Catalysts of Change

So far, in this section, we have discussed the nature of individual and collective worldviews in terms of 3 perspectives, i.e. philosophy, theology and science. This sub-section attempts to augment this discussion with some practical examples of the lives and works of some key individuals that led to a major change in the collective worldview.


As previously explained, the focus of some of the historical context has centred on the period that separates the flowering of Greek civilization from the European Renaissance. The reasoning being that this period, nearly 2000 years, encompassed the growth of 3 key monotheistic religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, while at the same time, it saw science transition from what was essentially philosophy to a process that required the methodology of empirical verification. In this respect, the European Renaissance had been long overdue in as much as science had not progressed in its methodology since the time of Aristotle. Equally, by the start of the Renaissance, Christian theology had consolidated its position in Western Europe, while Islamic theology had continued its expansion in the Middle East and North Africa. However, these two theologies were not really new, being derived from the common doctrine of monotheism with its roots in Judaism, which pre-dated even the Greek philosophers.

This description of the catalysts of change will start with the life and work of Aristotle, who embodied the pinnacle of Greek scientific philosophy, but then jumps some 1500 years to Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas predates the European Renaissance, but is considered to have been a catalyst of change because although firmly entrench in the Roman Catholic worldview of his day, he sought to justify his belief with philosophical logic. We will then jump another 250 years to possibly the most important catalyst of change, i.e. Copernicus, who like Aquinas was firmly rooted within the Roman Catholic worldview of his day. However, irrespective of Copernicus' own worldview, he introduced an idea that was to eventually underpin the collective worldview of modern science, i.e. the Earth is not the centre of the universe. The following table introduces some other major catalysts of change to be discussed in the following sub-sections, most of whom, lived and work long after what is referred to as the European Renaissance, but this period of history was itself a catalyst of change by virtue of the newly acquired wealth of Venetian merchants, who then acted as benefactors, independent of the church or the aristocracy.

Name Birth-Death Place of Birth Worldview
Aristotle 384-347BCE   Greece Philosophy-Science
Thomas Aquinas 1224-1274   Italy Theology-Philosophy
Nicholaus Copernicus   1473-1543   Poland Theology-Science
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642   Italy Science
Johannes Kepler 1571-1630   Germany Science
Rene Descartes 1596-1650   France Philosophy-Science
Isaac Newton 1643-1727   England Science
Immanuel Kant 1724-1804   Germany Philosophy
Friedrich Nietzsche  1844-1900 Prussia Philosophy
William K. Clifford   1845-1879 England Maths-Philosophy
Kurt Gödel 1906-1978 Czech Republic Maths-Philosophy

It is hoped that by gaining some understanding of the lives, and the worldviews surrounding these individuals, we may also come to better understand the magnitude of their achievements. Of course, it has been suggested that they were all products of the culture that nurtured them, and in return, that culture expected some acceptance of its worldview. With this perspective in mind, the intention is to examine the development of their key ideas in basic chronological order.

Historically, Thomas Aquinas pre-dates the start of the Renaissance period, but was to some extent representative of expansive thinking that pointed the way for others to follow. Equally, most historians would not extend the European Renaissance into the 17th century, but it is felt that subsequent examples reflect a consolidation of some of the earlier ideas developed throughout the renaissance period. Finally, it is worth noting that the timescale for the Renaissance itself is not so dissimilar to that taken by the Greek philosophers to form the worldview presented by Aristotle. However, the diversity of cultures is now much broader and, as a consequence, the depth and breadth of scientific knowledge is beginning to grow exponentially throughout this period.