Debate:Is Non-overlapping magisteria merely political correctness?

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Non-Overlapping Magisteria was proposed by Stephen Jay Gould as a method to stop the conflict between religion and science. It tries to define the role of both as equal but separate. Richard Dawkins and Same Harris have both recently argued that science can directly test claims made of religion and that therefor NOMA can not apply. Dawkins has also gone on to claim that Gould did not actually believe NOMA but was merely proposing it as a form of political correctness. What say thee RationalWiki? — Unsigned, by: Etaroced / talk / contribs

I have never read anything by Dawkins that suggests that he said any such thing. He refers to Gould and NOMA various times in "The God Delusion" and he certainly doesn't' make the point there.--Bobbing up and down 04:36, 4 September 2007 (CDT)

Scabbed from wikipedia: In his book Rocks of Ages, Gould put forward what he described as "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion."[44] He defines the term magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution"[44] and the NOMA principle is "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)." humanUser talk:Human 17:50, 13 April 2008 (EDT)

Excellent Idea[edit]

I think this is a both excellent and quite obvious principle. There's no doubt that theology has no place in science. But the opposite is equally true: Science should have no place in theology, just as it shouldn't have a place in history or literature studies either. --AKjeldsen 18:45, 24 May 2007 (CDT)

No place in history? Archaeology is crucial in separating myth from history.

MiddleMan 12:01, 3 June 2007 (CDT)

When I read AK's entry above, I thought I detected a whiff of heavy sarcasm smoldering in the background. I may be wrong, however. humanbe in 13:04, 3 June 2007 (CDT)

You could be right... MiddleMan

Hey, I never answered this! No, no sarcasm at all intended. We had a long period in the 50'ies and 60'ies when positivism was all the vogue among Danish historians, who basically thought that if they could just do things the same way as the physicists and chemists did, they could get rid of all those pesky problems with source interpretation and subjectivity and so. That may sound like a good idea in principle, but let me tell you: It made for some spectacularly bad scholarship. It's amazing what an otherwise competent historian will write when he thinks that his opinion is objectively correct and that he can prove it.
So... no scientific theory in the humanities, thank you. We've been there, it doesn't work, and it takes decades to clean up the mess afterwards.
Also, I would place archaeology with the humanities rather than the sciences. It's true that their methods do incorporate a lot of material from the natural sciences, but the primary focus of the field is to study and interpret the cultures of the past, which means its fundamentals are completely different. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 16:04, 21 August 2007 (CDT)
So, are you saying that the entirety of the humanities fall under the "theological/religious" magisteria? Not sure I quite understand you now. humanbe in 19:10, 21 August 2007 (CDT)
Actually, I was just rambling, but I suppose it could be interpreted to suggest a third "Humanities Magisterium". And maybe a fourth "Social Science Magisterium" as well, if you wanted to make things really complex. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 03:00, 22 August 2007 (CDT)
Absurd. Unless one believes that history is an entirely subjective endeavor (like writing a novel), science certainly has an important place in modern historical analysis, even if it does not play a primary role. DNA analysis, computer analysis of texts, forensic pathology - all of these can answer questions that otherwise would be purely speculative. Rational Edevidence 11:53, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Those are secondary tools, necessary but insufficient. Science may tell you how old a given document is, but that's trivial. No amount of scientific analysis, on the other hand, will explain why that document came into existence, what it meant to contemporaries, what its relation to other documents was, and how it impacted the further historical development. Likewise, DNA analysis might give some insights into ancient migration patterns, up to a point, but it says nothing about why those people left their original settlements, why they decided to resettle in a new place, or what went through their heads while they were doing so. This is one of the central parts of historical research - changes and developments in human social structures and the people they consist of, and the natural sciences don't have much of a place there. (Besides, history is an almost entirely subjective endeavor, and I don't see how it could be otherwise.) --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 12:18, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
I disagree. First, the fact that science provides necessary tools is sufficient to demonstrate that the relatinship between science and history is very different from the one that it has with religion, where it has no role to play at all. Secondly, science could very well prove or disprove a theory about how a document came into existence, for example, through textual analysis (providing information about author or authors, and their linguistic and ethnic background) and/or by virtue of its age and where it was written (by analysing the materials used in the binding and pages, pollen grains and other evidence). My point is not that science is essential to all historical research, but that it has a significant (if minor) role to play. The NOMA concept suggests that there is no overlap whatsoever between the two fields, and neither can say something of relevance to the other. Rational Edevidence 12:57, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
I think you're taking NOMA considerably beyond what Gould would have agreed to - he defined a magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution." As it is, science has a set of tools that have proven useless, or even detrimental to the study of history, while history uses another set that would be pretty worthless in the natural sciences. This may not be exactly the same relationship as that between science and religion, but it still seems like at least a useful analogy. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 13:09, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
You have already conceded that scientific tools can be used to add to historical understanding. The fact that scientific concepts have on occasion been clumsily or incorrectly applied is irrelevant if there are counter-examples where they have been used to good effect. And we are not talking analogy here. NOMA tells us that science and religion deal with different domains. Science and history overlap in a way that science and religion never can. I believe you have misunderstood Gould's point. Rational Edevidence 13:17, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Well, what is Gould's point, then? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 14:09, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Some Magisteria overlap - IE, "science" and "history". Some don't, like religion and science. humanUser talk:Human 14:27, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Couldn't have said it better myself. Rational Edevidence 14:28, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
"Likewise, DNA analysis might give some insights into ancient migration patterns, up to a point, but it says nothing about why those people left their original settlements, why they decided to resettle in a new place, "...
Well, science might well be able to answer those questions, or at least point to a possible reason, if changes of climate, diet, disease, famine, war etc. leave their marks on bones, teeth, stomach contents, ancient seeds, pollen, etc. etc. Geological, changes like volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis. Astronomical events like eclipses, comets, solar cycles. The science can provide explanations for what might seem like arbitrary religious reasons. So science can overlap into religion. Jollyfish.gifGenghis Marauding 15:16, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
You realize you're arguing about the metaphor rather than the point addressed, right? His point was that religion and science are separate. He gave some faulty examples, but that doesn't necessarily invalidate his point. —signed by Lilfut

