The Effects of Scientific Revolution on Religion has been a very critical topic in such fields as history, philosophy and other social sciences. The scientific revolution, arguably one of the most important developments in human history is a movement that substantially shook the foundations of religion (Wolfe & Wolfe, 2011). The primary purpose of this topic, is to narrow down the broad topic of the effects of scientific revolution in such a manner that such effects are viewed from the perspective of the medieval religious structures, and not from the eye of the entire humanity. I chose to discuss this topic because it is no doubt one of the topics that address the core controversies surrounding human existence.
In furtherance of this topic, I conducted my research using existing literature, primarily books and peer reviewed journal articles. The topic has been studied substantially, with various authors giving different opinions. The books used address varied opinions on the topic, with some authors controversially claiming that scientific revolution did not have any impact on the religious beliefs of the day. The peer reviewed articles used were equally detailed on this topic, approaching it from different viewpoints and timeframes.
Ultimately, the research focuses on different effects of the scientific revolution on religion – both positive and negative. The main contents of the paper revolve around the role of the revolution in changing the direction of such debates as the existence of God. Further, the research prominently touches on such ideas as the revolutionary thoughts of Galileo, which saw him tried by the church court, for allegedly misguiding the people (White, 2007). Finally, the research findings are analyzed in such a manner as to reveal the causes and effects of the scientific revolution, with regard to religion, especially Christianity in medieval Europe.
The Historical Development of the Scientific Revolution
While there lacks a consensus as to when exactly the scientific revolution began, the 1543 publication of Nicolaus Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, which literally means ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres’ and the works of Andreas Vesaliu, notably, De humani corporis fabrica meaning ‘On the Fabric of the Human body’ mark the onset of the scientific revolution – a concept that saw the surge of modern science into the thoughts of the people of Europe, whose beliefs were highly influenced by religion as at that time (Wolfe & Wolfe, 2011). The revolution is associated with the period between the end of renaissance and the beginning of the era of reflection. As a matter of fact, the scientific revolution is associated with many controversies, especially with regard to its influence on religion. The scientific revolution is a concept credited with replacing religion, fear and superstition with reason and knowledge (Cohen, 1994). The significance of the scientific revolution is rooted in the fact that it enabled people to look at the world and human existence in a whole new light.
Before the 16th century, Europe believed in cosmology as explained by Greek philosopher, Ptolemy. According to the teachings of Ptolemy, the earth was at the center of the universe, with other planets and the sun as well as the moon revolving around it (Frost, 2010). The scientific revolution has its roots in the ideas of the thinkers that sought to challenge Ptolemy’s blind theory. The most notable philosophers as far as challenging Ptolemy is concerned in clued Nicolaus Copernicus, who was the first thinker to explain that contrary to Ptolemy’s cosmology, the sun was at the center of the universe, with the earth and other planets revolving around it (Wolfe & Wolfe, 2011). The discovery made by Copernicus was considered too complicated to be understood by many, but bore substantial truth.
The explanations of Copernicus were consistent with later explanations made by Tycho Brahe, a Dutch philosopher who explained that all planets revolved around the sun, but the sun revolved around the earth. While the findings of Brahe were erroneous, they bore more hope than the cosmological explanations of Ptolemy (see figure 2 and figure 3). Confirming that the earth, just like all other planets revolved around the sun, Johannes Kepler relied on the findings of Brahe (White, 2007). According to Johannes Kepler, the sun was at the center of the universe, and, contrary to prior findings, the moon did not follow the same path as the earth, but rather revolved around the earth. Ultimately, Galileo, who discovered the telescope, and how such a tool was essential in studying astronomy, was tried at the church court, for claiming that, contrary to the teachings of Christianity, the earth is round (see figure 6). The studies of Galileo regarding the shape of the earth evoked a serious study by many thinkers and artists into the same subject (see figure 5).
