The purpose of this article is to critique the primary arguments given by Paul Bloom and Jesse Prinz against empathy, and to argue instead that empathy is best understood as a virtue that plays an important but complicated role in the moral life. That it is a virtue does not mean that it always functions well, and empathy sometimes contributes to behavior that is partial and unfair. In some of their writings, both Bloom and Prinz endorse the view that empathy (...) is a fixed trait, but there is little reason to think this, and the studies that they cite do not support this view. Further, a number of recent studies suggest the opposite: our empathic reactions are malleable and subject to environmental effects and learning. Although our capacities for cognitive and emotional empathy are clearly not sufficient for being moral, I argue that they are functionally necessary traits that, like other virtues, must be cultivated correctly. (shrink)
To suppose the possibility of dialogue between theology and science is to suppose that theology is an intellectually worthy partner to engage in dialogue with science. The status of theology as a discipline, however, remains contested, one sign of which is the absence of theology from the university. I argue that a healthy theology-science dialogue would benefit from the presence of theology as an academic discipline in the university. Theology and theologians would benefit from the much closer contact with university (...) disciplines, including the sciences. The university and the sciences would benefit from the presence of theology, providing a department of ultimate concern, where big questions may be asked and ideologies critiqued. A university theology would need to meet standards of academic integrity. (shrink)
Wentzel van Huyssteen's book Alone in the World? provides a thoughtful and nuanced account of human evolution from a theological perspective. Not only does his work provide what is perhaps the only sustained theological reflection specifically on human evolution, but his working through of many of the issues, particularly on the image of God literature in theology, has few parallels. Despite this, I focus on what I consider to be several weaknesses of the text, including areas of theological method, theological (...) interpretation, and the central topic of human uniqueness. Addressing these weaknesses will, I propose, improve van Huyssteen's argument and lead in new and fruitful directions. (shrink)
Biological theories of religious belief are sometimes understood to undermine the very beliefs they are describing, proposing an alternative explanation for the causes of belief different from that given by religious believers themselves. This article surveys three categories of biological theorizing derived from evolutionary biology, cognitive science of religion, and neuroscience. Although each field raises important issues and in some cases potential challenges to the legitimacy of religious belief, in most cases the significance of these theories for the holding of (...) religious beliefs is not very great. (shrink)
For many theologians and philosophers, scientism is among the greatest of intellectual sins. In its most commonly cited form, scientism consists in claiming that science is the only source of real knowledge and, therefore, that what science does not discover does not exist. Because the charge of scientism is frequently levied, it is important to be clear about what exactly is being claimed in its name. I argue that scientism can best be understood as a fallacy, specifically as a kind (...) of category mistake. Being clear about this requires an examination of the relationship of scientism to the question of demarcation between science and nonscience, a question that has potential implications for theology. (shrink)
Owen Flanagan's The Really Hard Problem provides a rich source of reflection on the question of meaning and ethics within the context of philosophical naturalism. I affirm the title's claim that the quest to find meaning in a purely physical universe is indeed a hard problem by addressing three issues: Flanagan's claim that there can be a scientific/empirical theory of ethics (eudaimonics), that ethics requires moral glue, and whether, in the end, Flanagan solves the hard problem. I suggest that he (...) does not, although he provides much that is of importance and useful for further reflection along the way. (shrink)
Robert McCauley's Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not provides a summary interpretive statement of the standard model in cognitive science of religion, what I have previously called the HADD + ToM + Cultural Epidemiology model, along with a more general argument comparing religious cognition to scientific thinking and a novel framework for understanding both in terms of the concept of the maturationally natural. I here follow up on some observations made in a previous paper, developing them in light (...) of McCauley's own response to my previous arguments. (shrink)
Much ink has been spilled on the claim that morality and religion have evolutionary roots. While some attempt to reduce morality and religion to biological considerations, others reject any link whatsoever. Any full account, however, must acknowledge the biological roots of human behavior while at the same time recognizing that our relatively unique capacity as cognitive agents requires orienting concepts of cosmic and human nature. While other organisms display quasi‐moral and proto‐moral behavior that is indeed relevant, fully moral behavior is (...) only possible for organisms that attain a higher level of cognitive ability. This, in turn, implies a significant role for religion, which has traditionally provided an orientation within which moral conduct is understood. (shrink)
Advocates of eating locally offer a wide range of arguments in favor of the practice, but their ethical import is not always clear. Some locavore statements and arguments seem to imply a strong form of moral obligation; that eating locally is not merely instrumental to some other good, but has intrinsic value in its own right. This article examines standard arguments on behalf of eating locally, including arguments linked to the value of small farms and agrarianism, the environment, taste and (...) health, trust, and relational markets. Most arguments put forward on behalf of eating locally value it instrumentally, the main exception being arguments based on relational markets. Although these arguments provide important motives for eating locally, the strength of obligation varies widely, and even the strongest arguments possess significant qualifications. While eating locally can play a role in reducing environmental impacts, this is not necessarily so, and once removed from instrumental considerations, eating locally is more likely at best an imperfect duty. (shrink)
Charles Taylor has recently provided an in-depth exploration of secularity, with a central characteristic being the understanding that religious commitment is optional. This essay extends this analysis, considering the possibility that American society may be entering a second stage of secularity, one in which the possibility of religious commitment ceases to be an option at all for many. The possible implications of such a development are considered for the theology-and-science dialogue.
In this article I briefly assesses Philip Hefner's concept of the created co-creator by considering both what it does and does not claim. Looking at issues of reductionism, biological selfishness, biology and freedom, and environmental ethics, I point out strengths and weaknesses in Hefner's conception of the created co-creator.
