What was the Scientific Revolution? Who were its representatives? How did the ideas of people like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Descartes change the worldview of Europeans? How did the...

What was the Scientific Revolution? Who were its representatives? How did the ideas of people like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Descartes change the worldview of Europeans? How did the Scientific Revolution contribute to the modern world?

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The Scientific Revolution was not a "movement" in the sense of an artistic or political one, where certain associated figures are attempting to enact or participate in actions directed toward a particular goal. Rather, it is the collective term for a progressive series of investigations and discoveries that resulted in a transition away from the established view of the universe, and towards the modern definition of science, from about the mid-1500s to the early 1700s.

Prior to the Scientific Revolution, "science" existed in the form of such disciplines as astronomy and alchemy, but it did not ascribe to the modern standards of these practices, and they often overlapped with religion and philosophy. While the Christian worldview was dominant, Greek scientific and philosophical views were held in esteem, particularly those of Aristotle. Aristotle famously rejected the ideas of several of his contemporaries which, ironically, were closer to the modern scientific worldview than his own, such as the atomism of Democritus. One of Aristotle's most lofty pieces was On The Heavens, which established the pre-Scientific Revolution view of the universe's structure.

The Scientific Revolution altered this view in several distinct ways;

  • Copernicus forwarded a hypothesis that the Sun, and not the Earth, was the center of the solar system. This challenged the established view of the Earth as the focus of all life.
  • Galileo established that Jupiter had moons, which directly contradicted Aristotle's vision of perfection.
  • Newton, via calculus, gravity and the laws of motion, explained a "mechanical universe", not dependent upon mysticism or religion to explain or predict natural phenomena.

While these challenges were regularly met with incredulity, hostility and religious condemnation, the fact that they could not be demonstrated to be wrong diminished the power of the church, and opened new opportunities for scientific investigation. Science was initially not necessarily a profitable pursuit, and many early scientists had rich benefactors, were rich themselves, or practiced science as a hobby. Communication was, of course, limited, but generally open among scientists when possible, as each sought to understand, replicate or expand upon the discoveries of another.

One of the effects of this altered worldview was the idea of a more "naturalistic" explanation for reality, leading to a diminished interpretation of the Bible; it became less common to view the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, as a literal account of what happened in the early universe. In modern times, some have argued that science has simply replaced Christianity, but has not replaced religion, and has in fact become a religion itself; since many scientists go on the "faith" of their belief in the scientific method, and do not actually perform each and every experiment themselves, then science is arguably no different than personal revelation. This was a recurring theme in the Romantic period, where diminishing faith in literal Christianity was replaced by an altered sense of religion rather than its complete rejection.


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