Usually when science reveals the foolishness of a religious idea, such as the idea that the Sun revolves around the Earth, the religion concerned stops considering that as part of their system of beliefs. It becomes part of science and stops being part of religion. This is actually better for both magisteria. What fascinates me are religions that cling to ideas that have been proven false, as if their faith depended on refusing to see the obvious. Rational Edevidence 15:26, 16 April 2008 (EDT)

Couldn't have said it better myself. humanUser talk:Human 17:04, 16 April 2008 (EDT)

For "NOMA"[edit]

The concept of NOMA, as formulated by Popes Pius XII and John Paul II, and Stephen J. Gould (an interesting and unintentional collaboration an the part of the first party) relies on each word of the statement. "Non-overlapping" (they should not intrude into each other) and "magisteria", from the Latin meaning, approximately, "area of instruction". SJG did not state that they never overlap, but that they should strive not to, and that they can thereby coexist harmoniously. Dawkins and others have argued basically that there are overlapping areas in which science is clearly correct and religion clearly wrong, and the entire idea is untenable. I would argue that the idea of NOMA is valid for areas in which the two camps fairly clearly do not overlap ("what is the meaning of life?", "how fast can light travel in a vacuum?"). I would also argue that the most interesting bits occur in what SJG delightfully called the "interdigitations" of the two magisteria. When science and religion begin to encroach upon each other, it is usually a fringe group (e.g. American Creationists) who have created a problem where there should be none. The idea of NOMA is philosophic, not scientific. It is acceptable as a model for allowing science and religion to function in the same world. Given that the human mind seems predisposed to believe in religion (IMO), the conflict will exist for a long time, and a rational method of reconciliation is appropriate. I do not believe it sacrifices a scientist's honesty to admit that there are certain questions we cannot ask, much less answer. The fun part is determining which questions those are.--PalMD-Talk 19:12, 24 May 2007 (CDT)

As insinuated in Logical positivism, the fact that the body of knowledge that intrinsically disavows a religious perspective is infinitely superior in describing reality than the body of knowledge the pre-supposes a religious perspective should eventually cause one to question why you need to pre-suppose the tenants of theology at all? The only reason that religion can insert itself as the dominate force in a question like "what is the meaning of life?" is because there is no verifiable or falsifiable answer to that question. Seems like a God of the gaps of philosophy. If a question can not be answered in such a way that we can have any idea of the accuracy of the response, then thats where God belongs. Etaroced 19:20, 24 May 2007 (CDT)
In defining Religion and Science as Separate but Equal SJgould Make a big steap. It is not practical for Science to try to investigate Religious beliefs or ideas. this Wiki tries to do just that - subject religious ideas such as faith, the soul and biblical interpritations of the the age of the earth to scoientific analysis. I think they a line should be drawn beyond which Science should not pass. (and yes Ill try firefox soon)Tolerance 14:11, 9 April 2008 (EDT)
The soul is purely the realm of faith, unless someone makes a claim about being able to photograph it or some such other testable statement. Once such a statement is made, that statement can be investigated. Likewise, the age of the Earth is something that is testable (If the age is at least X, then Y which is previously unknown should be verifiable). One can tell any story they want about the age of the Earth, but it is certainly a testable statement and thus within the realm of science. The line that science will not pass is "something that cannot be tested" and it stays quite firmly on its side of the line. --Shagie 14:30, 9 April 2008 (EDT)
Thinking about what you've been writing some, and I believe your NOMA line is drawn at "Anything stated by a religious official or written in a religious book is not the domain of science." Unfortunately, this means that anything that I, as the high priest of the Church of Shagie, claim is exempt from scientific scrutiny. For example, my claim about a time cube that creationists have a smaller brain must be taken on faith and accepted as true, because I said it and it is written in my journal. This creates an absurdity - anything that anyone claims to represent religion makes is exempt from scrutiny and science gets boxed away to nothing. One could attempt to narrow this by claiming that their religion is the only one to make statements that can box in science, but that gets to the question of who's religion do you go with? Even accepting one religion, you then have people doing the Bible code all sorts of additional information in there. What is needed for NOMA to work correctly is a definition of the line drawn that is independent of interpretations and unverifiable claims of godhood, prophetical powers, or spiritual insight. That line can be simply stated as "if it is testable, it is the realm of science - if it is not, it is the realm of philosophy and theology." The way to move the line is to find a new test. --Shagie 16:52, 10 April 2008 (EDT)
The Christian contribution to the concept of non-overlapping magisteria comes from a debate about what the bible is. Half of Christianity views it as a monolithic block, dictated straight from God's lips to the authors' papyrus, where even the Psalms are to be taken as source material for doctrine. The other half of Christianity understands the bible is a collection of different kinds of books, some mythology, some history, some poetry, some fiction, some resistance literature. Once our understanding of Genesis is demoted from being our story of where the world comes from to a record of what the ancient Hebrews believed, we are free to pursue our own tales. At that point Genesis is no longer a yoke but a gift from the past: In it we have a baseline, we can know what our longfathers of old believed and trace the development of our own beliefs. And once we have shed the concept of the Bible as a geology textbook, for the first time we can store it comfortably right next to our geology textbooks. Francine 21:39, 30 September 2008 (EDT)


The idea of NOMA is seductive and dangerous. We are told that there are areas that science cannot reach, cannot even try to reach. This is prima facie ridiculous. Science can explore any area of inquiry, and, if we include mathematics, can explore the probability of various religious ideas being true. A fundamental thought-error made by many is that, since God cannot be disproved, His existence is equally likely as his absence. This is rubbish. I also cannot prove that I will not spontaneously combust 10 seconds after leaving the keyboard--however, based on scientific and mathematical reasoning, it is extremely unlikely. It has often been said that one of the byproduct ideas of QM is that anything that can happen, well, can happen (monkeys, or preferably goats, pounding keyboards to produce the works of Shakespeare). That is not to say it will happen, only that it can be assigned a mathematical probability that is not equal to zero. NOMA is useless because the same is true of God...the probability of his existence does not equal zero, but it comes God damned close. DocSock 19:21, 24 May 2007 (CDT)

