What I think about NOMA (not the ex-Red Sox shortstop but the evolution thing)

What I think about NOMA (not the ex-Red Sox shortstop but the evolution thing) April 13, 2015

So, I’ve been thinking of NOMA this past week. Probably because the Yankees have been hitting like a high school team (until last night, let’s hope it lasts) and I need to take my mind somewhere else.

And so my mind wound up at NOMA.

NOMA is part of the lingo of the science/religion discussion (argument, debate, controversy, smack talk, etc.), a term coined by famous evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and it stands for “non-overlapping magisteria.”

And that means that science and religion are separate “domains” of knowledge where each operates by different rules of inquiry. These “magisteria” do not “overlap” and so the rules of one cannot determine the findings of the other.

In other words, religion can’t tell science what to do and vice-versa.  

The idea is debated when you get to details. I have also know Christians to bristle when they see the term, in part, perhaps because Gould was a avowed atheist.

Still, in the Christianity/evolution discussion, Christians are generally happy with half of NOMA: science can’t tell us what to believe. But they are less happy about the other half: the Bible can’t tell science where it is wrong.

From where I sit at the present moment, I think both halves of NOMA are right. I never use the term in The Evolution of Adam, but in retrospect the idea sits pretty comfortably in the background of the whole book.

The various branches of modern science have made tremendous advances in our understanding of cosmic, geological, and biological evolution. We know a lot. Far from everything, as any goodTEA scientist will readily admit, but a lot.

But when scientists conclude from their work that a higher power does not exist, or that this or that religious tradition is not “true,” they have overstepped their bounds, because spiritual reality is not subject to the rules of scientific inquiry.

Faith is a different kind of “knowing.” People are free to reject faith, of course, but to do so on the basis of the lack of scientific corroboration for God is precisely the problem NOMA speaks against.

And zeroing in on the Bible and saying that science has “disproven” Genesis displays ignorance of nature of biblical literature, assuming that it can and should be evaluated by the rules of scientific inquiry.

Christians mirroring these missteps when they dismiss evolution on the basis of its alleged incompatibility with “biblical teaching.”

By pitting the Bible against science, they are–ironically–making the same mistaken assumption of pitting science against the Bible. They assume that the two are alternate means of describing origins (they are) and therefore both are subject to the same rules of evaluation (they aren’t).

Pitting one against the other like this is what I call COMA, “completely overlapping magisteria.” Both sides insist that these two alternate “narratives” of origins can be evaluated by the rules that operate for their own field–scientists imposing scientific expectations onto the Bible and biblicistic Christians imposing the Bible onto science.

But Christians have understood, since at least the days of Augustine (354-430 CE), that the Bible simply isn’t set up to address scientific matters, and to think that it does betrays an unfortunate ignorance about the nature of the Bible.

It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [cosmological] topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 1:42-43).

That “disgraceful” treatment of Genesis is even less excusable today than in Augustine’s day. The Bible and science have grown further apart.

We don’t know everything, but we certainly know a lot more about (1) how the universe works, and (2) how ancient stories of origins work, and none of those we read outside of the Bible are in any way “historical” by any commonly accepted sense of the term.

To think that the Bible is somehow immune from its ancient cultural influence is more a blind assertion that a reasoned argument, and it contributes directly to the persistent mess which is the unfortunate, ongoing debate over evolution among more literally minded Christian readers of the Bible.

Back to NOMA. It makes sense to me. For me to think differently, I would need to see either (1) where the Bible has contributed to a scientific knowledge of origins, or (2) where scientific inquiry has been able to bring to light evidence for or against the numinous.

And I think, by definition, neither of those things can happen. Biblical literature doesn’t contribute to scientific knowledge; scientific inquiry cannot evaluate spiritual experience. They don’t overlap.

If you think differently, please feel free to chime in. But be nice about it. This issue tends to generate a lot of heat. Mean, abrasive, combative comments will be blocked.



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  • John Shakespeare

    ‘…a term coined by famous evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and it stands for “non-overlapping magisteria…” Good heavens, it sounds very like Herman Dooyeweerd’s Sphere Sovereignty.

    • peteenns

      I’ve always thought that myself.

      • John Shakespeare

        Gosh, are you a Dooyeweerd fan? Do you keep the ‘New Critique of Theoretical Thought’ under your pillow?

        • peteenns

          “Fan?” not really, but I respect what he tried to do. Gotta love this Dutch Calvinists (like Bavinck, Ridderbos). They weren’t screwed up by American fundamentalism 🙂

  • For the most part, I agree with this with the caveat that they can be mutually informative.

    For example, various biblical passages speak of the world as if it is flat. When science displays that the earth is a sphere, it helps me understand those passages better and seek meaning in areas other than what that passage says about the shape of the earth. History, archaeology, etc. can all have this effect on me personally and the church at large (eventually).

    I’m not sure I can think of an instance where religion clarifies scientific data, but it can certainly provide a context for it. My trust in empiricism, cause and effect, etc. can be based in the character of God and what He has said about mankind and creation.

    • Chris Falter

      If we adopt the “Two Books” school of thought to describe special and general revelation, we could state that the Book of Scripture tells us what kind of book the Book of Nature is. For example, the idea that laws of physics apply universally both with respect to space and with respect to time can never be proven by the laws of physics. Instead, scientists assume the universality of natural laws based on philosophical principles. I would humbly posit that the book of Genesis provides a strong philosophical underpinning for the universality of natural laws, because in its very first chapter it describes a universe which has order because God created order out of the initial disorder.

  • Barry Murphy

    Hi, has any one here read the teachings of Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe Institute? His focus is on how the Bible and science complement each other and his thoughts are well reasoned and interesting. Just wondering what others may think when comparing that to the thoughts expressed here?

    • Arnie Gentile

      Hi, Barry, I have been a fan of Hugh Ross on a number of levels. Nonetheless, even some of his assertions I find speculative and question begging. For example, Ross claims that “the continuous universal cosmic expansion” and “Big Bang fundamentals” are taught in Scriptures that speak of God “stretching out the heavens” (Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, Navpress, 2001, Chapter Three). But this is more likely poetic metaphor that we should be careful about taking too literally. Certainly, the original author was seeking to express the power of God, not the science of cosmic expansion. And what happens when the scientific paradigm shifts, as it may be doing even now? Quantum thought appears to have the means to reverse or at the very least seriously modify the Big Bang paradigm. Over the next fifty years, we may see science moving back toward an infinite universe model. If the Bible is the Word of God, then it must express eternal truth, and not all truth need be empirically verified according to the scientific method, whatever that is. To require this to be the case, is to espouse epistemological scientism, a point of view which itself cannot be empirically verified!! There is a way of knowing and seeing that transcends reason. This is the realm of spirituality. And this is also why I tend to prefer the Literary Framework Theory when it comes to approaching Genesis: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/fw.htm Blessings, Arnie

    • Dr. Donny

      I’ve read most of his books, and he is definitely a concordist. However, he doesn’t read the Bible using historical/critical methodology, instead choosing to interpret it such that it “predicts” and agrees with scientific findings of today. Most scholars outside of RTB find this to be an unacceptable, cherry-picking analysis of the Bible. Furthermore, Ross is selective in which science he accepts, such as the physical sciences and an old earth, while rejecting biological evolution. RTB is clearly better than ICR, CRS and AIG in including the scientific viewpoint, but not as good as Biologos or ASA.

