Scientific Revolution

Kassidey Watson

Scientific Revolution: A Definition

The scientific revolution was the advancement of thought and belief in science, mathematics, and politics in the 16th and 17th centuries. The approach to science and mathematics changed from a lack of fact gathering and methodology to the use of logic and reasoning and the scientific method. The medieval "natural philosophers" stopped using the idea that things happened simply because God willed it so (teleology) and began experimenting with empiricism, the idea that reality consists of what one experiences. In its nature, empiricism began to push the church's buttons.

I believe that an intellectual revolution, like this one, is much more lasting than one of politics because it can not be so easily reversed. In England in the early sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I left England without an heir and thus all her hard work in keeping the peace in England was temporarily shattered due to the change of authority to Oliver Cromwell. However, once the people began using and pursuing more knowledge, it could not be reversed because there could be no way to stop a person from knowing something.

Medieval Science

In the Dark Ages, science wasn't so much science as it was philosophy. In fact, contemporary scientists called themselves "natural philosophers." Science was centered around ideas and not formal fact-gathering and hypotheses.

1. Astronomical Theories and Scientific Worldview

Copernicus (1473-1543) was an astrologist born in Poland, who was originally in training to become a priest in Italy. Astrology, the study of the heavenly bodies, was a big part of his studies. He began living and working with an astronomy professor, helping to solve the many mathematical problems associated with the then accepted Aristotle theory model of the solar system, where Earth was its center. His findings led him to propose the heliocentric theory, claiming that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the solar system.

Tycho Brahe (1564-1601), who also studied astrology, was born into a noble family in Denmark. He tended to cling to Aristotle theory of the universe. Despite not owning a telescope, Brahe was able to document the most detailed and accurate observations of space at that time. He observed the supernova Cassiopeia and a comet that helped him to prove that the heavens do in fact change. He later created a mode of the universe where the five known planets orbited the Sun, but the Sun orbited Earth.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), like Copernicus, was also studying to become a priest. He defended his work and published evidence of its truth, despite the disapproval of the Church. Later, while trying to study the work of Brahe, he became Brahe's assistant in Prague. However, instead of sharing his work, Brahe assigned Kepler to work out the problem of Mars' problematic retrograde, which took him eight years. Through this, Kepler discovered that the orbits of the planets weren't perfect circles as Brahe had thought, but ellipses, disproving the theory of epicycles, or tiny circles made by planets in their orbit. He also did a lot of work on the physics of vision (near- and far-sighted eyes) and light waves.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian scientist working on the mathematical problems of the heliocentric theory. His findings supported that of Copernicus also, but as by now the Church was paying very close attention for heretical works by Galileo, he published it as a mathematical discovery. In his earlier years, he had experimented with the lenses of a telescope, making his own that could magnify up to three times better than that of other contemporary telescopes. With this, he discovered the craters on the Moon, the rings of Saturn, and also then-undiscovered Neptune. He named the moons of Jupiter after the Medici's to win support. Galileo was a firm believer that the world and its nature could all be explained mathematically, and proved this many times. For many people, this information was more powerful and lasting than the controversial physical observations to that date.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) was born in England. In his own time, he studied and established a basis for physics. By age 22, he had already proposed his three laws of universal gravitation, or the way objects moved through mutual interaction. He also developed ideas and established theories with centrifugal/centripetal force and the effects and characteristics of bodies in motion. He, like Galileo, explained his observations through mathematics. Newton strongly upheld the concept of empiricism when observing anything.

2. Impact of New Science on Philosophy

The idea that nature and the world were all just a machine arose during the scientific revolution that heavily influenced the thinking at this time. Instead of a divine creation, philosophers began viewing the world as a mechanism - cold, hard, and mathematical.

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was known as the founder of empiricism because of his strong influence on the way natural philosophers and investigators of science approached the phenomena of nature. In stead of relying on the ancient forebears of knowledge for explanations and simply fine-tuning those, Bacon pressed for scientists to go out into the world and find new things to explain.

