Thursday, December 01, 2016

Stephen Jay Gould and NOMA (Science Does Not Explain Everything)


Image result for naturalistic fallacy

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students. Gould's essay "Nonoverlapping Magisteria" is an important one and serves as an entry into the discussion of the nature of science and religion and their relationship, if any. Gould also debunks the myth that "science explains everything.")

1. The Independence Model

Re. the relationship between science and religion, Gould puts forward the “Independence Model.” The Independence Model prevents religion from dictating to science, and prohibits science from claiming higher moral or intellectual insight than religion.

In the Independence Model there is a lack of conflict between science and religion since, independently, their domains of study are disconnected.

“The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise – science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives. The attainment of wisdom in a full life requires extensive attention to both domains…” (Gould, “Two Separate Domains,” in Peterson et. al., 516)


2. NOMA 

Gould proposes “NOMA” – Non-overlapping magisteria.

“Magisterium” = a “domain of reaching authority.”

Science and Religion are non-overlapping magisteria or epistemic domains.

Gould writes: “The net of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty. To cite the usual clichés, [science studies] the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; [science studies] how the heavens go, and [religion determines] how to go to heaven.”



3. The Two Magisteria Bump Up Against Each Other

These two magisteria do not stand far apart. They are not “separated by an extensive no-man’s land. But, in fact, the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border.”

For example, evolution has “made us the only earthly creatures with advanced consciousness.” But this scientific belief raises a moral question which science cannot answer; viz., “what responsibilities are so entailed for our relations with others species?”


4. You Can't Derive 'Ought' from 'Is'
Science is “cruel” and “indifferent,” “because nature does not exist for us, didn’t know we were coming, and doesn’t give a damn about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing, because we then gain the capacity to conduct moral discourse – and nothing could be more important – in our own terms, free from the delusion that we might read moral truth passively from nature’s factuality.”

In other words, science gives us “is,” and morality gives us “ought.” Famously, you can’t get “ought” from “is.” (To think so is to commit "the naturalistic fallacy.")


5. NOMA allows us to “respectfully discourse” between science and religion. This discourse provides “constant input from both magisterial toward the common goal of wisdom.”


A helpful review of Gould's thesis is given by H. Allen Orr, "Gould on God: Can Religion and Science Be Happily Reconciled?" (Boston Review)

See also my little piece on POMA ("partially overlapping magisteria"), according to Alister McGrath and Francis Collins.