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Scientific revolution of the 16th-17th centuries takes a period of about 140 years, from 1543 from the publication of Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres till 1687 the publication of the Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

The modern style of scientific thinking did not occur at once. The new science matured long and gradually. Early modern scientists freely move from different practices in alchemy, astrology to natural, philosophical ideas. The coexistence of old and new, elevating the spirit, is characteristic of this period.

The complex processes of destruction the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition and establishing of a new system of representations based on many ideological sources such as:

a) A strong influence of the Reformation and religious ideas (especially Luther and Calvin, J.);

b) The complex of Renaissance “secret” studies (magical, alchemical, and others);

c) The distribution of the various concepts of Antiquity (skepticism of Pyrrho, the atomism of Democritus, Epicurus, and the ethical teachings of the Epicureans and Stoics, Pythagorean-Platonic views, especially Platonism).

Religious Reformation was a revolution in the spiritual life. It had far-reaching consequences in all areas. The important thing for the development of science was that the Reformation produced a critical work, in relation to the medieval world view, rejecting Aristotelian, scholastic performance.

At that time, the scientists saw a high religious significance in scientific work. From their point of view, scientific discoveries did not jostle the religion, but rather deepening religious feeling, revealing the perfection of the Universe and the wisdom of the Creator. Figures of the scientific revolution were convinced that there is a natural harmony of religion, metaphysics and science.

The first figures of the Scientific Revolution were Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) justified the submission of the heliocentric system of the Universe. Historians of science (I. Cohen, Kuhn and others) showed that, at the time, the Copernican system was not easier than the Ptolemy’s geocentric. A lot of unexamined parts make it very vulnerable to criticism. This requires considerable effort to refine and fix.

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In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his treatise De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), which presented a heliocentric model view of the Universe. It took about 200 years for a heliocentric model to replace the Ptolemaic model.

To describe the innovation initiated by Copernicus as the simple interchange of the position of the earth and the sun is to make a molehill out of a promontory in the development of human thought. If Copernicus’ proposal had made no consequences outside astronomy, it would have been neither so long delayed nor so strenuously resisted.

However, it carried a certain aesthetic perfection, which was not present in the system of Ptolemy. It was consistent with the popular Renaissance ideas about the unique role of the sun in the Universe, and, in addition, it did not leave anything arbitrary in the movements of the planets. It served as a rational design model.

In 1530, he presented the main points of his theory, in a handwritten essay “Small Commentary”. Information about the new doctrine came to the pope’s surrounding. So in 1536 Cardinal turned to Copernicus with a letter in which he asked to send a detailed exposition of the theory with the tables for calculating the position of the planets.

Copernicus was aware of the theory’s revolutionary force. He knew that it encroached on dogmas that were approved by the authority. This explains his long fluctuations about writing and publication of his foreword, with which he addressed to Pope Paul III. The foreword he wrote in different variants. He referred to the motivation of Cardinal and Bishop. Also, he took into account the fact that the doctrine of the Earth motion was expressed by ancient people.

Copernicus’s work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres contains six books. An appeal to the reader, in which the author points out that in the book we consider the motion of the planets and stars, is published on the front page. It is “presented on the basis of both ancient and modern observations, developed in new and amazing theories.” Thus, the appeal, recommended the book as a “schedule” of planetary motion, as compiled on the basis of observations, and the new theories.

In an address to Pope Paul III, Copernicus criticized the theory of epicycles that was not agreed well with observations. It did not give the whole picture of the Universe:

Perhaps there will be babblers who claim to be judges of astronomy although completely ignorant of the subject and, badly distorting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, will dare to find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent of despising their criticism as unfounded. For it is not unknown that Lactantius, otherwise an illustrious writer but hardly an astronomer, speaks quite childishly about the earth’s shape, when he mocks those who declared that the earth has the form of a globe. Hence scholars need not be surprised if any such persons will likewise ridicule me. Astronomy is written for astronomers. To them my work too will seem, unless I am mistaken, to make some contribution also to the Church, at the head of which Your Holiness now stands. (Copernicus)

Copernicus wrote that he was annoyed that the philosophers did not have any reliable theory about the mechanism of the Earth movement. The comparison of the world mechanism with the mechanism that was used by Copernicus vividly expresses the essence of his main idea. He wanted to build a simple model of the solar system, its kinematic mechanism. Such mechanism he attributed to the movement of all other planets, including the Earth. This step of Copernicus really had revolutionary significance. He made the Earth as an ordinary member of the family of planets. He broke the Aristotelian doctrines of the church, contrast of the everyday views.

Making one revolutionary step, Copernicus was forced to do the next one. So as the motion of the Earth was not reflected in the visible picture of the sphere of fixed stars; he accepted that the visible area is extremely large compared to the size of Earth’s orbit. The distance of the Earth from the center of the world will be small, especially in relation to the sphere of fixed stars.

Anyone who denies that the earth occupies the middle or center of the Universe may evertheless assert that its distance is insignificant in comparison with [the distance of] the sphere of the fixed stars, but perceptible and noteworthy in relation to the spheres of the sun and the other planets.” – says Copernicus. The Universe itself is infinitely large compared to the Earth: “Yet a line drawn from the earth’s surface [to a point in the firmament] must be distinct from the line drawn from the earth’s center [to the same point]. Nevertheless, because these lines are immense in relation to the earth, they become like parallel lines [III, 15]. Because their terminus is enormously remote they appear to be a single line. For in comparison with their length the space enclosed by them becomes imperceptible, as is demonstrated in optics. This reasoning certainly makes it quite clear that the heavens are immense by comparison with the earth and present the aspect of an infinite magnitude, while on the testimony of the senses the earth is related to the heavens as a point to a body, and a finite to an infinite magnitude. (Copernicus ch. 6)

So the new doctrine of space introduced by Copernicus was directed to the materialistic atomism. It also inevitably led to the idea of the relativity of motion and the physical relativism. “For when a ship is floating calmly along, the sailors see its motion mirrored in everything outside, while on the other hand they suppose that they are stationary, together with everything on board. In the same way, the motion of the earth can unquestionably produce the impression that the entire Universe is rotating. (It is intended as the movement between the observer and the observed)” (Copernicus 8).

Later Copernicus returned to the question of the relative movement. He wrote:

The waters press down into the same figure also, as sailors are aware, since land which is not seen from a ship is visible from the top of its mast. On the other hand, if a light is attached to the top of the mast, as the ship draws away from land, those who remain ashore see the light drop down gradually until it finally disappears, as though setting. Water, furthermore, being fluid by nature, manifestly always seeks the same lower levels as earth and pushes up from the shore no higher than its rise permits. Hence whatever land emerges out of the ocean is admittedly that much higher. (Copernicus 2)

Thus, the kinematic motion of the observer and the observed are the same, so the Earth and the Universe are in the kinematic motion. This explains the age-old illusion of Earth immobility. Astronomical and philosophical considerations forced Copernicus to assume that the immobility of the Earth was just an illusion. Later, Galileo developed these ideas of Copernicus with particular thoroughness. He formulated the classical principle of relativity.


To summarize all above said, it should be mentioned that in his work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543) Nicholas Copernicus showed that the movement of the celestial spheres can be explained without the claim that the Earth is at the geometric center of the system. This led to the rejection of the assumption that we are observing the Universe from the particular point in space. Although Copernicus initiated the scientific revolution, he did not complete it. He continued to believe in the “celestial spheres”. Copernicus helped in the observation. He gave evidence that his theory was closer to the truth than the Ptolemaic system.