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5.0 out of 5 stars "The NOMA Declaration"
"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...
Published on Jan. 26 2003 by Marc A. Schindler

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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. He was, among other things, the famous Harvard professor of zoology and geology. He was also a prolific and gifted science writer. In Rocks of Ages, however, his topic is not science but, rather, promotion of "the potential harmony through difference of...
Published on Oct. 21 2002 by Jonathan L. Widger


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2.0 out of 5 stars sdklfsd, June 6 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Rocks of Ages (Hardcover)
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. In general, the book is an interesting read on a thought provoking subject that has been around for several centuries. Gould makes his solution pretty simple, and overall gets his point across about the matter of religion and science. However, the manner that he does this in is very dry, and at times, just flat out boring to tell the truth. To conclude, I would probably Rocks of Ages a C+ or B- just for the valid points and suggestions that Gould brings up, but it could have been done a lot better in my opinion.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Gould: great scientist, writer, humanist, BUT no philosopher, June 13 2003
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
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. This vocation introduced an inextricable bias. Understandably, we cannot expect a bona fide scientist to declare his or her own occupation to be utter hogwash and advocate total deference to theology, but rarely are we even able to find scientists willing (or able) to recognize the methods and subject matter that science shares with religion. Gould was no exception. As a member of the scientific community, try as he might, Gould was unable to look at science itself objectively, bound to be defensive of his bread and butter. Second, Gould was not a theologian, nor had he any special training in religion. This alone certainly does not disqualify him from valuable investigation into religious subject matter, and theologians are no more particularly qualified or unbiased on this topic than are scientists. But lacking an intense personal knowledge of the modus operandi and viewpoints of theology certainly created a disequilibrium when comparing it with the sciences which Gould obviously knew intimately. Third, and I assert most importantly, Gould was not a philosopher. He lacked the conceptual devices and techniques required to properly dissect and compare the methods and logic of science vis-a-vis those of religion. It would be more appropriate for someone extensively trained in both science and theology, e.g., anti-creationism author Denis Lamoureux, to attempt a comparison of the two. For the fullest comparative study, however, it is necessary that the author be a philosopher, e.g., Ian G. Barbour, author of Religion and Science (1997). Gould, a gifted scholar to be sure, was nonetheless under-qualified for the task of recognizing the similarities between religion and science.
One wonders why Gould wrote this book at all. It does not present anything novel, and Gould even concedes that the position he takes in it "follows a strong consensus accepted for decades by leading scientific and religious thinkers alike" (3). He does not even take an extreme stance at either pole, neither portraying an inevitable and constant war in which superstitious religion constantly works to impede the irreverent juggernaut of science (Barbour's "Conflict Model" and embodied in physicist Steven Weinberg), nor advocating any boundary-breaking or unification (Barbour's "Integration Model"). Gould anticipates the questioning of this work's motives and merits when on the first page of the book he claims only "some inventiveness in choice of illustration." But Gould was a scientific insider looking out, seeing everything through a specialized lens. His view is always contained and constrained by the bubble of science. His writing is as engaging as ever, but the author did not and could not perceive the fundamental similarities between religion and science, the discovery of which requires a philosophical study. Gould admits in a lengthy footnote that his book offers only generalizations of philosophical debates in which he was not qualified to draw conclusions (55-7). Therein he describes his volume as a "broad-scale treatment" of "central principles," a text not designed for "intense focus on wiggles at the borders" by experts. This is an indication of Gould's intended audience. This book will satisfy two types of people: (1) generally intelligent people who are interested in the debate but have no specialized training in philosophy, and (2) people involved in science who already think (or feel) that religion and science should not be in conflict. For the general audience, Gould's arguments will seem convincing because he does not dive deep into the philosophy of religion and science, where overlap in method and content become apparent. For the scientists, Gould's conclusions will resonate with their preconceptions, and these will be strengthened by the endorsement of so preeminent a sponsor as Gould. Those readers familiar with the philosophical comparison and deconstruction of religion and science will find Gould's treatment superficial and naïve.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "The NOMA Declaration", Jan. 26 2003
By 
This review is from: Rocks of Ages (Hardcover)
"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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5.0 out of 5 stars The "NOMA Declaration", Jan. 26 2003
By 
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Thank God for Gould!, Jan. 20 2003
By 
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
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.
There's no question that this book is written for Richard Dawkins and his followers - the Bible-belt of the anti-religious. SJG was rightly tired of his tub-thumping colleagues proclaiming God's death again and again in book after book - a philosophical notion which is completely beyond the realms of scientific inquiry and only serves to highlight the lack of basic philosophical investigation on its representatives behalf.
The point made in this book - that true Science and true Religion can never verify each other or disqualify each other is kids stuff for Philosophy/Theology undergraduates but is apparently never taught to Scientists. Gould's book is filled with interesting stories and good humour and this combined with the simplicity and importance of the argument means that it could only be truly disliked by someone still affiliated to the ignorant and arrogant fanatics on the two edges of the Science-Religion debate.
