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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2000
Dr. Gould reconciles the separate and equally important domains of religion and science using the life, times and perspectives of some of science's great thinkers. His message of tolerance and understanding is made from an open, yet skeptical, perspective. His thumbnail biography of Charles Darwin is so touching that it can bring almost anyone to tears. As one who does not yet know enough to know the truth with respect to belief systems, I found much harmony with Gould, Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley. It is a compact book (222 5" by 8" pages of large type with large margins) and easily read in a day. It is a satisfying read that, by its very nature, leaves you ready for more.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
Gould (I admit) is probably my favorite writer of science. His breadth and scope and odd comparisons combined with a witty, erudite literary style make for excellent reads. But here we are tackling the great Bugaboo - science and religion. Considering all that could have been said and has been said about the subject, SJG admirably rises to the occasion.

Gould points out that despite his own theological doubts, Darwin never used evolution to to crusade for atheism or the non-existence of God or, I should add, a political agenda. He, like Gould, was a liberal who thought coexistence was possible between the two spheres. Gould defines something called Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) - that provides for separate arenas of activity. As long as they do not venture into each others fields they can not only exist but flourish. His own views tended toward the agnostic/atheist but he shows a wise appreciation for not only the strenght but role of religion in society.

This idea is naturally rejected by what Gould calls the Fundamentalist Darwinians - Dawkins, Dennet, Smith, et al, who see no need for any kind of spiritual sphere in human existence. Indeed Dawkins calls on readers not to respect religious ideas - the very opposite of the tolerance Gould (and Darwin) preach. The "Fundamentalists" view morality, emotions and psychology in deterministic terms, as nothing more than mechanical outcomes of the interaction of genes guided by natural selection. The fact that Gould is a non-believer and frequently uses religious terms and imagery is all the more galling to this group.

Inside, we have the usual essays wherein he dispenses with creationists, literalists and fundamentalists. As some have noted, his idea of religion is a liberal one that has dispensed with such things as miracles, saints and ghosts. He deals extensively with Darwin's own struggle revealed in his letters and writing. We read of his doubts, his inner conflicts and search for some type of resolution. He speaks of the Pope's acceptance of evolution (which was mocked by Dawkins). In the past he has written of that feeling of grandeur as he sang in a Requiem Mass. He may not believe in God but he definitely feels that mankind is more than a collection of chemical processes, gene machinations and adaptation. After all, only we have the ability to understand such grand ideas.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2000
Steven Gould treats the long-standing problem of the relation between science and religion in this book. The author explores the contemporary principle he calls NOMA, which is an acronym of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. A magisterium represents a domain of authority in teaching. The NOMA principle is that the magisterium of science and that of religion do not overlap, because the two magisteria cover different realms of empirical facts and moral value. This might seem to some readers almost self-evident. Describing the historical and psychological bases extensively, however, Gould elaborates the above concept so deeply and persuasively that even such readers will find the reading of this book rewarding. Especially this is a must read for those who are on either side of the debate of evolution versus creation in education.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 1999
Rocks of Ages reads essentially like... Well, any of the recent Stephen Jay Gould books. It consists primarily of material rehashed from his previously published essays, it is built around a simplistic idea, and it provides succinct bulleted lists from which it strays constantly.
On the upside Gould is an extrodinarily eloquent writer, the book is chock full of interesting historical factoids -- and it's short (say, an evening to read).
Gould's theory makes enough sense to me, being an agnostic type who's always loathed philosophers that derive ethical systems on basis of natural law. But I can certainly see a few problems with the theory as a whole.
Gould tells us that empirical and normative studies shouldn't tresspass on each other's turf -- they should just play nice in the sandbox and engage in the occasional discourse for good measure. This is the obvious rational (not to mention pragmatic) conclusion. Unfortunately, rationality is the basis of science, hence science's preferential treatment in Gould's seperate but equal scenario. If science advances into the hinterlands of a topic that had previously been relegated to the world of religion (say, neurobiology and why people sin), religion must curtsey and back away. Religion gets stuck with second fiddle.
Presuppositions arn't a bad thing by any means, but why is a rational-functional model necessarily superior? The query is outside the scope of the book I realize; arguments like that often degrade into "what is reality," etc., but worth thinking about none the less.
Overall, it's certainly worth a few hours of your time to read, a good springboard to move on to (and synthesize with) other areas like education.
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57 of 75 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 4, 2005
Stephen Jay Gould was a giant of evolutionary theory who, throughout the 1980s, was probably best-known to the general public as an anti-Creationism crusader. It was largely due to Gould's writings and testimony that Creationism is not treated as an equal alternative to Darwinian theory in many school districts around the country. He was a great scientist, but was also exceptionally political. Therefore, to those who knew him only from his public battles, "Rocks of Ages" came as a total shock. The book argues for an equal-yet-different importance of organized religion for our everyday lives. Throughout the book, Gould provides examples demonstrating that many of the so-called conflicts between science and religion are really conflicts of an entirely political nature.

