In this lesson, you will explore the period when Western society first turned to science as the new way of thinking, called the Scientific Revolution. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Scientific Revolution

Revolution! Grab your torches and pitchforks! We’re having a revolution for;science? Wait, what?

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Turns out, a revolution can refer to more than just a rebellion against the government. Anything that dramatically alters society can be termed a revolution. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe underwent a dramatic change that transformed the understanding of society and nature through a new, scientific logic. This period was called the Scientific Revolution and was the foundation of our modern ideas about science. One of the principle characteristics of this revolution was the scientific method, a new system in which truth is achieved by questioning assumptions and from analyzing scientific data from repeatable experiments. Traditional society held certain assumptions about our place in the universe, so the Scientific Revolution represented a challenge that reformed the Western world.

Major Events

There is no exact date for the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, since this was a period of transformation over time. However, one of the first major events that sparked the new wave of scientific thinking was the publication of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543. This was the first major work to propose that the Earth revolved around the Sun, challenging the traditional belief that the Earth was the center of the universe.

In the early 17th century, the Scientific Revolution got a major boost through the English scientist and philosopher Francis Bacon. Bacon was the first to truly outline the process of designing and carrying out an experiment as the foundation to science. He insisted that rather than assuming anything, all things should be tested through carefully planned scientific experiments. Bacon’s system, first proposed in 1620, became known as the scientific method.

Although there were many other important innovations, let’s skip to the climax of the Scientific Revolution. In 1687, the book series, Principia was published by a man named Isaac Newton. Recognize that name? Newton is considered one of the fathers of modern science, and his Principia was the final nail in the Scientific Revolution that established the new scientific mindset. Newton’s work used the scientific method to challenge the traditional assumptions about physics, math, and nature. With the Principia, the world was ready to abandon the old ways of thinking and embrace Newton’s new ideas, like the theory of gravity. From that point on, the path to truth was through science.

Breakthroughs

The Scientific Revolution was full of new discoveries that changed how people saw the world. One of them was the heliocentric model of the universe. The heliocentric model argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun. This was a direct challenge to the traditional geocentric model, in which the Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus was the first to really advance this theory, and it was built upon by later scientists. Throughout the Scientific Revolution, scientists discovered that the Sun was also not the center of the universe and that planets did not have perfect spherical orbits. Johannes Kepler and Galileo were instrumental figures that used scientific observations to advance these theories.

Another incredibly important breakthrough was the theory of gravity, proposed by Isaac Newton. Newton not only demonstrated that gravity existed, but also suggested that gravity was the force responsible for the movement of planets. From this, he developed the laws of motion, which defined the relationship between an object and the forces that make it move. A common expression of this is that a body in motion remains in motion, and a body at rest remain at rest unless influenced by another force.

Effects of the Scientific Revolution

One of the direct influences of the Scientific Revolution was the development of industrial machines, a process that began in this time period. The scientists of the Scientific Revolution designed several new tools to test their experiments that could produce consistent, accurate results. One prominent example is the earliest version of a steam engine, originally patented in 1689 to pump water.

This had two important effects. First, it introduced society to a wider range of uses for machines, which until this time were only used occasionally. Secondly, it changed the social mindset about machines. Since machines were starting to be used instead of human hands to produce a more accurate result in science, people saw technology as a way to correct human error. Machines could be made to do anything a person could do and do it more accurately and reliability. It’s no coincidence that the Industrial Revolution, the transition to industrial society, began in the mid-18th century.

This changing attitude about machines reflects the real impact of the Scientific Revolution. Remember, it is called a revolution because it caused a major shift in how people thought. For centuries, people held onto traditional assumptions and did not question them. Tradition and logic were the sources of truth. After the Scientific Revolution, this began to change. Science, supported by non-biased experiments, became the fountain of all knowledge. Even to this day, we still deeply rely on the scientific method to compensate for human error and divine the truths of the world.

Lesson Summary

Science. Science. Science. Science. Science. Sometimes, that’s all we hear. Science. Why do we rely so much on science? From the 16th to the 18th centuries, a wave of scholars proposed a new way of thinking that transformed society through the elevation of science as the source of truth, called the Scientific Revolution. Key to this was the scientific method, the use of carefully designed experiments to produce non-biased data and challenge assumptions. This system was developed by Francis Bacon, an English scientist.

But before that, the Scientific Revolution really began when Copernicus published a book that challenged the view of the Earth as the center of the universe. Copernicus’ new heliocentric model, which stated that the Earth revolved around the Sun, was a major breakthrough of the period. The climax of the Scientific Revolution was when Isaac Newton published his series of books. These works used the scientific method to challenge many of the oldest traditional assumptions about the universe and presented such breakthroughs as the theory of gravity and the laws of motion. This period established science, supported through experiments, as the source of truth, completely changing how society looked at and understood the universe. See, who needs pitchforks to start a revolution?

Learning Outcomes

After you have finished this lesson you should be able to:

  • Describe the Scientific Revolution
  • Identify some of the major works and contributors to the Scientific Revolution
  • Discuss the major scientific breakthroughs during this time period
  • Explain how the Scientific Revolution altered human society and industry