      • PNG

        One thing to be said for Ross and RTB is that they are seriously committed to evangelism, something that can’t be said of the others, unless you mean evangelism to a young earth, flood geology anti-evolution view.

        It is true though that Ross has his own brand of reading between the Biblical lines that assumes that the physicists get everything right, the evolutionary biologists get everything wrong and the Bible is a science text. Ross was trained in physics/astronomy. Surprised?

  • This. This exactly. I agree with the philosophical paradigm of NOMA as you’ve laid it out. God is not a “god of the gaps”. God is the Creator of the universe. God is not a device we use to explain that which we have not yet discovered through science. That said, the discovered creation needs to reconcile with our faith. As we discover new information (e.g., evolution, human sexuality, climate change, etc.), we must consider this information in our understanding of the Divine. Some would call that relativism; I call it faithfulness.

  • disqus_ArAZvzDh0k

    I find the problem is not so much with the distinction between the two, but with how they relate? How shall we interpret the Genesis stories in light of the natural world informer? Ignoring it, entirely separating it, or blindly discounting it would seem to raise credibility issues.

  • philaheel

    Thomas Kuhn’s work, and the work of many other in the philosophy and sociology of science pretty seriously undermine this notion, I would argue. Bruno Latour and the rest have seriously downgraded any notion that science somehow has a neutral platform to operate from.

    • peteenns

      I’m not suggesting science is neutral! But for a scientist to say “I don;t believe in God and will conduct my investigations without appealing to God as n explanation” is not the same kind of bias as “I will not listen to science because ti contradicts how I think the Bible should be read.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I am doubtful of NOMA due to several reasons: I tend towards Monism in the fashion of Spinoza – hence such a division sounds artificial. Couple this with an understanding of the universe that is as mathematical as it is physical (ie, a mathematical universe a la Tegmark, and a monist information universe a la Turing and Shannon; and a dynamic universe a la Mandelbrot and many others), with an understanding of human consciousness arising from self-referring processes (a la Hofstadter). You can see the connections.

    NOMA smacks too much of dualism. Zoroaster reborn, as it were, except that we are not talking about right or wrong per se. But it is a continuation of the same tradition, including Platonism and Cartesianism and that hound Kant. Also sprach Zarathustra, says the scoundrel.

    Nope – I stand on the other side, with Leucippus and Democritus and Spinoza and those that followed.

    Thus endeth the rant for today 🙂

    • John Shakespeare

      I don’t understand most of your references, but I don’t think this has anything to do with dualism. Dualism would hold (crudely) that the world is composed of two separate and possibly unrelated sorts of substance or reality. NOMA is not talking about different components of reality, but of different ways of understanding and/or describing reality. It’s the same reality, but our various categories of understanding and analysing it, whilst not incompatible, are nevertheless separate. As an artist, my approach to colour is quite different from that which might be taken by a physicist. That doesn’t mean I stand on the arty side of some kind of dualistic view of colour. Is this oversimplifying things?

      • Klasie Kraalogies

        John – Ah – but you missed my qualifier. It is still dualism (small d) – except we are separating into physical and spiritual, or reason and faith, etc etc. Reality split in 2. Doesn’t have to be the Good Side and the Dark Side. But principally, it splits reality artificially in order to hold on to something. And that is my point – and it is not a new thing.

  • James

    I admit to influence years ago from English scientist turned Anglican clergyman, John Polkinghorne, and kin, who speak of “motivated belief” in relating science and faith. It resonated with me then and still today. Part, not all, of our motivation to believe comes from evidence science is continually bringing to bear on human knowledge. To me it makes sense. God is creator of the natural world just as he is illuminator of the inner life. Surely there is overlap (and resulting enrichment) in the magisterium of these great witnesses to God’s faithfulness, love and power. As for history, I think many would disagree that “all ancient stories of origins” (including those of Homer, for example) contain no memory of real historical events, however dim time and telling and reinterpretation have rendered them.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I agree that NOMA works when it comes to one world view having veto power over the other world view – that’s just not on. But, with a dogmatic view of NOMA (perhaps this was Gould’s view) attempts to fully explore the many ways that faith and science can be mutually informative and beneficial to both are cut off at the knees. Numerous theologians, scientists and theologian/scientists are trying to make sure that faithful, trusting dialogue achieves whatever epistemological, even spiritual, gains are possible. Examples are Jurgen Moltmann (“Science and Wisdom”, “The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life”); John Polkinghorne (“Theology in the Context of Science”), Amos Yong (“The Spirit of Creation”); Alexi Nesteruk (“Light from the East: Theology, Science, and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”).

    I agree that science will never replace theological pneumatology, or explain exactly how Spirit creates and sustains the entire cosmos. In the Judeo-Christian context, these positions will always require faith working via the action of the Holy Spirit. Teleology and theodicy are also areas where science is very limited. On the other hand, Scripture is not valuable to science in our explorations of exactly how things came to be, or details of how various aspects of physical life are related, or how the amazing, and amazingly complex, processes of life (for example) work.

    Interestingly, there has already been an extensive effort supported by the Vatican entitled The Divine Action Project (see ctns.org) that resulted in five volumes and numerous well-informed speculations regarding how God might act in ways that we can hope to express scientifically. There was much good will, lots of great science and theology brought to bear, but no resolution. Amos Yong (cited above) gives a good summary and a Christian perspective on the outcomes of this project in Chapter 3 “The Spirit at Work in the World”.

    • peteenns

      Good points Bev. On my Facebook page, a left this comment because it came up there, too:

      I tried (unsuccessfully) to leave the point more open ended when I say that the specifics are debated, as I know they are. What I admittedly could have made clearer is that the naive biblicism on both sides makes this an either/or issue when one side asserts epistemological dominance over the other. That attitude is endemic in the popular debate. But there are deeper issues of epistemology on the table here. I appreciate you both raising these!!

    • Guest

      Apropos not much, but I just went squee when I saw you reference Alexei. He taught me at undergraduate physics! His new book is just out.

  • smijer

    I have always agreed somewhat with NOMA on the grounds that science as a very tightly constrained method focused on testable, repeatable observation subject to prediction and falsification is a poor tool for investigating singular supernatural claims that are by nature obscure to, or by design insulated from this process. Science is well suited to understanding nature because nature is itself observable and predictable. If there is a “supernature” it is, almost by definition, not.

    Further, religion does not solely consist of claims about nature, or even claims about reality. Rather it consists of a combination of claims about reality (some of which include or imply claims about nature), claims about morality, and functions that are not claims at all (i.e., ritual, community, and art). Only when it makes claims about nature does it really overlap with science. This creates tension except where science and religion make the same or compatible claims about nature.

