For the long centuries of the Middle Ages (500-1350 AD) the canon of scientific knowledge had experienced little change, and the Catholic Church had preserved acceptance of a system of beliefs based on the teachings of the ancient Greeks and Romans which it had incorporated into religious doctrine. During this period there was little scientific inquiry and experimentation. Rather, students of the sciences simply read the works of the alleged authorities and accepted their word as truth. However, during the Renaissance this doctrinal passivity began to change. The quest to understand the natural world led to the revival of botany and anatomy by thinkers such as Andreas Vesalius during the later sixteenth century.
These scientific observers were surprised to find that their conclusions did not always match up with the accepted truths, and this finding inspired others to delve further into the study of the world around them. Scientific study quickly extended from the earth to the heavens, and Nicolas Copernicus, upon examining the records of the motions of heavenly bodies, soon discarded the old geocentric theory that placed the Earth at the center of the solar system and replaced it with a heliocentric theory in which the Earth was simply one of a number of planets orbiting the sun. Though this scheme seemed to comply better with the astronomical records of the time, Copernicus had little direct evidence to support his claims. Not ready to abandon traditional beliefs, the forces of tradition, in the form of the Church and the mass of Europeans, kept the heliocentric theory from achieving full acceptance. The theory awaited the advancement of mathematics and physics to support its claims.
The wait was not very long. During the early seventeenth century, mathematics experienced a great deal of progress in the form of the development of algebra, trigonometry, the advance of geometry, and the linkage of form and motion with quantifiable numeric values undertaken by Rene Descartes. Armed with these tools, the science of physics began to advance rapidly. During the late sixteenth century Galileo Galilei demonstrated that gravity accelerated all objects toward the Earth at the same rate, and further explored the laws of motion. Other physicists explored the nature of matter, with the greatest advances coming in the understanding of the properties of gases, leading to the invention of the barometer, thermometer, and air pump. Physicists even strove (largely unsuccessfully) to discover the structure of matter on the atomic scale.
One of the first applications of the knowledge gained from the advance of physics was in the realm of biology. The physiology of the human body could now be understood in terms of its mechanical properties, and during the seventeenth century many of the mysteries of the human body disappeared. However, the most notable application of the laws of physics was in the field of astronomy. Johannes Kepler proved the orbits of the planets were elliptical, but was unable to come up with an effective model of the solar system. That was left to Galileo, who in 1630 published his Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World, in which he supported the Copernican, or heliocentric theory of the universe, and denounced the Aristotelian system, which maintained the geocentric theory. Galileo supported his claims with elaborate evidence derived from the study of physics.
Sir Isaac Newton's work was the capstone of this evolving chain of science. He integrated Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Galileo's forays into the laws of gravity into a comprehensive understanding of the organization of the universe according to the law of universal gravitation. Newton's Principia, in which he lays out this comprehensive system of organization and develops the mathematical field of calculus, is seen as the key which unlocked the mysteries of the universe, the climax of the strivings of all of the Scientists of the Scientific Revolution.
1543: Andreas Vesalius Publishes On the Fabric of the Human Body This is considered to be the first great modern work of science and the foundation of modern biology. In it, Vesalius makes unprecedented observations about the structure of the human body.
1543: Nicolas Copernicus Publishes De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of Celestial Bodies) Copernicus' masterwork; he sets out the heliocentric theory.
1584: Giordano Bruno Publishes The Ash-Wednesday Supper,On Cause, Principle, and Unity, and On the Infinite Universe and Its Worlds The renegade Italian monk unfolds his philosophy, the centerpiece of which is the contention that the universe is infinitely large and that the Earth is by no means at the center of it. For the expression of his thoughts, Bruno is burned at the stake as a heretic.
1591: Francois Viete Invents Analytical Trigonometry Viete's invention is essential to the study of physics and astronomy.
1591: Galileo Galilei Demonstrates the Properties of Gravity Galileo demonstrates, from the top of the leaning tower of Pisa, that a one- pound weight and a one hundred-pound weight, dropped at the same moment, hit the ground at the same moment, refuting the contention of the Aristotelian system that the rate of fall of an object is dependent upon its weight. He expounds fully on this demonstration years later in his 1638 Discourse on Two New Sciences.
1610: Galileo Publishes Messenger of the Heavens Galileo's 24-page booklet describes his telescopic observations of the moon's surface, and of Jupiter's moons, making the Church uneasy. The Inquisition soon warns Galileo to desist from spreading his theories.
1614: John Napier Publishes Description of the Marvelous Canon of Logarithms Napier's invention and cataloguing of logarithms is an essential step in easing the task of numerical calculation.
1618: Johannes Kepler Reveals His Third and Final Law of Planetary Motion Kepler's laws of planetary motion describe the form and operation of planetary orbits, and are the final step leading to the academic rejection of the Aristotelian system.
1620: Francis Bacon Publishes Novum Organum Bacon attempts to create organization and cooperation within the scientific community by demonstrating how the diverse fields of science relate to one another.
1630: Galileo Publishes Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World Galileo's magnum opus uses the laws of physics to refute the Aristotelian contention that the Earth is the center of the solar system and supports the heliocentric Copernican view. Galileo presents the doctrine of uniformity, which claims that the laws of terrestrial physics are no different than the laws of celestial physics.
1633: Galileo is Forced to Recant his Theories The Inquisition forces Galileo to sign a recantation and condemns him to house arrest for the remaining nine years of his life. His Dialogue is ordered burned as heretical, and his sentence to be read at every university.
1637: Rene Descartes Publishes His Discourse on Method Descartes' work sets forth the principles of deductive reasoning as used in the modern scientific method.
1637: Rene Descartes Publishes Geometry In this landmark work, Descartes discusses how motion may be represented as a curve along a graph, defined by its relation to planes of reference.
1643: Evangelista Torricelli Invents the Barometer Torricelli's invention measures air pressure, demonstrating that air does indeed have weight, and that the pressure caused by that weight differs in different situations.
1656: Otto von Guericke Invents the Air Pump Van Guerick demonstrates the properties of a vacuum by using his air pump to take the air from within his famous "Magdeberg hemispheres," which, though easily separated in normal conditions, could not be parted by two teams of sixteen horses once he had removed the air.
1662: The Royal Society of London is Officially Organized by King Charles II The Royal Society brings together the greatest minds of the region in efforts to advance science through cooperation. Similar societies subsequently spring up throughout Europe, creating an intellectual network, which produces many of the scientific advances of the later seventeenth century.
1666: Robert Boyle Publishes Origin of Form and Qualities Boyle's work, though highly flawed, sets the stage for the study of matter on the atomic level.
1680: Giovanni Alfonso Borelli Publishes On the Motion of Animals Borelli's work is the greatest early triumph of the application of mechanical laws to the human organism.
1687: Isaac Newton Publishes Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica Perhaps the most important event in the history of science, the Principia lays out Newton's comprehensive model of the universe as organized according to the law of universal gravitation. The Principia represents the integration of the works of all of the great astronomers who preceded Newton, and remains the basis of modern physics and astronomy.
1692: The Salem Witch Trials Take Place in Massachusetts Indicative of the maintenance of traditional superstitions even late in the seventeenth century, 200 people are tried for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Over 7,000 women were executed for witchcraft in Europe between 1550 and 1700, largely in association with the various theological battles of the Reformation.