At first glance, the philosophy of NOMA (nonoverlapping magisteria) appears to be the perfect solution to conflicts between evolutionary science and religion. In reality, it is a subtle and deceitful lie.

The phrase was coined by Steven Jay Gould, a prominent paleontologist from Harvard. In 1984, Gould met at the Vatican with a group of scientists from around the world to discuss the issue of nuclear winter. It was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and included several French and Italian Jesuit priests who were also professional scientists. During the meeting there were several conversations about the conflict between scientific creationism and evolution. Gould reassured his fellow scientists that there is no conflict between science and religion. After all, Pope Pius XII had permitted limited teachings about evolution. The Pope had also suggested that there were different magisteria (teaching areas) occupied by the Church and by science.

Gould adopted the word “magisteria” from this document and coined the term “nonoverlapping magisteria” to mean that there should be no conflict between the domain of teaching science (especially evolution) and the domain of teaching religion. He then proposed that science and religion occupy different domains and the two domains don’t overlap.

In 1972 another prominent scientist, Werhner von Braun, expressed a different opinion about how science (especially evolution) and religion should be reconciled. Von Braun wrote his ideas about teaching origins to the California State Board of Education. Some of his comments were as follows:

“One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be design and purpose behind it all. In the world around us, we can behold the obvious manifestations of an ordered, structured plan or design.”

“While the admission of a design for the universe ultimately raises the question of a Designer (a subject outside of science), the scientific method does not allow us to exclude data which lead to the conclusion that the universe, life and man are based on design. To be forced to believe only one conclusion—that everything in the universe happened by chance—would violate the very objectivity of science itself.”

“Certainly there are those who argue that the universe evolved out of a random process, but what random process could produce the brain of a man or the system or the human eye?”

“We in NASA were often asked what the real reason was for the amazing string of successes we had with our Apollo flights to the Moon. I think the only honest answer we could give was that we tried to never overlook anything. It is in that same sense of scientific honesty that I endorse the presentation of alternative theories for the origin of the universe, life and man in the science classroom. It would be an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned rather than happened by chance.”

Note that von Braun doesn’t believe that science can explain or analyze God the Creator and Designer. At the same time, he doesn’t believe that all answers about origins are exclusively explained by naturalistic evolution.

In fact, von Braun believes that theories for the origin of the universe, life and man should not be limited to random events and natural evolutionary processes. Remarkably, he proposes that alternative theories of origin should be presented in the science classroom. More significantly, he believes it is an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned by a supernatural Designer.

When it comes to what is taught about origins by evolutionary science and what is taught about origins by the Bible, the two magisteria (or domains) definitely overlap. Both naturalistic evolution and the Bible provide answers to the important question of “Where did I come from?”

Should Christians follow the philosophy of NOMA and accept that the universe, life, and man are the result of natural processes and random events? Do the Biblical accounts of a supernatural Creation, the Flood, and the Dispersion of people provide better answers about origins?

As for an answer to “where did I came from,” the only answers that makes sense to me are found in the Bible.



“Nonoverlapping Magisteria” essay by Steven J. Gould in The Unofficial Steven Jay Gould archieve.