Dissecting Thought: NOMA and religion: a naturalist perspective

Question Discussed:

-Is religion and science compatible? (Is faith compatible with science?)

The notion that religion and science are compatible is simply incorrect, religion and science are not compatible, they both explore means of understanding the world in different lights, religion in a different light to science; both express notions of what is, and both define the world differently (science in the light of evidence, religion in the light of revelations). This creates tension, as religion does interfere in scientific inquiry and science in religiosity. It is this contention as well the conclusion drawn from this that makes the NOMA model proposed by Stephen Jay Gould, simply impossible. It is the interest of this piece to express why this is and to explain the reasons why it is this way. So let us begin.

interesting it is to explore the pages of history especially that of natural history and the subsequent individuals involved in its making. History whose pages express the vast theories and scientific discoveries of the early Greek scientists, the first of the many natural philosophers to take upon a cosmic perspective of the universe, and investigate the physical dimension of reality, as opposed to the yearnings of illusory Images made from those physical entities trapped within it. The philosophers and researchers who mapped out the stars, discovered the atom, how the planets rotated and so on. Natural history is a very interesting subject to do research into; it was in this research that one (such as myself) found well looking up the origins of life, Palaeontologist Stephen jay Gould’s essay titled “NOMA” written in march 1997. It was at best to the reader (such as me) something of a no-show “Is this a pandering to religion?” having read this in 2013, it still makes good taste for discussion. So what better way to share those thoughts then in a piece on the subject matter? As mentioned before the essay was published by Stephen Jay Gould in March 1997 and can be found in “Leonardo’s mountains and the diet of worms” (1998) book (as well as “rock of ages”). At the time of the release of the essay, there was still dormant much less criticism it would seem of evolution and biology by the religious then there is today. In the essay Gould captures this brilliantly with a discussion that he had in 1984 well speaking with Jesuit priests in the Vatican well attaining a meeting on stellar science. He mentions how the Jesuit priests found it hard to believe that there was something as ridiculous as “creation science” or “Intelligent design”, even remarking to Gould that Evolution did not lay doubt in their faith. The essay expands on this discussion and the subsequent investigation of Pope John Paul the 2nd remarks in favour of evolution (1996). Yet the heart of the essay deals with the question “Is faith compatible with science?” (Though not in those words directly), a very interesting question to ask and an even more interesting way Gould answered it. In this essay Gould expresses the argument that religion and science are both mutually compatible with one another, and even essential to complement one another. He summarized this contention in the view that science and religion operated different realms of teaching authority (or “Magisterium” in Latin, plural “Magisteria”) and thus were both compatible and did not come into conflict with one another. This gave rise to the principle of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) that argues both realms do not overlap with one another. The reason for this conclusion rests at the principle that…

“No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domains of teaching authority-and these magesteria do not overlap…The net of science covers the empirical universe; what it is 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 magisterial do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry…“ (Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould, 1997)

NOMA has since then been used as a Segway by both prominent religion and science individuals to express the given neutrality (or alluded) neutrality between the two teaching authorities. Very much to the contention of many this attempted neutrality was been brisked and promoted (however one suspects for different motives then broadly accustomed to; for instance at the time in the USA the “creationist” movement was starting to lay a significant problem to science education, throughout the essay to the rest of the world evolution was a settled thing. Yet in the united states, protestant fundamentalism was gaining traction, so what would be a way to solve this by promoting the example of NOMA that faith and science were compatible, it could work…right?) Later in that same year astronomer and author Carl Sagan took this essay to the Vatican (even the Catholics had no issue with NOMA, given that not too long ago they were the ones burning those who promoted ‘wack’ theories) as (which one can only say) a sign of good “faith” between the two sides. Yet over fifteen years since the paper’s publication (and subsequent republication in the New York Times in 1998) and almost twelve years since the death of Stephen Jay Gould, this principle still raises much discussion and much criticism (as one can imagine if one is really were to put two forces on equal footing). Theologians, cosmologists, astrophysicists, authors, polemicists, rhetoricians and other academic and amateur individuals have expressed either disdain for NOMA or reverence of its notion. For the interest of this piece, the focus will be put on the principle of NOMA and on the subsequent question “Is religious faith compatible with science?” What will be explored is the epistemological conflict that exists between religious faith and scientific inquiry, the metaphysical naturalism that underpins methodological naturalism and the subsequent contrast to that of the theological underpinnings that reside with religious faith, the political ideology surrounding religion, moral argument, with the final verdict being made that religious faith and science both overlap with one another (P1-P4), and thus both magesteria will and in fact, do come into conflict with one another. This is made known beforehand as to provide a structured approach to the NOMA principle and to the question and baggage that it carries whenever it is discussed by contemporaries of either religion or science.

