November 5, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

NOMA Isn’t Working: Darwin Demands the Kingdom

The late evolutionary paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould had an idea for resolving conflicts between science and religion.  He called it NOMA, for “non-overlapping magisteria.”  The basic idea was, let science take the natural world, and leave everything else – morals, ethics, the arts and humanities – to the theologians and philosophers.  In Gould’s words, “we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.”  The National Academy of Sciences, the NCSE and many other scientific organizations have adopted a similar peace treaty: science and theology are separate and distinct avenues to truth, and each controls their own territory.
    Either nobody took Gould’s proposal seriously, or it doesn’t work, because the science journals routinely invade subjects long reserved for other departments of the university.  Here are some recent examples of scientific writings that not only try to explain moral and intellectual matters in naturalistic, evolutionary terms, but either overtly state or merely assume that it is perfectly legitimate to do so.1

  1. Might makes right:  Gavrilets and Vose, writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Oct 30, published a mathematical model of “The dynamics of Machiavellian intelligence.”  That this study was intended to take philosophy captive to Darwin was clear by the ending sentence of the abstract, “Our model suggests that there may be a tendency toward a reduction in cognitive abilities (driven by the costs of having a large brain) as the reproductive advantage of having a large brain decreases and the exposure to memes increases in modern societies.”  A meme is a cultural item transmitted through generations.  Memes include concepts and ideas – i.e., even the category logos.  In a view first proposed by atheist Richard Dawkins, memes, like genes, are propagated by evolution and obey the law of natural selection: survival of the fittest.
  2. Charity begins in the lab:  Earlier in October, six neuroscientists from Brazil, Italy and Maryland writing in PNAS, decided that the “Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donations.”  They began, “Humans often sacrifice material benefits to endorse or to oppose societal causes based on moral beliefs.  Charitable donation behavior, which has been the target of recent experimental economics studies, is an outstanding contemporary manifestation of this ability.”  And how does this ability come about, seeing as this distinctively human trait is not observed in animals?  “We show that the mesolimbic reward system is engaged by donations in the same way as when monetary rewards are obtained,” they explained.
        But their statements were not about mere observations of brain waves as effects of true charitable decisions: the machinery was the decisions.  “Furthermore, medial orbitofrontal-subgenual and lateral orbitofrontal areas, which also play key roles in more primitive mechanisms of social attachment and aversion, specifically mediate decisions to donate or to oppose societal causes,” they claimed.  Are we, therefore, determined by material neuronal connections?  “Remarkably, more anterior sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices prevail over selfish material interests.”  Charity is thus the output, not the input.  But, then, is it really charity?
  3. Monkey say, Darwin do:  Since theology and philosophy are expressed in human language, where did language come from?  From biology, obviously, think Ghazanfar and Miller in Current Biology.  In a Dispatch entitled, “Language Evolution: Loquacious Monkey Brains?” they sought “rigorous comparative investigations of the neural evolution of speech and language.”  One problem: “Determining the substrates required for the evolution of human speech and language is a difficult task as most traits thought to give rise to the unique aspects of human communication – the vocal production apparatus and the brain – do not fossilize.”  No problem: “Thus, we are only left with one robust method of inquiry: comparing our behavior and brain with those of other extant primates.”  The implication is clear: from monkey vocalizations to Maxwell’s equations, the evolutionary path is continuous.
  4. Atheism: preach it, journal:  Does a book on atheism, or religion at all, belong in a science journal?  Apparently Nature has no problem with that.  In the Oct. 26 issue, Lawrence M. Krauss gave a mostly favorable review to the rabidly anti-religious book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.  Krauss’s only objections pertained to style, suggesting Dawkins went a little overboard with his rhetoric.  As to the substance of the book, Krauss wrote, “With authority and wit, he [Dawkins] marvellously dissects the absurdity, hypocrisy and selectivity that is inherent in so much of modern biblical morality.  Perhaps there can be no higher praise than to say that I am certain I will remember and borrow many examples from this book in my own future discussions.”  Whether such discussions will be in Krauss’s cosmology classrooms at Case Western Reserve University, he did not say.  The large illustration in the book review shows a man wearing a sandwich board stating, in large capital letters, “Renounce God and Be Saved.”  Whose magisterium just got overlapped?
  5. Have faith in biology:  The next week in Nature (Nov 2), Kruger and Konner reviewed another book on religion – ironic in an issue with a prominent cover story on “Islam and Science” with nine articles about how to get the Muslim world to open up more to scientific progress.  The book is Minds and Gods: The Cognitive Foundations of Religion by Todd Tremlin, which “bravely attempts to discover the ‘natural cognitive foundations’ of religious thought and, more specifically, seeks a ‘complete, detailed explanation of the relation of heavenly gods and earthly minds’.”  No NOMA here, either.  The reviewers point out that “Religion is hardly uncharted scientific territory,” noting that Charles Darwin, William James and Sigmund Freud each explored natural foundations for religion.  See also the 10/02/2006 and 07/12/2006 entries.
  6. Work out your own evolution, for it is Darwin who is at work in you:  In the same issue of Nature, David Quellar explored the biological roots of work, cooperation and altruism.  He summarized it, “underlying affinities for kin emerge when coercion is removed: kin selection is what turns suppressed individuals into altruists.”  This explains honeybees as well as Shakespeare’s characters in Hamlet, Quellar is convinced.  The transition is seamless.  After discussing bee behavior, he said, “Many social conflicts create winners and losers.  But only kinship allows evolution to make creative use of the social losers, turning them into reproductive police, exquisite communicators and heroic defenders.”  What heroes does he have in mind?  “When Hamlet suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he debated putting an end to himself.”  No different at all: “The stinging honeybee worker commits suicide when her sting is torn out, but this saves her kin.”  Makes perfect sense; Hamlet was acting out the behaviors programmed into humanity by evolution.  Question is, who is the person acting, Hamlet or evolution?
  7. Think on these neurons:  Jumping over to the other mainstream journal Science, on Oct 13 Elizabeth Pennisi connected the dots between the synapses in a slug and the cognitive complexity of a human mind – all via evolution.  “Over evolutionary time, the protein portfolio of the receiving side of the synapse has become more sophisticated–could that be why brains got bigger and smarter?”  If the answer is yes, though, how would she know it?  On what epistemological basis could she make the claim?  That question was not on the agenda of the scientific magisterium, apparently.
  8. Vote for determinism:  Moving along to the Oct. 20 issue of Science, we find Michael Goldman giving a mixed review to Lee M. Silver’s new book, The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life.  While finding Silver’s bravado and radical futurism distasteful, he nevertheless agreed with the premise of this staunchly anti-religious book:

