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Posted on March 11th, 2013, by

John Polkinghorne develops the idea of the unity of knowledge, which implies the close relationship between science and philosophy: I’m a very passionate believer in the unity of knowledge. There is one world of reality – one world of our experience that we’re seeking to describe (John Polkinghorne, 204). In such a way, John Polkinghorne arrives to the conclusion that metaphysics and science are closely interrelated. In this regard, his views are quite different from views of other philosophers, such as Bacon, for instance. To put it more precisely, Bacon rejected distinct causes and, therefore, the close relationship between metaphysic and science. In fact, he distinguishes philosophy and science and separates them strictly. For instance, he argues a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion (Bacon, 134). In such a way, he distinguishes philosophical knowledge, scientific knowledge, and religion. Therefore, the development of philosophical views does not depend on scientific progress. At this point, views of Bacon are quite different from John Polkinghorne’s views. The latter stood on the ground that the development of philosophical views is closely intertwined with the development of science.
In contrast, Bacon views the emergence of new knowledge as the birth of a new life. To put it more precisely, he argues that as the births of living creatures are at first ill-shapen, so are all innovations, which are the births of time (Bacon, 139). Therefore, the development of philosophical views is independent of science, according to Bacon. He stood on the ground that people develop their views independently of philosophy and science and metaphysics never intersects with science. In such a context, he reminds but men must know, that in this theatre of man’s life it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers on (Bacon, 155). In such a way, he rejects the dominance of science, which can be clearly traced in views of John Polkinghorne. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that the development of science and philosophy is closely intertwined, according to the scientific views of John Polkinghorne, philosophy is closely intertwined with science and, to a significant extent, derives from science, whereas the development of scientific and philosophical knowledge, according to Bacon, are not intertwined and develop in parallel to each other.
John Polkinghorne argued that metaphysics cannot exist without science because science shapes human vision of the world and perception of the surrounding reality. According to John Polkinghorne, metaphysics is just inseparable from science because science contributes to the better understanding of the surrounding world and exploration of new dimensions of human knowledge, capabilities, and beliefs. At the same time, the scientific progress affects consistently the perception of the surrounding world by individuals. As a result, people perceive the surrounding world under the impact of the science and scientific progress. People receive new knowledge from the surrounding world due to their scientific explorations and experiments.
In this regard, Francis Bacon would respond that human consciousness is prior to the surrounding world and its technological innovations and scientific achievements. He stood on the ground that science is irrelevant to metaphysics and philosophy is not dependent on science. Instead, he insisted on the superiority of God: God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures (Bacon, 198). On the other hand, Francis Bacon developed his scientific method but he distinguished it clearly from his philosophy. In fact, he used the scientific method as a tool of scientific explorations and discoveries and he did not see any close link between science and philosophy or metaphysic. Instead, science and scientific method was just a mere tool in hands of people, which they should use to explore the surrounding world and to understand better basic principles and concepts concerning fundamental issues.
In this regard, John Polkinghorne insists that science is an essential ground for the progress of the mankind that, although, needs the change of the traditional philosophy and views of people on the universe because science can outpace the development of philosophy and shapes philosophic views of the time. To put it more precisely, he argues that the physical fabric of the world had to be such as to enable that ten billion year preliminary evolution to produce the raw materials of life. Without it there would not have been the chemical materials to allow life to evolve here on earth (). In such a way, John Polkinghorne argues that scientific knowledge is essential for the understanding how the life evolved and progressed. Therefore, philosophers will be unable to understand the surrounding world and fundamental philosophical concept, if they are ignorant of scientific progress and advancements of science, which affect consistently the vision and personal philosophy of individuals.
In contrast, Francis Bacon did not distinguish scientific roots in the development of philosophy. Instead, pure philosophy is the key to understanding the surrounding world and shaping views and beliefs of individuals. Francis Bacon argued that the progress of philosophy and science are not closely intertwined. Therefore, Francis Bacon placed emphasis on the fact that there is no close links between science and philosophy. He stood on the ground that scientific progresses did not causes any substantial changes in philosophy and the perception of the surrounding world by people or any other changes in the philosophy.
At the same time, John Polkinghorne insisted on the limitedness of human knowledge. He argued that theologians have a great problem because they’re seeking to speak about God. Since God is the ground of everything that is, there’s a sense in which every human inquiry is grist to the theological mill. Obviously, no theologian can know everything (). Therefore, John Polkinghorne concluded that human knowledge is limited and they need to develop science to expand their knowledge. In such a context, the scientific progress naturally contributed to the development of philosophy, change of philosophical views and, therefore, people shape their views and beliefs under the impact of scientific progress. In such a situation, philosophy becomes dependent on science to the extent that philosophy may be viewed as a branch of science. In fact, the development of science, according to John Polkinghorne, contributes to the development of philosophy but the limitedness of human knowledge stimulates people to explore more and more to expand their knowledge and to develop new philosophical views.
Instead, Francis Bacon insisted on the development and implementation of the scientific method with the help of which it is possible to learn everything. He argued that scientific method is essential for the accurate knowledge but it was just a method to learn more about the surrounding world and other significant issues. However, scientific method was just a tool that could be used in philosophy as well but this method did not make science prior to philosophy. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that Francis Bacon concluded that the scientific method can be useful for the development of philosophy but philosophy does not derive from science and does not depend on science.
At the same time, John Polkinghorne recognizes the importance of science. He argues that those theologians who are beginning to take the doctrine of creation very seriously should pay some attention to science’s story (). In such a way, science is essential for the development of philosophy and shaping of philosophical views and beliefs. In this regard, science is a key to philosophy. However, this idea would be totally denied by Francis Bacon, who failed to trace any cause-effects links between science and philosophy.
Furthermore, John Polkinghorne insisted on the importance of scientific research, whereas Francis Bacon argued on the importance of moral, ethical behavior and provision of people with positive models of behavior that would make the modern science and metaphysics moral and grounded on basic ethical principles:
He that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other (Bacon, 201).
In fact, this means that Francis Bacon that scientists and their work are important but science should match moral norms and principles. He insisted on the importance and priority of philosophy to science because scientific knowledge alone was useless without good philosophical example being provided for people. In such a way, Francis Bacon denied the importance and close correlation between science and philosophy, which is the milestone idea for John Polkinghorne’s philosophy. In fact, John Polkinghorne is the supporter of the close link between metaphysics and philosophy and he traces the close relationship between science and philosophy, whereas Francis Bacon denies it.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the development of science and philosophy may be closely intertwined. In this regard, John Polkinghorne is an active proponent of the view on the close relationship between science and philosophy. In this respect, he contradicts to renowned philosophers of the past, such as Bacon, who distinguished clearly science and philosophy and put human knowledge inferior to the will of God. At the same time, John Polkinghorne’s philosophy mirrors the progress of the modern science and society, which is characterized by the domination of science and its significant impact on philosophy.

Works Cited:
Bacon, F. Selected Works. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.
Polkinghorne, J. Selected Works. New York: Random House, 2009.
Smeedes, T.A. Chaos, Complexity, and God: Divine Action and Scientism .Louvain: Peeters 2004

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