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The History of Science: Events, Contributions & Theories

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson, we discuss a few significant events in science's history. We will see how science has changed over the years as we start to question what we think we know.

What is Science?

Throughout history, people have created new tools for planting and harvesting; others discovered ways to preserve meat. While these discoveries are important to mankind, for the purposes of this lesson we can define science as such: a purposeful study of our environment in order to understand how it works.

Early Science

For many early civilizations, the study of the world revolved around mythology. Everything occurred because the gods willed it; there was no rational rhyme or reason.

However, the Chinese believed the heavens and earth weren't ruled by the gods, so they tried to understand the world around them. In particular, they wanted to understand astronomy. Thus, they developed one of the most accurate calendar systems.

Astronomy, or the study of the stars, was a common study for many civilizations, including American, Mesopotamian, Indian, and Egyptian. Even when civilizations believed in mythology, it was often connected to a study of astronomy.

Philosophy

Greek philosophy was the earliest step into what we recognize as science. The earliest known natural philosopher is Thales of Miletus.

Thales of Miletus believed water was the building block of everything around us and tried to understand the world based on its attributes. He was the first to say that the universe was ordered. He also believed that everything worked together for a greater good. Thales' student (or disciple as they were called), Anaximander found fault with Thales' theory that the basic building block was water.

Aglaonike was one of the earliest women philosophers. She, like many women philosophers, was considered a sorceress or enchantress because she was able to predict when the moon would disappear (in an eclipse). During this time, science was still based on philosophy and asking questions to figure out the world around us.

Thus began the history of how science changes as we learn more things. For a while it was believed that the gods controlled everything arbitrarily. Eventually, people began to question what was really happening. Through the history of science we see that what is once believed to be true is eventually proven false.

Science Through the Years

Science went through a dark period during the Middle Ages. The few scientists that did pop up were squelched, seen as heretics, or often killed. It wasn't until about the 1500s that science took an upward turn.

Even still, if a scientist went against the prevailing beliefs of the time, his science was often mocked. For example, Copernicus stated that the earth orbits the sun, instead of the other way around. Before him, it was commonly believed that the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. For this belief, Copernicus was locked away and his books were burned. But his theories eventually began to take hold, and we science again continued to evolve.

Copernicus questioned if the world was the center of the universe
Copernicus

Science in the 1600s and 1700s

In the 1600s and into the 1700s, Sir Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity. Any personal theories that opposed the current Christian trends he mostly kept to himself. Sir Isaac Newton was widely popular in his day.

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