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How Scientific Discoveries Can Cause People to Change Their Beliefs

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  • 0:01 Knowledge Through…
  • 2:10 The Scientific Revolution
  • 3:53 A Long Road to Change
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Personal beliefs are one thing that people hold to very tightly. However, over time, with enough scientific evidence, a critical eye and consistent experiments, science can and does change people's beliefs in ways that simple observations cannot.

Knowledge Through Experimentation

A long time ago, from 384 - 322 BC, there lived a man named Aristotle. Aristotle was the most famous philosopher and scientist of ancient Greece. He was a smart man, dedicated to his work. He collected specimens, made thorough observations and systematically classified all of the existing knowledge about the physical world up to that time. So prominent were Aristotle's works that his ideas were considered fact for nearly 2,000 years!

But all of that changed in the early 1500s with a man named Galileo Galilei. Galileo challenged many of Aristotle's 'facts' through scientific experimentation. For example, Aristotle believed, based on his observations, that heavy objects fell faster than light objects. This made sense to him because he observed that a stone fell faster than a feather when both were dropped at the same time.

Galileo, however, decided to put this 'fact' to the test. He critically and analytically examined Aristotle's hypothesis, and then he took it one step further and experimented with this idea. Incredibly, what he found was that heavy objects do not fall faster than light objects! He tested this over and over with objects of various weights and came to the same conclusion each time.

Through logic, critical thinking and experimentation, Galileo disproved many other ideas that Aristotle had proposed, which of course got him in a bit of trouble. Aristotle's ideas had been so widely accepted for so long that it was difficult for the world to grasp that they might not be correct. Galileo was not discouraged though, and in time, others followed in his footsteps, challenging the status quo and changing our beliefs and understanding of the natural world through scientific experimentation and analysis.

Albert Einstein was one such person, and he clearly understood the impacts of science and experimentation on beliefs, at one time saying 'No number of experiments can prove me right, but a single experiment can prove me wrong.'

The Scientific Revolution

Galileo was instrumental in influencing what society believed to be 'fact' because he used science to show that Aristotle's ideas were wrong. Galileo's methods led the way for many other scientific discoveries that completely changed our belief system and opened the door for modern science as we know it.

The Scientific Revolution began in the mid-1500s with Nicolaus Copernicus and ended in the late 1600s with the works of Isaac Newton. The new discoveries, technologies and scientific fields that were developed during this time were beyond anything that had been seen before. But they all stemmed from the same basic principles: scientific logic, critical thinking and scientific experimentation.

For example, due to improvements in the telescope, it was discovered that the earth revolved around the sun, though the reverse was believed to be true for a very long time before then! It was also discovered that blood circulated around the entire body and was not produced in the human liver as previously thought. Algebra, calculus, modern chemistry, the theory of gravity, the scientific method and the theories of magnetism and electricity were also developed during the Scientific Revolution through rigorous tests, experiments and analysis.

Imagine not knowing about gravity, electricity or how the planets are aligned! Today, we take these ideas as common knowledge because they have been thoroughly tested and so far have yet to be proven untrue. But at some point these discoveries had to be made, and the reason we take this knowledge for granted today is because of the scientific basis on which they are founded.

A Long Road to Change

We didn't stop learning things when the Scientific Revolution ended. In fact, you could say that we are going through yet another Scientific Revolution right now! We can dig deeper into the earth and travel farther out into space than ever before. I bet Copernicus never imagined that we would someday actually land on Mars and explore its surface!

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