    Many scientists are afraid to ask what differentiates humans from all other animal species.  The Christian view is still heavily influenced by the idea that the human spirit remains beyond scientific inquiry.  In Silver’s view, the major emphasis of human genome analyses in the Western world has been to enhance health, but some investigators … have been asking how we differ genetically from chimpanzees.  Silver thinks that one day the difference will boil down to a few dozen genes, a kind of “soul code.”

    Why, someday we may even “transfer those very genes into a nonhuman primate… to imbue a chimp with a human soul.”  In the final analysis, Goldman gave the hi-ho to Silver: the book “provides a good injection of the rationalist view into one of the most important debates of our time,” he ended, thinking of public attitudes toward ethically controversial biomedical research.  “And Silver does so in a way that should be equally accessible and enjoyable to the general reader and the professional scientist, ethicist, or theologian.”  Presumably, the theologian is only allowed on the receiving end of this “scientific” idea.  See also the 07/07/2006 entry.

  9. Download your upgrade:  Speaking of futurism, the BBC News had an article about the ideas of Ray Kurzweil and other visionaries who see robots and humans battling it out in the last days.  If we are biological machines, and robots are artificial machines, then there is no deux ex machina.  Taking evolution into our own hands, we machines can make machines that will also evolve.  The next upgrade might be Humans 2.0, computer-enhanced people.  (This is not to be seen as intelligent design, but as a new stage of evolution.)
        The downside is that our robot creations might one day supersede us, and view us as pests, like we view mosquitos.  They could decide to wipe us out.  After all, evolutionary theory expects they will eventually “evolve their own intelligence,” and will become so powerful, they will appear “almost God-like” – almost, of course, but not quite (since gods do not exist).  But whatever they do to us, practicing genocide or altruism, it will only be a manifestation of the central evolutionary law of nature: survival of the fittest.
  10. Dig these moral roots:  Bloom and Jarudi, writing in Nature Oct 26, decided that morality is the “product of an innate mental faculty – rather like language.”  They got this from reading a new book by Marc Hauser whose title tells all, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.  An illustration for the book review shows a signpost with arrows toward right, wrong, duty, corrupt, forbidden and good with roots in the soil of natural biology.
        The New York Times reviewed the book, calling this “An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong.”  Nicholas Wade gave it a good review with only minor reservations.  He was not quite sure Hauser’s proposal of “innate moral grammar” à la Chomsky is plausible, but he seemed apparently satisfied that the place to look for an explanation of morality is not in church or the philosophy department, but in evolutionary biology.

