Science, The Resurrection, and NOMA


Lets use the resurrection of Jesus as an example. Until someone can replicate the revival of someone from death and send him safely to Heaven… all we can say is science has no opinion on the resurrection of Jesus.

Evolution is much less tricky. We can take a chimp chromosome and by laboratory techniques we can (most likely) create a viable human.

But how does science convince anyone that the mutations required to do this were intentionally created? If a divine being (or any being) knew the ETA of these mutations was 500,000 years… and a laboratory was able to make them all happen in 6 days… how do you prove God actually did it?

That’s not quite right, is it? I think science would say dead people stay dead. I think science has an opinion but it can’t disprove the Resurrection. That is what I meant by it being within the noise or being an outlier. Science can say, observably as a natural law, that dead people stay dead. That doesn’t disprove the Resurrection, it just makes it a miracle if it did happen. Right?

I think I’m looking at this the other way around, not theology limiting science but science limiting theology. My pushback on “science is neutral” is that it seems like science does put some limitations on theological statements. Science says sole-genetic progenitor did not happen in the last few hundred thousand years. That’s not neutral.

So perhaps one way to sum up the relationship between theology and science, from a Christian/theist perspective, we might say something like:

“Science can put limitations on theologically-derived statements of historical events, theology can add a layer of purpose, design, and meaning to a scientifically-derived understanding of the physical universe”



Ahhh… well i was assuming you are a Christian. Are you an agnostic or maybe an atheist?

No, no, I’m a Christian (I would say moderate Evangelical). I’m trying to work out good ways to articulate the interaction between science and theology. I don’t think non-overlapping magisteria, as Stephen J. Gould said, is very workable. So, in some way, theology influences science and science influences theology, and I’m trying to look at that.

If “all truth is God’s truth”, as I commonly hear in my circles, then maybe we could say that science can help us interpret what the Bible says and theology can give meaning and purpose (design?) to a scientific understanding of the way the world works.


The key question is: how?

I think you misunderstood what I mean by neutral. I do not mean non-interacting, or disengaged. What I mean is that the two can pose questions to one another, and are often taking about the same realities in different ways. This however does not mean science has authority to overrule Theological claims in theological language in theological discourse. Nor does theology have authority to overrule scientific claims in scientific language in scientific discourse. They both have autonomy, and that is what makes constructive dialogue possible.

I agree, Jordan, that the non-overlapping magisteria model is questionable. It is interesting that many ECs deny vehemently that they hold to it, when their arguments fit right into it. I lost count of the number of times that columnists on BioLogos said things like: “Science concerns objective facts about how the universe works, whereas religion concerns questions of purpose, value, and meaning, so the two cannot be in conflict.” Yet they could in the next moment turn around and say, “Oh, no, I don’t support NOMA at all.”

Alvin Plantinga used to offer a formulation something like yours, but with a little more teeth to the religion side. I heard him give a talk once in which he said that scientific and religious propositions did sometimes seem to be in tension, and that the way to work out the tension was not by pretending no tension existed (which is the NOMA approach), but by forcing both scientists and theologians to go back over their certainties and revisit them, casting about for possible alternate interpretations both of the religion and of the science. I liked that model, because it didn’t imply that where conflict arose, it was always the religious folks who had to go back and change the way they read the Bible, to fit in with “consensus science”. The scientists, too, were expected to revisit their data and their interpretations if their conclusions appeared to conflict with religious truths that were absolutely central to Christian faith. (Of course, Plantinga was speaking to an audience of firm Christians, not of agnostics, atheists, etc. – to Christians who took the truth of revelation as certain, even if the exact formulation of Christian theology was open to debate.) Too often at BioLogos and among ASA writers, the approach is that science has veto power over the conclusions of religion, but there is no parallel veto for religion over the conclusions of science. The asymmetry is often very obvious.

If I may say a word in favor of Joshua, his “Genealogical Adam” approach is somewhat along Plantinga’s lines; Joshua questions the supposed consensus interpretation of “science” (i.e., the BioLogos interpretation) regarding Adam and Eve, due to his hesitation to just junk the traditional theological understanding. Whether or not Joshua’s view will win the day remains to be seen, but it is a more imaginative approach, and more respectful of the “religion” side of the tension, than simple NOMA compartmentalization.