    Where I jump ship is when we speak of “faith” as a way of “knowing”. Is faith an epistemology at all? If so, do we have any assurances that it is at all effective? In what domain can we say that knowledge gained through “faith” is accurate and helpful? Are there methods of faith that ensure accuracy? My own answer to those questions is “no”. If you have other answers, I’d be interested in hearing them.

    Further, “science”, narrowly defined is not the only epistemological tool available to us. We *can* look at supernatural claims using logic, Bayesian reasoning, and maybe other tools, which do have the power to yield answers in which we can have confidence. In order to avoid overlap (and tension with) with the fullest set of tools of human reason, religion must either make all claims about reality match the results of the best human reasoning, or eschew such claims altogether. In otherwords, reason is significantly less a “non-overlapping magestierum” with religion than science is.

    To the extent that the “NOMA” concept is a guideline for developing a practice of supernatural religion that does not offend science, and as a reminder to scientists that their work is not a bludgeon against this sort of religion, it is a useful concept.

    To the extent that “NOMA” is a guideline for developing a practice of non-supernatural religion that does not offend reason, and as a reminder to reasonable people that their efforts are not bludgeons against that sort of religion, then it is a useful concept.

    In other circumstances – where it leads us to nod sagely and say things like “faith is another way of knowing” – I feel that NOMA can be an obstacle.

  • David W

    Pete, you said, “scientific inquiry cannot evaluate spiritual experience”. I want to push back against this comment a bit by appealing to a recent Atlantic article published on Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the major points of the article is that alcoholism is, in part, a neurological condition that can be treated with specific drugs. The success rates for these drugs seem to be promising. In contrast, AA relegates alcoholism mainly to the spiritual realm and is explicitly not a science-based treatment (though they don’t completely prohibit scientific help). Furthermore, the Bible relates drunkenness to the spiritual nature of man; it is seen as a fruit of the flesh/sinful nature (Gal 5:21). I’m not saying that alcoholism is one hundred percent a material/scientific matter, but my point is that it appears as though scientific inquiry can at least correct some wrong or ill-informed perceptions that we’ve relegated to the spiritual realm throughout history.

    • peteenns

      I see your point, but the science isn’t “evaluating” the spiritual experience, is it?

      • David W

        Pete, I’m not sure that I entirely understand your question, but I would simply reply that yes, science is able to evaluate the “spiritual” experience of drunkenness, that is, if the spiritual experience being referred to is indeed drunkenness. If you google the “science of drunkenness”, there is a wealth of information available. This kind of evaluation is what has allowed researchers to develop drugs which target specific neurotransmitters so as to mitigate the affects of inebriation and also addiction. One might say of a drunk, “he is filled or being influenced by a liquor demon/spirit” and another might reply, “no, his brain is simply under the chemical influence of alcohol”. Who is correct? Perhaps there is some overlap in the two experiences, but science indeed does shed some significant light on the experience.

        • Mark K

          David, AA would not say anyone is filled or being influenced by a “liquor demon/spirit.” While it’s a program that is spiritually based, in that God is sought for help, I’m not sure how drunkenness is seen as a spiritual experience. I don’t know any AA who would say it that way. If anything, drinking is seen as an escape from spiritual experience. Can chemicals help? I’m sure they will at some point in the research trajectory. But stopping the drinking is only the tip of the iceberg, and where the hard spiritual work actually begins. Without said work, the chance of relapse is very great (and I don’t see drugs as changing that). The proposed science and the spiritual program are two very different things.

  • Ken Cooper

    I think at some point the scientific and faith domains have to intersect. For example, I tend to agree that some sort of evolutionary process has happened, but I see it as God’s means to creating life forms as we see them now. However, evolutionary theory presupposes natural selection. Natural selection by itself, as I think Darwinians would see it, seems to preclude the hand of God, but I see natural selection as wholly insufficient as a means of bringing about life forms in all their detail and variety, especially in light of Michael Behe’s claim of irreducible complexity. So, it bothers me that the Church would give a nod to evolution without some caveat, some room for the hand of God. Hence, I think there must be a nexus between the two domains of faith and science.

    • Kim Fabricius

      ID is both a theological and a scientific mess.

      A scientific mess because, as Behe himself admitted at the infamous
      Kitzmiller v. Dover case, “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”

      Moreover, ID declares that if a biological system cannot be explained by either chance or necessity, then it must be designed. But that is a blatantly fallacious conclusion to draw. It may be that we simply do not have an explanation for the biological system at the present time. The god of ID thus becomes a hostage to scientific fortune, i.e., he becomes the rightly discredited god-of-the-gaps. And that is the theological mess.

      ID, in fact, is based on a thin, indeed flawed understanding of creation. It looks for particular evidences of God’s activity in the world. A robust Christian doctrine of creation, however, asserts that everything, without exception, is graciously created and faithfully sustained by God.

      • J. Inglis

        Without (With?) Malice and Kim Fabricius need to get out more. ID has progressed far beyond the Dover trial. ID is not a god of the gaps explanation, and if one thinks that it is, then one needs to read and listen more. ID researchers have had peer reviewed articles published. Etc. ID may or may not be true, but it certainly is not as those two have misrepresented it.

        • Klasie Kraalogies

          No it hasn’t. When they publish peer reviewed articles, it is almost never on ID. Dembski and co have not published anything that has shaken anybody or convinced anyone beyond themselves. ID is not science – and when they try to be , they fail miserably: An example – last year Ken Miller from Brown University took Behe to task over some really, really bad science – you can read it all here:


          • Mark

            Interesting article. Hard for me to follow, but I think I caught the gist of it. Thanks!

        • Sven2547

          ID has progressed far beyond the Dover trial.

          How so? What experiments have they run? What predictions have their hypothesis offered, and have they been tested?

          ID fails as a framework because their methodology is to squint through a microscope and say “this looks designed”. I fail to see how this could make “progress” in any direction.

    • Without Malice

      Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity is the biggest farce since perpetual motion. Evolution is a proven fact, nothing can alter that, and it has no need for “the hand of God.” The people alive a million years from now, if mankind has not destroyed itself in some damn religious war, will think of us in the same way we think of our remote ape-like ancestors. There is not one scientific principle in all the holy bible; don’t you ever wonder why?

      • Ken Cooper

        Spoken from the science side of the NOMA equation. I respect the light shed by science, but I see much of that light through the eyes of the faith side of NOMA. And, the Bible doesn’t pretend to be a science text.

  • Craig Branch

    I have often thought the same. As a synthetic biologist and a Christian I tend to live in two worlds that don’t really connect, but don’t necessarily need to. I do get frustrated with Christians who try to treat the Bible as a science book, and go so far as saying that if you believe in evolution (the antithesis of believing in God!!!!!) that you probably aren’t saved. Joy.

