Re: [asa] Where does TE differ from NOMA? (was: Re: Schools and NOMA)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Thu Oct 22 2009 - 22:53:30 EDT

Hi Cameron,

Just a brief remark on this topic;

I think one has to distinguish between an ontological and a practical claim here.

As an ontological claim, NOMA is clearly an attempt to drive a wedge between physical and spiritual realities in a way which could NEVER be open to challenge from experience. That is, "ontological NOMA" (call it NOMA(O)) is the affirmation that NO scientific truth claim could EVER contradict ANY religious truth claim because they - by their vary nature (i.e. ontologically speaking) - inhabit separate realms of discourse.

But as a practical claim (NOMA(P)) would be nothing more than the view that there are *in practice* no scientific truth claims which do, in fact, stand in direct conflict with any religious truth claims. Or at least not legitimately!

Personally, I think I would want to affirm a suitably nuanced version of something like NOMA(P) (Ist klar, ja? Wunderschön!). And my response to somebody who argues that NOMA is *entirely* wrong-headed would be a simple practical challenge: show me one instance in which a scientific truth claim DOES stand in direct conflict with a religious truth claim - that is, show me where the magisteria of science and the magisteria of theology may *legitimately* be considered to overlap. Show me where, in practice, NOMA fails - at which point we can talk about the viability of NOMA as a proper explanation. I'm not sure I'd agree that any such *legitimate* instance has ever been identified (although no doubt I will recall one the moment I press "send"...!)

It has to be said that I personally have some sympathy with J.P.Moreland's notion of "Theistic Science" - the idea that Christians may rightly bring ALL their knowledge (including that of Scripture) to the interpretation of nature. However, I'm not sure that I'd want to affirm all the possible implications which some people might see lurking in this idea.

I would particularly affirm the idea that our rational for practising science, and even our scientific method, can be readily informed by Christian theology, but when it comes to truth claims about the natural order itself, then these should be grounded in the study of the natural order rather than theology itself. And, note, that I think that later is NOT something dictated to Christian theology by science, rather I think it is something permitted to science by Christian theology. Science isn't a legitimate enterprise because the scientist claims so. It is a legitimate enterprise because the Christian theologian claims so.

What I really want to do, then, is affirm aspects of both "Theistic Science" and "NOMA." In particular, I'd want to argue that when we bring ALL our Christian knowledge to bear on the question of our knowledge of the natural order, then it arises that we can define the limits of science *theologically.* In particular, I would suggest that the totality of our Christian knowledge tells us that the magisterium of science - when restricted to its proper domain (i.e. exploration of the created order) cannot, in practice, impinge upon the proper pronouncements of the magisterium of Christian theology.

This is, I think, to affirm something resembling a form of NOMA but a form which refutes the particular agenda that Gould had in mind. It certainly denies the notion that science always trumps theology, for it is the claim that theology legitimately limits the subject matter, and the scope, of science. Gould wanted to separate science and theology as it were "horizontally" and have them sit in different hermetically sealed compartments. I think it better, if one wants to talk about them being separated, to think of them separated "vertically" - standing in a hierarchical relationship such that science is subsumed under theology whilst being allowed an appropriate degree of autonomy. It's a bit like a father telling the child that he can play with any toy in the toybox - that's restricted liberty which, by definition, doesn't mean carte blanch for the child to usurp the role of the father and start playing with the power tools in the workshop.

With all this in mind, one closing comment about ID: A TE may well reject ID not because the claims of ID are seen as transgressing NOMA and thus implausible by definition. Rather, the TE may simply think that the claims of ID are not substantiated in practice. When the TE says ID is "not science" it may not indicate an in principle objection to design arguments, but merely a rejection of the claim that we have, in fact, identified design in nature by the proper (theologically defined!) canons of scientific inquiry. By analogy, one can reject claims that there is life on Mars either because one considers such claims implausible in principle, or because one is not swayed by the evidence.

I think it could be allowed - in the interests of Christian charity - that *some* TE's, at least, fall into the later category rather than the former. You will rightly say - and I will support you fully should you do so - that it would be no bad thing if the same Christian charity were extended by TE's to those who demure from their scientific doctrine.


Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> Ted:
> You've raised many good points, but I don't want to reply to each of them
> individually yet, in part because I'm waiting on David Campbell's answer
> (regarding what he meant by NOMA and who in his mind is "guilty" of holding
> to NOMA), and in part because I want to offer my reaction to Gould's first
> essay, and see how it tallies with yours, and that of others here who have
> read it. And then I want to apply my understanding of Gould to TE -- as TE
> appears to me, based on many (not all) of its proponents on this list. And
> I'll close by inviting corrections to my argument connecting TE with NOMA.
> I re-read most of Gould's original essay on non-overlapping magisteria
> (NOMA). And as I re-read it, two things struck me. First, Gould disagrees
> with most of the people here because he is an unbeliever. Not just in
> Christianity, but in God, the soul, etc. He's an unbeliever of the
> agnostic
> kind rather than of the atheist kind, but still, an unbeliever, or if you
> prefer, a non-believer. But second, beyond his personal unbelief, I'm
> hard-pressed to find much difference between Gould's position and a lot of
> what has been argued by members of this list. He seems to have set up
> science and religion so that they can never be in the same room, or at
> least, never be using the same chairs and couches when they are in the same
> room, and therefore never be in serious conflict. He has a neat and tidy
> recipe for peace between the two bodies of knowledge: you show us how to
> get to heaven, and we'll show you how the heavens go; you teach us the
> right
> "values", and we'll teach you the true "facts"; you explain to us the
> mysteries of the soul, and we'll explain to you the mysteries of the body;
> you teach us the metaphysical truth of divine design, and we'll teach you
> the physical truth of evolutionary contingency. It's all very lovey-dovey.
> The war between science and religion was a great misunderstanding. What
> fools we were not to realize that good fences make good neighbours, and
> that
> we could have avoided all the ugliness if we had just established the
> correct boundaries. What fools the ancients were, not to realize that they
> should have just let Plato handle the morals and Lucretius the physics.
> Thus, for Gould, the road to peace is just to recognize which questions
> science can handle, and which ones it cannot handle, and to come to a
> similar distinction regarding religion. Yet he is too intelligent a man
> not
> to realize that it is not that simple, and at one point in the essay, he
> seems to grant that there are zones of potential conflict where the two
> (science and religion) at least touch, and thus threaten the doctrine of
> NOMA. But (whew! that was close!) by the end of the essay he has pretty
> well neutralized the effect of any of the potential border conflicts, thus
> preserving his doctrine, and we can all live happily ever after.
> For example, he talks about the RC doctrine that, while the body may have
> evolved via natural processes, the human soul is given supernaturally by
> God. He acknowledges this as a potential conflict, since science cannot
> admit that sort of statement. And how does he get out of it? He ends up
> saying something like: "Well, the RC church may be right about the soul,
> but even if it is, the separately created soul is something that my science
> can't investigate, so there is no real conflict; I'll believe there isn't a
> separately created soul, and the Pope can believe there is one; ultimately
> it's a matter of private metaphysical taste that human beings can have
> great
> conversations about, but nothing will ever be resolved by them." But
> that's
> an evasion. If, as some believe, the soul can be explained completely
> as an
> extension of allegedly analogous features in dogs, apes, etc. (as Darwin
> speculated in The Descent of Man), if psychology and biochemistry and so on
> can explain all our "higher" characteristics (reason, love, altruism,
> shame,
> guilt, self-sacrifice, etc.) in terms of lower animal drives and instincts
> and group survival strategies, then what do we need the "specially endowed
> soul" for?
> True, one could hold onto the soul as something "not disprovable by
> science". But it would be redundant. There would be no need to suppose
> any
> special moment of being endowed with a soul, or any special creative action
> of God needed to produce one. Reasons of intellectual economy would
> suggest
> dumping a doctrine that is entirely redundant, and indeed, the natural
> human
> tendency has always been -- once something has been explained by
> "science" -- to drop any explanation involving *special* divine action.
> (Maybe hanging onto some notion of general divine involvement --
> co-operation or some such -- but not for a moment supposing that the divine
> involvement is such that it would ever need to be entered into an equation,
> etc.) Once we had Galileo and Kepler and Newton explain the planetary
> motion sufficiently, the angels in their spheres were dumped. There was no
> place for them, other than an honorary one. They could be kept as forms of
> ornament on quaint old maps of the cosmos, if one liked. (Like Hitler
> keeping President von Hindenburg around for a few years after he had
> achieved total power, for appearance's sake.) In sum, what Gould's evasion
> fails to acknowledge is that, while "science" may never be able to formally
> "disprove" theological teachings, it could (at least in principle) offer
> explanations so complete that people would find the religious explanation
> both redundant and unconvincing.
> Thus, the idea that science can never, under any circumstance, affect the
> way that human beings think about "soul", in any way that could adversely
> affect religion, strikes me as historically indefensible, and
> psychologically naive. We only live in one reality, not two; and if we
> think that science tells us things that are true about that reality, those
> truths are going to affect how we think of other aspects of that reality.
> Especially when the reality that is the object of science is *us*, the
> conclusions of science will have a profound effect. It is one thing when
> science tells us that Jupiter is not a god but a rock in space, or that
> Jupiter is not moved by angels but by the impersonal force of gravity;
> it is
> another and more disturbing thing when science tells us -- or appears to
> tell us -- that we are not the beings that we always thought and felt we
> were, but are nothing but bundles of selfish genes, or sets of programmed
> neurons, or drives, or whatever. Such self-conceptions eventually become
> part of us. All one has to do to verify this is to read any psychology
> textbook, including those used in conservative Christian colleges. Would
> Augustine or Dante or C. S. Lewis assent to those descriptions of human
> nature? And where did those conceptions come from, other than modern
> science? Any facile separation of "science" and "religion" or "science"
> and
> "theology" on matters of this kind, along the lines of "You psychologists
> and anthropologists do your job, and we theologians will do ours,
> and we'll get along just famously together on the question of soul" -- is
> simply not credible.
> Now, though we haven't often discussed "soul" here, we have discussed
> evolution, and it seems to me that many here support Gouldian reasoning
> when
> it comes to evolution. The narrative seems to go something like this:
> "The
> biologists tell us that contingency and natural laws are entirely
> sufficient
> to get from non-life to life, or from bacteria to man, and *if you wish*,
> you may privately also suppose that in some way a "design" is being
> implemented by the apparently undirected processes. There is no law
> against
> believing in multiple, redundant explanations, and design is a metaphysical
> concept, outside of the authority of science to pronounce upon. But
> science
> does not need your redundant appeal to "design" in order to explain every
> last detail of how things happened. As long as you accept that, believe as
> you will." Thus, many here seem to be arguing that scientists can hold
> onto
> God, not because the evidence from nature demonstrates or strongly
> indicates
> the existence of a designer, but merely because even a complete Darwinian
> account of evolution, and a complete chemical account of the origin of
> life,
> wouldn't formally disprove his existence. But even if that's strictly
> logically true, we must consider that for those who dwell outside of such
> theoretical discussions as ours, the psychological effect of origin
> accounts
> in which teleology is entirely redundant is going to be an anti-religious
> one. To the average churchgoer, if Darwinism, along with its
> origin-of-life
> and evolutionary psychology adjuncts, is *entirely* correct, God will seem
> redundant, and it's hard to worship a redundant being with all your heart.
> Now one might might respond: But why couldn't a completely impersonal
> process be God's way of creating, if we suppose the process was a planned
> one? Well, it could, and I've mentioned Denton as someone who suggests
> that
> kind of blending of naturalism and design. But the language of
> neo-Darwinism is not the language of planning, followed by delivery through
> some natural process. It's the language of contingency and lucky bounces,
> and despite the cleverest arguments of people here to accommodate the
> radical contingency supposed by neo-Darwinism (a radical contingency
> brought
> out most fiercely by Gould) to an omnipotent, omnipotent, Providential God,
> the fit is very awkward. It seems awkward to me, and I'm more open than
> most to being persuaded that apparent contradictions are really
> paradoxical truths. How much more awkward is it going to seem to the
> average
> churchgoer in the pews? If you tell the average churchgoer in the pews
> that
> Darwinian processes explain everything, including the development of the
> human soul, *even if you specify that you mean it "only on the scientific
> level"*, you've started the wheels turning. After all, if Darwinian
> theory is capable of deriving our bodies from bacteria, and evolutionary
