Ballantine's ongoing Library of Contemporary Thought is a curious series, embracing such unlikely books as Jimmy Carter's thoughts on aging, a study of Tiger Woods, and an upcoming volume by Don Imus. Joining this mixed bag is Stephen Jay Gould's latest, Rocks of Ages.
Over the years, Gould has become evolutionary science's apostle to the masses. In Rocks of Ages, with his signature lively informality, Gould explores a number of issues of faith and reason, and declares flatly that the two modes of thought are not mutually exclusive. Borrowing the word magisterium from Catholic terminology for a domain of authority in teaching, Gould insists that science and religion are Non-Overlapping Magisteria, or NOMA. In other words, they should get along because they aren't truly rivals.
Frequently Gould's pronouncements seem fueled as much by liberal optimism as by scientific cavils. His new book is again in this vein not always convincing, but a noble effort, because no rapprochement is more urgent. No doubt some readers will dispute Gould's contention that this supposed conflict is merely a debate that exists only in people's minds and social practices, not in the logic or proper utility of these entirely different, and equally vital, subjects. But common ground, or at least mutual respect, must be found. At times Gould's tone is condescending, but he always writes with erudite enthusiasm, providing helpful analogies and memorable anecdotes about the entwined history of science and religion. At one point he quotes a denunciation of the dangerous notion that the Darwinian view of competitive nature justifies a selfish society. Then he cheers the author, whom he recognizes as a fellow advocate of harmony and compassion: To which, let all people of goodwill; all who hold science, or religion, or both, dear; all who recognize NOMA as the logically sound, humanely sensible, and properly civil way to live in a world of honorable diversity let them say, Amen. Michael Sims is the author of Darwin's Orchestra (Henry Holt).