The idea of the mechanism influenced politics as well very much. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were very obvious inspired by this idea.

Hobbes was a political philosopher who believed that people, left to their own selfish devices, had great potential for conflict and destruction because of their human rights and desires. This is why no safety, security, or authority could exist without compliance from all. Human beings were creatures who needed masters. Locke, however less original, rejected the notion of patriarchalism. He had a close association with the earl of Shaftesbury, who had started a rebellion against Charles II. Locke believed that humans in their natural state enjoy freedom and liberty and defend these with reason and goodwill. They join in government to protect those rights.

I would rather live under Locke's government as he believed that the government was there simply to protect the rights and property of the people as well as keep religious toleration intact. However, under Hobbes' government people would have to be completely compliant and give up many of the their natural rights for the sake of peace and order.

3. Social Setting of Early Modern Science

While philosophy and science were booming in their own realms, they were still noticeably disembodied from society and universities. Although some new ideas and knowledge were creeping into universities and classes, its development was slow. Medical and scientific universities welcomed new advancements, but they were still reluctant. Because of this, new societies and institutions (like the Royal Society of London) were founded that were conducive for gathering, exchanging, and debating ideas and information. These societies, usually composed of the elite, created a crossroads with those outside of the elite class that had skills that were important in finding new sciences. These societies began applying their findings in aiding the growth of the economy and government in advances of military, production, and navigation.

4. Women and Science

Women were very much excluded from the scientific community and institutions. Women were also not allowed to attend university or any schooling as it was taught that a woman's brain was inferior to a man's fundamentally. However, some women in the elite class were able to participate in the pursuit of knowledge. Margaret Cavendish, for example, married to the duke of Newcastle, was the only woman allowed to attend a meeting of the Royal Society of London, and was known to debate with Hobbes and Descartes on philosophy and understood the new science. Other women who were interested in the sciences were usually from the artisan class and learned through being assistants to their fathers, brothers, or sons, but were never fully acknowledged themselves for their findings. Maria Cunitz, a German astronomer, worked through her husband and yielded great ability. When he passed, she formally applied to continue his work, but was denied based on her gender.

Women in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries held a traditional role in the home and almost no where else.

5. The New Science and the Catholic Church

Many of the natural philosophers of the scientific revolution felt they were supporting the Catholic Church when they made these great discoveries, however, with the Church being constantly undermined during the last few centuries, the Church was becoming very defensive to heresy and sin. Galileo, who was a supported of Copernican theory, began openly opposing the Church's views. He was later condemned for this and required to renounce his views. Science was shown to be a touchy subject with the Roman Catholics.

Blaise Pascal, on the other end, hoped to blend the new sciences and faith. He refuted that reason and science belonged in the same domain as religion. he did not believe that reason should or could explain religion and for this reason denied atheists and deists.

Francis Bacon was a supported in the belief that the Bible and nature were irrefutable connected, as one could easily be connected to and support the other. This led to an understanding of the new sciences as a means to improve their lives and stop irrational wars from occurring. Writer's like John Ray believed people were placed on Earth to learn of it and then improve it. So naturally, this theory included economic expansion because this was one of the improvements they were hoping to create.

6. Witchcraft and Witch Hunts

The witch hunts that occurred due to the scientific revolution can be explained as mass misunderstanding of the vast revelations of the time. Almost every God-fearing person in Western Europe believed in the power of demons and the occult, which facilitated fears about the sciences and new information that was being discovered. Some where between 70,000 to 100,000 people were being accused of witchcraft in almost every part of Europe due to this ignorance.

This happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and also at the end of the Reformation because societies felt that their traditional defenses against the devil had been taken away by religious wars and political consolidation for loyalty. Instead of their traditions, people depended on themselves to stop witches and demons.

The Western Heritage (Since 1300) - AP* Edition (10th )

Chapter 14: New Directions in Thought and Culture in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries