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Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life [Paperback]

Stephen Jay Gould
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 26 2002 034545040X 978-0345450401 Reprint
Writing with bracing intelligence and clarity, internationally renowned evolutionist and bestselling author Stephen Jay Gould sheds new light on a dilemma that has plagued thinking people since the Renaissance: the rift between science and religion. Instead of choosing them, Gould asks, why not opt for a golden mean that accords dignity and distinction to each realm?

In his distinctively elegant style, Gould offers a lucid, contemporary principle that allows science and religion to coexist peacefully in a position of respectful noninterference. Science defines the natural world; religion our moral world in recognition of their separate spheres of influence. In exploring this thought-provoking concept, Gould delves into the history of science, sketching affecting portraits of scientists and moral leaders wrestling with matters of faith and reason. Stories of seminal figures such as Galileo, Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley make vivid his argument that individuals and cultures must cultivate both a life of the spirit and a life of rational inquiry in order to experience the fullness of being human.

In Rocks of Ages, Gould’s passionate humanism, ethical discernment, and erudition are fused to create a dazzling gem of contemporary cultural philosophy.

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Revered and eminently readable essayist Stephen Jay Gould has once again rendered the complex simple, this time mending the seeming split between the two "Rocks of Ages," science and religion. He quickly, and rightfully, admits that his thesis is not new, but one broadly accepted by many scientists and theologians. Gould begins by suggesting that Darwin has been misconstrued--that while some religious thinkers have used divinity to prove the impossibility of evolution, Darwin would have never done the reverse.

Gould eloquently lays out not "a merely diplomatic solution" to rectify the physical and metaphysical, but "a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds," central to which is the elegant concept of "non-overlapping magisteria." (Gould defines magisteria as a "four-bit" word meaning domain of authority in teaching.) Essentially, science and religion can't be unified, but neither should they be in conflict; each has its own discrete magisteria, the natural world belonging exclusively to science and the moral to religion.

Gould's argument is both lucid and convincing as he cites past religious and scientific greats (including a particularly touching section on Darwin himself). Regardless of your persuasions, religious or scientific, Gould holds up his end of the conversation with characteristic respect and intelligence. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Gould is at his brilliant best... A truly convincing performance" Guardian "Convincingly argued and thought provoking-Gould must rank as one of the leading scientific essayists of his generation and, as ever, he is in total command of his subject matter. He steers a deft route through contentious waters, but manages to retain a humorous edge, that keeps the book both engaging and highly entertaining. Gould provides the literary magic to deliver a light-hearted read" Irish Times "Concise, eloquent and passionate. It is a marvellous work. Gould speaks clear, sound sense, and Rocks of Ages should be required reading not only for scientists and religious people, but for anybody who cares about the quest for meaning" Independent "This marvellous extended essay should have been the real lost book of the New Testament. Gould, arguably our greatest living popular science essayist, has many joyful enthusiasms. Among them are eternity, Charles Darwin and baseball-Gould has such insatiable and infectious enthusiasm for the intellectual challenge and fascination of being a mere speck in a vast universe" Scotsman "Rocks of Ages is easy and enjoyable to read. It contains many charming illustrations and interesting insights" Sunday Telegraph

