5 Points of Intersection Between Postmillennialism and Apologetics – Point 5b

New Atlantis illustration by Lowell Hess

New Atlantis illustration by Lowell Hess

Point 5 (continued):  Postmillennialism was an important influence in the Scientific Revolution.  Postmillennialism supports the argument for the Christian basis for science since postmillennialism was an important influence in the Scientific Revolution.

The founder of British empiricism and experimentation, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), concluded his famous book on experimental method, Novum Organum, by saying:

For man, by the fall, fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.  For creation was not by the curse made altogether and for ever a rebel, but in virtue of the charter, ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,’ it is now by various labours (not certainly by disputation or magical ceremonies, but by various labours) at length and in some measure subdued to the supplying of man with bread; that is, to the uses of human life.[1]

Novum Organum was included in a larger work that Bacon titled Instauratio Magna, meaning the Great Restoration, referring to the restoring of Edenic peace and prosperity throughout the world with the help of the new experimental method of science.  Historian Charles Webster writes that “Bacon became the most important philosophical and scientific authority of the Puritan Revolution.”[2]   Bacon rejected the Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy that short-circuited rigorous experimentation by a method in which “one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms.”[3]  Likewise, the Puritans of the English Puritan Revolution rejected the Roman Catholic traditions such as monastic contemplation of the pagan Aristotle’s philosophy in favor of the holy labor of transforming the physical world into a more just and prosperous place for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind.  Bacon wrote a utopian novel titled New Atlantis about an island where only devout Christians were allowed to step ashore and where the main activity on the island was a comprehensive scientific research institution with the purpose of producing useful inventions to make labor easier, increase food production, and prolong human life.  The scientific institution was called Solomon’s House, named after King Solomon, whose God-given wisdom included a broad knowledge of biology:  “He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish” (1 Kings 4:33).  Bacon’s Solomon House inspired Puritans to form scientific societies, ultimately resulting in the famous Royal Society of London, of which Sir Isaac Newton was a famous member.[4]  The second charter of the Royal Society established its purpose as “the study of natural things and useful arts by experimental science more faithfully promoted to the glory of God the Creator and for application to the good of mankind.”[5]  While having his greatest impact in Britain, Bacon also inspired the founding of scientific societies in other European nations, such as France and Italy.[6]

Samuel Hartlib (1600-1662), an emigrant from Polish Prussia to England, was one of the leading intellectuals of the age, an ardent follower of Bacon, and a passionate postmillennialist.  He, along with many other Puritans, promoted the evangelism of Jews in order to hasten the Apostle Paul’s prediction that their conversion would be “life from the dead” compared to prior world history (Rom. 11:15), i.e. usher in the greatest prosperity and peace of the Millennium.  Hartlib remarked that “The world may not expect any great happiness before the conversion of the Jews be first accomplished.”[7]  He established a network of correspondence to organize, encourage, and disseminate scientific discoveries.  One of the books he coordinated for publication was entitled, A free discovery of the true, lawful, holy, and divine expedient for the propagation of the gospel, and establishment of an universal peace all over the world, by the scientist John Beale, because, as Hartlib wrote to Robert Boyle, the book’s purpose “is most professedly to propagate religion and to endeavor the reformation of the whole world.”[8]  The Hartlib Circle refers to all of those within his sphere of influence, which were nearly all the Baconian, scientifically-minded intellectuals of Britain plus many on the continent.  Samuel Hartlib, John Dury (1596-1680), known as the father of the modern library, and John Comenius (1592-1670), known as the father of modern education, entered into a famous “fraternal pact devoutly entered into in the sight of God for mutual advancement in the promotion of the public good of the Christian Religion.”[9]  Historian Hugh-Trevor Roper calls the three men “the philosophers of the Puritan Revolution.”[10]

