Home

Nonoverlapping magisteria NOMA

November 12, 2007


The crisis of academic disciplines in the late 20th century was fuelled by the blurring of boundaries between disciplines. Social sciences and humanities were accused of physics envy as they argued for legitimacy of their truth claims, their ontologies, methodologies, epistemologies . . . More recently investigations into the axiological dimension of academic disciplines have increased. So where does this leave Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of nonoverlapping magisteria?

How much simpler our world would be if we could neatly divide complex questions into nonoverlapping categories, states into nonoverlapping topographies, identities into nonoverlapping communities and cultures.

Neither Gould or Sagan argued for simplicity. As popularizers of science their controversial work situated them in a highly visible spotlight that was not always kind.

Stephen Jay Gould argued for “a respectful, even loving concordat” between science and religion which he called the NOMA [nonoverlapping magisteria] solution. “NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectua] grounds, not a mere diplomatic stance. NOMA also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions properly under the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution. This mutual humility has important practical consequences in a world of such diverse passions [. . .] The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it 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 arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven (Gould 1997).”

Paul Davies November 24, 2007 Op-Ed entitled “Taking Science on Faith” in the New York Times was one of the most emailed of the day. Davies, who is the director of Beyond, a research center at Arizona State University, and the author of Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life argued that, ””The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified (Davies 2007 ).”

To be continued . . .

Timeline of related events

1911- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921) a Persian seer from a noble family imprisoned for decades for his beliefs, upon his release from prison, spent several years travelling and lecturing in Paris, London, New York, Montreal . . . before his death in 1921. In one of his well-attended and well-documented lectures in Paris he declared, “Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism (‘Abdu’l-Bahá 1911? [1969:143]).” Citations from these lectures which were covered by major contemporary mass media are now available from many sources on the web.

1911- “When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles–and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God (‘Abdu’l-Bahá 1911? [1969:146]).”

1922 The words of `Abdu’l-Bahá, Persian seer and central figure of the Baha’i World Faith, were published. `Abdu’l-Bahá declared that, “If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance,and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.”

1936 Pontifical Academy of Sciences was founded by Roman Catholic Pope Pius XI, who wished to surround himself with a select group of scholars, relying on them to inform the Vatican in complete freedom about developments in scientific research, and thereby to assist him in his reflections (NCSE 2002 ).

1950 Pope Pius XII (not one of Gould’s favorite figures in twentieth-century history) pronounced his encyclical entitled Humani Generis in which he declared that “Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature (Gould 1997). “The Magisterium of the Church has already made pronouncements on these matters within the framework of her own competence. [. . . ] In his Encyclical Humani generis (1950), [Pope] Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points (cf. AAS 42 [1950], pp. 575-576) (NCSE 2002 )”.

1981 Pope John Paul II in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 3 October 1981 clarified that, “Cosmogony itself speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth, it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The sacred book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and makeup of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven (NCSE 2002).”

1984 Stephen Jay Gould joined with a group of French and Italian Jesuit priests who were also professional scientists, participated in a meeting on nuclear winter sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He referred to conversations on evolution at that time that resulted in his 1997 essay. Carl Sagan organized and attended the Vatican meeting that introduced Stephen Jay Gould’s essay entitled “Nonoverlapping Magisteria“. Carl Sagan and Gould shared a concern for a “fruitful cooperation between the different but vital realms of science and religion (Gould 1997).”

1993 Pope John Paul II addressd the Pontifical Academy of Sciences plenary assembly on October 31, 1992. He addressed debates surrounding Galileo, drawing attention to the need of a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word. It is necessary to determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that make it say what it does not intend to say. In order to delineate the field of their own study, the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural sciences (cf. AAS 85 [1993] pp. 764-772; Address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, 23 April 1993, announcing the document on The interpretation of the Bible in the Church: AAS 86 [1994] pp. 232-243)(NCSE 2002).”

1996 Pope John Paul II clarified certain issues on the magistria of science and religion in his Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996 entitled “Magisterium is Concerned with Question of Evolution for it Involves Conception of Man.” “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world. a world in which both can flourish . . . Such bridging ministries must be nurtured and encouraged.” “[In 1996] fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory. What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory’s validity depends on whether or not it can be verified, it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought. Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy. And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology. The Church’s Magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar Constitution Gaudium et spes has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is: the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake” (n. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society, he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St Thomas observes that man’s likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God’s relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 3, a. 5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfilment beyond time, in eternity. [. . .] Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition into the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again, of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans (NCSE 2002).”

1997 Stephen Jay Gould published an entitled “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” later published in the journal Natural History in which he argued for “a respectful, even loving concordat” between science and religion which he called the NOMA [nonoverlapping magisteria] solution. “NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectua] grounds, not a mere diplomatic stance. NOMA also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions properly under the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution. This mutual humility has important practical consequences in a world of such diverse passions [. . .] The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it 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 arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven (Gould 1997).”

1997 Carl Sagan’s estate published Billions & Billions. Sagan cited Pope John Paul II on the magistria of science and religion in his proclamation of October 1996. “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world. a world in which both can flourish . . . Such bridging ministries must be nurtured and encouraged.”