Now one must express at most that the notion that faith (that which will not submit to reason, change, or evidence and instead trust superciliously to the bitter end) is compatible with science (that which uses reason, logic and evidence to explore the reality of the universe, in the means that it is and revising always closer to a better understanding) is simply misleading. There is very much a conflict, and it is between two different means of acquiring knowledge; science on the one hand uses means of investigation of the natural paradigm of existence in order to come to understanding of the world. Knowledge is acquired through justifying one’s beliefs, and this justification for science and for rational individuals’ comes in the form of evidence that goes beyond PBB (proper basic beliefs, common axioms of philosophy), this evidence comes from the natural paradigm of existence. A deeper understanding allows for a deeper knowledge of the world around you, this is what natural philosophy (methodological & metaphysical naturalism) seeks to do. Faith deals with different means of acquiring knowledge this of course is different for every religion, but the general summation usually goes in the tone that some sort of divine revelation permitted by a deity is the means by which knowledge is acquired. Others mandate faith in a deity (ies) as central to acquiring knowledge of the world, this means in most cases believing the ancient writings of nomadic tribesmen, prophets and speakers for faith. The great monotheisms (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) promote the path to knowledge as one of divine revelation, this being through the written testaments of prophets of classical antiquity who had trust and devotion to God(s), who were revealed to them. When one seeks to come to knowledge of the world through two different means, they will conflict with one another, and religion does that with science. Religion claims all answers, or paths to answers through its doctrinal teachings, science seeks to explore the world by the use of the natural sciences to come to knowledge by the justification of beliefs. If one seeks but to believe the word of the leaders as to attain knowledge that most certainly will come into conflict with the epistemic line that knowledge is acquired through inquiry and investigation as opposed to faith and divine revelation. This is but the first point as to why both science and religion are not compatible, and do overlap with their alleged “separate realms of teaching authority”. Yet there is a further note to be raised here, the epistemological conflict that rests with acquiring knowledge from different means (natural philosophy versus theology) is impossible, there is only one means by which to acquire knowledge and that has to do with justification of beliefs and the means by which we do that is through not just empirical means but rational means that all spring from the physical (natural paradigm of existence) realm of inquiry; through an investigation of what is as opposed to what we wish, knowledge can and most emphatically “is” acquired through the means of investigation; something that faith does not permit, as faith is the belief without proof, any definition is but a corruption of this meaning for all people who now use the word “faith” use it as a means of “undying trust” which again raised even more issues. Some of these issues lay in the stark contrast at how these two different realms approach learning. Religion and the notion it rests on which is “faith in God(s)” (speaking about monotheism strictly here, pantheism, and other forms of henotheism and polytheism diverge on different aspects that one could consider not faith but simple equivocation of trust with faith) has a negative view towards learning, anything that is not in benevolence of the deity is “poisonous” to it and thus should not be even approached. The major issue this stirs is confirmation bias, science holds to the notion of peer review and scrutiny; something that is completely opposite to religion! The approach to learning and knowledge from religion goes in direct conflict with the means by which science approaches learning and knowledge; and thus the magisteria overlap.