The way I see it, NOMA is the proverbial bone one has to throw once in a while, or some scientist invented the term to confuse the angry mob in front of him... MiddleMan 11:59, 3 June 2007 (CDT)

To me, the whole principle of NOMA is flawed by one simple thing - we cannot predict the future. Suppose in 50 years time, some scientist invented a machine that could definitively give an unequivocal answer to the question 'do souls exist?' Are we really saying that, simply because that has been decreed an area of 'religion', the scientist should not be allowed to flick the 'on' switch? I would say that's a ridiculous suggestion. Yes, whilst we genuinely don't know, everyone has the right to believe what they want (and, indeed, has the right to reject evidence in favor of 'faith' in the areas where we DO know the answer, as long as they accept that this cannot, in any way, be called 'science'), but suggesting that there are areas that science shouldn't even be allowed to investigate seems quite ludicrous to me. Zmidponk 15:23, 11 April 2008 (EDT)

I should also point out - yes, I am aware that, in the SJG NOMA concept, in effect, science is what determines the line of NOMA, but that only exposes another flaw - what's the point, then? If the 'religious' magesteria is more or less defined as 'anything that's not science, but only as long as it remains not science', there seems to be little point in adopting any kind of NOMA concept at all, as, in today's secular world, it basically fails to change anything whatsoever. Zmidponk 15:33, 11 April 2008 (EDT)

Sneaky on SJG's part[edit]

An interesting, to me, aspect of this "philosophical" idea is that although it pretends to give science and religion equal weights and, let's say, equal but different domains, it is science that determines where the line of non-overlap occurs. Religion is left, as mentioned above, to the gaps. At any given point in time, science may have no way of inteliigently and usefully exploring a given area of study; and thus, scientists will "allow" that that topic falls under religion's "magisteria". But as soon as a way to investigate it is developed, religion loses its prerogative.

So as much as it sounds like SJG is "giving" religion a valuable and meaningful place in understanding our universe, all his phrase really means is that clerics can feel free to play in the sandbox of whatever remains that science cannot work on yet. The net process over time is of religion to continually "lose territory". Religionists must therefore, in the end, feel like the indigenous population of what is now the United States - constantly being removed from their lands and confined to smaller and more remote territories. humanbe in 11:56, 3 June 2007 (CDT)


And isn't it wonderful? 11:58, 3 June 2007 (CDT)

Another Objection[edit]

Having read the previous posts, the main argument against NOMA seems to be that it is a God of the gaps type of agreement – it allows religion space to do things in areas where science has not yet entered.

While I fully accept the above objection, I also have an objection to the way NOMA is actually used by religious people. It seems to be used as a philosophical hiding place for those who are being pursued by logical agreements. Such people are quite happy to initially use logical arguments to back up their cases - until the going starts to get too hot or the questions start to hit too close to home. At that point they want to escape behind the philosophical “No Entry” sign of NOMA.

This, to me, looks like wanting to have your cake and eat it. Use logic to support your case if it persuades people but then run to NOMA when thing get difficult.

Surely those who support religion and NOMA should begin from the outset by saying there is no logical basis for their case and not try to pretend there is one? Doing otherwise is deceit.--Bobbing up and down 05:00, 4 September 2007 (CDT)


I agree that religion is illogical. It can, however, fill the "illogical" gaps in the human experience, for instance, questions of meaning. That does not make it inherently superior to other philosophies, however, it is very popular, and therefore relevant.

What NOMA allows is a space for a particular unscientific philosophical belief in a scientific world.--DoxXox-DawkT0wk 10:21, 4 September 2007 (CDT)


Well, if it went no further than that I wouldn't object to it. If I may re-word your statement to something like, "It gives people who simply have to believe in something - however strange - an excuse to do so." OK - let them, if they're acknowledging they're believing in something illogical.

But that wasn't my objection. At the risk of repeating myself myself, NOMA believers want it both ways. Logic until they get stuck - and then hide behind NOMA. And I don't think that's honest.--Bobbing up and down 10:30, 4 September 2007 (CDT)


It semms quite resnoble to me to disacosciate science and religion. while practical back-up may be given to religious ideas I fully accept that they are primerally basd on faith. I fully acknowlege that I wouldn't accept any "evidence" which suggested that God didn't exist on the basid that it must be wrong.Tolerance 14:17, 9 April 2008 (EDT)

For & Against[edit]

Basicly I agreewit NOMA - if Religious speakers don't talk ever, in any way whatsoever about the realm of science, then I for one will be glad to agree not to discuss the mumbo-jumbo of religion. The moment they bring a deity into the province of science however they cross the barrier. Otherwise let the children play in their corner. Susan Jayne Garlicktalk 10:41, 4 September 2007 (CDT)

I agree with Susan - NOMA is a very easy way for sane people with varying superstitious approaches to get along well in their discussions. It's the insane, who would like to claim that much of science falls on "their" side of the NOMA line, that present an irreconcilable barrier to communication and learning (see new section below...) humanUser talk:Human 17:13, 27 November 2007 (EST)

Where does NOMA draw the line?[edit]

One thing which I've never understood about NOMA is where its supporters wish to draw the NOMA protection line. Should any religious belief be considered sacrosanct? Or only religious beliefs held by people who support NOMA? For example, many people hold that a worldwide flood occurred a few thousand years ago - and they hold this belief for religious reasons. Would the concept of NOMA protect this idea from rational criticism, and if not, why not?--Bobbing up 16:42, 27 November 2007 (EST)

I would prefer drawing the line at things where evidence is considered meaningful. This means religion is radically overstepping its bounds.

