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Debunking arguments about religion are a family of arguments which contend that there are adequate naturalistic explanations of why humans have religious beliefs (i.e., that there are adequate explanations of the phenomenon of religion which make no reference to supernatural agents), and that because such explanations exist, religious belief is thereby shown to be irrational, or unjustified, or lacking some other important epistemic property. Naturalistic explanations of religion have a long history stretching back into antiquity and in more recent history several naturalistic accounts of religious belief have been profoundly influential, namely, those of Karl Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Sigmund Freud. Whilst these accounts continue to be influential at least in popular culture, analytic philosophers of religion interested in this area have largely shifted their focus to the emerging field of Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR), which purports to offer an empirically well-founded account of the cognitive biases and dispositions that are universal across the human species and that incline human beings to form beliefs about supernatural agents, including deities. It is the theories of CSR that provide the starting point for the contemporary philosophical discussion concerning debunking arguments about religion. 

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  1. Problems of Religious Luck, Chapter 6: The Pattern Stops Here?Guy Axtell - forthcoming - In Problems of Religious Luck: Assessing the Limits of Reasonable Religious Disagreement.
    This book has argued that problems of religious luck, especially when operationalized into concerns about doxastic risk and responsibility, can be of shared interest to theologians, philosophers, and psychologists. We have pointed out counter-inductive thinking as a key feature of fideistic models of faith, and examined the implications of this point both for the social scientific study of fundamentalism, and for philosophers’ and theologians’ normative concerns with the reasonableness of a) exclusivist attitudes to religious multiplicity, and b) theologically-cast but bias-mirroring (...)
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  2. Debunking Arguments in Parallel: The Cases of Moral Belief and Theistic Belief.Max Baker-Hytch - forthcoming - In Diego E. Machuca (ed.), Evolutionary Debunking Arguments: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mathematics, and Epistemology. London:
    There is now a burgeoning literature on evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) against moral beliefs, but perhaps surprisingly, a relatively small literature on EDAs against religious beliefs. There is an even smaller literature comparing the two. This essay aims to further the investigation of how the two sorts of arguments compare with each other. To begin with, I shall offer some remarks on how to best formulate these arguments, focusing on four different formulations that one can discern in the literature and (...)
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  3. Islamic Beliefs and Epistemic Defeaters: a Response to Baldwin and McNabb.Nader A. Alsamaani - 2022 - Sophia 61 (2):445-456.
    In this paper, I outline some exegetical and philosophical problems with Baldwin and McNabb’s epistemic defeater for Islamic beliefs. I maintain that their argument is based upon a misinterpretation of Quranic verses. I also argue that exceptional instances of divine deception inflicted upon the senses, if they indeed happen, should not undermine the general trust in our cognitive faculties. I conclude that virtually all Muslims are immune from Baldwin and McNabb’s proposed defeater and from the threat posed by divine deception (...)
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  4. Natural Nonbelief in God: Prehistoric Humans, Divine Hiddenness, and Debunking.Matthew Braddock - 2022 - In Diego E. Machuca (ed.), Evolutionary Debunking Arguments: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mathematics, Metaphysics, and Epistemology. London: Routledge. pp. 160-184.
    The empirical literature seems to indicate that prehistoric humans did not believe in God or anything like God. Why is that so, if God exists? The problem is difficult because their nonbelief was natural: their evolved mind and cultural environment restricted them to concepts of highly limited supernatural agents. Why would God design their mind and place them in their environments only to hide from them? The natural nonbelief of prehistoric humans is much more surprising given theism than naturalism. Thus, (...)
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  5. Evolutionary Debunking and Normative Arguments Against Theism.Scott M. Coley - 2022 - Sophia 61 (3):521-532.