  • Jamie

    Someone ought to have told the authors of the biblical texts about NOMA, maybe they would have been more careful not to let their writings reflect cultural, metaphysical and cosmological presuppositions and to limit their content to speculative, context neutral thoughts about god and religion. My point is that NOMA presumes we have a neutral space from where to operate. The concept reeks of dualism as has been mentioned in other comments; the neutral space where we can “separate” magesteria so thoroughly is only possible in a particular contextual space, namely post enlightenment modernism, especially the secular ideal that there is such a thing as a neutral political space void of ideology. Yoder talked about how the gospel functioned in the early church as a meta-critique of cosmologies and metaphysics by establishing Christ as “above” them, without actually tackling the content of those systems! NOMA rejects the possibility of this and instead hardens the boundaries between certain routes of enquiry into the nature of things (which is ultimately the one thing; the material universe in its complex totality). Of course it’s nonsense to say that the ancient Bible texts can yield scientific data useful to modern investigation, or help explain the processes of material origins – empirical scientific investigation, with its specific questions, ends and means, has allowed us to say so much more about the true nature of the things – but it does allow us to unmask deeper narrative threads and certain presuppositions that run through both the natural sciences and theology; it helps us to critique, assess and frame the picture in a certain way. In short, meaningful dialogue is always to be sought if we are to go forward productively rather than get mired in either hurtful fighting, or self-affirming isolation (which seems to be the only to the only two options available here.) Of course this means a posture of vulnerability and openness on both sides of the “debate”, and a spirit of graciousness instead of fear and defence, this is the more pressing problem.

    • Craig Branch

      Science, by its own definition, is limited to physical phenomenon which can be measured. Anything else is speculation. It is isolated by necessity. That doesn’t imply a lonely, hostile isolation impervious to philosophical debate, but it does mean you need the right tools for the job. You need a different lens and a different mindset. Science and theology aren’t antithetical, they just require different approaches.

      • Klasie Kraalogies

        Craig – can emotions be measured? Can our thought processes be measured? Are they not dependent on neurons and biochemistry and electric charges – and on a more fundamental level, on matter such as we try to describe by quantum physics, and information such as works according to Shannon’s laws etc etc? And whether those thoughts are about dinner or theology or baseball (throwing Pete a bone here), they are all controlled by these laws – and depends on the input, prior conditions, prior information, and so on ad infinitum right back to…..

        My point is, I keep on finding these separations far too artificial. I have frequently had similar debates with some more fundamentalist Christians, who had issue with my acceptance of evolution etc – they were essentially following some hyper-post modernist view where evidence is necessarily deceitful, but the reading of Scripture is pure etc. Of course, I had to point out that even the act of reading makes use of the senses in the same was as the act of looking at a geological column. Their approach denied all epistemology.

        However it strikes me that NOMA, in an effort not to fall into this trap, pushes in a different direction, erecting a wall beyond which reason, logic, evidence etc do not count anymore. If they do, then what is the purpose? A circumspect scientific approach to a an old document would necessarily take into account the circumstances and intent of the author – that would be good science! It would indicate what can be proven and what not, etc etc. Therefore the purpose of NOMA remains strange for me.

        Footnote – I also find that many people tend to put science in a box with walls around it. I think that is wrong – there are lots of grey areas, and science blends into engineering and technology, but also the humanities (from psychology to sociology to anthropology) to economics etc etc. It is but a careful approach of reason to evidence. And behind that sits the Queen, mathematics – who branches out all over, all the way to art. You can see why I am a monist of sorts 🙂

        • Craig Branch

          Psychology and sociology rely so heavily on statistical modeling I would argue they are at best on the fringes of science. To many uncontrolled inputs result in outputs very difficult to quantify. Science relies on facts, but also can connect the dots of a wide range of evidence, hence evolution. These two approaches are very different, and I would add both are much closer to each other than the approach one takes toward scripture. I would say that we rest on the facts of the life of Christ as espoused by scripture; but we take these on faith, not by observation. We would need a time machine to do that, and because of budget cuts (I’m putting in travertine tile soon) and a lack of time I haven’t invented one yet. We look critically at the historical record, but we cannot recreate it, therefore science can’t really comment on it.

    • peteenns

      I agree, Jamie.

  • Have you read any John Milbank? As I read more and more about ‘secular reason’, NOMA seems to disintegrate. For example:

        An extraordinary contrast therefore emerges between political theology on the one hand, and postmodern and post-Nietzschean social theory on the other. Theology accepts secularization and the autonomy of secular reason; social theory increasingly finds secularization paradoxical, and implies that the mythic-religious can never be left behind. Political theology is intellectually atheistic; post-Nietzschean social theory suggests the practical inescapability of worship. (Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, 3)

    A little further down the page, we can see how secular reason may be 100% socially constructed:

        However, these attempts [“to take cognizance of this strange situation”] can only carry conviction if I succeed in demonstrating the questionability of the assumptions upon which secular social theory rests. To this end I have adopted an ‘archaeological’ approach and traced the genesis of the main forms of secular reason, in such a fashion as to unearth the arbitrary moments in the construction of their logic. This object could have been partially achieved by a deconstructive analysis of the present manifestations of these discourses, but the archaeological approach has at least two inestimable advantages. First of all, it enables me to show how the genesis of discourse is intertwined with the genesis of a new practice; in particular this allows me to demonstrate that secular social theory only applies to secular society, which it helps to sustain. Secondly, it permits me to show just how elusive ‘the secular’ really is. For, on my reading, secular discourse does not just borrow inherently inappropriate modes of expression from religion as the only discourse to hand (this is Hans Blumenberg’s interpretation)[1], but is actually constituted in its secularity by ‘heresy’ in relation to orthodox Christianity, or else a rejection of Christianity that is more ‘neopagan’ than simply anti-religious. (3)

    It is important to see how much our “categories of thought” influence how we see reality. For example, William T. Cavanaugh argues in The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict that the very distinction between the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’ was a construction not of truth, but of power, in order to deligitimize religion and legitimize the State. In short: “Don’t die for your religion; die for your country!”

    Sadly, we have deeply imbibed of the secular Kool-Aid, as Peter Berger so clearly articulates in The Many Altars of Modernity: Toward a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age. Lydia McGrew would say that our minds have gone Averroist; Roger Olson wrote a full response to Berger’s 2014 book as well as Should a Christian ever Think or Act as If God Does Not Exist? What is secular reasoning, but thinking and acting as if God does not exist? We carve out a part of our minds where God is not allowed.

    Colin E. Gunton, in The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity, argues that what really happens is that God is ‘displaced’, and replaced with seven demons much worse. Proper worship of our Trinitarian God leaves space between people, which is also known as ‘freedom’. Worship of a singular deity (e.g. the State) collapses that space, leading to less grace, mercy, and trust. See, for example, the decline in Americans trusting each other in the US, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014. What replaces trust is law, as can be seen by Karen Cook et al’s Cooperation Without Trust? What if the contrast between works and grace mirrors a contrast between trust and law? Note that pistis and pisteuō are probably better translated ‘trust’ than ‘faith’ and/or ‘believe’, these days.

  • Abby

    I have found Alan Padgett’s model of mutuality to be helpful. Essentially, scientists are allowed to be scientists and follow the rules of engagement for science and theologians can be theologians and use theological tools and methods. THEN, at the end of the day, they can sit down and engage with the outcomes of each of the topics in a way that informs and makes each a little richer.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Sorry for the double, and long, post, but this is a pet topic for me. It is also much more crucial than we usually let ourselves imagine (see the P.S.).

