Prompt: Analyze how political, religious, and social factors affected the work of scientists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Just as the Renaissance saw a great evolution in European art, the Scientific Revolution of approximately the same timeframe was a huge evolution in European science. The works of scientists such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton significantly changed Europeans’ mindsets. Their work was definitely affected by important components of the societies that they lived in. The work of scientists in the Scientific Revolution was affected negatively by both the unfriendliness of the Catholic Church and by sexism, but positively by governmental help for their work.
First, a major factor in the endeavors of these scientists was the staunch opposition of the Catholic Church. The Church had a great deal of control over science at this point in history, as evidenced by Galileo’s experience with the Inquisition, where he was punished by the Church for his work in favor of heliocentricity. Scientists were driven to ingratiate themselves with the Church to make sure that their work would be able to reach enough people. This is certainly seen in the writing of Copernicus to Pope Paul III, when he states, “It is to your Holiness rather than to anyone else that I have chosen to dedicate these studies of mine” (Doc 1). This text is not reliable in showing Copernicus’s true beliefs because it is written to gain the Pope’s support. Clearly Copernicus acknowledges that the Pope is very powerful,therefore requiring Copernicus to gain the Pope’s support in order for his work to be most successful. If the Church had already viewed science positively, this piece in Copernicus’s book, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, would not be necessary. This depicts how the Pope and the Catholic Church negatively affected these scientists. In addition, others lower on the Church’s totem pole aggressively went after science as well. One monk, Giovanni Ciampoli, even wrote to Galileo saying, “It is indispensable, therefore, to remove the possibility of malignant rumors by repeatedly showing your willingness to defer to the authority of those who have jurisdiction over the human intellect, in matters of the interpretation of Scripture” (Doc 3). This writing is very reliable due to the fact that it is a personal correspondence, so Ciampoli’s truest feelings are most likely to be shown. This letter illustrates how scientists were viewed negatively by the Catholic Church who, with substantial power in Europe, were able to negatively affect the works of these scientists. This notable level of control is shown by scientists who still based science on religion, such as Walter Charleton, who wrote, “The creation and arrangement of the atoms can be connected to no other cause, but to an Infinite Wisdom and Power” (Doc 8). From this document, it is evident that Christianity still had a lot of control of thought in this time, even in science. Overall, one primary effect on scientists was the staunch opposition of the Catholic Church.
Second, the division in society, specifically the divide between the genders, also negatively affected these scientists. Sexism was practically the norm at this point, with women barred from a true education, among other things. Henry Oldenbury, the Secretary of the English Royal Society, showed this to be the case in writing, “Friendship among learned men is a great aid to the investigation and elucidation of the truth” (Doc 6). While his intent may have been positive towards creating better scientists, his use of “men” shows hos Europe was still so entrenched in sexism. This hurt science as a whole because half of the population was not allowed participation. Margaret Cavendish, a female scientist, further demonstrates this sexism by writing, “I, being a woman, do fear they would soon cast me out of their schools” (Doc 9). Here, being the victim makes Cavendish a very reliable source on the topic of sexism in the Scientific Revolution timeframe. She saw that women were simply second-class citizens in science during this time. The work of women was thus not treated the same as that of males, causing all of science to lose a great deal of the possible gains of female scientists. On the whole, the sexism of the day had a very detrimental effect on scientists of the Scientific Revolution because they only worked with half of the brilliant Europeans of the day.
Lastly, these scientists had their work positively affected by the governmental help for said work. The French government, in all of its absolutism, was one government in particular that was an ally of science. For example, Document 10 shows King Louis XIV at the French Royal Academy. The King of France would not have been so invested in science if he did not like the field itself. The fact that the French Royal Assembly (started by French government) looks so well developed is a testament to how the scientists’ work was so positively affected by the acts of government. Additionally, Jean Baptiste Colbert, a top executive in French government wrote that, “we [France] have been persuaded for many years to establish several academies of both letters and sciences” (Doc 11). This document is very reliable because it was part of a letter, which, as it was a personal correspondence, would likely show Colbert’s real stance on this topic. It is clear that the French government helped science along significantly with this work in schools because so many discoveries took place at these Academies. In addition, science was also aided by the English government, which set up the English Royal Society as a base for scientific work in England. In short, science was able to become as developed as it did due to the positive backing of governments.
In conclusion, the work of scientists in the Scientific Revolution was affected in a negative manner by the Catholic Church and sexism, but positively affected by the help of governments. Each of these three components of society contributed to the Scientific Revolution in integral ways. They also continued to have an impact on the next big European movement, the Enlightenment, as well.