The Scientific Revolution was revolutionary in its effect on Western Civilization in the 15th and 16th centuries but it was not the volatile upheaval of traditional societal norms or rebuke of authority that one normally associates with a revolution. The impact of the Scientific Revolution was that it changed the mentality of Western Civilization from a religious centric culture to a more secular and intellectually focused mentality that has come to define modern civilization today.
Necessity is the mother of invention and nowhere does that hold truer than this period. The discovery of the New World led to numerous scientific discoveries in applied mathematics as well as the need for improved navigation. None of this was happening in a vacuum however. The Latin translations of Aristotle, Galen and Ptolemy which had formed the basis for scientific thought for centuries gave way to new Greek translations of the renaissance, opening more works by the masters and giving voice to Plato and the pre-Socratics. These new translations exponentially grew the base of knowledge that formed the foundation of scientific thought at the time. The mastering of the Greek translations and teachings led to a focus in the fields most important to the Greeks especially astronomy.
Copernicus was one of the most important figures in the Scientific Revolution’s challenge to the teachings of the church. As a more mathematically focused astronomer he relied more on his calculations than observations. This is an important distinction because his conclusions were more fact based and could be verified by others. His observations were not as influenced by church teachings coloring the opinion of the observer. His helio-centric was a direct challenge the to the scripture based teachings of the church.
Johannes Kepler built upon the work of Copernicus and published his three laws of planetary motion which basically disproved the Ptolemaic system that had been the basis of astronomy and the underpinning of the church’s scripture based teachings. It was Galileo that further chipped away at the church’s teachings by improving on Copernicanism and with his Dialogue printed in Italian instead of the normal scholarly Latin spreading the information much wider than in the past.
Each successive scientist building on the work of his predecessors still could not solve the problem of explaining motion in the universe and tie together the various ideas. The challenge fell to Isaac Newton who has long been considered the greatest genius of the Scientific Revolution. Newton’s Laws and Theories would come to dominate scientific thought for centuries and would only later be supplanted in the 20th century by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
During this same period other, dramatic changes in the fields of medicine and chemistry were also taking place. These challenges to the church’s teachings would not have the same impact as the revolution occurring in astronomy. For centuries, scientific theories were based upon church teachings, scripture and the works of scientists supporting those teachings. Church teachings on astronomy held that the earth was fixed as the center of the universe and that it was surrounded by perfect heavenly bodies made up a crystalline transparent substance moving in perfect circular motions or rings around the earth. The heavens above from scripture were out there at the farthest ring.
When the discoveries and observations of the Scientific Revolution began to show that the teachings of the church could be wrong it began the first real challenge to the infallibility of the church. This began a cascade of doubts on other church teachings and severely weakened the authority of the church. This decline only accelerated as more scientific discoveries came along. The Scientific Revolution elevated the role of science and diminished the role of the church in the secular lives of Western Civilization.