I've occassionally recommended the book to students in my biology and history of psychology classes, and it always provokes a loud debate coupled with disappointment.

In order to understand this book, the reader needs to know that Gould was not only dying of cancer at the time, but was also married to a new wife in the arts. We can attribute his softened stance to these factors, as well as the relative sloppiness of his writing and the weaknesses of his central argument.

Gould's argument is likely to leave die-hards on both sides very unhappy. His position that religion and science are complimentary and equally valid is likely to work only within the confines of a liberal, secular culture in which religion is not interpreted as being literally true. Certainly, this is not a position many Fundamentalists would share, nor is it one that many scientists with axes to grind would agree with. His celebratory, back-slapping text gives one the impression that he is merely stating the obvious, which is very far from the truth. In nonsecular cultures, science and religion compete constantly for both influence and power. Therefore, his hypotheses, while reasonable, are unsatisfying.

There's little evidence of Gould's power as a compelling writer in this text. His sentences ramble, and the most lucid sections are paraphrasings of earlier writings. I've no idea what function, if any, his editor served but this book barely resembles a final draft. Despite its brevity, the book is exceptionally tedious and the blame lies squarely on Gould's shoulders. Given his stance as an agnostic, I found his frequent "Lord Knows" exclamations very patronizing. This is a major disappointment from the author of "Full House," "Mismeasure of Man," and "Bully for Brontosaurus."

This book is a useful introduction to the conflict between science and religion, but only for those willing to wade through it. Despite Gould's protestations, there is no consensus here. For a deeper discussion of the conflict between science and religion (or, even better, the conflict between science and religous belief - which is not synonymous with organized religion), you'll have to look elsewhere.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 1999
This is an extended presentation of an argument that Gould has thrown into his essays for years, that science and religion do not conflict and should be kept separate.
On the one hand, Gould has underestimated the scope and ambition of religion. It is not merely a source of moral teaching. For all religions -- and Gould really should learn something about non-Judeo-Christian religions before pretending to characterize "religion" as such -- the basis for their claim to moral authority is the truth of their description of the way the world works. If there is no God who created the heaven and earth, then why are we to follow his commandments? If there is no "force" of karmic harmony determining our status in our next life, then why follow the dharma (which means duty) imposed upon us by our birth and caste?
On the other hand, Gould seems to be arguing that there can be no moral quality without religion. If I do not believe in a God, I am, by Gould's definition, automatically an immoral person. Certainly the laws of physics or biology are not direct guides to morality. Yet there are those, like F.A. Hayek, who talk about the "evolution" (in an explicitly Darwinian sense) of moral and social rules.
There is, indeed, a real conflict between religion and science -- or rationalism, if you please. It's just not one that people should be killed, shunned, or harmed over, and that's the real challenge.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1999
I like most of Gould's work, though it's often hard to read. I loved 'Wonderful Life'. I think his 'punctuated equilibrium' was an attempt to put a catchy label on a minor sub-theory that doesn't affect Darwinism much at all, just to get PR. I think now that the 'magesteria' in Rock of Ages is similar. He's set up these categories and derives his argument from that structure. I don't think that the religious 'strict constructionists' would go for the 'magesteria' categories. I think that he's failed to establish a basis for peace between science and those who believe in biblical inerrancy. What's worse, he's failed over a lot of pages of difficult stuff to read. Gould needs to take writing lessons from Richard Dawkins.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 1999
For thinking people there really should be no conflict between science and religion. Science tells you how to build an atom bomb, but it can't even address the question of whether you should use it. Religion, on the other hand, grapples with serious moral questions and offers wisdom about how to live your life. Gould makes clear that only a fundamentalist (i.e Biblical literalist) views Religion and Science like "the Hatfields and the McCoys." (If you think the Bible can do a better job than science of explaining the fossil record, for instance, you won't find much sympathy here.) However, Gould - an agnostic - clearly concedes religion its domain. Reading this book could do a lot of people a lot of good. (Unfortunately, my guess is the ones who could use it most will never pick it up. Some folks aren't much for exposing themselves to contrary points of view.) The book is a good introduction for someone who hasn't really considered the separate realms and dual functions of science and religion. Gould, ordinarily a fabulous essayist, writes much more gracefully in his other volumes in my view. I might have supposed it was ghost written by Joe Friday: just the facts, mam.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 1999
"Rocks of Ages" is the seventh of Gould's books that I've read. His argument that science and religion should operate in distinct spheres (nonoverlapping magisteria) is attractive but simplistic. Gould shares worthwhile information about Darwin, Galileo, and the Scopes trial, but he sidesteps all the toughest issues such as the dilemmas faced by bioethicists. Readers unfamiliar with Gould would be well advised to begin with one of his brilliant collections of essays.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2007
If you've read any of the clutter of recent books on evolutionary science or popular atheism, you'll know that Stephen Jay Gould - and particularly this book, Rocks of Ages comes with something of a health warning: Gould, despite great eminence and magisterial publishing history, is seen by a certain clique of like-minded authors within the biological community as being damaged goods and this attempt at popular philosophy, with its central thesis of "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" ("NOMA") - an attempt at peaceful mediation between science and religion - is given short shrift by such authors, and elsewhere tends to be put down to Gould's compromised situation when he wrote it (terminally ill with cancer). Since his death a few years ago, Rocks of Ages has lost an able champion and as a result looks set to disappear quietly beneath the waves of the current, squally debate.

