The modern scientific revolution has certainly enabled man to make enormous
strides in harnessing Nature's power and potential for his own purposes. Yet, e
should be careful not to assume too easily that final and complete control is
only a matter of time.
Before the days of freedom of though and research,
progress was held up by ignorance and superstition. Early cosmologies pronounced
the earth flat, the fixed center of the universe. Being flat, it therefore had
edges, precipices in fact, so, wide travel and exploration was discouraged, and
none by the most intrepid would venture far. Religion especially Judaism and the
mediaeval Christianity rooted in Jewish concepts, taught this cosmology as a
religious fact and banned all scientific research based on independent thought.
It was believed that the world was God's -- in the sense that he discouraged
interference and undue investigation, all knowledge necessary to man's salvation
being contained in the Bible. Knowledge, therefore, belonged to the Church. Men
died at the stake to contest this assertion. But it was the Renaissance which
set thought free. Galileo pronounced the earth round. the door was open, and
science struggled free from religion. Thus, the beginning of man's conquest of
nature came about, and it was not until the 20th century, well after the
Darwinian theory of evolution has been fully accepted, that science and religion
came to terms, that the enlightened began to realize it was a case of 'both and'
rather than 'either or.'
But whatever knowledge was groped after the Renaissance, such knowledge had
virtually no practical application, until the 18th century in Britain, which
marked the beginning of the scientific revolution. This was because there was
virtually no such thing as systematic scientific research. From times up to
Watt's steam engine, applied science was almost non-existent. But from 1733
onwards to the present day, discovery has followed discovery with fantastic
speed; the steam engine -- hence industrial machines, 'horseless carriages,' and
railways -- now of course petrol jet, atomic and nuclear power; electricity with
its manifold applications; radio, telegraphy, radar, television; rocket
propulsion and therefore space probes; lighter metals resulting in freedom to
use them for aircraft; plastics, with their thousand one uses; man-made fibers
and a host of others. And apart from these dramatic discoveries, great advances
have been made in medical science, in public health and in crop growing -- to
mention but a few.
The more man probes nature's laws, the more he seems to control nature.
Today, he an extract precious metals from ore -- he can even transmute them; he
can move earth and forests and rapidly lay roads, construct airfields and parts,
build new cities. He can defend himself by using modern weapons, guns, bombs or
missiles. He can ride the earth's surface by car, rail, bicycle and ship; he can
search the sea's bottom by using diving gear, or sail beneath the surface for
months on end in submarines. He can fly over it in jet aircraft high over the
earth's atmosphere. He can photograph the moon from a few kilometers range and
transmit the pictures instantaneously to earth. We have seen him land on the
moon. He can move and till the earth with giant machines. He can defeat disease
by antibiotics and prolong his life by observing scientific health-rules. He can
use natural products as never before; timber for his daily newsprint; coal and
oil for his machines; waterfalls for his hydro-electric plant; steel and
concrete for his buildings; nuclear power to produce his electricity.
There seems to be no end to it all, and it is easy to assume that man will
soon master the world and eventually the universe. This, on reflection, seems to
be a fallacy, for what man is really doing is discovering and applying the
forces of nature -- not inventing them, and in his applications, merely
scratching the surface. Science may probe space, but it cannot defeat the laws
of time and motion. there is no foreseeable way tin which man could ever venture
beyond Mars; Medicine had advanced, but we still suffer from the common cold.
The psychiatrist can diagnose a psychopath, but cannot cure him. The
technologist can make a robot or a computer, but cannot begin to understand the
It seems the giant intelligence we call God has said 'thus far and no
further'. And the facts of man's moral nature give no cause for optimism. The
truth seems to be that man has not and never will master nature. It is nature
which gently tolerates man.