The Emergence of the Scientific Method

Table of Content

The Scientific Revolution was a period of time during the fifteenth century in which society underwent drastic transformations as a result of newly discovered cultural and academic knowledge (Chalmers, Web). Up until this time, people simply accepted antiquated understandings of the natural world that were significantly influenced by the dominance of the church. In fact, the power of religion was so strong that all divisions of society were believed to be results of god-like intentions, creating the world-wide notion of Devine Right. Therefore, political constructs were hardly ever called into question as that would essentially be doubting the plans of god. Overall, knowledge before the Scientific Revolution was based almost entirely on faith, which greatly hindered individual interpretations of self, the natural world, and society. The emergence of more advanced forms of thinking brought about an intellectual need for methodical reasoning; thus, the scientific method came to light and its application to all aspects of life began.

A new desire to understand one’s role in the universe is ultimately what sparked many of the questions that arose at this time (Mendoza, Web). In order to properly explore such questions, people had to learn to think critically. The work of philosopher Francis Bacon began to be used towards the end of the fifteenth century as a framework of investigation (Burns, Web). Inspired by the development of the printing press, magnetic compass, gun powder, and others of his time, Bacon was motivated by the idea that science and strategy could be used to mankind’s advantage. He sought to stray from Aristotelian deductive logic that he found old-fashioned, and propose a new, inductive form of logistics (Burns, Web). In other words, Bacon believed individuals should establish their own truths through fact gathering and experimentation, rather than assume the truths of others. The only downfall of Bacon’s theories was that he became so procedural that he failed to acknowledge important generalizations (Mendoza, Web).

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Rene Descartes’ work also helped shape the modern scientific method that formulated as a result of the Scientific Revolution. Instead of rejecting deductive reason entirely as Bacon did, Descartes prioritized theoretical science, but also recognized some importance of inductive work through methods experimentation he performed himself (Burns, Web). Despite his value for deductive reasoning, Descartes did reject Aristotelian philosophy, and hoped to produce work that would replace his teachings in schools and life (Burns, Web). He believed the key to scientific success would be working to understand and identify general principles under which all branches of science could be explained (Burns, Web). Hence, Descartes encouraged observation of the basics of nature in order to become capable of grasping the complexities of the universe (Mendoza, Web).

Rene Descartes not only provided insight of reasoning, but also introduced fairly radical ideas to the public. During his lifetime, Descartes experienced the sheer damage and persecution that occurred through religious doctrines during the Thirty Years’ War (Sivers, 389). Observing this war, and watching fellow scientist, Galileo Galilei’s, imprisonment at the hands of the church for his publication of “radical” heliocentric proposals, made Descartes very skeptical of the intents of religion (Sivers, 389). Baffled that church practices would permit such destruction and mistreatment, he looked to abandon all traditional religious understandings and reestablish his individual knowledge with the only sense he felt was reliable, thought (Sivers, 389). Thus, Descartes developed his most famous conclusion; “I think, therefore I am” which stressed the importance of personal thinking and rejection medieval theories (Sivers, 389).

Newfound desire to explore and strengthen personal intellect motivated many to seek enhanced education through sources such as published literature. The groundbreaking invention of the printing press in the mid-fourteenth century and its advance over time had allowed for the translation of various texts and widened the pool of knowledge available to people of all classes. Previously, everything had been written in Latin, a language that conveniently, only priests could interpret (Sivers, 393). This gave clergy ample opportunity to preach deviations of religious messages that would ultimately help to maintain the power of the church as people were unable to translate the truth for themselves. Such ability resulted in numerous religious injustices, including the Indulgences of the Protestant Church (Sivers, 389). Churches used the peoples’ lack of knowledge to their advantage as scare tactics to warn people of being damned to hell. Having such information be translated and more easily accessible and affordable gave society the chance to learn for themselves. In fact, the first piece of literature to be translated was a bible (Sandberg, Web).

Knowledge became progressively more valuable in Europe during this period of intellectual change. Simultaneously, dissatisfaction among society regarding the blatant inequality individuals were forced to face every day grew evermore noticeable. Civilian frustrations, combined with the new desire to enhance individual thought, created a culture determined to further investigate the natural world and their place in it, and begin to question their mistreatment. Overall, people wanted answers to the extensive array of curiosities that arose during this century. The scientific method acted as a general set of guidelines individuals could follow to execute analysis of necessary details in order to prove something to be factual or answer a question.

The modern definition of the scientific method begins with one question for which an answer or explanation is desired. From this question, a hypothesis is formed, which essentially predicts what is believed to be the answer to the starting question. Possible methods and materials for determining an answer to the given question are then assessed. After executing the decided procedure, results are recorded in both qualitative and quantitative forms. Then, after interpreting such results, a conclusion is drawn. Conclusions are in terms of the starting question and hypothesis, and whether or not the results observed supported or disproved the prediction. Ideally, the scientific method is utilized to identify an answer to a question, or encourage further inquiries to expand knowledge and brainstorm alternative means of action. This pattern of critical thinking in search of answers was developed from the influences of both Bacon and Descartes, combining their inductive and deductive extremes into one balanced system (Burns, Web). It became an important combination of factual evidence and personal observation that continues to be utilized today.