    A couple of examples are often better than a general thesis (my post above), so, to that end, here are brief notes and two passages from Moltmann “The Source of Life” (page 74 & 75-6).

    We get the God we believe in, we deal with the Scripture as we imagine it to be, and the utility of our spiritual world view for wider dialogue in the secular world depends completely on its nature and foundation.

    Commenting on the problem of one such useless view, in his words “an eternity mysticism centred on a God in the world beyond” Moltmann criticizes “….. a mild, non-sensuous spirituality, hostile towards the body, remote from the world, and completely unpolitical, (that) replaced the original Jewish and Christian vitality which lives from God’s creative Spirit. Sins are equated even today with ‘the lusts of the flesh’, which are identified with licentiousness, although it’s patently obvious that the death-drives of this world are to be found in the covetousness and greed for power of the God-forsaken, self-deifying souls of modern men and women.”

    In other words we can say that the pain of this world stems not from sex but from violence. This short passage clearly contrasts two types of Christian views. One, it is true, has little to contribute to science or any other secular enterprise. The other is ripe with opportunities for dialogue.

    Another Christian view that can speak volumes to current seemingly intractable worldly problems, and offer great hope as well, is expressed by Moltmann like this:

    “We shall not be redeemed from this earth, so that we could give it up. We shall be redeemed with it. We shall not be redeemed from the body. We shall be made eternally alive with the body. That is why the original hope of Christians was not turned towards another world in heaven, but looked for the coming of God and his kingdom on this earth. We human beings are earthly creatures, not candidates for angelic status. Nor are we here on a visit to a beautiful star, so as to make our home somewhere else after we die. We remain true to the earth, for on this earth stood Christ’s cross. His resurrection from the dead is also a resurrection with the dead, and with this blood-soaked earth. In the light of Christ’s resurrection we can already trace the contours of the ‘new earth’ (Rev. 21:1),where ‘death will be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more’ (Rev. 21:4).”

    P.S. (then I’ll quit)

    I am currently reading Naomi Klein’s masterful “This Changes Everything”. No, it’s not a Christian account about our need for salvation but about a related mammoth mess from which we need saving. It is very interesting to read Klein’s analysis of our pathetic responses, so far, to global warming while keeping the writings of some Christian theologians in mind. I keep wanting to write to her and ask if she has ever read Moltman’s “God in Creation”. He provides Christian reasons for hope that we may be able to stop at 2 or 3 degrees of warming over the next decades; and this may well be the only reasonable hope.

  • Andrew Dowling

    While scientific inquiry doesn’t necessarily “evaluate” spiritual experience, I disagree scientific study can’t have a say on certain religious claims. Take original sin, for instance, For those in the more conservative camp, evolutionary biology does pose problems for that tenet (this issue has been well covered). For those holding a more figurative position, studies in evolutionary psychology pose their own rather substantial critiques.

    This also goes for claims of the miraculous. Not only does science deem ‘nature miracles’ extremely improbable (if not impossible), but modern day claims of miracles have been debunked via scientific inquiry. See the Genesha statue ‘milk miracles’ of the 1990s or even the recent debunking of the ‘Yeti’ Bigfoot creature in the Himalayas (just a large bear, despite decades of eyewitness accounts and alleged footprints, hair samples etc.)

    Personally, since I lean towards Christian panentheism, scientific studies often highlight the divine for me, rather than contradict. It’s all about perspective.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      “Christian panentheism” – so a baptized Spinozist?

      • Agni Ashwin

        Perhaps; perhaps not — depending upon how you are defining “pan”, “en”, and “theism”.

        • Klasie Kraalogies

          Also how you define “perhaps”, “not”, “depending”….. 🙂

          In all seriousness, Spinoza has been associated by some with panentheism for a long time – from Wikipedia:

          “Baruch Spinoza later claimed that “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.” [9] “Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.” [10] Though Spinoza has been called the “prophet”[11] and “prince”[12] of pantheism, in a letter to Henry Oldenburg Spinoza states that: “as to the view of certain people that I identify god with nature (taken as a kind of mass or corporeal matter), they are quite mistaken”[13] For Spinoza, our universe (cosmos) is a mode under two attributes of Thought and Extension. God has infinitely many other attributes which are not present in our world. According to German philosopher Karl Jaspers, when Spinoza wrote “Deus sive Natura” (God or Nature) Spinoza did not mean to say that God and Nature are interchangeable terms, but rather that God’s transcendence was attested by his infinitely many attributes, and that two attributes known by humans, namely Thought and Extension, signified God’s immanence.[14] Furthermore, Martial Guéroult suggested the term “Panentheism”, rather than “Pantheism” to describe Spinoza’s view of the relation between God and the world. The world is not God, but it is, in a strong sense, “in” God.”

          Some philosophers disagree, but it is a contestable thesis, using the classic definition of panentheism.

          • Agni Ashwin

            True, but if one defines “pan” to mean literally “all”, to include “all that exists, including thought, extension, and all the infinite attributes not present in our world”, then he could be seen as a “pantheist”.

  • Steve.isham

    If the Biblical narrative is relegated to
    one Magisterium does that mean that in approaching the resurrection of Christ
    that we can ask no questions that correspond to the questions science would
    ask? Or that the answer to those questions would have no relevance outside of
    the Magisterium?

  • Tim


    On this one issue we disagree. Though I admit I once did buy into NOMA. It has intuitive appeal.

    But instead of just contrasting my opinion with yours, I think I can tangibly demonstrate my point. And I can do this as different “methodologies” can be shown to overlap when they lay claim to the same subject matter. And they can conflict when they make irreconcilably disparate claims about that subject matter.

    Now on to the tangible demonstration. Take your pick of the claims that religion can make about the natural world. They aren’t just spiritual claims are they? There are cosmological claims. There are historical claims. There are medical claims. And so on. So in principle is there any reason why a religious interpretation of a sacred text ought not lay claim to an account of the origins of the universe or earth specifically? Or cosmological structures? Or origins of man or the animals? Or claims of historical events? Claims that can most certainly conflict with science? With biology, geology, astronomy, or archaeology for instance? Can you think of any examples? Of course you can. Are these examples valid? No? Why not? Because people who read their sacred texts misinterpret them when they come to these conclusions? But even should that be true, is that not religion? The text, tradition, community, etc. all rolled into one? We have how many branches of Christianity now all interpreting Scripture differently? And are they not all manifestations of the human religious experience? Of “ways of knowing” in a religious sense as it were? Which is to say nothing of the various forms of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.?

    The long and short of it is there are countless religious claims regarding the “natural world.” Some directly and inescapably conflict with science. Others do not. Some interpretive traditions lend themselves to this conflict more than others. But all are “religious” in nature. And it is due to this observation that I conclude NOMA, no matter how otherwise intuitive or appealing, is demonstrably false.

    However, if you would have a completely non-overlapping magisteria, I can suggest a more defensible formulation. Science and those religions that say nothing of events within or aspects of the natural world, that limit themselves to only purported spiritual truths and the treatment of subjects entirely outside nature cannot in any sense conflict.

  • Levi

    To pick nits… Gould was never comfortable with the atheist label. He consistently described himself as agnostic.