One response, only half joking, might be that the line is drawn on the calendar: separating Sunday (or the Sabbath) from the other weekdays. More seriously, NOMA appeals to people because it aligns with instincts regarding polite conversation. Concepts like the glory of God, the mysteriousness of his ways, and so on, disrupt a discussion about evidence, empirical matters, type I errors and what have you. Conversely, dragging scientific terminology into a religious gathering would be considered bad form. This suggests that mutual respect rather than metaphysics is at the heart of NOMA's appeal. And this is where Bob_M's question becomes highly relevant. As soon as I drag something into my religious magisterium, I am shrouding it in the dignity of my personal belief system, and it would be disrespectful to question it.

Or, the other way around, and this really happened, a religious student did an MSc and something occurred in her experiment that was either contamination of spontaneous generation. She chose to believe the latter, seeing the hand of God in what had transpired. She did not get a good grade for her project write-up. She abandoned her studies. Did science encroach on her religion magisterium, or did she impose religiosity on a situation where "science rules"? If I take NOMA seriously for a moment, I find that the matter is undecidable. If people see spontaneous generation as integral to their belief system, they should not feel they have to abandon this as soon as they enter a building that happens to say "Biological Laboratory" on the front. Of course the "different buildings" version of NOMA is cut of the same cloth as the "polite conversation" variant.

NOMA is the sort of glossing-over-the-real-problem guff that wins Templeton prices, but the fact of the matter is that respect for what a given person chooses to believe cannot have a predefined boundary- otherwise it does not amount to true respect for personal revelation. Conversely, nothing could be considered a priori out of bounds for empirical exploration. Ironically, I think the religious magisterium can breathe rather easily there, as there are many issues scientific enquiry will not be able to touch for a long long time to come, whereas the other way around the religious _only_ have to claim territory to obtain it. From a logical point of view, the magisterial are in fact entirely overlapping. The notion that they have home realms that are naturally reserved for themselves is illusory.

The above response "I would prefer drawing the line at things where evidence is considered meaningful" is reasonable, although one can have a True Scotsman quibble over what "considered meaningful" entails. But then the religious side has a protection line that has to yield wherever empirical enquiry can gain ground. The latter is thus naturally seen as an invader. NOMA was intended as a way for everybody to get along, but on closer examination it is pitting religion against reason - precisely the kind of unpleasantness that it was set up to avoid. NOMA is thus seen to be vacuous, futile. The difficulty is the same as with "God of the Gaps" "When all else fails: have faith" - religion defines itself as the negative space of something else. That is probably not something it would want to aspire to; the point here is that NOMA is predicated on this principle, all the while pretending to achieve the opposite. "This means religion is radically overstepping its bounds" the respondent says. The NOMA protection line is drawn somewhere where religious people may not like to see it - far farther inland, as it were.— Unsigned, by:‎ / talk / contribs

It's a bit hard to pick out your thesis from this statement, so is it fair to summarize your opinion as "NOMA does sincere non-scientific beliefs a disservice by strictly categorizing them in a way that forces them to be ignored in certain contexts"? ikanreed 🐐Bleat at me 21:20, 25 February 2019 (UTC)

If not NOMA, then what?[edit]

From the debate that has taken place in recent days, I understand that many of our editors here do not consider NOMA as a valid framework for viewing the relationship between science and religion. Now, the way I see things, NOMA is essentially an attempt to compromise - an attempt to reconciliate the different worldviews that are involved here in a way that allows both to "save face", so to speak, and allow both sides to engage in a meaningful dialogue with each other instead of just talking past each ohter.

So the question inevitably arises: If NOMA is not the answer here, then what is? Is there any way that we can meet eye to eye that does not involve the theists unconditionally and completely renouncing our worldview and joining instead the big, happy family of strong atheism and scientific materialism? Or is the cultural chasm here really so wide that we cannot bridge it well enough for a dialogue to take place? And is that really in any way a desirable outcome? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 17:04, 11 April 2008 (EDT)

Well, to me, the dividing line between theology and science is that they work in utterly different ways, but one that basically puts them at almost direct loggerheads. Science primarily uses logic, evidence and observation, with only a tiny dash of imagination (to think up the hypotheses, that are then tested). Theology basically uses almost pure imagination, with only a little dash of evidence (such as taking certain ancient texts of questionable accuracy, but then upholding them as the undeniably accurate, incontrovertible Word of God). I basically regard religion as a comforting explanation of the gaps in our knowledge that did the job until science came up with one actually based on evidence.
As to whether there is a way for theists to co-exist comfortably with scientists, well, personally, I have no objection or argument with anyone believing anything they like, even if it flies in the face of all available evidence, as long as they have no objection or argument with me thinking they're nuts for doing so, don't try to enforce their beliefs on me and accept that the only kind of science this could be called is bad science. Zmidponk 16:47, 12 April 2008 (EDT)
"From the debate that has taken place in recent days": where? Why do I always miss the most interesting discussions? Contributor at CPthanks Ed 16:56, 12 April 2008 (EDT)
Around the place, mostly in the wake of User:Tolerance. Zmidponk, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like you're essentially saying: "Yes, the chasm is too wide, so let's just stay out of each other's way." If so, is that really a desirable state of affairs? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 06:53, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
That is, indeed, what I'm more or less saying. As for whether it's desirable, the way I see it, that question is irrelevant - it's what's necessary, whether it's desirable or not. Theology and science work in ways that are simply too different to have a harmonious relationship when addressing exactly the same questions, unless, by pure chance, they happen to agree on the answer. There are a few scientists who manage to find a compromise between their scientific work and their religion in areas where the two disagree, but it's just that - a compromise, in every sense of the word. Old Earth Creationism, for example, I regard as such a compromise between science and religion. It's not pure science, as it still asserts that the Earth was created by a super-powerful being, purely on the basis of believing this is so, but it's not pure religion either, as the very idea of an old Earth flies in the face of the tales told in the 'holy texts'. Zmidponk 16:02, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
It only flies in their face if those texts are read with a literal interpretation, which the majority of Christian denominations do not. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 16:17, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
I'm still not sure exactly what NOMA wants to achieve. It seems to me to be a bit of a nebulous cop-out. For example, does it suggest that any religious idea should be "protected"? Or does it suggest that this "protection" should only apply to ideas which cannot, by their nature, be investigated scientifically? If the second - what are these ideas? The existence of God? Should we be prevented by NOMA from using scientific questioning about his existence?--Bobbing up 14:24, 13 April 2008 (EDT)

