Jerry A Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reviews two books – Saving Darwinism: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl W Giberson; and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Kenneth R Miller – which try to reconcile science and religion, and fail of course.
Read the whole review in The New Republic.
The most common way to harmonize science and religion is to contend that they are different but complementary ways of understanding the world. That is, there are different "truths" offered by science and by religion that, taken together, answer every question about ourselves and the universe. Giberson explains:
I worry that scientific progress has bewitched us into thinking that there is nothing more to the world than what we can understand…. Science has perhaps gotten as much from the materialistic paradigm as it is going to get. Matter in motion, so elegantly described by Newton and those who followed him, may not be the best way to understand the world…. I think there are ways, though, that we can begin to look at the creation and understand that the scientific view is not all-encompassing. Science provides a partial set of insights that, though powerful, don’t answer all the questions.
Usually the questions said to fall outside science include those of meaning, purpose, and morality. In one of his last books, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Stephen Jay Gould called this reconciliation NOMA, for "non-overlapping magisteria": "Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values–subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve." Gould offered this not as a utopian vision, but as an actual description of why the realms of science and religion do not overlap. As a solution to our perplexity, this is no good. In a spirit of pluralism it ignores the obvious conflicts between them. Gould salvaged his idea by redefining his terms–the old trick, again–writing off creationism as "improper religion" and defining secular sources of ethics, meanings and values as being "fundamentally religious."
The NOMA solution falls apart for other reasons. Despite Gould’s claims to the contrary, supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science. All scientists can think of certain observations that would convince them of the existence of God or supernatural forces. In a letter to the American biologist Asa Gray, Darwin noted:
Your question what would convince me of Design is a poser. If I saw an angel come down to teach us good, and I was convinced from others seeing him that I was not mad, I should believe in design. If I could be convinced thoroughly that life and mind was in an unknown way a function of other imponderable force, I should be convinced. If man was made of brass or iron and no way connected with any other organism which had ever lived, I should perhaps be convinced. But this is childish writing.