Few individuals have been more controversial than Stephen J. Gould in the history of modern science. The great communicator of evolutionary science, despite being caught in his own battle against the [sarcasm]evils of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology[/sarcasm], didn't fail to give his best shot at solving the long-standing conflict between science and faith - or, as I normally think of it, between reality and fantasy. It's only a shame that such an ambitious undertaking would result in such a resounding failure and that Gould's purported solution to the war for reason would prove to be one of its worst enemies yet.
Thirteen years after Gould's Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life we live in a world in which the notion of NOMA - or non-verlapping magisteria - are routinely employed by the faithful as a protection from rational scrutiny. By arbitrarily drawing a line between what empirical investigation can supposedly do and what it should leave alone, Gould has effectively elevated the metaphysical to the status of objective reality and belief in it to legitimate stance. So not only have NOMA failed to grant science exclusive domain over the physical, but they have turned the teaching of science into a no-man's land in which belief and personal opinion should allegedly have as much relevance as empirically-derived data. It is certainly not surprising then, that by granting belief in the metaphysical the status of theory of reality, NOMA have further crippled science by preventing any application of our scientific knowledge to any matter of ethical and moral relevance, even when our understanding of human nature, cognition and biology have reached a level more than sufficient to construct coherent ethical theories grounded in natural facts rather than spiritual assumptions.Credit: Matt Groening, Fox Broadcasting Company
It is not my intention to insult the poor man's name any more than the result of his personal quest has done, but I must wonder what led Gould to believe that religion - historically fuelled by universal ambitions - would agree to be confined to the realm of personal beliefs? How could anyone - PhD or otherwise - believe that religions would agree not to invade the province of the scientific magisterium? NOMA have given religions their cake and invited them to eat it too.
Will we ever manage to rid ourselves of the NOMA's legacy? The progressive disenchantment with organised religion and belief in many countries, especially in the Western world, would suggest so. There's no doubt, however, that we're looking at an uphill trek. One that could have been made far easier by not granting superstition any undue recognition.