AP European History
Concept 1.1 – The worldview of European intellectuals shifted from one based on ecclesiastical and classical authority to one based primarily on inquiry and observation of the natural world.


During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans developed new approaches to and methods for looking at the natural world in what historians have called the Scientific Revolution. Aristotle’s classical cosmology and Ptolemy’s astronomical system came under increasing scrutiny from natural philosophers (later called scientists) such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. The philosophers Francis Bacon and René Descartes articulated comprehensive theories of inductive and deductive reasoning to give the emerging scientific method a sound foundation. Bacon urged the collection and analysis of data about the world and spurred the development of an international community of natural philosophers dedicated to the vast enterprise of what came to be called natural science. In medicine, the new approach to knowledge led physicians such as William Harvey to undertake observations that produced new explanations of anatomy and physiology, and to challenge the traditional theory of health and disease (the four humors) espoused by Galen in the second century. The articulation of natural laws, often expressed mathematically, became the goal of science.

Supporting Concepts and Examples

New ideas in science based on observation, experimentation, and mathematics challenged classical views of the cosmos, nature, and the human body, though folk traditions of knowledge and the universe persisted.

New ideas and methods in astronomy led individuals such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton to question the authority of the ancients and religion and to develop a heliocentric view of the cosmos.

Anatomical and medical discoveries by physicians, including William Harvey, presented the body as an integrated system, challenging the traditional humoral theory of the body and of disease espoused by Galen.

Additional physicians who challenged Galen:

Francis Bacon and René Descartes defined inductive and deductive reasoning and promoted experimentation and the use of mathematics, which would ultimately shape the “scientific method.”

Alchemy and astrology continued to appeal to elites and to some natural philosophers, in part because they shared with the new science the notion of a predictable and knowable universe. In oral culture of peasants, a belief that the cosmos was governed by divine and demonic forces persisted.

Natural philosophers who persisted in holding traditional views of alchemy and astrology:

Reading Assignments

Reading 1: Pages 476-478

Background to the Scientific Revolution:
 Ancient Authors and Renaissance Artists
 Technological Innovations and Mathematics
 Renaissance Magic

Reading 2: Pages 478-488

Toward a New Heaven: A Revolution in Astronomy:

Reading 3: Pages 488-493

Advances in Medicine and Chemistry:
Women in the Origins of Modern Science:
 Margaret Cavendish
 Maria Merian
 Maria Winkelman

Reading 4: Pages 493-499

Toward a New Earth: Descartes, Rationalism, and a New View of Humankind
The Scientific Method and the Spread of Scientific Knowledge:

 The Scientific Method
 The Spread of Scientific Knowledge
 Science and Religion

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