Fear of the Future

Religions have reason to fear things like air pumps and electricity not for the science behind them, but for the revelations that may come with them. In the book, Johnson writes about how Priestley was ultimately driven out of England because of what his scientific revelations led him to believe. Priestley began questioning the divinity of the saints of the Church. He didn’t feel like they should be worshiped the way they were because, to him, it felt more like Paganism. The dilemma for the church was that if he was questioning the divinity of saints, and writing multiple papers about how saints are not the divine people the church saw them as, what was stopping him from doing the same about God? With new knowledge, and people beginning to question the instance of supernatural thinking (which is what the church needs), people began to question the church’s authority. Governments also had to fear these scientific advancements because of the threats they also posed. Considering the discovery of new gases along with phlogiston, they were scared of what those things combined could have the potential to do, especially since Priestley was always keen to share his findings with anyone.

While Johnson’s work focuses mostly on Joseph Priestley, I think it also shines a light on how unwilling people can be to change or adapt to a new way of thinking. Priestley himself was unwilling to adapt to a new way of thinking when it came right down to it. Sometimes scientific advances can scare people, even if it makes things better, like GMOs which have been around since humans first started farming and domesticating plants and animals.

1 thought on “Fear of the Future”

  1. I like what you said about the relationship between religion, government and innovation. I especially liked how you went into detail with religion. I thought that was interesting. I would agree with you that religions and governments don’t like innovation due to the new knowledge that is gained, which may cause people to question authority. Governments and religions have reason to be afraid of new technological innovations like air pumps and electrical machines because they have the potential to make people think for themselves. Innovation encourages people to challenge the status quo, to challenge current belief systems. Obviously, this is exactly the opposite of what governments and religions want. I think you do an excellent job of discussing this in your blog post. While I do agree with you about Priestley’s unwillingness to change and the public perception of science, I would also add that Priestley helped guide generations of scientists. His perseverance in his pursuit of science and his belief that Christianity had flaws is an inspiration to radicals everywhere. Priestley was kind of a unicorn; he talked and wrote about all fields and disciplines; science, religion, education, and government to name a few. I really enjoyed reading your post! Good job:)

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