Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Scientific Quakers

Having just read Karen Armstrong's new book "The Bible," I was reminded of George Fox's comment: "This I knew experimentally." I believe most Friends would tend to substitute "experientially" for experimentally. However, I think Fox might have used the word intentionally and in its modern meaning. Francis Bacon was fairly well known in English circles of the early 1600's as a "counsellor" to King James I. He stressed the need to examine all things by the "stringent methods of empirical science." Fox as a seeker may well have become aware of Bacon's ideas as he struggled to find answers. Fox also may have understood his observations and experiences as a means of gathering empirical evidence. 

Fox and Isaac Newton lived in the same general area of England at the same time in the last half of the seventeenth century. It is entirely plausible that, although they may not have met, they were aware of each other's ideas.

Many Friends followed in their search for answers within both the scientific and religious areas. Dalton, an Englishman not too far removed in place and time from Newton, was convinced that there were only a discrete limited number of simple "objects" which gave rise to the great diversity of all things in nature. His "atomic theory" seems to have been derived from a vast number of empirical/experimental observations and a grasp of understanding an unseen world which at its base was very simple. 

In the decades and centuries following Fox, the portion of well known scientists who were Friends at some point in their lives is far greater than that of Friends in the general population. 

My own personal search for truth and reality has included being a student of science with a growing awareness of "The more I know; the more I know I don't know." This opening of further awaiting insights and mystery is analogous to my spiritual search in that the more "sure" I become of the strength and power of Truth and Reality, the more I am convinced that I am only a novice at understanding, but I am also more and more convinced that "This I know experimentally."

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