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Rocks of Ages
Cover of Rocks of Ages
Rocks of Ages
Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life
Borrow Borrow
"People of good will wish to see science and religion at peace. . . . I do not see how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis; but I also do not understand why the two enterprises should experience any conflict." So states internationally renowned evolutionist and bestselling author Stephen Jay Gould in the simple yet profound thesis of his brilliant new book.

Writing with bracing intelligence and elegant clarity, Gould sheds new light on a dilemma that has plagued thinking people since the Renaissance. Instead of choosing between science and religion, Gould asks, why not opt for a golden mean that accords dignity and distinction to each realm?

At the heart of Gould's penetrating argument is a lucid, contemporary principle he calls NOMA (for nonoverlapping magisteria)—a "blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution" that allows science and religion to coexist peacefully in a position of respectful noninterference. Science defines the natural world; religion, our moral world, in recognition of their separate spheres of influence.

In elaborating and exploring this thought-provoking concept, Gould delves into the history of science, sketching affecting portraits of scientists and moral leaders wrestling with matters of faith and reason. Stories of seminal figures such as Galileo, Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley make vivid his argument that individuals and cultures must cultivate both a life of the spirit and a life of rational inquiry in order to experience the fullness of being human.

In his bestselling books Wonderful Life, The Mismeasure of Man, and Questioning the Millennium, Gould has written on the abundance of marvels in human history and the natural world. In Rocks of Ages, Gould's passionate humanism, ethical discernment, and erudition are fused to create a dazzling gem of contemporary cultural philosophy. As the world's preeminent Darwinian theorist writes, "I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving concordat between . . . science and religion."
"People of good will wish to see science and religion at peace. . . . I do not see how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis; but I also do not understand why the two enterprises should experience any conflict." So states internationally renowned evolutionist and bestselling author Stephen Jay Gould in the simple yet profound thesis of his brilliant new book.

Writing with bracing intelligence and elegant clarity, Gould sheds new light on a dilemma that has plagued thinking people since the Renaissance. Instead of choosing between science and religion, Gould asks, why not opt for a golden mean that accords dignity and distinction to each realm?

At the heart of Gould's penetrating argument is a lucid, contemporary principle he calls NOMA (for nonoverlapping magisteria)—a "blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution" that allows science and religion to coexist peacefully in a position of respectful noninterference. Science defines the natural world; religion, our moral world, in recognition of their separate spheres of influence.

In elaborating and exploring this thought-provoking concept, Gould delves into the history of science, sketching affecting portraits of scientists and moral leaders wrestling with matters of faith and reason. Stories of seminal figures such as Galileo, Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley make vivid his argument that individuals and cultures must cultivate both a life of the spirit and a life of rational inquiry in order to experience the fullness of being human.

In his bestselling books Wonderful Life, The Mismeasure of Man, and Questioning the Millennium, Gould has written on the abundance of marvels in human history and the natural world. In Rocks of Ages, Gould's passionate humanism, ethical discernment, and erudition are fused to create a dazzling gem of contemporary cultural philosophy. As the world's preeminent Darwinian theorist writes, "I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving concordat between . . . science and religion."
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  • From the book The disciple thomas makes three prominent appearances in the Gospel of John, each to embody an important moral or theological principle. Nonetheless, these three episodes cohere in an interesting way that can help us to understand the different powers and procedures of science and religion. We first meet Thomas in chapter 11. Lazarus has died, and Jesus wishes to return to Judaea in order to restore his dear friend to life. But the disciples hesitate, reminding Jesus of the violent hostility that had led to a stoning on his last visit. Jesus, in his customary manner, tells an ambiguous little parable, ending with the firm conclusion that he will and must go to Lazarus—and Thomas steps forth to break the deadlock and restore courage to the disciples: "Then said Thomas . . . unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him."

    In the second incident (chapter 14), Jesus, at the Last Supper, states that he will be betrayed, and must endure bodily death as a result. But he will go to a better place and will prepare the way for his disciples: "In my Father's house are many mansions ... I go to prepare a place for you." Thomas, now confused, asks Jesus: "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" Jesus responds in one of the most familiar Bible passages: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me."

    According to legend, Thomas led a brave life after the death of Jesus, extending the gospel all the way to India. The first two biblical incidents, cited above, also display his admirable qualities of bravery and faithful inquiry. Yet we know him best by the third tale, and by an appended epithet of criticism—for he thus became the Doubting Thomas of our languages and traditions. In chapter 20, the resurrected Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene, and then to all the disciples but the absent Thomas. The famous tale unfolds:


    But Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

    Jesus returns a week later to complete the moral tale of a brave and inquisitive man, led astray by doubt, but chastened and forgiven with a gentle but firm lesson for us all:


    Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

    (This last passage assumes great importance in traditional exegesis as representing the first time that a disciple identifies Jesus as God. Trinitarians point to Thomas's utterance as proof for the threefold nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost at the same time. Unitarians must work their way around the literal meaning, arguing, for example, that Thomas had merely uttered an oath of astonishment, not an identification.) In any case, Jesus' gentle rebuke conveys the moral punch line, and captures the fundamental difference between faith and science:


    Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

    Thomas, in other words, passes his test because he accepted the evidence of his observations and then repented his previous skepticism. But his doubt signifies weakness, for he should have known through faith and belief. The...
About the Author-
  • The author of more than fifteen books, Stephen Jay Gould is also author of the longest-running contemporary series of scientific essays, which appears monthly in Natural History. He is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and professor of geology at Harvard; curator for invertebrate paleontology at the university's Museum of Comparative Zoology; and serves as the Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and New York City.
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Rocks of Ages
Rocks of Ages
Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life
Stephen Jay Gould
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