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order or cHaos


part IV - Freemasonry, Science and Mankind

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

Order is the foundation of all things, chaos its relentless enemy.


Early speculative freemasonry


The craft of freemasonry was one of the few organisations able to resist the suppression of free thought that prevailed throughout the Dark Ages from the fifth to the twelfth centuries, probably because so much of the freemason’s work was carried out for the religious hierarchy, who depended upon them to design and construct all their magnificent ecclesiastical buildings. Lodges of operative freemasons in England were almost defunct by the end of the religious and political Reformation of the sixteenth century, but they continued working in Scotland well into the eighteenth century, some even longer. When all religious fraternities were disendowed in England by the enforcement of HenryVIII's Act of 1547, very few of the fragmented guilds were able to survive. Of those that did survive the London Company, which previously had operated under the name of the The Worshipful Company of Ffree Masons of the City of London, probably is the only one that most would be familiar with. The London Company managed to remain in existence and jealously guarded its medieval craft doctrines and secrets, especially within its inner fraternity called the Acception.


Among the founders of modern speculative craft freemasonry, two of the most celebrated prepared the first rituals. One was Dr James Anderson (1684-1739), a minister of the Church of Scotland and a Doctor of Divinity of Marischal College at Aberdeen University in 1731. The other also was a very influential Presbyterian minister, John Desaguliers (1683-1743), who had lectured extensively in England and Europe and had written many scientific papers and books. He was a close friend of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the English scientist and mathematician renowned for formulating an early form of differential calculus, for establishing the laws of gravity and for his work on light and telescopes. Newton is held in high regard as a forerunner of modern science, at a time when his discoveries and writings would have had a significant influence on masonic thought. Newton was a personal friend of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the English architect chosen to design the new St Paul's Cathedral and more than fifty other churches that were destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. Wren also distinguished himself in mathematics and physics, helped to perfect the barometer and was professor of astronomy at the London and Oxford Universities. Newton and Wren were both prominent early members of the Royal Society, which is the oldest and premier scientific society in Britain that was formed in 1645 and received a Royal Charter in 1660.


Both Anderson and Desaguliers were members of the Royal Society and had a high regard for the works of Newton, Wren and others, which at that time were not well known or understood outside academic circles. There can be no doubt that when Anderson and Desaguliers drafted the first rituals for speculative craft freemasonry, their participation in the Royal Society must have had a considerable influence on their thinking. Being intellectual men, they perceived great value in the esoteric teachings included in the rituals of the operative free masons, which they culled, collated and adapted. The ceremonials of the speculative degrees are similar to some of the degrees in operative freemasonry. They create an orderly basis for the conduct of meetings, provide fundamental masonic instruction and establish modes of recognition intended ensure that only members participate in the meetings. It is evident from our knowledge of the founders of modern speculative freemasonry, as well as from the available records of its early meetings, that the organisation was not meant to be a series of ordinary clubs nor a friendly society, but a learned society with a masonic background for scientific and social education, similar in many respects to the Royal Society. Although the ceremonials are the foundation of speculative craft freemasonry, it is important to realise that the work of the degrees was never meant to be the primary function of lodges, which were intended to be forums for philosophical discussion.


Four old lodges of speculative craft freemasonry that were meeting in the city of London came together on St John the Baptist's Day, 24th June 1717, when they formed the first Grand Lodge of England, after which a period of relative stability prevailed for several years. During this time, with the approval of Grand Lodge, Anderson wrote his famous Constitutions, prepared in close collaboration with Desaguliers and based on the old Gothic Constitutions. The original edition of the Constitutions was issued in 1723, followed by a revised edition in 1738 and several later editions. Unfortunately, serious disagreements soon arose because many of the older lodges disliked changes that Grand Lodge had introduced in relation to the long established traditions, ceremonials and modes of recognition. As a consequence, a rival Grand Lodge known as the Antients was formed in 1751, working under the old Gothic Constitutions. Bitter dissension continued for almost fifty years, by which time many members of both persuasions had grown tired of the constant wrangling. In 1788 the Antients' Grand Lodge first instigated moves to achieve reconciliation with the Moderns. It reactivated its attempts in 1803, which culminated in an Articles of Union and the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. For the next fifty years the United Grand Lodge of England was occupied consolidating its position. It established an International Compact in 1814, which was of special relevance to its sister Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland; issued a revised Book of Constitutions in 1815; commenced a Library in 1837; founded the Benevolent Institution in 1838; and built a new Freemasons' Hall during the period from 1864 to 1866.


