The face of NOMA

“Science and religion, if properly understood, cannot contradict each other . . . ”

“If properly understood, there cannot be a contradiction.”

We all know what “proper” science is, but what on earth is “proper” religion?

56 Comments

  1. Jonn Mero
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Please, bring out the barf bags!
    Also, Mr Sleaze left a slimy stain on the monitor, like a garden slug would.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    If must take a lot for Ayala to be two-faced like that and lie through his teeth without laughing.

    Religion does not help with any of the areas he attributes to it. Tell me again how science can not contribute to economics? WTF???

    • MadScientist
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Religion contributes to economics? I guess that means Bernie Madoff is just using old tricks that religions have been using for years …

  3. Posted May 30, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    It just occurred to me that claiming that religion and science are compatible because there are good “scientists of faith” is like saying that freezing cold and heat are compatible because there are both a freezer and a furnace in my house. Yes, it’s true, but meaningless

    • Scote
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Yes, exactly. And I have vinegar and baking soda in my cupboard, so they are “compatible,” just like religion and science!!

      • MadScientist
        Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        That’s a great case of NOMA. Kids just love to mix the two as well because it makes a great mess.

  4. Uncle Bob
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    well, seems simple enough. According to this guy, “proper religion” is religion that always reconstructs it’s positions to scientific facts.

    IE, science dictates what “proper religion” gets to claim. Or put more simply, “proper religion” is a game of whackamole, ala god-of-the-gaps. Furtively hiding in the crevices yet explained by science, tentatively making claims until science destroys the current gap religion is claiming.

    I picture science as a T-Rex chasing down a small defenseless creature that can only hide in crevices to prevent from being eaten, and the T-Rex, in its frustration of failing to eat this small little morsel, start tearing apart the rock formation the creature it hiding in. Each little crevice the T-Rex exposes, the little creature wiggles off to a different, less protected, crevice.

    Science is definitely the cat in this cat-and-mouse.

    • Tulse
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      If religion is going to cede observable reality to science, I’m happy with that, although any moderately intelligent religious thinker should realize what a losing hand that is.

      • Uncle Bob
        Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        but that’s what I find so charming about this NOMA argument, they are conceding science’s superiority in the overall argument, they just don’t say it in a blunt fashion.

        It is frustratingly a moving goal post, no doubt, but any mild observer can watch the goal post move, and it most definitely isn’t the science community moving the goal post.

        • Posted May 31, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

          I don’t find it frustrating. I just point out the moving goal post. I talk about how God was part of a pantheon and had a wife and kids.

          I talk about he lived on top of a mountain and how you could go and see him, but you didn’t because he’d blow you up with thunder and lighting.

          Then he moved to the clouds. Then to some place called ‘heaven’ which used to be in outer-space or something, but now isn’t…

          Sometimes I talk about God’s evolving morality. One that is suspiciously more civilized as the socities of Jews and Christians became more civilized. How it’s walked hand-in-hand over the ages…

    • MadScientist
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately the T-Rex dies of starvation before it can catch the worm.

  5. Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I would love for Mr. Ayala to give me just one example of religion discovering something before science. I could be wrong but I can’t think of one single instance. Religion has almost always been wrong, leaving people to have to change their beliefs post hoc.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Religion discovered the psychology of scamming folk long before science.

      • steve oberski
        Posted May 31, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        “The first priest was the first rogue who met the first fool.”

        [Voltaire]

  6. Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    No mo NOMA. The dichotomania is splitting my brain hemispheres.

  7. Gunga Lagunga
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Two different ways of looking at the world.”

    Yes indeed, Francis:

    (1) As scientists, with objectivity, clarity, honesty, and evidence-based reasoning. As the absolute best humans we can be.

    (2) As babbling, blithering gasbags, filled with fear, loathing, and religious superstition. As vendors of centuries-old bigoted tripe and pungent bullshit. As disgusting, two-faced prattling pederast pimps, whose arrogance in touting their preposterous, goat-herder philosophy is only exceeded by their lust for easy money and power, sucked from the ignorant, the downcast, and those least able to afford it. People literally willing to watch the entire world burn, and innocent people die by the millions, just for that “warm glowing” feeling in their stupid, selfish, deluded brains.

