10.5 The Scientific Revolution

Both the Renaissance and the Reformation looked to the past for models. Humanists turned to ancient classical learning. Religious reformers looked to the Bible and early Christian times for inspiration. The Renaissance spirit of inquiry led scientists to explore beyond the knowledge of the ancients.

Illustration of the planet Earth surrounded by a series of circles depicting celestial body orbits and looked on by angels holding banners with Latin inscriptions. Earth is shown with African, European, Asian, Oceanic, Arctic and Antarctic continents.

The ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe and the sun and stars revolved around it. This is an image of Ptolemy's Geocentric Universe.


  • Explain how new discoveries in astronomy changed the way people viewed the universe.
  • Understand the new scientific method and how it developed.
  • Identify the contributions that Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, and other scientists made to the Scientific Revolution.

Key Terms

  • Nicolaus Copernicus
  • heliocentric
  • Tycho Brahe
  • Johannes Kepler
  • Galileo
  • Francis Bacon
  • René Descartes
  • scientific method
  • hypothesis
  • Robert Boyle
  • Isaac Newton
  • gravity
  • calculus

Changing Views of the Universe

Beginning in the 1500s, profound changes took place in the sciences that pointed toward a future shaped by a new way of thinking about the physical universe. These new understandings about the physical world became part of what is now called the Scientific Revolution.

Old Views

Until the mid-1500s, European scholars accepted the ideas set out by ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy had taught that Earth was the center of the universe.

European scholars long accepted this view because it seemed to agree with common sense. It also followed the teachings of the Church. In the 1500s and 1600s, startling discoveries radically changed the way Europeans viewed the physical world.

Copernicus Offers a New Theory

In 1543, Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus (koh PUR nih kus) published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. In it, he proposed a heliocentric, or sun-centered, model of the universe. The sun, he said, stands at the center of the universe. Earth is just one of several planets that revolve around the sun.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments