© Stephen Jay Gould 2001 
The magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap. Nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the old clichés, science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven.
I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving, concordat between the magisteria of science and religion. This is a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not a merely diplomatic solution. But it cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions residing properly within the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution.
In advocating this argument over many years, I have found that skeptical friends and colleagues do not challenge the logic of the argument - which almost everyone accepts as both intellectually sound and eminently practical in our world of diverse passions - but rather question my claim that most religious and scientific leaders actually do advocate such precepts.
We all recognize, of course, that many folks and movements hold narrow and aggressive partisan positions, usually linked to an active political agenda, and based on exalting one side while bashing the other. Obviously, extremists of the so-called Christian right, particularly the small segment dedicated to imposing creationism on the science curricula of American public schools, represent the most visible subgroup of these partisans.
But I also include, among my own scientific colleagues, some militant atheists whose blinkered concept of religion grasps none of the subtlety or diversity, and equates this entire magisterium with the silly and superstitious beliefs of people who think they have seen a divinely crafted image of the Virgin in the drying patterns of morning dew on the plate-glass windows of some auto show-room in New Jersey.
I believe that we must pursue a primarily political struggle, not an intellectual discourse, with these people. With some exceptions, of course, people who have dedicated the bulk of their energy, and even their life’s definition, to such aggressive advocacy at the extremes do not choose to engage in serious and respectful debate. All people committed to the defense of honorable differences will have to remain vigilant and prevail politically.
Even after we put the extremists aside, however, many people still suppose that major religious and scientific leaders must remain at odds (or at least must interact in considerable tension) because these two incompatible fields inevitably struggle for possession of the same ground.
If I can therefore show that the doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism, then its status as a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria - and not as a funny little off-the-wall suggestion by a few misguided peacemakers on an inevitable battlefield - should emerge into the clearest possible light.
Modern creationism, alas, has provoked a real battle thus supporting the Doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria with a positive example of the principle that all apparent struggles between science and religion really arise from violations of the doctrine, when a small group allied to one magisterium tries to impose its irrelevant and illegitimate will upon the other’s domain. Such genuine historical battles do not pit science against religion, but represent a power play by zealots formally allied to one side, and trying to impose their minority views upon the magisterium of the other side.
The saga of attempts by creationists to ban the teaching of evolution, or to force their own fundamentalist version of life’s history into science curricula of public schools, represents one of the most interesting, distinctive, and persistent episodes in the cultural history of twentieth-century America. I have no problem with the largest and most potentially influential of all creationist groups in America, the Jehovah’s Witnesses - for they do not try to impose their theological beliefs upon public school science curricula, and they agree with my view that churches and homes are the proper venue for teaching such private and partisan doctrines.
Our struggle with creationism is political and specific, not religious at all, and not even intellectual in any genuine sense. Young-earth Creationism offers nothing of intellectual merit but just a hodgepodge of claims properly judged within the magisterium of science. The forceful and persistent attempt by Young-earth Creationists to insinuate their partisan and minority theological dogma into the science curricula of American public schools cannot be read, in any legitimate way, as an episode in any supposedly general warfare between science and religion.
In the early 1920s, several Southern states passed flat-out anti-evolution statutes. The Tennessee law, for example, declared it a crime to teach that ‘man had descended from a lower order of animals.’ In a challenge to the constitutionality of these statutes, the American Civil Liberties Union instigated the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. William Jennings Bryan decided to make his last stand on this issue thereby giving the creationist movement both influence and contacts. 
John Scopes was a young free-thinker, who was quite popular among his fundamentalist students and worked as the physics teacher and track coach of the local high school. He had substituted for the fundamentalist biology teacher during an illness and had assigned the chapters on evolution from the class textbook, A Civic Biology, by George William Hunter. Scopes consented to be the stalking horse for a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the Tennessee anti-evolution law.
The rest is history, as filtered and distorted for most Americans, through the fictionalized account in a wonderful play, Inherit the Wind, written in 1955 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. Two film versions featured Spencer Tracy playing Clarence Darrow and Fredric Marsh as William Jennings Bryan in the first, and Kirk Douglas as Darrow and Jason Robards as Bryan in the later remake for television.
In the 1980s the creationists regrouped, and came back fighting with a new strategy designed to circumvent constitutional problems. They had always honorably identified their alternative system as explicitly theological, and doctrinally based in a literal reading of the Bible. But now they expurgated their texts, inventing the oxymoronic concept of ‘creation science’. Religion, it seems, and contrary to all previous pronouncements, has no bearing upon the subject at all. The latest discoveries of pure science now reveal a factual world that just happens to correlate perfectly with the literal pronouncements of the Book of Genesis.
In such a circumstance, legislative intervention becomes unnecessary. And besides, the creationists continued, we’re not asking schools to ban evolution anymore. Now we are only demanding ‘equal time’ for ‘creation science’ in any classroom that also teaches evolution. Of course, if they decide not to teach evolution at all…well…then…
A few years ago, I came across a theological term that tickled my fancy, both for its touch of the arcane, and its mellifluous ring - irenics (from the Greek word for ‘peace’), defined in opposition to polemics, as a branch of Christian theology that ‘presents points of agreement among Christians with a view to the ultimate unity of Christianity’ (Oxford English Dictionary).
By extension (and the word has crept out of theological circles and into general English usage), irenic people and proposals ‘tend to promote peace, especially in relation to theological and ecclesiastical differences.’ Now I’m an irenic fellow at heart - and I trust that most of us so regard ourselves, whatever personal quirks and foibles stand in the way of realization.
I believe in an irenic solution under a large umbrella extending far beyond the purely Christian realm of official definitions cited above. I join nearly all people of goodwill in wishing to see two old and cherished institutions, our two rocks of ages - science and religion - coexisting in peace while each works to make a distinctive patch for the integrated coat of many colors that will celebrate the distinctions of our lives, yet cloak human nakedness in a seamless covering called wisdom.
Irenics sure beats the polemics of ill-conceived battle between science and religion - a thoroughly false model that too often continues to envelop us for illogical reasons of history and psychology. I do get discouraged when some of my colleagues tout their private atheism (their right, of course, and in many ways my own suspicion as well) as a panacea for human progress against an absurd caricature of ‘religion’, erected as a straw man for rhetorical purposes.
Religion just can’t be equated with Genesis literalism, the miracle of the liquefying blood of Saint Januarius (which at least provides an excuse for the wonderful and annual San Gennaro Festival on the streets of New York), or the Bible codes of kabbalah and modern media hype.
If these colleagues wish to fight superstition, irrationalism, philistinism, ignorance, dogma, and a host of other insults to the human intellect (often politically converted into dangerous tools of murder and oppression as well), then God bless them - but don’t call this enemy ‘religion’.
Similarly, of course, I pronounce my anathema upon those dogmatists and ‘true believers’ who, usurping the good name of religion for their partisan doctrines, try to suppress the uncomfortable truths of science, or to impose their peculiar brand of moral fiber upon people with legitimately different tastes. In the past, religion set the outlines that everyone had to accept, and science then had to conform. Irenics in this older mode required that the principles and findings of science yield religious results known in advance to be true. Indeed such conformity represented the primary test of science’s power and validity.
The Reverend Thomas Burnet (1635-1715),  a close friend and colleague of Isaac Newton, did not doubt that the biblical narrative recorded the earth’s actual history; his scientific job, by his lights, required validation of this known history in terms of causation by invariant natural laws rather than miracles.
But the spectacular growth and success of science has turned the tables for modern versions of syncretism. Now the conclusions of science must be accepted a priori, and religious interpretations must be finessed and adjusted to match unimpeachable results from the magesterium of natural knowledge! The Big Bang happened, and we must now find God at this tumultuous origin.