Science as mentioned already, is natural philosophy, and as so is under the presuppositions of metaphysical naturalism. Now there must be a note here, and that is methodological naturalism uses the means of the natural sciences and the tools of humanity to investigate the natural realm, and in principle is different to metaphysical naturalism which insists that the natural realm is all there is and thus works on specific laws that are unchanged; things such as supernatural entities and the supernatural realm cannot exist, as anything in the natural realm of existence is in reality; as reality is anything that is in existence within the natural. For if the supernatural realm existed with entities capable of amazing feats, then they would have to exist in the realm of nature, and that would then demote them from the status of gods, to normal material entities with abilities explainable to science. For if they existed outside existence, they would not exist at all, so terms such as “non-temporal” are but baseless claims. Methodological naturalism only concerns itself with investigations of the natural realm (that is it). Methodological naturalism however comes from the basis of metaphysical naturalist thought and thus has similar presuppositions 1) The future will be the same as the past 2) the natural laws govern the cosmos and everything within it 3) on the premises of these laws nature can be explored and knowledge of the known universe justified 4) the empirical method is the best means of attaining knowledge of the natural realm (and so on). These presuppositions are both current in methodological and metaphysical naturalism and thus are the basis of science. Religion works differently, it works on theology and the various means by which to secure, protect and validate the faith at the centre of the religion. In monotheism (specifically) Christianity has a religious text, as does Judaism and Islam, all of these texts are professed to be the spoken word of the deity who allegedly created the universe and all within it (through different means and so on). Theology is a means by which the various revelations that the writers of those religious holy text, can be understood in means of allowing a suitable framework for the faiths to have organization leading to active worship and dedication by those faithful. Religion lays origins to the supernatural as opposed to science who lays its origins to the cosmos (the natural), religion wishes to say that the natural arose through means of the supernatural and thus the world can be explained through the supernatural well science wishes to say that life arose from the natural and can be explained through the natural. As one can see both realms are again in conflict. A very good example is expressed in the NOMA document about the discussion that was sparked over the “evolution versus creationism” debate going on in America.

Now the theory of evolution is a well-established scientific process that explains the origin of species and the vast diversity within life, this includes individual organisms, DNA, proteins, molecules and species; a theory stating that organisms (and the all other aforementioned subjects) adapt to environmental pressures thrust upon them by nature actively selecting the best of those organisms to pass adaptation characteristics to other generations over successive generations. Those species thus will have greater chances of reproducing their genes in the gene pool and surviving their environment. Different environments mean different adaptations, and it is these adaptations over time that lead to the vast complexity we have today; random mutation (so far as we know it to be) will occasionally occur with a species giving it certain characteristics that may or not be useful. It is thus all species and all of life holds a common ancestry with one another, a “universal ancestor(s)”. This theory proposed by Alfred Wallace and revolutionized by Charles Darwin is not only factual but has like all good scientific theories the margin of predictability and determination. On the opposite side of the “argument” (not really being a serious danger) is intelligent Design, the simple notion that all of life is too complex and intricate and must therefore have a designer. Both ID and evolution deal with the field that NOMA states science should have dominion over, and it is this point that I raise that religion seeks to impose over science’s ability to accurately explain the natural realm, ID is just another argument thrown out by the religious community to try (and successfully is falling in support) and bring religion into the scientific class room. ID is not science it is pseudo-science, it does not hold to an accurate model of predictability, no explanatory value, no margin for experimentation it is just an assertion based on ignorance, speculation and psychological need and thus is not a valid (in any form) scientific theory.

One more point that needs to be raised is the political ideology that surrounds religion, unlike science which has no dogma (and to all those shouting ‘scientism’, there is simply no such thing, the whole notion of scientism is a philosophical pandering to religious critics who are saw that religion is being denigrated from social sphere of influence and now heading out with astrology, alchemy and all the other means by which our infant species came to first understand the world) as if it did it would not change for anything, unlike religion, science revises itself constantly finding better and more efficient ways of exploring the cosmos. Scientists spend long hours, and constant research that then will be peer reviewed and scrutinized vigorously; to say science is dogmatic is a pandering to religious paranoia. Scientists actively revise their thoughts in light of new evidence, always seeking to follow the evidence where it leads and making sure that what the findings they get are accurate. It is in this light that science (and one will have to repeat for sceptics) holds to no dogma and political ideology. Religion on the other hand holds sternly to the notion of not revising its dogmas, organizing collectively the downward notion that man is the subject to the gods. The purpose of this life (monotheism specifically) is to worship the deity and prepare for the next life, it is thus in this notion that religion holds a very stern (and has held a very stern) notion against progression. It silenced Galileo when he proposes that geocentricism was wrong. It burned those who dare question its dogma, killing individuals who spoke out against the church, imposed itself against the rights of women and the rights against LGBT. It continues to impose itself against the individuals rights, in places such as Iran Homosexuals are hung for committing sodomy, apostates are killed for denouncing Islam, homosexual and lesbian individuals are not allowed their fundamental liberties (in places such as Australia, their still exists excessive bigotry from the liberal government, with their obvious Christian conservatism). Religion holds an active political ideology to instigate control over civil society, and it has shown to do this time and time again. Religion as it stands has no interest in progression, whereas science is interested in progressing knowledge, religion is not, it stands at every single step of the way for scientific inquiry. Its supporters adamantly detest any inquiry as to go against religious dogma and doctrine, always trying to lay claim to scientific revolutions and twisting the light of reality to the illusory images promulgated by religious doctrines.

