Most likely most of you will recall the late Stephen J. Gould’s principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria or NOMA. In sum, Gould espouses the notion that Science and Religion each have their own realms and hence their own respective magisterium and those boundaries need to be respected. NOMA could be stated more tersely as “science is science and religion and religion – one has nothing to do with the other” or something to that effect. In any case, the main idea of NOMA is for Religion and Science to tell each other “get outta my house!”
As a principle, NOMA has its problems, not the least of which is the question of which magisterium dictates the principle itself? If its either Science or Religion, then it is clearly self-refuting. If its something else, Gould doesn’t tell us what that is or why this third magisterium gets to dictate to Science and Religion where the boundaries are and put up the “Stay Out” signs.
In response, a friend of mine has proposed a different principle: COMA which stands for Completely Overlapping Magisteria. (Its tempting to say something like ‘put NOMA in a COMA’…but I’ll refrain. My friend puts it this way:
Picture a target consisting of a bullseye surrounded by 4 concentric rings. You are the bullseye.
The first ring is Biology
The second is Chemistry
The third is Physics
The 4th is either God or absolutely nothing (and it isn’t absolutely nothing)
Think about it. Gould couldn’t possibly have believed that the 4th ring didn’t exist. To Gould and most Darwinists, the 4th ring is Philosophical Naturalism, the prime mover of Darwinism itself.
In COMA we more plainly see the interdepence that the different disciplines have on one another surrounded by an all-encompassing ring which is either nothing – the ultimate conclusion of true Philosophical Naturalism, or something beyond Nature itself. This is in stark contrast to Gould who writes that
The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional
expertise–science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives.
But later, Gould (seeming somewhat confused on his own point) writes:
This resolution might remain all neat and clean if the nonoverlapping
magisteria (NOMA) of science and religion were separated by an extensive no man’s land. But, in fact, the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border. Many of our deepest questions call upon aspects of both for different parts of a full answer–and the sorting of legitimate domains can become quite complex and difficult. To cite just two broad questions involving both evolutionary facts and moral arguments: Since evolution made us the only
earthly creatures with advanced consciousness, what responsibilities are so entailed for our relations with other species? What do our genealogical ties with other organisms imply about the meaning of human life?
Gould was smart enough to know that he couldn’t describe a vast no man’s land between Science and Religion, so resorts to trying describe tensions along the borders…with apparently some forays (“interdigitating) from one into the other. Perhaps if he’d thought about it a little longer, he might have realized those interdigitations represent real overlap. NOMA, it seems, can not work. COMA, on the other hand, seems to move more in the right direction by recognizing the true dependecies the various disciplines have on one another and the complete overlap from one into another.