> psychology is capable of deriving our souls from the souls of animals,
> how can we be sure that we *need*
> more than the scientific level? Why should we believe that science cannot
> account for everything, if it can account for the very heart of what makes
> us human, i.e., the soul?
> I believe that TEs here and elsewhere are quite sincere in saying that
> more than science is needed to define and explain the universe, life and
> man. I also agree with them. My problem is that I don't see why they
> hold this view, given the solidity they attribute to evolutionary
> explanation, and given that more and more scientists are building on
> evolutionary explanation at both ends, i.e., regarding the chemical
> origin of life and the explanation of human behaviour in terms of
> evolutionary psychology. History shows that modern science has a way of
> incorporating more and more into its sphere; we can see how it has moved
> from physics to chemistry to geology and biology to anthropology and
> psychology. In the case of the last three fields (probably the last
> four), many initially believed that science could never explain such
> realms. History also appears to show a retreat of theology from many of
> these realms, and from many other realms as well -- even Biblical
> criticism is now a secular science, and Catholic and Protestant scholars
> read articles by Jewish and secular scholars on the "Q" source without
> qualm. It thus looks as if, in the language of NOMA, science is like
> the former Soviet Union, unwilling to respect its boundaries, and
> determined to dominate Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany, etc.,
> whereas theology is akin to a Europe that keeps shrinking as the Soviet
> Union moves relentlessly westward, poised to invade and swallow Austria,
> West Germany, etc. Based on our past experience, how can we be sure
> that science will not expand indefinitely, and theology shrink
> indefinitely, until theology occupies, perhaps, the area of
> Liechtenstein or Andorra? It seems to me that many TEs, by allowing
> science to define its own areas of competence, have more or less allowed
> an infinite process of boundary restructuring within NOMA, whereby
> science gets larger and larger, and theology smaller and smaller.
> Science today appears to have an empire the size of Genghis Khan's, and
> theology an empire the size of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Theology seems less
> and less important, and more and more plays second banana to science,
> constantly offering it more and more as the price of any sort of
> survival at all, cutting deals out of weakness rather than out of
> strength, e.g.: "We'll allow you to explain the origin of life and body
> and soul in completely reductionist terms, and won't utter a peep, as
> long as you give us the Resurrection, and we'll acknowledge that even
> that can't be proved scientifically, as long as you grant that it can't
> be *dis*proved scientifically." If that's the trade that TEs make, I
> think they're making a really, really bad trade.
> Thus, I still need to hear how TE differs from NOMA. I don't mean, how
> do individual TEs differ from Gould, by accepting certain historical
> events that Gould did not accept. My question is: Outside of belief in
> historical claims of Christian religion (prophecy, miracles,
> resurrection), don't TEs, in their science and their theoretical
> thinking, practice NOMA exactly as Gould recommends? Aren't TEs in fact
> NOMA-accepters who also happen to believe in some historical miracles?
> And since I don't want to be accused of generalizing falsely, let me
> change that to: Aren't *some* TEs in fact NOMA-accepters who also
> happen to believe in some historical miracles?
> It appears to me that at least some TEs here fit the above description;
> but I'm willing to adopt a new perception if people here can show me the
> difference -- if they can show me that their version of TE (1) does not
> simply cede to the current scientific consensus whatever intellectual
> territory that it demands [counterexamples would be nice] and (2) looks at
> the distinction between science and religion quite differently from the
> way that NOMA does.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Ted Davis" <>
> To: "asa" <>; "Cameron Wybrow" <>
> Sent: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 2:49 PM
> Subject: Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's
> books....)
>>>> "Cameron Wybrow" <> 10/21/2009 1:45 PM >>> wrote
>>>> (among other things):
> 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.
> 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.
> And again from the ID point of view, while the religious sincerity of most
> TEs is not denied, 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.
> ***
> Ted comments:
> Some might see this analysis as a bit "over the top," in terms of a
> profound
> distaste for the NOMA position on the part of ID proponents; and, in terms
> of a comparable distaste for those TEs who sound like NOMA supporters to ID
> proponents. From my own experience with larger groups of ID supporters,
