|Author:||Stephen Jay Gould|
Here is an introduction I found to how he dealt with the arguments back and forth and how they led to his conclusion: (As you can tell, Gould is both a lively and engaging prose stylist.)
"In early 1984, I spent several nights at the Vatican housed in a hotel built for itinerant priests. While pondering over such puzzling issues as the intended function of the bidets in each bathroom, and hungering for something other than plum jam on my breakfast rolls (why did the basket only contain hundreds of identical plum packets and not a one of, say, strawberry?), I encountered yet another among the innumerable issues of contrasting cultures that can make life so interesting. Our crowd (present in Rome for a meeting on nuclear winter sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences) shared the hotel with a group of French and Italian Jesuit priests who were also professional scientists.
"At lunch, the priests called me over to their table to pose a problem that had been troubling them. What, they wanted to know, was going on in America with all this talk about "scientific creationism"? One asked me: "Is evolution really in some kind of trouble. and if so, what could such trouble be? I have always been taught that no doctrinal conflict exists between evolution and Catholic faith, and the evidence for evolution seems both entirely satisfactory and utterly overwhelming. Have I missed something?"
"A lively pastiche of French, Italian, and English conversation then ensued for half an hour or so, but the priests all seemed reassured by my general answer: Evolution has encountered no intellectual trouble; no new arguments have been offered. Creationism is a homegrown phenomenon of American sociocultural history—a splinter movement (unfortunately rather more of a beam these days) of Protestant fundamentalists who believe that every word of the Bible must be literally true, whatever such a claim might mean. We all left satisfied, but I certainly felt bemused by the anomaly of my role as a Jewish agnostic, trying to reassure a group of Catholic priests that evolution remained both true and entirely consistent with religious belief."
Starting mainly with the controversy following the publication of Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species in 1859, and the acceptance and heated debate that ensued, Gould in this book reviews the old arguments and points out that there is in fact a third way to look at the controversy of God and faith versus scientific inquiry. It begins with the concept of separating these two important aspects of human thought into two distinct spheres. The non-interfering spheres are part of the Non-Overlapping Magisterium Arena, or NOMA. He also reminds us that many of Darwin's early followers were men and women of faith, the most prominent being Asa Grey, the leading American botanist of his day, friend of Darwin, and a Christian
Gould states to paraphrase that science is powerless to furnish ethical rules or proofs of God, but it's not capable of ruling out the possibility of a deity or the existence of moral imperatives based on a common human nature.
This is all the more important because, Gould states, Darwin's theories were based on the unethical "free market" doctrines of his time and also gave rise later to a "social Darwinist" movement that effectively reduces people to economic wigits for the use of the "better advanced" plutocrats at the top of the industrial food chain.
Hence the need for either a strong but un-dogmatic religious community in a nation, or at least ethical philosophers to keep the economics of greed and the feral "state of nature" advocates from taking over and disrupting a moral-based society.
Darwin did not use evolution to promote atheism--although he had severe doubts in God caused by the death of a young daughter. He famously discouraged hope in a God from seeing the struggle for existence in nature in all of its dire effects. But he remained an agnostic, as did his leading champion Thomas H. Huxley.
He also points out that Pope Pius in the 1950s and John Paul II in the 1990's declared themselves unopposed to evolution or scientific research. Indeed, the whole notion of "creation science" seems a peculiar fundementalist Protestant American affliction.
Gould maintained that no concept of God could ever be squared with the structure of nature. But he also counters that the magisterium of science cannot resolve nor even specify the existence or a God. The ultimate meanings of life--such as why we exist in the first place and what we are to do with said existence---are the proper foundations of morality, and that falls into the different magisterium of religion.
I found this book very engaging. I also realize that many on both sides of the question will not be satisfied by the late professor's conclusions. Gould in subsequent lectures certainly was suspect of anyone trying to find faith in scientific theory, but he also avoids the frankly dogma-style cant of a militant atheist like Richard Dawkins. I had the opportunity the other day to ask Professor Dawkins about Gould's book and his theory of NOMA. (Via a Southern Oregon Public Radio call-in program.) Dr. Dawkins dismissed it flat-out as "rank propaganda" and implied that Gould was making some sort of craven political accommodation with the faith community.
I would have loved to hear the late professor's response to Doc Dawkins in 2011. He might have said somethibng like this, as he already did in his NOMA writings from 1999.
"NOMA permits—indeed enjoins—the prospect of respectful discourse, of constant input from both magisteria toward the common goal of wisdom. If human beings are anything special, we are the creatures that must ponder and talk. Pope John Paul II would surely point out to me that his magisterium has always recognized this distinction, for "in principio, erat verbum"—"In the beginning was the Word." '