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Has increasing our knowledge of the structure of the atom been good for mankind or has it harmed mankind?

Thank You
Question Date: 2010-05-17
Answer 1:

The answer to your question is sort of both. Though humankind (we tend to use this term in social science to include both men and women) can be discussed as one group, it is made of up heterogeneous people that experience the world very differently. Some of these people have seen a lot of benefits from advances in science, while others have not. It all depends on who you are.

Often it is not the scientific knowledge itself, but the technologies that have resulted from this knowledge have direct impacts on peoples lives. For example, humankinds knowledge of atomic structure has allowed for the creation of nuclear technologies, like nuclear imaging that helps to fight cancer, the production of energy that doesnt release greenhouse-gases and the creation of the nuclear bomb that helped to end World War II. While these technologies are obviously beneficial for some, many people do not have access to cancer treatment, nuclear waste (a hazardous by-product of nuclear energy facilities) has been stored in the ground near Native American reservations in Utah and the residents of Hiroshima surely didnt benefit from having a bomb dropped on their community. In short, as with most things, there are both winners and losers when it comes to our knowledge of atomic structure.

Answer 2:

'Has it been good' or 'has it harmed' is a judgment question and not something that science per se can answer. Atomic physics has enabled us to make great strides in various kinds of chemistry, materials science, and, most iconically, energy. Most of these developments have helped people - but there are, of course, the few exceptional inventions (most of them weapons) that might or might not spell doom.

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