  • MacPeter

    Thanks Peter, I’m writing my master’s thesis on this very topic, and it seems we agree.

    I would argue that NOMA is essentially correct, but that there are those places where science and theology can legitimately inform each other–but only insofar as they help the other discipline know its own object better (physical reality and the Word of God, respectively). Violations occur when one tries to do the other’s knowing for it. So Creation Science is an example of theology intruding into science, and accounts of Quantum Divine Action (trying to use quantum mechanics to say how God is and isn’t allowed to do a miracle) would be an example of intruding science into theology (as would saying that resurrections cannot happen, etc.). Positive interactions would include science allowing theology to understand ethical applications more clearly (e.g. science can help us answer the question when human life begins, or whether we are contributing to global warming) and theology acting as a motivation for scientific research (see Thomas F. Torrance on this).

    In short, I would say that NOMA is true in terms of the objects of study, but not true in terms of how these disciplines are worked out in human society (but I doubt Gould would have gone that far anyway).

  • AHH

    I don’t think strict NOMA is the right approach — ultimately the world in which God works is the same world that science describes, so a “never the twain shall meet” compartmentalization doesn’t work. A better model is “complementarity” (advanced by Christians in science such as Richard Bube and Howard VanTill), in which science and Christian faith are addressing the same reality but for the most part viewing different aspects of reality. Like pictures of the same object taken from different angles.

    A friend of mine advocates BOMA — Barely Overlapping MAgisteria. That seems about right to me. We would be much better off if people did not misread Scripture as a scientific text, and if people did not try to extrapolate science to make unscientific conclusions about questions of theology and morality. But we are poorer if we never allow the two aspects to inform each other (and even challenge each other) at all.

  • TLars

    Science is based on a very meticulous method for observing measurable phenomenon in nature in such a way that it might be verified by others. Science is worthless if it is dishonest. It has been very successful in uncovering knowledge of the observable world. But it is limited to that which can be measured and verified by anyone with the right equipment. The Bible deals with truths that are much more difficult to measure in objective ways because spiritual truths involve the individual perspectives, values, and relationships of the observers. How does one precisely measure the relationship between a mother and a child? We can know something by observing their relationship, but that relationship will grow and change as time passes in ways that no one will be able to fully describe, or completely observe, or accurately predict. Instruments can measure the the relationships of atoms in molecular compounds to the satisfaction of anyone who seeks such knowledge. But science can only tell us something about patterns of facts that can be precisely measured and jointly observed. Science can tell us nothing of events that are truly unique — and science is limited in what it can tell us about the quality of the relationships that an observer has with his or her world, the people and creatures in it, and the universe found within every single person. The Bible has much to say about that kind of knowledge. We used to call it wisdom.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      Actually, we are getting to the point where science can tell us more and more about the relationship people have with their world and with one another, not only through recent advances in neuroscience (and here, please ignore the multitude of band wagon pseudo-science junk using the term), but the growing understanding of the development of morality and empathy (for instance) through primatological studies and other fields.

      There is even a growing field of “wisdom research”, characterizing and studying the phenomenon called wisdom.

      I’d always be careful to draw lines in the sand, and building a case from that, because circumstances and knowledge change, and where does one’s case then go?

  • Steven M. Espinosa

    The discussions are as good as the article! Heck Peter, in “The Bible Tells Me So” you used the science of archaeology to make the point that GOD didn’t directly command Canaanite genocide.

  • Ben Cribbin

    I don’t understand how faith is a kind of ‘knowing’. What is the basis for that knowledge? how do we know if it’s true?

    • Jeremy

      This is where it breaks down for me as well. I’m okay with this in principle, but if faith is utterly unverifiable by *any* means, then we have to stop at the assertion that “faith is a different kind of knowing”. We can’t go beyond that because the process for going from that assertion to the assertion that my faith is the correct understanding is the same for all faiths. And, being faith, there is no way to verify any of their claims.

      Essentially, what I came to in my own journey is that all faith(s) are gnostic to a large extent.

  • copyrightman

    NOMA is a disaster. There are no separate “magesteria” of truth. Separating our ability to speak truthfully about “God” and “nature” in the radical manner of NOMA is completely contrary to the Christian doctrines of both creation and grace and also undermines a proper (non-fundamentalistic) Christian doctrine of revelation.

    If you want to go down this road, check out Alister McGrath’s much more subtle approach using critical realism as the lens. It is fair to say that there are different “levels” or “layers” of reality, and that there may be different tools humans may use to investigate these different layers. We can use a strongly empiricist set of tools to investigate what we call the “natural sciences,” but empiricism is inappropriate to investigate the nature of God, who by definition is utterly transcendent of “nature.” But that is not at all to say that these domains don’t interpenetrate each other and that what we learn from the natural sciences and from theological “science” can’t inform each other.

    Read McGrath, Thomas Torrance, Thomas Aquinas, the Psalms…..

  • copyrightman

    BTW, you can’t invoke Augustine for NOMA! Precisely the opposite!

  • copyrightman

    Let me also recommend Peter Harrison’s recent Gifford Lectures, which illustrate why NOMA is historically anomalous.


  • qwerty

    Peter, on the subject of science supporting the numinous, check out this article from the WSJ (if it’s not paywalled for you):


    Essentially, scientists are concluding that the universe requires so much precise design that this is far beyond the realms of chance (like winning the lottery every week for a year), which strongly suggests a creator. I thought it was pretty amazing.

    But, generally speaking, I do I agree that the Bible isn’t a science book and science isn’t about faith.

  • Daniel Merriman

    As Denys Turner has pointed out, I think relying on Marx, every age deems questions acceptable or not based on whether or not that age possesses the methodology to answer them. It seems to me that NOMA is just an overt means to enforce this straight jacket. I think science and theology actually have a lot to say to each other. That a dialogue whose participants include nonbelievers in NOMA might be messy and contentious is no reason it should not take place.

  • buskanaka

    I think a thought experiment is useful. Imagine a book and its author. The author and characters in the book exist in different planes of existence. The book universe exists within the author’s in some ways although we can also think about it as separate. The author can do interesting things like change a whole storyline in the book in consistent ways without any causality violation (from the characters’ perspective) and without the characters even being aware that things were ever different. The author can even write himself into the story as a character in which case he would be both fully a book character and fully an author of the book at the same time. The author could also add elements to the story that the characters within it are unable to explain based on the causality “rules” of their existence. These might be interpreted as miracles, although it’s important to note that miraculous events could also happen which don’t violate causality but which would be so incredibly unlikely and also meaningful that from the characters’ perspectives they would be classified as miracles. E.g. a character prays for deliverance from a group of criminals who all then have simultaneous heart attacks triggered by a very specific configuration of cosmic rays that had been traveling for billions of years.

    That was a long setup, but I believe it shows that NOMA is insufficient to explain the separation (or lack thereof) between the author’s reality and the book’s reality. If the characters in the book find a large stone with a large consistent set of scientific/mathematical concepts that apply to the author’s world but not to their own, and they are somehow able to trace the history (causal chain) of the atoms of that stone and their positions all the way back to their own big bang creation event, then it seems clear to me they are living in a non-NOMA world. At the very least, they have strong evidence that there is intelligent agency outside their own existence and they are able to study it and reason about it scientifically. Certainly, the characters in the book wouldn’t argue for NOMA given those facts.

