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Scientific Revolution

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The Scientific Revolution is a period of time from the mid-16th century to the late 18th century in which rationalism and scientific progress made astounding leaps forward. The way man saw the heavens, understood the world around him, and healed his own body dramatically changed. So did the way he understood God and the Church. The result was a revolution in both the sense of causing an upheavalÐ'--of ideasÐ'--and consisting of not just one, but many scientific advancements. This paper will look first at some of the important discoveries or theories of the Scientific Revolution. Then, it will look at the critics during the Scientific Revolution said about the changes the revolution was causing. Finally, it will look at the modern day ramifications of the Scientific Revolution and the impact it has today.

THE ADVANCEMENTS OF THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION

The Scientific Revolution has no certain start or end date, and is a revolution of the mind, not one of the body. It is the period of largest intellectual transformation in the history of the West, taking the intellectual spirit born in the Renaissance and applying it to the questions of the universe. While advances were made in many fields of study, three stand out as genres of particular innovation: astronomy, biology, and physics.

The field of astronomy is the place to begin when talking about the Scientific Revolution, since many historians point to the publication of Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium as the starting point in 1543. This text, quite plainly, introduced the heliocentric theory of the solar system, rejecting the Aristotelian Ptolemaic system of geocentrism. It completely changed the way that people thought of the heavens, though it's theories were not seen as controversial until 60 years later, when a scientist began using telescopes to prove Copernicus correct. This scientist was Galileo Galilei, an Italian who began using an experimental method of study to understand the heavens, as opposed to the more philosophy based work of Aristotle. By observing Venus and the moon, Galileo was able to prove Copernicus' theory, and he wrote that, "there are astronomical arguments derived from many things in my new celestial discoveries that plainly confute the Ptolemaic system while admirably agreeing with and confirming the contrary hypothesis." Galileo also observed Saturn, Jupiter, and the craters of the moon, and published several controversial books on the subject of astronomy. Also of note was Johannes Kepler, whose eponymous laws of planetary motion, formulated with Tycho Brahe, changed the way astronomers thought about the orbits of planets.

In biology, the Scientific Revolution allowed scientists to move beyond the religious understandings of anatomy and seek the truth about the functions of the body. Andreas Vesalius, known as the father of modern anatomy, published De humani corporis fabrica in 1543. Based on his studies of anatomy in Italy, and facilitated by the huge jumps in artistic representation from the Renaissance, Vesalius was able to diagram the anatomy of the human body in a way never done before, with scientific scrutiny and accuracy. This work corrected many of the errors in theories by Galen, the classical physician, and was very popular in its own time. In England, William Harvey developed advanced theories of the circulatory system. In the Netherlands, father of microbiology Anton van Leeuwenhoek developed advanced microscopes, and was the first to bacteria, spermatozoa, and movement of blood in capillaries.

In terms of physics and chemistry, the field changed dramatically during the Scientific Revolution. This was spearheaded by Sir Isaac Newton, and his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In it, he described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which completely changed the way scientists thought about the universe and physics. He also wrote the principles of the conservation of momentum, studied optics, and developed calculus. Newton is quite possibly one of the most important scientists to have ever lived, as Voltaire wrote, "We may admire Sir Isaac Newton on this occasion, but then we must not censure Descartes. The opinion that generally prevails in England with regard to these new philosophers is, that the latter was a dreamer, and the former a sage." Voltaire also commented on Newton's brilliance, stating that in his studies, "Sir Isaac, rising by degrees to discoveries which seemed not to be formed for the human mind," was able to prove many theories that had previously been thought to be improvable. Years later, Joseph Priestley would experiment with gases and air, and discover Oxygen, revolutionizing chemistry and biology. There are many other discoveries and ideas that changed the world during this time period, but it is not possible to discuss them all. Instead, one must look at the immediate impact of many of these new ideas, and understand the criticisms of the Scientific Revolution.

THE CONTROVERSY OF THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION

It is not without irony that the reason that Copernicus studied the heavens was to help the reforming Catholic Church develop an accurate calendar. The main criticisms of the Scientific Revolution came not during Copernicus' time, but during the time of Galileo some 60 years later. In fact, Galileo was put on trial for claiming that the Earth revolved around the sun, and for criticizing Aristotle. After petitioning the Church to accept the theory of heliocentrism, Galileo published The Dialogue, which offended the church and led to his trial. In response, Galileo wrote, "Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of philosophy, these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle

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