Priestly Perspective

Priestly was a true renaissance man. He was able to blend science, religion, and politics into a rational series of beliefs that as Johnson describes as extremely rare for humans throughout history. When he spoke of the political and religious ramifications of air pumps and electric machines he was speaking of the effects scientific rationalism would have on the theological and political thinking of humans. Priestly believed that science and rational thinking would force humans to think deeply about the true reasons we believe in our fundamental principals of faith and power. Rational thinking would shed light on the irrational beliefs humans have and what would ultimately be left would be a fully grounded set of universal understandings. Priestly stated, “The only method of attaining to a truly valuable agreement is to promote the most perfect freedom of thinking and actin… in order that every point of difference may have an opportunity of being fully canvassed, not doubting but the . . . Truth will prevail, and that then a rational, firm, and truly valuable union will take place” (Johnson, pg. 147) In other words, rational thinking has the capability of dismantling the prevailing beliefs that hold are religious and political systems together, thus this is the fear Priestly speaks of.


I do believe that Johnson’s book gives a solid example of what we could experience today. Science has dramatic affects on society today, possibly more than that of Priestley’s time. Advancements in military and medical technology have changed the field of politics. We can manipulate many aspects of nature and have vast knowledge at our fingertips giving us the dangerous feelings that we are god. This level of power that an individual can feel could forever change the way we interact as a society. We must have this thought perpetually in our minds if we are to continue to engage as humans in a respectful way.