Another point of view in the "Religion vs. Science debate"

Rocks of Ages... is a book written by celebrated paleonthologist Stephen Jay Gould who has a number of books with essays about general science, evolution and its marvelous weridnesses and the history of science.

Rocks differs from the rest because it discusses the ages-old debate between Science and Religion in the life of an individual; or rather, how that debate is fallacious because it's a false dilemma. Gould argues, through examples from both prominent scientists and religious people, that both science and religion can feature as major components of an individual's life.

Science and Religion Together?

The main thesis of the book is what Gould calls Non-Overlapping Magisteria, often shortened in the book as NOMA. This thesis can essentially be summed up in a few points:

  • A Magisterium (pl. Magisteria) is the "dominion" over which a discipline exerts its knowledge and "authority"
  • Science is a method by which we can know facts about the natural world using observation and testing in an objective way the variables you want to know about
  • (Organized) Religion is a collection of traditions and beliefs that give a framework for figuring out and dictating moral judgements on many different topics
  • Science can not make moral judgements of any kind and should not pretend it can
  • Religion can not make assertions about the natural world and should not pretend it can
  • Therefore, since both magisteria do not overlap with each other, the idea that one must follow either Science or Religion is a False Dilemma and both can be present in the life of a person without a necessary conflict

This isn't a novel idea

That's precisely the point that this book argues. Through examples from the lives of people in the sciences and (christian) religion, Gould portrays how some arguments in the false debate between science and religion are neither valid nor new and have been superseded by a conciliatory view of both since centuries ago.

Among the examples presented are some of the often forgotten details in the relationship between Galileo Galilei and The Church and how the Church's "censorship" of Galileo wasn't made just out of matters of faith; and how some scientists were also very devout to their religions (René Descartes to mention one) without internal or external conflicts of any kind.

How come I've never heard of this?

Probably because the nature of this book is not inflammatory and actually looks for a friendly conciliation between both Magisteria and hence is not exactly supportive of other, more vocal points of view on either side of the equation.

On the other hand, the book has been criticized as a half-baked attempt to bring peace between both institutions and unlikely to provoke original thought or changes of mind in both sides, which to some is the apparent objective of this book. I respectfully disagree

What do you think, Andy?

I actually had an infant notion of NOMA before reading this book and I obviously agree very much with this book. I have always been interested and educated in the sciences and its many awe-inspiring moments, from the small mechanism of Oxidative phosphorylation to the fusion reactions happening in stars. I was also born in a very religious catholic family who has never ever had any trouble with the idea that science is an important part of the formal education and society at large.

This is why the "debate" is a somewhat alien concept for me. My opinion is that many (though not all) of the arguments used by both believers and non-believers are trying too hard and stepping outside of their reach to be actually useful as an argumentative block. I understand why some of those arguments arise, but many of them, I don't find actually useful or true.

So yes, I do agree a lot with what this book says and I do recommend it to whoever is trying to get a better view on both Science and Religion without delving too deep in either. I do recommend it to whoever thinks this "debate" is rather absurd and wants to cement its position. If you're looking for arguments to bash religious people or scientists with, this is the wrong book for you. This is for the ones looking to have less problems and not more.

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