The Invention of Air (and soda)

  1. In his novel, Johnson asserts, through his detailed analysis of Joseph Priestley’s life, that the air pump and/or electricity should be modes of fear for governmental organizations and religious groups. These newfound technologies, and the fact that people are engaging in conversations about them, will create unavoidable consequences for these two institutions (229). Johnson writes that these new inventions have the power to make us rewrite the Bible, invent whole new modes of government, and think up completely new ideas of social construction (239). The emphasis on the air pump and technology also gave people some other reason besides God to explain natural occurrences (148). The riots that Johnson mentions on page 185 also explains how religious and governmental groups can push back against new inventions and ideas that Priestly had. Priestly was essentially forced out of countless places (ultimately finding himself in America) because of his ideas on vegetation, war, and sunlight (178).   
  2. I think that the entire issue of climate change is one that Johnson’s writing could reflect upon because it has both political and religious ramifications. This could also be applied to eugenics for the same reasons. They also provide the theoretical workings of nature and God and therefore encourage theoretical explanations. I think that Priestly would agree that these two examples have a lot of power over us as a society because they pose as moral dilemmas, urging us to pick a side and deal with the outcomes of that choice. I think that the government could be afraid of eugenics in particular because it defies religious teachings and party lines, which could lead a government to lose control of the people that it oversees. Countless people in history are also exonerated from their ideas and beliefs, even if they become ‘fact’ in the future. Copernicus, Darwin, Jenner are all scientists whose ideas were discredited purely because they upended the beliefs of the church, and therefore, society. 

1 thought on “The Invention of Air (and soda)”

  1. I really like how you summarized the Johnson text. It is interesting how different people who brought new ideas and “truths” to the frontlines (especially via science) throughout history have been persecuted by political, economic and religious interests. Priestly who in some ways challenged God and thus the prevent religious-political system at the time had to go to America with his family to avoid persecution. I agree with you that climate change and eugenics are two contemporary issues in science that Johnson’s readings can help us to understand. Both these issues have moral and ethical consequences that will be challenged politically and religiously. By understanding and reading Johnson’s book we can better understand these challenges. Nice work!

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