Although the structure of the scientific method is usually thought of as a rigid list of steps, there are many different ways this basic principle can be applied in life. The overriding purpose of the method is to ask questions, and the environment in Europe from the mid fourteenth to seventeenth century provided plenty to question. From societal biases, religious corruption, and natural interests, people sought to make their lives easier, as well as better understand it. One’s scientific processes and publications would trigger a domino effect of curiosity that inspired systematic question asking and fact gathering with this newly established method.

Given the name, the usual expectation for the scientific method is to execute scientific procedures. This happened to be just one of the uses in Europe throughout this progressive period. In fact, new understandings and investigations of the natural world encouraged the study of completely new sciences of which non-Aristotelian scientific methodology was the basis (Sivers, 383). As European countries began seeking new land, the planets structure began to be analyzed. Nicolaus Copernicus was one of the first to interpret that the discovery of the Americas provided proof, which is an essential requirement in the scientific method, for the theory that the Earth was a single sphere of land and water (Sivers, 383). This motivated new interests for Copernicus, who then used this proof and additional theories to rationalize a heliocentric model of the universe (Sivers, 384).

Copernicus’ work inspired Galileo Galilei to stage his own series of critical thinking studies of the universe. However, Galileo published his heliocentric beliefs and findings in Italian, giving the public access to knowledge that seemed to directly oppose that of the bible (Sivers, 384). For this, he was placed under house arrest by the church, which sent a chill through the European scientific communities where the church was of full authority (Sivers, 385). For countries in which the church was not an overpowering institution, education and exploration were funded rather than frowned upon.

In the countries that encouraged academic progression, centers of education were developed. These centers became known as salons, and were generally inclusive, even allowing the participation of women (Sivers, 385). Loads of inspiration emerged from these centers, where people questioned the elements of the world. In other words, people inspired each other, as everyone naturally has varying ideas. Individuals strived to use science and technology to benefit their lives; therefore, inventions such as the vacuum and steam engine were created (Sivers, 388). Societies that valued academic progress thrived in numerous ways

Those that remained restrained by the religious powers of their countries began to question the intentions of the church. Utilizing translated resources revealed the true message of god, and brought about dissatisfaction with the amount of power the church obtained (Sivers, 393). People began to demand a return to the old, simplistic form of religion rather than the money and power-driven control it had become (Sivers, 393) This unhappiness began with gaining knowledge through literacy that eventually gave people the information they needed to start asking questions.

Once people gathered enough information to begin questioning social injustices imposed by the church, strategies of making themselves heard had to be brainstormed. The church refused to comply, and the movement resulted in many religious wars (Sivers, 393). Those who sought change, including Martin Luther, chose to identify factors that needed to change and document them for others to see (Sivers, 393). Spreading the document ignited a greater fire of support from the people of religiously dominated countries. Eventually, the resistance grew so strong, the church had to fulfill certain demands (Sivers, 393). Inspired by change, serious reformation took place throughout the churches in Europe (Sivers, 395).

After realizing literacy, knowledge, and strategic action could bring about rewarding change, individuals began analyzing other aspects of society that seemed unfair. During the fifteenth and sixteenth century, politics were incredibly biased to those with money, nobles (Sivers, 396). This made civil structure very skewed, and money distribution extremely disproportional (Sivers, 396). Since religion had always maintained a tight grasp on government, it was common for there to be a fair amount of prejudice directed towards those of other religions (Sivers 396). As people saw they could cause change with sufficient reasoning and action, civil wars began breaking out. Such wars occurred in France as religious discrimination became a nationwide problem (Sivers, 396). A civil war also occurred in England for similar reasons (Sivers, 387).

Major countries had previously divided up land among themselves, giving countries like Spain control over the Netherlands (Sivers, 396). As the Spanish overlords enforced their catholic religion in the Dutch community, natives became increasingly angry (Sivers, 396). Eventually, the forcefulness became so intense that Philip II ordered the persecution of Calvinists (Sivers, 396). The people became so fed up that they believed freeing themselves from Spanish rule was the only way to solve the problem completely; therefore, The Dutch War of Independence broke out (Sivers 396). Many countries desired completely redesigned governments in which the people had more say, and began fighting for it as societal intelligence advanced.

Although physical inventions and scientific discoveries enhanced the lives of many from the fourteenth to seventeenth century, it would not have been possible had individuals not learned to think methodically. Problem solving, and systematic steps of discovery had to be established. Movements cannot be started without proper reasoning and execution. The process of asking why things are the way they are, and what can be done to improve them has been a crucial development in human thought throughout all of history. Without the general steps laid out in the scientific method, many inventions, social accomplishments, and academic understandings might not have been sufficiently explored. Whether people realize that they are using the guidelines set by the scientific method, the general pattern of systematic thinking is universal. The events of fourteenth to seventeenth century Europe was a great period of influence on society as a whole, and paved the way for intellectual advances through thorough investigation.

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The Emergence of the Scientific Method. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from

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