The scientific revolution traces back to the foundations of mechanical philosophy as explained by René Descartes and Isaac Newton. As at that time, natural philosophy was the source of all explanations revolving around such phenomena as the relationship between the heavens and the earth (Mandelbrote et al, 2008). Mechanical philosophy, however, came in as a new way of studying the physical dynamics of the earth. Mechanical philosophy is considered the foundation of modern day physics. Prior to the development of mechanical philosophy, religion was dominant in explaining social phenomenon through an iron fist interpretation of the scriptures. The lack of substantial evidence with regard to religious explanations was the basis for the evolution of biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy (Frost, 2010). Prior to the development of these, religion offered unfounded explanations to such phenomena as earthquakes and other natural adversities.
Science explained such occurrences as earthquakes in a manner that could be substantiated by empirical evidence. At this time, science was emerging as a source of liberal thinking, with many people challenging religion to substantiate the essence of faith and the mystery of God’s existence. Galileo particularly influenced the thoughts of people regarding to structure of the earth because he was able to defend his standpoint through empirical evidence. The liberal thinking motivated by such thinkers as René Descartes and Galileo caused what was later to be referred to as religious skepticism (Mandelbrote et al, 2008). Religious skepticism emerged as a form of philosophical skepticism – a concept that encouraged the questioning of static and rigid beliefs such as those forwarded by the church with regard to the creation of the earth. Such skepticism formed the foundation of Descartes’ existentialism. The ultimate result was the spreading of atheist ideology – a revolutionary viewpoint that challenged the existence of God, arguing that due to the lack of tangible or perceivable explanations in religion, science was superior (Coudert, 2011).
The scientific revolution made its ultimate attack on religion by demanding an explanation into the origins of man. While religion explained man’s origin as being creation, science came up with different theories. Such theories explained how the earth came into being. Perhaps the most famous of such theories is the big bang theory, which explains that the earth emerged as a result of powerful forces that caused a collision of elements (Brooke, 1991). Worth mentioning is the actuality that all through the history of science versus religion, science seemed to triumph because of one key factor – evidence or tangible proof. Religion appeared to lose the battle because it mainly relied on faith and the iron fist interpretations of the scriptures.
Clearly, the main cause of the scientific revolution was the irrationality that was characteristic of the period between the mid 16th century and the early 18th century. The irrationality upheld ignorance, which prompted people to think that faith, fear, superstition and religion were the most powerful forces in determining human destiny. As a way of breaking away from such beliefs, the thinkers of the time sought to come up with empirically demonstrated explanations. Secondly, the renaissance encouraged revolutionary thoughts revolving around mathematics, physics and astronomy (Platt, 2011). These fields were highly sponsored by the monarchs of the time, as they sought to get a more objective view of the new world. The scientific revolution was also fuelled by the protestant revolution, a wave that sought challenge the rigid tenets of European Catholicism.
The primary effect of the scientific revolution was the weakening of the church. Apparently, the fact that science could provide proof for its claims, made people lose faith in the superstitious explanations of human existence, the earth and the relationship between various forces of nature. Speaking of the weakening of the church, the protestant reformation was both a cause and effect of the scientific revolution. Further, there was massive fragmentation of western Christianity. Secondly, mechanical philosophy, on which the scientific revolution is based, prompted skepticism – both in philosophy and in science (Platt, 2011). Such skepticism weakened the church as it prompted Christians to question the existence of God. Religious and philosophical skepticism furthered the protestant revolution which saw the emergence of a faction of Christians that focused on enlightenment. Enlightenment was a concept that sought to shade more light on the existing knowledge, and to form a foundation for future knowledge. Looked at broadly, the scientific revolution created curiosity which in turn evoked opposition that saw the people rise to challenge the status quo (Wolfe & Wolfe, 2011). Unlike the rigid Catholicism, the scientific thoughts were based on objectivity and evidence. On the contrary, the Catholic Church was based on unquestionable subjective thought.
The second effect of the scientific revolution on religion is that it made people lose faith and trust in the clergy of the time. The clergy were in charge of interpreting the Bible to the congregations. When proof emerged indicating that the world was round and not flat, as interpreted before, Christians lost trust in the clergy, and more so the catholic priests that were exceptionally rigid. Thirdly, the scientific revolution delivered Europe from the dark ages of religious influence (Brooke, 1991). Before the revolution, the church had a primary role to play in determining the direction of politics and power. This hindered such important processes as democracy and fair representation. With the scientific revolution rendering Catholicism vague, people broke off such blind beliefs. Ultimately, the scientific revolution exposed the false believes of the church by ruling out the rigid philosophy that was employed in interpreting the bible.
