Saturday, May 19, 2007


Stephen Jay Gould (an evolutionary biologist), in a attempt to reconcile science and religion, introduced the concept of Non-Overlapping MAgisteria1

The basic idea is that science says stuff about the physical world, religion says stuff about the spiritual world, and never the two shall meet.

Nice idea. Doesn't work.

Here's why:

Religion says some crap about God (gods? bipolar? MPD?)
Science: "Talk is cheap, show me the evidence."
Religion: "No way, NOMA says I don't need physical evidence."
Science: "Fine. Go away."
Religion: "I won't. You have to teach my stuff, too."
Science: "Teach your stuff in philosophy or art appreciation or something."
Religion: "My stuff is as real as yours. I can prove it."
Science: "Talk is cheap, show me the evidence."
Religion: "Well, you don't know everything."
Science: "True, but irrelevant."
Religion: "If you don't know, then it's God."
Science: "What?"
Religion: "God fills the gaps in your knowledge."
Science: "Those gaps are shrinking fast."
Religion: "You can't prove God didn't use science to do everything."
Science: "What happened to NOMA?"
Religion: "NOMA says that you have to respect my position."
Science: "No it doesn't. It says that we have to stay out of each other's business."
Religion: "Really? Well then it and you will both have to go."

If religion really stuck to spiritual things, it would never make any testable statements. As soon as it says something testable, it has violated NOMA. Religion (particularly Xianity) does this all the time, then cries "NOMA!" whenever science says that it's full of it.


1Rock of Ages, 1999

6 people have spouted off:

Qalmlea said...

When applied to a strictly mystical religion, NOMA works pretty well. There's still a slight overlap in the realm of "What actually causes experiences of (X)?"

When applied to any sort of fundamentalist religion, NOMA cannot work. The fundamentalists won't accept keeping their deity out of other people's business.

John said...
5/20/07, 11:39 AM
jackal said...

Separation of science and religion? I'd settle for seporation of Church and State.

John said...
Yeah, but they'll accept evolution before they accept that this isn't a Xian nation.
5/21/07, 4:54 PM
Qalmlea said...

The blog Positive Libery has a long sequence of posts addressing that very issue. Long story short, very very few of the Founders were orthodox Christians. At "best", Unitarian. Often, Deist.

One of the more recent entries was about James Madison and his beliefs. Those posts are a big part of the reason that Positive Liberty made my blogroll. Good references to use against anyone claiming the "Christian Nation" crap.

Uh... yvxstc is the verification... I've ecstasy?

A. Thinker said...

Weird. Mine is tprznz - toilet paper reazonz.

As for NOMA, I wrote a huge post about some flaws I've recently come upon in Christian philosophies and posted it at (Entitled something like A Long, Inspired Post) in the Freethinking Anonymous forums. One is a point that Richard Dawkins finds in The God Delusion - "What Christian person do you know who, if science were to find out that Jesus' DNA really does show that he had no biological father, would not jump up and down and say, 'Sorry, that's not even the realm of science. Can't use it here. It doesn't even matter that they did it, all I needed was faith.'" That's not an exact quote, but you get the point.

Another thing is something interesting that I came up with the other day when talking to my boss: Have you ever actually asked a Christian the questions that religion supposedly answers? You'll get a craptacular answer most of the time, at best. At worst, you can really see that they're lying to themselves pretty badly. I asked my boss, "Well then, if religion answers why, then why are we were?" His answer, after he floundered a bit, was that, "The Bible says we were put here to worship God." I don't know about you, but that, to me, points to God's vanity and to God's extreme insecurity. God is a sinner.