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Stephen Jay Gould on Non-Overlapping Magisteria

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The text of Humani Generis focuses on the Magisterium (or Teaching Authority) of the Church—a word derived not from any concept of majesty or unquestionable awe, but from the different notion of teaching, for magister means “teaching” in Latin. We may, I think, adopt this word and concept to express…the principled resolution of supposed ‘conflict’ and ‘warfare’ between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or ‘non-overlapping magisteria”). The net of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the usual clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

Stephen J. Gould. 1999. Non Over-lapping Magisteria. Skeptical Inquirer July August, 55-61.

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