philosophy science theology

related magisteria

Whether or not one agrees with Gould’s famous dictum that Religion and Science are Non-Overlapping Magisteria, it occurs to me that unless a given Religion says absolutely nothing at all about the things which Science also investigates, then at least they will be related.

A far better question, of course, is how they might be related.

17 replies on “related magisteria”

Sure, and to investigate this one must look into the question historically. As it has developed over time and as influenced by environment.

And one should do this honestly. The simple assertion some Christians make that science grew out of Christianity (that Christianity is a necessary precondition for modern science) is, I think, a chauvinistic approach. One that upset Muslims (a lot of science was done under medieval Islam) and should upset Indians and Chinese who made important scientific contributions before Christ was a gleam in his fathers eye.

And one must accept that whatever the relationships of the past it is silly to think that one can (or should) return to them as is being proposed by some.

Thanks for the comment Ken,
Not trying to corner you or anything, but why must this be looked into ‘historically’?

Rather than naming the various kinds of contributions of various religions have made to science over the years etc., surely it instead involves an assessment of what ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are (and if/when talking about NOMA, this would involve seeing how Gould defined them), and then asessing how they relate to one another?

I guess that is my philosophy – but one reinforced time and again in practical research. Unless we study things in their development and interactions we end up with a very mechanical, probably false, and certainly limited understanding. It’s just a naive reductionist approach.

But, of course, if we are going to consider the claims often made about the relationship between Christianity and science then a historical analysis is essential.

By the way Gould was very confused in defining terms for his NOMA – initially defining religion in a very wide way (which would have included atheist world views) but from then on, in every case and in the same book, he limited his use to a supernatural, theists type of meaning for the word.

So even taking a slice of time approach we have to be very careful about the meaning and interpretations (and usage) of words.

Thanks Ken,
Would it be fair to say that an appreciation of historical development is essential because it is a necessary part of the larger and more central task of defining the terms and seeing what kind of relationship they have?
(cheers also for the link)

No – although I guess terms are best defined in context.
It’s just because things do exist in their development and context (environment). Therefore we can’t understand them if we isolate them from their development and context.

Seems to me that this is a basic philosophical approach.

Hmmm… What I suppose I’d want to say is that the development and context is often multi-sided and varied and wide open to interpretation (as you’ll be aware). Thus, making the need all the greater for working to define terms.

This raises the question of whose interpretation of the development/context is correct? For me, this doesn’t mean we ISOLATE the terms from their development/context, but rather that we try to discern from this what the terms mean.

Perhaps slightly off track but I think they are necessarily related since science can of course investigate how a religion come to be, quite aside from the accuracy of the claims of religions. I think the complication comes where science can mean a “phenomena” but usually refers to a process or way of doing things. Religion on the other hand is, in my opinion, just a “phenomena”. Both science and religion (as phenomena, i.e. groups of people) can investigate claims and potentially have different domains of interest. However science as a process doesn’t have an equivalent called religion as far as I can tell, making the issue of magesterium rather irrelevant in that discussion.

Hmm that’s an awkward way to phrase it but it’ll probably get worse if I try and rephrase it so I’ll stick with it lol.

Yes, when defining terms, its always good to acknowledge common variances. I.e. ‘religion’ is a noun that can refer to a group of people, a set of beliefs, a ‘phenomena’, etc. I think Gould may be using the terms (science/religion) in a sense of two different ‘tools of enquiry’?

a tool enquiring about things. Science being one kind of tool, with one flavour of enquiry; religion being another kind of tool with another flavour of enquiry.

I’m still not clear on what religion brings to the table as a tool. For example I can see science as a group of people and I can understand the phrase “to do science”. On the other hand I can see religion as a group of people but I can’t understand the phrase “to do religion”…

‘doing religion’ (as distinct from ‘doing science’) is to enagage in a mode of enquiry which is different from the mode that science uses (scientific method, etc.). Religion is that tool by which we investigate things like meaning, value and purpose – or meaninglessness, valuelessness or purposelessness.

I’m still confused. “Doing science” is characterised by how it investigates things, not what it investigates. How can we describe “doing religion” in this way? Perhaps a hypothetical example of someone “doing religion” would help me figure this out?

a hypothetical example of someone “doing religion”

…a person sees someone doing a certain action and says “that’s wrong!”
((not that I think religion is only about seeing things and declaring them to be wrong!!! :D ))

Here is a quote from Gould “defining” relgion (I think from his Rock of ages book – defining the NOMA concept):

“I will accept both Huxley’s view and the etymology of the word itself – and construe as fundamentally religious (literally, binding us together) all moral discourse on principles that might activate the ideal of universal fellowship among people.”

Of course, he then goes on and uses the normal supernatural definition (I think almost always implying theism) in the rest of his book. And the latter approach is used by almost everyone else who talks about the NOMA concept.

So while the original definition he used gave me a role in the “religious” part of NOMA – in practice my role is ignored or denied – and was by Gould in practice too.

Re your last comment, Dale. I guess I sometimes look at things and say “that’s wrong” (although these days I try not to be too judgemental). If that’s me doing religion why can’t I get a tax exemption? The law is clear – because it’s not a supernatural activity.

So legally, and I presume legislatively, your definition of religion (and Gould’s original definition) is just not acceptable in New Zealand.

But looking at things in their context and development I think there is a lot of value in recognising Gould’s definition (binding us together) as being very relevant to the origin and development of religion. We have to recognise, though, that the “binding us together” role is filled by quite a few things in our modern world which no-one defines as religion (normally).

Hi Ken,
I’ve got to focus especially hard this week on study/work, so can’t follow this up too much, but suffice it to say that quite obviously it’s a definitional issue, and we’d have to agree on a definition and then talk about the relationship of the ‘matisteria’ from there.

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