Saturday, May 5, 2012
Science and Religion – III
In our review of Stephen Jay Gould's book Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, we noted that Dr. Gould called his solution to problem of how science and religion relate to each other "NOMA," or "Non-Overlapping Magisteria." According to Dr. Gould, science and religion each has its own proper sphere, or "magisterium," and as long as each confines itself to its own sphere there will not be any conflict. But, as we noted earlier, Dr. Gould's proposed solution to "the nonproblem of our time" offers cold comfort to devout believers. As it turns out, in Dr. Gould's view, the only kind of religion that is compatible with science is one that has been stripped of all its supernatural elements.
The problem with "NOMA" is that Christianity, at least, purports to be based on facts. The biblical narrative aims to report real history – the Flood, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection are asserted to be real events that occurred in space and time. At one point in his book Dr. Gould recounts the story of "Doubting Thomas," recorded in John chapter 20. At the end of the narrative Jesus rebukes Thomas for his lack of faith. Dr. Gould sympathizes with poor Thomas – his only mistake was that he employed the methodology of science in the magisterium of religion, which calls for faith. But Dr. Gould misses the whole point of the story. John relates the episode in order to underscore one all important point: the physical resurrection of Jesus was a real, historical fact. Even the most skeptical of the disciples was compelled to admit as much when confronted with indisputable evidence.
Modern science, on the other hand, is wedded to a rigidly materialistic philosophy. Thus, at the bottom of it, the conflict between modern science and religion is really a clash between two competing and mutually exclusive worldviews, between naturalistic materialism on the one hand and Christian theism on the other. One cannot be a naturalist and a supernaturalist at the same time. In order for NOMA to work, on the basis of Dr. Gould's scheme, Christianity would have to accept the limitations imposed on it by science. It would have to abandon most of its core beliefs about creation, providence, and redemption. The claims of its central figure would be just plain nonsense – a classic example of a "Fundamentalist extremist" imposing " a dogmatic and idiosyncratic reading of a text upon a factual issue lying within the magisterium of science" (p. 93) as Dr. Gould calls modern day creationists. Dr. Gould, in effect, is asking Christianity to commit suicide. In the end, his "humane, sensible and wonderfully workable solution" is really no solution at all, and the conflict between Christianity and modern science is a very real problem indeed.