    The levers of natural selection are random genetic mutation, fitness for survival, and reproductive success. Defenders of the evolutionary debunking account (EDA) hold that such mechanisms aren’t likely to produce cognitive faculties that reliably form true moral beliefs. So, according to EDA, given that our cognitive faculties are a product of unguided natural selection, we should be in doubt about the reliability of our moral cognition. Let the term ‘sanspsychism’ describe the view that no supramundane consciousness exists. In arguing against (...)
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  6. Evolutionary Debunking Arguments: Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mathematics, Metaphysics, and Epistemology.Diego E. Machuca (ed.) - 2022 - New York: Routledge.
    Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in evolutionary debunking arguments directed against certain types of belief, particularly moral and religious beliefs. According to those arguments, the evolutionary origins of the cognitive mechanisms that produce the targeted beliefs render these beliefs epistemically unjustified. The reason is that natural selection cares for reproduction and survival rather than truth, and false beliefs can in principle be as evolutionarily advantageous as true beliefs. The present volume brings together fourteen essays that examine evolutionary (...)
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  7. Islamic Beliefs and Epistemic Defeaters: A Response to Baldwin and McNabb.Nader A. Alsamaani - 2021 - Sophia 8:1-12.
    In this paper, I outline some exegetical and philosophical problems with Baldwin and McNabb’s epistemic defeater for Islamic beliefs. I maintain that their argument is based upon a misinterpretation of Quranic verses. I also argue that exceptional instances of divine deception inflicted upon the senses, if they indeed happen, should not undermine the general trust in our cognitive faculties. I conclude that virtually all Muslims are immune from Baldwin and McNabb’s proposed defeater and from the threat posed by divine deception (...)
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  8. The Contingency of the Cultural Evolution of Morality, Debunking, and Theism Vs. Naturalism.Matthew Braddock - 2021 - In Johan De Smedt & Helen De Cruz (eds.), Empirically Engaged Evolutionary Ethics. Synthese Library. Springer - Synthese Library. pp. 179-201.
    Is the cultural evolution of morality fairly contingent? Could cultural evolution have easily led humans to moral norms and judgments that are mostly false by our present lights? If so, does it matter philosophically? Yes, or so we argue. We empirically motivate the contingency of cultural evolution and show that it makes two major philosophical contributions. First, it shows that moral objectivists cannot explain the reliability of our moral judgments and thus strengthens moral debunking arguments. Second, it shows that the (...)
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  9. Debunking Arguments Gain Little From Cognitive Science of Religion.Lari Launonen - 2021 - Zygon 56 (2):416-433.
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  10. The Prospects for Debunking Non-Theistic Belief.Thaddeus Robinson - 2021 - Sophia 60 (1):83-89.
    According to The Debunking Argument, evidence from the cognitive science of religion suggests that it is epistemically inappropriate to persist in believing in the theistic God. In this paper, I focus on a reply to this argument according to which the evidence from cognitive science says nothing about the epistemic propriety of belief in the theistic God, since God may have chosen to create human beliefs in God by means of precisely the systems identified by cognitive scientists. I argue that (...)
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  11. Adam Smith’s Genealogy of Religion.Paul Sagar - 2021 - History of European Ideas 47 (7):1061-1078.
    ABSTRACT This paper has three main aims. First, to make good on recent suggestions that Adam Smith offers a genealogy of the origins of religious belief. This is done by offering a systematic reconstruction of his account of religion in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, demonstrating that Smith there offers a naturalised account of religious belief, whilst studiously avoiding committing himself to the truth of any such belief. Second, I seek to bring out that Smith was ultimately less interested in (...)
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  12. The Epistemic Parity of Religious-Apologetic and Religion-Debunking Responses to the Cognitive Science of Religion.Walter Scott Stepanenko - 2021 - Religions 12 (7):466.
    Recent work in the cognitive science of religion has challenged some of the explanatory assumptions of previous research in the field. Nonetheless, some of the practitioners of the new cognitive science of religion theorize in the same skeptical spirit as their predecessors and either imply or explicitly claim that their projects undermine the warrant of religious beliefs. In this article, I argue that these theories do no additional argumentative work when compared to previous attempts to debunk religious belief and that (...)