    I metaphorically spit in your general direction, you worthless Templeton whore.

    (Phew! I feel much better now. Time to enjoy the holiday!)

    • Posted May 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      “(2) As babbling, blithering gasbags…” The trouble is that many religious people are not like that, but actually very good people. Because their religious feelings are so involved with what makes them good, they (and onlookers) are under the misapprehension that they are cause and effect. In fact, they would be good people even without religion. I used to know a really nice nun (dead now) who worked with AIDS sufferers in a completely non-judgemental way. She would say “Well, I have my differences with the Pope” about things like condoms. And I think her God was pretty deistic (though she probably prayed to Her). Since being a nun was her life, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for her to even think about becoming an atheist, let alone doing it.

      • Janet Holmes
        Posted May 30, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        If she had become an atheist I bet she wouldn’t have been the first atheist nun. I bet plenty of women who just wanted a way out of the usual run of house, husband and babies went off to the nunnery without being too concerned about god and one day realised he didn’t exist but kept their mouths shut.

      • Gunga Lagunga
        Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s why I was talking about Francis Ayala.

    • Jackie
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      Please! No need to insult goat herders.

  8. Yakaru
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Ok, so religion and science should be kept separate. Fine….

    …Um, remind me again what the Templeton Prize is given for…

    • Microraptor
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Selling out to The Man.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Lying whilst keeping a straight face.

  9. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    As it says on the nomination form,

    Nominators should consider that the Templeton Prize is not awarded for good works per se, but for a substantial record of achievement that highlights or exemplifies one of the various ways in which human beings express their yearning for spiritual progress.

    and

    A narrative explaining why the candidate is worthy of consideration for the Templeton Prize. This narrative can be of any length as long as it demonstrates the candidate’s significant contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. For more on the purpose of the Templeton Prize, please click here.

    Now that I read this, I’m not at all sure whether insisting on the nonoverlap between science and religion really “affirms life’s spiritual dimension.”

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Then why won’t they give it to Dawkins? In addition to his trailblazing science, he has done a lot to further spirituality, through publication of books such as “unweaving the rainbow” and “devil’s chaplain”.
      What? That’s not what they mean by spiritual progress?

      • Neil
        Posted May 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        If they give the prize to Dawkins, what is everyone going to rant about?

  10. Sili
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, that one was trotted out against me in the comments on In the Pipeline, too (in the comments – Lowe is cool). “Truth cannot speak against Truth.”

  11. Posted May 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    So, science cannot say anything about the existence or non-existence of a transcendental being. But religion can, and do assert with certainty that a transcendental being exists. How so?

    • MadScientist
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Not only that, but there is only One True god and all the others are just myths.

  12. Sigmund
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    You can tell he used to be a priest – such a well practiced use of mental reservation.
    So according to his definition, if scientists cannot know for sure if some thing doesn’t exist then they are unable to say anything about it?
    That’s going to be somewhat problematic when we come to things like homeopathy, astrology and psychic healing. We are unable to say anything about these things because we cannot prove with 100% certainty that they are untrue?
    I suspect that his words are not for people like us. Science is not based on definitive statements but on producing theories basid on probabilities. We don’t “know” if evolution is the absolute answer to life on earth but the evidence lets us surmise that the probability of it being correct is nearly 100%. Unfortunately for Professor Ayala’s new bosses the evidence suggests that the probability of their God’s existence is up there with the likes of Leprechauns and magic pixies.
    By the way, as to Jerry’s question of what is the proper religion – Ayala specifically mentions the bible as a book of religious truths and “our relationship with God”. Presumably, since both the new and old testaments admonish those who believe in other religions, this gives us a clue as to which is the proper religion?

