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The Language of Science and Faith: An Excerpt
Given the current highly publicized controversy over evolution, the warfare metaphor can seem all too obvious, if we forget about all the activity taking place off the media radar. In the big picture, warfare is but a minor facet of the interaction between science and religion. Unfortunately, this facet is the most interesting and, far and away, the one likely to appear in a newspaper. When creation and evolution clash in a courtroom, to take the most familiar example, the daily news fills up with stories reminding us of the supposed conflict between science and religion. There is a "Here comes the Galileo affair" template being dusted off and trotted out to make sense of the issue.
The NOMA aspect, of course, does not make the news for, alas, it is not news. Who can imagine an evening news science report beginning with, "Scientists at Yale University today announced that they have discovered the origins of dark matter. Yale theologians report that this discovery has no relevance religion." On the other hand, we often hear stories like "Religious leaders in Kansas City have demanded a meeting with local school board officials to protest the teaching of evolution in local high schools."
Just as the majority of scientists work on topics that do not come into contact with religion, so theologians and biblical scholars pursue topics in fields unrelated to science—topics like the origins and development of Scriptures, philosophical solutions to the problem of evil and the promise of eternal life. These topics do not connect in any natural way to science. NOMA helps by highlighting the extended nonoverlapping nature of science and religion.
NOMA, however, over-compartmentalizes by equating science simplistically with factual knowledge and religion with value or opinion. In that case there would clearly be no overlap between the two pursuits, but this is true only if we accept those overly narrow and restrictive definitions.
Science is not the only source of factual statements and there are important statements made by science that are not purely factual in any simple sense. Cosmologists, for example, speak in meaningful ways about the existence of other universes, but these statements cannot be considered factual in the same sense as statements about other planets. In the same way, religion reaches beyond the realm of values and morals. If statements like "God exists" or "child abuse is wrong" are considered factual claims about reality, then, according to NOMA, they could not be religious statements. On the other hand, few scientists would consider statements like these to be scientific. So what kind of statements are they? The inability of NOMA to handle claims like these about reality highlights its limitations as a universally applicable model.
Gould acknowledged that science was limited to making factual claims about the world's physical behavior, and therefore provides only a limited picture of reality. Many however are seduced by the success of science into assuming that science is capable of discovering all possible facts about the world. The great astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington developed a winsome analogy for this assumption, describing a "man who set out to study deep-sea life using a net that had a mesh-size of three inches. After catching many wild and wonderful creatures from the depths, the man concluded that there are no deep-sea fish that are smaller than three inches in length!"