Copyright ©1999 Stephen Jay Gould; Copyright (P)1999 NewStar Media Inc.
I love Gould's insights, read almost all his books and mourned his passing. This book is different, rather than letting the data and drive conclusion, Gould decided on the conclusion and presented little that opposed this.
For example, Gould is correct that Galileo's problems were more political then scientific. But he never explores the damage to popular science that the Catholic Church did by Galileo's public trial. If you inadvertently knock a flowerpot off a 22 story building and the impact destroys a pedestrian's head; there may be a legal difference if it was intentional or accidential, but to the poor walker it matters not, nor if the flower was an almost dead marigold or a prize winning orchid. Gould basically talks about how wonderfully you grew orchid and not the consequences as he expounds upon how the higher ups in the Church discuss and debate all sorts of scientific and philosophical ideas. He ignores that these discussions do not lead to any ground-breaking policies or reforms.
Still this is Gould and as always he has unique ways of looking at science and religion that exposed some of my own prejudices about science and religion.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The book's theme is Science and Religion have non overlapping domains, Science can't give ethical and moral truths and that religion should be respected when it stays within it's own domain.
I'm glad this book is not influential today. When it was written (in 1998 according to the book itself) marriage equality was completely being shot down by the imprimatur of religion. Science actually refuted each of the arguments used by religion ("it's not natural", "people aren't born that way", "it's Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve who were in the Garden of Eden", and other statements which Religions defined as moral truths), and Science showed their statements to be false thus changing the dialog. Science didn't need to go into the ethical or moral sphere directly, but rather provided arguments to refute statements based on authority only. This book would have allowed the science but seems like it would have suggested it remain silent instead of challenging the religious dogma which was based on authority alone.
Another example, a current senator from Oklahoma has written a book on how climate change is impossible because his revealed religion tells him so based on his moral beliefs and his interpretation of his bible. That argument by itself deserves no respect. The science is speaking loud and clear and global warming is real and is man made. Once again, on strict reading of Gould's book he would have allowed the science to proceed, but he would have required respect in challenging the assertions. I would suggest the arguments put forth in that book should be attacked and shown no respect whatsoever.
He did say a couple things in the book that highlight its anachronistic nature. He says, what happened before the big bang is best left to religion since nobody can say what happened before. The overwhelming majority of today's physicist ignore that statement and give reasonable theories and speculate what happened before the big bang. Also, he thinks ID (intelligence design) is not significant (as he was writing in 1998). It is very relevant today. We even had a president since that time who thought Russia was Gog (or Magog) and is part of the 'end times' as prophesied in Daniel and Revelations.
Morality and ethics are complex. Reason, rational thought, experience and our empathy and concepts of reciprocity are good starting points. People who pretend to know things they don't know and thus have no doubt do not make for good starting points and are best ignored if possible, but unfortunately anti-Marriage Equality, Climate Denialism, Intelligence Design, and other such items have real world consequences and must be considered for what they are: absurd positions not worthy of respect.
Overall, the book is silly and is best ignored.
I liked it. It was interesting, but I was never sure it needed to be written. I wonder if those that need to understand the concept of Non-overlapping Magisteria would ever read the book. I think he cited great examples, and explained himself well. I did learn that 1) the flat Earth idea wasn't how we viewed the world in the Middle Ages, we only started to say we did in the 1870's. and 2) that the idea of the conflict of science and religion was a made up idea. Those were both good to know. Seemed like a lot of work for a simple idea. I liked it. I like Stephen Jay Gould. Wouldn't call this his best book, but still interesting. It was worth reading. It definitely help my attention.
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