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The Scientific Revolution essay

The scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries transformed the way Europeans viewed the natural world. Through the discoveries of men such as Copernicus and Newton, the world of thought and deliberation was for the first time accessible to all people. As a consequence of this, mankind now wanted evidence and an explanation for occurrences and ideas previously taken for granted. This era brought on not only mathematical, scientific, and technical discoveries, but also challenged certain conventional establishments. This new intellectual and investigative awareness brought on a new knowledge of man and society, and through this knowledge, threatened conventional institutions such as old traditional beliefs, religion, the legal system, and historical sciences.

As a result of this age, the world became a more understandable and logical place. Thus, there was no room left for conventional myths which were spun from the ignorance of earlier times. Formerly thought to be unfathomable phenomena, tides could now be understood and even predicated by the gravitational interaction of the moon, sun, and earth. The old belief that the universe revolved around the earth was shattered by Copernicus, who mathematically proved that it is we who are rotating around the sun. Comets, formerly thought to either discharge toxic emissions or be paranormal omens of future events, were brought out into a more realistic perspective by Bayle and his Thoughts on the Comet. Nonetheless, as effective as the revolution was in helping people open their eyes about little things, it also instigated a general skepticism of an even more trusted and time-honored institution- organized religion.

As a society gains scientific and concrete forms of knowledge, it starts to question its more abstract concepts, such as religion, and drift decidedly toward a more secular point of view. The human mind started demanding evidence for spiritual beliefs. With humanist ideas, the Renaissance started a certain breach between natural science and Christianity. This gap became even wider during the seventeenth century. Humans were not the center of creation anymore-they were only a very small part of a deep and vast universe. Individuals now felt that they can achieve anything, which made them feel very independent from God. These two realizations readjusted and transformed people’s thoughts about God. In addition, the ancient ideas of Natural Law, so admired by the Greeks, were now revived. This gave one a sense of security in justice and universal equality, a security which was independent of reliance on God. Furthermore, enhanced awareness lead to an increase in foreign travel and exposure to foreign religions. Since each man’s church promoted the belief that it and only it is the one true religion, the acquaintance with and acceptance of many religions turned Christians into being more flexible about their values. For example, Siamese aristocrats and Islamic professors all exposed traditionalists to greater spiritual tolerance by respecting Christianity. In addition, spiritual books were also being questioned. Richard Simon, a French Priest, actually published a criticism of the Old Testament. The underlying point of his work was that the Catholic faith is founded less on faith and the Bible and more on church traditions. Extremists such as Baruch Spinoza actually denied the Bible, thought miracles were all nonsense, and held a self-proclaimed atheist point of view. For the first time in history, it was allowed, even expected, to ask for factual proof in order to really believe something. This sense of evidence no only affected the church, but also a very secular part of government and society- the justice system.

In order for a theory, accusation, or idea to be true, there has to be some verification to prove it. One of the most obvious sectors which followed the new principle of evidence was the law. Formerly, it was the responsibility of the judge to decide whether the crime was asocial enough to need evidence to convict the offender. However, in the 17th century English law, the judge lost this authority, and the same evidence rules were applied to every crime-even a felony. This also played a major factor in ending the witch trials. Since there was no proof of the witch’s evil deeds, the existence of witch craft was regarded as a joke. When it came to the legal system, it was very easy to use evidence to determine whether one is guilty or innocent. Unfortunately, in the study of history, the line between fact and fable was rather indistinguishable.

There really is no fool-proof method to find out if the history books are right or wrong. The ever-present sense of evidence in the 17th century made historians and scholars skeptical about the true origins of their society. Jean Mabillon, a French monk, started the tradition of dating old documents and manuscripts in order to find out their true age. This was the beginning of paleography. Research also became common, chronology boomed. Dealing with finding a similarity in the dating systems of many cultures, chronologists were very concerned with finding out the date of the creation of the world. James Usher announced that the date was 4004 BC after much study of the Bible.

Nevertheless, Chinese and Egyptian records showed much greater antiquity than European documents, which denied his theory. Likewise, there was a discrepancy with the different calendar and dating systems of the world. The Gregorian or corrected calendar was finally accepted by England in the middle 17th century. This unified Europe as a modern, worldly civilization. In trying to find answers, historians and scholars took all the information they had access to, analyzed it, and drew conclusions from it, thus implementing the scientific method.

No matter how much mankind has discovered, its thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. Prior to the scientific revolution, people basically lived by the rules of the church, the law, and their historical and traditional belief systems. Following the revolution, these establishments, although not quite overthrown, were greatly altered. Society instigated these alterations as a response for their newfound awareness- they were simply trying to incorporate the old and the new. This merger of the traditional and modern displays how the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries was a gateway for Europe to enter a more modern era.

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