The Scientific Revolution by Steven Shapin

Historians refer to the changes brought about by such luminaries as Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, Boyle and Newton in the 16th and 17th centuries as the “Scientific Revolution”. The science of the Greeks and Scholastics was replaced by something that looks like science as it’s practiced today.

The theme of this book is that the “Scientific Revolution” wasn’t as clear-cut as historians and philosophers often imply. The scientists of the time disagreed about how science should be conducted. For example, some questioned the value of experimentation. If an experiment contradicted received opinion, many concluded that the experiment was performed incorrectly. Robert Boyle thought that scientists should perform many experiments and describe them in great detail. He never expressed “Boyle’s Law” (pV = k) in mathematical terms. Isaac Newton thought that a single experiment was good enough to allow the mathematical formulation of a law of nature. 

Science was also generally considered to be the “handmaiden of religion”. Showing that nature operated like a vast machine was thought to be evidence of God’s supernatural powers and wisdom. We had to wait for Darwin to show how “mere chance” could write a chapter in the Book of Nature.  (2/9/12)


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