One of my many fine readers comments thusly on the quote in this post:
Not an unreasonable argument, but irrelevant to the question of whether God exists. Most believers I know give a big yawn to the question of whether scientific cosmology or evolutionary biology actively support the supposition of God’s existence. Science can’t prove (or disprove) God’s existence, and to expect it to is a wrong-headed approach to both science and faith. For the people I know, the proof comes from the experience of God’s presence. Sometimes it’s a life-changing, single event that confirms the belief; sometimes it’s a slow but steady walk.
I love science, but these kinds of arguments are barking up the wrong tree.
This is, I take it, a standard liberal approach to faith. It’s Karen Armstrong’s case for God. Let’s not worry about evidence, scientific or historical; let’s not worry about philosophical arguments. God is beyond all that — ineffable, transcendent, mysterious, encountered in prayer and meditation and ritual. It is, I suppose, the only stand that religion can take in the face of science’s encroachments on the arguments religion used to make (and to which Krauss is responding), and it must be utterly convincing to those who have encountered God in this way.
But it scares me. Because private faith never stays out of the public sphere. And these encounters with God often go far beyond the experience of His presence, resulting in a cacophony of conflicting accounts and beliefs. And religions always and everywhere claim privileges based on what these encounters reveal to their adherents. Armstrong endorses Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA), which he describes thus:
The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it 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 arch cliches, 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.
But how does the experience of God’s presence privilege religion to speak about how to go to heaven? Where does the privilege end? If God tells a parent to deny healthcare to her child, is that OK? It’s religion’s magisterium, after all. If God forbids a pharmacist to sell birth control, who are we to tell him that’s wrong?
Not that I impute any such beliefs to my very fine reader, whom I wish the best of health.