Power to the Pump

I think that governments and religions fear the air pump and the electrical machine because they enabled one of the great spectacles of early Enlightenment science. (Johnson Pg. 75) It seemed like when scientists started to use these new tools they began to become knowledgeable and disbelieve religions and distrust governments. As Priestley continues to research and invent, we see his ideas of politics and religion develop until they “…reached a level of influence that his natural philosophy had attained during the Leeds years a decade before.” (Johnson pg. 180) Also, Priestley believed that science had to power to take authority away from churches and governments. He said that even the air pump and electrical machine had the power to make governments tremble. Priestley was trying to make it very obvious that science could change everything, even something like an air pump or “electrical machine.” It’s not necessarily the air pump that is going to take the authority of the church, but it’s the scientific discoveries that the air pump helps scientists to unearth.


I think that Johnson did a good job of talking about how scientific discoveries can have both political and social consequences. Through our readings this semester, I think it has been made really clear to us that scientific discoveries and advancements always come with consequences, whether they be good, bad, social, political, etc. I don’t think his work necessarily shed a new light on the political and social consequences jus because we have been reading about those consequences the whole semester. I do think he did a good job of talking about the consequences that came with Priestley’s discoveries. Johnson’s work did make me think about current scientific dilemmas like cloning, that cause tons of social problems.


3 thoughts on “Power to the Pump”

  1. Hi Catherine,
    First off, great job writing this post, it is very informative and its clear that you did the Johnson reading and understood it thoroughly. The best part of your post in my opinion was when you touched on how science can take the authority away from religion and governments. Not only was it spot on, but it also was a good interpretation of what Johnson was trying to get at when he and Priestley touch on how changes in the status quo result in problems for governments and religion. One question I have for you, though, is when you talk about cloning at the end of your post. Do you mean cloning in the sense of humans? Or maybe even livestock? Both would be problematic, but I could see people having a bigger problem with human cloning opposed to other styles.

  2. The final few sentences of your first paragraph are a great way of summarizing the entirety of the message of The Invention of Air. Indeed, the point Priestley was trying to get across in his quote, as was Johnson throughout the novel, was that even discoveries which seem small and trivial like the air pump can have scientific implications which disrupt the absolute authority of religions and governments. Science does change everything, particularly the massive religious and political institutions which society hinges on.

  3. I completely agree that governments and religions should, as you said, “tremble” or worry about any scientific inventions. I also agree that the size or potential to harm are not the only factors that contribute to that fear of “air pumps and electrical machines” in large establishments. Small inventions could have an equal impact as that of a more popular invention because the small invention or ideas could lead to new breakthroughs in science. Small ideas are able to grab the attention of the general public, especially if the ideas are portrayed in an efficient manner. Once the general public shares the same ideas of known scientists or shows support of those known scientists in their inventions, change has already begun and there is no going back. All the small ideas and inventions eventually gain popularity, thus threatening religions and governments with change that cannot be ignored.

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