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Which Was the Most Significant in Defining the Concept of Europe

Essay by   •  May 17, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,784 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,914 Views

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On a scale of historical impact, it may appear that the scientific revolution lacks the bloodthirsty violence and radicalism of the French Revolution or the heart-wrenching and terrible conditions of the working classes that saw children working in mines during the Industrial revolution. Yet, despite these deficiencies, in a comparison between these three revolutions on which had the greatest impact on defining Europe, the scientific revolution is victorious. The industrial and French revolutions did little in actually defining Europe and were significantly influenced by, if not direct products of, the Scientific Revolution.

Defining the concept of "Europe" becomes complicated when historical, national and present attitudes are considered. The idea of Europe has continually changed from the 1450's when Pope Pius II first applied it is an adjective. Since that time it has been defined as a mode of living, a way of thinking, a geographical continent, then a sub-continent, an economic union and many other. For this very reason, any definition will be contentious and disagreed with by some individuals. For that attempt at simplicity for this essay, Europe shall be geographically determined as the area bordered on the West by the Atlantic Ocean and to the East as far as the Ural Mountains, Ural River and the Caspian Sea. From the Arctic Ocean it then extends southward to the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

With this definition however, there is a need for consideration of the possibility that the contempories of the Scientific, Industrial and French Revolutions would not have defined Europe by our own Twenty First Century standards. This then changes the notion of which was the most significant in defining Europe when we are considering these events from the remote distance of many years and kilometers away. It must also be taken in to consideration that "Europe" as an idea is not mono causal and had many influences in its creation. Yet, despite this, a modern bias and the ability of hindsight, the Scientific Revolution certainly was the most important in defining Europe.

The scientific Revolution can, arguably, be dated from 1543 when Copernicus, in the year of his death, published the seemingly absurd and dangerous heliocentric model. This was the first logical, refined and educated attack on the church and its indoctrinated monopoly on beliefs and superstations from the scientific standpoint. The Church itself, up until that period, had enjoyed absolute power in a religious sense over all people regardless of class: the King, Aristocracy and the peasant masses.

The Scientific Revolution occurred due to a surge in the quest for knowledge by educated elites who had began questioning the legitimacy of certain "truths." The questioning itself can be related as the product of Scientific Revolution. These influential individual include as mentioned, Nicolaus Copernicus and his heliocentric model; Tycho Brahe who built an observatory advanced enough to discover new stars thus disproving the "scholastic assumption of unalterable, fixed and hence perfect heavens." Johannes Kepler also contributed to this challenge with his notions on planetary motion. Galileo Galilei discovered uniformed acceleration and the imperfect surface of the moon and also "offered a view of the universe that conflicted with certain scriptural texts." The most famous and eventually influential contributor to science as an area and to the revolution was Sir Isaac Newton whose work affected ideas on the universal laws of gravitation, the nature of light and also depicted the three laws of motion. The critical factor was that these elites allowed their knowledge to expand with each other and resisted the urge to manipulate or intimidated by those in power, Galileo for example, has his teaching condemned and was placed under house arrest. The effects of all these new ideas were to challenge religious doctrines and the power-hold the church up until that time had relished. "The new science played a crucial historical role in reorienting Western thoughts," yet the main outcome of the revolution was not the immediate destruction of the church's power over the masses; superstition and the belief in magic still persisted. Instead, the Revolution created a notion of the fallibility of the Clergy, the Church and its doctrines. "By the late 1600's, science would be used to challenge the traditional authority of the clergy, whether Catholic or fundamentalist Protestant." It can then be argued that the Scientific Revolution initiated and struck the first mortal blows of the "people" in challenging their philosophical and religious rulers and set a precedent for events such as the industrial and French Revolutions to occur afterwards.

These events are important to realize however, that despite the Scientific Revolution being considered from Twenty First Century as of great historical importance, whilst the Revolution was occurring, it only affected a small, elite and educated percentage of the population. During the revolution of Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the majority of the population of Europe would have had no concept of who these new thinkers were or how important the Scientific Revolution would become to humanity in the coming centuries. To illiterate masses, the Scientific Revolution would not have had any significant impact on their lives; they still attend church, believed the Earth was the center of the Universe and followed superstition. The far-reaching effects of the Scientific revolution in defining Europe only become apparent when viewed in terms of what thought processes and ideas conceived during this time led to form our historical perspective.

Despite this lack of effect on a major percentage of the population, it was in fact the Scientific Revolution itself that created the need for a concept of "Europe". Considering that patriotism and nationalism, product of French Revolution, had not yet been created, people defined themselves as 'Christian.' The Scientific Revolution and its ideas "threatened the philosophical foundations if certain key doctrines" and doing so "ultimately weakened traditional Christianity." Christendom then crumbled in to various segments; Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox; meaning Christianity could no longer be used as an identifying feature of people from European areas. It was therefore, the Scientific Revolution that had the most significant impact in creating the need for "Europe" to first be defined as everything that was formerly "Christendom."

The Industrial Revolution on the other hand, did have far reaching consequences for all members of society both during

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