The Debate Over Science and Technology in the Early Republic

by jennifer.gargan on October 30, 2013

This week during the seminar, we discussed the relationship between science, society, and government.  We read several different articles about the development of science during the first half of the 19th century, as well as one article about stem cell research today.  One part of the discussion was centered on a comparison between science and morality or religion.  Most of the class felt that science was a methodology rather than a system of morality and that it lacked certain aspects that would make it a belief system, like a religion.  During the discussion, many different opinions were also shared about whether or not the government should be involved in scientific endeavors and to what degree science serves society.  We all seemed to agree that traditionally people in power have used science for their own agenda and that science does not evolve by itself.  In our reading, we learned that as the 19th century progressed, there was a professionalization of science.  Scientists were now becoming college-educated, trained professionals, contrary to Thomas Jefferson’s notion that all men could be men of science.  Thus, the public was being separated from this group and was only being fed certain information through other means.  Some of these methods of information transmission were examined during the portion of the class in the library.  The source that I examined was a sermon about the telegraph from 1858.  During our previous discussion, we came to the consensus that science and religion have tended to not mesh very well.  Thus, I was quite surprised to see a different opinion in this sermon.  This preacher asserted that the transatlantic telegraph was a great invention and that technological inventions are clearly gifts from God, that are given at very specific and appropriate times.  He cited many examples of this, such as the printing press, which was essential in spreading Luther’s messages.  It was very interesting to see this belief that technology was a gift from the divine to help mankind and spread religion.  This was not something I had encountered before and I will be sure to examine future sources for this type of belief as well.



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