Inductive reasoning comes to science

Francis Bacon, no particular relation to Roger, is credited with introducing inductive reasoning into scientific inquiry in the 17th century. A distinguished member of the English aristocracy during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, his life was a checkered affair that included a destructive corruption scandal.

However, as the 20th-century writer and anthropologist Loren Eiseley put it, Bacon, "more fully than any man of his time, entertained the idea of the universe as a problem to be solved...."

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

Bacon was a philosopher, and he sought to resolve the problems that Aristotle's deductive approach to creation presented, such as the fact that Aristotle decreed that the world conformed to his construction of it, rather than vice versa.

Not only that, but most medieval thinkers had swallowed Aristotle whole, and regurgitated his ideas, which were often not even close to being correct. Bacon was frustrated by the obsolete and often clearly erroneous view of the world most of his contemporaries held.

He sought to bring a whole new approach to philosophy and science. And so he did. While many others built on his ideas, Bacon accomplished something truly revolutionary.

Inductive reasoning begins with specific details and observations — of natural occurrences or behavior, say — and uses them to arrive at a principle to explain them. What we now call the scientific method is largely inductive.

Deductive reasoning moves from the general to the specific. It uses logic to confirm something we already know to be true. Deduction is vulnerable to error at every step because it accepts the truth of the elements it uses to establish new truths.

Practical magic

The first European society for scientific inquiry was probably the Academy of the Mysteries of Nature, which met in the home of Giambattista della Porta, in Naples, Italy, beginning in 1560. Membership was open to anyone who could produce an original discovery in the field of natural science.

Giambattista della Porta
Giambattista della Porta

Della Porta was the author of Natural Magic, a 20-volume encyclopedia of popular science, written in Latin and published first in 1558.

Della Porta had the idea that much of what had come down through the ages as magic actually represented early, and often unwitting, incursions into areas that science was only then beginning to explain.

He and his society undertook to test various magical cures and activities to see if they had any merit. The academy would endorse only practices it had vetted. In other words, its members were practicing a rudimentary form of the scientific method.

The Academy of the Mysteries of Nature was short-lived. It was ordered closed by the Catholic Church after the Inquisition charged that the academy was involved in sorcery.

Not only did della Porta comply with the order, but he also became a Jesuit brother before his death in 1615.