(undent) As AKjeldsen writes above, NOMA is an an attempt ... to "save face", but not by the scientific side, for them it is surely a wish to avoid irrational discourse with those who have nothing to offer as evidence other than "Faith", without actually telling them that they are talking codswallop. Susan talk (if you must) 14:34, 13 April 2008 (EDT)

In that case I'm asking that that "face saving" be articulated more clearly. Some examples of what would be and what would not be covered. I get the feeling that different people have different concepts. Unless we have a common definition I'm not sure we can even talk about it properly.--Bobbing up 14:38, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
I think there are, in essence, two different kinds of NOMA - in the first, anything that religion has anything to say about is a 'protected' area, and science shouldn't interfere (which, as I said above, is a ludicrous suggestion, in my opinion). The second states that religion only has priority in areas where the scientific answer is, basically, 'we don't know', but that only remains the realm of religion as long as that remains the case (which, as I said, seems pretty pointless to me). Zmidponk 16:02, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
Susan, you might keep in mind that NOMA was originally proposed by a scientist for the explicit purpose of enabling a rational dialogue between science and theology. NOMA is precisely not a statement of "this is my room, that's your room, let's close the door and not talk to each other ever again", but rather "if we try to figure out what each of us are talking about and not talking about, maybe we can sit down and realize that we both have something interesting to say to each other." --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 16:22, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
Really? You're sure it wasn't just to keep the religious out of his hair? Susan talk (if you must) 16:33, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
I strongly doubt that. That's not what he's saying, at least, although he may of course have been lying to everyone for the last 20 years. --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 16:49, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
I must confess, the first I'd heard of NOMA was here, I truly think that it's a stupid idea. rather like agreeing to not see something directly in front of you - impossible unless you fail to see everything. User:SusanG 16:54, 13 April 2008 (EDT)

Isn't it about time someone pasted a clear quotation of what exactly NOMA is supposed to be at the top of this page? humanUser talk:Human 17:48, 13 April 2008 (EDT)

Thanks Human: "The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value."
  • Sorry, but the question of ultimate meaning is either absolute nonesense (if it means purpose) or science (if it means outcome).
  • Moral value boils down to: do unto others ... (partly altruistically out of niceness but at least partly selfishly so that others will reciprocate).
SusanG  ContribsTalk 18:25, 13 April 2008 (EDT)
OK, here are some concepts which some people hold to be Religious - the existence of God, the answering of prayer, a global flood, the existence of the soul. Here are some which could be considered scientific - the origin of the universe, human fertilization and embryonic development, genetic engineering. In practical terms, how would NOMA apply to these cases?--Bobbing up 01:50, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
  • The existence of God is religion - there is nothing that one can say is testable. There is no real testable evidence to say Zeus or Crow or Shiva or whoever.
  • Answering of prayer is a gray area depending on what you pray for and how objectively you want to test for it. To say "I pray that I go to heaven and my second cousin twice removed is spared some from the fires of purgatory", well that is religion. To say "I pray that I get that car" is a bit more objective. One can also consider the tests of prayers for curing someone's illness.
  • The Flood is testable. It would have effect on geological strata that can be predicted and tested for. There is a fair bit of evidence of a local flood post ice age as the Mediterranean flooded the Black Sea. Things you would expect to find if this is the case can be theorized and searched for. The shells of freshwater animals for example.
  • The soul is completely up to religion, unless religious types want to claim that it is testable.
  • The origin of the universe is a fuzzy one. Going back to the instant of the Big Bang, is testable. Going prior to that - difficult to test currently.
  • Fertilization and development is science. Drawing the question of "where does humanity begin" is one for lawyers and philosophers.
  • The what can be done with genetic engineering is science. The question of what should be done is ethics, and once again the domain of lawyers and philosophers.
--Shagie 03:28, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Bob, I think you've inadvertantly(?) hit on the major flaw of any kind of NOMA idea - 'here are some concepts which some people hold to be Religious', 'here are some which could be considered scientific'. Some people say that the first set of things are religious, but there is no real reason that they couldn't be investigated scientifically (if not now, then at some point in the future, after we develop the means to do so). Some say that the second set are scientific, but others claim that they are religious, due to the fact certain religions say something about them. So, really, you simply change the argument from, 'is science or religion correct?' to, 'does NOMA state this is a scientific or religious area?'
As I understand it, the SJG version of NOMA tries to divide the questions so that science asks things like 'what? where? when? how?', and religion addresses such things as morality, so the two could co-exist peacefully. However, this idea is unfortunately flawed, as most, if not all religions make actual claims about the physical nature of the universe, and claims of what physically happened in the past, so, if science disagrees with this, then the two come into conflict. Additionally, it seems to me that you simply cannot answer the questions, 'what? where? when? how?' without it having at least some impact on moral concerns. For example, many religious sects make it quite plain that man is better than woman, and has dominion over her, in effect. However, if you actually examine male and female physiology, biology and psychology, yes, you see general differences, but neither is inherently 'better'. Under this idea of NOMA, though, religion has complete control of morality, so sexism could very well be morally (and possibly legally) acceptable. Zmidponk 11:24, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Thank you for the question mark after "inadvertantly" - though I'm not sure if you were questioning your spelling or your use of the word.  :-) Anyway, in my opinion all of my points could be disputed by either religious people or scientists as being on "their" side of the line. I don't see any easy way to say "This is science." or "This is religion.". Suggesting that some subjects are arbitrarily the domain of the restricted world view of religion - and probably Abrahamic religions at that - does not strike me as fruitful.--Bobbing up 14:36, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
In that case, again, can anyone suggest an alternative framework? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 14:40, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Sure... but many of the more religious won't like it. Science explores anything it wants to or can attempt to. Religious thinkers are free to work with the above-mentioned lawyers, leaders, and philosophers to determine the ramifications of the use of any knowledge so discovered. Also, religious thinkers are free to think and write whatever they want about non-material topics (souls, gods, afterlives, angels, etc.), as long as they understand that many of us will consider their works to be fiction. Essentially, I would promulgate the magisterias of law, philosophy, and ethics, and leave the churches to come up with improved formulae for incense. humanUser talk:Human 15:11, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Basically I agree with NOMA - if Religious speakers don't talk ever, in any way whatsoever about the realm of science, then I for one will be glad to agree not to discuss the mumbo-jumbo of religion. The moment they bring a deity into the province of science however they cross the barrier. Otherwise let the children play in their corner.- Susan Jayne Garlicktalk 10:41, 4 September 2007 (CDT) again! SusanG  ContribsTalk 16:11, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
What about religious scientists, then? --AKjeldsenGodspeed! 16:53, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Depends what type you mean. There are some who, basically, manage to keep their science and religion as separate as possible, and manage to carry out good science as a result, leaving their religion to basically 'fill in the gaps'. Then there are such people as the 'creationist scientists' at the Institute for Creation Research. Zmidponk 18:23, 14 April 2008 (EDT)

