Implications of NOMA

By: Jim Virkler; ©2008

Several years ago I initiated written communication with two well-known evolutionary scientists. Much of the discussion centered on the interaction of science and religion. I cannot report that minds were changed. It was, however, a useful and respectful exchange. At the end, we all gave each other permission to share the conversation with friends and colleagues, a most encouraging development.

We have previously spoken about Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA principle—that science and religion are separate domains and should not overlap. Evolutionary scientists guard their domain with intense jealousy lest their paradigm be eroded by the intrusion of religion. Theistic explanations undermine their belief that naturalism explains everything. Though evolutionists might acknowledge that some scientists have deep religious beliefs, a science scholar’s paper presenting evidence for theism would certainly be refused by an academic journal. This is partly because evolutionary biology academia is heavily atheistic and agnostic. Even scientists with deep religious beliefs practice their science with an overlay of methodological naturalism (9-29-07 post).

Let’s paraphrase a few points of objection made by my friends: (1) We just explain our ignorance when we inject religion; (2) Religion should not be part of scientific inquiry; (3) We should respect scientists’ right to pursue secular aspects of research; (4) Science is not charged with application of a religious doctrine; (5) Religionists may attempt to explain anything with the supernatural; (6) Intelligent design represents a dead end in a science class; (7) We don’t want to come to the science room for religious enlightenment; (8) Neither religion nor science needs validation from the other; (9) Mixing the domains insults both and works to the detriment of both; and (10) Science is not science anymore when it goes beyond the “natural.”

Thorough analysis of each of these objections demands far more time and space than we have. Some objections possess elements of truth. I submit, however, that most border on emotional, psychological appeals having little relevance to the issue of truth discovery. When “inference to the best explanation” points toward an interpretation which may run counter to modern science ideology, the science community should acknowledge that “thinking outside the box” may offer a more fruitful account of reality. In the historical sciences, few, if any, complex issues are proven beyond any doubt. Sometimes painstaking attempts at naturalistic explanations lead to a dead end. When such dead ends occur, science professionals in the future may be willing to investigate all options to explain reality. On rare occasions this may include theistic supernatural options.

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