In his book “Rocks of Ages”, published in 1999 by Ballantine Books, the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould makes a case for “none-overlapping magisterium” to settle the dispute between science and religion. His proposal is to let each sphere govern its own domain, and neither can influence the other.
Religion is not falsifiable, and science is. Science can therefore not make statements about religion, and religion can therefore not make statements about science. Science defines the natural world, and religion defines the moral world. It all sounds lovely in theory, but as we see every day, in practice it works anything but well. Evidence of that is the paedophile scandals in the Catholic church, or the recent outrage where it was uncovered that Irish doctors broke the pelvises of women in order to make them bear more children.
It sounds more, to me, like the attempt to straddle two incompatible philosophies, and to find a way to both have the cake and eat it at the same time. For people like Gould, it seems important to abstract religion away to a safe-house where it can not be assailed, so that their daily work does not affect belief.
When you stand knee-deep in a pit that disproves the validity of the statements that a religion makes in concrete cases, it is – to people like Gould – safer to abstract the religion so that the proof in evidence is not important to those statements.
The danger is, of course, that if religion is purely allegorical, then there is no point in believing in a particular dogma. If a particular dogma is not actual truth, it does not seem logical to make an edifice like Gould does to protect the dogma.
It’s like the old age dilemma that face any kind of practitioner of a religion in the modern world. What is to say that the deity they believe in is the correct one? What is to say that one of the many hundreds or thousands of religions that have already died is not the correct one?
Maybe there is one angry Odin sitting in an empty Valhalla fulminating about the lack of faith of modern people. Maybe he is preparing for Ragnarök just to show up ingrates? There is of course no way to know, if you accept that religion is valid.
The logical conclusion is of course that there is no reason to do what Gould attempts to do in this book. The logical endpoint is to realise that he is embalming a corpse to make it smell sweet. If dead granny isn’t rotting, then she’s all right. As long as people don’t try to claim that Granny told them to do the Friday chores at a certain time.
What Gould does is mere nostalgia. Nothing more. This book was waste of the 50 p I paid for it.