light] of this kingdom. It is dedicated to the study of the Works and Creatures of God. ... For we have some parts of his [the biblical Solomon's] works which with you are lost; namely, that Natural History which he wrote, of all plants, from the cedar of Libanus [i.e., Lebanon] to the moss that groweth out of the wall, and of all things that have life and motion. ... [The island people's king established] that House for the finding out of the true nature of all things (whereby God might have the more glory in the workmanship of them, and men the more fruit in the use of them) ....
Essentially, Bacon was describing what we would call today a scientific society, or even a 'think tank' -- institutions that did not exist in his time. Bacon's "Salomon" was Solomon, the biblical king of Israel who was renowned for his wisdom. Bacon's "Salomon's House" is said to be the inspiration for the British Royal Society, founded in 1660, which is perhaps the first scientific society at least in the Western world, and is certainly the oldest scientific society now in existence.
Bacon and Freemasonry

Bacon died in 1626, nearly a century before the establishment of the Grand Lodge style of Freemasonry in London in 1717. We have no record establishing that Bacon was ever a Freemason. However, we do know of men initiated as Freemasons before the establishment of the Grand Lodge, and not too long after Bacon's lifetime, such as Robert Moray in 1641 and Elias Ashmole in 1646; thus, it is at least possible that Bacon was initiated into a pre-Grand Lodge-era lodge of Freemasons. The possibility that Bacon was a Freemason has been speculated about at least since the time of Christopher Friederich Nicolai (1733-1811); read about the dispute here.

Beyond the external historical evidence, however, there is an unmistakable Masonic resonance to be found in some of Bacon's works. For example, the scientific research establishment mentioned in New Atlantis -- "Salomon's House" -- surely perks up the ears of the Freemason who is used to hearing his lodge, during the three basic rituals of initiation, described as one portion or another of Solomon's Temple, or the House of the Lord. The dedication of Bacon's "Salomon's House" to science recalls to the Freemason the well-known Lecture of the Middle Chamber, given during the Second Degree, where study of the various arts and sciences are recommended to the new Fellow Craft Mason.

One could go farther, considering subtle aspects of Bacon's writing. The king of the island people in New Atlantis who established "Salomon's House" in honor of the biblical Solomon was himself named Solamona; today's Mason would find it interesting to have the leader of a group take the name or role of the biblical Solomon. "Salomon's House" is called the "lanthorn" or light of kingdom; the use of the symbolism of light in Freemasonry is well-known, even outside the Fraternity.

Perhaps this is just coincidental. However, the affinity of early English scientists for Freemasonry (see below), and the Masonic-sounding resonances in Bacon's New Atlantis, raise provocative questions regarding the possible Masonic affiliation of Francis Bacon.

Freemasonry and the Royal Society

There have long been rumors that the Royal Society was originally a sort of Masonic project. (Robert Lomas explores this at length in his 2003 book, Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science.) It is intriguing to note that the Robert Moray who was initiated a Freemason in 1641 may have been the same Robert Moray who was the first president of the Royal Society in 1660. The Elias Ashmole initiated a Freemason in 1646 was definitely a member of the Royal Society.

There certainly were an unusual number of early members of the Royal Society who were also Grand Masters of the Masonic Grand Lodge of England: 20 in all, as well as 6 Assistant Grand Masters, during the period 1719-1828, including the famous John Theophilus Desaguliers (see pp. 73-74 of Alain Bauer's 2007 book, Isaac Newton's Freemasonry: The Alchemy of Science and Mysticism). I find particularly interesting the proportion of all members of the Royal Society who were Freemasons, and the proportion of all London Freemasons who were members of the Royal Society, as Bauer describes it (p. 73):

In 1723, out of two hundred members of the Royal Society, about forty were also Freemasons, making up a fifth of the total. ... In 1725, forty-seven Fellows [i.e., members of the Royal Society] belonged to the [Masonic] Grand Lodge. (There were sixty-four Lodges with a membership of two hundred Brothers.)
Thus, 20% of the early members of the Royal Society were Freemasons, and about 23% of the early members of the Grand Lodge in London were members of the Royal Society. I find that a very provocative degree of overlap.

The Quotation

The quotation in the tweet is from Bacon's work, On the Dignity and Advancement of Learning (often referred to just as The Advancement of Learning), in Book I, which describes and refutes various objections to learning. Bacon responds to objections to learning that are raised by religious leaders ("divines"), by politicians, and by the mistakes of learned people themselves. He then addresses a number of errors that people can make regarding learning, and it is in this section that we find the quote (on p. 52 of Joseph Devey's edition).

Ultimately, in the tweeted quotation, Bacon is saying that, if we enter a course of investigation (in science or anything else) convinced that we know all there is to know, we shall run into many areas where we know nothing at all, and our progress shall grind to a halt. On the other hand, if we enter our investigations with a scientific, "show me" attitude, we shall know almost nothing at first; however, if we patiently test every bit of data that comes our way, over time we shall build up a great supply of proven knowledge.

Bacon and The Lost Symbol

What could all this have to do with The Lost Symbol? There are several ways in which all of this might be relevant.

For Dan Brown to bring Bacon into the picture at all is to point a finger in the direction of science, a passion for which Brown exhibits in Angels & Demons. Bacon's utopian scientific society, "Salomon's House," resonates with the notion of Brown's version of the Illuminati in the 1500s as "the world's first scientific think tank," as he calls them in Chapter 9 of Angels & Demons. In that same chapter, Brown describes how the Illuminati fled Italy because of persecution by the Church. It would certainly be plausible, in the Dan Brown universe, for some of the Renaissance-era Illuminati to have fled to England, where they could recruit Francis Bacon in the late 1500s or early 1600s, found the Royal Society in 1660 as the public face of the Illuminati's pro-science agenda, and infitrate Freemasonry before the Grand Lodge era even began in 1717.

Another thing to consider is the tweeted quotation itself. Dan Brown's hero, Robert Langdon, is going to be faced with some mystery to solve. Perhaps the quotation from Bacon is advice to Langdon: when we attempt to solve a mystery, if we think we know everything important to start with ("if we begin with certainties"), then we shall soon be overwhelmed by the things we actually don't know ("we shall end in doubts"). On the other hand, if we admit our profound ignorance ("but if we begin in doubts"), and if we patiently test the data that falls into our hands ("and are patient in them [that is, doubts]"), then we may ultimately find the truth ("we shall end in certainties"). Words to live by.

[The image of a portrait of Francis Bacon by an unknown artist, above, was obtained from Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. The portrait and its image are in the public domain.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)


  1. I read that Francis Bacon was not only a politician but also a philosopher! Since I realized about it I started wondering what kind of thoughts he has secret

  2. Can you give us hint? not via twitter.


No spoilers, please!

Remember the rules: No profanity, and no personal attacks, especially regarding anyone who has posted a comment. In addition, please do not discuss Masonic passwords or signs of recognition in your comments. Thank you.

The entire content of this blog is Copyright 2009-2013 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.