Re: [asa] NOMA vs. Map of Knowledge

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Oct 25 2009 - 11:11:40 EDT

Hello, Gregory. Thanks for your comments.

I don't want to respond to the details of Peacocke's scheme, but I have a comment on its general character. It focuses on *objects of knowledge* rather than *methods of knowledge*. I like that.

In discussions of ID and evolution, the focus seems to be more frequently on the methods of knowledge than the objects of knowledge. Darwinian evolutionists like Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott and others here keep talking about "methodological naturalism". They say that "science" is characterized by a certain *method*, and that to discuss origins outside of that method makes one's statements unscientific. But this is, historically speaking, a very modern notion of science. In pre-modern thought, the focus of science was on the *object*, and the method, to the extent that it was discussed, was tailored to the needs of understanding the object. Thus, one did not speak of a "scientific method" in general, which applied to everything "in nature" or which had to be "naturalistic". One spoke of the methods appropriate to the study of geometry, of the study of moving bodies, of the study of animals, of the study of soul, of the study of man, of the study of political life, of the study of rhetoric, etc. Aristotle, for example, noted that a "gravitational" explanation for the location of the roots of a tree was inappropriate to the subject matter, because "gravitational" explanations, i.e., explanations in terms of "heaviness", were appropriate for inanimate bodies but not for living systems. He then goes on to point out that the roots of a tree are the equivalent of its mouth, and that they are located where they are, not because they are "heavier" than the leaves and thus sink to the bottom, but because the tree derives its nutriment from the ground. The mode of explanation must be adapted to the object; the "biologist" must explain things differently than the "physicist" does. (The terms in quotation marks are anachronistic for Aristotle.)

Thus, Aristotle writes a treatise on the soul (De Anima), and his remarks there are tailored to the sort of thing that "soul" is. He takes his method of investigation from the nature of the thing investigated. Hobbes, on the other hand, does not have a treatise on "soul"; Hobbes's philosophy of nature is based on a "method", involving the resolution of everything complex into simpler things and showing that the complex is "nothing but" those simpler things. He thus can explain soul, dreams, the will, passions, life, and the motions of matter, all by applying a uniform metaphysics (materialism) and a uniform method (resolutive-compositive). Other modern philosophers, in various ways, give the priority to method rather than object.

I find Aristotle's approach -- whatever we might say about his particular results -- more rational, and less prone to becoming the prey of metaphysical and epistemological agendas. If one starts from the phenomenon, and works up appropriate methods to deal with phenomenon, one is likely to be less speculative and less dogmatic.

So if we are trying to understand, say, "the cell", we would try to understand it phenomenally at first, rather than determining from the start that it must be explicable by a reductionist method of some sort or other. We would study its parts in their interaction; we would note its characteristics, not only quantitative but also qualitative. We would make sure, before speculating on its origins, that we thoroughly understood what kind of the thing the cell was. In that analysis we would discern end-directed behaviour (a point granted even by Mayr, the great Darwinian evolutionary biologist). And then, when turning to the question of the origin of the first cell, we would ask: can an end-directed living structure come into being without an intelligence to grasp the end and direct the formation of matter towards it? And we would regard that as an entirely open question, with two possible answers: (1) Yes, intelligence is necessary; (2) No, intelligence is not necessary. And, since we would be engaging in an object-centered science, rather than a method-centered science, no rule of method would exclude either of these inferences as beyond the pale of "science". "Science" would mean "knowledge of the nature and causes of a thing" -- whatever that nature might be, and whatever those causes might be. It would not mean "only such knowledge of the thing as can be arrived at by excluding intelligent causation", which is the circular definition of knowledge employed by "modern science" as the NCSE understands it.

On first sight, Gould's NOMA might appear to be a step in the direction of an object-oriented rather than a method-oriented notion of science, because he speaks of "magisteria", i.e., areas of knowledge belonging to religion, and areas of knowledge belonging to science. One might charitably interpret Gould as saying that the methods of science are determined by its objects, which are "things" in "nature", and that the methods of religion and theology are determined by its objects, which are "values" or "purposes", or "ethics" or the like, and that of each of these sets of things there can be genuine knowledge achieved by appropriate and reliable methods. But on close analysis, NOMA is revealed to be based not upon a sensible phenomenological distinction between differing objects of knowledge but upon an imperious assertion of method. Aristotle would make "man" an object of knowledge, and in understanding "man", Aristotle would speak not only about the human body but about the human soul, not only about "facts" but also about "values". (Though Aristotle would never use that inaccurate and misleading modern language.) Gould's distinction, on the other hand, divides "man" up and puts part of him under one "magisterium" and part under another. But as we have seen, the very methods of modern science, springing from Hobbes and Descartes and so on, mean that eventually the methods used to analyze man as a physical creature will be applied to all aspects of man: life as chemistry, sexuality as drives, ethics as the result of selfish (or altruistic) genes, etc. Evolutionary psychology and so on will eventually do (or at least pretend to do) most of the work that Gould so generously allots to theology. Thus, really NOMA is about method: methodological naturalism for all objects in nature, including us, and for all aspects of those objects (including us) that scientists have decided (certainly without consulting the theologians) that they are competent to explain; religion gets the scraps left over, to which it applies its non-scientific but doubtless still very wonderful and profound "methods" of analysis. Gould is not as entirely contemptuous of theology and religion as some other Darwinians are, but it is pretty clear that theology for him rules over the realm of the vague, the uncertain, the unprovable, and the eternally debatable, and thus is not really a form of "knowledge" in any serious sense. Because theology is confined to "values", one can no more "know" a religious truth than one can "know" that Republicans are better than Democrats, or "know" that Mozart is better than Bono, whereas one can definitely know the laws of gravity, the ideal gas laws, the mechanisms of evolution, etc. Gould's personal attitude (acknowledging a sense of the seriousness and importance of theological questions) is greatly preferable to that of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., but his epistemological assumptions are pretty well the same.

