One Powerful Air Pump

In Observations on Air, written in 1774, Joseph Priestly relates the effects of a surge of knowledge on religion to the effects of scientific advancement and invention on politics and government. For centuries, religious establishments had held power in Europe and around the world. A rapidly growing movement of Enlightened science was threatening the established authority of religious institutions (Johnson 148). Priestly claims that the elevation of the scientific mind, alongside the growing inclusion of science into mainstream thought, will be the cause of a shift in the political world similar to the religious model. Of course, Priestly does not mean that governments and religions should fear air pumps and electrical machines in the literal sense, but that those who are in positions of power created hundreds of years prior should fear the coming change. The invention of new technologies parallels a new mindset that threatens the symbolic foundations that have been maintained for centuries through propaganda and self-claimed authority. Priestly goes on to claim that even his own homeland (England) is not immune to the coming change.

In the current day and age, science and scientific research are more prominent than ever before. And while scientific discoveries today may not be perceived as blasphemous or high treason as they may have been in the 1700’s, there are still many areas of research that are closely tied with politics and religion. An example can be found when one looks at almost any of the research fields dealing in the human genome or genetics. Advances in genetic engineering and embryonic stem cell technologies are sure discussed within the scope of religion and ethics. Similarly, we are sure to see policy implemented regarding these innovations. If the research done results in advances significant enough, it is very likely that we may experience a large change in religious and political views as society.