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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Oct 23 2009 - 09:54:22 EDT


Thanks for a very well-reasoned and interesting reply. I find much in your
discussion that is valuable to think about. Here are some of my responses:

A. I don't think that either NOMA or its opposite should be set up as the
"default position" which the onus is on someone else to disprove. That is,
of these two positions:

1. Religion and science can by nature never clash, because they have
non-overlapping magisteria.
2. Religion and science are likely to clash, sooner or later, because there
is some overlap between their magisteria.

I don't think that either position should be taken as the obviously sensible
one, which a dissenter should have to disprove. I think the person making
the grand generalization is the one who should bear the onus of proof, not
the one who is skeptical of it; and the above two positions are grand

My position is:

3. Religion and science both comment on the world, and sometimes even on
the same features of the world, and so it is possible that they have
overlapping magisteria, and it is also possible that they may disagree.
However, since even where they comment on the same features of the world,
they may be commenting on different aspects of those features, there is no
reason to assume that their magisteria overlap, and therefore no reason to
assume that they will ever be in a position where disagreement will be
necessary. The question of overlap or non-overlap, agreement or
disagreement, should be handled entirely on a case-by-case basis, without
bringing in prior expectations of either conflict or non-conflict.

My problem with Gould is that his NOMA position, at least as set forth in
his introductory essay, appears not to be based on a close conceptual study
of the phenomena called "science" and "religion". One would expect some
sort of detailed philosophical and historical analysis of "science", showing
some awareness of how the term "science" has changed its meaning many times
in the history of Western thought, and a detailed historical analysis of
"religion", showing how it, too, has changed its meaning many times in the
history of Western thought, and one would expect him to explain which
definition of "science" and of "religion" he is using, and why. Instead, he
assumes that the reader will accept a popular notion of "science"
uncritically, and a popular notion of "religion" as well. But popular
notions are often filled with unconscious assumptions or based on uncritical

Further, it may make a very great difference whether the religion is
Christianity or something else, e.g., Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Greco-Roman
paganism, etc. And if the comparison is between "Christianity and science",
it may make a great deal of difference which version of Christianity we are
talking about. But Gould's discussion, at least in the first essay where he
introduces the term, ignores almost all such qualifications. The only nod
to nuance he provides is the acknowledgement that at least one form of
religion, literalist Protestantism, does clash with the results of modern
science, which is true, but rather obvious, and does not take us very deep
into the issues at stake. Other than that, he seems to think that it is
unproblematic to broadly and loosely characterize religion, as pertaining to
great ethical and moral truths and to questions of value and meaning, and to
have nothing to do with the "external" world described by science and
history. In a sense, he has already presupposed his NOMA conclusion by
taking for granted the characterizations of science and religion that he

B. I find fascinating your claim that "Science isn't a legitimate
enterprise because the scientist claims so. It is a legitimate enterprise
because the Christian theologian claims so." This is very interesting.
Comments from scientists in religion/science discussions are frequently
accompanied by indignation over the idea that religion can presume to
interfere in the specialist discussions of scientists, or to talk about
physics or geology or biology or psychology, which are not parts of its
province. But you are denying the force of this rhetoric and the basis for
the scientific indignation. You are saying that science does not have some
sort of fundamental property rights over certain areas of truth,
constitutionally guaranteed against religious infringement. Rather, science
is given the responsibility of tilling the fields in certain areas of
knowledge recognized as valid by religion. Religion sets the boundaries for
science, not the other way around.

Provided that "religion" is understood in a suitable way, i.e., as an
overarching view of the world and of knowledge, I like that. The problem is
that I don't think any secular scientist will agree with you, and I suspect
that even many TE scientists will not agree with you. But you may actually
be right. If you are right, it is because religion has a fuller and more
comprehensive view of reality than science does, and therefore is better
capable of deciding where scientists are competent than scientists
themselves are. It can therefore check scientific over-reach, without
denying to scientists the autonomy they need in the areas proper to them.
But when science, with its short-sighted view of the whole, gets to set the
boundaries of knowledge, it is likely to err, and err on the side of
self-aggrandizement. It seems to me that your view is not unconnected with
the old view of theology as "queen of the sciences", a view I have always
found rather attractive, but which has been systematically assaulted and
denied since the 17th century by the majority of the most influential
thinkers, and would not be taken seriously by any government, court of law,
or secular university administration in the world today.

Your metaphor of horizontal vs. vertical compartments is very good!

C. On your last point, about design arguments, I think I agree with what
you are saying, but am not quite sure because of an ambiguity in your
wording at one point. Where you say:

"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 accept this distinction, and if all TE arguments against ID were of latter
sort, I would have no major beef with TE. But let me explain what your
sentence means to me. To me it means that, in considering macroevolution,
one should consider both (a) the evidence that undesigned events and
processes could have produced all species, making the design hypothesis
superfluous and not to be preferred; and (b) the evidence that some sort of
design was necessary to have produced at least some features of living
things. Further, it means to me that both possible conclusions that could
flow from the comparative analysis, i.e., that design was necessary or that
it was not, are legitimate *within science*. It means that a TE could say:
"I agree that design inferences should not be banned from science on
principle, but I'm unconvinced by any particular design inference made so
far by Behe, Dembski, etc." If that is what you meant, I agree with you.
However, in the sentence previous to the one above, you wrote this:

"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."

I don't know what the 'theologically defined proper canons of scientific
inquiry' are, but if they include the ban issued by Bacon, Descartes and
others on appeals to final causation in science, then they amount to an
objection "in principle" to design arguments, in contrast to the apparent
concession in your second clause above. This would not be consistent at all
with the Mars example. So I am not sure that we are entirely in agreement.

By the way, I do not claim as a firm position that ID inferences are
"scientific". I am saying that it is least *possible* that they are
scientific, i.e., it is at least possible that science can make room for
them without threatening its progress. I am also saying that it is possible
that they are correct inferences even if they are not "scientific" according
to a certain definition. I would rather leave open the question of whether
they count as "scientific" or "philosophical" or something else, and
concentrate on the strength of the inferences and their intrinsic value as
interpretations of the facts of nature. But at least some TEs appear to
have foreclosed upon this question, saying either that ID inferences may be
valid philosophical inferences but cannot be scientific, in principle, or
that ID inferences are not valid at all, in principle, no matter how they
are classified. And of course, if ID grants the latter position, it must
cease to exist, and if it grants the former position, it may be granting too
much to a narrow and misleading conception of "science".


----- Original Message -----
From: "Murray Hogg" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Thursday, October 22, 2009 10:53 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Where does TE differ from NOMA? (was: Re: Schools and

> 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.
> Blessings,
> Murray

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Received on Fri Oct 23 09:55:54 2009

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