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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.  

Science, Technology, and The Lead Weight of Society.


        During the scientific revolution, nearly 500 years ago, budding scientists faced an even greater impediment than discovering the complex ideas and formulas of calculus: established societal beliefs. Not only were scientists making completely new discoveries with little prior scientific knowledge, but their discoveries largely went against societal beliefs and religion at the time. This draws a very similar parallel to the present day issue of climate change, in which much of society refuses to accept the scientific truth, limiting the true potential of it. The advancement of science has and continues to face challenges, not only from the mathematical and scientific problems themselves, but also the societal ones.

        During the start of the scientific revolution, religion provided all established knowledge, causing new scientific ideas to be controversial. As great philosophers began to comprehend the universe through astronomy, physics, and the other sciences, their discoveries started to go against the established doctrine. For instance, Copernicus’s idea that our solar system is heliocentric contradicted all previous understanding of our cosmos. Furthermore, Aristotle’s proposal that all life had intrinsic value was previously unheard of (librarypoint.org). These new scientific speculations strongly contradicted what was told in the bible. Therefore, it is to be expected that there would be upset at the introduction of these scientific ideas.  Think of it like this: if your explanation for all things physical had been written down clearly in a book, and the desires and tellings of God had been preached to you for your entire life, it is expected that you would be upset if someone told you everything you knew was wrong. Science did this very thing. It provided doubts about the presence of God by offering logical explanations to explain how else our cosmos functions. Therefore, these pioneering scientists were not only delving into new territories with no prior knowledge, but also they were going against what society wanted to believe. Society provided no guidance for the philosophers of the scientific revolution; on the contrary, they were doubted and questioned when they offered their conjectures on the universe. Despite this,  society has come to accept science as the established doctrine in today’s world. However, that is not to say that all science is fully accepted.

        Environmental science and climate change, both exceptionally valid, are questioned by 53% of the global community and the entire conservative party in the United States government (theguardian, ES118). This could be considered as the second scientific revolution. Despite exhaustive data and experimentation, many simply do not want to accept climate change as a reality. It could be that, like the scientific revolution discussed in Shapin’s book, the idea of climate change is too disruptive to our current society. I think, however, the reason people are fighting against the notion that the climate is changing, is a result of the inconvenience it would provide. For example, if Trump were to admit to the reality of climate change, his political influence through fossil fuel industries would decline (grist.org). Furthermore, accepting climate change as a reality would increase the societal pressure to reduce energy use, divest from fossil fuels, and decrease general consumption of goods such as plastics, cars, and processed foods. This is the barrier environmentalists must break through. People do not want to care about climate change; the things they would need to do and give up are too great. That said, progress is being made in the form of renewable energy and environmental policies. However, for humanity to better mitigate the effects of climate change, society must also accept it as a reality, as they accepted the scientific ideas established by scientists such as Aristotle and Galileo.

Societal resistance to science is not contained to just one time period. It is perpetual. There will constantly be new ideas and theories that will oppose established knowledge and beliefs. Society frequently doubts and refuses to accept science, even if all the evidence supports it. With an issue as serious and imminent as climate change, this is a critical challenge. While questioning science is important for accountability, it is important for society to accept science as it provides key solutions to our world’s problems.


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