History will testify to what once Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw had once said- “All great truths begin as blasphemies”. The greatest scientific suffered a similar fate when they were first propounded by some of the greatest scientific minds of the time. The sceptics raised eyebrows, rubbished their ideas and scoffed at them, only to be proven wrong later. A look at some of these scientists and their theories that were rejected right at the outset.
Theory of Heliocentrism: The heliocentric theory is one of the oldest theories that met with opposition when it was first introduced to the world. Posited by Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543, the theory claimed that the Sun, and not Earth, was the centre of the Universe. He also explicated that the Sun was motionless, while the Earth and other planets revolved around it in fixed paths. However, the knowledge that the earth and other planets move around the Sun was a giant leap in the path of progress. The theory, sternly opposed by the thinkers of the time who continued to believe that the Sun moved around the Earth, holds good for our solar system today. Around 1610, Italian astronomer Galileo sparked off another debate that took a drastic turn when he refused to accept the geocentric view propagated by the church. In the religion versus science debate, the church persecuted the non relenting astronomer.
Theory of evolution: The theory of evolution or the Origin of Species was put forward by Sir Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century. Before this discovery, varied ideas about how the world evolved floated around. Darwin, however, attempted to put all other theories to rest with his own. While most of his contemporaries accepted his assertion that modern species descended from common ancestors by the phenomenon of natural selection, many held on to the orthodox view that all living beings came into existence through divine intervention. Darwin’s theory was thus, soon mired in the not-too-uncommon science versus religion controversies. Gradually, more precise observations on evolutionary process subdued the controversies and the theory began to receive worldwide recognition.
Germ theory of disease: Louis Pasteur was a medical researcher, way ahead of his contemporaries in nineteenth century. The French biologist made a groundbreaking discovery that certain microorganisms were actually responsible for the diseases caused to humans and animals. He embarked upon the theory and began researching it when three out of his five children faced untimely death owing to an unknown communicable disease. After he proposed this idea in the 1850’s, Pasteur faced violent opposition from the then present medical society who defamed him for blasphemy. But it was not too long before the tide turned in his favour when he came up with appropriate scientific proof to his conjecture.
Avogadro’s law: Amedeo Avogadro was an Italian scientist who changed the conception of the molecular theory of gases when he proposed that equal volumes of different gases contain an equal number of molecules, provided they are at the same temperature and pressure. He also distinguished between atoms and molecules, which was vehemently opposed by popular chemist Dalton, who had already proposed his atomic theory three years before Avogadro. Although, the latter’s theory never received any recognition for half a century, or, throughout his lifespan, today, Avogadro’s hypothesis has garnered acceptance as Avogadro’s law and the exact number of molecules present at STP (Standard Temperature and Pressure) is known as Avogadro’s number.