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  13. Cognitive Science of Religion and the Nature of the Divine: A Pluralist Non-Confessional Approach.Johan De Smedt & Helen De Cruz - 2020 - In Jerry L. Martin (ed.), Theology without walls: The transreligious imperative. New York, USA: Taylor and Francis. pp. 128-137.
    According to cognitive science of religion (CSR) people naturally veer toward beliefs that are quite divergent from Anselmian monotheism or Christian theism. Some authors have taken this view as a starting point for a debunking argument against religion, while others have tried to vindicate Christian theism by appeal to the noetic effects of sin or the Fall. In this paper, we ask what theologians can learn from CSR about the nature of the divine, by looking at the CSR literature and (...)
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  14. Theism & Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Against Moral Realism.Paul Rezkalla - 2020 - European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (3):41-52.
    Evolutionary debunking arguments against morality come in a variety of forms that differ both in how they take evolution to be problematic for morality and in their specific target of morality i.e. objectivity, realism, justification for moral beliefs, etc. For the purpose of this paper, I will first articulate several recent debunking approaches and highlight what they take to be problematic features of evolutionary history for morality. In doing so I will be forced to abstract from some of the specific (...)
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  15. Debunking Arguments.Daniel Z. Korman - 2019 - Philosophy Compass 14 (12).
    Debunking arguments—also known as etiological arguments, genealogical arguments, access problems, isolation objec- tions, and reliability challenges—arise in philosophical debates about a diverse range of topics, including causation, chance, color, consciousness, epistemic reasons, free will, grounding, laws of nature, logic, mathematics, modality, morality, natural kinds, ordinary objects, religion, and time. What unifies the arguments is the transition from a premise about what does or doesn't explain why we have certain mental states to a negative assessment of their epistemic status. I examine (...)
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  16. Evolutionary Debunking: The Milvian Bridge Destabilized.Christos Kyriacou - 2019 - Synthese 196 (7):2695-2713.
    Recent literature has paid attention to a demarcation problem for evolutionary debunking arguments. This is the problem of asking in virtue of what regulative metaepistemic norm evolutionary considerations either render a belief justified, or debunk it as unjustified. I examine the so-called ‘Milvian Bridge principle’ A new science of religion, Routledge, New York, 2012; Sloan, McKenny, Eggelson Darwin in the 21st century: nature, humanity, and God, University Press, Notre Dame, 2015)), which offers exactly such a called for regulative metaepistemic norm. (...)
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  17. An Evidential Argument for Theism From the Cognitive Science of Religion.Matthew Braddock - 2018 - In Hans van Eyghen, Rik Peels & Gijsbert van den Brink (eds.), New Developments in the Cognitive Science of Religion: The Rationality of Religious Belief. Springer. pp. 171-198.
    What are the epistemological implications of the cognitive science of religion (CSR)? The lion’s share of discussion fixates on whether CSR undermines (or debunks or explains away) theistic belief. But could the field offer positive support for theism? If so, how? That is our question. Our answer takes the form of an evidential argument for theism from standard models and research in the field. According to CSR, we are naturally disposed to believe in supernatural agents and these beliefs are constrained (...)
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  18. Etiological Challenges to Religious Practices.Helen De Cruz - 2018 - American Philosophical Quarterly 55 (4):329–340.
    There is a common assumption that evolutionary explanations of religion undermine religious beliefs. Do etiological accounts similarly affect the rationality of religious practices? To answer this question, this paper looks at two influential evolutionary accounts of ritual, the hazard-precaution model and costly signaling theory. It examines whether Cuneo’s account of ritual knowledge as knowing to engage God can be maintained in the light of these evolutionary accounts. While the evolutionary accounts under consideration are not metaphysically incompatible with the idea that (...)
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  19. Idolatry, Indifference, and the Scientific Study of Religion: Two New Humean Arguments.Daniel Linford - 2018 - Religious Studies:1-21.