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars sdklfsd June 6 2004
By A Customer
I had to write a review for this for my Biology class so I thought I might as well post it here.
Overall, even though the book has a strong thesis and idea, I felt that the book was pretty dry and almost redundant at times. There were a few enjoyable moments where Gould's voice really stood out, but other than that the book was extremely boring about a topic that shouldn't be. Gould's intentions are pretty clear over the course of the novel, but I think that he should have undertaken them in a different way. There are also times in the book where he seems to drift on and just throw in irrelevant information that leaves you wondering, "Where did that come from?" At times it seems he beats around the bush and doesn't get to his main point of what NOMA is. Although I am more or less bashing the book, some of the accounts in Rocks of Ages were pretty interesting, including the Christopher Columbus and William Jennings Bryan portions of the book. For example, I learned that back in the 1400's, it was not perceived that the world was flat. Instead, this was just an overblown exaggeration that went along with the story of Columbus discovering the Americas. The problem about my liking towards these sections of the book is that they are not really the basis and meat of Gould's argument. Also, another problem that I have with this book is the construction of sentences. There are times in the book where it is almost torture to read the amazingly long, run-on sentences. On top of this, the author adds in thoughts or other tidbits of information mid-sentence, making the already dizzying text even harder to get through. Gould is definitely a skilled writer but I believe that he misuses his talents at times in this book.
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Stephen Jay Gould was a separatist. This statement is not an attempt to impugn the late Gould's deserved reputation as a humanist, but rather is an accurate description of his predictable attitude towards the relationship between the endeavors of religion and science. Renowned scientist and essayist Gould presents a book-length examination of the roles of each, and prescribes a supposedly moderate stance that finds no need for conflict, but he also admonishes against integration. Gould recognizes that complete human wisdom-the "fullness of life" of his title-consists of both the scientific and the spiritual, "each covering a central facet of human existence," but in championing the integrity of both science and religion, he is unable (or unwilling) to identify any similarities or shared territory between them.
While Gould rightly sees that the expansive pool of human understanding is fed by (at least) two founts, his book stays in the shallows, where the waters indeed don't mix much, and he never plunges into the deep-end, where powerful undercurrents commingle. Furthermore, Gould does not discern that this turbulent pool is a cycling wellspring which is itself the source of ostensibly disparate fountainheads. He had not the proper equipment to fathom these dark depths, for the necessary tools of illumination are those of philosophy, and Gould, a man of many talents and specialties (paleontology, evolutionary biology, history of science, and baseball statistics), alas, was not a philosopher. In short, Gould is in over his head.
We must assess the appropriateness of Gould's authorship in order to understand its limitations. First, Gould was a scientist. Yes, he was erudite and prolific, but as he often reminded his readers, he was not a polymath, but a working scientist.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "The NOMA Declaration" Jan. 26 2003
"fie on the creationists and evangelizing atheists alike!"
Reviewer: Marc A. Schindler from Spruce Grove AB
One can tell how much I enjoy a book by how many pages I turn over. Usually a spontaneous literary tic on my part, it's a sign that there's something thought-provoking, something I want to follow up on, or merely a mile marker on the highway which shows where I had an "ah ha!" experience. Many pages were folded over in this relatively short and very easily readable book which nevertheless manages to convey some very deep concepts. This is the book where the late Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, an admitted agnostic of secular Jewish background, defines - re-defines, really - an approach to reconciling science and religion which he calls Non-overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). This is the "NOMA Declaration," as it were.
Reconciling science and religion is a passion of mine, and when I find something that helps me, I'm enthused. I'm even more enthused when it's a book I can recommend to practically anybody to help them understand something I feel very strongly about: a) ultimately all knowledge is part of a greater truth, but while we are in this mortal existence we have certain limits placed upon our abilities to gain and understand the most transcendent truths; b) science and religion both address questions of knowledge, and they sometimes appear to conflict; c) the key isn't in trying to express one type of knowledge in terms of the others - that leads to the square pegs and round holes of fundamentalist creationism and atheistic scientism - but in learning about the meaning of the questions that each "magisterium" (realm of inquiry, as Gould defines it) poses.
And this book does that very, very well.
Reading level required: Grade IX AP (it helps to have had at least introductory high school biology, and will be easier for those with 2nd year high school biology).
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars ok, but repetetive and dull
This book, ROCKS OF AGES, was ok, but repetitive and simplistic in its evaluation of the problem to religion offering a duh solution without any way to work out the problem in real... Read more
Published on May 16 2004 by R. Laybourne
2.0 out of 5 stars Beware of the NOMA trap
The NOMA concept defended by Sephen Jay Gould in pages 47 ss. is a trap that no serious christian should fall in to. Read more
Published on April 29 2004 by Jonatas Machado
3.0 out of 5 stars Not much new material
This book was not the great for me, mainly because most of the materials covered are addressed in his books like Ever Since Darwin, Bully for Brontosaurs, and It's a Wonderful... Read more
Published on March 25 2004 by Ben Holcomb
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable popularization
This would be a valuable book for anyone who is not well versed in philosophy of religion. I found it so good on listening to the audio book version that I got the hard copy from... Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2004 by Alan Nicoll (real name)
2.0 out of 5 stars He tries, but just doesn't get it
This book is certainly worth reading, but Gould writes from the (very rational and intellectual) standpoint of a scientist who admires and yet does not hold Faith. Read more
Published on Dec 30 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars The "NOMA Declaration"
One can tell how much I enjoy a book by how many pages I turn over. Usually a spontaneous literary tic on my part, it’s a sign that there’s something thought-provoking,... Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2003 by Marc A. Schindler
4.0 out of 5 stars Thank God for Gould!
It's great (and incredibly rare) to hear from a prominent Scientist who isn't blue in the face, banging a drum or writing as a Social, Political and Moral Guru. Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2003 by Tiger
1.0 out of 5 stars Goofy Stuff!
Sometimes he made sense other times I think he had a bong sitting on his writing desk. The irony is the whole book falls under the "magesterium" of Philosophy, not Science! Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2002 by tooblue
1.0 out of 5 stars Goofy Stuff!
Sometimes he made sense other times I think he had a ... sitting on his writing desk. The irony is the whole book falls under the "magesterium" of Philosophy, not Science! Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2002 by tooblue
3.0 out of 5 stars A Nonsolution for a "Nonproblem"
Stephen Jay Gould died this past May at the age of 60 of metastisized lung cancer. He really needs no introduction. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2002 by Jonathan L. Widger
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