> however, I confirm the accuracy of what Cameron is saying. This is one of
> the reasons, IMO, why have a reapproachment between some forms of ID and
> some forms of TE (something I would like to see) will be very, very
> difficult. There are deeply entrenched views and attitudes on this
> particular aspect of the issue. IDs almost all see NOMA, or even the much
> more sophisticated complementarity view -- which is much older, more
> sophisticated, and much friendlier to orthodox Christian belief -- as an
> unacceptable "privatization" of faith. No amount of evidence concerning
> the
> public witness for Christian faith that individual TEs often engage in
> (I am
> thinking of people like Collins, Lamoureux, George Ellis, Polkinghorne,
> Dick
> Bube, or countless others) seems to dissuade ID advocates from drawing this
> conclusion. If you don't embrace a very strong form of natural theology
> (which is what ID is equivalent to, IMO), then somehow your faith is simply
> "privatized," even though it is publicly and widely proclaimed.
> As I've said in the fairly distant past, ID advocates and TE advocates
> usually have different views of what it means to make science one's
> Christian vocation. A bit more respect for diversity on this, in both
> directions, would be a good thing for the body of Christ, IMO. (You can
> find hundreds to put in each "camp" within the ASA, and we get along pretty
> well most of the time, but the ASA itself has sometimes been caricatured by
> those who don't understand who we are.)
> I disagree myself with Gould's NOMA view, insofar as Gould used it to deny
> to Christians (at least implicitly, if not explicitly) the right to claim
> that Christ was raised bodily from the grave -- among other things. Thou
> shalt not make religious claims that involve statements about physical
> reality, he might have said. And, he was wrong about that. His book,
> "Rocks of Ages," however, is really pretty good overall. Among other
> things, Gould is one of only a few scholars who understood what White's
> "warfare" thesis was really about: the progressive elimination of core
> theological claim in the name of science, in order to ensure the
> survival of
> religion in a scientific age. What Gould apparently not see, however, is
> that many contemporary thinkers involved with the "dialogue" of science and
> religion, coming from the very liberal end of Christian theology, are
> actually embracing White's warfare view -- despite their repeated
> denials of
> the warfare view. I wrote about this in "Zygon," Dec 2000 (an essay that I
> actually wrote before I saw Gould's 1999 book).
> ****
> Cameron also wrote this:
> 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?
> ***
> Ted comments:
> My own answer to the indirect question in the first sentence of the
> paragraph just quoted is as follows. What it would take to put
> Christianity
> at risk, IMO, is clear and unambiguous evidence that either (a) Jesus was
> not crucified; or (b) Jesus was not raised bodily from the grave after his
> crucifixion. Gould almost certainly thought that "science" had made (b)
> impossible to believe, but obviously I would differ with him on that. I
> have yet to see the demonstration, you might say. This is not a
> "bulletproof" claim, in terms of science--if we include archaeology among
> the sciences (as I do). Are there any possible conclusions of the natural
> sciences that would "put Christianity at risk"? An interesting question.
> I'm not too confident of an answer. I would myself find actual hard
> evidence of an enormous multiverse very disturbing -- there, I admitted
> that, which some have probably suspected. But, hard evidence for me would
> probably have to involve actually observing some other part(s) of the
> multiverse, and if I have it right that isn't in the cards. So, have I
> thereby made Christianity invulnerable to refutation by natural
> science? On
> the other hand, part of my uncertainty about this involves the fact that
> some smart Christians I know think that an infinite God might as well have
> created a multiverse that is for practical purposes also infinite. (That's
> not a new idea, theologically, as many will realize; there were discussions
> of this at least as early as Nicholas of Cusa in the 15th Century.)
> Cameron will no doubt bring biology into this somewhere, but I'm not sure
> that biology puts Christianity into doubt. (It depends on how biology is
> defined and how Christianity is defined.) At the basic level, you could
> say
> that physiology refutes life after death; one of Compton's critics went
> after him that way (for details, see the next issue of PSCF). But, I don't
> think physiology has anything to say about the new heaven and earth...
> And, I fail to see how *any* of the sciences has anything *at all* to say
> about the Trinity, or atonement, or faith, hope, and love. Not to mention,
> grace. If Cameron or anyone else can show me where I'm wrong, I'm all
> ears -- or, eyes.
> Ted
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Oct 22 22:54:09 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Oct 22 2009 - 22:54:09 EDT