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The Scientific Revolution

Causes of the Scientific Revolution

 The Scientific Revolution Book Cover
The Scientific Revolution is the story of how Europeans broke out of the intellectual stagnation of the Middle Ages. It details the limitations of both the Aristotelian system and theological paradigm of the day, and the way that a new “scientific method” proved superior. It discusses the surprising roles that religion played in science’s early years and concludes with a brief tour through the major fields of science and the scientists who founded them.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Cultural Context
    1. Greek Origins
    2. Knowledge in the Middle Ages
    3. The Impotence of “Learning”
  3. The Problem of Aristotle
    1. Towering Authority
    2. Specific Beliefs
  4. How the Revolution Began
    1. Overturning Aristotle
    2. The Role of Perspective
    3. The Influence of Islam
    4. Martin Luther
    5. Copernicus
  5. The Process of Science
    1. Induction/Deduction
    2. The Scientific Method
    3. The Role of Mathematics
    4. Messy Beginnings
  6. Science and Society
    1. The Church Opposed
    2. Scientists in Favor
    3. Science as a Religious Tool
  7. The World Turned Upside Down
  8. Appendix: Foundations and Founders of a New World View
    1. Mathematics
    2. Astronomy
    3. Chemistry
    4. Biology
    5. Physics
    6. Medicine

Introduction

In Europe, in the 1500s and 1600s, a new way of thinking was invented that completely changed the world. It overturned centuries of established patterns of thought and altered forever how people would view the world. It wasn’t called so at the time, but this radical rearrangement of human thinking would come to be known as Science and the process of inventing it, the Scientific Revolution.

This Scientific Revolution wasn’t a single event. It didn’t happen in a single country. It didn’t happen quickly. It wasn’t caused by any one person. And it wasn’t even a singular way of thinking, at least not in the beginning. Rather, it was the product of two important “discomforts” shared by educated people throughout Europe: 1) a deep resentment of established authority, especially the authority of the Catholic Church; and 2) an irrepressible curiosity about how the world really worked, versus how people were told it worked. These discomforts led to changes in human affairs as profound as anything since the invention of agriculture.

If we were to characterize the Scientific Revolution in the sparest phrasing possible, it might be this: “Theory and Evidence Replaced Faith and Authority.” Prior to the Scientific Revolution, what Europeans “knew” about the world came from two sources: the Catholic Church and Aristotle. The Church represented knowledge from Faith. Aristotle represented knowledge from Authority. By contrast, Science relied on Theory and its confirmation through Evidence to tell humans how the world worked. The use of Theory and Evidence as the primary way of “knowing what you know” signaled a radically different mode of thinking, a profoundly different way of understanding the world.

Of course, it would take several centuries for this new way of thinking to become fully accepted. But it led to a stunning increase in humans’ control over their material world and, eventually, over other people as well. It was this efficacy, more than anything else, that persuaded people of Science’s superiority over religion, at least as far as concerned matters of the physical world. It would catapult Europe and European Civilization to the most powerful position among all the nations of the world.

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