Cognitive Science of Religion and the Rationality of Theistic and Atheistic Beliefs

What can the nascent cognitive science of religion (CSR) tell us about the rationality of theistic and atheistic beliefs? Can it provide defeaters for such beliefs? The goal of my research is to explore how recent developments in both cognitive science of religion and of our understanding of epistemic defeasibility can help us understand the (ultima facie) rationality of theistic and atheistic beliefs.

Why are humans so prone to form religious beliefs? This question has captured the attention of thinkers for millennia. Recently, however, researchers from different academic disciplines have been using findings from areas of study such as cognitive science and evolutionary biology to formulate theories about the origins of religious beliefs. One of the central findings of this research programme is that human beings are hypersensitive detectors of agents. This means that we have the tendency, given the presence of certain environmental stimuli, to form beliefs in unseen intentional agents. Barrett has defended that this detection ability would have adaptive value by increasing the probability that humans will be able to escape predators. Some (such as Dawkins and Dennett) have taken the findings about the evolutionary origins of theistic beliefs to support the conclusion that these beliefs are false. Others (such as Murray) have claimed that the existence of such mechanism is compatible with religious claims. And Clark has defended that this model of religious belief formation is actually supportive of the process of production of knowledge of God defended by proponents of reformed epistemology.

Most research in CSR and rationality produced so far has been concerned with the role CSR can play in prima facie rationality of religious beliefs. My research, however, will be concerned with the role CSR can play in ultima facie rationality (i.e. in the absence of defeaters) of both theistic and atheistic beliefs.

Host University
Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, US

Academic Sponsor
Prof Robert Audi

Term
Autumn 2016 and Winter 2017