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This article is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

Good Science, Bad Science Dudley Young

SCIENCE IN THE modern sense arose in the Renaissance along with the 'parvenu Machiavel', a man impatient to be free of the old-fashioned Christian theology in order to pursue power of every kind. What the new science offered him was power, unfettered by responsibility, to explore and exploit Mother Nature; and he eagerly accepted. To realize this one need only consult Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning (1604), the great advertisement for the new science, which abounds in macho images of penetration and mastery: witchy Nature (manifestly feminine to the Renaissance mind) must be 'hounded in her wanderings', 'bound into service', and even 'put on the rack and tortured for her secrets'. Even allowing for the witch-craze of the period, by the wing of whose madness Bacon was touched, this language is shocking; and it registers, with astonishing candour, unseemly appetites and a brutalizing tendency at the heart of the scientific urge - what one might call its besetting sins. Needless to say, Christian theology was well aware of these sins, as Marlowe indicated in 1592 when he offered us a gluttonous Doctor Faustus who 'surfeits on cursèd necromancy'. But as Marlowe's play also indicates, theology was at that time losing its power to make the culture disapprove of such unbridled appetite. Necromancy, redefined and smartly dressed as science, was becoming respectable - not only because Christian authority was in confusion and decline, but because Nature, in the Christian view, was more like a whore and a witch than a ...


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