    We utilize contemporary cognitive and social science of religion to defend a controversial thesis: the human cognitive apparatus gratuitously inclines humans to religious activity oriented around entities other than the God of classical theism. Using this thesis, we update and defend two arguments drawn from David Hume: (i) the argument from idolatry, which argues that the God of classical theism does not exist, and (ii) the argument from indifference, which argues that if the God of classical theism exists, God is (...)
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  20. Debunking and Fully Apt Belief.Joshua C. Thurow - 2018 - Filosofia Unisinos 19 (3).
    One of the contentious philosophical issues surrounding the cognitive science of religion (CSR) is whether well-confirmed CSR theories would debunk religious beliefs. These debates have been contentious in part because of criticisms of epistemic principles used in debunking arguments. In this paper I use Ernest Sosa’s respected theory of knowledge as fully apt belief—which avoids objections that have been leveled against sensitivity and safety principles often used in debunking arguments—to construct a plausible debunking argument for religious belief on the assumption (...)
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  21. Spirit Beliefs Debunked?Hans Van Eyghen - 2018 - Science, Religion and Culture 5 (1):73-82.
    I discuss and criticize an argument for the conclusion that belief in spirits is unreliably formed and hence unjustified. The argument is based on three scientific explanations for spirit-beliefs; hyperactive agency detection device, infrasound, and magnetic stimulation of the temporal lobe. I argue that the argument fails because the explanations are of too limited scope.
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  22. Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology, Skeptical Theism, and Debunking Arguments.Andrew Moon - 2017 - Faith and Philosophy 34 (4):449-470.
    Alvin Plantinga’s religious epistemology has been used to respond to many debunking arguments against theistic belief. However, critics have claimed that Plantinga’s religious epistemology conflicts with skeptical theism, a view often used in response to the problem of evil. If they are correct, then a common way of responding to debunking arguments conflicts with a common way of responding to the problem of evil. In this paper, I examine the critics’ claims and argue that they are right. I then present (...)
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  23. Debunking Morality: Lessons From the EAAN Literature.Andrew Moon - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (S1):208-226.
    This paper explores evolutionary debunking arguments as they arise in metaethics against moral realism and in philosophy of religion against naturalism. Both literatures have independently grappled with the question of which beliefs one may use to respond to a potential defeater. In this paper, I show how the literature on the argument against naturalism can help clarify and bring progress to the literature on moral realism with respect to this question. Of note, it will become clear that the objection that (...)
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  24. Are Dennett’s Evolutionary Debunking By-Producing Arguments Against the Rationality of Theism Valid?Jorge Sierra Merchán - 2017 - Eidos: Revista de Filosofía de la Universidad Del Norte 26:178-209.
    Resumen Recientemente la ciencia cognitiva de la religión ha permitido desarrollar argumentos evolutivos desacreditadores, los cuales buscan poner en entredicho no solo la racionalidad sino la verdad del teísmo. Dado que hay dos formas de concebir la racionalidad y la justificación epistémicas, a saber, la internalista y la externalista, cabe preguntarse ¿de qué modo tales argumentos afectan al teísmo? El objetivo de este artículo es responder a esta cuestión mediante una reconstrucción y evaluación de tres argumentos evolutivos desacreditadores subproductistas contra (...)
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  25. Debunking Arguments and the Cognitive Science of Religion.Matthew Braddock - 2016 - Theology and Science 14 (3):268-287.
    Do the cognitive origins of our theistic beliefs debunk them or explain them away? This paper develops an empirically-motivated debunking argument and defends it against objections. First, we introduce the empirical and epistemological background. Second, we develop and defend the main argument, the debunking argument from false god beliefs. Third, we characterize and evaluate the most prominent religious debunking argument to date, the debunking argument from insensitivity. It is found that insensitivity-based arguments are problematic, which makes them less promising than (...)
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  26. Cognitive Science of Religion and Folk Theistic Belief.Daniel Lim - 2016 - Zygon 51 (4):949-965.
