in their view, this mysterious 'fluid' made no distinction between Pietists and Catholics and thus, in its way, served the ecumenical cause.55
But the case that is perhaps most worthy of attention and that pointed most clearly towards the future, is that of Ampere, author of the Theorie mathematique des phénomenes électro-magnetiques (1820).56 Brought up in the spirit of the Enlightenment, but badly shaken by two successive tragedies (his father's execution at Lyon during the Terror and the death of his young wife), Ampere was first attracted to religious militancy and then to the atheism of the Idéologues, before being definitively converted to Catholicism in 1817. This was the year of publication of another work with great influence on intellectuals, the Essai sur l'indifférence en matiere de religion, by abbe Felicite de La Mennais. But beyond Ampere's conversion, it was the way in which he combined his faith with his life as a scientist which was to serve as an example. His conversion came from the depths of his being and only he and perhaps those closest to him were affected by it, but his work was in no way altered by his new beliefs. He felt that science was science; that it need not be either Christian or atheist.57 And little by little, the conception that sought clearly to separate science from religion was to be solidly established. Yet such a separation would not come about without difficulty, as the violence surrounding the debates over Darwinism was to demonstrate.
Thus, the history of the relationship between science and religion from 1660 to 1820 came to be dominated by an ever-clearer separation between the two areas. Put differently, one might say that an increasingly radical simplification in the area of religion corresponded to an ever-greater secularization affecting all aspects of the scientist's endeavours. Step by step, the interpenetration between sacred history and natural history that had so long prevailed tended to disappear. Indeed, was sacred history even a science? Would it not better be described - depending on individual opinions - as a tradition or a mythology? Unless, that is, one came to understand over time that religion was impervious to any kind of proof, to any kind of experiment; that it belonged rather to the realm of the intimate and that it might vary depending on the individual, the historical period, and the age of life. Such a change occurred without victor or vanquished. The advance of science coincided with the beginnings of an immense transformation in religious sensitivity, a transformation in which the individual was to assume an essential position. Science therefore had not acted alone. Its effects had been expanded and amplified by such major movements as the Enlightenment and the French Revolution; and perhaps also, in equal measure, by the evolution of spirituality within the various Christian confessions. (Translation by Jane Yeoman and Timothy Tackett)
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