Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a prominent English politician and writer.  He is most famous as a proponent of the new  scientific ideas and methods that nowadays we call the Scientific Revolution.  He himself was not a scientist, but he wrote several books defending the use of reason, experimentation, mathematics, and observation in science.    These new tools replaced older methods of doing science: tradition, the acceptance of old authorities (like the Greeks and the Bible), and the basing of conclusions on “common sense” that was not backed up by experimentation.

 

In one of his books published early in the 17th century he reprinted a passage that he had found in the records of a Franciscan friary.  This passage from 1432 concerns how a group of friars tried to figure out how many teeth a horse had in its mouth.  It is a good example of the “old” way of doing science.

 

The passage goes as follows:

 

In the year of our Lord 1432, there arose a grievous quarrel among the brethren over the number of teeth in the mouth of a horse. For 13 days the disputation raged without ceasing. All the ancient books and chronicles were fetched out, and wonderful and ponderous erudition, such as was never before heard of in this region, was made manifest. At the beginning of the 14th day, a youthful friar of goodly bearing asked his learned superiors for permission to add a word, and straightway, to the wonderment of the disputants, whose wisdom he sore vexed, he beseeched them to unbend in a manner coarse and unheard-of, and to look in the open mouth of a horse and find answer to their questionings. At this, their dignity being grievously hurt, they waxed exceedingly wroth; and, joining in a mighty uproar, they flew upon him and smote him hip and thigh, and cast him out forthwith. For, said they, surely Satan hath tempted this bold neophyte to declare unholy and unheard-of ways of finding the truth contrary to all the teachings of the fathers. After many days more of grievous strife the dove of peace sat on the assembly, and they as one man, declaring the problem to be an everlasting mystery because of a grievous dearth of historical and theological evidence thereof, so ordered the same writ down.

 

 

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