    Cognitive scientists of religion promise to lay bare the cognitive mechanisms that generate religious beliefs in human beings. Defenders of the debunking argument believe that the cognitive mechanisms studied in this field pose a threat to folk theism. A number of influential responses to the debunking argument rely on making two sets of distinctions: proximate/ultimate explanations and specific/general religious beliefs. I argue, however, that such responses have drawbacks and do not make room for folk theism. I suggest that a detour (...)
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  27. Recent Work in Reformed Epistemology.Andrew Moon - 2016 - Philosophy Compass 11 (12):879-891.
    Reformed epistemology, roughly, is the thesis that religious belief can be rational without argument. After providing some background, I present Plantinga’s defense of reformed epistemology and its influence on religious debunking arguments. I then discuss three objections to Plantinga’s arguments that arise from the following topics: skeptical theism, cognitive science of religion, and basicality. I then show how reformed epistemology has recently been undergirded by a number of epistemological theories, including phenomenal conservatism and virtue epistemology. I end by noting that (...)
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  28. An Epistemic Defeater for Islamic Belief?Erik Baldwin & Tyler McNabb - 2015 - International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 76 (4):352-367.
    We aim to further develop and evaluate the prospects of a uniquely Islamic extension of the Standard Aquinas/Calvin model. One obstacle is that certain Qur’an passages such as Surah 8:43–44 apparently suggest that Muslims have reason to think that Allah might be deceiving them. Consistent with perfect/maximally good being theology, Allah would allow such deceptions only if doing so leads to a greater good, so such passages do not necessarily give Muslims reason to doubt Allah’s goodness. Yet the possibility of (...)
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  29. Crossing the Milvian Bridge: When Do Evolutionary Explanations of Belief Debunk Belief?Paul E. Griffiths & John S. Wilkins - 2015 - In Phillip R. Sloan, Gerald McKenny & Kathleen Eggleson (eds.), Darwin in the Twenty-First Century: Nature, Humanity, and God. University of Notre Dame Press. pp. 201-231.
    Ever since Darwin people have worried about the sceptical implications of evolution. If our minds are products of evolution like those of other animals, why suppose that the beliefs they produce are true, rather than merely useful? In this chapter we apply this argument to beliefs in three different domains: morality, religion, and science. We identify replies to evolutionary scepticism that work in some domains but not in others. The simplest reply to evolutionary scepticism is that the truth of beliefs (...)
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  30. Can Science Explain Religion?: The Cognitive Science Debate.James W. Jones - 2015 - Oxford University Press USA.
    The "New Atheist" movement of recent years has put the science-versus-religion controversy back on the popular cultural agenda. Anti-religious polemicists are convinced that the application of the new sciences of the mind to religious belief gives them the final weapons in their battle against irrationality and superstition. What used to be a trickle of research papers scattered in specialized scientific journals has now become a torrent of books, articles, and commentary in the popular media pressing the case that the cognitive (...)
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  31. Does Cognitive Science of Religion Undermine Religious Belief?Rezkalla Paul - 2015 - Философия И Космология 14 (1):214-220.
    In this paper, I discuss what Cognitive Science of Religion is and what its implications are for theism and the veracity of religious belief. Findings in CSR, and its counterpart Evolutionary Psychology, aim to explain the origin of religious belief. Some critics of religion, however, brandish the findings of CSR in support of their agenda. Their arguments attempt to either argue against the truth of religion or the justification for religious belief. I will argue that neither of these two kinds (...)
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  32. Does Cognitive Science of Religion Undermine Religious Belief?Paul Rezkalla - 2015 - Philosophy and Cosmology 14 (1):215-221.
    In this paper, I discuss what Cognitive Science of Religion is and what its implications are for theism and the veracity of religious belief. Findings in CSR and its counterpart Evolutionary Psychology aim to explain the origin of religious belief. Some critics of religion, however, brandish the findings of CSR in support of their agenda. Their arguments attempt to either argue against the truth of religion or the justification for religious belief. I will argue that neither of these two kinds (...)