The United Grand Lodge of England was still consolidating and establishing its administrative structures in 1859, when Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) published his book The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This eminent English naturalist's book was received with great interest throughout England and Europe, where it was vigorously attacked and defended just as energetically, but there is no record of the United Grand Lodge of England or its lodges making nay comment. Although Anderson and Desaguliers had regarded the liberal arts and sciences as foundation stones of the craft, the discoveries and developments in science are seldom the subject of philosophical discussion in lodges. As a result they seldom contribute to the daily progress freemasons are expected to make within the lodge and therefore have no impact on its teachings. Modern speculative freemasonry has never regained its original outward and forward looking approach, nor its fervour for the mental advancement of its members, but has become engulfed in ritualistic procedures that undoubtedly must have contributed significantly to the decline in masonic participation.


Fundamental masonic teachings


Since emerging from the operative art, speculative freemasonry has always declared itself to be a progressive science, dedicated to the improvement and elevation of men. The teachings of Freemasonry are based on a belief in the existence of a divine Creator, or Supreme Being. The ceremonials and traditional lectures emphasise essential aspects of our existence, exhorting a diligent study and evaluation of nature and the sciences. Freemasons are repeatedly urged to contemplate the beautiful works of the creation and are reminded that the universe of our earthly existence is the temple of the Almighty Creator, whose divine wisdom and beauty shine forth in the symmetry and order that permeates the whole of the creation. These tenets reflect the concepts of Newton, which were a prime source of inspiration for Anderson and Desaguliers when they wrote the rituals. Why then is modern speculative craft freemasonry so apathetic to the advances continually being made in the broad spectrum of the liberal arts and sciences, that they are not regularly the subjects of philosophical discussion?


The principles enunciated by Anderson and Desaguliers are impressed on the craftsman when he is told that he is expected to study the liberal arts and sciences and to extend his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science, to enable him the better to comprehend and appreciate the wonderful works of the Creator. A contemplation of those subjects highlights many important practical aspects of the knowledge required of an operative freemason, who had to be acutely aware of the character and peculiarities of the materials with which he worked and ingenious in his methods of application. When the craftsman has advanced sufficiently to become a master mason, his attention is dramatically drawn to that mysterious veil of darkness that obscures our knowledge of the future. He is counselled to continue heeding the voice of nature, which constantly bears witness to the fact that a vital and immortal spirit, the soul, exists within our perishable bodies. He is also told that the veil, which screens the mind from the ultimate knowledge, can be penetrated only with the help of that Divine Light from above, when the spirit shall return to its Creator at the close of this transitory mortal existence. These teachings reflect the practical aspects of a master mason's training, because he had to be especially aware of the elements of nature that would affect the safety and durability of the structure he was required to design and construct for the client.


Aspects of modern science


It is appropriate to ask if the remarkable discoveries in archaeology, astronomy, cosmology, mathematics and physics have disproved any fundamental concepts of freemasonry. They have not, but should enhance a freemason's understanding of the omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience of the Divine Creator. The theory of the "big bang" as the origin of our universe does not eliminate the need for a Creator. Modern science has proved that our universe could not have evolved spontaneously out of nothing. Nor is it a purely mechanical machine, which some had proposed on the basis of Newton's gravitational theory, erroneously assuming the clockwork precision with which the heavenly bodies move in relation to each other could begin without any applied external force. It is vitally important that every freemason should continually seek the truth, as did Newton. This is aptly illustrated in the Memoirs of Newton, which were written by Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), the Scottish physicist who invented the kaleidoscope. He quotes Newton as saying:


"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." 