    • MadScientist
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      It’s an old excuse for religion (“science can’t prove a negative”) and is superficial and just plain stupid. The claim is basically that we can’t prove a negative and therefore the biblical god who interfered with humans’ lives and worked what we consider supernatural acts must exist. They make this ridiculous claim that science can’t prove god exists and conveniently ignore all the evidence that the bible is nothing but a collection of myths. The excuse is also pure hypocrisy – just ask them if they believe Zeus, Ianos, or any other god exists and they will tell you with absolute certainty that those other gods don’t exist – I guess because their god tells them so or they imagine that their god told them so, or someone told them that their god told them so and they were dumb enough to believe it.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted May 30, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        Plus the bogus objection: “science cannot prove a negative” is just plain wrong where the proposition is restricted to a limited scope.

        Example: I can use science to *prove* that you do not have a full grown bull elephant in trouser pocket.
        Similarly with many definitions of gods.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink

          The real irony is that falsifiability theory predicts that science is making progress precisely because it _does_ “prove” negatives; which that doesn’t work.

          Added irony, there are in fact general “no go” theorems, which often are the closest things to “proof” there is. For example statistics of fermions saying that you can put one fermion for each energy level _and no more_ (modulo uncertainty, blah, blah), or the “no cloning” theorem of QM. Both derivable from the basic properties of the theory, in a loose axiomatic formulation if you will. (There really isn’t any axiomatic theory of the whole area of QM yet, but that technicality isn’t a problem here.)

          Me thinks NOMA-ists do have some bull in there.

  13. MadScientist
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    A “proper religion”? Just ask Fred Phelps – he’ll be happy to tell you. I’m sure Osama Bin Laden would also be happy to tell you. Other people who would be happy to tell you what a proper religion is: David Miscavige, Pat Robertson, the pope, the dalai lama, Karen Armstrong … the list is inexhaustible. Of course absolutely none of them agree, but that’s just the great and wonderful mystery that is god – it’s not like that boring science stuff.

  14. Posted May 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    So science cannot prove the non-existence of God? 1) That’s because of the problem of definition. You can disprove an elephant in the room by looking all round the room, even under the carpet, but by definition God is nowhere you can look, nothing you can look for. 2) Actually RD does well enough in The God Delusion that it would satisfy most people if they were rational.

    But is he implying that religion CAN? By what? Revelation. Inspired scripture. Strong personal feeling. (You know, “My relationship with Him convinces me.”)

    If that’s the best they can do, long may they not overlap!

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the evil Church in Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is called “The Magisterium”.

  15. poke
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I think the usual atheist response to NOMA is too simplistic. Taking religious language to consist of empirical claims is likely a conceptual error. So I think there’s more to the idea that science and religion are “different ways of knowing” (given an appropriately deflationary construal of “knowing”) than most atheists think. But clearly religion and science do conflict and I think it’s easy to characterise the way they conflict even with a less naive theory of language – i.e., they cover similar use scenarios.

    That is, there’s (at least) two ways of viewing the world and (maybe) they’re independent, but we’re inclined to use them in similar situations. When you’re looking at a mountain you can talk about God’s Creation or you can talk about geological processes. A few centuries ago you could only talk about God’s Creation. That’s where the conflict comes from. Not because one is empirically true and the other false; applying empirical truth criteria to God-talk is, I think, a conceptual error. But just because the area of things-we-can-say-about-mountains got more crowded.

    An opposite example. We can talk about a person being good and bad or we can talk about them being a physical body composed of cells and molecules. In this case it seems obvious both that the talk of them being good and bad shouldn’t be construed in terms of empirical truth criteria (even though we might say “it is true that he is good” – this is just a different way of using the ever-versatile truth-term) and that there’s no similar overcrowding here. I can’t use scientific facts to address moral issues but I can (and do) use them to describe the grandeur of a mountain or the wonderment of nature and so forth (i.e., step on religion’s toes).

