Science and Religion – a false parallel

Ophelia Benson. quoting Stephen Pinker in paraphrase of Stephen Jay Gould to the effect that “Science gets the empirical universe; religion gets the questions of moral meaning and value” struck me as identifying the key point on which Gould’s idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” is often misinterpreted.

It is true that science “gets” the empirical universe because science is defined as including anything useful that can be said about the empirical universe (whether or not it comes from “peer reviewed” journals or people with academic appointments in specific disciplines at specially annointed institutions). But religion does not “get” the questions of moral meaning and value – it may be restricted to those questions but it doesn’t own them. The fields of ethics and aesthetics “get” these questions by definition in the same sense as science “gets” the empirical world, but anyone who wants to is empowered to participate. To compare science and religion is like comparing values and academic departments or journals. (Or dogs and vegetables, or animals and weeds)

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