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

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Fri Oct 23 2009 - 18:14:07 EDT

Hi Cameron,

On A.: I would agree very strongly with the entirety of your discussion. There is something quite questionable about discussions of the interaction between science and religion when one has not taken the time to study both phenomena in detail. So, yes, if Gould (or Dawkins et al) seek to be taken seriously in their discussions on science and (Christian) religion, they would do well to actually inform themselves of the philosophical, historical, and (Christian) theological issues. But perhaps we might say of such thinkers that they are hardly so interested in an honest treatment of religion as they might pretend, and that their work seems primarily intended to advance the cause of scientism rather than to correctly understand the legitimate operations of either science or religion.

On B.: My remark "Science isn't a legitimate enterprise because the scientist claims so. It is a legitimate enterprise because the Christian theologian claims so" has to be taken as a theological claim to which I would not expect a secular scientist to assent. And given that TE's by and large share the same uncritical philosophical assumptions as their secular counterparts, and that they have not, therefore, considered the theological question of scientific investigation, I would not expect TE's, by-and-large, to see the merit of the claim. Ditto for secular governments, courts of law, and university administrations.

That said, however, there is one curious consequence of the claim which bears consideration: If I am correct, and Christian theology does, indeed, allow a certain arena of freedom for the sciences, then it is no business of the Christian theologian to then turn around and revoke that theologically defined freedom. To return to the "any toy in the toybox" analogy, I am saying that once permission is given to play with any toy in the toybox, why would it be an issue for Christian theology should secular scientists, governments, courts of law, and university administrations, insist that they have the right to play with any toy in the toybox?

Now, I acknowledge that this is to actually overlook the major "sin" of secularists at this point, viz; the failure to honour God as God. Science is, in my view, clearly an aspect of the creation covenant under which humanity is to "tend and keep the garden." But it is not a "right" owed to us, but a gift freely offered. The problem with secularists is that they wish to possess the gift, but refuse to credit the giver.

Their sin is, metaphorically, that of patricide: they kill the father in order that they might enter into possession of the gift. And the great pity is that they might have had both if they had not been motivated by their own blind self-interest. As the prophet said to David when he, too, took by duplicity and force that which God would happily have given; "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!" (2 Sam. 12:7-8)

Needless to say, this is also a theological comment to which secularists would not assent!

The metaphor of "horizontal" vs. "vertical" compartments is, as you rightly surmise, not unrelated to the idea that theology is "queen of the sciences" - perhaps the metaphor seems good only because it describes that which has been said before by far wiser heads than mine!

On C.: I can see where you would balk at my comments - but I can only plead a degree of uncertainty as to how to respond. It would be very handy if we could, at this point, construct a simplistic model which tells us what are, and are not, the legitimate spheres of scientific and theological enquiry - but that would be to adhere to something like Gould's NOMA which theory we precisely DON'T consider takes full account of the complexities.

In respects of the Baconian/Cartesian/etc ban on appeals to final causation, I personally regard these as claims made on science by scientists - they are "lower order" claims which certainly might be coloured by a theological or metaphysical outlook, but which are nevertheless an exercise in philosophy of science rather than Christian theology. I willing to allow scientists and philosophers of science to make sweeping claims about scientific methodology and the scope of scientific inferences - so if THEY want to affirm principles like methodological naturalism or reject the notion of final causation, then they can do so - they can play with their toys anyway they like (and I allow that they may even play with them properly, like nice children <smile>).

What they can't do, however, is pretend that their pronouncements about science must be accepted by Christian theologians. That is to say, the Bacon et al may well, speaking as scientists, say "investigation of final causes is no part of the scientific project." My response, speaking with my theologians hat on is simply to see this as one of the rules that children concoct when they play their games. Such a rule may be one which has been found helpful to keeping the game orderly, but we shouldn't suppose (1) that it is a *necessary* rule of the game, nor (2) that it applies at the higher level of theological discourse. In particular, as a Christian theologian, I reserve the right to object when the scientist puts forward certain evidences which *I* take to be evidence of design but then responds that I cannot, legitimately, make a design inference because such a claim is *unscientific*. What, I reserve the right to ask, is the relevance of *that* objection in the context of
a Christian (theological) reflection upon nature?

PS: I mean no disrespect or condescension to scientists when I use the analogy of children at play - only such an analogy is a helpful way to give voice to the theological claim that science has a legitimate area of autonomy within which it can set its own agendas and pursue them according to its own rules.


Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> Murray:
> 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 Ca
> 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 generalizations.
> 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 thinking.
> 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
> uses.
> 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".
> Cameron.
> ----- 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
> 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 Fri Oct 23 18:14:33 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Oct 23 2009 - 18:14:33 EDT