Lesson 4: The Renaissance

1. Copernicus and the heliocentric system. Scientific and theological difficulties. The distinction between a real physical explanation and saving the appearances. Brahe and Kepler. The importance of precision. Kepler's determination of the orbit of Mars.

2. Galileo. The invention of the telescope and the observation of the satellites of Jupiter the mountains on the moon and the spots on the sun. Measurements of the motions of projectiles and of failing bodies. Opposition from the Aristotelian philosophers. Advocate of the Copernican system. Difficulties with the interpretation of Scripture.

3. Newton and the foundation of modern science. Synthesis of the rationalism of Descartes and the empiricism of Bacon. Laws of motion and theory of universal gravitation. The unification of terrestrial and celestial dynamics. The world as a machine and the theology of deism.

4. The scientific attitude. What does it mean to be a scientist?

Reading List

J. Barbour, Absolute or Relative Motion: The Discovery of Dynamics. Cambridge, 1989.

E.A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1932.

S. Chandrasekhar, Truth and Beauty. Chicago, 1990.

R. Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman?

A.R. Hall, The Scientific Revolution 1500-1800. Longmans, 1954.

G. Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein. Harvard, 1973.

A. Koestler, The Watershed: A Biography of Johannes Kepler. Doubleday, 1959.

D.C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago, 1992.

W.R. Shea, Galileo's Intellectual Revolution. Science History Publications, 1977.

C.S. Singleton (Ed), Art, Science and History in the Renaissance. Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1967.

R.S. Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton. Cambridge, 1980.


1. Discuss the arguments for preferring the heliocentric theory of the solar system to the geocentric theory.

2. What is the difference between a real theory and one that 'saves the appearances'?

3. How did Galileo's observations support the heliocentric theory?

4. Discuss the importance of Galileo's early work on the science of motion.

5. What was the most important contribution made by Galileo to the scientific method?

6. Did Galileo's discoveries conflict with the Bible?

7. What was Newton's greatest achievement?

8. If the world is a machine governed by mathematics, what has become of the Providence of God?

9. What are the main characteristics of the attitude of the scientist to the material world?


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