The final point that will be raised is the issue of NOMA’s principle, Religion is said to have teaching authority over meaning and morality, which Stephen Jay Gould fails to realise that what he instead is instigating is moral philosophy. Science can study human behaviour and morality and meaning have to do with human behaviour so in this aspect science does and can comment on alleged “religious concerns”. Religion is not in complete authority of meaning, science can explain the physical world and what is, but why cannot it comment on the why? Different cultures of religiosity have different meanings; in Buddhism (which is a philosophy and not a religion) reaching a state of Nirvana is considered fulfilment of the individuals’ inner sanctum. In Christianity meaning is found with a faith in God and an active serving of him, this may involve attending church spreading the gospel and preparing for the next life. Religion in these respects is not interested in finding meaning at all! Instead it wants to give you the meaning, science is different. In science the main understanding is to grow a greater understandings of the workings of natural existence, in these respects science wishes to find answers to unanswered questions involving the natural realm. Stephen jay Gould expresses that religion deals with “taking people to heaven” whereas science deals “discovering heaven”. This of course fails to realise that religion in most respects was our first aspect of discovering the world around us, the first ways at which to understand the world. Moral philosophy is different to religion, yes religion will deal in aspects of moral philosophy such as the origins of morality and what is moral. But science can provide means of finding efficient ideas about the true nature of morality, and can document (not yet, still a work in progress) where morality comes from, its use, the ideal system of morality and so on. In this respects Science (science of morality) does come into conflict and does overlap Religions alleged “teaching authority” (magisterium).

So what can be said so far in conclusion? Is faith compatible with science? Does NOMA work? In short the answer is no. Faith and science do come into conflict at a fundamental level, both deal in ways of attaining knowledge of the world, the one relies on divine revelation and unwavering trust in a deity for knowledge and the other deals with inquiry and revision into the realm of the natural. Faith deals with the belief in the supernatural, and science deals with investigation into the natural, which is all there is. The margin for belief and faith in a deity dwindles as scientific inquiry progresses, resulting in an ever dwindling regression to the point at which the need for faith and the supernatural inevitably become null and void. Faith undermines learning and progression, as religion seeks to avail a constant monopoly over the “Truth”, which is never changing and never growing unless with the deities’ permission (or the dear leaders of the sects’ permission) whereas science is interested in investigation and inquiry into the world always ready to progress and learn more about the cosmos. The underpinning aspects that science holds onto, the metaphysical natural perspective and has inevitably no draw of the supernatural aspect that religion plays to, as to the natural philosopher the supernatural realm just cannot exist as it would underpin science itself. Religion holds to a political ideology that undermines the individual’s right to his body, his voice and to his mind, whereas science holds no such constraints and no such dogma. The final nail in the coffin as to why science and faith do not work as well as the NOMA principle is because science can explain meaning and morality, and religion is not interested in pandering to progression and discovery more interested in the already pre-made product. Non-overlapping magesteria, the principle that religion and science hold to two different realms of teaching authority and thus do not overlap is simply not true and it is because of this fact that the model fails completely; as there is a conflict. The fact of the matter is (in the perspective of this writer) religion needs to die for progression and science to truly take off; across the globe there are quasi-religious states, with religion undermining the rights of the individual and pandering to the illusions of grandeur who seek not peace and not acceptance but seek separation and control. It is this reason as well as all the aforementioned reasons why religion and science can never truly be compatible with one another, and it is this understanding that only one is permissible and for this writer that has to do with the naturalist perspective, as it, is the only perspective truly valid. All others are pandering to the illusory psychological needs of the individuals. It may sound abrupt and it may sound prejudice but it is the truth, an inconvenient truth.

Knowledge is power

Use it

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Knowledge Blast: Understanding atheism
Knowledge blast: Anarchist thought

Leave a Reply