Which is a pity. While I didn't find Gould's particular formulation entirely convincing, his starting point: that it would be a great shame if neither of the two greatest intellectual traditions on the planet could rest without destroying the other, seems to me to be thoroughly pragmatic and worthwhile, since each has an awful lot of merit and utlity if only they could agree a means of peacable separation.

The likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, of course, will have none of that, and while the great majority of the liberal religious happily would, this only furthers the militant atheists' conclusion that they are therefore right, and the god-botherers must be crushed. Very childish indeed, if you ask me. For the record, I'm not religious myself: just more pleasantly disposed to religious people than some of my atheist confreres.

All the same, I'm not persuaded by NOMA, because, like all the participants in that pointless debate, Gould believes he can hold onto transcendental truth, and is therefore hoist by the same petard: using NOMA simply as a means of deciding which truth is the province of which discipline is as forlorn as the forensic search for any kind of transcendental truth, and worthy of the same criticisms that Rorty, Kuhn, Wittgenstein and others make of that idea.

But enough of what I think. NOMA is, at least, a good try and along the way Gould has written an elegantly phrased, beautifully learned, contemplative, reflective book and made some very pithy observations, that Richard Dawkins might have done well to note.

In particular, the observation that hardly any of the modern religions take young-earth creationism literally. Once it is seen as metaphorical (and this may be heresy in the deep south, but it's been taken as read in all of the churches I've ever been to), the atheistic thrust of Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a wonderful book in other respects) comes to nought. Gould notes that it can only be taken figuratively, if for no other reason than that it makes no sense whatsoever otherwise: the literal text refers to the making of the sun on the fourth "day" - but it's difficult to see how days 1-3 could have been measured! Additionally, pretty much the only place where religion strays more than nonchalantly into the scientific magisterium (certainly the only one you'll find Dawkins obsessing about, since it is his chosen field) is in the creation myth, which as far as I know is over and done with in about ten pages, which leaves much of the balance of the Good Book unscathed.

Erudition of Gould's sort (absent without official leave in the The God Delusion) lives on every page, and the book is worth its value for these alone. The myth of the flat earthers is similarly surprising: read it and see.

Lastly, I found Gould's book valuable because it faces up to and accomodates what, for fundamentalists (of either stripe) is a rather uncomfortable fact: there are millions, if not billions, of thoughtful, well educated, scientifically literate, liberal people who are able to hold to religious devotion and scientific practice contemporaneously, without unease or mental torment. Dawkin's best guess is that these people are systematically deluded: hardly a useful or scientific approach, you would think. Gould's more mature reaction is to say: these are the facts: science has not supplanted religion; these ideas can co-exist in our heads; now how can we reconcile that.

There are better explanations, I believe, of the particulars, but Gould's book is a worthwhile and charming entry all the same.

Olly Buxton
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