I agree too. NOMA does not work. As I understand it…

This different than NOMA.

@swamidass and I had a brief conversation about this in a previous thread: Pesky Implementation Details in Information Theory - #11 by PdotdQ

I believe that all science can say is that on average dead people stay dead.

OK, that is useful to understand. I was thinking of it more in a NOMA sort of way.

OK, good in theory, I’m not so sure how the plays out exactly. Theological claims are often grounded in historical, observable realities. Soteriology really does depend on what happened at the cross, physically, historically. I don’t see science having the reverse dependence, in fact that what methodological naturalism forbids.

What I’m getting at is that because theology takes on the “big questions”, there is not exactly a reciprocal give-and-take between the two disciplines. At some point, it seems, people have to decide whether theology takes precedence or if science takes precedence when they seem to disagree.

I’m not sure how to have them interact but have autonomy.

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I think the Genealogical Adam is a great case study on how it should play out, and why/how a constructive is opposed by many.

I’d say the key ingredients should be:

  1. autonomy of hermeneutics, in both findings and language
  2. autonomy of science, in both findings and language.
  3. legitimacy of theology-motivated questions in science.
  4. legitimacy of science-motivated questions in theology.
  5. imagination in theology to mediate new dialogues between the two.

Then, in dialogue and imagination, we see what emerges. If we trust Scripture, we trust that eventually something coherent can arise in the dialogue, even if we have not yet seen it. We do not, however, have to use science or theology or scripture as a trump card over the other. That subverts true dialogue.

Curious @pevaquark’s thoughts on this, because he seems to oppose #3.

Autonomy, yes, but also constructive dialogue.

This need not be how it is. Legitimizing questions gives a way for real dialogue to arise.

I’m pretty sure there is little scientific interest in replicating the resurrection of Jesus experiment, nor any hope for practical application of the technique. The meaning here has nothing to do with science, and that’s OK. :slight_smile:


I agree. But that conclusion essentially demonstrates NOMA is not valid. The Resurrection takes place in the physical world we all inhabit, what is supposed to be science’s domain.

I can only give you my own interpretation on this, so do keep in mind I am agnostic. :slight_smile:

Q: Did The Resurrection takes place in the physical world we all inhabit?
A: It doesn’t matter. What matters is the value you place on that story and what is brings to your life. It seems clear to me this is a good thing in you life and the lives of many others. That value doesn’t depend on any scientific proof, so there isn’t much point in demanding it.

In answer to this I often hear, “but it does matter to me and my belief”, to which I can only answer there are any number of stories in the Bible which still have meaning even if they aren’t literally true, and even if you don’t believe in God. Sometimes you just have to have faith.


So @Dan_Eastwood, why do you think Paul writes this? What does he mean?

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. —1 Corinthians 15

Why would he hinge everything on this? Why does the physical reality of the Resurrection matter so much to Paul?

It might be helpful to read Gould’s essay where he introduces NOMA. I don’t think it is nearly as strident or as clear cut as some think. Gould freely admits that there is a lot of crossover at the borders of the magisteria. In fact, I think Gould exemplifies the type of Peaceful Science that @swamidass is trying to support. Here is a snippet and a link:


Maybe hype was as common back then as it is now.

I agree that Gould was not strident on this. He was trying to articulate a path out of conflict. It was a genuine bid for peace. The problem, however, is the claim that they are non-overlapping, and that science has domain over facts in the physical world, and faith has domain over values. That division does not seem to work, as the two often appear to be talking about the same things in the physical world.

I think a better understanding is that they have different perspectives, different languages, and different ranges of evidence considered, and types of questions at play. They are different communities of discourse.

That does not seem true. Paul doesn’t say anything remotely like this about anything else (not even Adam!). Taking out the physical resurrection also destroys the logic of what he is trying to affirm in that passage.

Sorry, I wasn’t trying to start a fight. :-/
I think for any definitive answer, you will have to ask Paul.
Meanwhile, it’s OK just to have faith.

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3 posts were split to a new topic: Atler’s Case Against The Resurrection