Mission to Abisko: Stories and Myths in the Creation of Scientific "Truth"

By Anders Karlqvist | Go to book overview

1 THE ANALOGY OF NATURE

JOHN D. BARROW

The popularization of science has become a genre of our times: a bridge between the incomprehensible world of science and the comfortable familiarity of the arts. Its history is long. Not least among the reasons for the displeasure breathed upon Galileo was his dangerous habit of divulging his revolutionary discoveries to the educated general public in the vernacular. In Newton's time, popularization in England began to have an ulterior motive. The unveiling of the laws of Nature to reveal the universality, simplicity and harmony behind the cacophony of the appearances was presented as the ultimate proof of the design of Nature, and hence of a Grand Designer behind the scenes. Whilst few had read Newton, many had read about him, and there sprang up a crop of eccentric popular books presenting "Newtonian" theories of just about everything, like Desaguliers' Newtonian System of the World, the best model of government. The most successful was probably Count Francesco Algarotti's Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy for the Use of the Ladies, which was not quite as condescending as it sounds. It was something of an enlightened novelty to present physics and mathematics to such an audience.

In recent years, scientists in the U.K. have been under attack from commentators, like Brian Appleyard, who see the exposition of new ideas in science as undermining the fabric of society and human values. They have argued that modern science creates an environment where certainty is indefensible, conservatism is

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