2007 Canadian secular philosopher and author of The Taming of Chance and honorary professor at the Collège de France, Ian Hacking, in his essay entitled “Root and Branch” published in The Nation, argued that the metaphor of a tree of life with linear roots, trunk and branches as used in genetic anthropology was inadequate. Classification, particularly in tiniest life forms such as fungi, is a mess. While his arguments against the anti-science perspective of hard Intelligent Design proponents, are convincing — and he clearly states he is atheist — he does not adopt a hard line approach such as Richard Dawkins and others whom he describes as destructive, “arrogant religion-baiters”. He provided a useful bibliography and timeline of events that led to the sociological phenomenon in the United States of widespread religious fundamentalism that informs contemporary debates on the roles of science and religion. Hacking considered Leibniz’ proposal “that the actual world is the one that combines the maximum of variety with the minimum of complexity for its fundamental laws. The “best” world, the world sought by the most intelligent designer, is one that maximizes variety in its phenomena and simplicity of basic law. Such a world has no place for a specific set of plans for the Arctic tern. The upshot is not attractive to those who favor intelligent design. It is in effect a proof that we live in a world of quantum-mechanical laws that are counterintuitive (to humans) but intrinsically simple–a world that, once these laws are in place, is then allowed to evolve out of a very few raw materials by chance and selection into unendingly complex patterns, including life on earth as we know it. It is a fact that you will get complex structures if you just let such systems run. The wisest designer would choose the governing laws and initial conditions that best capitalized on this mathematical fact. A stupid designer would have to arrange for all the intricate details (the Arctic tern again) that anti-Darwinians eulogize, but an intelligent designer would let chance and natural selection do the work. In other words, in the light of our present knowledge, we can only suppose that the most intelligent designer (I do not say there is one) would have to be a “neo-Darwinian” who achieves the extraordinary variety of living things by chance.”

Glossary of terms

magisterium (or teaching authority) derives from the concept of teaching (magister is Latin for “teacher”). Gould () refers to magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church in particular, and to the magisteria of religion and science in general.

NOMA (nonoverlapping magisteria) is a principle designated by Gould (1997) in which he argued that no conflict should exist [between science and religion because] each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority which do not overlap.

Key words, folksonomy, tags: science and religion, nonoverlapping magisteria, magisteria, See also: Morowitz: Alexander; constructs; ding an sich (thing in itself); epistemology; evolution; Immanuel Kant; Philo; transcendence

Webliography and Bibliography

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. 1922 [1982]. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 2nd edition 1982, p. 181.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. [1969]. Paris Talks. London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. p. 143.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. [1969]. Paris Talks. London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. p. 146.

BIC (Baha’i International Community). 1999. “The Unity of Religion and Science.” >> Information about the Bahai Faith: Baha’i Topics is a service of the Baha’i International Community. http://info.bahai.org/article-1-3-2-18.html

Davies, Paul. 2007. “Taking Science on Faith.” Op-Ed New York Times. Published: November 24, 2007.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. “Nonoverlapping Magisteria.” Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16-22; Reprinted on-line with permission from Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, New York: Harmony Books, 1998, pp. 269-283.

Hacking, Ian. 2007. “Root and Branch.” The Nation. October 8. Uploaded September 20. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071008/hacking

Sagan, Carl. 1997. Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. New York:Random House.

For further reading:

Turbott, John. 2004. “Religion, spirituality and psychiatry: steps towards rapprochement.” Australasian Psychiatry. 12:2:145-147. Objectives: “To consider the claim that there is a fundamental epistemological conflict between religion and psychiatry over what constitutes rational explanation, and what impediment this might be to rapprochement between the two. Conclusions: An epistemological gap most certainly exists, but there is a growing acceptance of the importance of religion and spirituality to psychiatry. Rapprochement may best be achieved by increasing psychiatric awareness and knowledge of the issues, and by a willingness to embrace intellectual, cultural and religious pluralism.

Turbott, John. “Religion, spirituality and psychiatry : conceptual, cultural and personal challenges.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Abstract: Objective: “Recent psychiatric literature and contemporary sociopolitical developments suggest a need to reconsider the place of religion and spirituality in psychiatry. This paper was written with the aim of encouraging dialogue between the often antithetical realms of religion and science. Method: Material from psychiatric, sociological and religious studies literature was reviewed, with particular emphasis on New Zealand sources. Results: Despite the secularising effects of science, the presence and influence of ‘religiosity’ remains substantial in Western culture. The literature emphasises the central importance of religion and spirituality for mental health, and the difficulty of integrating these concepts with scientific medicine. Psychiatric tradition and training may exaggerate the ‘religiosity gap’ between doctors and patients. In New Zealand, the politically mandated bicultural approach to mental health demands an understanding of Maori spirituality. Conclusions: Intellectual, moral and pragmatic arguments all suggest that psychiatry should reconsider its attitude to religion and spirituality. There are many opportunities for research in the field. Psychiatry would benefit if the vocabulary and concepts of religion and spirituality were more familiar to trainees and practitioners. Patients would find better understanding from psychiatrists, and fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue about mutual issues of ‘ultimate concern’ might ensue.”

Morowitz Harold, 2005. “The Debate between Science and Religion: Exploring Roads Less Traveled.” Zygon. 40:1:51-56(6). Blackwell Publishing.
Abstract: “The confrontation between Hellenism and Judaism goes back to the invasion of the Middle East by the armies of Alexander the Great. The differing ideologies, first rationalized by Philo of Alexandria, have emerged repeatedly for the past 2,000 years. The inability to resolve the differences can be traced to the differing epistemologies of religious fundamentalists and scientists with views that can be traced to Karl Popper, Immanuel Kant, and, ultimately, Aristotle.”

Keywords: Alexander; constructs; ding an sich (thing in itself); epistemology; evolution; Immanuel Kant; Philo; transcendence

Document Type: Research article


Affiliations: 1: Harold Morowitz is professor and former director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, MS 2A1, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030, and co-chairman of the Science Advisory Board at the Santa Fe Institute.

Links for this article

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/bpl/zygo/2005/00000040/00000001/art00006
http://openurl.ingenta.com/content?genre=article&issn=0591-2385&volume=40&issue=1&spage=51&epage=56
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2005.00642.x

Fernando, Suman. 2003. Cultural Diversity, Mental Health and Psychiatry: The Struggle Against Racism. Psychology Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: