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Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  765 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
Writing with bracing intelligence and clarity, internationally renowned evolutionist and bestselling author Stephen Jay Gould sheds new light on a dilemma that has plagued thinking people since the Renaissance: the rift between science and religion. Instead of choosing them, Gould asks, why not opt for a golden mean that accords dignity and distinction to each realm?
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Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 26th 2002 by Ballantine Books (first published 1999)
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Jul 14, 2007 Michael rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Moderates (lying to themselves)
SJG is clearly delusional to believe that science and religion occupy seperate areas of knowledge, or NOMA.

This book will reassure those who want to feel warm and cuddly by giving science and religion equal respect.

It's a shame that a field based on empirical evidence and the testing of theories is considered an equally valid way of knowing as a field based on 2,000 year old assumptions and hearsay.

Science and religion overlap.


It's obvious that the field of science and its new findings ar
Mar 09, 2013 Carlo rated it liked it
Goodreads must really consider adopting ratings with 0.5 increments. I would really rate this book 2.5 stars or even 3 on a good day (which after a second thought is what today seems to be, hence the change from 2 to 3 stars). It was an interesting read especially when you consider the low expectations I had when I started reading it. In atheistic circles, this book is nearly seen as a betrayal of everything good and beautiful about science and I assure you it is nothing as such, at least not ...more
Tim Pendry

This is not one of Stephen Jay Gould's best books and should be seen as a polemic about the relationship between science and religion peculiar to its time and place - the struggle against creationism in the US in the last years of the last century.

To most Europeans, the core proposition is self-evident - science is a description of the world, 'religion' is the ascription by humans of value or meaning to the world. The two exist in separate spheres of understanding, each is an independent 'magist
This book sets out a case for the notion of "non overlapping magisteria" or NOMA, to insist that religion should stay out of science, science stay out of religion, but both engage in constructive interactions. There is no reason not to give full respect to both, each in their proper domain or "magisterium." He emphasises the folly of religion getting trapped into making factual claims that can be disproved by science. He also makes an interesting case that scientists get into trouble when they ...more
Jun 03, 2016 Cici rated it liked it
Stephen Jay Gould was an iconic figure in the evolutionary biology, as well as being a prolific popular science writer. He died in 2002 but his scientific writing in the area of evolution is still much admired. He was evidently an avid reader in addition to a highly successful scientific career.

However this slim book, with both a heart-felt sincerity and astonishing naiveté, demonstrated the author’s tenuous grasp of both science and religion as something can be safely compartmentalized. His ma
May 29, 2016 Aaron rated it really liked it
A very interesting book. For those who don't know (which appears to include most of the reviewers), Gould is the world's foremost evolutionist. He is the one responsible for the theory of punctuated equilibrium -- required reading in any anthropology or biology 101 course worth its salt.

Gould suggests that things would go smoother if everyone realized that religion looks toward the moral sphere, and science towards the factual sphere, and each simply stayed off of the other one's turf. I have to
Feb 22, 2013 Mike rated it liked it
I understand the wide acclaim for Professor Gould. I can't speak to his scientific achievements, but he is a fabulous writer--a kind of Carl Sagan for biology, a man whose breadth of interests is matched by the felicty of his pen. So I enjoy reading his stuff, and this book was great.

My complaint with the New Atheists (decidedly not Gould's team) is that they define religion as the Fundamentalists do because they need the Fundamentalists' wacky literalism as a straw man to then destroy religion
Mar 11, 2015 Gary rated it did not like it
The book's theme is Science and Religion have non overlapping domains, Science can't give ethical and moral truths and that religion should be respected when it stays within it's own domain.

I'm glad this book is not influential today. When it was written (in 1998 according to the book itself) marriage equality was completely being shot down by the imprimatur of religion. Science actually refuted each of the arguments used by religion ("it's not natural", "people aren't born that way", "it's Ada
Lisa Kelsey
Jan 01, 2016 Lisa Kelsey rated it it was amazing
This excellent book outlines how and why science and religion should coexist without any violation to either body. This has been my intuition for a long time and reading this book has helped clarify it in my mind.