    I’ve been thinking lately how to characterise what I feel when I hear religious language and I think that can be done within this framework too. It’s just plain vulgar to continue talking about God’s Creation in the face of modern science. Perhaps the right criteria for truth when rejecting religion is aesthetic truth. That certainly feels right: Doesn’t the Creation Museum seem more ugly and insulting than simply the product of an empirical mistake? I think I can agree here with the critics of “New Atheism” that it’s vulgar to see religion as failed science. But for me it’s vulgar because even failed science has more going for it than religion.

    So what I’m trying to say in this over-long comment is that I think, if we are so inclined, we can let the accommodationists have this one. We can agree that there are many different “ways of knowing” – religious, scientific, moral, astrological, Aristotelian – but maintain that some are less useful than others and some are uglier than others and some have been superseded by others. This is true even when everything is “properly understood.”

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted May 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      No, there are not different ‘ways’ of knowing. Religion knows nothing. It is composed of fantasies and apologetics and excuses. It has had to retreat again and again as real knowledge has been required and now hides in the gaps of the not-yet-known.

      Religion is a house of cards sitting on top of a spider web which is only attached to the morning dew.

      I cant believe you said astrological is a way of knowing. It is nothing but lies and fabrications.

      • Janet Holmes
        Posted May 30, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        What he said.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 31, 2010 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      I think the usual atheist response to NOMA is too simplistic. […] they cover similar use scenarios.

      Restating NOMA with “use scenarios” instead of “magisteria” isn’t an actual response, you know.

      The problem is that science and religion make conflicting precise empirical claims, and that has been well known for centuries. (For example, evolution vs creationism.) Rewriting religion into pantheism is neither original nor a solution for the actual remaining religion as practiced.

      And, “astrological”? NOMA has rotted more than one brain.

    • llewelly
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      You’ve made a serious mistake. You’ve assumed religion is a way of viewing the world. It’s not. It’s a way of viewing a fantasy land.

  16. ElitistB
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    “There is no contradiction between faith and science… true science!”
    -Dr. Zaius

  17. Posted May 30, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Good grief, Ayala again. Somehow I find his slow-blinking condescension even more nauseating than the bright-eyed mania of, say, Eric Hovind.

    Science has nothing to say about morality and economics? I suppose he must also include phenomena that build off those two, like politics and law. Well no wonder religions have often advocated genocide, atrocity and torture; reason had “nothing to say” about their behavior!!

    • Posted May 31, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      Science isn’t the only game in town wrt reason, you know. Philosophy, for example, came first and is probably more dedicated to reason than anything else, including science. And, gee, it certainly looks like morality fits neatly into philosophy, at least. Who’da thunk it?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Philosophy arbitrate nothing except internal consistency. Slavery is consistent; is that enough?

        But there is a larger error here, because you are confusing morality, what people do or wish to do, with ethics which is philosophical systems trying to fit in the costume of morality.

        Guess what, they don’t. No wonder, as moral responses are in many way evolved. There are papers that shows that irreligious and religious alike make the same neutral moral decisions.

        Morality is an area of biology among other sciences. The idea that philosophy in any way illuminate the area can be summarily rejected, see above.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          Oops, there is an area where these systems help; legal systems benefit from ethics. But they are normative, not informative.

        • Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          I’d like to see your source that supports defining morality as “what people do or wish to do” as opposed to how it is normally described, which is “what people OUGHT to do”.

          I don’t see any interesting distinction between morality and ethics.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted June 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

            Moral judgments can be studies, it’s an observable fact that we form them.

            Naturally ethics as discussed by philosophy isn’t observable.

      • Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink

        Oh I agree- I’m talking of “science” in the broader sense outside of narrow experimentalism. It’s force of habit- I find many of the people I work with in the social sciences/history use evidence-based reasoning all the time yet don’t realize that this should make them allies of the natural sciences, and instead leads them to accept crap like pomo “science studies”…

        When Ayala states that science has nothing to to say about these topics, he’s not denigrating only laboratory science. In stating that religion is the proper authority in these areas he’s advocating arbitrary textual analysis (or worse the individual delusions of believers) in place of reasoned argument in any form.