(re)Defining the "problem"[edit]

I think we'd need, (if we're going to try coming up with a new framework), to define the "problem" a bit more so we can get a good look at what it is we're trying to delineate.

I'd suggest pulling back a bit to take a gander at what we can know based on unaided human senses. By "unaided" I'd limit this to devices that bring humans' senses up to par with the best natural "apparatus" found in the material world. I'm not sure that this would be possible as it means discarding that which we already know. We would not, for example, "know" that the microbial "world" existed. CЯacke® 15:17, 14 April 2008 (EDT)

In other words: When did science (since [though it was always with us] it came "later"), trample the toes of religion? CЯacke® 15:20, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Not always. The Greeks believed the earth to be spherical in 570 BC, knew it with reasonable certainty to be true in 350 BC, and measured it in 240 BC. The Indians had a documented belief in a spherical earth in 700 BC. Though, in about 300 AD, you started having the Christian church say "its flat." So to that extent I want to say "they stepped on our toes first." Within the ancient Greeks you did have a fair bit of rational thought. In many respects 'rational thought' and 'philosophy' blended from one to the other. Look at stoicism - knowledge through rational thought to understand the logos (reason) of the universe - there was a system of physics, cosmology, and ethics. I want to say that it was with the rise of Christianity and the fall of Rome in the western world that the learned people were clergy that the Bible was regarded as the source of knowledge. Islam held on to much of the math and astronomy. During this period of time, the study of the Bible made more and more claims about the universe, ignoring some of the old known truths. It wasn't really until the Renaissance when people were able to go beyond our senses and challenge known 'truths' and then reexamine more basic ones. However, with Leonardo you still do have a study of anatomy and biomechanics that did not take additional tools. Another one is Mendel's experiments could have been done at any time (though not the realm of scientific inquiry, selective breeding had been done for quite some time before). --Shagie 16:38, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
As an aside, astronomy and religion were often one and the same - consider the druids or the Mayans (they had a better calendar than we do based on the ratio of Venus' orbit to Earth's). You've also got the sequence of conjunctions 7 BC and 3 BC that were interesting. --Shagie 16:38, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
Why must the senses be "unaided"? Our extensions of our senses have been teh awesome! Microscope or radio telescope = cooler eyes, etc.? humanUser talk:Human 17:13, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
I was trying to get to a place where ALL people could agree on the data presented. I'm not even sure that is possible, but if we're going to come up with an alternative to NOMA, we have to define just where the initial demarcations lay. Otherwise we're just going to get caught up in what we already "know". CЯacke® 17:28, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
It seems to me that the problem is that, regardless of where the initial demarcations were, there are no real demarcations now - in essence, they seem to be two completely different ways of answering the self-same questions, so the only way to separate religion and science is to arbitrarily lay down lines and say, 'here, but no further'. The only problem is that this has, in a way, actually already been tried in the past, though by religious authorities attempting to enforce limits on scientific research, rather than by some sort of mutually agreed 'code of conduct' between scientists and religious authorities. In the end, I think that science and religion are simply going to have to agree to disagree. Zmidponk 18:23, 14 April 2008 (EDT)
I think the solution is quite simple. If something is held to be true because of faith then it's a religious idea. (although quarks might be a problem)Tolerance 13:13, 15 April 2008 (EDT)
But the whole idea of NOMA is an attempt to have science and religion co-exist without conflict. If someone holds the idea that the Earth is 6000 years old, for example, due to them having faith that this is so, does this mean that science is barred from even investigating the possibility that it's older than that, as this will cause conflict if science discovers evidence that it is? The fact of the matter is that science has already discovered a massive amount of evidence indicating that the Earth is a great deal older than 6000 years old, so should we disregard or even destroy all such evidence simply because some people have faith that it's not, and thus science and religion are in direct conflict? I would say that to suggest the answers to both of those questions should be 'yes' would be an utterly ludicrous idea. It would be, somewhat ironically, the exact thing that 'Darwinists' are being accused of in such things as Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed - people being effectively barred from pursuing certain areas of scientific research simply because it disagrees with what particular people say. Zmidponk 11:41, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
Tolerance, you haven't addressed my question above. One can find religion saying something about anything if one wants to. One could claim the germ theory is not the realm of science because some people believe its caused by demons. If the line is "anything religon says something about is the domain of religion" then there is no room at all for science. Anywhere. Angels move the planets, the Earth is at the center of the universe and flat (unless you are looking at the Upanishads which say its round), the stars you are born under control your lifef, etc... Nothing at all for science. Here's a challenge for you - you make a statement about something in your NOMA definition realm of science and I'll find some religion that says something about it (however tangentially). This would show that such a line is not useful. As to quarks are testable - there are theories on how they work, what you can make at certain energizes and the mass, charge and spin of that object. --Shagie 12:18, 16 April 2008 (EDT)

