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2.7 out of 5 stars
Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life
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on January 20, 2003
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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on July 27, 2002
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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on July 27, 2002
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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on June 11, 2002
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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on September 26, 1999
Rocks of Ages reads essentially like... Well, any of the recent Stephen Jay Gould books. It consists primarily of material rehashed from his previously published essays, it is built around a simplistic idea, and it provides succinct bulleted lists from which it strays constantly.
On the upside Gould is an extrodinarily eloquent writer, the book is chock full of interesting historical factoids -- and it's short (say, an evening to read).
Gould's theory makes enough sense to me, being an agnostic type who's always loathed philosophers that derive ethical systems on basis of natural law. But I can certainly see a few problems with the theory as a whole.
Gould tells us that empirical and normative studies shouldn't tresspass on each other's turf -- they should just play nice in the sandbox and engage in the occasional discourse for good measure. This is the obvious rational (not to mention pragmatic) conclusion. Unfortunately, rationality is the basis of science, hence science's preferential treatment in Gould's seperate but equal scenario. If science advances into the hinterlands of a topic that had previously been relegated to the world of religion (say, neurobiology and why people sin), religion must curtsey and back away. Religion gets stuck with second fiddle.
Presuppositions arn't a bad thing by any means, but why is a rational-functional model necessarily superior? The query is outside the scope of the book I realize; arguments like that often degrade into "what is reality," etc., but worth thinking about none the less.
Overall, it's certainly worth a few hours of your time to read, a good springboard to move on to (and synthesize with) other areas like education.
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on June 5, 1999
For thinking people there really should be no conflict between science and religion. Science tells you how to build an atom bomb, but it can't even address the question of whether you should use it. Religion, on the other hand, grapples with serious moral questions and offers wisdom about how to live your life. Gould makes clear that only a fundamentalist (i.e Biblical literalist) views Religion and Science like "the Hatfields and the McCoys." (If you think the Bible can do a better job than science of explaining the fossil record, for instance, you won't find much sympathy here.) However, Gould - an agnostic - clearly concedes religion its domain. Reading this book could do a lot of people a lot of good. (Unfortunately, my guess is the ones who could use it most will never pick it up. Some folks aren't much for exposing themselves to contrary points of view.) The book is a good introduction for someone who hasn't really considered the separate realms and dual functions of science and religion. Gould, ordinarily a fabulous essayist, writes much more gracefully in his other volumes in my view. I might have supposed it was ghost written by Joe Friday: just the facts, mam.
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on April 4, 1999
Gould's "Rocks of Ages" explores the long-standing and misunderstood conflict between science and religion and offers "... a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to this apparent conflict." As he correctly points out, his basic thesis "... follows a strong consensus accepted for decades by leading scientific and religious leaders alike." Stated simply, the contributions of science (rock-hard facts and knowledge) and the contribution of religion (the "Rock of Ages" spiritual and mystical contributions to life) are both important to a fulfilled life. Nontheless, they clearly occupy different domains of inquiry which should not overlap, Gould therefore proposes to "... encapsulate this central principle of respectful noninterference ... by enunciating the Principle of NOMA, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria." He chooses the "four-bit" word "magisterium" as it represents for him "...a domain of authority in teaching." that practioners of science and religion should acknowledge and respect. If all that Gould did was to revisit the unique contributions of science and religion, the book would be only mildly interesting. What makes it worthwhile reading is Gould's historical research. Here he comes across as a fine scholar. For example, his detailed discussions of Darwin and the imapct of the "Origin of Species", the conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church and the Scopes Trial are both enlightening and fascinating. Throughout the book he quotes extensively from historical records which add to reading enjoyment. As part of his criticism of the overlapping of science and religion, Gould cannot resist dwelling at length on the legal conflicts that have raged over the teaching of evolution and the current political agenda of the "Creation Science" movement. He makes it clear that there are those who still wish to keep alive the supposed warfare between science and religion with no peaceful resolution in sight. In summary, is the book profound? No. Is it worth reading?Yes. Gould is a talented essayist and, once again, this talent shows through in his book.
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on October 14, 2000
Steven Gould treats the long-standing problem of the relation between science and religion in this book. The author explores the contemporary principle he calls NOMA, which is an acronym of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. A magisterium represents a domain of authority in teaching. The NOMA principle is that the magisterium of science and that of religion do not overlap, because the two magisteria cover different realms of empirical facts and moral value. This might seem to some readers almost self-evident. Describing the historical and psychological bases extensively, however, Gould elaborates the above concept so deeply and persuasively that even such readers will find the reading of this book rewarding. Especially this is a must read for those who are on either side of the debate of evolution versus creation in education.
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on January 27, 2004
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 the library and read it straight through.
Other reviewers here have provided summaries so I won't take the time to do that. For me the book was most valuable in reinforcing and clarifying my own thinking about the relationship between science and religion, and the universal "need for religion" in the sense that everyone needs clarity about his/her own values and meaning. It is also useful to have "NOMA" as a word for the useful concept of the non-overlapping nature of science and religion.
I especially liked the quotes from Darwin and Huxley and the review of the Scopes trial and William Jennings Bryan.
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on June 27, 1999
While this is, like all SJG's books, excellent, there are some errors in the book that should be corrected in the next edition. On page 135, he says that the late 1980's TV re-make of Inherit The Wind had Douglas playing Darrow and Robards playing Bryan. He has it backwards. In that production, Kirk Douglas played the Bryan character, and Jason Robards played the Darrow character. On page 141 SJG says that Arkansas and Louisiana passed their "equal time for creationism" laws in the late 1970's. No. Arkansas passed its law on March 19, 1981, and Louisiana on July 21, 1981. Despite these errors, it's a great book.
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