Sensible people everywhere find it easy to dismiss the Creationist Crazies who believe God created everything except metaphorical and allegorical language but sometimes it feels more difficult to dismiss someone with a Professorship and huge book sales. Hopefully Rocks of Ages will make it a bit easier.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Nonsolution for a "Nonproblem", Oct. 21 2002
By 
Jonathan L. Widger (Ocean View, DE United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
Stephen Jay Gould died this past May at the age of 60 of metastisized lung cancer. He really needs no introduction. He was, among other things, the famous Harvard professor of zoology and geology. He was also a prolific and gifted science writer. In Rocks of Ages, however, his topic is not science but, rather, promotion of "the potential harmony through difference of science and religion, both properly conceived and limited" (43). However, who shall hand down to us science and religion "properly concieved and limited"? Gould, of course.
Ironically, he insists there is no real conflict between science and religion. He refers to it as "the supposed conflict," "a debate that exists only in people's minds" (3), "the false conflict" (6), "the great nonproblem of our times" (92), "false and simplistic" (103), "the false model of warfare" (111), "this false dichotomization" (117), "the polemics of ill-conceived battle," and "a thoroughly false model" (209). Thus, he has written 222 pages to solve a "nonproblem"!
Gould offers as a "wonderfully workable solution" (92) the old idea that "science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven" (6). He names this solution "NOMA, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria...(from the Latin magister, or teacher)" (6). "NOMA," says Gould, "also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions residing properly within the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution" (9-10). However, his principle of NOMA is problematic.
In this "solution," religion acquires two problems. First, its magisterium will be limited to ethics and meaning. However, as Gould openly acknowledges, ethics and meaning require no validation via "appeals to religion" (57) and, furthermore, "need not invoke religion at all" (60). Secondly, he openly acknowledges that NOMA deprives religion of the miraculous, thus, imposing a "limitation on concepts of God" (85). Moreover, he states that "if you believe that an adequately loving God must show his hand by peppering nature with palpable miracles,...then a particular, partisan...view of religion has transgressed into the magisterium of science by dictating conclusions that must remain open to empirical test and potential rejection" (94).
In spite of his assertion that most of the "professional clergy and religious scholars" are defenders of NOMA (129), the majority of lay-religionists around the world are not ready to give up belief in some kind of miracle-working, personal deity. This fact completely refutes his assertion that the battle between religion and science is a "false and simplistic" model. On the contrary, what is false and simplistic is the notion that religion and science can be neatly divided into non-overlapping magisteria without religion being damaged by losing authority to make the miraculous claims that have been integral to religious experience and doctrine.
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4.0 out of 5 stars clear, concise, well-reasoned, July 27 2002
By 
Dan Lindsay "hilo_dan" (Hilo, HI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
This is typical Gould: direct and forcefully written, with the basic thesis of NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria, which means that religion and science need to stay out of each other's areas of expertise) clearly stated, well-developed, and defended in many interesting, persuasive, and original ways. His examples are well-chosen, both those illustrating applications and violations of NOMA.
The main targets of his argument are those who persist in imposing religious solutions on scientific questions, though scientists who trespass into areas best served by religion get their share of scolding as well. Gould never descends to invective or ridicule, rather treating his opponents "more in sorrow than in anger." The result is a broadly generous, warm, and highly persuasive work.
I do not think the creationists will be won over, simply because the whole idea of a subject area into which religion should not venture is foreign to their way of thinking. But Gould's target audience is not the convinced creationist but rather the interested but unconvinced layperson trying to figure out the issues.
Those looking for originality of concept will not find it here. As Gould says many times in the book, nothing here is a new idea, though Gould's examples and illustrations are often novel. This is instead a summary and clarification of ideas long taught by thoughtful people in both magisteria, science and religion.
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4.0 out of 5 stars clear, concise, well-reasoned, July 27 2002
By 
Dan Lindsay "hilo_dan" (Hilo, HI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
This is typical Gould: direct and forcefully written, with the basic thesis of NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria, which means that religion and science need to stay out of each other's areas of expertise) clearly stated, well-developed, and defended in many interesting, persuasive, and original ways. His examples are well-chosen, both those illustrating applications and violations of NOMA.
The main targets of his argument are those who persist in imposing religious solutions on scientific questions, though scientists who trespass into areas best served by religion get their share of scolding as well. Gould never descends to invective or ridicule, rather treating his opponents "more in sorrow than in anger." The result is a broadly generous, warm, and highly persuasive work.
I do not think the creationists will be won over, simply because the whole idea of a subject area into which religion should not venture is foreign to their way of thinking. But Gould's target audience is not the convinced creationist but rather the interested but unconvinced layperson trying to figure out the issues.
