Mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry—before the scientific revolution, these concepts lived only in philosophers’ daydreams, not students’ textbooks.
Philosophers would ponder nature, and (unless they conflicted with the church) society didn’t pay much heed to their ideas. But between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, new knowledge emerged that brought science to the forefront of how we now understand our world.
If you are planning to pursue a liberal arts education, read on to learn more about four of the greatest minds behind the Scientific Revolution.
Copernicus: Natural Science’s Free Radical
Historians say Nicolaus Copernicus launched the Scientific Revolution, with his work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543. He proposed heliocentrism, a radical displacement of the accepted Earth-centric understanding of the universe.
Proposing (correctly) that the planets revolve around the sun got Copernicus vilified by the religious community—but paved the way for major scientific advancements, like our modern calendar.
Once you start your liberal arts program, you’ll be taught the value of critical thinking. Copernicus is a great example of someone who thoroughly assessed evidence and arguments before formulating his very own intellectual position, and the world is better for it.
Galileo: Bringing New Tools to Natural Science Studies
Galileo Galilei began his career studying medicine at the University of Pisa, but an accidental stumble upon a geometry class dramatically shifted his focus. A hands-on learner, he experimented with pendulums, lenses, and gears, laying the foundation for classical mechanics.
He introduced telescopes as tools to study the universe, charted the movement of moons and stars, and built the first ever thermometers.
But Galileo also faced constant, often violent resistance from the Church of his time. His struggles to promote his findings are an ideal case study for why we need social sciences studies; to broaden our understanding of the cultural climates that produce—or inhibit—great work.
Newton: Measuring the World’s Wonders
A revolutionary physicist and mathematician, Newton formed the basis of natural sciences studies as early as 1687 with theories on motion and gravity that amazed the world. His influence on society’s understanding was so ground-breaking that it earned him a knighthood, the first ever to be awarded to a scientist. After Newton’s death, poet Alexander Pope summed up his influence on his gravestone:
Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.
Newtonian fluids, Newton’s cradle, Newton scale, Newton fractals, and Newtons (the international units of measurement for force) are just a few of his major contributions now commonly found in the natural science curriculums of liberal arts colleges worldwide.
Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier: Pioneering Social Science Studies
Students at small liberal arts colleges learn that history can be read from multiple perspectives. While patriarchy suppressed and erased many women from the scientific revolution, Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier’s work lives on. She and her husband Antoine Lavoisier are credited for bringing chemistry to public attention.
She used her language and fine art training to translate British and German scientific papers and draw neat diagrams of the chemical experiments she and her husband would conduct—bringing new and detailed understandings of chemistry to the people of France.
Marie-Anne wanted to show the scientific process to the masses, so she held salons demonstrating their experiments, bringing science into public conversation like never before. Her book Elementary Treatise on Chemistry (1789) is widely considered one of the best chemistry books ever written.
Lavoisier is proof that liberal arts go hand in hand with math and science education. Without an understanding of culture and nature, science exists in a vacuum, incapable of affecting people’s real-world views.
Big questions about the nature of the universe need thinkers with a comprehensive understanding of our global community. Global warming, species extinction, and today’s technological takeover can’t be tackled by scientists alone. The world needs critical minds like yours.
Are you interested in pursuing a liberal arts education? VisitShimer for more information or to speak with an advisor.