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In 1543, an event called the scientific revolution began to capture the attention of many Europeans. In fact, the 16th and 17th centuries held most of the greatest developments of science and mathematics. Before then, scholars used the Bible to determine what was true, and some challenged those ideas through observation. There were many scientists, mathematicians, astronomers, and philosophers who starting coming up with new theories and ideas. Some of the inventions that come from this time are still used today. These ideas that were starting to spread began to make the population think differently, which began to frighten the Catholic Church. The advances in science and mathematics in Europe caused many to question religion and previous beliefs taught by the church.
Before the scientific revolution, the church made many assumptions about how the world works from the Bible and ancient Greek and Roman authors. Scientists say that the ‘scientific revolution was built upon the foundation of ancient Greek learning and science in the Middle Ages, as it had been elaborated and further developed by Roman/Byzantine science and medieval Islamic science’. Scholars believed and taught to others that the earth was in the center of the universe, and since the sun sets and rises, they believed that the sun revolves around it. They also believed that the planets moved in perfect circles around the earth. This theory is referred to as the geocentric theory. Christianity taught that this was true and philosopher, Aristotle and astronomer, Ptolemy said this to be true as well. But when scholars began publishing their ideas, a new way of life began to grow. Martyn Shuttleworth, an academic writer, states that during this time period, ‘scholars adopted empiricism, proposing the idea that theories should be based upon human observations and experience. The universe operated like a soulless machine, without the hand of God behind every unexplained phenomenon, although many scholars, even Newton, felt that there was room for a creator’. The invention of the printing press helped the flow of ideas throughout the population. The scientists and their tools and observations during this time period resulted in a major turning point in history.
The scientists and philosophers of this time used previous discoveries to expand upon. They found that some of the church’s teaching were not correct. There are many who contributed to the ideas and inventions that were brought forth, but some are more well known.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), for example, created the heliocentric theory. This theory states that the sun is in the center of the solar system. Before, the church had taught that the earth was the center of the solar system, calling this the geocentric theory. Scientists say ‘it remains true to say that the switch from an Earth-centered universe to a Sun-centered planetary system had revolutionary consequences’. Copernicus also used mathematics to determine the distance between the planets and the sun. He also proved that the earth rotates daily on its axis and that the earth has a specific orientation in space. Another well-known scientist is Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). He is best known for telescopic observations of the phases of Venus, the analysis of sunspots, the observations of Saturn’s rings, and the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter. In 1610, Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius, where he had most of his observations recorded.
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was another scientist who had an impact on the world with his observations. Brahe was an astronomer and had some of the most accurate observations before the invention of the telescope. He also determined accurate positions of more than 777 stars. When he died, he left all of his experimental data to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who had been his assistant for a few of the previous years. He published his first book, Mysterium cosmographicum in 1596. Kepler used the discoveries of Copernicus to determine that the orbits of the planets are elliptical, not circular. He explained this is his book Astronomia nova, published in 1609. Kepler’s second law states that a line that connects a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times. His final law states that ‘The time required for a planet to orbit the sun, called its period, is proportional to long axis of the ellipse raised to the 3/2 power. The constant of proportionality is the same for all the planets’. When Kepler died, he provided the groundwork for Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727). He invented calculus so that he and future scientists and mathematicians could have a way of measuring how things move. His most famous discovery are the laws of movement, which he published in his book Principia in 1687. His first law states that every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. The second law states that the relationship between an object’s mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma.
Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was also an important figure during this time. He was the first to use the scientific method in chemistry. He is referred to as the founder of modern chemistry. He published a book in 1661 called The Sceptical Chymist. In this book, Boyle ‘challenged Aristotle’s idea that the physical world consisted of four elements ― earth, air, fire, and water. Instead, Boyle proposed that matter was made up of smaller primary particles that joined together in different ways’. Boyle’s law was his most significant contribution to chemistry. The law ‘explains how the volume, temperature, and pressure of gas affect each other’. These scientists had to make sacrifices to continue their observations because some of them had been very much frowned upon by the Catholic Church. Although they could have been punished and tormented by the church, they continued to expand the population’s knowledge with their theories, laws, and inventions.
