Monday, September 30, 2013

Do Science and Religion Overlap?

In one of my classes in graduate school, the professor often referred to science and religion as “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” or NOMA. This definition was coined by prominent biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who said:

“Science and religion are not in conflict, for their teachings occupy distinctly different domains. in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives.” (in Miller 1999:170)
“...These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).” (Gould 1999:5-6)

Here is a very good, short article that takes a mostly-NOMA approach: Science and religion: Reconcilable differences

When I learned about the NOMA concept, I took a quick survey among my friends and relatives in my own faith, and none of us thought it accurately represented our viewpoint. And we are not alone-- even a small sampling of statements from religious entities demonstrates a spectrum of ideas about the relationship between science and religion, from NOMA to extensive overlap. (Would you like me to share these interesting statements in a future post?)  In fact, there is an entire academic field dedicated to studying the relationships and interplay between religions and science. Here is an example of how one theologian, Ted Peters, has summarized eight possible views about science and religion: Peters' Typology. It quickly becomes apparent that:

“There is no such thing as the relationship between science and religion. It is what different individuals and communities have made of it in a plethora of different contexts.” -John Brooke (1991:321)

So, how do we go about understanding such an array of viewpoints? Stay tuned next time, when we will unravel this mess and summarize the whole shebang with three simple diagrams.

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