Friday, May 25, 2007

Non-overlapping magesteria by Victor Stenger

Seminar VI. Non-overlapping magesteria.

T: In his book Rocks of Ages, Stephen Jay Gould claims that science and religion are two "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA) and so should have no conflict. Science deals with observations of the material world while religion deals with "spiritual" matters, in particular, moral behavior.
A: Gould has redefined religion as what is normally called "ethical philosophy." That would be fine if it were what most religions practiced. But they do not. They make claims in which God or other transcendent powers exist as part of objective reality that have over-riding control over all events. The resulting phenomena should be observable by science. The fact that they are not makes a strong case that such powers do not exist.

T: Science is just another religion, anyway. It accepts things on faith just like religious people.
A: There is a big difference. Science does not accept things on faith, if by faith you mean the acceptance of a belief despite the absence of evidence.

T: Science accepts the scientific method on faith.
A: On the contrary, scientists believe that the scientific method works because of its track record of success. That's is a belief based on evidence.

T: Science can be just as dogmatic as religion.
A: Individual scientists may be dogmatic on occasion, but dogmatism is the very antithesis of science. Scientists must commit themselves to accepting whatever the data say, even when it contradicts their own pet theories. There is no apologetics in science, as there is in theology, where unquestioned presumptions are made and then explanations sought to make the data conform to those presumptions.

T: I do not see why science and religion cannot live side-by-side.
A: Surely they can, and have done so for centuries. However, if theists are going to make statements such as "there is ample scientific evidence that God exists" or try to force sectarian beliefs to be taught as science, then scientists have a right to enter into the discussion and examine the arguments critically. If the data indicated that God exists, then scientists would accept it. The data so far do not. If a sectarian belief was at the same time good science, then scientists would teach it in class. No such belief has yet been found.

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