    Now lets shift the example slightly so that the characters don’t have the ability to fully trace the causal lineage of the stone. They will always be uncertain about its origins. However, they are still able to apply their own scientific processes to reason about and even build up theories based on that alternate reality. They might now reasonably believe in NOMA (because perhaps there could be no proof otherwise), however, the inability for them to prove or disprove the lineage of the stone doesn’t change the fact that they are using their own science to study the author’s reality, even if they don’t admit to it.

    Now lets shift the example again such that the stone was carved by one character while in a trance. The steady stream of specific cosmic rays that cause the trance originate from the point of creation, but the characters cannot prove this or even show that it was cosmic rays (because they start their study after the fact). Even this doesn’t change the fundamental nature of their reality, only the uncertainty of the characters.

    Finally, what if the information carved in the stone was done by several characters over decades based on experiences they had (and not even realizing the full meaning of what they were writing). They used their own words and even made spelling and grammar mistakes (or even larger errors), but overall the information on the stone is consistent and describes a consistent reality that is outside of their own. This information can still be scientifically studied and understood and built upon. The information and things learned affect the characters in the story. But regardless of the direct or indirect way the information arrived on the stone, and whether the characters can prove it is “real” or not, doesn’t change the fact that it actually comes from and describes an external reality.

    This is still a little rough, but I have found that sort of author/book thought experiment useful for thinking about things like time, miracles, free-will, general and special revelation, etc.

  • Cardunculus

    Is it just me, or is NOMA essentially the same as Siger of Brabant’s notion of “double truth” (that is, Reason and Faith may be in contrast, but they are nonetheless both true “in their own sense”)?

    Personally, I am not a fan: it seems to me that such an approach cheapens the very notion of truth near the point of uselessness, if not past it. I would rather claim “OMA” (One Overlapping Magisterium) and claim, with Aquinas, that if a religious belief is contradicted by reason and evidence then that belief is simply wrong.

    For instance, I would cheerfully admit that science has disproven quite thoroughly the creation myths of the Book of Genesis; but I would also point out that the obsession with their literal truth (or lack thereof) is a very modern phenomenon, and that regardless of their factuality these myths offer powerful and surprisingly deep allegories.

    EDIT: by the way, it is uncertain whether Siger of Brabant really taught about “double truth” or was only accused by that by his critics – under many points of view, he was a fascinating, if controversial figure.

  • Daniel Fisher

    If I may move the discussion away from the specific issue of origins, there are certainly some claims the Bible makes about “scintific” items (i.e., biological or physical realities) that are indisputably in conflict with the claims of (some) scientists….

    Fr instance, if any science claims that it is utterly impossible to walk on water, resurrect dead bodies, etc., then such science needs to be informed by what the Bible says about such things.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Informed? By a 2000 year old religious text infused with midrash and metaphor?

      • Daniel Fisher

        More to the point, the New Testament, both gospels and epistles, are claiming that an actual, historical, physical, observable event happened, that a person who had been dead had life return, walked, talked, ate, etc.. Whether one sides with those that say the Bible’s claims are wrong, or with those who says that naturalistic science that would deny such miracles is wrong, this remains a place where there is overlap – we are not talking about two completely separate spheres. He at least, the Bible is making claims about actual, physical and biological realities, and which cannot simply remain in some ethereal, spiritual “sphere” completely separated from the concepts of science.

        Or, as C. S. Lewis was fond of observing, the very fact that these ancient people’s recognized the resurrection as a miracle means that they were familiar enough with the natural and normal regular pattern of events to recognize that this was a departure from them, but saw it as something happening within the physical processes… I.e., a purely “spiritual” resurrection would not be shocking or surprising or in any way miraculous. . But it was an event that was (claimed to have been, at least) seen, touched, heard…. An event that breaks into what would be called thephysical or “scientific” sphere…. A physical person talking with you can’t remain in the “spiritual” realm, if real, it is physical reality.

        • Daniel, I take your point here – but does it not diminish spiritual experience a bit to treat physical reality as all important? Subjective religious experience is pretty front and center when we talk about faith. Take a story in the Bible that has nothing that we would call miracles, like John 7:53 – 8:11. We can get really bent out of shape arguing over the scholarship about whether this famous scene with the woman caught in adultery literally happened, where the passage came from, etc. etc. Or: we could acknowledge its importance to the Christian tradition and examine how it might be applicable to us, and accept we may never know the answer concerning its historicity. So to me its not even about miracles or the suspension of the natural order of things – it’s about whether the historical details are as important as the spiritual insight.

          I hear something alot from people insisting that, for instance, the Jonah story literally had to happen historically. They insist God is capable of anything. Well, sure. But is that the kind of mindset/framework that the original author and the audience would have been familiar with? It seems to me that we bring a 21st century post-Enlightenment, rationalistic and scientific outlook to the text and impose it, and it doesn’t fit. And I would say this applies just as much to other ancient writers, say, Herodotus, as it does the writers of the Bible. Fundamentalist religion and new atheism both share the basic assumption that the Bible is making claims in the same way science makes claims. They disagree about whether those claims are true, but they share the same (in my opinion) naive approach. But that whole framework would be completely foreign to the biblical authors. I think we should all insist on understanding the Bible in its own terms. Were the writers attempting to just lay out historical facts in some situations (like much of the former prophets, etc.) Yes. But I don’t think the Bible is required to be 100% historically accurate in order for it to be valuable and even central to faith. And I think it’s a mistake to stake the Bible’s worth on whether it measures up to 21st century ideals of historical and scientific rigor.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I don’t accept the presupposition that the Gospels and epistles are making exclamations throughout akin to historical and scientific claims one would find in a textbook. Ancient religious literature is much more nuanced and multi-layered than that.

          The earliest Gospel Mark, for example, stakes from the onset that the purpose of the writing is to tell of the Good News . .not (as you’ll find in ancient historical biographies) “here is the biographical portrait of Jesus of Nazareth . . I looked at xyz sources to determine where he was born, what he did in 32 AD etc.” Even the oft cited beginning of Luke is much more vague.

          • newenglandsun

            question 1) if mark was going off a source, it would have been the hypothetical q source that we have no idea even exists–is it not equally possible that mark was not actually using any other prior sources and this was actually the first source?
            question 2) why would needing to state that such work is a biographical portrait of said person? plutarch’s lives are actually a full refutation of your position that ancient historical biographies need “this is the biographical portrait of x” in order to be classified as biographies.

          • Andrew Dowling

            The way Mark is written betrays the use of several sources, plus we know by the time Mark was written there was a rich and varied oral tradition of Jesus sayings and stories. But I’m afraid I don’t understand what your getting at. If one were to contend Mark was the “first source” in terms of having any Jesus sayings whatsoever( again , I don’t consider that plausible, but hypothetically) I think that’d be a strong argument that the whole Jesus narrative is fictitious.

