Tag Archives: naturalism

Does science have anything to say about the supernatural?

A good place to start in any productive conversation is to define one’s terms. Carl Sagan said of science, “Science is more than a body of knowledge… It’s a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe.” Science is just a particular species of skeptical inquiry. As the purpose of this post is to investigate the scope of science and whether or not its authority extends to claims of the supernatural, defining what science actually is is of paramount importance. Another similar definition was used by the great paleontologist and author Stephen Jay Gould: “Science is a battery of observational and inferential methods, all directed to the testing of propositions that can, in principle, be definitely proven false.” Curiously, Stephen Jay Gould considered religion to be compatible with his definition of science. In his 1997 book, Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Gould set out his vision for the relationship between science and religion, known as “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” or “NOMA.” He wrote, “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.” Today, this idea is commonly phrased as “science and religion are ‘different ways of knowing.’” NOMA is embraced by many theists and atheists who argue for the compatibility of religion and science. This position is commonly known as ‘accommodationism.’ Increasingly, however, religious scientists, progressive theologians and sympathetic secularists seem to be moving away from NOMA and suggesting open interaction between science and religion.

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Filed under Accommodationism, Religion, Science