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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Connecting Scientific & Religious Revolution

Check out Steven Johnson's latest book, The Invention of Air, which is now on the shelves. The book tells the story of Joseph Priestly, the British chemist who discovered oxygen and, in 1771, the fact that it is created by plants and used up by animals. But Priestly, a pioneer in science, was a radical when it came to religion. A "heretic" of "unshakable faith," writes Johnson, Priestly, who staunchly believed in God yet rejected the divinity of Jesus, helped establish the first Unitarian Church in England and "considered half of modern Christianity to be a bunch of Pagan hocus-pocus." Persecuted for his beliefs—after he wrote a treatise on the "corrupts of Christianity," a mob torched his house—he fled to America, where he impacted both theological and political thinking. In essence, says Johnson, the theme of the book is "how innovative ideas emerge and spread in a society."