Anika Smith on Evolution News used this last article as Exhibit A of the charge that NOMA has been officially discarded, at least by the New York Times: “it seems that more and more Darwinists are rejecting the NOMA facts-values dichotomy for reasons as old as Darwin’s theory.”
    One final example.  The cover story of Sky and Telescope for December is: “Where did our universe come from?”  Any theologian hoping for a chance at the microphone will wait in vain.  From ultimate origins to ultimate destinies, only materialists and evolutionists need apply.  Author Anthony Aguirre said at one point, “The idea of creating an entire universe out of nothing sounds absurd….” but then proceeded to explain how from certain “surprising truths” in quantum physics, that is exactly what happened.

1Rather than detail each paper’s source, we are providing links to the abstracts to save space.

OK, pastors and teachers, now do you see why this issue is important?  The Darwin Party has aggrandized itself, and arrogated to itself the right to decide what constitutes knowledge on every subject, from alpha to omega.  All of reality must be expressed on its terms.  You have no voice, no objection, no dissent, no credibility, and no platform – nothing but the disappearing grin of the Cheshire cat.
    Even if you try to reason with these people, to point out how their view refutes itself by undermining its own epistemology, you will be shouted down (10/27/2006, 04/21/2006, 03/14/2006).  They will claim you are talking “religion” (meaning, mythology) while they are talking “science” (meaning, Truth).  Unless you talk in Darwinistic terms, you are disqualified from making any claims to knowledge.  Out of their altruistic hearts, they will grant you the freedom to believe myths, if you must (in your own prison cells, called churches), but you must not have access to public education or government policy.
    It’s time to recall a short fable we told awhile back that puts this situation in perspective.  The epistemological war was lost in the 19th century, when theologians, even the great Spurgeon, capitulated to what the Darwin Party was saying, and decided it didn’t matter what they claimed about biology and prehistory, because the church’s only concern was to save souls.  Here’s the fable that illustrates what discerning thinkers should have known was coming.

Two boys, Joe and Moe, were fighting over who controlled the game, so Joe finally proposed,
“Tell you what, Moe.  Give me the guns, and you can have all the toys.”
“Wow, you mean it?  I get all the toys?  Zoweeeee!” Moe exclaimed at this incredible deal.  “You can have your guns.  I get all the toys, I get all the toys,” he sang out like a lottery winner.
Moe felt a gun to his head.  The winning strategist demanded, “Hand over the toys.”

    So we offer the theologians and philosophers Act III, with the forgotten secret that comes out in the nick of time and puts them on the winning side of the denouement.  If you have been reading Creation-Evolution Headlines for long, we have been showing you, over and over, that the Darwinists only have fake guns loaded with blanks (09/07/2006, 08/30/2006).  Their philosophy of science is so shallow, it has about as much firepower as bubble gum.  Stop cowering, then.  Stand up to them and let them fire all they want.  Let them cry, “bang, bang, you’re dead!” till they are blue in the face.  And they will be blue in the face, because their view is self-refuting; if morality and intelligence are products of evolution, and if our ideas and values are determined by our genes and memes, then the Darwinists have no way of knowing anything – even that evolution is true!  Push on their weapons, and they will backfire and blow smoke in their faces, making them run off like scalded dogs.
    One other thing.  Let’s stop playing with toys.  There are more important things to do with our minds than deal in religious platitudes, when the intellectual war of the words is at fever pitch.  The battle calls for real men with chests and souls, who can stand up to bullies and exercise intellectual and moral leadership.  NOMA has been a bad deal.  We see now that is was a ruse for the usurpers (09/252006).  It’s time to liberate the masses of people enslaved to a deadly world view (08/31/2006, 08/23/2006) since Darwin stole epistemology from its rightful owners (02/18/2006).  Hopefully we have learned a painful lesson; secure the intellectual guns first, and the joys will come with the territory.

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