John Comenius (or Jan Komenský) was from modern-day Czechoslovakia and served there as a bishop of the Unity of the Brethren church, which taught a postmillennial eschatology and was founded on the teachings of Czech reformer Jan Hus.  Comenius was invited to England in 1641 by Hartlib to establish a college based on his educational methods.  He left shortly after that when civil war broke out, but his writings continued to be very influential throughout England, the continent, and even America, where he was invited to serve as president of Harvard, although he turned down the offer in favor of writing textbooks for Swedish schools.  Comenius taught that through increased knowledge and better teaching of knowledge, humanity can gain back much of what was lost by the Fall:  “All men therefore should be taught to know and understand things rightly, and they will easily learn also to use them rightly.  Thereby it will come to pass that paradise lost is regained, that is to say, that the entire world will be a garden of delight for God, for people, and for things.”[11]  He believed that, given the progress of the Protestant Reformation, such a golden age was not far off:  “[T]he intellectual light of souls, namely Wisdom, may now at length at the approach of this eventide of the world be happily diffused through all minds and among all people.”[12]

A major component of the Puritan Revolution was the reformation of education.  Webster writes that “The reformers regarded educational reconstruction as a necessary prerequisite for the creation of the millennial state.”[13]  Comenius, Hartlib, and the other Puritans pushed for universal education, instruction in the common vernacular rather than exclusively Latin, and for replacing the emphasis on Aristotle’s writings with a focus on mathematics, science, and technology – what we call the STEM curriculum today (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

John Dury writes in the dedication to Gerard Boate’s Ireland’s Natural History (1652) that the acceleration of scientific knowledge at that time indicated that the Biblical prophecies of a golden age could be fast approaching:

There great and mighty Changes, which God is making in the Earth, do tend to break the yokes of Vanity, and to weaken the Power, which hath wreathed the same upon the necks of the Nations, these Changes seem to me to presage the near approaches of this Liberty, and the advancement of the ways of Learning, whereby the Intellectual Cabinets of Nature are opened, and the effects thereof discovered, more fully to us, that to former Ages, seem in like manner to prepare a plainer Address unto the right use thereof for us than our forefathers have had: which will be effectual to the manifestation of Gods Wisdom, Power, and Goodness, when the great promises shall be accomplished, that the Earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, & that we shall be taught of God, from the least to the greatest (Isa. 11:9, Heb. 8.11).[14]

In the preface to Micrographia, one of two of the first publications of the Royal Society, Robert Hooke wrote that “The only way which now remains for us to recover some degree of those former perfections, seems to be by rectifying the operations of the Sense, the Memory, and Reason.”  The way to recover these faculties to some degree is “from the real, the mechanical, the experimental philosophy.”[15]  He referred specifically to the telescope and microscope as mechanical means to rectify the senses.  Hooke’s views reflect the view that Adam had extraordinary powers of sight that were lost at the Fall.  As mentioned before, some like Boyle questioned whether Adam really had possessed these extraordinary powers of sense, but just the same, they saw the potential for an advance in the welfare of human civilization through these experimental instruments and Bacon’s experimental method.

John Beale (1608-1683), an early fellow of the Royal Society, who wrote the above-mentioned book promoted by Hartlib, also wrote that “we may be restored to paradise on Earth” by “scripture, reason and experience.”[16]  He says that “the renewal, or restauration of others, and the advancement of all kinds of knowledge which hath already brake forth may raise our expectation of more than a restauration to that natural perfection, which hath been since the fall of Adam.”[17]  Beale envisioned a time when efficiency of land use would advance to such a degree that around every person’s house would be planted a large variety of useful timber and fruit-bearing plants, because “then will all passengers confess and admire it, as a Land of Blessings, in which the Original Curse is reversed, to whom God has given the wisdom to dress the wilderness into a paradise.”[18]   John Wilkins (1614-1672), a founding member of the Royal Society, encouraged technological innovation because by it “Men do naturally attempt to restore themselves from the first General Curse inflicted upon their Labours.”[19]

Puritans called the confusion of languages at Babel “the second General Curse,” and there were attempts by Puritans to overcome that curse as well.  Some tried to find the common language used prior to Babel.  Upon running into dead ends with that search, others tried to compose a universal language for use by scholars, politicians, and international businessmen that would more precisely describe the material world and avoid the arbitrary features of Latin grammar.  Robert Boyle was a close associate of Hartib’s.  He was one of those who expressed hope in formulating a universal language because “it will in good part make amends to mankind for what their pride lost them at the tower of Babel.”[20]