In sum, I think you are right to say, Gregory, that dividing up the world between "religion" and "science", or between "the method of theology" and "the method of science", is artificial, is constricting, and leads to inaccurate analysis. I find the divisions of Peacocke -- not in detail, but in their general character -- to be more sensible and more useful, if our goal is to understand what is given to us in the world -- the phenomena -- rather than to accept only such conclusions about the world as can be derived from certain rules of method which are abstracted from the objects we are investigating.

However, selling either atheistic Darwinians or (most) theistic evolutionists on an object-oriented approach is going to be very difficult. Phrases like "methodological naturalism" and hated words such as 'creationism" and "miracles" keep forcing their way in the minds of the typical modern evolutionary biologist. To learn to approach nature in an object-oriented way, which allows that a teleological explanation could be just as scientifically correct as a non-teleological explanation, will be as difficult for evolutionary biologists as grasping Galileo's method was for people steeped in the Scholastic philosophy of nature. Certainly unphilosophical scientists like Eugenie Scott, and unphilosophical philosophers like Barbara Forrest, are never going to "get it".


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  Sent: Sunday, October 25, 2009 9:02 AM
  Subject: [asa] NOMA vs. Map of Knowledge

  One way to move beyond the NOMA vs. anti-NOMA thrust of the very interesting recent thread, is to acknowledge more than two 'sides' in the discussion. Let me submit to you A. Peacocke's 'map of knowledge' (see attached), which includes many levels of layers and four main categories (1. Physical World, 2. Living Organisms, 3.Behaviour of Living Organisms, 4. Human Culture), rather than just two, i.e. 'science' and religion.'


  Imo, anyone who continues to be engaged in *only* a 'science and religion' dialogue is already out of date, as there are quite obviously many more categories that must be involved in order to be anything verging on 'holistic.' Of course, I'm not suggesting that Cameron is focussing only on 'science and religion' because it is quite obvious he is doing more than that. My argument thus hinges on the view that 'holism' is a superior intellectual position to 'reductionism' in terms of a philosophy (e.g. epistemology, methodology or ontology) of science, religion and culture perspective.


  Here is Peacocke's Map of Knowledge:


  A Map of Knowledge


  Systems Sciences (Disciplines)



  4. Human Culture

  Languages Linguistics

  Economic Economics

  Aesthetic Arts

  Technical Technology

  Religious Theology

                                                                         Religious Studies



  Social Anthropology


  3. Behaviour of Living Organisms

  Individual Psychology

  Social Social Psychology


  Evolutionary Psychology Cognitive Sciences

  Behaviour Genetics


  2. Living Organisms

  Cells, Organs, Individual Organisms Biology





  Neurons Neuro-Anatomy

  CNS, Brains Neuro-Physiology


  Molecular Biology

  Molecular Chemistry

  Molecular Physics


  1. Physical World

  Quarks, Atoms, Molecules Physical Sciences

  Minerals Geology

  Planets Astronomy

  Galaxies Cosmology


  What this 'map of knowledge' allows for is the possibility that there are some 'levels' at which 'evolutionary theory' does not (or should not) apply. Peacocke himself agreed that the problem of 'reducing' higher levels to lower levels is a real one in our epoch (note: I don't call it 'modern' as Cameron might because, as Latour wrote 'we have never been modern.' And then we would have to also address the 'post-modern'. This is instead a 'contemporary' view, one that is on the leading edge, imo). Thus, when scientists or scholars at a lower level insist that their ‘concept’ or ‘method’ or ‘paradigm’ must also necessarily be applicable at a higher level, they are guilty of ‘reductionism.’