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  33. Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Against Theism, Reconsidered.Jonathan Jong & Aku Visala - 2014 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76 (3):243-258.
    Evolutionary debunking arguments against religious beliefs move from the claim that religious beliefs are caused by off-track processes to the conclusion that said religious beliefs are unjustified and/or false. Prima facie, EDAs commit the genetic fallacy, unduly conflating the context of discovery and the context of justification. In this paper, we first consider whether EDAs necessarily commit the genetic fallacy, and if not, whether modified EDAs provide successful arguments against theism. Then, we critically evaluate more recent attempts to argue that (...)
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  34. Does the Scientific Study of Religion Cast Doubt on Theistic Belief?Joshua C. Thurow - 2014 - In Michael Bergmann Patrick Kain (ed.), Challenges to Moral and Religious Belief. Oxford University Press. pp. 277-294.
  35. Some Reflections on Cognitive Science, Doubt, and Religious Belief.Joshua C. Thurow - 2014 - In Justin Barrett Roger Trigg (ed.), The Root of Religion. Ashgate.
    Religious belief and behavior raises the following two questions: (Q1) Does God, or any other being or state that is integral to various religious traditions, exist? (Q2) Why do humans have religious beliefs and engage in religious behavior? How one answers (Q2) can affect how reasonable individuals can be in accepting a particular answer to (Q1). My aim in this chapter is to carefully distinguish the various ways in which an answer to Q2 might affect the rationality of believing in (...)
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  36. Subversive Explanations.Charles Pigden - 2013 - In Gregory Dawes & James Maclaurin (eds.), A New Science of Religion,. Routledge. pp. 147-161..
    Can an explanation of a set of beliefs cast doubt on the things believed? In particular, can an evolutionary explanation of religious beliefs call the contents of those beliefs into question? Yes - under certain circumstances. I distinguish between natural histories of beliefs and genealogies. A natural history of a set of beliefs is an explanation that puts them down to naturalistic causes. (I try to give an account of natural explanations which favors a certain kind of ‘methodological atheism’ without (...)
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  37. Evolutionary Debunking Arguments in Three Domains: Fact, Value, and Religion.S. Wilkins John & E. Griffiths Paul - 2012 - In James Maclaurin Greg Dawes (ed.), A New Science of Religion. Routledge.
    Ever since Darwin people have worried about the sceptical implications of evolution. If our minds are products of evolution like those of other animals, why suppose that the beliefs they produce are true, rather than merely useful? We consider this problem for beliefs in three different domains: religion, morality, and commonsense and scientific claims about matters of empirical fact. We identify replies to evolutionary scepticism that work in some domains but not in others. One reply is that evolution can be (...)
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  38. Reformed Epistemology and the Cognitive Science of Religion.Kelly James Clark - 2010 - In Faith and Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 500--513.
    This chapter contains sections titled: * Introduction * The Cognitive Science of Religion * The Internal Witness: The Sensus Divinitatis * Reformed Epistemology * Reformed Epistemology and Cognitive Science * Obstinacy in Belief * The External Witness: The Order of the Cosmos * The External Witness and the Cognitive Science of Religion * Conclusion * Notes * Bibliography.
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  39. Debunking Arguments and the Genealogy of Religion and Morality.Kelby Mason - 2010 - Philosophy Compass 5 (9):770-778.
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  40. The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion.Jeffrey Schloss & Michael J. Murray (eds.) - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
    Over the last two decades, scientific accounts of religion have received a great deal of scholarly and popular attention both because of their intrinsic interest and because they are widely as constituting a threat to the religion they analyse. The Believing Primate aims to describe and discuss these scientific accounts as well as to assess their implications. The volume begins with essays by leading scientists in the field, describing these accounts and discussing evidence in their favour. Philosophical and theological reflections (...)
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