ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
such as Galileo Galilei in Italy and Francis Bacon in England, who adopted the rational/empirical technique for the discovery of truth. All cultures have their sciences, which is derived from the Latin sciencia meaning knowledge. However, systematic observations and experiments were not made until the scientific revolution. The essence of the scientific method, as Bacon, for instance, used it, consists of putting forth a hypothesis, gathering data, and then conducting experiments as objectively as possible, verifying or invalidating the original hypothesis. On the basis of the results, the scientist then forms further hypotheses, subject to further testing. Other scientists then attempt to replicate the experiments, and publish their results. If a hypothesis seems confirmed by the positive findings of scientists, it is elevated to the status of a theory, which means that it is highly probable. In a very few instances, the evidence is so overwhelming that the theory is accepted as a law, which is as close to truth as science is able to come.
This method differed sharply from the science of the Scholastic philosophers of medieval times. Thomas Aquinas, for example, distinguished between natural philosophy and revelation. The latter was accepted on faith as the Word of God, disclosed not only in Scripture but in the life of the Church. Reason, however, was considered capable of proving certain truths such as the existence of God. Where the natural world was concerned, the Scholastics deferred to tradition, and especially to Aristotle, whose writings were regarded as authoritative. (In this, they did not follow Aristotle’s own method, which was empirical.)
The Scientific Revolution involved both the rejection of natural philosophy and the authority of Aristotle. The pioneer scientists such as Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Kepler set out to study nature by observing it, and by conducting experiments. Galileo devised a crude telescope from optical devices invented in Holland and turned it on the heavens. He discovered to his amazement that Jupiter was a globe surrounded by moons which circled it. From this he reasoned that Jupiter’s system was a microcosm of the cosmos itself. Basing his theory on the heliocentric or sun-centered cosmic system proposed earlier by Copernicus, Galileo advanced the idea that the earth was a planet like the other five known ones, and that it revolved around the sun.
Galileo’s model offended certain powerful academics, especially professors at the University of Bologna. According to legend, one refused to look through his telescope lest all that he knew would be refuted. The professors pressured the papacy into suppressing Galileo’s ideas. He was hauled before the Holy Office, the court of the Inquisition, shown the instruments of torture, and warned that it would be prudent for him to recant. He did, muttering, it is said, “But it [the earth] still moves.”
Not long after Galileo’s time, the center of intellectual ferment shifted north of the Alps to Holland and Britain, both of which were Protestant. There was considerable intellectual freedom in both countries at the end of the seventeenth century, and further observations and experiments were made by pioneer scientists such as Huyghens in Holland, Johannes Kepler in Germany,