In addition to speaking to the invalidity of attempting to answer questions of factual nature from within the realm of religion, I appreciate Gould's acknowledgement that scientists have also overreached their domain both historically and currently. Scientists must also be held accounta
Eric Wurm
Dec 23, 2014 Eric Wurm rated it it was ok
Gould puts forward his idea of non-overlapping magisteria, where science deals with facts and religion with values. What a positively terrible idea! Suggesting that science and religion can mind their boundaries and occupy separate fields of expertise is laughable. Facts inform values, and the fact is that no religion has demonstrated its tenets to have any form of veracity or even an air of verisimilitude. Why would we leave the domain of ethics and morality to people who believe that such ...more
Ramo Essawi
Feb 19, 2016 Ramo Essawi rated it liked it
Although this was a great read in which Gould takes a very liberal position in his consideration of a very sensitive issue, I can't agree with the best part of it. In fact, I don't agree with the underlying premises. However, much respect to Gould and his attempt to reconcile this matter. Id have rather given it 5 stars for enjoyability, and 1 star for validity.
John Martindale
Aug 20, 2014 John Martindale rated it liked it
Gould seems to relegate religion to issues of morality, and argues they need to accept scientific claims that miracles don't and cannot happen and that they violate NOMA (non overlapping magisteria) by seeking to get creationism taught in schools. But NOMA cuts both ways though, scientist (which deals with all facts and reality) have no right to use Darwinism as a means to establish moral truth, Gould gave an example of such misapplications of Darwinism finding their way into science textbooks. ...more
Dec 28, 2012 Luke rated it it was ok
A very well written, engaging book with a horribly mistaken premise. The concept of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) is flawed in two ways: it rules out of bounds religious claims that are susceptible to empirical test and it hands over to religion categories of human inquiry over which it is not qualified to hold exclusive dominion, such as ethics.

Traditional religion, as it is understood by the majority of the Earth's inhabitants, makes claims that are in theory testable. We can at least in
James Cloyd
Sep 27, 2016 James Cloyd rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, religion
If only this were possible, NOMA sounds like a nice compromise, but it is one few people are willing to make. Religion will continue make claims about reality that trespass on the turf of science, even if it must frequently amend them. Likewise, I believe science will continue to stretch it's borders, even into the domain of morality & ethics. I'm not saying either side should seek to completely eradicate the other, nor could they hope to. There is a real battle going on, but I don't see an ...more
Nov 30, 2008 Adam rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
"Each domain of inquiry frames its own rules and admissible questions, and sets its own criteria for judgment and resolution. These accepted standards, and the procedures developed for debating and resolving legitimate issues, define the magisterium--or teaching authority--of any given realm."

This widely-acclaimed work is well written; Stephen Jay Gould has a gift for storytelling and for crafting analogies. But the book's reasoning and argumentation are not nearly as satisfying.

In "Rocks of Ag
A. Bowdoin Van Riper
Stephen Jay Gould’s central theme in Rocks of Ages is that – far from being in eternal, irreconcilable conflict – science and religion are non-overlapping realms of human endeavor that proceed from different premises, ask different questions, and use different methods to seek answers. Not only are the two realms (he calls them “non-overlapping magisteria”), not in conflict, they cannot be in conflict. Episodes like the trial of Galileo in 1632 and the Scopes Trial of 1925 – routinely cited as ma ...more
Kelley Ross
Nov 02, 2012 Kelley Ross rated it did not like it
I found Gould's entire argument to be conflicting and frustrating to read. This book states that religion and science are separate,(the exact metaphor used was yin and yang), but equal schools of ideas (NOMA). So of course it makes sense that Gould then uses a word he says has catholic origins (magisteria) to define both the worlds of science and religion...? He is letting them overlap already, before we even make it past the titles and into the content!

Gould soils the book with personal belief
Jan 26, 2008 Charlotte rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
In this book, Gould argues that Religion (by which he means ethics, not necessarily a belief in the divine) and Science occupy two discrete areas of knowledge -- Non-Overlapping Magisteria or NOMA, as he calls it.

Let me say first that Gould is my favorite science writer. He has clean writing style, explains concepts clearly, and takes an obvious delight and interest in just about everything. He also writes about past scientists and theologians with a respect and understanding that is practicall
Dec 07, 2012 Mike rated it it was ok
Short, agenda-driven, feels like a manifesto. Gould co-opts the concept of "non-overlapping magesteria" (NOMA) from Catholicism, and pitches it as the solution to the "non-problem" of the perceived conflict between science and religion. Science and religion are fundamentally different pursuits and it's nonsense to cast them as being "at war" with each other. (I'm going to leave aside the "interdigitation" thing for now, except to say that even if the magesteria of science and religion do happen ...more
Sep 26, 2009 Matthew rated it really liked it
This is worth a read, but frustrating for me becuase it makes no effort to resolve, inform, or guide an increasing number of disputes between vocal, fringe minorities and science that seeks to improve the human condition. In fairness, religion is often (usually) not the source of robust and vocal opposition to improving lives, but like any social institution, it has its moments.

