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Monday, 19 December 2011 00:05

Alvin Plantinga, E. Herschthal and Stephen Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) Argument

Written by  Marquez Comelab
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There is an article written by Eric Herschthal published on the 15th of December 2011 on thejewishweek.com titled: This Just In: God Exists! Or, The Latest Claims of Religion on Science. Herschthal was writing about the works of Alvin Plantinga, a theist philosopher from Notre Dame, who argues, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview’. Further, Plantinga argues that a higher power, cannot be proven to exist but then, there's no need to prove that he exists like the fact that one plus one equals two, there is simply no need to be proven true. 

Like Herschthal, I disagree with Plantinga with a 'hmmm'.

However, Herschthal then continues to say that he is with Stephen Jay Gould on this issue. He writes:

Science and religion set out to address entirely different sets of questions.  Both are concerned with answering profound and eternal truths about the world.  But they are truths of different kinds.  Science investigates truths about the physical world, while religion concerns philosophical truths.

This is where I disagree with Herschthal. I posted this comment on the article, I do not know if the news site will approve it, but I will record it here because it is an interesting discussion. 

Interesting topic. I agree with you Eric when you say that religion is 'the scientific worldview' is preposterous. Unlike you however, I disagree with Gould's non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) argument. Science and religion are concerned with answering profound and eternal truths about the world. The difference is -- religions especially Abrahamic religions -- says it already knows the truth.

One can argue for the existence of a deistic god and may still feel scientific about it because even though there is no evidence for the statement, it can be argued to be a hypothesis. But to offer theistic arguments for the existence and nature of the Abrahamic god is very unscientific. It is faith-based. Science is not faith-based, it is evidence-based. Therefore, science and religion are not mutually exclusive and they encroach in each other's territories because they both attempt to answer the same questions. And almost always, their answers to the same questions, conflict. Noma denies this. Yet, the conflict between science and religion has concrete effects. It plays out in our politics and in the way we are all governed, live our lives and treat other people. This eventually leads to people from both sides of the discourse feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they are denied their right to live according to their beliefs.

Related article: This Just In: God Exists! Or, The Latest Claims of Religion on Science.

[Have you heard of the NOMA argument made by Gould? What are your thoughts on it? Feel free to post your comments.]

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 16:58


  • Comment Link @blamer Tuesday, 26 June 2012 17:58 posted by @blamer

    NOMA is false because the science-religion dichotomy is a continuum.

    Their framing insists that ancient scholarly teachings about their world (the past) deals with a different subject than modern scholarly teachings of our universe (the real world).

    The difference between "historical writings" and "modern thought" is only imaginary. Scholars improve our understanding of historical writings. They're experts on the texts.

    It's more honest to frame this debate as Ivy League Universities versus your local church.

    Who's teachings are most likely mistaken about the historicity of bible characters and their acts?

    (Abraham's auditory miracle, Inri's miracle of prophecy, Yhwh's genesis miracle)

    It's the eggheads Vs the holymen. The experts Vs laymen.

  • Comment Link Marquez Comelab Saturday, 11 February 2012 19:11 posted by Marquez Comelab

    Yes Glenn, perhaps I was trying to accommodate the religious bias a little bit here by even suggesting that one can argue for a deistic god. However, we both agree science and religion in the way they reason are not compatible. As you say, experiment and observation will be of little use if they are interpreted with wrong fundamental assumptions. Perhaps NOMA is just good 'politics' as you say.

    Maybe it does well to 'keep the peace' but there is always an uneasy truce, isn't there? I see NOMA as a diplomatic tool being used to pacify science and religious groups in different circumstances when people are rather unable or unwilling to take on the challenge of this long debate humanity has had for centuries. Omenn and Leshner insists in their letter, "No Conflict Between Science and Religion": Science seeks natural explanations of the natural world, focussing on how the Earth and life developed over millions of years and Religion deals with questions of the supernatural and the ultimate meanings of life so therefore, they are of totally different domains.

    My response to this idea would be: Can they truly be separate domains? Can the answers to the ultimate meanings of life and how we should live our lives be separated from what we can observe and sometimes prove to be true?

    Ultimately, they do not deal with separate domains. They are trying to arrive at the answers to the same questions using different methods. In the end, one method will prove better in providing humanity its best chances for longevity and well-being.

  • Comment Link Glenn Borchardt Thursday, 22 December 2011 05:34 posted by Glenn Borchardt

    I agree pretty much. See my letter on accomodationism by AAAS (http://scientificphilosophy.com/letters.html). The reason I don't agree totally is that science and religion are based on opposing assumptions (see my book: "The Ten Assumptions of Science"). That is why both religion and cosmology believe the universe is finite and that it had an origin. Experiment and observation is what makes it for us, but they are of little use if they are interpreted with the use of the wrong fundamental assumptions.



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