<-- I don't think either side should get to "exclude" the other. In a sense, I'm not sold on the idea that a strict boundary (as in "this is mine, do not cross!") is necessary. Science uses methodological naturalism to draw the most logical conclusion based on evidence, but it is NOT a "truth search". Religion's methodology is quite different, and it deals with Ultimate Truth (God, afterlife, eternity, etc.). The conclusions drawn may not agree (i.e. 6000-year-old universe vs billions of years-old universe) but I don't think it's absolutely necessary to "choose" one or the other because the approaches are so different that the conclusions can't be directly compared. I admit that what I'm advocating is kind of doublethink-esque, but it seems that a geologist could do good science and announce, "The evidence indicates that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old", then go to church and proclaim that "My interpretation of religious texts implies that the Earth is 6000 years old" and just leave it at that. Seems to me that one could do that without head implosion because neither conclusion is on the same playing field. Then science can say whatever it wants, and religion can say whatever it wants, and individuals can choose how much of each side to chalk up to whatever they consider to be The Ultimate Truth (what is "real", or what "really" happened). No "this is mine" discussion needed. I think a religious tendency to treat scripture as a science book, and a tendency among both the religious and non-religious to equate scientific conclusions with truth, lead to what may be a false dichotomy of "either science or religion".--Bayesyikes 13:31, 16 April 2008 (EDT)

You've gone back and forth there regarding whether science is seeking truth. And putting "ultimate" before the word doesn't make it more true. Science and religion are looking at two different aspects of human experience, and they both claim to have a monopoly on truth. Sort of like east is east, and west is west, and never the twain will meet. Agree to disagree, and all that. Rational Edevidence 13:47, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
I said individuals can decide what they consider truth to be. Science as a discipline is not about determining truth per se. It tries to draw the best evidentiary conclusions—which may or may not be "true".--Bayesyikes 19:11, 16 April 2008 (EDT)
I doubt doublethink is necessarily the most healthy way to deal with dueling points of view. That certainly wasn't Orwell's view when he coined the term. Personally, I couldn't hold two entirely contradictory points of view about the age of the earth to both be true in my own mind. Sounds a bit neurotic to me, if not downright insane. "Oh, let's see, I'm in church right now, so the age of the earth must be 6,000 years. Oh, wait, no, I'm talking to a geologist friend so maybe it's billions of years old. Aaaaaaghhh." Rational Edevidence 09:53, 17 April 2008 (EDT)
The other thing is that science tries to 'draw the best evidentiary conclusions', as you put it, as this is the most logical way to find out what is actually "true", even if it takes a while to do so. Religion also tries to find out what is "true" - but relies primarily on leaps of imagination and faith that what is written in 'holy texts' and said by 'holy figures' is correct and accurate, rather than using evidence and logic. Zmidponk 14:25, 17 April 2008 (EDT)

Can anyone explain why Fallibilism cannot be used to define NOMA clearly: anything that can't be falsified is not in science's remit. And isn't this already what science is? If religionists want to make claims about anything that's falsifiable then that's their lookout. Science can't make them accept evidence that's contrary to their claims, but why should they try? You can never convince an irrational mind using rational tools such as logic. And if religionists want to make claims about things that aren't falsifiable, then let them have their fun, for whatever good it will do them. It seems to me that NOMA, in this description, has been around for ages. What remains, then, is for scientists to educate the public to understand what science really is (i.e. Fallibilism, IMO), and what it is not, and it will then be clear what magisterium any question belongs in. Some counter-examples would be most welcome, as I'm still developing this idea!Beeline 06:53, 28 August 2008 (EDT)

As one (possibly minor) point, fallibilism (understood as the position that all knowledge could be wrong) in not necessarily incompatible with religion. Søren Kierkegaard, for instance, virtually built up his theology around the concept of 'doubt' - it is exactly because he can't be certain of the existence of God that the believer has faith in him. --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 07:16, 28 August 2008 (EDT)
That's very interesting - I've not got around to reading any Kierkegaard yet (my only acquaintance being the mention in Wayne's World, and in Cantonese!). I'd be interested to know how he could attain 'greater consistency with the real world' without being able to use the ratchet of testability, however. It strikes me that most religious principles cannot be tested, much less falsified, which would leave a morass of 'could-be' material for one's world model. This is what separates Fallibilism from basic Scepticism: you don't have to abandon everything with Fallibilism because it is enough to prove that some things are 'truer' (i.e. less false) than others, without having to declare, or pre-suppose the existence of, any definitive truths at all.


Having seen a polite exchange between CUR and our old friend user:Tolerance on the talk page of the letter I couldn't help but wonder - would Therianism be covered by NOMA, or could it be part of another larger Magisteria distinct from both science and religion? If so would it be protected from analysis (or attack) by methodological naturalism in the same way that NOMA supporters seem to feel that religion should be protected?--Bobbing up 04:11, 16 February 2009 (EST)

