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Section 1 The Scientific Revolution
Sixteenth-century Europeans began to question the scientific assumptions of the ancient authorities and to develop new theories about the universe. Nicholas Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei revolutionized astronomy. Copernicus claimed that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the universe—an idea considered heresy by the Catholic Church. Equally revolutionary were Isaac Newton's explanations of gravity and the movement of the planets. There were breakthroughs in medicine and chemistry, and numerous women contributed to the body of scientific research. The new view of the universe affected Western philosophy. The Frenchman Rene Descartes, the first rationalist, declared that matter could be independently investigated by reason. Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, developed the scientific method—a system for collecting and analyzing evidence.
The Scientific Revolution
In What Went Wrong?, Bernard Lewis writes of the key role of the Middle East in the rise of science in the Middle Ages, before things went wrong:
And then, approximately from the end of the Middle Ages, there was a dramatic change. In Europe, the scientific movement advanced enormously in the era of the Renaissance, the Discoveries, the technological revolution, and the vast changes, both intellectual and material, that preceded, accompanied, and followed them. In the Muslim world, independent inquiry virtually came to an end, and science was for the most part reduced to the veneration of a corpus of approved knowledge. There were some practical innovations — thus, for example, incubators were invented in Egypt, vaccination against smallpox in Turkey. These were, however, not seen as belonging to the realm of science, but as practical devices, and we know of them primarily from Western travelers.
Another example of the widening gap may be seen in the fate of the great observatory built in Galata, in Istanbul, in 1577. This was due to the initiative of Taqi al-Din (ca. 1526-1585), a major figure in Muslim scientific history and the author of several books on astronomy, optics, and mechanical clocks. Born in Syria or Egypt (the sources differ), he studied in Cairo, and after a career as jurist and theologian he went to Istanbul, where in 1571 he was appointed munejjim-bash, astronomer (and astrologer) in chief to the Sultan Selim II. A few years later he persuaded the Sultan Murad III to allow him to build an observatory, comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. But there the comparison ends. Tycho Brahe's observatory and the work accomplished in it opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science. Taqi al-Din's observatory was razed to the ground by a squad of Janissaries, by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of Chief Mufti. This observatory had many predecessors in the lands of Islam; it had no successors until the age of modernization.
The relationship between Christendom and Islam in the sciences was now reversed. Those who had been disciples now became teachers; those who had been masters became pupils, often reluctant and resentful pupils. They were willing enough to accept the products of infidel science in warfare and medicine, where they could make the difference between victory and defeat, between life and death. But the underlying philosophy and the sociopolitical context of these scientific achievements proved more difficult to accept or even recognize.
The Scientific Revolution
* Explain how new discoveries in astronomy changed the way people viewed the universe.
* Understand the new scientific method and how it developed.
* Analyze the contributions that Newton and other scientists made to the Scientific Revolution.
Terms, People, and Places
Pope Bans Copernicus' Theory of Sun-Centered Universe, 1:20
Ptolemy (c. AD 90 – c. 168), was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek; his influence was unprecedented in Islamic and European science and was not superseded until the Scientific Revolution.
The Catholic Church listed Copernicus' "De revolutionibus" on its Index of Prohibited Books, thus prohibiting its publication and denying the physical reality of the earth's movement around the sun. Andreas Cellarius circumvented the ban by depicting the theory in the lavish and ingenious drawings of "Harmonia macrocosmica", the most beautiful and famous Celestial Atlas.
Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Planetary Motion, 4:28
Are planets moved by angels? Kepler's book at first arose little attention. In 1618, what happened? In 1619, Harmony of the World was published. What is the Third Law?
Galileo Galilei, 1:17
The definitions of these Terms, People, and Places can be posted on the appropriate page of our Shanawiki site: Cf. Chapter 10 Section 1 The Scientific Revolution.
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Wikis in Plain English, 3:52
Chapter 10 Section 1 The Scientific Revolution
In 1609, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei heard of a new Dutch invention, the telescope. It was designed to help people see distant enemy ships. Galileo was interested for another reason—he wondered what would happen if he trained a telescope on the night sky. So he built his own telescope for this purpose. When he pointed it at the sky, he was amazed. The new telescope allowed him to see mountains on the moon, fiery spots on the sun, and four moons circling the planet Jupiter. “I did discover many particulars in Heaven that had been unseen and unheard of until this our age,” he later wrote.
How did discoveries in science lead to a new way of thinking for Europeans?
The Renaissance and the Reformation facilitated the breakdown of the medieval worldview. In the mid-1500s, a profound shift in scientific thinking brought about the final break with Europe’s medieval past. Called the Scientific Revolution, this movement pointed toward a future shaped by a new way of thinking about the physical universe. At the heart of the Scientific Revolution was the assumption that mathematical laws governed nature and the universe. The physical world, therefore, could be known, managed, and shaped by people.
Until the mid-1500s, Europeans’ view of the universe was shaped by the theories of the ancient writers Ptolemy and Aristotle. More than 1,000 years before the Renaissance, they had taught that Earth was the center of the universe. Not only did this view seem to agree with common sense, it was accepted by the Church. In the 1500s and 1600s, however, people began to question this view.
Copernicus Challenges Ancient Astronomy
In 1543, Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus (koh pur nih kus) published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. In it, he proposed a heliocentric, or sun-centered, model of the universe. The sun, he said, stands at the center of the universe. Earth is just one of several planets that revolve around the sun.
Most experts rejected this revolutionary theory. In Europe at the time, all scientific knowledge and many religious teachings were based on the arguments developed by classical thinkers. If Ptolemy’s reasoning about the planets was wrong, people believed, then the whole system of human knowledge might be called into question. But in the late 1500s, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (tee koh brah uh) provided evidence that supported Copernicus’s theory. Brahe set up an astronomical observatory. Every night for years, he carefully observed the sky, accumulating data about the movement of the heavenly bodies.
After Brahe’s death, his assistant, the brilliant German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, used Brahe’s data to calculate the orbits of the planets revolving around the sun. His calculations supported Copernicus’s heliocentric view. At the same time, however, they showed that each planet does not move in a perfect circle, as both Ptolemy and Copernicus believed, but in an oval-shaped orbit called an ellipse.
Scientists from many different lands built on the foundations laid by Copernicus and Kepler. In Italy, Galileo Galilei assembled an astronomical telescope. As you have read, he observed that the four moons of Jupiter move slowly around that planet—exactly, he realized, the way Copernicus said that Earth moves around the sun.
Views of the Moon
Galileo sketched the views of the moon he saw through his telescope in 1609. Pictures of the moon taken through a modern telescope look remarkably similar.
Galileo’s discoveries caused an uproar. Other scholars attacked him because his observations contradicted ancient views about the world. The Church condemned him because his ideas challenged the Christian teaching that the heavens were fixed in position to Earth, and perfect.
In 1633, Galileo was tried before the Inquisition, and for a year afterward he was kept under house arrest. Threatened with death unless he withdrew his “heresies,” Galileo agreed to state publicly in court that Earth stands motionless at the center of the universe. Legend has it that as he left the court he muttered, “And yet it moves.”
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1. Peruse Chapter 10 Revolution and Enlightenment, 1550-1800 (if you do not have a textbook yet; do not worry. We will cover any material you need in class): in particular, however, if reading, be familiar with the material in Section 1 The Scientific Revolution; we are covering this material in-class, and in detail, so every student has access to the same exact information.
2. On a first come, first serve basis (use your randomly generated student classroom number), accurately define the Terms, People, and Places at
If you can add more information than you see posted please free to add to the discussion. Comments and questions on the material can be posted on the wiki page.