  18. justsearching
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I don’t really have much problem with what Ayala said. It would be tolerable if all religious people were consistently willing to respect scientific consensus, and solely used their religion as a means to find meaning, values, etc (which they wouldn’t impose on others). However, everyone knows that many people exclusively defend their religion’s monopoly on all sorts of truth.

  19. Kevin
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    (Reposted from Pharyngula):

    Dear Dr. Ayala:

    After reading your op-ed, I’ve decided to become an accommodationist. I agree with you completely; science and religion should study two completely separate things.

    So, would you be so kind as to tell all religions everywhere to:
    1. Stop insisting that they have any knowledge of how the universe began. This is a question for astronomy, cosmology and physics, not for religion.
    2. Stop insisting that they have any knowledge of how life on this planet emerged. Clearly, this is a question of chemistry, biochemistry, geology, and physics, not a religious one.
    3. Stop insisting that they have any knowledge whatsoever regarding the progress of evolution and whether or not homo sapiens sapiens was, in fact, a pre-ordained “goal” of the 3.6 billion year long evolutionary process. This belongs to the province of evolutionary biology.
    4. Stop claiming that humans have a post-corporeal energy signature of some sort or another that survives death and carries with it memories of life, and whose ultimate place in the cosmos is dependent on how the meat sack “soul carrier” behaved while alive. Clearly, this is a scientific pursuit for the physicists and anatomists to tease out.
    5. Stop claiming knowledge of how human morality and ethics came into being. Clearly, this is another issue for evolutionary biologists.
    6. Stop claiming miracles. Clearly, it is science’s province to determine whether or not the laws of nature have been violated.

    There are more places where religion obviously intrudes on “science space”, but I think these will be a good start. Please accommodate science by having religion (all religions everywhere) stop insisting they have any standing to answer any of these questions.

    Kindest regards.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      What questions, then, can we leave to religion?

      1. Headwear. What types and when. Is it yarmulkes for men, or turbans, or none at all? In church only, or all the time? For women, it’s very confusing right now. Some religions seem to require women go bare-headed in church, while others would swath them from head to toe everywhere they go.

      2. The value of a (female) virgin. According to one religion, someone defiling a virgin owes her father 30 pieces of silver. Is this still the proper amount? In the Koran, however, rape of a free woman (virgin or not) is punishable by a fine equal to the dowry. Which is it? We assume, of course, that male virginity is worthless as ever.

      3. The punishment for killing a slave. In the Koran, it is quite clear that if one kills someone else’s slave, then his own slave must be killed. But if one has run out of slaves, then we have a problem of equivalent reciprocity. Please advise.

      4. What day is the “sabbath”? The three Abrahamaic religions disagree without overlap; and as much as we like three-day weekends, it would be nice to know which of the three puts us as risk for being stoned to death if we mow the grass. Or, perhaps, like the Hindi, there is no such day?

      Yes. We’ll happily leave these questions for religion, if you leave the others to science.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Eeek!!! I could I have forgotten one of the most important questions that religion can answer.

        5. Bacon cheeseburgers. For the Jews, no bacon, no cheese. Muslims, no bacon, cheese OK. Hindu, no burger, no bacon. But to Christians (except for the 7th Day Adventists, who are just WEIRD), a bacon cheeseburger is one of god’s little gifts to the world. Please settle this dispute.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Okay, Kevin, you win the prize for best comment of the month (of course, it’s day 1 of June). Funny and true!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          Total WIN! I’ll 2nd that.

          [Not to disparage a WIN, that isn’t possible, but I note that some of these questions are best not left to either science or religion but a legal system. Unless you wish a theocracy, which isn’t possible, since it is a FAIL.

          … two impossibles down before breakfast. Not a WIN perhaps, but a good start of the day.]

  20. Miranda
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    “We all know what “proper” science is…”

    Is that a fact?

  21. Delirious
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “But what is a ‘proper’ religion?”
    One that can really open itself to interpretation, I guess.


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