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The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design - Page 2

No More NOMA

"I do have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me... they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria." - Richard Dawkins 18

Dawkins asserts in the Preface of The God Delusion that: "'the God Hypothesis' is a scientific hypothesis about the universe, which should be analysed as sceptically as any other" 19 (including, presumably, Darwinian macro-evolution). He later affirms, in broader terms, that:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice - or not yet - a decided one... The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods. 20

Dawkins and intelligent design theorists are in full agreement upon this latter point.

Dawkins defines science as simply: "the honest and systematic endeavour to find out the truth about the real world." 21 As design theorist Jay W. Richards states: "Methodological naturalism... contradicts the true spirit of science, which is to seek the truth about the natural world, no holds barred." 22 Dawkins appears to use "science" as a term of endearment extending to any critical investigation of the "real world" to which empirical data has relevance, although as a metaphysical naturalist he assumes that the "real world" is describable in exclusively naturalistic terms. While ID theorists are careful not to allow a priori assumptions to pre-determine the conclusions science reaches, and have followed the lead of David Hume in distinguishing between conclusions that scientific arguments can and cannot support without philosophical extension, Dawkins is not so careful. Bearing these qualifications in mind, the design theorist (especially the theistic design theorist) can welcome Dawkins' affirmation that: "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other... God's existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice." 23

In claiming that ID is a scientific theory Dawkins flatly contradicts many critics - including physicist Lawrence Krauss, microbiologist Carl Woese and philosopher Robert Pennock - who argue that intelligent design theory is not a scientific hypothesis. In his Kitmiller v. Dover opinion, Judge John E. Jones III wrote of "the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science." 24 Dawkins disagrees. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): "Intelligent design... falls outside the realm of science." 25 Dawkins disagrees. Austin Cline argues that: "Intelligent Design isn't a part of science." 26 Dawkins disagrees.

A basic assumption of ID is that an intelligent agent is capable of acting in such a way as to impress empirically detectable evidence of design upon physical reality (this assumption underlies the day-to-day work of many scientists, including archaeologists, cryptographers, forensic scientists, paranormal researchers, conductors of double-blind prayer studies and those engaged in the search for extra-terrestrial life). A world in which God both exists and acts in such an empirically detectable way is therefore empirically distinguishable from a world in which he does not. Dawkins has no truck with: "the erroneous notion that the existence or non-existence of God is an untouchable question, forever beyond the reach of science... Either he exists or he doesn't. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability." 27

Dawkins rejects Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "non-overlapping magesteria" (or NOMA) that:

The net, or magisterium of science covers the empirical realm... The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap... To cite the 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. 28

Dawkins considers this an act of "bending over backwards to positively supine lengths" 29 to avoid any possibility of conflict (or dialogue) between science and religion. In order to stand any chance of mounting an attack on religion with the sword of science, Dawkins first has to cut through the shield of NOMA. The dialogue negating suggestion that science is about "how" while religion is about "why" actually contains a grain of truth (religion does deal with questions of meaning with which science does not and cannot deal), but is too simplistic. As Dawkins says of NOMA: "This sounds terrific - right up until you give it a moment's thought." 30 He dramatizes the point by imagining:

that forensic archaeologists unearthed DNA evidence to show that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Can you imagine religious apologists shrugging their shoulders and saying anything remotely like the following? "Who cares? Scientific evidence is completely irrelevant to theological questions. Wrong magisterium! We"re concerned only with ultimate questions and with moral values. Neither DNA nor any other scientific evidence could ever have any bearing on the matter, one way or the other." The very idea is a joke. 31

Real world religions make real world claims that therefore intersect with the fields of inquiry handled by science. 32 As philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer argues:

it's inherent in the Christian faith to make claims about the real world. According to the Bible, God has revealed himself in time and space, and so Christianity - for good or ill - is going to intersect some of the factual claims of history and science. There's either going to be conflict or agreement. To make NOMA work, its advocates have to water down science or faith, or both. Certainly Gould did - he said religion was just a matter of ethical teaching, comfort, or metaphysical beliefs about meaning. But Christianity certainly claims to be more than that. 33


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