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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Oct 23 2009 - 00:39:54 EDT

Your points are reasonable, Ted. Before trying to address them, however,
I'd like to back up for a minute and make some general remarks, so that I
won't be taken as saying more than I mean.

To me there is a common-sense distinction between science and religion which
is perfectly reasonable, and I don't object to saying that for the most part
science and religion address different questions. I don't think it's a
theologian's job to mathematically account for the orbit of Saturn, and I
don't think it's a scientist's job to explain the doctrine of the Fall. I
don't think it's a minister's job to understand the nuclear physics of
radioactive dating, and I don't think it's a geologist's job to counsel a
young couple on the Christian meaning of marriage. (Of course, a geologist
might do that, but that's not part of his job description as a geologist,
whereas it is part of the job description of a minister.) And by and large,
I think every sane person has a rough-and-ready idea of the sort of
questions that religion deals with, and the sort of questions that science
deals with, and how they are in most cases different. Surely a YEC knows
that the chemistry of windshield-wiper fluid is not theology, and that a
commentary on Romans is not chemistry. So if that is all that NOMA is
about, then I think that NOMA is uncontestable.

However, it seems to me that NOMA makes a larger and more striking claim.
Whereas common sense and experience tell us merely that theology and science
(or religion and science if you want a broader notion) are usually concerned
with different objects, or at least, that where they are concerned with the
same objects, have very different questions about them, NOMA appears to tell
us not only that this is often the case, but that it must always be the
case, in principle. The very nature of religion and the very nature of
science mean that they cannot have any overlapping areas of concern or
expertise. At the most, they can brush each other along the edges, and
while there might appear to be some possible friction there, close analysis
always dispels that illusion and reaffirms clear borders. Thus, there can
never be any war between science and theology, not even over a single point.
And the question is: is this true?

Now, while you have objected to some of my remarks, I gather that you agree
with me that this (NOMA) is not true. I gather that you agree with me that
it can sometimes be the case that the claims of religion and the claims of
science pertain to the same object or event, and that the claims are such
that only one of them can be true. So what I need more clarity on from you
is the circumstances under which this can happen. As many examples as you
could provide, particularly if they are of more than one kind, would help.

You have suggested the Resurrection as a point where the two might collide.
I need to know more about this. Is your argument that science denies the
historical truth of the Resurrection, and theology affirms it, and that in
this case, science is wrong? Or is your argument that science proper can
affirm nothing about the Resurrection, and that any scientist who says that
science has disproved the Resurrection is not speaking as a scientist, but
as something else? But then, what sort of claim is the claim that the
Resurrection has occurred (or has not occurred)? A historical claim rather
than a scientific one? If so, should we, for the purposes of the NOMA
discussion, count "history" as a science (not a natural science, to be sure,
but still a science)? Or is that straying too far from Gould's original
intention, to treat historical questions as scientific ones?

My own example was not a historical one but one drawn from science, or at
least from the alleged results of science. A certain group of scientists
(including some psychiatrists, psychologists, evolutionary psychologists,
anthropologists, neurosurgeons, etc., aided and abetted by some
philosophers) believes that science is very close to being able to disprove
the existence of things like "free will" and "the soul", and to prove that
even the deepest parts of ourselves -- courage, love, altruism, patriotism,
religious belief, curiosity, the capacity for shame, etc. -- are entirely
explicable in deterministic terms, and that entities such as "free will" and
"soul" are metaphysical baggage from the past that have no intellectual
value for understanding what we really are. Now, as you know, I do not
accept that these people have proved their case or come anywhere near
proving it, but many observers think that they have, and it is likely that
the number of people who think that they have is going to increase.
Employing "methodological naturalism", which everyone here seems to insist
is the right method for studying nature, these reductionists have built up
their case, and I think it's not inconceivable that as time goes on they
could greatly strengthen that case. And I believe that once that case
reaches a certain level of strength -- if it ever does so -- it will pose a
real threat to traditional Christian teaching or religious teaching of any
kind. In other words, I believe that the NOMA partition would break down at
that point. I believe that in that case, with respect to one and the same
object, i.e., human beings, science and religion would be saying two
incompatible things, and one would be forced to choose which to believe.

True, one might try to "save" free will and soul by arguing that
"methodological naturalism" is different from "philosophical naturalism", so
that science might quite correctly prove that there is no free will or soul
within the bounds of its level of discourse, yet soul and free will might
still be the truth about human beings, I think this argument would be
treated by most as a technicality and an evasion. I do not think that most
human beings will easily accept that the truths of the metaphysical or
religious level can be in contradiction with the truths of the natural
level. If on the level of science, free will and soul looked very much like
either erroneous or at best redundant notions, I think there would be a
large rise in the loss of religious faith. I think the NOMA breakdown would
be very evident at that point, and Gould would no longer be able to finesse
his way out of choosing. He would have to make an affirmation about what
human beings are and what they are not. He would have to take his private
opinion (which he admits to be a strong suspicion that there is no "soul")
out of its peace-loving NOMA compartment and put it on the battlefield.

This is the sort of concern that I have, Ted. My concern is that NOMA and
NOMA-like thinking may be used as a convenient excuse to put off dealing
with real differences about what is true.

As for some of the other examples you name, I grant you that Trinity and
Atonement have nothing to do with the natural sciences. I never thought
that they did. I'm all for common-sense separation of things that have
nothing to do with each other.

However, much of the language of Christianity is, I believe, fundamentally
in conflict with certain claims made by modern science, particularly claims
coming from sciences such as psychology. And I worry that the NOMA approach
gives psychology territory that it is not entitled to, thus making a number
of false descriptions of human beings unassailable for all practical
purposes, because when public policy is made in the modern world, it is made
on the basis of what legislators believe that science tells us, not on the
basis of what legislators believe that theology tells us. Every new
beachhead that some purported "science" can occupy marks out a new area of
power for a potentially anti-religious views of the world, and another
surrender of the power of religion in the public sphere. And once any
purported body of knowledge is officially recognized as as a "science", all
criticisms of that "science" from the side of religion will be treated as
gushy private emotions that are "encroaching" illegitimately on science's
sphere. Thus, psychology textbooks for 50 years or more have been promoting
an implicitly anti-Christian view of the soul, desire, love, will, and more
generally of what human beings are, and that view has consequences for
everything from the educational system to family law, the penal system,
etc., yet it cannot be challenged from the theological side with any
effective social result, because it will inevitably be portrayed as
theologians meddling in areas in which they are not competent. (In this
description I am leaving out the painful fact that many theologians have
watered down the traditional theological conception of man by accepting much
of modern psychology.) So an allegedly "metaphysically neutral" science of
psychology shapes our social and political reality, when it fact it is
loaded with a metaphysics of its own, so that its claim that theological
criticism would constitute "metaphysical interference with science" is
utterly preposterous. NOMA thus appears to be protecting a series of
systematic lies and errors about what human beings are.

The categorizing of any "truth" as a "scientific" truth gives that truth
great power in the modern world, whereas the categorizing of it as a
"religious" truth renders it ineffectual and often contemptible in the
public sphere. Despite the fact that all of us here agree that "science" is
not the only road to truth, it is seen by the world as more important, more
powerful, and more deserving of influence than other kinds of truth. Thus,
NOMA protects things which ought not to be protected from criticism, and is
a force for much evil. And I worry that some TEs yield too much to
NOMA-like thinking, not just regarding evolution, but in their general
deference to the autonomy and invulnerability of purported sciences within
their spheres. I would like to see a much more fluid conception of the
territories of knowledge than NOMA allows for.


----- 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

>>> "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.


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Received on Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:39:54 -0400

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