The importance of scientific conflicts for theology andphilosophy is difficult to judge. In many disputes of significance, prominent scientists can be found on both sides. Profound philosophical and religious implications are sometimes said to be implied by the new theory as well. This article examines the dispute over natural selection between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould as a contemporary instance of such a conflict. While both claim that profound philosophical conclusions flow from their own alternativeaccount of evolution, I suggest (...) that the implication is not as great as is claimed and that the alleged implications have as much to do with their own perceptions of theology as with the actual theories themselves. Nevertheless, evolutionary theory is not irrelevant for theology. Theologians should be aware of the possible implications of evolutionary theory and at the same time theextent and limits of such implications. (shrink)
The preceding article by Marc Bekoff reveals much about our current understanding of animal self-consciousness and its implications. It also reveals how much more there is to be said and considered. This response briefly examines animal self-consciousness from scientific, moral, and theological perspectives. As Bekoff emphasizes, self-consciousness is not one thing but many. Consequently, our moral relationship to animals is not simply one based on a graded hierarchy of abilities. Furthermore, the complexity of animal self-awareness can serve as stimulus for (...) thinking about issues of theodicy and soteriology in a broader sense. (shrink)
This volume explores the role of both "mere habits" and sophisticated habitus in the formation of moral character and the virtues, incorporating perspectives from philosophy, theology, psychology, and neuroscience.
This volume explores the role of both “mere habits” and sophisticated habitus in the formation of moral character and the virtues, incorporating perspectives from philosophy, theology, psychology, and neuroscience.
. Adapted from the introductory chapter of Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences , I here lay out a general approach for a dialogue between theology and cognitive science. Key to this task is an understanding of theology as the science or study of meaning and purpose. I give reasons why theology should be thought of in this sense and the potential fruitfulness of this approach.
Philip Clayton has put forth a clear and important position regarding the mind-body relationship in terms of supervenient and emergent realities. While I agree with Clayton on many points, I argue that there are important problems with current literature on supervenience and emergence. In particular, I distinguish between closed system emergence and open system emergence, suggesting that Clayton’s position is closer to the latter than the former.
Recent articles by Michael Heller, Carl Helrich, Peter Hodgson, Jeffrey Koperski, and Nicholas Saunders present a challenge to much current thinking on God, divine action, and cosmology. In the process, they also reveal underlying assumptions and current problems, especially in the debate over physics and divine action. In particular, three issues come up that need to be addressed further. First, what is the status of determinism, and what can physics contribute? Second, what kind of divine action are we talking about? (...) Third, what is the relationship between God and time, and how does this affect claims about the personhood of God? While these essays present necessary critiques and interesting, positive proposals, they also reveal unresolved tensions that need to be addressed. (shrink)
Does God have a mind? Western theism has traditionally construed God as an intentional agent who acts on creation and in relation to humankind. God loves, punishes, and redeems. God's intentionality has traditionally been construed in analogy to human intentionality, which in turn has often presumed a supernatural dualism. Developments in cognitive science, however, render supernatural dualism suspect for explaining the human mind. How, then, can we speak of the mind of God? Borrowing from Daniel Dennett's intentional stance, I suggest (...) that analogical reasoning regarding the mind of God be abandoned in favor of an ontologically agnostic approach that treats God as an intentional system. In this approach, God's purposive action is an explanatory feature of the believer's universe, a real pattern that informs our values and beliefs about the world and our place in it. (shrink)
Beginning with the End represents an excellent collection of articles devoted to the thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg. This volume includes many of the most important thinkers in the science‐religion dialogue and shows as well the importance and impact of Pannenberg's theology. This response addresses themes that surface in several of the articles: What is religion? What is science? What is theology? What is God? On some of these themes there is agreement, on others sharp disagreement. The conclusion also considers what (...) this volume suggests about the future of Pannenberg's theology. (shrink)
Huston Smith's Why Religion Matters is the culminating reflections of one of the most respected religion scholars of our day. In this work, Smith sees modern society to be in the midst of a spiritual crisis. According to Smith, this crisis has been brought about by the advance of science and the inroads into what Smith calls the traditional worldview. While Smith's work is of some importance, I believe that several of its fundamental claims are mistaken. Smith often does not (...) accurately portray the content of science and frequently conflates the actual practice of science with philosophical scientism. Smith wrongly blames science alone for the decline of religion among Western elites. His claim that all religions can be equivocally described in terms of the traditional worldview is also problematic. Despite this, Smith does have a clear conception of what the issues are in the relation between science and religion. It is my hope that these issues will continue to be taken seriously. (shrink)
Nicholaos Jones argues that theology is not a respectable discipline because of its inability to meet the standards of contemporary science. Although Jones makes a bold claim, I suggest that he has not made his case by focusing on the question of defining science and metaphysics appropriately, the analysis of the literature he cites, and his central claim that theology presupposes the absolute certainty of God.
. Cognitive science challenges our understandings of self and freedom. In this article, adapted from a chapter in Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences , I review some of the scientific literature with regard to issues of self and freedom. I argue that our sense of self is a construct and heavily dependent on the kind of brain that we have. Furthermore, understanding the issue of freedom requires an understanding of the findings of cognitive science. Human beings are constrained (...) to be free; our biology in no small way determines the kinds of freedom that we are able to have. (shrink)
Cognitive science is a new paradigm that informs and involves several disciplines, including artificial intelligence, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, cognitive ethology, and the philosophy of mind. Cognitive science studies the mind as an information processor, with the computer often operating as a metaphor for the operations of the mind. Developments in the cognitive sciences stand to affect tremendously how we think of the mind and, consequently, how we think of theological and religious claims that concern the human subject. The unity of (...) self, claims of human uniqueness, the relation of mind and body, human nature, and the personal agency of God are all areas of religious import in which the cognitive sciences need to be taken into account. (shrink)