Those looking for originality of concept will not find it here. As Gould says many times in the book, nothing here is a new idea, though Gould's examples and illustrations are often novel. This is instead a summary and clarification of ideas long taught by thoughtful people in both magisteria, science and religion.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Gould defends irrationality, June 27 2002
By 
Arno Arrak (Dix Hills, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
This is a peculiar book. Steven Jay Gould attempts to show that the magisteria of science and religion do not overlap when he, of all people, should know better. Apparently the invitation to defend religion made him twist the facts. In truth, as science progressed it began to demonstrate that many aspects of religious doctrine were simply wrong. The pioneers who dared to question religious dogma suffered at the hands of the church but still prevailed: Copernicus was afraid to publish his system during his lifetime but saw to it that it came out after he was dead. Galileo was made to recant. Darwin too distanced himself from directly challenging the prevailing dogma even though he knew full well the implications of his work. To put it simply, the fact that we were not created but evolved invalidates every creation myth and with it their associated religions. This simple fact has been known for a hundred and forty three years, yet ninety five percent of our population still believes in religion. This is because most of them have been exposed to evolution only cursorily in their teens while religion was drummed into them from early childhood on. The universe in which we live is governed by laws of physics which underlie the laws of chemistry. We know what is happening in distant galaxies billions of light years away because their light obeys quantum mechanics, the fundamental law of physics on this earth too, and tells us about the conditions under which it was produced. The laws of chemistry and physics together, and only the laws of chemistry and physics, determine what a living organism is capable of. To allow the miraculous happenings described in various holy books to occur one must suspend these laws, including quantum mechanics, and this is impossible. Yet people keep trying. An example is Dr. Rhine and his project to investigate ESP at Duke University. He thought he had a subject who could do card guessing far beyond what chance would dictate. His wife, Louisa B. Rhine, thought it proved the existence of the soul. But his subject did have "bad" days and Rhine had decided not to use the data from those days. When Vannevar Bush, who had been science adviser to the president during the war, asked him how he knew that they were "bad" days he could not explain it. I too, can be a genius at card guessing if I am allowed to throw out data that I do not like. Since then, well-funded studies of ESP and related fields have continued for fifty-plus years but nothing has come of them.
Gould's NOMA is flawed in yet other ways dictated by his ideology. He is delighted to leave ethics to religion so as not to face the question of whence ethics comes from. Ethics clearly was not handed down from On High - it is a product of human social evolution, a necessary part of living together. And the course of social evolution is guided by an inherited human nature (1), studied by sociobiology. But to Gould the concept of an inherited human nature is an anathema because he is a Marxist. That is because for a Marxist evolution stops and Marx's materialist theory of history takes over as soon as there is a human society (2). This is encapsulated in the mantra Soviet schoolchildren used to learn in the sixties: "Darwinism is the science of biological evolution, Marxism of social evolution." (3). According to this materialist theory of history human nature is determined strictly by the means of production within society. This is a totally Lamarckian view and its logic leads directly to Mao's cultural revolution and to Pol Pot's re-education camps. The fear of having this doctrine invalidated is the unspoken motivating force behind the Marxist attack on sociobiology that has been relentless for more than a quarter century. Thus, no reference to Edward O. Wilson's work on sociobiology (4) can be found in Gould's massive tome "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" (5) and sociobiology is missing even in its index.
To summarize: Gould has subverted his talent to an unworthy cause. This is not the Gould I used to admire.
(1) Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Harvard, 1978)
(2) Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left, Politics - Evolution and Cooperation (Yale, 1999), pages 22 - 23
(3) Peter Singer, op.cit, page 27
(4) Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology - The New Synthesis (Belknap/Harvard), 1975)
(5) Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Harvard, 2002), 1,443 pages
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gould hits a home run but leaves a couple bases untagged, June 11 2002
By 
Kenneth Ruggiero (Charleston, SC United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Paperback)
Gould argues that the apparent conflict between science and religion is an illusion, and he provides a variety of interesting, thorough, and quite readable examples that support the utility of his position. Gould's major points are certainly not new, but few have laid them out as convincingly. It should be noted that Gould fails to satiate the scientifically minded reader by offering weak coverage of an important and clearly relevant issue: whereas in theory NOMA as a guiding framework appears to have strong utility, in practice it is (and will continue to be) infrequently applied. To take one example, if the concept of NOMA wasn't somewhat lacking in practical utility, scientists would have little difficulty leaving their background in science aside when discussing issues that fall under the magisterium of religion. But the fact is that scientists and non-scientists behave very differently from one another when confronted with questions that fall outside of the magisterium of science. The reasons for such differences are likely to have critical implications for the practical utility of NOMA. Gould unfortunately leaves some of these issues unconsidered. Despite its weaknesses, this book is easily worth the time and effort, not to mention the cost.
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Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life
Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould (Paperback - Feb. 26 2002)
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