I'm not sure if Therianism is a Religion or not, as I know little about it. I see there seems to be some debate about the subject of the nature of religion at the Moment. I, for one, would maintain that Therianism should probably belong in another Magisteria also beyond the grasp of Science in the way that the Magisteria of Art or History are.
I would also Affirm that Atheism is probably a Religion, and that it too should be covered by the NOMA Principle and not Questioned closely and should be Respected.--Tolerance 18:31, 18 February 2009 (EST)
Atheism is not a religion, I think most of us can agree on that. Therianism is not a religion, as one must believe in supernatural dieties to be religious, and I am not. I am not quite sure what therianism falls under now. Eventually, after being studied, it will fall under science. But it has not been studied, so we cannot really pass judgement, can we? As I have said before, if I wasn't therian, and I met someone who was, my response would probably be the same as yours. But since I experiance it, I do not question it as much. --"CURtalk 18:34, 18 February 2009 (EST)
There is nothing Supernatural in Therianism? No need for Faith? I am Sure that Your Knowledge is greater than mine. If it doesn't need, or contain within itself, those things then, sadly, you probably can not call it a Religion. I feel that it may still be a Magisteria beyond the realm of Science though.--Tolerance 18:41, 18 February 2009 (EST)
I believe in two Magisteria- one of introspective philosophy (the wonderings and thoughts about our thoughts), and extrospective observation. Therianthropy currently falls into the former. As for your question, their is no 'faith' as such. There is an expression- ask 12 what therianthropy is, and you will get 13 answers. Or 14. There can be a supernatural element, depending on how you intepret it. I interpret it being due to some kind of atypical wiring of the brain that we currently know nothing about. My friends here dismiss it, which is understandable. But none of us will listen to the other until the issue is studied in more debth. --"CURtalk 18:45, 18 February 2009 (EST)
P.S. Please do Not capatalize Every other Word. --"CURtalk 18:48, 18 February 2009 (EST)
Ah yes, "being convinced of the truth, being certain of reality, having evidence of unseen things".--Tolerance 18:50, 18 February 2009 (EST)
Eh what? What does that mean? That does not compute! --"CURtalk 18:54, 18 February 2009 (EST)
It is one definition of Faith. See Heb 11:1 - "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." IT seemed somehow Appropriate.--Tolerance 19:01, 18 February 2009 (EST)
One word: Webster's. And before we knew how gravity worked, did it require 'faith' to believe in gravity? No. I look at this condition with a scientific eye. I cannot dismiss it because I have seen no good arguments as to why it is not possible. I have experianced it. Currently, the evidence I have seen tilts in my favor. --"CURtalk 19:04, 18 February 2009 (EST)
"the evidence I have seen tilts in my favor" = People refuted me but I didn't listen. FYI, your srs debate posture is hilarious. Are you wearing a backwards baseball cap? User:Mei 03:21, 19 February 2009 (EST)
One word: Webster's, gramps! Catch ya on the flipside! User:Mei 03:22, 19 February 2009 (EST)
I hate to say it, but Mei encapsulates my opinion on this one. CUR, shut up. ħumanUser talk:Human 03:26, 19 February 2009 (EST)

Unindent. And we're back on evidence again. Any real evidence that Therian views are correct? It seems not. So we're running on faith. There also seems to be belief (by some) in supernatural elements. So it's looking something a little bit like a religion to me. Which takes me back to my original question for the pro-NOMA band. If Therianism could be construed as a religion, would that mean that the scientific method was an inappropriate way to examine it?--Bobbing up 10:14, 19 February 2009 (EST)

When Presented in such a Manner, I, for one, am Convinced.--Tolerance 17:01, 19 February 2009 (EST)

Actually, there is a much easier explanation: Therianism is fake.--Concerned Anonymous

NOMA enables us to get on to better things[edit]

Because, let's face it: science has better things to do than endlessly debate about the existance of god. NOMA should be used as a conflict stopper so that both sides can remain civil. --"C, U Rthe inexperienced, proving aerodynamic. 20:19, 2 March 2009 (EST)

Next time - sharp things hurt. Don't touch them. User:Mei 20:21, 2 March 2009 (EST)
I Concur with Cur. If Science starts to get onto Religion's turf then NOMA erects the Big Keep Out sign.--Tolerance 12:31, 4 March 2009 (EST)
I couldn't agree less. Science, or at least people trying to follow the scientific methods, have much to learn about the nature of religion, the nature of our brains that create those religions; we have things to learn about the writing of the Bible (was it really 1 editor, or were there three? How much of the text is attributed to new ideas, and how much is rehash of old ideas? What do particular words really mean in context, and what about all these wonderful books we find 2000 years later that a church "forgot"). That's all fun stuff, but by the "NOMA" as I see it used here, science should not care. There is nothing that a scientist or scientific minded person should not explore with the tools he has at hand.--Sun mowse.pngEn attendant Godot"To-morrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of to-day?" 12:36, 4 March 2009 (EST)
I agree with you to an Extent where you say that "science should not care". But I would phrase it as, "Science should not Interfere."--Tolerance 13:03, 4 March 2009 (EST)
I was thinking more, 'Science has better things to do like saving lives than endlessly debating with a theist.' Okay? --Input The ResistorOutput 16:18, 4 March 2009 (EST)
"If science gets onto religion's turf then NOMA erects the big keep out sign." So science isn't allowed to say anything about things that the religious have claimed? Cubic word Phantom Hoover! 16:20, 4 March 2009 (EST)
Tolerance knows nothing about NOMA or tolerance. Enough said. Goodbye, I'm off to add a joke to the felidae essay! Felis willheeatus --Input The ResistorOutput 16:22, 4 March 2009 (EST)
I have explained this a Greater Length here Essay:My beliefs.--Tolerance 16:25, 4 March 2009 (EST)
NOMA says, 'Leave something alone if it cannot be tested by science.' That does NOT include the global flood. --Input The ResistorOutput 16:29, 4 March 2009 (EST)
Tolerance, I think you might have missed some sarcasm in Godot's comment, if I read it correctly. ħumanUser talk:Human 16:32, 4 March 2009 (EST)
I have found it best to never assume that Posters are being Sarcastic. It' is easy to unjustly accuse People if you assume that are being Sarcastic.--Tolerance 16:38, 4 March 2009 (EST)

The pretence of civility lies at the heart of NOMA. In that sense, too, it is a very SJ Gould kind of thing. — Unsigned, by:‎ / talk / contribs