The Scientific Revolution

The Catholic Church which had previously been a formidable force throughout the Medieval period underwent significant changes in light of the Protestant Reformation, and regained a lot of its traction after its own, Catholic, reformation throughout the late 16th and early 17th century in the form of a renewed Roman Inquisition as well as a list of banned books and materials that “good” Catholics were forbidden to read.  This ban on the free exchange of ideas in printed works, however, had little impact on stemming the flow of ideas verbally throughout the Enlightenment period, and advances in science and philosophy continued to grow and to be exchanged through various means despite the Church’s attempts to quell it.  Galileo was a prime example of a thinker in the Enlightenment, whose ideas fit in line with Enlightenment ideals but who clashed head on with the power and authority of the Catholic Church.[1]

Galileo wrote in defense of the Copernican Theory that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe which directly opposed traditional Church doctrine of Earth’s superiority and placement by God.  When forced by the Inquisition to either defend or reject Copernican Theory, Galileo recanted his position described in The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican, and remained throughout the rest of his life under house arrest.[2]   The battle between science and religion had long existed by the time of Galileo’s trial, and continued long after even through the present age.  Ultimately the Pope vindicated Galileo by admitting that his condemnation was an error on the part of the Church, and Galileo’s theories are now widely accepted as factual regardless of the consequences he faced throughout his life for holding them.[3]  The Enlightenment also began the process that has come to be known as the scientific method, and the knowledge and understanding of the natural world began to take shape in the minds and experiments of Enlightenment thinkers and scientists.[4]

[1] Merry Wiesner-Hanks, Early Modern Europe 1450-1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pg 378.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, pg. 373.

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