The scientific advances of the seventeenth century challenged traditional concepts of God and the universe, leaving a profound effect on the rest of western civilization. Revolutionary thinkers such as Aristotle, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galilei, and Newton through their discoveries, transformed the way of thinking of an entire culture. As the people of the day searched for more logical explanations for the events they saw, Copernicus and others sought out the answers through science. A combination of factors such as the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Exploration and the spirit of capitalism all helped produce this intellectual change; a change in which we see in our everyday lives. A change from a faith in God to a faith in science. One such scientist was the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus. Published on the year of his death, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium suggested his heliocentric theory causing quite a stir.
Beforehand, Ptolomy’s geocentric system was thought of as fact by both the Church and the educated world. One reason this made such an impact is heliocentrism contradicts passages from the Bible such as Joshua 10:12-13. Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had arranged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher?
So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about the whole day. This was a lot to swallow to for the seventeenth century European who was raised on the Bible and it’s teachings. Contemporaries simply were not ready for this way of thinking. At that time people couldn’t understand that if the Earth is supposed to be spinning, why didn’t arrows shot in the air fly off the face of the Earth. The heliocentric theory also challenged the Church and it’s theological notion of a two-dimensional flat world existing between Heaven and Hell.
At the same time Copernicus damaged the human ego by somewhat diminishing the importance of Earth. If it isn’t at the center of the universe, what’s so special about it? It is a planet just like all the others, yielding to mathematical and scientific description.
No longer in the center of the universe, Man was simply a minute part of a much greater whole. For a religion that believes we are the children of God, why wouldn’t we be in the center of a universe our Father created for us? Aware that he could not persuade the traditional thinking of the time, Copernicus published his book in the year of his death in hopes that the mathematician would understand and appreciate the order and essential simplicity of his system without being around for the commotion it would cause. Another important figure in the Scientific Revolution was Galileo Galilei. Galileo through his invention of the telescope was the first man to see craters on the moon, sun spots and the rings of Saturn.
But the leaders of the Church refused to look through the telescope. At the time, seeing something that could not be seen with the naked eye was the same thing as seeing a ghost or hearing voices. Aristotle’s teachings had already been established as fact in the eyes of the Church, and anyone who opposed or contradicted him was a heretic. Since it could not be explained, it was passed off as the Devil’s handy work. Most famous for his theory of the Earth's motion around its own axis and around the sun, Galileo found himself under house arrest and condemned by the Church in 1632. Which gives you some idea of how greatly the Church opposed Galileo’s teachings and the reaction it would cause.
Galileo’s book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books until 1757. One reason for his condemnation is that he supported his theories with Scripture in a attempt to make his findings seem more logical and easy to understand to his peers. He argued that for physical problems, the wise man shouldn’t begin with authority from the Scriptures, but from experience and demonstration. In other words, science and experiment can prove physical matters far better than religious Scripture can. Despite his attempt to share his knowledge, he was labeled a heretic and put under house arrest so he couldn’t cause any more trouble. By condemning Galileo, the Church hindered scientific growth in Italy, and many other regions still under Catholicism.
Perhaps the most influential in this Scientific Revolution was the Englishman Isaac Newton. With the basis of his knowledge from the teachings of Aristotle, St. Augustine, Aquinas, and Dante, Newton sought to break free from tradition.
It was Newton who took the observations of the stars and planets and made them a measurable and undeniable fact. In his book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Newton explains why planets were held in their orbits and why the apple fell from the tree, gravity. But Newton did more than just describe the laws which explained gravity, he invented calculus to explain the laws of gravity.
And in doing so, showed that nature had order and meaning that wasn’t based on the faith in religion but on human reason. For the first time people had undeniable proof to the theories which had been proposed to them. This proof came in the form of mathematics. This gave the people something to believe in besides faith in an invisible God. It was then possible to know how and why something happens without having to put faith in a God or a religion. Proof was found through science and experiment rather than Scripture and prayer.
The long term effects of both the Scientific Revolution and the modern acceptance and dependence can be felt today in our daily lives. Had it not occurred, who knows how far behind our technology and culture would be. Without these revolutionary scientists, who were the radicals of their time, we might still be ignorant to much of the world around us due to the mindset instilled in us by a religion created thousands of years ago. It was these and other men that opened up a whole new way of thinking and paved the way for others to come, like Darwin and Einstein. It was not the fault of religion; it was the fault of that short-sighted linking of theological dogmas to scriptural texts which were substituted for religion. It was this same thinking that slowed the Scientific Revolution, and allowed it to grow in countries like England, Holland and Germany where the Protestant culture, with its less antiquated ideals and tradition, allowed more tolerance for new ideas. Science gives us ways in which to think about, explain and make sense of the apparently random and meaningless experiences we witness throughout our lives.
It is impossible to think how different our lives would be today without the science and technology we take for granted everyday. Science is the new faith. The Scriptures of that faith was written by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and others. And the language it was written in is mathematics. Word Count: 1220