The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment together shaped the modern world. Galileo (1564–1642) was a scientist who personified a new way of approaching problems. His insights revolutionized our understanding of astronomy, and his methods were emulated by later scientists. The Enlightenment was a much broader movement that encompassed many spheres, not just science. The Enlightenment produced first-rate intellectuals known as philosophes.
Modern science was influenced by the illustrious and brilliant career of Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). His scientific theories explained the universe in a new way—a way based on math and investigation. Newton's revolutionary theories were published in his Principia (1687). Centuries later, Albert Einstein said that Newton's ideas laid the foundation for modern physics. The rise of science made organized religion less important as scientists and philosophes replaced monks as the leading intellectuals.
Piety ceased being the pillar of European society. One could find the answers to questions about the universe in the Principia, instead of the Bible. But this change was not immediate. The Salem Witch Trials was underway five years after the publication of the Principia.
The Enlightenment undermined monarchy and hereditary aristocracy, and it helped lay the groundwork for the rise of democratic governments. Kings had based their reigns on their "divine right" to govern. The philosophes boldly challenged this idea. Their thinking influenced America's Founding Fathers and the course of the French Revolution.
There were many brilliant philosophes, but the achievements of Denis Diderot (1713–1784) stand out. He wrote the Encyclopedie, perhaps the world's first encyclopedia. In the eighteenth century, attempting to collect all of humankind's knowledge was an ambitious undertaking.