“Bacon’s Utopia – Part 1” (OUR GEOENGINEERING AGE, PART 8)

Publisher’s Note: This is the eighth installment in our geoengineering series. Our skies are our most visible and vital global Commons, and they are under siege by powerful forces we are just beginning to understand. “Our Geoengineering Age” series tells the story of  the most important and underreported global environmental phenomenon of our time, and is researched and written by Chelsea Green co-founder Ian Baldwin. 

Our story begins with Installment #1 – “Monkey Wrenching Vermont’s Night Sky” – here. 

Read “Our Geoengineering Age” – the entire series – here.

Everything I’ve written to date in this series, “Our Geoengineering Age,” is by way of giving you an introduction, some background essential to understanding the event called geoengineering. In particular, understanding the observable, covert geoengineering taking place in plain sight overhead and denied by all branches of the national security state, including the military, the aerospace industry, and the university research complex tied to it.

Because the whole geoengineering story verges toward science fiction, toward the preposterous, it’s necessary to look very carefully into the roots of the thing, and be grounded in our response. For better or worse it is a whole-society phenomenon. Sobriety is a rare virtue in our present moment. We human beings are now subject to panic for a host of causes, the primary one being a pervasive, unconscious fear of our survival as human beings.

Geoengineering is “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment,” whose purpose, as more narrowly understood by certain official scientific bodies, is “to counteract anthropogenic climate change,” or what scientists now call “climate intervention.” (See Installment #2 – “Beyond Global Climate Talks.”) In fact, however, it is not only the climate but the entire biosphere that is being radically geoengineered by humanity, both non-deliberately and deliberately.

Responding to this fundamental situation in 2000 the Nobel atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and freshwater biologist Eugene Stoermer wrote that humanity had become “a major geological force” and proposed changing the name of our present geological epoch, the Holocene, to the Anthropocene. [1] This proposal was soon followed by a slew of scientific papers that gave full birth to the notion of the Anthropocene—a new geological epoch whose features are now presumed to be determined more by human beings than by the rest of nature.

Nine years after the Crutzen-Stoermer proposal, 29 scientists, including Crutzen, published a landmark paper, “A safe operating space for humanity.” [2] The paper attempted to identify, and also quantify, “planetary boundaries” that should not be “transgressed” if humanity is to avoid “substantial risk of destabilizing the Holocene state of the ES [Earth System] in which modern societies have evolved” over the past 11,700 years. [3]

The scientists identified nine “Earth-system processes and associated thresholds” that, taken together as discrete subsystems, comprise the whole, immensely complex “Earth system.” The nine boundaries, as modified six years later by many of the same scientists, are climate change; biosphere integrity (comprised by “genetic diversity” and “functional diversity”); biochemical flows (measured as the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles); stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; land-system change; freshwater use; novel entities (chemicals plus the products of bioengineering and nanotechnology, none of which have been globally quantified); and lastly, atmospheric aerosol loading (also not globally quantified).

In 2015 the planetary-boundary scientists announced that humanity had already exceeded four of the nine boundaries, including two “core boundaries”—climate change and biosphere integrity—whose significant alteration is likely to “drive the Earth System into a new state” and possibly irrevocably destroy the conditions that allowed civilizations to arise during the Holocene. [4] Bear in mind two of the nine systems have not yet been quantified and therefor comprise threats of an unknown order of magnitude: novel entities and atmospheric aerosol loading.

Contrary to Descartes’ heady promise, it seems we have not quite yet made ourselves the “masters and possessors of nature.” [5]

How did this happen? How did we—humanity, anthropos—become “a geological force” so dominant, apparently, that we now refer to ourselves as “gods,” or “Homo Deus,” Man the one God? [6] Hubris aside, how did we end up becoming an existential threat to the living biosphere—to our very own planetary household?

To answer this question, which is fundamental to understanding geoengineering, and deliberate geoengineering in particular, we must look back to our beginnings as a science-based civilization.

Francis Bacon, according to Albert Schweitzer, was “the man who drafts the program of the modern world-view.” [7] Bacon (1561–1626) was a notable lawyer and jurist, a politician, statesman and orator of renown, a writer and philosopher, and seen across a span of 400 years a less-than-great scientist, at least compared with his near-exact contemporary, the mathematician and physicist Galileo, or a bit later, the mathematician Descartes, both of whom did more to formulate science’s enduring methods of understanding nature in rigorous mathematical terms than Bacon. More effectively than any of his contemporaries, however, Bacon articulated science’s social and institutional aims—it’s overarching goals and long-range program—in ways that have stuck.

Bacon grew up not far removed from the Court of Queen Elizabeth: his father, Nicholas Bacon, and uncle, William Cecil, respectively Lord High Chancellor and Lord High Treasurer, “were long the twin pillars of the realm.” [8] Bacon himself strode into the world in their footsteps, attending Cambridge University at age 12, and three years later Gray’s Inn to study law, later becoming an authority on British common law, elected a member of Parliament at age 23, served Elizabeth as legal advisor, was knighted in 1603 on James’ accession to the throne, rose to Solicitor-General in 1607, Attorney-General in 1613, Privy Counsellor in 1616, Lord Keeper the following year, and finally Lord High Chancellor in 1618. He was, to understate it, a man of the world, and a prodigious intellect.

Raised by an intellectual Puritan mother, from an early age Bacon felt he was “engaged on some great crusade affecting not simply the thought but the life of mankind.” [9, emphasis added] He was determined that “men…will not be forever floundering in the waves of history.” [10] In “The Masculine Birth of Time” Bacon addresses an imaginary youth he calls “my son” (in fact he had no children): “I am come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave….my only earthly wish…[is] to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds.” [11]

Those “promised bounds” Bacon had in mind were Biblically sanctioned. The flames of spiritual renewal that burned in 16th and 17th century European hearts and minds burned in Bacon as well, but with a difference. Bacon understood the reformation of England’s spiritual life was well in hand, attended to by many, including his sovereign, King James. Left unattended was God’s original promise to Adam and Eve on the 6th day of Creation, the promise of dominion “over all every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Bacon was passionately determined to reclaim that promise of dominion, divinely made in Genesis.

“Man by the Fall fell at the same time from the state of his innocency and from his dominion over Creation. Both these losses however can even in this life be in some part repaired,” Bacon insisted, “the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts [mechanical or practical] and the sciences.” [12, emphasis added] Further: “Man was not a child of nature but a superior creature” who possessed scriptural authority to seize the chance and make the New Testament’s commandment of neighborly love manifest in “works,” and thus “bless the human family with new mercies [technological gifts] through our hands.” [13]

A good deal of Bacon’s written work was devoted to disabusing his contemporaries of the value of ancient classical and medieval Scholastic philosophy, that is, “philosophy prompt to chatter and argue and incapable of begetting works.” [14] Like religion, a philosophy should also “be judged by its fruits and, if sterile, held useless.” [15] His insistence that “the safest oracle for the future lies in the rejection of the past” is a legacy that still endures, 400 years later. [16]

Bacon argued that “there remains one hope of salvation…that the entire work of the mind be started over again, and from the very start the mind should not be left to itself, but be constantly controlled; and the business be done (if I may put it this way) by machines.” [17] Again: “Neither the bare hand nor the unaided intellect has much power; the work is done by tools and assistance,” [18] meaning scientific instruments and the step-by-step rules of investigation Bacon called induction. (Though he was not a mathematician, it’s not much of a stretch to claim Bacon foretold our 21st century rule by algorithms and computer models.)

“Monde Fou” from Wikipedia.

To approach a serious investigation of nature required an entirely new attitude and method of gaining knowledge, as “the subtlety of nature far surpasses the subtlety of sense and intellect.” [19] Bacon had “a vivid appreciation for the role hitherto played in history by technology, and a vivid anticipation of the much greater effect that could be wrought on human life if technology could be made scientific.” [20, emphasis added] To acquire “those two goals of man, knowledge and power…which are chiefly frustrated by ignorance of causes,” [21] men had to “hound nature” [22] using the most recent scientific-technological instruments that did not “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course” but had “the power to shake her to her foundations.” [23]

So shook, nature “takes orders from man and works under his authority.” [24] Bacon urged that a “great storehouse of facts should be accumulated…sufficient in quantity, diversity, reliability, and subtlety, to inform the mind” and lead to new knowledge, to the discovery of axioms that “rightly discovered and rightly formed…offer massive assistance to practice.” That is, hypotheses lead to further experimentation, and since “theories must abide the test of experiment,” experiments lead to further refinement of the axioms, each changing and improving the other in a constantly progressing feedback loop. [25] Science, thus envisioned by Bacon, becomes a cumulative process that leads to deeper and deeper knowledge of the truth of nature and matter, and to cascading inventions useful to the human family.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

For Bacon it was vital that such “new knowledge, when gained…be fed back into the industrial life of the nation.” [26] Thus the project of Baconian science must be “a massive collaborative one, requiring the financial and organizational backing of a ‘King’ or a ‘Pope’.” [27]. Not only did science need to be “taken under the wing of the government,” but “must enjoy the blessing of the Church and the approval of the universities.” Wholly new institutions were needed for it to flourish, and Bacon saw it as “a democratic, co-operative enterprise intended for the public good,” and be clearly seen as such. It was moreover a project to universally benefit humankind, not one class or group of human beings. [28]

In sum, according to the philosopher Benjamin Farrington, Bacon’s project for the acquisition of new knowledge began “the inauguration of a new way of life, the great instauration [renewal] of man’s dominion over the universe.” [29, emphasis added]

In one of his last works, published the year after he died, Bacon set forth an idealized picture of the world he so hugely labored to bring into being, a utopia called The New Atlantis. [30] In it a company of Englishmen sailing from Peru are caught in a storm and shipwrecked off an unknown island nation called Bensalem. Bensalem turns out to be a Christian nation and after mutual recognition as Christians the shipwrecked Englishmen are sheltered for several days in a “fair and spacious house built of brick” called the Strangers’ House. Here the group’s sick are placed in an infirmary (where they soon heal) and the rest comfortably settled.

Image courtesy Amazon.com.

Allowed the freedom to wander the city, the shipwrecked Europeans are impressed with the generosity and humanity of the residents. They learn about a place of supreme importance to the nation, “the very eye of this kingdom.” It is, the Englishmen are told, an “Order or Society” that is “sometimes called Salomon’s House, and sometimes the College of Six Days Works,” whose name “be denominate of the king of the Hebrews.” We learn the College possesses King Solomon’s lost natural history.

The inhabitants of Bensalem were miraculously converted to Christianity twenty years after the Crucifixion when a small cedar ark appeared floating on the waters off one of their cities, Renfusa (people of the sheep). When retrieved, the ark miraculously opened up to reveal a “Book that contained all canonical books of the Old and New Testament” and a “Letter” from St. Bartholomew that together conferred “the original Gift of Tongues” to all members of Bensalem’s international community—so all could read and understand the sacred texts.

The Judeo-Christian identity of the inhabitants of Bensalem is further established over the course of several pages, when at last the book’s narrator is told about the venerated College of Six Days Works—not so much a college as a vast university-research complex. One of the college’s senior scientists announces: “The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.”

The research complex extends throughout the nation: in half-mile high towers perched on top of mountains; inside multiple caves deep within the earth, some over three miles deep; on great fresh and saltwater lakes; in parks and botanical gardens and zoos, used for animal experimentation and the creation of engineered species; in small pools, waterfalls, cataracts, baths, and artificial wells used for medicinal purposes—in every imaginable nook and cranny of nature research progresses. Research tools include the telescope, microscope, and “engines.” “We have engines,” the Salomon House father explains, “for multiplying and enforcing of winds,” and “also great and spacious houses where we imitate and demonstrate meteors; as snow, hail, rain, some artificial rains…[and] thunders, lightnings.”

In modern terms the research at Salomon’s House includes astronomy, agriculture (composts and other fertilizers), horticultural techniques including genetic manipulation, mining, mineralogy, desalinization, construction technologies, medicine and pharmacology, ichthyology, cryogenics, fermentation and distillation, meteorology, textiles and dyeworks, baking and brewing, the study of light and lasers, microbiology, zoology and botany, acoustics and aromacology, and armaments. “We represent also ordnance and instruments of war…. [and] have some degrees of flying in the air….and ships and boats for going under water, and brooking of seas.”

