In Johnson’s Invention of Air, there is the idea discussed that air pumps and electrical machines should produce fear in government and religions. He argues that governments and religions have reason to fear these scientific innovations because of the power they hold (Johnson, pg. 212). The progress that is represented by new innovations such as the air pump and electrical machines also represents the progress of people. Governments and religions don’t always want their followers to believe in progress, which is something that Johnson talks about in this novel. Oftentimes, those who try to push innovations and those who have faith in progress are persecuted by their religions and their governments. Priestley is a prime example of this; he believed in progress, and was vocal in his support of innovation as well as with his views on Christianity. As Johnson says in the last chapter of the novel, faith in science and progress undermines institutions and belief systems, and forces one to question governments and how they function, as well as the teachings of various religions. These are several of the reasons that Johnson argues that governments and religions fear air pumps and electrical machines.
Steven Johnson’s Invention of Air provides several examples of current scientific and technological research that potentially has political and/or social consequences. He talks about global warming, stem cell research, the Internet, and intelligent design, to name a few new fields (Johnson, page 205). Johnson says that these modern day examples of innovation are intertwined with current political and social affairs. These new fields, research, and innovations spawn debates that have consequences in both politics and religion. Modern day examples of technological and scientific research have just as much impact (and consequence) on political and social spheres as they did in Priestley’s day.