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The Scientific Revolution: Understanding the Roots of Modern Science

Learn about the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution and its role in shaping the modern Western world.

10,075 enrolled on this course

Galileo and Viviani by Tito Lessi, 1892 - displayed with permission of Museo Galileo

The Scientific Revolution: Understanding the Roots of Modern Science

10,075 enrolled on this course

  • 3 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Introductory level

Find out more about how to join this course

Trace the roots of modern science

How did the science of today come about? What constitutes ‘modern’ science? How does science relate to religion?

Answer these questions and more with this course that travels back in time to the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution to explore the roots of modern science. In this course you will critically explore the history of science, challenging established simplistic narratives of how science has developed. You will also examine modern scientific methods, the relationship between science, religion and secularism, and, if you work in science, consider the origins of our own discipline.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Today, our life depends on science. Science helps us to fight diseases. It allows us to travel in space and even bypass space by creating new virtual communities. Science let’s us explore the origins of the universe. Eventually, science might even provide humanity with the means of destroying itself. When we think about scientists, we imagine women and men working in laboratories dealing with highly complex technological instruments and working with complex mathematical formulas to express their theories. But when did scientists begin working in laboratories? How did their experimental methods develop and how did mathematics become so important for many scientific disciplines? And what does it mean to explain a phenomenon scientifically?

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second Science, as we understand it today, is very much a product of the last four centuries. In this free online course, educators from the faculty of philosophy at the University of Groningen will be your guide in discovering the Scientific Revolution that gave birth to modern science back in 17th century Europe. You will learn how to interpret and discuss some of the revolutionary ideas that forever changed the way in which human beings attempt to understand the natural world. And you will reflect on how often scientists disagree about matters and theories and also, when our science can benefit from these disagreements.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds By looking at the historical roots of today’s science, you’ll discover a new exciting perspective to understand one of the most powerful elements that shapes our world. Are you ready? Join us.


  • Week 1

    What was the scientific revolution?

    • Welcome

      Welcome to this course.

    • The Scientific Revolution and Aristotelian natural philosophy

      Seventeenth-century thinkers like Descartes grew dissatisfied with the scientific ideas of medieval Aristotelianism. But what were these ideas, and why were they problematic in the eyes of thinkers like Descartes?

    • From Aristotelianism to mechanism

      In the seventeenth century, the matter-form framework of the Aristotelians came under attack. But why? And what did the new scientists want to replace it with?

    • The limits of mechanisation

      Can all natural phenomena be explained mechanistically? As you will see, the science of biology, in the eyes of some early modern scientists, presented some particularly hard cases here.

  • Week 2

    What was the scientific method?

    • Observation and experiment

      We discuss the difference between ‘experience’ or mere observation, and ‘experimentation’, or intervention into nature. We look at the specific characteristics of investigating nature though experimentation.

    • Instruments, tools, set-ups

      How did instruments start to be used in the investigation of natural world? We will focus on their developments and the arguments in favour and against their use

    • The relation between theory and experimentation

      How is theoretical knowledge extracted from experiments and how are new experiments designed on the basis of previous theories? In the following steps we will see how early modern scientists dealt with these questions.

  • Week 3

    The Scientific Revolution in context

    • Science and society

      What are the non-scientific background factors that surround scientific practices? Here, we focus in particular on how early modern authors thought the reform of science as an integral part of a broader reform of society.

    • Science and religion: final causes

      Sometimes, scientific concepts raise broader question, which have important theological and religious ramifications. In this chapter, we study this aspect by focusing on the case of ‘final causes’ in natural philosophy.

    • Science and secularisation

      Modern science has been understood as intrinsically oriented to dismiss theological presuppositions. We invite you to critically reflect on this view and consider a more balanced view.

    • Conclusive activities

      To conclude this course, we invite you to produce a short text in which you put at work all the knowledge and experience acquired during the course.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Reflect on the historical background of your own scientific discipline by tracing it back to its seventeenth-century roots
  • Interpret texts about scientific practices of the past
  • Engage critically with ideas about the overall role and meaning of scientific disciplines and practices
  • Produce a short blog post about the historical background of your discipline

Who is the course for?

This course has been created for those working in science who wish to know more about the origins of modern science. It’s also been created for people with a general interest in science and history.

Who will you learn with?

I'm Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at Groningen. I work mainly on the history of early modern philosophy and science.

I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen. I work on the history of philosophy and science in the early modern period.

I am an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen. I work mainly on the history of late medieval and early modern philosophy.

Who developed the course?

University of Groningen

The University of Groningen is a research university with a global outlook, deeply rooted in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands.

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Develop skills to further your career

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  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$109/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 6 May 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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