And with him, came challenge. Challenges of modern beliefs. Modern ways of thinking, interpreting, and understanding. Why should governments or religions fear air pumps and electrical machines? It depends on the definition of the word, “fear.” To fear, is to give something control over your thoughts, your actions. It’s interesting to note that when Priestly discovered oxygen he said it would be “putting an end to all undue and usurped authority in the business of religion, as well as science (133).” At the time, religion and government were very intertwined. To question religion, was often to question government as well. I believe that things like the air pump and electrical machines questioned many aspects of religion and politics. God, who gives breath… but in reality, mint gives breath. Trees give breath. Most plants give breath. But Johnson, through Priestly’s point of view, tried to show that you shouldn’t pick one or the other, Science v. Religion. Rather, they should be should have been studied, in parallel, throughout the Age of Enlightenment. Even more, that all of fields: science, religion, and government should be challenged and investigated by reason.
I think that modern scientific and technological research question morality, more than having political or social consequences. Starting with the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This did have political consequences, as it forced the Japanese to surrender, but it also had moral consequences. Moral consequences that opened a new door of what mankind is capable of, and questioning where the line is. Another example where science and politics collide is transgender people. The ability to change your sexual gender created many issues in society and politics, and solutions had to be made. I think this comes to question the elements of natural philosophy.
The Invention of Air: a Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America, by Steven Johnson, Riverhead Books, 2009, pp. 119–215.