I criticize 5 arguments for the conclusion that religious belief is unreliably formed and hence epistemically tainted. The arguments draw on scientific evidence from Cognitive Science of Religion. They differ considerably as to why the evidence points to unreliability. Two arguments conclude to unreliability because religious belief is shaped by evolutionary pressures; another argument states that the mechanism responsible for religious belief produces many false god-beliefs; a similar argument claims that the mechanism produces incompatible god-beliefs; and a final argument states (...) that the mechanism is offtrack. I argue that the arguments fail to make the case for unreliability or that the unreliability can be overcome. (shrink)
This unique and pioneering book critically appraises current work from both the cognitive science of religion and the evolutionary study of religion. It addresses the question: Why does the believer possess supernatural or religious beliefs in the combined context of his cognitive biases, their adaptive usefulness measured in terms of survival and reproduction, and the impact of social learning and cultural traits? The authors outlines a pluralistic approach to the study of religion that does not treat religion as an accidental (...) by-product but an adaptation selected by natural selection. Chapters discuss the role of religious components for the evolution of cooperation and altruism, and explore the development of atheism and secular ideas, in cognitive and evolutionary terms. Topics such as the usefulness of religion, the transmission of religious beliefs, and a Darwinian approach to religion are among those addressed. Contrary to standard views, religious biases are regarded as shaped by cultural influences and not merely by natural dispositions. This monograph will particularly appeal to researchers who are looking for a scientific explanation of religion and religious beliefs but who do not stop at the level of narrow cognitive and evolutionary accounts. The work will also be of interest to students of philosophy, sociology, religious studies, theology, or anthropology who seek to explain such fascinating, complex, and unequivocal phenomena as religion and religious components. (shrink)
It is widely acknowledged that the new emerging discipline cognitive science of religion has a bearing on how to think about the epistemic status of religious beliefs. Both defenders and opponents of the rationality of religious belief have used cognitive theories of religion to argue for their point. This paper will look at the defender-side of the debate. I will discuss an often used argument in favor of the trustworthiness of religious beliefs, stating that cognitive science of religion shows that (...) religious beliefs are natural and natural beliefs ought to be trusted in the absence of counterevidence. This argument received its most influential defense from Justin Barrett in a number of papers, some in collaboration with Kelly James Clark. I will discuss their version of the argument and argue that it fails because the natural beliefs discovered by cognitive scientists of religion are not the religious beliefs of the major world religions. A survey of the evidence from cognitive science of religion will show that cognitive science does show that other beliefs come natural and that these can thus be deemed trustworthy in the absence of counterevidence. These beliefs are teleological beliefs, afterlife beliefs and animistic theistic beliefs. (shrink)
Multiple authors in cognitive science of religion (CSR) argue that there is something about the human mind that disposes it to form religious beliefs. The dispositions would result from the internal architecture of the mind. In this article, I will argue that this disposition can be explained by various forms of (cultural) learning and not by the internal architecture of the mind. For my argument, I draw on new developments in predictive processing. I argue that CSR theories argue for the (...) naturalness of religious belief in at least three ways; religious beliefs are adaptive; religious beliefs are the product of cognitive biases; and religious beliefs are the product of content biases. I argue that all three ideas can be integrated in a predictive coding framework where religious belief is learned and hence not caused by the internal architecture of the mind. I argue that the framework makes it doubtful that there are modular cognitive mechanisms for religious beliefs and that the human mind has a fixed proneness for religious belief. I also argue that a predictive coding framework can incorporate a larger role for cultural processes and allows for more flexibility. (shrink)
Cognitive science of religion is a fairly young discipline with the aim of studying the cognitive basis of religious belief. Despite the great variation in theories a number of common features can be distilled and most theories can be situated in the cognitivist and modular paradigm. In this paper, I investigate how cognitive science of religion (CSR) can be made better by insights from John Dewey. I chose Dewey because he offered important insights in cognition long before there was cognitive (...) science and because his ideas are influential in the recent enactivist movement. The relevance of Dewey’s thought for CSR will be discussed under three headers: embodiedness, embeddedness and anti-modularity. I focus on these points because embodiedness and embeddedness are important features of Dewey’s view on cognition and because his ideas are useful for criticizing modularity. I will first give a brief overview of the most influential theories in CSR. Then I will discuss how existing theories in CSR can be improved on the first two points and criticized on the third. (shrink)
This article discusses “explaining away” arguments in the cognitive science of religion. I distinguish two rather different ways of explaining away religion, one where religion is shown to be incompatible with scientific findings and one where supernatural entities are rendered superfluous by scientific explanations. After discussing possible objections to both varieties, I argue that the latter way offers better prospects for successfully explaining away religion but that some caveats must be made. In a second step, I spell out how CSR (...) can be used to spell out an argument of the second kind. One argument renders religion superfluous by claiming that it results from a cognitive bias and one does the same by claiming religion was a useful evolutionary adaptation. I discuss some strengths and weaknesses of both arguments. (shrink)
Cognitive Science of Religion is still a rather young discipline. Depending on what one deems to be the first paper or book in the field, the discipline is now almost forty or almost thirty years old. Philosophical and theological discussion on CSR started in the late 2000s. From its onset, the main focus has been the epistemic consequences of CSR, and this focus is dominant even today. Some of those involved in the debate discussed the relevance of CSR for further (...) issues in philosophy of religion, and other have examined how CSR weighs in on various theological questions. Finally, a small number of philosophers offered criticisms or support for various CSR-theories. In this chapter, we give an overview of the debates so far and provide an outline of the book. (shrink)
Introduction for 'New Developments in Cognitive Science of Religion - The Rationality of Religious Belief' forthcoming with Springer. We discuss the philosophical debate over Cognitive Science of Religion and give an outline of the book.
