Guest Apologetics Fail #15: Agnostic Scientist Stephen J Gould
Stephen Jay Gould was a Nobel prize winning palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist. He died in 2002 at age sixty (so I have less than three years to go myself).
Gould is famous for developing the proposition within the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection to describe seemingly sudden (as in a few hundreds of thousand of years instead of millions) speciation in life called Punctuated Equilibrium.
Fair game for an uneducated nobody like me to take on and call out his faulty position.
He answered a question in Skeptic magazine on his religious position thusly:
If you absolutely forced me to bet on the existence of a conventional anthropomorphic deity, of course I'd bet no. But, basically, [Aldous] Huxley was right when he said that agnosticism is the only honourable position because we really cannot know. And that's right. I'd be real surprised if there turned out to be a conventional God.
[Hint to Gould: That’s the definition of an atheist. Atheists don’t claim to know, they don’t believe.]
He was also famous for developing a description to try to reconcile religious and scientific views, called “non-overlapping magisterial” or NOMA, which is the position I will try to attack.
Gould posited that religion and science address different questions. Distilling it down, religions try to address the “why” of the Universe whilst science tries to address the “how.”
As such, they are “non-overlapping” areas of knowledge.
That position gave lots of ammunition to religious apologists, who use NOMA to claim that science (read: atheists) can make no assertions about religious views.
Pulling out my mighty high school education, I’ll say it here: Gould was wrong. His magisteria (areas of knowledge) in fact overlap. Cosmologists in fact try to understand the “why” of the Universe. Biologists try to understand the “why” of life, and so on.
Huxley was also wrong: As I noted in my previous apologetics fail, agnosticism isn’t some sort of middle ground between faith and atheism.
Religions constantly assert positions about the physical realm and the human condition: They posit everything from worldwide floods and sun dancing across the sky in a miracle at Fatima (along with many other miracles), to historical and scientific assertions. All of these overlap into testable questions for science.
We know Earth and the Sun were not formed in six days. We know there was no flood. We know the claims at Fatima in 1917 were sensationalism by newspaper reporters.
Moreover, scientific enquiry has the ability to intrude on the religious magisterium and debunk other claims religions make.
Neuroscientist Sam Harris famously intruded on religious claims to absolute morality with his ground-breaking book “The Moral Landscape,” in which he shows morality is not derived from religions nor is objective in any sense religions try to assert an objective morality.
Claims of historic accuracy in religious texts are easily debunked by historians and archaeologists.
Medical claims are easily debunked by physicians and researchers.
Claimed attributes of God in Christianity and Islam (omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent) are mutually-exclusive.