Because the Puritans took seriously the longer life spans for humans taught in Isaiah, they saw medical improvements as an important part of the progress of Christ’s kingdom. Medical practitioner George Starkey (1628–1665) put medical knowledge second only to saving knowledge of Christ:

Now next unto that knowledge which is indeed life eternal, namely to know God the only true God, and whom he hath sent Jesus Christ; which knowledge is of everlasting concernment: the most noble is that which discovers the Creators wisdom in the Creatures, so as to be able distinguish their natures and properties, and to apply them to the use of Man, namely, to the restoring of the defects of decaying Nature, and the overcoming of Diseases.[21]

Several recent writers have emphasized that the source of the modern idea of social and scientific progress was the biblical teaching of linear time, which contributed to technological advances during the Middle Ages.[22]  The linear view of time replaced the idea of cyclical time found in all the ancient pagan cultures.  According to the cyclical-time view, there are periods of social improvement, but decline and destruction inevitably follow, and this cycle repeats forever.  The futility of this view is like the myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down in a cycle repeated for all eternity.  A cyclical view of time is behind the idea of reincarnation.  But the Bible teaches that Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time.” (Heb. 9:26-28).

The postmillennial eschatology of the Puritan Revelation was belief in linear time on steroids.  Not only are events like Christ’s sacrifice and the Final Judgment unrepeatable, there is progress in knowledge and ethics as part of the advance of the kingdom of God on earth prior to the Final Judgment.  Gradually, like the growth of a mustard seed and the spread of leaven through dough (Matt. 13:31-33), all nations are taught to obey Christ (Matt. 28:19-20), the meek inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5), and “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).  The effects of the Puritan belief in progress can be seen today as our culture’s motivation for seeking new scientific advances, even after the Reformation faith that birthed it has been exiled from public life for over a hundred years.   If secularism continued to carry out the ideas implicit in its presuppositions, it would eventually return to the pig sty of cyclical time and abandon its faith in scientific progress.[23]  But if postmillennialism is what Scripture teaches, the modern decline of public acceptance of Christianity can only be a temporary anomaly in the general trend toward gradually greater and greater victory of Christ’s rule over the earth prior to His Second Coming.   The Puritans of the English Puritan Revolution were overly optimistic about how quickly progress would happen, at least one the moral front – they might be impressed by our scientific advances.  But if Scripture is the final authority, and if Scripture teaches that Christ’s kingdom will expand to fill the earth prior to Christ’s Second Coming, then no amount of current bad news can overturn the fact that the predictions given in the Bible will come true eventually.

No more than the pre-Fall teaching on marriage became annulled after the Fall (Gen. 1:27, 2:23-24; Matt. 19:4-6) did the pre-Fall command for man to rule over God’s creation (Gen. 1:26-28) become annulled after the Fall.  Man was created for dominion, and we will either rule the earth in obedience to God, rule the earth in rebellion against God, or try to abdicate our responsibility in ascetic withdrawal from the world in rebellion against God.  The added factor after the Fall is that we have to battle sin as we carry out God’s command to rule creation.  The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) to disciple the nations is the Genesis Dominion Command renewed for the post-Fall world under the resurrected Messiah’s reign, who is the Second Adam (Rom. 5) who restores the image of God  in man (Col. 3:10) so that man can effectively pursue his creational calling for exercising dominion over the earth under God’s authority.[24]  Thus victory of Christ’s kingdom on earth includes progress in scientific knowledge and technological innovation.  And it is this belief that played a significant role in producing the Scientific Revolution.  This should do a great deal to deflate the false pride of modern atheists who equate science and progress with atheism.  The historical argument that Christian beliefs produced the Scientific Revolution, along with the philosophical argument that the truth of the Christian worldview is necessary for the possibility of science, produces an apologetic program that should, and eventually will by the power of the Holy Spirit, win the argument against unbelief in every corner of the globe.[25]

 

[1]  Bacon, Novum Organum, Book II, §LII.

