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Are we living in a second scientific revolution?

What is a revolution?  A radical, violent change. An overthrow of government. A fundamental change to the scientific understanding of the world. And also, arguably, an irreversible change to the physical nature of the world itself.

“The” scientific revolution, was indeed a dramatic change in reasoning that substantially changed human understanding of how the world works. Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism introduced in 1543, which states that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was at the center of the solar system, dramatically altered the scientific perspective of how we view our world. This revolutionary view was further augmented by the development of Newton’s theories of light, motion, and gravity. And between these two great names, there were many more small discoveries that contributed to this transformation of our understanding of the world, and also the universe. These advances were able to occur because of new inventions and the improvement of technology. For example, Galileo’s invention of the telescope was crucial to the development of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, as the theory was based off of observations made using the telescope. The creation of the microscope, also by Galileo, allowed for many advances in medicine and biology to occur.

If this radical change in our understanding of the world was considered “the” scientific revolution, shouldn’t a rapid development of human caused changes to our planet, also resulting from the development of technology, be considered a scientific revolution as well? These changes that are occurring comprise of the rapid development of industry and technology which is fueling climate change. This radical alteration is completely unprecedented, unlike anything that has occurred before in human history. Since 1950, there has been a dramatic increase in a number of complexly related factors, such as population, economic growth, fertilizer consumption and disposable plastics. These extreme changes stem from an explosion of technology, both during the industrial revolution and in a series of developments that occurred after World War II, which led to a rise in the consumption of technology, such as of motor vehicles and telephones. This modernization of our world is the beginning an entire new era of geologic time, in which humans are the primary influence on our planet’s climate and environment, known as the Anthropocene.

Maybe this second revolution doesn’t precisely follow the “textbook” definition of a scientific revolution. It isn’t necessarily a perfect fit for Thomas Kuhn’s conception of the structure of scientific revolutions, which requires the rejection of one scientific theory for another. However, the transformation occurring today still is very revolutionary in nature. Like “the” scientific revolution, it is a result of a dramatic increase in and improvement of technology. While “the” scientific revolution represented a change in the human understanding of the world, the revolution today represents a physical change in how the world works. Although a different kind of change, the alteration occurring today is arguably even more important than the first scientific revolution. And this second revolution has yet to fully develop. Humanity is only in the process of understanding the implications of our actions and what must be done in order to revitalize our planet before it is too late. Perhaps, the real revolution will be when humanity fully realizes this new state of our planet, and takes the action necessary to stop the damage.


The Never-ending Scientific Revolution

Carter Liou


STS 112-WA


The Scientific Revolution was a period of intense debate between science and religion.   Prior to the Scientific Revolution, a majority of the European population was uneducated, and the little schooling that was accessible was closely regulated by the Roman Catholic Church.   Their scientific teachings were heavily influenced by biblical theory and the science that had been provided by the Ancient Greeks.  For example,  the geocentric system– which was accepted by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy– argued that Earth was at the center of the universe and that the Sun, Moon, stars and other known planets all orbited Earth.  This way of of thinking was prevalent up until the Scientific Revolution, during which Nicolaus Copernicus developed the Copernican system that stated that the earth orbited the sun which was located at the center of the solar system.  In addition, the Bible also stated that the Sun and the Moon were perfect in form because they had been created in God’s image.  This idea was debunked by Italian philosopher Galileo who built a telescope which he used to examine sunspots and the craters of the moon.  The church, however, did not take these findings lightly as they continued to disregard the laws established by natural scientists throughout the Scientific Revolution.  

This debate continued long after such period in European history.  When Charles Darwin released his On the Origins of Species in 1859, he sparked a debate between the concepts of evolution and creationism that would carry on long after his death.  In 1925, the infamous Scopes Trial, where a highschool teacher named John T. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in a public school in Tennessee, brought attention to the rejection of evolution and whether or not it should be taught in schools.

Today it is appropriate to say that we have entered another Scientific Revolution; however, the central debate revolves more so around science with respect to political ideals.  A primary example is the ongoing dispute over the ethics of abortion.  This debate fosters two opposing views: pro-choice which believes that the woman has the right to terminate the fetus, and pro-life which believes that the fetus has the right to be born.  Many differences stem from the abortion debate such as when the fetus should be considered living and what methods of abortion are considered humane.  

The most influential and perhaps controversial debate is the argument over climate change.  Although a minority of the U.S. population does not believe in the legitimacy of rising temperatures on the surface of the Earth, most accept this to be unequivocal, and therefore the dispute focuses more so on whether or not human activity can be held responsible for the rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.   The pro-side argues that the burning of fossil fuels by humans should be responsible for this increase and that a halt in the usage of fossil fuels is essential to stopping climate change.  The con-side argues that greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity are to small to affect earth’s climate and that the increase in temperature is rather due to the sun.  The argument has been further stimulated after the United States, controversially, withdrew the from the Paris Accords under the presidency of Donald Trump.   

As we undergo this modern scientific revolution it is important to remember that science will always be met with some sort of opposing force.  In this sense, the scientific revolution is not finite.  The purpose of science is to discover the new–and frankly the new may seem daunting– but without change, the human race cannot improve on the mistakes that it has made in the past.  

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