Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....)

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Thu Oct 22 2009 - 15:39:25 EDT

> David, is your remark about NOMA and anti-evolution aimed at YEC people, ID
> people, or both?  Here is what you wrote:
>> But much opposition to evolution consists of buying into NOMA and trying
>> to take origins away from science's magesteria [magisterium].

It is aimed at anyone who thinks that an evolutionary explanation
removes God from the picture, primarily at those who attack evolution
in order to keep God in but secondarily at those who endorse evolution
in hopes of excluding God. The claim of evolution or God is
commonplace in both YEC and ID material, though not infrequently
corrections can be found in the works of the same authors.

> I can't speak for the anti-ID wing of YEC with any confidence, but I am in
> regular contact with a large number of ID supporters, of all types,
> including YECs, OECs, religious syncretists, and even hard-boiled agnostics.
> Some of them are on-side with macroevolution; others reject it.  But one
> thing that all of them, or almost all of them, have in common, is a hatred
> of NOMA.

To me, ID often buys into NOMA; they merely want to change the names
and boundaries of the magesteria [yes, I deal enough with Latin
agreement with genera and species that I ought to have gotten the
singular right]. NOMA says that some things fall under religion and
some under science. ID generally asserts that some things fall under
design and some under non-design. However, I think of ID primarily as
it is popularly marketed, which has much more of Johnson and Wells
than Behe, Denton, etc..

> Further, many of these people would see NOMA as closely allied with TE. From
> the ID point of view, many if not most TEs believe that all events happen
> due to natural causes (however much God may be mysteriously "co-operating"
> with those causes), and their acceptance of Darwinian evolution (which is
> 100% naturalistic), is directly connected with that.

Thus, the ID advocates are buying into NOMA, accepting the claim that
natural causes=absence of God.

> And again from the ID point of view, while the religious sincerity of most TEs is not denied,

Claiming that TEs endorse evolution out of craven accommodation to the
vast left-wing conspiracy that rules acedemia does not seem to be
endorsement of sincerity. Of course, again there are a number of
people in the big tent who don't say that, but the message to the
average person in the pew is exactly that TEs lack religious

> it looks as if religion for TEs belongs in the private world of faith.  For
> example, in the insistence of many TEs that not even God's bare existence
> can be established through the observation of nature, ID people see a
> cleavage, a sort of schizophrenia between the "science" half of the soul and
> the "religion" half of the soul, where "science" knows the external world,
> and "faith" knows God, and never the twain shall meet. Science can't talk
> about God, and faith can't talk about nature.  And from the ID point of
> view, that sounds an awful lot like NOMA.

I see this attitude as buying into the schizophrenia between "secular"
and "sacred". As a rule, the distinguishing mark of the Christian
approach to "secular" occupations should be the commitment to quality
and high ethical standards. Take literature as an example. While
particular topics are likely to interest a Christian, Christian
characters are likely to be portrayed sympathetically, and the moral
tone likely to be high, a novel is not legitimately a Christian novel
if it is lousy literature. In fact, by invoking God's name for bad
work, in a way it is worse than a sleazy, pagan novel. Regrettably,
that principle would save a lot of shelf space at many Christian
bookstores. The point is particularly forcefully made by Dorothy L.
Sayers, though her time in advertising probably made her especially
cynical about anything suggestive of propaganda. Some time ago,
someone on this list noted spotting a sign advertising "Christian
Dentistry". If they understand that as a commitment to good quality
work, treating people well, honest billing, etc., then it would be a
good place to go. If they think it means that prayer is a complete
substitute for anesthetics [more likely with Buddhist
dentistry-attempting to transcend dental medication], or if their goal
no matter what the condition of your teeth is to crown you with many
crowns, or they try to only use dental technology from Biblical times,
stay away.

Similarly, in doing science a Christian should be characterized by
high quality and strong ethics. God does make extensive use of the
ordinary laws of nature in the running of the universe. You pray for
safe travel on a trip. Very good, but do not do so by closing your
eyes and folding your hands while you are behind the wheel of a moving
vehicle. Rather, you make sure the car is in good working order and
drive carefully. If you are sick, pray and find a good doctor. Was
God less involved in fulfilling the prophecy about where Jesus would
be born because it happened via Augustus' tax and a weary hike instead
of miraculous teleportation? Consider how God works in history and
how a similar approach is likely to look with regard to the history of

Science does, indeed, only know the external world, because it is
generally incompetent to address serious theological issues. It is
capable of dealing with superstition/magic-type claims about the
supernatural (e.g., is the horoscope correct? does bending spoons
require psychic power?), but that is not the way that God operates.

