3 feb. 2011


Religion, science, philosophy, and poetry are four ways of approaching reality in its most fundamental dimension. There may be others, but those four are the major ones.

The idea of "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" developed by Stephen J. Gould affirms that religion and science do not enter into conflict with each other, because they divide up their realms of magisterium. Science gets the natural world, religion gets ethics and larger questions of the meaning of everything. Sounds good.

There are several reasons why this system does not work, however. In the first place, religion has made and continues to make claims about the natural world. The idea that it doesn't is a purely modern development, caused by the advance of science and the retreat (or reaction) of religion from these developments.

Secondly, religion does not have the same authority over ethics and meaningfulness that science can claim over the natural world. A third master discourse, philosophy, has a stake here too, and philosophy can be wholly secular. Gould's division of labors would leave a secular person with no access to the meaning of anything.

So really, any system that claims to be the master system cannot tolerate any genuine rivalry. Science tends to undermine religion. Religion's ethical teachings are contradictory and often unethical, its science unscientific.

We can imagine a system lacking secular science, secular poetry, and secular philosophy. Religion holds the ultimate magisterium, and all song and dance is religious ritual. However, that is not the world in which we live.