Not only were theories and laws being proposed during this time, there were also inventions being created. This opened up more opportunities for scientists to further explain their research to the public, other scientists, and even the church. For example; Galileo Galilei invented the first telescope in 1593. His design was simple and allowed for other scientists to expand upon in and make it even more efficient. This is an instrument that is very important in present day. In 1595, Zacharias Janssen created the first compound microscope. This instrument was very advanced for the time. The telescope was invented in 1609 by Hans Lippershey, and later improved by Galileo. The telescope was used to study planets and stars, and helped scientists get the observations they needed for their theories. Galileo used the telescope to prove Copernicus’s heliocentric theory. In 1644, the first barometer was invented by Evangelista Torricelli. This invention helped people predict the weather more accurately. Finally, Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity surfaced in 1687. Not only were inventions being created, but scientists also tried new ways to experiment. For example, scientists began ‘studying human anatomy based upon the dissection of human corpses, rather than the animal dissections, as practiced for centuries’. Scientists also began studying magnetism and electricity. These instruments and new ways of experimentation were very important for these times because as new ideas began to surface, the scientists and philosophers needed a way to prove their theories and explanations. Without that proof, the population would not follow along with the new ideas. Although the inventions of these instruments were very beneficial to the scientists then and even now, this gave the church even more of a reason to be frightened.
As scientists and philosophers were making observations and making new theories, the church was pushing them to stop. The church was scared that these findings could make the population question their teachings of science, which in turn would make them question their religious teachings and people’s faith. The church at this point had a lot of power, but with people questioning them and hearing about new theories that opposed the church teachings, the church was scared that they would lose their power. In fact, ‘the end of the sixteenth century saw the beginnings of atheism in Europe’. The church was very against Copernicus opposing the geocentric theory with his heliocentric theory, because ‘Christianity taught that God had deliberately placed the earth at the center of the universe’ and the church did not want any new information to surface that went against the Bible. When they found out that Galileo was experimenting and supporting the works of Copernicus, they told him not to defend his ideas. He agreed on behalf of fright that he would be tortured and stayed quiet. He continued to work in quiet and eventually published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The book clearly showed that Galileo had been experimenting and supported the ideas of Copernicus. Upon discovering this, the pope summoned Galileo to Rome to stand trial before the Inquisition. Galileo knelt and was forced to read a signed confession that stated that Copernicus’s discoveries were false. Afterwards, Galileo continued to study in quiet. Still, his work spread through Europe, and in 1992, the Catholic Church made it official that Galileo was right in his observations. Copernicus, on the other hand, never had any persecution or recognition during the time because he died shortly after publishing his book. These two scientists played large roles in developing the groundwork for the Enlightenment, which allowed the population to think freely and become more secular. The scientific revolution and the Enlightenment laid the groundwork for scientists that came after.
The scientific revolution has had a great impact on our lives today. The scientists and philosophers made many discoveries that are still proved to be true today, and without the discoveries of microscopes and telescopes, we would not know nearly half of the facts we know today. The scientific revolution also gave us the scientific method, which is used by scientists today. We know more about animals, plants, outer space, bacteria and humans because we are able to get a closer look into what they really are. Although the church was extremely against the experimentation and questioning, the scientists kept feeding the population new information backed up by facts, and that was the start of Europe becoming more secular. This time period led to the Age of Enlightenment, ‘which centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and emphasized the importance of the scientific method’. Shuttleworth states that the scientific revolution is ‘possibly the biggest change in human society of all time, the transition from the ancient into the modern world. The science of man became the dominating force’.
The advances in science and mathematics in Europe caused many to question religion and previous beliefs taught by the church. When scholars began to challenge the ‘facts’ previously taught by the Bible, they started to provide theories and new ideas, along with inventions that made the church worry. The scientific revolution laid the foundation for modern scientists, and has now become one of the greatest turning points in history.
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