          • newenglandsun

            “The way Mark is written betrays the use of several sources,”
            What “several sources” are you referring to?

            “plus we know by the time Mark was written there was a rich and varied oral tradition of Jesus”
            I don’t think authors in ancient works generally say, “oh, hey, I’m getting it from word on this” at the very beginning but simply just start telling the story…have you ever even read any ancient primary sources? I’m beginning to wonder. You say you have studied the Bible and present yourself as a Bible scholar who has written papers but you come out full of it.

            “If one were to contend Mark was the “first source” in terms of having any Jesus sayings whatsoever( again , I don’t consider that plausible, but hypothetically) I think that’d be a strong argument that the whole Jesus narrative is fictitious.”

            I’m not contending one way or another. I’m satisfied not knowing for certain as that would contradict what faith is supposed to be for.

          • peteenns

            I am losing track of your point, NES. Where are you going with this?

          • newenglandsun

            I understand Mark as a primary reference to the life of Jesus.

  • William Matthew Whayland III

    If Scripture is accommodated to our ability to understand, it makes sense that it does so in the language and perspective of the day in which it was written, e.g. the sun rising and setting. To say that modern science needs to be informed by the science of the biblical writers is a bit of a howler. But can it be informed by the biblical ethos: an existant Creator who is good, an ordered creation (with mysteries and challenges built in for us), perhaps some randomization (a/k/a “chance”), wonder, and hints of joy and purpose? There may be more one can say. I am reminded of Francis Collins and his book “The Language of God.” People come to faith in myriad ways. Science–including evolutionary biology–is not a barrier to faith, especialy since Genesis two depicts the Creating One as someone who like to play in the mud and get his hands dirty.

    • Thank you for these thoughts. In the Book of Common Prayer our church uses, the given form of the Apostle’s Creed states Christ “descended into hell.” It strikes me that even the language of the creeds is accommodating. Nobody “descends” or “ascends” in spiritual planes – these are physical accommodations (as you say) to our own minds which consider things in terms of spatial reasoning. But it is the states of heaven or hell we are meant to understand and contemplate – not that people are literally going up or down in some kind of spiritual elevator schema. If we get fixated on what it could possibly mean to “descend” into hell, we miss that seemingly minor point of that creed – the Harrowing and the concept that God suffers with us in the lowest possible depths imaginable.

  • Gary

    I have somewhat thought the easiest way for me personally to try to break down into two different magisteria is between “historical” and “meaning.” On the first, I personally have to admit that I consider what is historical to concern time, and time to be one of the dimensions of the universe, not something essentially different from space for instance. Perhaps I should consider it “material/historical.”

    Things that I consider to be assertions of matters material/historical include: cosmic origins, life origins, historicity of figures, plagues, floods, exoduses, living in fish, virgin conceptions, can’t see/now can see, resurrections, ascensions, etc. These, to me, seem to be in the sphere of material/historical and everything that has and will happen are within the domain of everything that can happen.

    For the second of my personal spheres, the one of “meaning,” I might suggest: what is the meaning of life? or what is its goal? or even individually, why be? To me, a second delineated sphere would be rather existential in its essence.

    Between these two–and honestly in part because of the multidimensionality of the universe yet casual recognizability of the first four-dimensions–I can’t really assess whether “beings” are beyond the first magisterium. For me, a resurrection could be materially and historically possible and could have happened and could have been caused by a higher dimension being or cause and yet still be within the material/historical magesterium. Asking “what does it mean?” is beyond. And in the realm of meaning, there are things that can have meaning with only the loosest of ties with the material/historical world.

    In some ways, I can build my metaphysics only on my physics. My physics though is 21st century. Nearly all of the metaphysics of most of the Christians I know is a mix of ancient Greek, Medieval, and Newtonian. Personally, I can only create so much meaning out of most of Christian-speak if I back date to a “worldview” I no longer hold.

    Personally, I think the NOMA discussion needs to be upgraded more and more to be consistent with a contemporary view of the universe and space/time reality itself.

  • Ross

    Personally, I think when it comes to the whole gamut of human thought, I would place “science” as a subset. I don’t see that there are two separate non overlapping areas of thought. However In certain aspects of practice I can see there being quite a gulf.

    The scientific method really deals with probabilities from observation but then usually shoots off into speculation and unfortunately a lot of “science” is speculation about the “evidence”.

    “Science”, or the scientific method, in my view is much about the “how” but can’t really touch on the “why”. So a lot of “scientific” statements about the “why” are speculation and often get trapped into the “there is no why” cul-de-sac.

    “Religious” thought should be totally in tune with scientific thought. If “science” disproves religious thoughts then they need to be abandoned. Because “science” cannot find God, nail him down, dissect him and find out what he had for lunch, does not disprove he exists, it just comes up to its limits. I suppose many people for whom science is their raisen d’être don’t recognise the limits of science.

    Unfortunately, for many inerrantimundalists, recognising the hubris and inaccuracies of some “scientists”, it is too easy to dismiss the entire sphere of science and revert to living in a flat earth and dismissing a lot of what science does tell us about the universe.

    As I said, religion and science should be complementary and in accord, balancing each other out. However since about 1850, the stupidity and egos of too many religious or scientific persons has created a false dichotomy where the two are considered separate, which has created rather too many people in their own self built camps chucking rocks at each other.

    As usual, it’s Friday, which is red wine day, so feel free to ignore me:-)

  • newenglandsun

    I think that if one is going to accept the proposition that God exists, science should generally be seen as secondary. Because if God exists, many different outcomes could have in fact happened. Science, by very essence, explores the natural world and religion (loosely defined here) generally accepts the supernatural. Now, if the natural is all there is, then science can easily refute religious claims. Since the supernatural in religion generally also interacts with the natural world, there seems to be much overlap.

  • WeldonScott

    NOMA is bunk.

  • 4 WIW

    During the trial of Jesus before Pilot,the Roman asked Him: “What is truth?” As a youth, science was my passion – it lead me to getting degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering. I spent my career working in environmental pollution control. One of the things I learned over time and sadly believe is so true today is that pure science like political environmentalism starts with a premise or bias and then only evidence which supports the bias is considered. For the last century or two that has been a growing effort to displace God as an important Agent in the creation of the cosmos. In so doing the evidence that gets the most play is that which disproves His existence and impact on creation – or presenting it as such. This is becoming the new “truth.” I try to avoid debates on 7 literal days of creation versus eons, because I believe such debate misses the point of just how powerful God truly is. I believe it is possible for one to believe in theistic evolution and truly be a Christian, but those who do have to ask themselves why the do so. Is it because they truly believe the evidence supports theistic evolution or because they don’t want to be looked down upon by their worldly counterparts?

  • disqus_ArAZvzDh0k

    The main issue is one of interpretations of the biblical and natural world informers. Keeping these informers entirely distinct is a worse interpretation, while seeing them as seamlessly related is likewise problematic. The informers are related and distinct in tension. On some questions there’ll be more overlap, on other questions less so. Both the biblical text and the natural world deal with real and imaginary worlds – possible worlds and with what can be found out about them. Love and cells are related and distinct.