Rob Lovering has recently argued that since theists have been unable, by means of philosophical arguments, to convince 85 percent of professional philosophers that God exists, at least one of their defining beliefs must be either false or meaningless. This paper is a critical examination of his argument. First we present Lovering’s argument and point out its salient features. Next we explain why the argument’s conclusion is entirely acceptable for theists, even if, as we show, there are multiple problems with (...) the premises. (shrink)
This paper explores the relation between evolutionary explanations of religious belief and a core idea in both classical Christian theology and Reformed Epistemology, namely that humans have fallen into sin. In particular, it challenges the claim made by De Cruz and De Smedt that ‘ in the light of current evolutionary and cognitive theories, the Reformed epistemological view of NES [the noetic effects of sin] is in need of revision.’ Three possible solutions to this conundrum are examined, two of which (...) are shown to be plausible. (shrink)
In this paper, I examine the relationship between social cognition and religious cognition. Many cognitive theories of religion claim that these two forms are somehow related, but the details are usually left unexplored and insights from theories of social cognition are not taken on board. I discuss the three main (groups of) theories of social cognition, namely the theory-theory, the simulation theory and enactivist theories. Secondly, I explore how these theories can help to enrich a number of cognitive theories of (...) religion. The theories I discuss are Stewart Guthrie’s anthropomorphism, Justin Barrett’s hyperactive agency detection device, Jesse Bering’s existential theory of mind, Pascal Boyer’s minds with full strategic access and Tanya Luhrmann’s porous theory of mind. Finally, I look at how enrichment with insights from social cognition can help to combine different existing theories of religious cognition into a unified framework. (shrink)
Inspired by Alvin Plantinga, many philosophers of religion accept the existence of a sensus divinitatis, a cognitive mechanism that produces religious beliefs. In this paper I will argue that there are no good reasons to accept the existence of a sensus divinitatis and hence its existence should not be affirmed. Plantinga gives two arguments for its existence, one empirical and one from the nature of God. I will argue that the first argument fails because God’s nature makes it more likely (...) that he lets himself be known through other means. In order to criticize the second argument I rely on recent empirical data on religious cognition and argue that it does not lend support to accepting the existence of a sensus divinitatis or a similar cognitive mechanism. (shrink)
In this paper I investigate the epistemic implications of a recent theory of religious cognition that draws on predictive coding. The theory argues that certain experiences are heavily shaped by a subject’s prior (religious) beliefs and thereby makes religious believers prone to detect invisible agents. The theory is an update of older theories of religious cognition but departs from them in crucial ways. I will assess the epistemic implications by reformulating existing arguments based on other (older) theories of religious cognition.
Recently, Del Ratzsch proposed a new version of the design argument. He argues that belief in a designer is often formed non-inferentially, much like perceptual beliefs, rather than formed by explicit reasoning. Ratzsch traces his argument back to Thomas Reid who argues that beliefs formed in this way are also justified. In this paper, I investigate whether design beliefs that are formed in this way can be regarded as knowledge. For this purpose, I look closer to recent scientific study of (...) how design beliefs are formed. I argue that the science strongly suggest that people easily form false beliefs. As a result, design beliefs can only constitute knowledge if subjects have additional reasons or evidence for design. (shrink)
Some philosophers and scientists argue that as science progresses the religious domain shrinks ever more. They see the advance of science as an argument against religion and for naturalism. In what follows I construct the argument that is tacit in this line of reasoning and criticize it.
It is widely thought that the cognitive science of religion may have a bearing on the epistemic status of religious beliefs and on other topics in philosophy of religion. Epistemologists have used theories from CSR to argue both for and against the rationality of religious beliefs, or they have claimed that CSR is neutral vis-à-vis the epistemic status of religious belief. However, since CSR is a rapidly evolving discipline, a great deal of earlier research on the topic has become dated. (...) Furthermore, most of the debate on the epistemic consequences of CSR has not taken into account insights from the philosophy of science, such as explanatory pluralism and explanatory levels. This volume overcomes these deficiencies. This volume brings together new philosophical reflection on CSR. It examines the influence of CSR theories on the epistemic status of religious beliefs; it discusses its impact on philosophy of religion; and it offers new insights for CSR. The book addresses the question of whether or not the plurality of theories in CSR makes epistemic conclusions about religious belief unwarranted. It also explores the impact of CSR on other topics in philosophy of religion like the cognitive consequences of sin and naturalism. Finally, the book investigates what the main theories in CSR aim to explain, and addresses the strengths and weaknesses of CSR. (shrink)
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.
In this response article, I argue that Launonen’s criticisms either are beyond the scope of my argument in chapter 5 of Arguing from Cognitive Science of Religion or wrongfully presume that evolutionary explanations exhaustively explain religious beliefs. I also criticize Launonen’s claim that arguments in terms of divine design are preferable to arguments in terms of truth-tracking cognitive mechanisms.