Why are Governments/Religions Afraid of Oxygen and Electricity?

In Johnson’s Invention of Air, the idea of governments or religions fearing air pumps and electrical machines is mentioned extensively. This idea was first brought about by Priestly in the 18thcentury, and is then further explained and interpreted by Johnson (p. 18).  The process of photosynthesis is key within this argument, as Johnson views the study of politics and economics, and biology and ecology as extremely interdisciplinary (p. 228). This concept is key in understanding why governments and religions should fear technological advances. If technological advances can mimic processes that occur within nature, then what is stopping socially based technological advances. If we as humans continue to advance, at some point governmental or religious institutions may be replaced by our advances; if we have found a way to artificially make oxygen and produce light, what can’t we do? Johnson also mentions that the foundations the United States are founded on are connected, despite the government’s clear policy of the separation of church and state (p. 236). If science, religion, and politics are all connected, if one pillar overtakes the other two, so if science overtakes religion and politics, the entire system of government could potentially fall apart, which is what I think Johnson means when he refers to the idea that governments should fear these technological advances.

I think Johnson’s ideas hold true for many modern technological advances; an extremely prominent scientific advancement that shows the interconnectedness of science, faith, and politics is the improvement in safety and availability of abortion procedures. These procedures have sparked uproar in religious communities as well as political parties currently in power, so much so there had to be a supreme court ruling on the matter. Without the advance of biological technology, this conflict between politics, religion, and science never would’ve been possible, which displays how interconnected all these ideas are. Although I don’t think abortion will be the end of government or religion, it is an idea that portrays why governments and religions may begin to fear technology.

1 thought on “Why are Governments/Religions Afraid of Oxygen and Electricity?”

  1. One of the guarantees of advancement of technology and science, I think, is conflict. Whether it is because that technology can be used in a conflict (Drone warfare, nuclear weapons) or cause conflicts (findings that contradict certain religious beliefs, the potential firestorm from human genetic engineering), the progress of science will inevitably cause an upheaval in society as it happens, not unlike a rake being dragged across soil to churn the dirt it’s being pulled through. There will be debates, disagreement, sometimes violent ones, about how technology is used and if it is appropriate.

    I agree with your note that “if one pillar overtakes the other two, the entire system can fall apart’. Science can outpace the capacity for humans to responsibly wield it; a sign of advancement of a civilization is not only how capable of science they are, but how ‘mature’ and responsible with technology they can be. The Industrial Revolution is such a period in our history where our thirst for progress became too zealous, and became downright irresponsible and exploitative (child labor in factories, cities like London being drowned in smoke, among dozens of other issues and human rights violations). This can even be seen to some extent in developing nations where, in a bid to accelerate the construction of modern infrastructure and industrial capability, and engage in practices like eminent domain to forcibly deprive people of land (this is especially common in China).

    The stereotype of the cold, unfeeling scientist that only wants to experiment that we see in media unfortunately exists for a reason. (Anyone remember how we excused Unit 731 for their war crimes in exchange for them giving us their data? No?) Science must be kept in check, and we need to take it slowly.

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