Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning
Mary Midgley in this book discusses the high spiritual ambitions which tend to gather around the notion of science, and, in particular, some very odd recent expressions of them. When everyone viewed the world as God's creation, there was no problem about the element of worship involved in studying it, nor about science's function in mapping people's lives. But now these things have grown puzzling. Officially, science claims only the modest function of establishing facts. Yet people still hope for something much vaster and grander from it--the myths by which to shape and support life in an increasingly confusing age. Even in the past, the myths surrounding science were often strange. This book discusses Francis Bacon's bizarre vision of a 'masculine birth of time', in which the seventeenth-century scientists saw themselves as sexual victors over a prostrate Mother Nature. Today, some scientists are again holding up the prize of the conquest of nature, this time through rocketry, genetic engineering and intelligent computers. These will dominate the entire universe and make our species effectively immortal. They claim, too, that human intelligence played an essential part in bringing the universe into existence in the first place. Science as Salvation discusses the function and meaning of such fantasies, which project onto a cosmic scale the biological drama considered in the author's earlier Evolution as a Religion. Taking them seriously as symptoms of a genuine myth-hunger, it suggests that the proper function of science may need to include wider perspectives which would make it plain that such desperate, compensatory dramas are unnecessary.
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