I also feel particularly sensitive about this issue because, as I wrote this book in the summer of 1998, a deluge of media hype enveloped the syncretist position, as though some startlingly new and persuasive argument had been formulated, or some equally exciting and transforming discovery had been made.
In fact, absolutely nothing of intellectual novelty had been added, as the same bad arguments surfaced into a glare of publicity because the J.M. Templeton Foundation, established by its fabulously wealthy eponym to advance the syncretist program under the guise of more general and catholic (small c) discussion about science and religion, garnered a splash of media attention by spending 1.4 million bucks to hold a conference in Berkeley on ‘Science and the spiritual quest'.
In a genuine example of true creation ex nihilo - that is, the invention of an issue by fiat of media reports, rather than by force of argument or content of material - at least three major sources preached the syncretist gospel in their headlines and vapidly uncritical reports: ‘Faith and reason, Together Again' (The Wall Street Journal, June 12); ‘Science and religion: bridging the Great Divide’ (The New York Times, June 30); and a cover story in Newsweek, 'Science Finds God’. Scientists could only be mystified by this last claim, but at least we can now be certain about one of God’s attributes: he sells newspapers and magazines.
The Times article admitted the intellectual torpor of the proceedings: ‘A kind of Sunday school politeness pervaded the meeting, with none of the impassioned confrontations expected from such an emotionally charged subject…The audience politely applauded after each presentation. But there was little sense of intellectual excitement.’
But from whence could such excitement arise in principle? If the Doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria holds, then facts and explanations developed under the magesterium of science cannot validate (or deny) the precepts of religion. Indeed, if we look at the so-called arguments for syncretism, as described in these reports, they all devolve into a series of fuzzy statements awash in metaphor and illogic.
Darwin has been read as something of a moral dolt, or at least as a slacker on the subject, for his frequent disclaimers about drawing lessons for the meaning of human life from his revolutionary reorganization of biological knowledge. Shouldn’t such a radical reinterpretation of nature offer us some guidance for the biggest questions of the ages: Why are we here, and what does it all mean?
How could anyone look so deeply into the heart of biological causality and the history of life, and then offer us so little on the meaning of life and the ultimate order of things. To which Darwin responded: ‘I feel deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.’
Was Darwin just a coward? A desiccated intellect? A small-minded man? The very stereotype of a scientist who can describe a tree and ignore the forest, or analyze the notes and not hear the symphony?
I view Darwin in an entirely opposite manner. He maintained, throughout his life, a basic human fascination for the great questions of morals and meanings, and he recognized the transcendent importance of such inquiry. But he knew both the strengths and the limitations of his chosen profession, and he understood that the power of science could only be advanced and consolidated on the fertile ground of its own magesterium. In short, Darwin rooted his views about science and morality in the principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria.
Darwin did not use evolution to promote atheism, or to maintain that no concept of God could ever be squared with the structure of nature. Rather, he argued that nature’s factuality, as read within the magesterium of science, could not resolve, or even specify, the existence or character of God, the ultimate meaning of life, the proper foundations of morality, or any other question within the different magesterium of religion.
 Source: Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould (Jonathan Cape, 2001, ISBN 0-224-06092-9).
 See The Last Stand of William Jennings Bryan by William Shepherd.
 Burnet wrote one of the most influential books of the late seventeenth century - Telluris theoria sacra, or The Sacred Theory of the Earth, a work in four sections: (1) on the deluge of Noah; (2) on the preceding paradise; (3) on the forthcoming ‘burning of the world’; and (4) ‘concerning the new heavens and new earth’, or paradise regained after the conflagration. This book not only became a ‘bestseller’ in its own generation, but gained lasting fame as a primary inspiration for Giambattista Vico’s Scienza nuova or New Science (1725) and George Buffon’s Histoire naturelle or Natural History (1749). [Ed]