Was the Copernican Revolution truly revolutionary?

December 9, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

The Copernican revolution refers to the period in cosmic history when Nicolai Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, attempted, and succeeded to a degree, to prove that the earth was part of a heliocentric universe (a universe with the sun as it’s centre, as opposed to geocentric universe, which hypothesizes that the earth is the centre of the cosmos). It directly contradicted the research of Aristotle and Ptolemy, who both believed strongly in the existence of a geocentric cosmos. The work of Ptolemy in particular was widely accepted and approved of by the church when his ideas were publishes in his book ‘Almagest’, which means the great system in Arabic. The fact that Copernicus’ work is referred to as a revolution would suggest that a great deal of change would have had to take place for it to be termed something as substantial as a revolution.

That is why it will be analysed whether this period truly was revolutionary. The topic is, however, extremely contentious as both sides can be debated to an extent. It is up to individuals how they view the evidence and decide on whether the Copernican Revolution was indeed revolutionary. The reason that this revolution was named after Nicolai Copernicus is because he was seen as the first person to essentially disagree with the church with reference to cosmology, as those before him had been too afraid to speak out against the then supreme power. The Copernican Revolution occurred during the Renaissance period, which was from the 14th century to the middle of the 16th century. This period, meaning re-birth, saw a great change in man’s attitude towards authority, with the first ideas of liberty and freedom introduced. Therefore the era fits hand in hand with the Copernican Revolution which was all about the changing of trains of thought.

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Of the reasons which lead us to believe that the Copernican Revolution was truly revolutionary, a central one would have to be the introduction of the heliocentric cosmos. This theory directly contradicted Ptolemy’s research which had stood correct and almost holy to astronomers for hundreds of years, and therefore caused a major uproar, not least because it was condemned by the church as blasphemous. It was especially scorned by the church and churchmen who believed that the earth was the physical centre of the earth and that man was unique and therefore placed on the earth by God for a special reason. The fact that hundreds or years of belief could be overthrown by a new approach in so short a space of time would have been a great change, and therefore classified as revolutionary.

To go against the church during the time would have been extremely dangerous as the church held the most power. Copernicus took this task upon himself, accepting the big risk involved of such an act, although he published his writings close to the time of his death and was therefore dealt with leniently. His book was published in 1543 and was titled ‘Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres’. Condemned as blasphemous by the church, it refused to rethink its following of the Ptolemaic approach and the cosmology of Aristotle and was firm in the belief of the earth being the physical centre of the cosmos. Due to the fear inflicted by the church on the people at the time, not many people would have disagreed with God or the church, for fear of the repercussions imposed by the church, as Giordano Bruno would later find out. To take such a stance at the time in defense of his beliefs, Copernicus could well be seen as making a significant difference, thus laying the roots of a revolution now known as the Copernican Revolution.

The Copernican revolution would also be viewed as a true revolution due to its impact on the future generations who relied on his research as the foundations for their own new discoveries. Isaac Newton summarized this effect when he said that he was merely standing on the shoulders of giants, referring to Copernicus as the giant. This just shows how profound Copernicus’ efforts were, as one of the greatest scientists ever compliments his work. There were others who benefited from Copernicus’ hard work as well, namely Johann Kepler and Galileo Galilei, both of whom are attributed with remarkable success in astrology, and both of whom used Copernicus’ work as a foundation to their own discoveries. If one man’s work can have such far reaching results, then it does seem to deserve to be titled a revolution.

The Copernican revolution was only given its name many years after the ‘revolution’ had taken place, and this is due to the fact that it took a lot of time to prove Copernicus’ theories to be true. The reason it was eventually given a title as an important event was because Copernicus was in fact correct all along with his theory of the heliocentric cosmos. The fact that he was right after hundreds of years of contrary belief shows how significant his discovery was and that how major a change this was, as so many people still did not believe him due to the influence of the church, and this proves that such a significant event deserves to be identified as a revolution.

After considering the evidence so far, it does appear to reveal the fact that the Copernican revolution was indeed revolutionary. But we have still not taken into account the contradictory evidence which would suggest otherwise. There is in fact plenty of evidence which would suggest that the Copernican Revolution was not all that revolutionary, but just another scientific discovery like many before it and many after it.

One such example is the fact that some people do not credit Copernicus as the first person to present the heliocentric cosmos. In fact, it was first theorized by the astrologist Aristarchis, in the 3rd century B.C. Copernicus used Aristarchus’ research for his own work on the heliocentric cosmos. This presents us with the first thoughts that Nicolai Copernicus did not in fact cause the revolution and that it could not have been a revolution if he was not the first person to make these discoveries. So the Copernican revolution could not have even occurred if we see Aristarchus as the detector of the heliocentric cosmos, which tells us that the Copernican Revolution was not actually a revolution.

The Copernican Revolution occurred during a time of change, which we now know as the Renaissance period. This was an era of great change as the word renaissance itself means re-birth and it saw a change in man’s attitude towards authority, with authority at the time being chiefly the church. Although there was no anti-Christian sentiment, the questioning of authority itself was a great step forward for the very conservative people then. The fact that the Copernican Revolution occurred during this time period maybe suggests that it was just a cog in the much larger wheel of the Renaissance, and that the changes in thought that stemmed from Copernicus’ theories were just a part of the Renaissance thinking. This would appear to disprove any notion that there was a revolution due to Copernicus’ work, but it was more in keeping with what was happening to the entire region at the time.

Copernicus’s research and theories were very significant and important as we would probably agree, but the fact was that not all of his work was entirely correct, but had to be perfected and modified by many scientists after him. Copernicus incorporated Ptolemy’s epicycles into his theories when it was Ptolemy who he was attempting to disprove, a contradiction which would lead us to believe that he did not really know what he was doing. This work was then modified and perfected by Kepler, Galileo and Newton who used some of Copernicus’ work as a foundation to find out new things about the cosmos. This evidence shows that Copernicus could have started a revolution based on his work as it was fundamentally inaccurate and contradicted its original aim, which was to disprove another theory, and instead, used that very same theory in his own work.

Thus, it can be seen from all the evidence gathered so far that there is a good argument for and against the argument as to whether the Copernican Revolution was truly revolutionary. it could be said that yes, it was because he was credited with the change from a geocentric to a heliocentric cosmos, went against that church and laid the foundations for future giants of science and astrology that Copernicus did in fact cause a revolution but that is countered by the facts that he was not actually the first person to hypothesize a heliocentric cosmos, had the Renaissance era helping his cause and his research was not perfected. Both sided leave us with a dilemma as to which argument we believe is correct. The most probably answer is that the Copernican Revolution was revolutionary to an extent, that it was a great change, as the word revolution would suggest but also had some misgivings which lead us to believe fully in this event.


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