And since Gould picked the battle between science and religion for his book - let's consider instances of such disputes
Paul McNeil
Apr 22, 2012 Paul McNeil rated it really liked it
This book, with it's concept of "Non-Overlapping Magisteria," or "NOMA," expresses something that I feel I have lived in my own life for quite a while. Gould expresses the idea that science and religion explore different aspects of the world in different ways, and that the two should respect each other, especially in those areas that cause friction. He is not advocating that the two ignore each other, but rather that each area respect the boundaries of the other, and that in those areas of ...more
Si Barron
Nov 22, 2013 Si Barron rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Style Note:
Most seem to like his style. I think his sentence construction is overly long in the main. Plus he generally modifies nouns and verbs with adverbs and adjectives leading to confusing constructions; one often has to re-read sentences to get the gist.

This is an interesting (because so abject) experiment in renaming accepted terms and drawing conclusions about the world from these new names.

His starting point is the old ‘is/ought’ dichotomy- the presumed difference between on the one han
Oct 28, 2015 Rogue rated it really liked it
The one problem with the book appears to be an essential main point for Stephen Jay Gould. The idea that the moral relativism of religion is somehow superior to any other attempt at morality cannot be justified.

The Ku Klux Klan appear to be sincere Christians, basing their morality on the Bible. Should we refuse to criticize them because the absence of a good reason to treat people differently because of the color of their skin is demonstrated by science?

Some members of some religions claim tha
Nick Cincotta
Jun 15, 2015 Nick Cincotta rated it it was amazing
Sadly Gould was taken from us too soon. He makes you think as you read this book about your own beliefs and what your beliefs stand. I primarily saw myself as someone interested in science. In reading this book I found a kindred spirit, but also spice my own emotional curiosity with religion. I often thought being someone who was prone to understanding paleontology and reading about evolution that these ideas do not go hand-in-hand with Religion. I myself do see myself as a Christian, however, ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it
Stephen Jay Gould (SJG) promotes the idea of non overlapping magisteria (NOMA),a kind of compromise between the 'warring' philosophies of science and religion. While I certainly like the author's prose and his systematic use of history and anecdotes to make his point(s), I certainly cannot agree with his conclusions. In a scientific world based on careful examination of facts (in nature) there can be no agreement with a religious philosophy based on the supernatural and magic.
SJG clearly states
Aug 31, 2011 James rated it it was ok
Ultimately unpersuasive. Gould's argument requires him to reconceptualize religion so as to make it unrecognizable to the great majority of actual religious practitioners, and essentially synonymous with moral philosophy. He fares a bit better in his argument that the factual content of science cannot be directly applied in a purely objective manner toward the resolution of moral questions, but the difficulties inherent in deriving "ought" from "is" have been discussed at least since Hume, so ...more
Jul 14, 2013 Gordon rated it liked it
Shelves: misc-non-fiction
I came across this shortish book by chance and because the subject - the relationship between science and religion - is one that has given me pause from time to time, I thought I would check it out. As I made my way through the first few chapters it seemed to me that Gould's argument was fairly trivial: on some level it is hard to argue with what he calls NOMA ("non-overlapping magisteria") or the principle that neither scientists nor religious thinkers should presume to make authoritative ...more
Sep 14, 2007 Gina rated it liked it
what i liked about this book is the same thing i like about his other books: he's a scholar and when he writes about a subject, he weaves history and science and many other disciplines all together in a very playful but scholarly way.

also, the subject is one i love so much that i basically majored in it.

but this book reads like patchwork; mr. gould's friends noticed he was passionate about the subject of the overlapping domains of science and religion, and they told him to write a book about it
Oct 02, 2009 Rachel rated it liked it
I think this book has a very important concept that should be more widely discussed about the relationship that Science and Religion share. His concept is call NOMA or non-overlapping magisterial areas. Religion does not dictate the outcome of science and in return science is not to dictate the outcome for religion. I would adhere to his "NOMA" principle. I would that more religious people would explore the reality of their belief in relationship to science truths.

However, that being said, Mr. G
Aug 03, 2009 Maggie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
excellent. Stephen Jay Gould thinks clearly, writes clearly, and as a scientist brings his whole weight of knowledge to bear on the fact: there is no conflict between science and religion (except of course for the man-made battles some folks insist upon but which are nonetheless based on naught).

there is an interesting quirk to this book that lands in favor of SJG. the book Flat Earth by Christine Garwood was published in 2007. Rocks of Ages by Stephen Jay Gould covers precisely the same informa
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Stephen Jay Gould was a prominent American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Most of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. Gould
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“We should therefore, with grace and optimism, embrace NOMA's tough-minded demand: Acknowledge the personal character of these human struggles about morals and meanings, and stop looking for definite answers in nature's construction. But many people cannot bear to surrender nature as a "transitional object"--a baby's warm blanket for adult comfort. But when we do (for we must), nature can finally emerge in her true form: not as a distorted mirror of our needs, but as our most fascinating companion. Only then can we unite the patches built by our separate magisteria into a beautiful and coherent quilt called wisdom.” 1 likes
“Scientific questions cannot be decided by majority vote in any case.” 1 likes
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