[2]  See Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626-1660 (London:  Duckworth, 1975), p. 25.

[3]  Frances Bacon, Novum Organum, Book I, §XIX.

[4]  Webster, The Great Instauration, p.503.

[5]  Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 1 (London, 1756), p. 221.  On the Royal Society and earlier scientific organizations, see Webster, The Great Instauration.

[6]  Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science, p. 183.

[7]  John Crossley, Ed., The Diary and Correspondence of John Worthington (Chetham Society, 1847), series XIII, vol. I, p. 250, https://archive.org/details/diarycorresponde113manc.  Also see Yosef Kaplan, “Jews and Judaism in the Hartlib Circle,” Studia Rosenthaliana, Vol. 38/39, 2005/2006, http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~kaplany/hartlib.pdf.

[8]  Quoted in Webster, The Great Instauration, p. 87, from letter from Hartlib to Boyle 15 Nov. 1659, https://www.hrionline.ac.uk/hartlib/view?docset=additional&docname=BOYLE_37&term0=dating_1659&term1=dating_november&term2=dating_15#highlight. .

[9]  “Pact Signed By Dury, Comenius And Hartlib, And Later By William Hamilton, English Translation Of Original Latin” (3/13 March 1642), https://www.hrionline.ac.uk/hartlib/view?docset=additional&docname=7E_109T.

[10]  H.R. Trevor-Roper, “Three Foreigners and the Philosophy of the English Revolution,” Encounter (Feb. 1960), http://www.unz.org/Pub/Encounter-1960feb-00003.

[11]   Quoted by David Parry in “Exile, Education and Eschatology in the Works of Jan Amos Comenius and John Milton,” in Religious Diaspora in Early Modern Europe, Ed. Timothy G. Fehler, et al. (Pickering & Chatto, 2014), p. 54.

[12]  Ibid., p. 56.

[13]  Webster, The Great Instauration, p. 114.

[14]  From “The Hartlib Papers,”  https://www.hrionline.ac.uk/hartlib/view?docset=pamphlets&docname=pam_43.

[15]  Quoted in Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science, p. 200.

[16]  Letter, John Beale To Hartlib, June 12, 1658,

[17]  Letter, John Beale, “Tract On Eleutheropolis,” Dec. 14, 1658.

[18]  John Beale, quoted in Webster, The Great Instauration, p. 482.

[19]  John Wilkins, Mathematicall magick (1691), p. 2.

[20]  Robert Boyle, Letter to Samuel Hartlib, March 19, 1646/7, Works, I, xxxvii.

[21]  George Starkey, Natures Explication and Helmonts Vindication (London, 1657), p. 4.

[22]  See Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation:  From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Edinburgh:  Scottish Academic Press, 1974); Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:  How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, (New York, NY:  Nan A. Talese, 1998); Frances and Joseph Gies, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).

[23]  An example of this happening is the teaching of Nietzsche, who promoted belief in cyclical time:  Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, tr. Walter Kaufman (New York:  Vintage Books, 1974), pp. 273-74 (§ 341).  Gary North argues that, given Marx’s godless worldview, Marx provides no reason for his economic stages not to fall back to an earlier stage of economic alienation so that the stages repeat in eternal cycles.  Marx’s Religion of Revolution: Regeneration Through Chaos (Tyler, TX:  ICE, 1989), pp. 87-89,170.  Marx, of course, was strongly influenced in his idea of historical progress by Hegel, who was strongly influenced in his idea of historical progress by the heretical Lutheran Jakob Böhme, whose influences gets us back to more traditional Christian thought.

[24]  David Chilton, Paradise Restored:  An Eschatology of Dominion  (Tyler, TX: Reconstruction Press, 1985); Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Greatness of the Great Commission  (Tyler, TX: ICE, 1990).

[25]  For the philosophical argument, see my essay, “Christian Civilization is the Only Civilization – In a Sense, of Course,” http://www.christianciv.com/ChristCivEssay.htm.

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