Science and religion, natural and unnatural

Book Section

Recent years have seen the publication of a number of books and articles offering specifically cognitive and evolutionary accounts of the origins of religious beliefs (see e.g. Atran 2002, Boyer 2001, Dennett 2006, Lawson & McCauley 1990). These accounts explain many widespread religious concepts (gods, an afterlife, divinely ordained moral commandments and so forth) as products or by-products of the automatic, unconscious operations of innate, universal mental (or cognitive) mechanisms that evolved in humans under Stone Age conditions. While such approaches to the understanding of religion have considerable intellectual interest, questions can be raised about their key assumptions, claims and methods and also about how those pursuing and promoting them - anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists and others - unfold their broader social and intellectual implications. I have dealt elsewhere with an array of theoretical and methodological problems presented by cognitive-evolutionary explanations of religion, especially in view of what I see as richer, more empirically responsive pragmatist and constructivist understandings of human cognition as well as more broadly informed accounts of the various phenomena (practices and institutions as well as concepts) we associate with the term religion.23 Here I shall focus on the enlistment of those explanations in the service of sharp but dubious contrasts between religion and science.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Smith, BH

Published Date

  • April 1, 2012

Book Title

  • Sacred Science?: On Science and Its Interrelations with Religious Worldviews

Start / End Page

  • 101 - 110

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 9086861962

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9789086861965

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3920/978-90-8686-752-3_8

Citation Source

  • Scopus