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as a thinker equalled those as a writer. In his Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686), Fontenelle did not simply accept that other planets were inhabited, but also: 'That fixed stars are in fact as many suns, each one of which illuminates a world' (Fifth Evening). Nevertheless, an idea that seemed logical from an astronomical point of view, became unacceptable when examined by theology. How should Creation be understood? What value should be given to the Bible, when it might be nothing more than one among thousands of religious stories? And Christ who came to save us, could he not be, as some thought, just one of many Christs present somewhere in the universe?11 Yet from another point of view, as the Swiss mathematician Jean Bernouilli maintained, it was inadmissible to conceive of the divine Almighty as finite. The Almighty was manifest as much in the infinitely small (a globule of air) as in the infinitely large (the universe and giants).12 In this way an understanding of the world was reached not unlike that later described by Swift in his Gulliver's Travels - yet Bernoulli was utterly serious. Scientific progress had led to the possibility of an entirely new reading of the Bible, at precisely the moment when scholars, using philology and the comparative study of civilizations, were attempting to identify its original meaning.13 In this sense, one wonders whether the various academies -and notably the Academy of Science founded by Colbert in 1666 - might not have been founded with the partial intention of 'disciplining' thinkers.14

A different path was taken in England, or at least initially. The Royal Society, the model of the Académie des sciences, functioned more to promote emulation than to control thinking. It also found itself with a veritable task of apologetics to fulfil towards those whose faith was wavering. 'If (as the Apostle says)', wrote Thomas Sprat, one of the first members, in 1667, 'the invisible things of God are manifested by the visible; then how much stronger arguments has he [the scientist] for his belief in the eternal power of the Godhead from the vast number of creatures that are invisible to others but are expos'd to his view by the help of experiments'. In this way, out of experiments, he found 'arguments to adore' the Deity, for 'he has always before his eyes the beauty, contrivance, and order of Gods' works'. He also pointed to the celebrated words of Francis Bacon: 'by a little knowledge of nature men become atheists; but a great deal returns them back again to a sound and religious mind'.15 One can understand how one of the great scientists of the time, Robert Boyle, an adversary of Aristotle and Paracelsus (The Sceptical Chemist, 1661) and the founder of modern chemistry, thought of his research as a kind of apostolic mission. In his will, he established a foundation with the aim of challenging atheists and non-believers through the use of scientific argument.16

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