Toward the end of the scientist’s presentation, he makes a point of telling his listener, the book’s narrator, “we do hate all impostures, and lies.”

From a contemporary perspective, Bacon’s utopia is a paradox, because his scientific-technological vision, one side of which we have inherited and still hold dear, “is wrongly described as [merely] utilitarian, since for Bacon the knowledge of nature was part of the worship of God, and the most effective way of fulfilling the law of charity.” [31] It is the religious side that no longer makes sense to us. Even the idea that inventions must be of real and universal use to all human beings, is subsumed beneath the profit motive of great corporations, and no longer exemplary of charity in a practical sense. Bacon’s immersion in the Bible’s Old and New Testaments placed real, if elusive, boundaries on his otherwise no-holds-barred approach to scientific research.

For Bacon not only utility-as-charity but piety or reverence was essential to the conduct of productive scientific research, if for no other reason than nature was God’s Creation and gift to humanity. Nor could the great project of determining the causes of things endure long under the sin of pride: the reverential prizing loose of God’s and nature’s secrets leaves scant room for it. “If pride replaces piety, science and technology will become sterile, or self-destructive,” one Bacon scholar warns, adding that the “pious study of nature” not only “guards against humanity’s pride” but also against “its effort to create its own fantasy world.” [32]

In “Bacon’s Utopia, Part 2” installment #9 of “Our Geoeingineering Age” series – we will explore the status of Bacon’s Utopia in the 21st century. Look for it this spring 2018.


[1] Paul J Crutzen and Eugene F Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene’,” in IGBP Newsletter #41, May 2000. Accessed June 10, 2016.

[2] Johan Rockström et al, “A safe operating space for humanity,” Nature, 461, 24 September 2009. Accessed June 19, 2016.

[3] Will Steffen et al, “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet,” Science, 347, 6223 (13 February 2015). Accessed January 15, 2018.

[4] Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact, “Four of nine boundaries now crossed,” press release, 01/16/15. Accessed January 31, 2018.

[5] René Descartes, “Discourse on Method,” in Philosophical Essays, translated and edited by Laurence J Lafleur (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), 45.

[6] Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (New York: HarperCollins, 2017).

[7] Benjamin Farrington, The Philosophy of Francis Bacon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 29. The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead seems to concur with Schweitzer in his Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 42-43.

[8] Ibid.,12.

[9] Ibid., 9.

[10] Francis Bacon, The New Organum, edited by Lisa Jardine & Michael Silverthorne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 22.

[11] Francis Bacon, “The Masculine Birth of Time,” in Farrington, Op. Cit., 62.

[12] The New Organum, as quoted in Stephen A McKnight, “Francis Bacon’s God,” The New Atlantis: Journal of Technology & Society, #10, Fall 2005. Accessed May 2, 2017.

[13] The New Organum, 24.

[14] Francis Bacon, “The Refutation of Philosophies,” in Farrington, Cit., 109.

[15] The New Organum, 61.

[16] Francis Bacon, “Thoughts and Conclusions,” in Farrington, Op. Cit., 99.

[17] The New Organum, 28.

[18] Ibid., 33.

[19] Ibid., 36.

[20] Farrington, Op. Cit., 43.

[21] The New Organum, 24.

[22] Francis Bacon, ”De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum,” as quoted in Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature (New York: HarperCollins, 1980; 1983), 168.

[23] “Thoughts and Conclusions,” in Farrington, Op. Cit., 93.

[24] Francis Bacon, “De Augmentis,” as quoted in Merchant, Op. Cit., 171.

[25] The New Organum, 58. Bacon’s theory of meticulous observations, experimental tests, and formation of hypotheses that lock together in a single unfolding creative process of discovery anticipate Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigms in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962; 1970; 1996).

[26] Farrington, Op. Cit., 54.

[27] Lisa Jardine & Michael Silverthorne, “Introduction” to The New Organum, xiii.

[28] Farrington, Op. Cit., 28.

[29] Ibid., 29.

[30] Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis is available in pdf form here.

[31] Farrington, Op. Cit., 44.

[32] McKnight, Op. Cit.



















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