The Scientific Revolution was an important time in history, but it was by no means sudden. The catalyst of the Revolution were a while in the making with writings and philosophies from Ancient Greece and Rome inspiring people and was a long process of gradual of upheaval, up until the Enlightenment. This essay will examine the various, but not inexhaustible, causes that may have contributed to the Scientific Revolution; the teaching and philosophies of Aristotle, Ptolemy and Descartes, The Renaissance, Humanism, the decay of the Catholic Church, the influential theories of Copernicus and Kepler followed by the idea of Scientism.
To finish, the essay will discuss some of the consequences brought about by the Scientific Revolution; the Protestant Reformation, the Counter Reformation, the French Revolution, Scientism, Feminism and, finally, the Enlightenment. Firstly, the Scientific Revolution was not caused by one or two cataclysmic events, but rather a handful of circumstances that had occurred over many years. The philosophers and scientists of nature in the Ancient Greek and Roman era can be seen as the forefathers of the Scientific Revolution.
Aristotle and Ptolemy, to name only two, taught that reason and logic could unlock the mysteries of the physical world. This is what the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution valued and believed. Many of the modern scientists of the Scientific Revolution were recognizing their pre-modern and ancient roots, but above all, the way they were thinking was starting to change. This was the beginning of the Revolution. In my opinion, one of the major and original revolutionaries of thought was Descartes.
With his philosophy of I think therefore I am he created a whole new world of possibility that existed in a world dominated by the Christian Matrix His idea that purely because he could think logically and with reason, meant that he existed. This inspired other great minds of the age to think. In doing so people saw a greater understanding for the world around them, the environment. This led to the major stepping-stone in the evolution of the Scientific Revolution and, subsequently, the Enlightenment; the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a period of awakening.
The idea of beauty in art and the seeds of curiosity that were planted set the scene for the Revolution. The Renaissance was a time for rediscovering nature and, with the evolution of technology, scientists and learned noblemen in the 1500s onwards were able to start to understand and dwell on the world they existed in. Again the movement towards the teachings of the ancient world resurfaced during the Renaissance. The humanism movement was a cultural and intellectual movement that stimulated and inspired like-minded individuals in the 1500s onwards to question.
On top of the gradual decay of the Catholic Churchs legislative and physical authority , the humanism movement added an extra cog to the Scientific Revolutions progress. Although the Catholic Church remained a strong and dominant force in the period of the Scientific Revolution, its hold on the physical authority, or the Christian Matrix was slowly slipping. This caused a vacuum that was filled by curiosity and the will to experiment and learn for oneself the environment and the workings of nature. This desire to understand how things worked led to an extraordinary gentleman, Copernicus.
He was important to the Scientific Revolution as he was the instigator. Through his experiments and findings in the area of astronomy, the universe began to take a shape other than that of what the church claimed it to be. He went against the orders of the Catholic Church and continued his studies. It was not until another gentleman, extraordinary in a different discipline, was able to prove what Copernicus had theorized. That the earth moved around the sun and in turn the sun, and the earth, moved around the rest of the universe. Kepler was able to give irrefutable laws to Copernicus findings.
Kepler was a mathematician and, during his life, he progressed the discipline of mathematics beyond superstition to a respected and recognized form of verification. The teachings of the scientists of the time inspired a new cult to emerge that believed in the scientific method of proving the physical world. This was, in my opinion, the final catalyst in the formation of the Scientific Revolution. Scientism was The belief that science and the scientific method can explain everything in the universe and that no other form on inquiry is valid.
The causes outlined and discussed above are by no means exhaustive and definite. They were, however, important to the birth of the Scientific Revolution. Secondly, the consequences of the Scientific Revolution were not felt immediately, nor were they felt by the society as a whole. The Revolution, in its early stages, affected only the class of gentleman that could either afford to learn about the sciences or the upper-class noblemen. The common, and majority, of the people did not feel the full effect of the Revolution until much later.
Martin Luther instigated the Protestant Revolution, which was felt through all classes and pay-scales of Europeans. The Protestants break from the Catholic Church in the 1500s created an even bigger vacuum that was quickly and eagerly filled with more scientific reformers. This continued to gradually erode at the physical Catholic Church. With its doctrine of absolute faith in jeopardy, the church reacted against the Protestants and the Revolution. The Catholic Church instigated what became known as the Counter Reformation against the Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
This was to, hopefully, combat the Protestant Reformation and provide the church with some stability against the scientific teachings of the Revolution. However, in my opinion, the Counter Reformation had more of a detrimental affect for the church. People, already curious at the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution, began to take notice in not what the church was doing, but what the church was trying to stop or hide. The Catholic Church, though still a dominant force, was starting to take a backseat to the Scientific Revolution.
This not to say the church was swamped by atheist scientists. On the contrary, many of the Revolutionaries attempted to combine the Christian beliefs into their scientific studies and findings. The Scientific Revolution soon inspired the French population to overthrow their monarchy and establish a Republic. This period of political and intellectual upheaval in the late 1700s was known as the French Revolution. Even though discussed previously as a cause to the Scientific Revolution, Scientism came into its full glory as a result of the Revolution.
The scientific method that Scientism taught became popular to the world and, as such, scientism became popular. It was at the opposite end of the scale with regards to absolute faith that was preached by the Catholic Church with Scientism believing that it the only valid and irrefutable form of inquest into the sciences. With the development and evolution of mathematics scientism grew in popularity. At the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, women who either married into or were born into a position of relative freedom were able to study the sciences informally.
Margaret Cavendish led the way for women in becoming learned and she was followed by The most famous astronomers in Germany, Maria Winkelmann. Cavendish is famous for writing scientific works, such as, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy , and, Grounds for Natural Philosophy , but faced many difficulties in being taken seriously by her male counterparts and was excluded from the scientific organizations, as was Winkelmann. Inspired by the extraordinary ladies of the Scientific Revolution who were relatively ignored there was a movement towards feminism.
This was partly stopped by male scientists proving the inferiority of women with the science that the women themselves were fighting to be accepted and recognized in. In my opinion, the major consequence of the Scientific Revolution was the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Whereas the Scientific revolution was a revolution on the front of science, mathematics and religion, the Enlightenment was a period of a change of thought, behaviour and tolerance. This, in my mind, marked the end of the Scientific Revolution and the beginnings of the upheaval that would be the transition to the modern world.
As Craig Stockings, lecturer at UNSW at ADFA discussed in a History tutorial, the difference between modern and pre-modern is the way people think. The Enlightenment challenged people to think for themselves and explore the world with their own senses. In conclusion, the Scientific Revolution had many causes and catalysts that came together during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to bring about a complete reform. In doing so, the Revolution changed not only how people perceived the natural and physical world they lived in, but also how people thought. That, in my opinion, is the ultimate consequence of the Scientific Revolution.