Note that I would not say that ID is inherently non-science. ID
includes a mix of non-science, science, and false science. Could one
scientifically look for gaps in evolution, for example? Yes, but the
putative formulas for detecting specified or irreducible complexity
fail to exclude things that can occur by natural laws.

> This why I asked, in another conversation, what it would take, for a TE, to
> put Christianity at risk.  If NOMA applies, then Christianity is
> bulletproof, at least on the side of science.  No conceivable fact uncovered
> by science, no conceivable law or theory or scheme of the world uncovered by
> science, could ever put Christian teaching in doubt.  And TEs appear to
> believe that Christianity is scientifically bulletproof.  So if NOMA is not
> the basis of this invulnerability of Christianity to any possible discovery
> of science, what is?

If NOMA then bulletproof does not prove if bullteproof then NOMA.
The scientific information that would be contrary to Christianity
would be evidence that Jesus was not crucified and raised from the
dead. Also, if science didn't work well, that could be a problem for
Christian ideas about God's sovereignty (akin to the fact that modern
science arose in a Christian context). Other than that, what
Christianity has to say about science is that it should be pursued in
a manner glorifying to God; that we can study science because of God's
creation (it behaves in orderly ways, we are enabled to understand it,
etc.); and that what we learn from it should be used well. There is a
lot of overlap between Christianity and science, but Christianity does
not tell us much about what results to expect from any given
experiment or study.

> On the other hand, if we say that Christian theology describes the world,
> and modern science describes the world, and it's the same world they are
> both trying to describe, then at least potentially there could be a
> conflict.  But both NOMA and TE appear to deny any such possibility, whereas
> both Dawkins-atheism and ID believe that the possibility is real.  So I'm
> having trouble locating TE -- or at least your version of TE -- in relation
> to ID and to NOMA.

TE says that theology (technically TE could include non-Christian
views) and modern science both describe the world. However, Christian
theology and science largely describe different levels and different
aspects and are unlikely to actually come into conflict. Percevied
conflict is more likely to be like that of the blind men and the
elephant, mistaking a part for the whole. Theology does have a lot to
say about how science is conducted, however-biological, environmental,
and medical ethics, etc. For example, the arguments given in favor of
expanding embryonic stem cell research tend to be "it has potential
medical benefit" or "don't stand in the way of studying science".
Both of those are also true of Nazi and other use of prisoners for
medical experimentation, or of the Monty Python organ donation skit.
This is not to claim that one couldn't make a better argument for
stem-cell research, much less that it is necessarily the moral
equivalent of Nazis, but simply to claim that the typical arguments
display a poor grasp of ethics.

> I agree with you about the inadequacy of "scientific" explanations of
> miracle tales, but your sentence, "I'd take a highly kenotic view of Jesus'
> surfing skills", is utterly incomprehensible to me.  I know what "kenosis"
> means, but have no clue how it would apply to the episode you are
> discussing.  Perhaps you could use this Gospel story to illustrate the
> difference between TE and NOMA.  How would Stephen Jay Gould explain Jesus's
> walk on the sea, and how would a TE?  Or better still, how would you?

As God, Jesus, being omnipotent, would be in principle capable of
being the ultimate surfer dude, able to ride a small piece of ice into
the wind across the Sea of Galilee. However, it seems quite out of
character, not to mention outside His calling.

Gould presumably would have held that it didn't happen and that
science shows it to be impossible. There are people who like NOMA who
are evolutionists and who are active in mainline denominations. They
would presumably qualify as TE and NOMA. My guess is that either they
would assert that the account is spiritually meaningful but not actual
history or else that it is an event that happened miraculously and
therefore is in the religious magesterium, not the science one. I
would assert that science tells us about the ordinary way in which God
runs the universe, but that He is free to do things differently as the
occasion arises. I would see science in this case as telling us "this
is not scientifically explicable", and thereby supporting the idea
that this is significant theologically. However, suppose a decent
scientific model for how it could happen was discovered. This would
not interfere with the theological import; it would merely be a
plausible explanation of how God did it. Suppose you had a time
machine with a roomy cargo hold. You could run all sorts of tests on
the water, analyze the details of the mechanics of Jesus' motions,
etc., but all you would get is, instead of the disciples' observation
that walking on water isn't natural, the observation that walking on
water at x degrees with particular concentrations of various dissolved
or suspended substances under particular weather conditions isn't

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Thu Oct 22 15:39:59 2009

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