THE NATURALNESS OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS: SOUNDINGS FROM THE COGNITIVE SCIENCE OF RELIGION

Publication Type:

Language:

Author(s): 
Robert E. Sears
TCA College
Issue number: 
No.4 (Vol.54)
Pages: 
82-98
Abstract: 

This paper offers a brief introduction, summary, and commentary on the cognitive science of religion (CSR), a burgeoning, interdisciplinary field of study that examines the way mental resources and predispositions facilitate religious beliefs and behavior. This presentation of CSR devotes special attention to research on teleological bias, agency detection, and counterintuitive concepts; moreover, critical discussions of mystical experience and god concepts ensue from treatments of the latter two topics. Research on teleological bias, agency detection, and counterintuitiveness supports the basic position that religious cognition is natural, although distinctive rationales are associated with each topic of investigation. While the major focus of this article is epistemological – how religious thought develops and is sustained – the conclusion briefly addresses the ontological significance of basic CSR findings.

Keywords: 
cognitive science of religion, teleological bias, hypersensitive agency detection, mystical experience, counterintuitive concepts, God concepts, religious epistemology
References: 

Barnard, G. W. Exploring unseen worlds: William James and the philosophy of mysticism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. 422 pp.
Barrett, J. L. Coding and quantifying counterintuitiveness in religious concepts: Theoretical and methodological reflections, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 2008, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 308–338.
Barrett, J. L. Cognitive constraints on Hindu concepts of the Divine, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1998, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 608–619.
Barrett, J. L. Cognitive science, religion, and theology: From human minds to divine minds. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2011. 248 pp.
Barrett, J. L. Exploring the natural foundations of religion, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2000, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 29–34.
Barrett, J. L. Why Santa Claus is not a god, Journal of Cognition , Culture, 2008, vol. 8, no. 1/2, pp. 149–161.
Barrett, J. L. Why would anyone believe in God? Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004. 152 pp.
Barrett, J. L., Church, I. M. Should CSR give atheists epistemic assurance? On beer goggles, BFFs, and skepticism regarding religious beliefs, The Monist, 2013, vol. 96, no. 3, pp. 311–324.

Bering, J. The belief instinct: The psychology of souls, destiny, and the meaning of life. New York: W. W. Norton , Company, 2011. 272 pp.

Boyer, P. Religion explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001. 384 pp.

Boyer, P. Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2003, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 119–124.
Boyer, P., Ramble, C. Cognitive templates for religious concepts: Crosscultural evidence for recall of counter-intuitive representations, Cognitive Science, 2001, vol. 25, no. 4. pp. 535–564.
Casler, K., Kelemen, D. Developmental continuity in teleo-functional explanation: Reasoning about nature among Romanian Romani adults, Journal ofCognition & Development, 2008, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 340–362.

Chen, Z., Hood, Jr. R. W., Yang, L., Watson, P. J. Mystical experience among Tibetan Buddhists: The common core thesis revisited, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 2011, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 328–338.

Guthrie, S. E. A cognitive theory of religion, Current Anthropology, 1980, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 181–194.
Guthrie, S. E. Faces in the clouds: A new theory of religion. New York: Oxford University Press. 336 pp.
Hornbeck, R. G., Sears R. E. Mysticism and mind: Using cognitive science to explore religious experience, European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 2015, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 59-80.
James, W. The varieties of religious experience: A study in human nature. New York: M. Bradley, 2012. 284 pp.
Kelemen, D. General Article Are Children “Intuitive Theists”? Reasoning About Purpose and Design in Nature, Psychological Science, 2004, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 295–301.
Kelemen, D. Why are rocks pointy? Children’s preference for teleological explanations of the natural world, Developmental Psychology, 1999, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 1440–1452.
Kelemen, D., DiYanni, C. Intuitions about origins: Purpose and intelligent design in children’s reasoning about nature, Journal of Cognition & Development, 2005, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 3-31.

Kelemen, D., Rosset, E. The human function compunction: Teleological explanation in adults, Cognition, 2009, vol. 111, pp. 138–143.
Marshall, P. Mystical encounters with the natural world: Experiences and explanations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 338 pp.
McCauley, R. N. Why religion is natural and science is not. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 354 pp.
Miller, E. M. “Science Mike” McHargue: Christians aren’t stupid, and atheists aren’t evil, Religion News Service. [http://religionnews.com/2016/09/19/sciencemike- mchargue christians-arent-stupid-and-atheists-arent-evil/#, accessed on: 23.04.2017]
Murray, M. J. Scientific explanations of religion and the justification of religious belief, in: J. Schloss, M. Murray (eds.). The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 168–178.
Petrican, R., Burris, C. T. Am I the stone? Overattribution of agency and religious orientation, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2012, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 312–323.
Purzycki, B. G., Willard, A. K. MCI theory: A critical discussion, Religion, Brain, Behavior, 2015, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 207–248.

Sears, R. E. Spiritual dreams and the Nepalese: Attribution theory and the dream-related cognition of Nepali Christians and Hindus. 2016. (Doctoral dissertation).
Spelke, E. S., Kinzler, K. D. Core knowledge, Developmental Science, 2007, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 89–96.
Spilka, B., Shaver, P., Kirkpatrick, L. A. A general attribution theory for the psychology of religion, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1985, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 1–20.
Stace, W. T. Mysticism and philosophy. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc, 1960. 349 pp.
Taves, A. Religious experience reconsidered: A building block approach to the study of religion and other special things. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. 232 pp.
Wellman, H. M., Gelman, S. A. Cognitive development: Foundational theories of core domains, Annual Review of Psychology, 1992, vol. 43, pp. 337–375.

DOI: 
10.5840/eps201754474
Full Text: