The Scientific Revolution is a name that some modern historians use to describe what they call the beginning of modern science in the mid-1500s. At that time natural philosophers (the term scientist was not coined until the 1800s) began to publish scientific hypotheses with the recently-invented printing press. Most leftist historians typically point to Copernicus' publishing of his heliocentric theory as the beginning of this revolution, although the actual starting date is debated. The heliocentric theory stated that the Earth revolves around the Sun, as opposed to the geocentric theory that Sun revolves around the Earth.
In fact, Copernicus had no observations or experiments to show that his model was better than others, and his methods were not significantly more accurate or scientific than those of Ptolemy that had been in use older cosmological models for over a thousand years. Rather, his system was praised for reasons that have little to do with science. He symbolized the challenging the millenia-held beliefs of antiquity.
The 1600s saw relatively rapid change in astronomy, which was still closely tied to mysticism and astrology, as men such as Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo made progress understanding the solar system.
The height of the so-called revolution was seen with the expansion of scientific societies such as the Royal Society in the 17th century, and the emphasis on the experimental method (later called the scientific method) and the creation of Newtonian physics, which had enormous impact upon European culture and philosophy in the 1700s. The 1700 and 1800s saw a massive expansion in countless fields of study. Biology was expanded as thousands of specimens were brought from voyages and colonies world wide to botanical gardens in centers such as London, and were categorized by men such as Karl von Linnaeus. Chemical inquiry was increasingly popular, and culminated in the discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier, ending an ancient belief that air was its own element. Geological study unearthed countless fossils, which fostered varied debates between those, such as Lamarck and Lyell, who argued for an old earth or even biological evolution, and Catastrophists, such as Georges Cuvier, who sought to reconcile scientific discovery with literal accounts in the bible.
Influence of Religion
An 1867 article in the church-oriented Contemporary Review uses the phrase, while making the point that the scientific revolution was not only not, as often implied, an opposition to religion, but was in fact largely the work of the clergy. The author suggests that "Galileo, the layman, was himself partly to blame for the persecution which the churchman, Copernicus avoided." He then continues:
- Let us mark down, for instance, the names of churchmen as they come before us in the history of the scientific revolution which lies parallel to the Reformation. As far back as the twelfth century, the great mystical theologian, Richard of St. Victor, described the true method of physical inquiry... Raymond Lully became a Franciscan missionary. Roger Bacon has all but lost his title of Doctor mirabilis under the designation of Franciscan friar. Cusanus was a cardinal.... Copernicus passed over from medicine to the Church, and spent much of his life as a cathedral canon. It is the same in every branch of intellectual movement. Churchmen are ever foremost in the ranks...
A notable fact in relation to Christianity and science is that the birth of modern science occurred in Christianized Europe. Sociologist Rodney Stark investigated the individuals who made the most significant scientific contributions between 1543 and 1680 A.D.
In Stark's list of 52 top scientific contributors, only one (Edmund Halley) was a skeptic and another (Paracelsus) was a pantheist. The other 50 were Christians, 30 of whom could be characterized as being devout Christians. Sir Francis Bacon, sometimes referred to as "the Father of Modern Science", wrote: "I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind." unique features of Christian theology.
In False conflict: Christianity is not only compatible with Science--it created it Stark writes:
|“|| Recent historical research has debunked the idea of a "Dark Ages" after the "fall" of Rome. In fact, this was an era of profound and rapid technological progress, by the end of which Europe had surpassed the rest of the world. Moreover, the so-called "Scientific Revolution" of the sixteenth century was a result of developments begun by religious scholars starting in the eleventh century. In my own academic research I have asked why these religious scholastics were interested in science at all. Why did science develop in Europe at this time? Why did it not develop anywhere else? I find answers to those questions in unique features of Christian theology.
Even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the leading scientific figures were overwhelmingly devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God's handiwork. My studies show that the "Enlightenment" was conceived initially as a propaganda ploy by militant atheists attempting to claim credit for the rise of science. The falsehood that science required the defeat of religion was proclaimed by self-appointed cheerleaders like Voltaire, Diderot, and Gibbon, who themselves played no part in the scientific enterprise......
Dr. Charles Thaxton similarly states:
|“||P. E. Hodgson in reviewing Stanley Jaki's Science and Creation said: "Although we seldom recognize it, scientific research requires certain basic beliefs about the order and rationality of matter, and its accessibility to the human mind . . . they came to us in their full force through the Judeo-Christian belief in an omnipotent God, creator and sustainer of all things. In such a world view it becomes sensible to try and understand the world, and this is the fundamental reason science developed as it did in the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, culminating in the brilliant achievements of the seventeenth century."||”|
Thomas Kuhn's book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, popularized the term scientific revolution (and paradigm shift) to describe changes in accepted scientific thinking in a particular scientific field brought about by a new theory. Kuhn believed that the changes are not necessarily rational or leading to progress. The Copernican model of the revolution of the Earth around the Sun was one of his best examples.
Notes and references
- Eg, see http://www.historyguide.org/earlymod/lecture10c.html
- Hannah, J (1867), The Attitude of the Clergy Toward Science, The Contemporary Review, 1867, volume IV, p. 7
- Williams, Alex,The biblical origins of science, Journal of Creation 18(2):49–52, August 2004.
- Bacon, Francis, Of Atheism
- T.S.Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", University of Chicago Press, 1962.