Darwin believed that the Creator originally breathed life into a few forms, from which endless varieties of wonderful and beautiful forms have descended. Simple observations of everyday life and the fossil records illustrate how life has evolved in its many forms. The theory expounding the fixity of the species was derived from ideas that had been implanted during the religious suppression of the Dark Ages, which clearly cannot be sustained. Mules, tigons and the vast array of hybridised plants alone are sufficient to prove that fixity of the species is a fallacy. What might be called the "either creation or evolution" syndrome must surely be equally fallacious, having regard to both the lack of consistency and the progressive changes that have been observed to occur in one or another single species. Clearly it is possible for created species to evolve. Equally as hard to understand is the closed mind approach that some have to modern science. Some freemasons have even expressed the erroneous view that any discussion of the precepts of freemasonry in terms of modern science is tantamount to changing the ancient landmarks. Such a view clearly is contrary to the principles enunciated by Anderson and Desaguliers when drafting the rituals. Similar comments apply concerning the discussion of religion and politics, which may and often should be discussed on a comparative or universal basis, though neither on a sectarian basis nor in such a manner as would promote a partisan cause. Regrettably such philosophic discussions are rarely held in lodges.


Remarkable discoveries and advances have been made in science since Anderson and Desaguliers were members of the Royal Society. These include the quantum theory of the German theoretical physicist, Max Planck (1858-1947), proposed in 1900 to explain the emission of heat and light from a hot body. Another is the uncertainty principle enunciated by Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), a German quantum physicist, which says that if the momentum of a particle is known precisely its position is uncertain and vice versa. The theories of relativity, published in 1905 and 1916 by the German-Swiss-American mathematical physicist, Albert Einstein (1879-1955), are very different from Newton's concept of absolute space and time and also from Planck's quantum theory. Although the theories of relativity contradict Newton's concept of controllable measurement, nevertheless Newton's laws are still relevant and adequate for use in everyday life. However it is the uncertainty principle, or chaos, that is of immediate interest because it applies to the everyday universe we can see and touch. Chaos must be considered in relation to entropy, the arrow of time that points irrevocably from order to disorder, reflecting the fact that in nature everything moves towards a state of balance or equilibrium, which is when entropy has reached its maximum and complete disorder prevails.


There are at least three arrows of time, which almost certainly are interrelated and are concerned with the thermodynamic, gravitational and cosmological effects of nature. Superficially the universe appears orderly and controlled, reflecting Newton's laws. However, it is anticipated that the universe will ultimately reach a state of equilibrium, which is commonly called heat death, because all of the stars will then have ceased to be incandescent and the temperature of the universe will have fallen to absolute zero, or -273°C. This paradoxically is the temperature required for a perfect crystal to be in a state of perfect order. Chaos in relation to the gravitational arrow of time is illustrated strikingly by black holes, where gravity is so strong that nothing entering a black hole can ever escape. These examples may not seem relevant to everyday life, but they certainly are real in relation to eternity, which we believe to be our destiny.


The duality of order and chaos


Chaos is a science of everyday things, where order and chaos coexist in much the same way as waves and particles coexist in light. Even the simplest systems in nature are extremely complex and quite unpredictable, to the extent that order and chaos arise spontaneously without any obvious assignable cause. Probably the best-known example of such apparently chaotic occurrences is the El Niño effect in the Pacific Ocean, which has a significant influence on the weather. It is caused by slight and as yet quite unpredictable regional variations in the surface temperature of the ocean, which produce extended droughts or flooding rains on the adjacent landmasses. Such relationships between cause and effect are commonly referred to as the butterfly effect, an expression first used in 1979 by Edward Lorenz, an American mathematician and meteorologist in his paper entitled Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?


Chaos is not confined to the physical elements, but has been found to apply equally to the humanities. The incidence of viral infection on an international scale; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; and the decline in modern speculative freemasonry are examples. James Gleick gives an interesting exposition on the phenomenon in Chaos, Making a New Science. In the era of Newton, Anderson and Desaguliers, the wonderful symmetry of nature was acclaimed as the ultimate expression of God's wisdom and beauty. Modern science has revealed that the visible universe is only an external veneer that is no less beautiful than previously regarded, but which conceals an infinite variety of more intricate and wonderful universes in miniature. Chaos, like entropy, cannot be reversed without some input from an external source.


Thus the arrow of time points unerringly to our inevitable destiny, reminding us that only the return of our souls to the Creator and their survival in eternity can restore order and save us from oblivion. The following quotations from Cato, which was written by Joseph Addison (1672-1719) at about the same time as the first speculative rituals were prepared, is worth contemplation:


"It must be so - Plato, thou reasonest well!

Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,

This longing after immortality?


'Tis heaven itself, that points out an hereafter,

And intimates eternity to man.

Eternity! thou pleasing, dreadful thought!"

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