Another effect is that the scientific revolution sparked the fiercest of controversies regarding the origins of man (Huff, 2011). The creation versus evolution debate is not likely to come to an end anytime soon. While science explained that man was a result of evolution from the ape family (see figure 1), religion taught that human beings were created by an omnipotent God. The controversy continues to date, with Charles Darwin’s name being a buzzword in biological sciences and history (Kuhn, 2011). Scientific methods of studying history disregard the explanations of religion. Archeological evidence, for instance, finds faults in the dates of manuscripts and other artifacts used by Christians to explain the history of the church. For instance, some phenomena dated 30000 years by Christianity were found to be just a few hundred years old by archeologists.
Meanings and Implications
The study of the scientific revolution is exceptionally important because it is the basis for modern science – a force that stands as the distinguishing factor between the modern world and the ancient world (Huff, 2011). The scientific revolution bears a lot of significance, especially considering that it is the basis or technology. Technology is inevitably important in the world today as it has shaped the world by introducing such concepts as globalization. Globalization is a far reaching concept, which covers virtually every aspect of the human life. Seeking to understand the effects of the scientific revolution on religion is critically important as it explains the emergence of reformation, particularly in Europe where knowledge and reason replaced superstitions and fear. It goes without saying that the scientific revolution’s effect on religion is the reason for human progress.
In the period between mid 16th century and the early 18th century, the scientific revolution really mattered because it was the cause of a multiplicity of concepts – protestant reformation, Marxism and the enlightenment. All these concepts came with liberal thinking, eliminating catholic supremacy as far as politics and leadership were concerned. The implications of the concept were worth noting, especially in the circles of religion. Foremost, the fragmentation of western Christianity caused many changes worth noting with regard to Catholicism (Kuhn, 2011). Broadly considered, the scientific revolution had a positive impact on humanity as a whole. It is a matter of common knowledge that modern science, which is associated with more pros than cons, is rooted in the scientific revolution. Secondly, the scientific revolution saw humanity break away from the chains of Catholicism and religion as a whole, since these were based on subjectivity, while science brought in a fresh breath of objectivity in explaining different phenomena (Huff, 2011). Overall, the long-term impact of the scientific revolution is positive.
Reflection and Conclusion
In my opinion, despite the importance of religion in the society, the weakening it suffered due to the scientific revolution was a necessary evil. Ultimately, religion should not control all structures in society, especially those dealing with power and public opinion. On the contrary, religion should act as a supplementary force playing some form of advisory or regulatory role. The scientific revolution was long overdue, especially considering that politics and power had suffered greatly in the hands of rigid Catholicism in Europe. In conclusion, it is clear to see that the scientific revolution is associated with the period between the middle decades of the 16th century and the early decades of the 18th century. The main impacts of the revolution on religion revolve around the weakening and fragmentation of religion, especially the Catholic Church. The scientific revolution created curiosity, which prompted people to think along different lines, and in a different light.
Brooke, J. H. (1991). Science and religion: Some historical perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cohen, H. F. (1994). The scientific revolution: A historiographical inquiry. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Coudert, A. (2011). Religion, magic, and science in early modern Europe and America. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger.
Frost, R. (2010). Religion versus science. Ropley: O Books.
Huff, T. E. (2011). Intellectual curiosity and the scientific revolution: A global perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Figure 1: The Evolution of Man According To Charles Darwin
Source: (stinger, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/religion-and-science-_b_2719280.html
Figure 2: Demonstration of the Earth by Early Cosmology
Figure 3: Illustration of the Universe with the Sun at the Center
Figure 4: Galileo’s Telescope
Figure 5: A Painting Disapproving the Belief That the Earth Is Flat
Figure 6: Galileo Facing Trial at the Church Court