The Legacy of Gunpowder Joe…

Unlike any famous person alive today, Joseph Priestley was an outspoken scientist, theologian, and politician at the same time. According to Johnson, Priestley’s Observations on Air, written in 1774, was the first time that the march of scientific progress was explicitly linked to political change,” (Johnson pg,133). This is when Priestley stated that the English government should “tremble at the air pump or electrical machine.” Priestley was a very influential revolutionary because of his scientific successes, and the community within which the great thinkers of the time were in. The open information networks like the Honest Whigs, Lunaticks, and all the letters that were written back and forth, were vital in the mens’ successes at the time. This open-information style allowed Lavoisier to improve upon Priestley’s experiments with gun powder, which played a major role in America gaining independence from England, for instance. Johnson writes “an idea that flows throughout a society does not grow less useful as it circulates; most of the time, the opposite occurs: the idea improves” (Johnson pg. 204). 

Johnson’s ecological model of analyzing energy flow throughout a society is very interesting and particularly imperative in understanding both Priestley and the future of science. He asserts there is “a recurring theme of human history; major advances in human history are invariably triggered by dramatic increases in the flow of energy through society,” (Johnson pg. 113). This statement has major implications to the future we now face. Since fossil fuels are finite, and quickly being depleted, scientific research is geared towards developing alternatives, and the political arena is also very concerned with our current energy situation. It is a modern example of the marriage between science, politics, and religion. There is a monetary interest in both fossil fuels and renewable research, funding of which is shaped by politics. There are also people that believe Jesus’ Second Coming is nye, and don’t see what the big deal is about global climate change on religious grounds.

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