A noted lawyer and statesman of Renaissance England, Bacon defended the prerogatives of the crown and endorsed the divine right theory of monarchy. In a rapid rise to power, he became England’s attorney-general in 1613 and lord chancellor in 1618. In 1621, however, his political career ended when he was convicted of taking bribes from litigants while their cases were pending. Forced into retirement, Bacon spent the remainder of his life writing on philosophy and literature. The most influential of his thirty works included The Advancement of Learning (1605, expanded in 1623), The New Organon and Related Works (1622), The New Atlantis (1626), and several volumes of essays.
Although Bacon was not a practicing scientist, he is considered one of the prophets of modern science because of his popularization of the inductive method in research. In place of speculation and the deductive logic emphasized by the Scholastic philosophers, he proposed a “new method of reasoning” that derives general principles from the study of particular facts or instances, with the use of experiments when possible. While he remained a faithful member of the Church of England, he taught that scientists should assume the existence of a mechanistic and materialistic universe, and he proclaimed a sharp separation between scientific knowledge based on empirical methods and religious faith based on divine revelation.
By teaching that scientists should pursue truth without the “idols” of traditional assumptions, Bacon encouraged skepticism and rejection of religious censorship, at least in the realm of empirical science. Bacon’s writings later inspired and influenced Denis Diderot and other liberals of the Enlightenment. Although Bacon has been held in high esteem by twentieth century philosophers, they typically argue that he did not pay sufficient attention to the necessity of using deductive logic and theoretical hypotheses in guiding research.
Since Bacon was a contemporary with Giordano Bruno and Galileo, conservative Roman Catholic theologians were naturally alarmed by the implications of his method. The Roman Catholic church also disliked his strong criticisms of medieval philosophy, as well as his tendency toward materialism. In 1640, all of his works were proscribed by the Spanish Inquisition, and they were also placed on Sotomayor’s Index. In 1668, The Advancement of Learning was placed on the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum, where it remained as late as 1948. Bacon was commonly classified with Thomas Hobbes as a materialist, although Bacon does not appear to have been an atheist or a consistent proponent of materialism.