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The Invalidity Of NOMA
Unknown Author
This article was written some considerable time ago and it may well have been me who wrote it (some of it does sound like it's my style) however I cannot be certain therefore I am attributing it as "unknown". James C. Rocks

Introduction
"Science and religion are each magisteria. Each holds away over its own domain, science over the empirical realm of fact and theory and religion over the domain of ultimate meaning and moral value. The two domains do not overlap, but their boundaries are not permanently fixed either."

Stephen J. Gould, 1999

The Invalidity Of NOMA In 1999, the late Stephen J. Gould, scientist, philosopher and historian offered us what he considered to be a simple and entirely conventional resolution to the perceived conflict between science and religion where he divided the authority over knowledge into two distinct realms or magisteria. The two realms (those of science and religion) did not, according to Gould, conflict and he called this idea non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). NOMA effectively dictates that science holds sway over the material, empirical world whilst religion holds sway over the immaterial and Gould saw the domains of science and religion as incompatible, not crossing or touching each other but co-existing peacefully along a complex interdigitating border and his apparent purpose was to promote this as a means of promoting harmony between the two camps.

"The net, or magisterium, of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made off (fact) and why does it work 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). To cite old clichés, science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven."

Stephen J. Gould, 1999

Discussion
In many ways this is an idyllic compromise but there are problems; the constant advance of science across the material world means that gods are finding it increasingly difficult to find tenure within it, an idea long referred to as "God of the Gaps" (no gods have been found in the "explained" universe and so must exist in the unexplained universe but as our knowledge grows those gaps shrink so the available spaces for such gods shrink).

To maintain the integrity of their beliefs the only recourse left to theists was to use philosophy and metaphysics to define their god as beyond science and it is unfortunate that Gould, in an apparent attempt to stop what he saw as a pointless war between theists and atheists, came up with the idea of NOMA and it is within this concept that theist now hide their god.

This view has several problems and with hindsight can be considered to be naïve as the central premise of NOMA is that science and religion do not conflict, in essence that science covers the empirical rail and religion are questions of ultimate meaning and moral value; if the two areas are so distinct why worry about the conflict? Unfortunately religion and science are not as distinct as some might claim:

  • The persecution, including scores of burnings and debatably witch-hunt's, of heretics when science was seen to tread in areas dogmatically claimed by religions.
  • That religious views have had to repeatedly (and reluctantly) change, retreat over time with the advent of new knowledge.
  • If the domain of religion covers ultimate meaning and morality and religions cannot agree with each other which religion holds the key to ultimate meaning and which to morality?
  • Religion cannot definitively lay claim ultimate meaning and morality in a world where a significant and increasing number of people do not believe in a God at all.

NOMA is inherently flawed because it puts theistic claims into the realm of the untouchable and makes theistic claims invulnerable to the accepted means of establishing factual claims from fictional ones, scientific investigation. More seriously, placing theistic claims beyond the reach of scientific investigation prevents it from offering its own means of checking the validity of the claims made and this especially evident within the realm of philosophies' bastard child, metaphysics which can be (and has been) used to logically argue almost anything. NOMA, much as it appeared to do to Gould himself, even seduces rational scientific investigators since it allows them to philosophically discard theistic claims and get on with the serious business of scientific investigation or teaching. The key problem with NOMA is that it is above all just a claim (it does not evidentially support, predict or benefit anyone or anything), it is based on logic that are just claims (they do not evidentially support, predict or benefit anyone or anything) it exists utterly separate, completely apart, cannot be distinguished in any truly verifiable sense from nothing and as such can have no absolutely no real effect upon our universe.
"Regardless of what the goal of the inquiry is, science fosters doubt and investigation based on empirical evidence; religion, on the other hand, is based on dogma and revelation. It is hard to see how those attitudes can logically coexist in the same brain."

Feynman 1998

In my opinion NOMA can never work because:

  • Science hasn't been demonstrated to have any specific limits except technological and claims to things that cannot be demonstrated.
  • We are more technologically sophisticated than any of our known ancestors and continue to make ingress on areas previously considered to be the domain of religion.
  • If the divide were as fixed as some like to claim it is, science would not continually advance on matters previously held to be the domain of religion and religion would stay utterly clear of any area claimed by science and neither of these things are true.
  • Something that is claimed but reveals no validatable phenomenon beyond the claim is impossible to distinguish from a lie or delusion.
  • Whenever science turns its "eye" towards religious claims they are invariably found to be baseless or fraudulent.

Of course, theists will never abandon it because it is all they have left, it is the only place they can logically retreat to but it remains disingenuous of them to do so when NOMA is self-evidently a bankrupt concept or, if it isn't, cannot be verifiably distinguished from one.

Conclusion
Religion and science occupy the same space, both try to explain the universe we see around us (science makes existence claims and so do religions) ... this is clearly evidenced by the fact that every major religious scripture devotes a significant amount of space to both the claim that their god created the world and to the way in which it carried it out. Further space is always devoted to the relationship between that god and its chosen people and usually seems to concentrate on how that god sadly had to deny its children paradise until such time as they learned to behave in a fashion acceptable to it. So, religion (unlike science) not only attempts to explain the universe in which we exist it also attempts to define what it considers to be good and bad behaviour i.e. attempts to become a moral guide for the people it seeks to "teach".

Science, OTOH is a rational and largely consistent method that, by using failure as a test, attempts to discern the correct explanation for a given phenomenon. It includes a built-in error-checking mechanism, demands falsifiability and predicts things that at that point were unknown and, based on inductive reasoning, never considers itself to be beyond rational challenge. Science makes no attempt to claim a moral stance yet, informing us as it does, it facilitates and enhances our ability to make such judgements. In this sense science can be seen to be an ongoing and self-correcting attempt to explain the universe we observe around us ... it (and it alone) can claim to represent our bets current understanding of that universe.

Ultimately, I suppose, the idea of NOMA is question begging, it advances ideas that cannot be demonstrated, cannot be supported EXCEPT by philosophical reasoning and although it is clear that a question is anything that can be logically asked, it is debatable whether some questions deserve an answer.

References

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All dogs go to heaven. Cats watch them leave.
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