PS Review of Freemasonry

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voltaire writing
"If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?"
- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 6
Bro. Gerald Reilly
Spring 2007

by Bro. Gerald Reilly

At some stage during Freemasonry’s Second Degree, the candidate is advised that there is now permitted, something like, the extension of their researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science.  Such is an excellent permission and one that each and every Freemason should pursue with awe and passion.


" is a discipline seeking to describe the universe in terms of prediction and control."


It could be suggested that nature and science may be understood in terms of “nature” being the subject of our study and “science” being the methodology employed to undertake it. Nature can be understood as being the material universe, from the sum of solar systems and perhaps larger, to the smallest measurable particles, or perhaps smaller. Based on mathematical models, science is a discipline seeking to describe the universe in terms of prediction and control. Perhaps the logic of this is that, “a” is followed by “b” where “a” is both necessary and sufficient for “b” (cause and effect, or perhaps better - contiguity).  Research into “hidden mysteries” would provide understanding of the, as yet, unseen powers or the, as yet, unmeasured forces that enable the regularities observed in nature.   


"...requires the candidate to affirm a belief... that the earth orbits the sun."


The rise of the English Royal Society and that of speculative Freemasonry are contemporaneous. It would be churlish to deny contiguity; the apotheosis of which being, the life and work of Dr. John Theosophilus Desaguliers,  Grand Master, Newtonian scholar, chief experimenter of the Royal Society and  involved in major capital projects based around steam engines for both pumping water from mines and for providing public water supplies. Also between 1710 – 1723, and perhaps beyond, a chief mover and shaker in formative English Freemasonry. One of the questions asked of candidates passing from the First to the Second degree pertains to the meridian sun’s perpetual countenance of Freemasonry. The response to this question requires the candidate to affirm a belief in that strange Copernican claim that the earth orbits the sun.


But, who can date this ritual? In 1600, Giordano Bruno was murdered by the Church for maintaining that the earth orbited the sun. Perhaps it was owing to Freemasonry’s increasingly scientific understanding of nature that, to avoid the censure of ecclesiastical authority, a culture of secrecy became further entrenched.  However, what could not be kept secret, or contained, was the military and commercial potential being unleashed by scientific descriptions of the universe, and the creation of relationships between groups that would otherwise have been distant. Scientists sought finance and influence; wealthy people needed the emerging technology to increase their wealth – a new order in recognition!


The gradual transmutation from alchemy to chemistry; astrology to astronomy and from Providential power to natural forces was something that perhaps had to become an entity woven into something like, a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.  That is to say, theological and supernatural accounts of natural phenomena were being replaced by explanations that did not extend beyond space and time.


"...the wealthy and the aristocratic being speculative scientists meeting with operative Royal Society scientists?"


Perhaps the Newtonians sought to replace the Church’s theological understanding of nature and replace it with The Royal Society’s scientific understanding. Perhaps they believed the scientific study of nature was a superior route to the throne of God. Non-scientists were, by definition ineligible, for admission into the Royal Society. Therefore, is it not possible that between the second and third decades of the 18th Century an attempt was made to facilitate a working relationship between people of science and technology with aristocrats, landed gentry and those from the purple of commerce? And, that attempt was Speculative Freemasonry with the wealthy and the aristocratic being speculative scientists meeting with operative Royal Society scientists?


However, in the lives of people and institutions, the social and political role of the Church was not, in the short or medium term, to be replaced by mathematical formulae. The description of nature in terms of prediction and control is one thing, but the political and economic challenge of realising internal peace and prosperity through control, conformity and compliance is something else. Perhaps during some time in the third decade of the 18th Century, the scientists had lost interest in Freemasonry and it then developed into a nexus to promote internal peace and prosperity. And, had no need to challenge religious and theological conformance, compliance and control.  


Until the time of the Copernican Revolution, most people believed that the sun orbited the earth. Of course they did, that was how it looked! However, the challenge is now to look at the sun and “see” the earth orbiting it. Presumably, this will require a longer term reconditioning of our perception.


"What would a providential universe look like; how would an evolutionary universe look?"


Similarly, perhaps we could consider two universes; one designed by God and one that evolved as described by Darwin. The question might be asked, would they look different?  What would a providential universe look like; how would an evolutionary universe look?  In which direction were the influential scientific leaders of Freemasonry circa 1710-1730 pointing? “Providence” is a power – a personalisation of the mechanics that maintain matter in motion. Nature is understood to achieve the same but in terms of a non-personalised energy; at best pantheism but in reality, non-theism. Perhaps the pantheism and the Arianism of the early decades of the 18thC are but veils covering non-theism and allegorically alluded to in vague notions of great architects and supreme beings.


How would a world created by Providence look different from a world seen through Quantum eyes? Particles can be understood as being both mass and energy in motion and waves being but energy.  However, it may well be the case that particles and waves are different manifestations of the same entity. Perhaps the role of the observer is a significant issue for understanding nature; now, and in the future. Will we ever progress beyond symbols, and what might that look like?


The Freemasonry of that time was a giant step for modernity as achieved through the alchemic wedding of the Royal Society minds made for the universe and the souls of the aristocracy seeking to gain increasing wealth from an application of the description of nature in terms of prediction and control - technology.


 Therefore for some short time, Freemasonry can be understood as beating a path to the frontiers of scientific knowledge and its commercial application. This was perhaps reinforced by Freemasonry beating a path to the frontiers of the art of civil governance.  However, we remain variously charged and obligated to understand natural phenomena in scientific due form.   Before that though, as Freemasons, surely we are people perceiving nature in awe and wonder: the night sky, an eruption of Etna, the wings of a butterfly.  As Freemasons, signed up to heliocentric theory, we have learnt to understand what is the case rather than appearances. We seek explanations that are other than explaining the unexplained by postulating the inexplicable.


" the geocentric and heliocentric theories must look different, so should the lives of Freemasons."


Therefore, there is a choice is to be made. Freemasons may choose to describe nature in terms of Providence where there is a power that existed before space and time, which currently exists outside of space, has the controlling hand over space through time and will exist when time is no more. Or, there is an understanding of nature within space and time that does not seek to extend beyond that paradigm.  Whichever choice is made, as the geocentric and heliocentric theories must look different, so should the lives of Freemasons. Many purport a belief in entities beyond space and time but live for the moment, the here and now. And, seem to be devoid of an appreciation of nature in terms of awe and passion.


It is time for Freemasons to face up to the challenge of nature and science and its application to human freedom that can be understood as enhancing wealth subject to equitable distribution and a sustainable management of the environment. We have to be perceived as being Freemasons, the appearances and the reality being unified. We are what we do, and we cannot produce square work by cutting corners.

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