The scientific revolution of the 17th century paved the way for the application of science in virtually all fields of human endeavor, thereby drawing a line of demarcation between the previous world order and the following centuries of rapid progress. The societal progression instigated by scientific breakthroughs of the century was catalyzed by the efforts of scientists such as Galileo, Tycho, and Kepler who brought to cognizance new scientific arenas. The aim of this paper is to discuss the development of science in the 17th century. It will argue that by virtue of changing the world in several important respects the most important of which is the substantial cultural transformation, science became a revolutionary force in the 17th century.
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Before starting the discussion of the role of the science in the creation of the modern world, it is necessary to state that no scientific discovery of the 17th century became a watershed moment that was powerful enough to divide two historical eras—the Middle Ages and the age of reason. Rather, it was a collective effort in the scientific inquiry based on earlier observations of the natural world (Cole et al. 384). For example, by observing and charting the skies with the ever-increasing precision, the astrologers of the later Middle Ages set the groundwork for the Copernican revolution: the Ptolemaic universe described by the 16th-century thinkers was essential for the development of the Copernican universe (Cole et al. 388).
Prior to the scientific revolution, the natural world was treated as God’s creation; therefore, driven by religious zeal, many thinkers of the 16th century wanted to find proofs of God’s perfection in nature, which resulted in the development of mathematics and other branches of science (Cole et al. 384).
The Heliocentric Model of the Universe
The development of the heliocentric or the Copernican model of the universe was an important event in the broad range of scientific discoveries that helped to change the cultural spirit of the century. The model not only undermined the previous conception of the universe but it also set in motion the work of scientists such as Tycho and Kepler. Their observations became a basis for Galileo’s discoveries that undermined “the authority of scriptural passages” (Cole et al. 391) that was never challenged before with a reasonable degree of success. It can be argued that the unwillingness to defer to accepted dogmas in an attempt to arrive at alternative interpretations of reality was a veritable revolutionary act.
The 17th century marked the emergence of a new philosophy. In Europe, thinkers such as Bacon and Descartes heralded the arrival of a radically different perspective on the pursuit of knowledge. Whereas for the ancient authorities philosophy was inextricably linked with divine revelation, new philosophers were unshakable in their belief in the power of human thinking. Therefore, the reason became an indispensable tool of new thinkers looking for “the gradual separation of scientific investigation from a philosophical argument” (Cole et al. 392).
Also, the works of Descartes fueled the belief that by virtue of being governed by predictable laws nature can be interpreted with the help of deductive and inductive methods. This view of the world was an essential prerequisite for the emergence of an experiment as a primary method of scientific inquiry. Practical research became a mainstay of 17th-century science (Cole et al. 396). New age researchers arrived at empirical laws with the help of experiments, thereby turning the scientific inquiry into a discipline.
It can be argued that nowhere was the revolutionary nature of the 17th-century science was as fully evident as in the cultural change. From the 17th century on, Western culture rejected its old patterns of thinking in favor of a new, systemic approach to interpreting the world with the help of scientific means (Cole et al. 399). Science came to be thought of as a powerful instrument aiding humanity, which was “thoroughly compatible with belief in God’s providential design” (Cole et al. 399).
Nonetheless, powerful thinkers of the new age that used the instrument were able to better understand the reality of the physical world than their predecessors who were not familiar with the traditions of rational inquiry.
The emergence of the French Royal Academy of Sciences and England’s Royal Society helped to further the scientific research and capitalize on discoveries of the societies’ members (Cole et al. 401). Furthermore, the 17th-century scientists worked tirelessly towards the shift of the investigative focus from the traditions of ecclesiastical intellectual inheritance to the rationalist approach. The emergence of women scientists such as Elena Cornaro Piscopia and Laura Bassi helped to further change the cultural spirit of the century (Cole et al. 396).
The science in the 17th century was revolutionary in three important respects. First, the century was marked by the emergence of a new conception of the universe—the heliocentric model. Second, science emerged as a new method of inquiry. Third, scientific discoveries of the century led to substantial cultural transformations.