THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION OF THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES
Theories are very thin and unsubstantial; experience
only is tangible
Hosea Bailey (1771-1852) American clergyman
Stranges, Chapter 7
Burke, Program 5,
Science Revises the Heavens
In the seventeenth century the center of science shifted from Italy to northwest Europe, to
England, France, and Germany.
The mechanical philosophy, or the study of matter in motion, dominated scientific thinking and
characterized the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The major
objective of the mechanical philosophers was to discover the laws that accounted for the motion
of matter, from the invisible atoms to the visible planets.
Other developments and advances of the scientific revolution included a continuing increase in
experimentation; invention of new instrumentation, such as the telescope, microscope,
barometer, vacuum pump, and thermometer; mathematical advances that led to the introduction
of logarithms, the slide rule, analytical geometry, and calculus.
The number of scientists
increased, scientific societies such as England’s Royal Society and France’s Academy of
Sciences arose. They began publication of new journals, particularly the
of England’s Royal Society and the
of the French Academy of
Astronomy and physics advanced significantly.
Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton
discovered laws of motion that accounted for the acceleration of falling bodies and the motion of
the planets, culminating in Newton’s law of universal gravitation.
Investigations on light led to the construction of the first telescope and microscope and to an
understanding of refraction.
Newton’s support of the particle theory of light made it the
dominant theory compared to the wave theory which had only minimal support. Newton showed
that white light was really a composite, and for the first time astronomers calculated a value for
the speed of light.
Physicists made the first measurement of the speed of sound in the late 1600s.
demonstrated that sound waves, unlike light, required a medium for their transfer.
Evangelista Torricelli’s studies on the evidence of a vacuum, or whether nature abhors a vacuum
as Aristotle claimed, led to his invention of the barometer. Studies on heat, which seventeenth-
century physicists believed was mechanical or a consequence of matter in motion, led later to the
invention of useful thermometers. The first useful thermometers appeared only in the 1700s.