The Enlightenment was a movement of thinkers who believed that science could explain
everything in nature. Until then, most peoplebelieved that god controlled the universe in a
metaphysical manner. Metaphysical means beyond physical, and suggests that it is
impossible for humans to comprehend things that happen in our environment.
Galileo was one of the first thinkers of the Enlightenment. Galileo used a powerful
telescope to discover that many moons surrounded Jupiter. He used his discoveries to
prove the Copernicus' theory that the earth traveled around the sun. The church was
opposed to Galileo's discovery. Galileo was imprisoned for heresy and printers were
forbidden to print and of Galileo's writings. His students continued to discuss his teachings
and in time, the ideas of using observations and measurement were to become the root of
The thinkers of the Enlightenment encouraged people to use science to explore nature and
to question what they had always accepted without questioning. The Enlightenment
encouraged people to participate in government and to rethink old ideas like feudalism and
primogeniture. The American Revolution was seen by many as a huge achievement for the
Enlightenment. Two hundred years ago, our Constitution provided for a government
where nobody was above the law. People had freedoms of speech and religion, and the
press would be allowed to print any true statement.
The Enlightenment also had a negative aspect. Many of the thinkers were atheists, who
did not believe in god. They often attacked religion and the faithful. Many were also
bloodthirsty in attempting to reach their goals. The French Revolution and the Reign of
Terror were two episodes of history that ended the period known as the Enlightenment.