  The problem with TE is that it disallows for the possibility that ‘evolution’ does not belong in the higher levels, especially in 4. Human Culture. In other words, TE is against anti-reductionism – it actually seems to promote a kind of reductionism by 'hitching its wagon' to a single term 'evolution' which may not apply in some levels or regions of knowledge. TE believes that 'evolution is everywhere,' that it is a concept that ‘makes sense’ even in theology. Of course, when TEs say that they are ‘simply accepting the science of evolution’ and accommodating their ‘theology’ with it, we see in Peacocke’s ‘map of knowledge’ that they are accommodating a higher level to a lower level and thus, as T.S. Eliot might say, ‘de-purifying the dialect of the tribe.’


  The problem otoh for ID is that it allows for 'design' at levels which most 'scientists' do not apply it. We all can think of places where it makes sense to say that something is designed, i.e. in 4. Human Culture, design is prolific, sometimes called the ‘artificial’. In other words, ID is reductionistic to the idea of 'design' at the same time that it is anti-reductionistic to the idea of 'evolution'. At least it got half of the answer right! And then ID says, 'you need to change your definition of science to meet our definition of science,' which is of course, ironic.


  But the point Cameron has raised in his thread is a powerful one, which appears as of yet unresolved. This involves peoples' views of fields such as 'evolutionary psychology,' which contain pretences of 'being scientific' yet which depend heavily on 'extra-scientific' views, topics, themes, theories, 'data', methods, etc. In Peacocke’s image, ‘evolutionary psychology’ is situated ‘between’ 2. and 3., which means it can indeed borrow both from scientific and non-scientific fields (although Peacocke doesn’t indicate what counts as ‘non-science’ and even includes ‘theology’ as a ‘scientific discipline’) as it sees fit.


  Notice please that Denis Venema, one of the few geneticists on the list and an EC/TE, who seems happy to call himself a neo-Darwinian at a private Christian University in Canada, refused to answer my question to him about whether or not 'evolutionary psychology' counts as science. This was after I answered his question directly about 'common descent'. TEs, such as this example might suggest, are often against *any* form of anti-evolutionism (and not just the 20th century 'creationist' kind) likely because it appears to challenge their theologies, when in fact this is not the case at all.


  TE has done a poor job of distinguishing between 'science' and 'non-science,' arguably a much poorer job than ID has done (i.e. given the considerable number of philosophers of science in the IDM, in contrast to TEs, who are 'less philosophically trained'), for the precise reason that it fails to speak of 'science' as relevant in regard to 'human-made' things. Here is where Cameron's example of 'evolutionary psychology' is so important. Peacocke himself stumbled on questions about psychology, but this is of course a contested field and there are many views contending for the centre stage. Moorad wants 'science' to speak only about 'physical' things, whereas TEs want 'evolution for everyone.' This, however, is precisely the same as some of their opponents at a higher level (e.g. D.S. Wilson, who is against theology or at least an atheist, but then again, Dawkins called Wilson’s defence of ‘group selection’ - “sheer, wanton, head-in-bag perversity,” which makes one think) would argue.


  Schwarzwald asks a direct question: "By what standard?" The answer to this that many, many people will give today is simple: “by society's standards.” But then what is (a) ‘society’? This transition of standards from 'spirit' to 'nature' to 'society' was called by Talcott Parsons, 'the great breakthrough.' It refers to something that supposedly happened in a pre-Darwinian world and thus it avoids the controversial Darwin of British and global 'natural science'. That said, what any discussion of 'ethics' thus requires is some kind of 'unchanging' or 'static' (a hated term even by many Christians nowadays) source, i.e. an 'unmoveable standard' in other words. Yet what unmoveable or unchanging standard does *any* TE propose, given that their 'theology' is so tightly tied to the idea of 'change' or, in other words, to 'evolution'?


  This is where their view begins to fuel controversy. They know it, but have found no alternative so that they could drop the label EC or TE and rather simply agree with certain aspects of 'evolutionary theory' and not allow it to exceed its limits. Why can’t they allow ‘evolution’ to remain at the lower, but not at the higher levels of Peacocke’s map? So, perhaps we can await some kind of 'limitations' placed on evolutionary theory by TE, which is the question posed to Ted in the other thread. But it would surprise me if an appropriate vocabulary could be found to do this given the 'new polemics' in America, another conflicted one, this time between 'evolution' or 'chance' and 'design.'


  Once we accept the 'map of knowledge' that Peacocke indicates, perhaps even with his green-safe, panentheist perspective added in, then we can acknowledge a 'limit' to evolution and also a responsible limit to 'science' that corresponds with what counts as socially-important knowledge. In this way, both 'scientism' and 'evolutionism' are defeated and an alternative view of the current academic landscape is possible.




  p.s. since, I tried attaching it to this message, but without success, I’ve just added Peacocke’s ‘map of knowledge’ on my blog, so you can view it there:


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Received on Sun Oct 25 11:12:37 2009

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