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Consequences of the Scientific Revolution

The Scientific Revolution resulted in new information about the world and the universe, new information about medicine, new techniques for navigation, and the creation of an international scientific community. The greatest consequence of the Scientific Revolution, though, was the new worldview that replaced the old one. No longer was Europe bound by tradition, classical texts, and superstitions. Europeans were free to question the status quo, search for verification of traditions, and think outside the box.

Foundations of the Modern Scientific Method

Both Bacon and Descartes put forth diametrically opposed theories concerning the best way to obtain scientific knowledge. Bacon discounted logic and reasoning in building a body of knowledge. Descartes, on the other hand, undervalued the benefits of observation and experimentation.

The two mutually exclusive theories were of little value independently, and scientists following Bacon and Descartes didn’t see eye to eye for some time. For about a century, the English relied heavily on the experimental method, while the French placed great emphasis on the deductive model and mathematics. However, over the course of the next hundred or so years, European scientists began to fuse inductive and deductive reasoning. The combination resulted in what scientists call the modern scientific method. The scientific method was, and still is, important because it freed scientists from the dogmas, traditions, and ancient ideas and texts that dominated medieval thought. It encourages curiosity, creativity, and trial and error.

Though the modern scientific method can vary somewhat, the accepted form contains all of the following:

Observation—Taken directly from Bacon, observation includes the collection and recording of data.

Hypothesis—The hypothesis is the theory that will be tested.

Prediction—Taken directly from Descartes, prediction or deduction involves making a logical estimation of the outcome of the experiment based on generally accepted truths.

Experiment—The actual experiment or testing results in the availability of empirical data from which the researcher can draw a conclusion.

Today researchers from elementary students to Nobel Prize-winning scientists in billion-dollar labs use the scientific method to guide their experiments. Furthermore, the modern scientific method is the backbone of thesis and dissertation programs at most universities.

A Community of Science

The Scientific Revolution left a legacy that still exists today. During the Middle Ages, the university system in Europe produced mostly lawyers and clergymen. With the advent of the Scientific Revolution, universities became the training grounds for many of Europe’s greatest minds. Nearly all of the Scientific Revolution’s most influential figures either studied or taught at the university level. As science, particularly astronomy, became more and more important in Europe, science faculty positions were added to many universities. Professors and students alike earned more and more esteem in the intellectual community.

As interest in science among intellectuals grew, the scientific community grew, which led to the formation of scientific groups like the Royal Society of London, which gave lectures, published papers, and contributed to the body of scientific knowledge. Universities and colleges received funding from governments to pursue scientific advancements and to build observatories; the observatory at Nuremburg and Brahe’s Danish observatory are great examples. Governments often invested in the sciences with hopes that the investments would pay financial dividends.

Science Saving Lives

The Scientific Revolution, almost entirely an intellectual movement, produced practically nothing tangible and useful for the common European. The exception to that, thankfully, was in the medical field, where the Scientific Revolution provided several breakthroughs that translated to better health and many lives saved.

Like the rest of science, medicine in the sixteenth century relied heavily on tradition and ancient texts, especially those of the classical Greek physician Galen. Sixteenth- century scientists Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) and Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, also known as Paracelsus (1493-1541), revised and then rejected Galen.

Would You Believe?

For many years the use of cadavers was forbidden by the Catholic Church, so William Harvey's work definitely was cutting-edge.

Rather than teaching and working with medical theory, they actually practiced medicine.

Later, an Englishman named William Harvey (1578-1657) dissected cadavers and made tremendous strides gaining knowledge in the specific area of the human circulatory system. He noted that the body operated as a machine and was subject to certain laws and principles in much the same way that other scientists noted the world around them.

The Least You Need to Know

Europe was dominated by the old worldview throughout the Middle Ages, founded in the classical texts of philosophers and astronomers like Aristotle and Ptolemy, which theorized a stationary Earth and a finite, geocentric universe. The first sign of trouble for the old worldview came when Copernicus hypothesized about a heliocentric system.

After the work of Brahe and Kepler, Galileo wrote about the Copernican hypothesis and made discoveries with his telescope that disproved the Ptolemaic system. Galileo ultimately found himself on trial for heresy.

Sir Isaac Newton’s synthesis of all his predecessors’ work, including much of his own work, in Prinicipa explained laws of motion and gravity as they applied to the Earth and to heavenly bodies.

The fusion of Bacon’s inductive method and Descartes’ deductive method resulted in the modern scientific method.

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