PZ Myers[1]

Supernatural explanations of natural phenomena are no longer outside the realm of nature, and are therefore subject to scientific inquiry. Just saying that your explanation for something is supernatural is not a get-out-of-science-free card.

Non-Overlapping Magisteria or NOMA was first poposed by the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould in his book Rock of Ages.



Gould described a "magisterium" as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution". And went on to develop his idea writing: "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."

Materialist counterargument[]

  • Beauty, as such, is an abstract quality which it is certainly impossible to measure scientifically.
  • However, when people react to things which they consider beautiful this can be studied in the same way as all other aspects of our behaviour can be studied. We can say that something exists tangibly because some measurement of what happens when we appreciate beauty could be made in a brain scanner. Therefore the human reaction to what is felt to be beautiful can be studied empirically. And we can conclude that something tangible, or at least potentially measurable, correlates with beauty.

Criticism of NOMA[]

In reality NOMA gives religion a "get out of jail card for free card" when it gets caught out making real-world predictions. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out god either exists or he doesn't - and there is no reason that this hypothesis could not be tested in the same way as any other.

Furthermore the religious supporters of NOMA seem quite coy about where their NOMA line should be drawn. Religious beliefs are the basis of Creationism, Intelligent Design, Theistic evolution and more. While many science-friendly NOMA advocates happily attack creationism, they then hold the NOMA shield up to defend other (their own) religious beliefs - a position which appears a little intellectually dishonest.


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