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4/16/2018 10:14 pm  #1


Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

What are people's thoughts on here about the newly emergent field of CSR? Many philosophers working in CSR have crafted novel religion-debunking arguments based on the field's findings, according to which CSR has shown that religious beliefs, being formed and sustained by evolutionary-adapted cognitive biases, for instance, are not epistemically justifiable.

For a most recent and high-quality volume on the subject which could also be useful as an introduction to the research and the debates over it, I would suggest Advances in Religion, Cognitive Science and Experimental Philosophy (2016). For the more religiously uncommitted amongst us, I would recommend A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Congnitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion (2015), which deals with arguments relevant to classical theism, such as the cosmological argument(s). 

 

4/17/2018 4:19 am  #2


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Paraschis wrote:

What are people's thoughts on here about the newly emergent field of CSR? Many philosophers working in CSR have crafted novel religion-debunking arguments based on the field's findings, according to which CSR has shown that religious beliefs, being formed and sustained by evolutionary-adapted cognitive biases, for instance, are not epistemically justifiable.

For a most recent and high-quality volume on the subject which could also be useful as an introduction to the research and the debates over it, I would suggest Advances in Religion, Cognitive Science and Experimental Philosophy (2016). For the more religiously uncommitted amongst us, I would recommend A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Congnitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion (2015), which deals with arguments relevant to classical theism, such as the cosmological argument(s). 

I don't see how you can make the assertion that "religious beliefs, being formed and sustained by evolutionary-adapted cognitive biases" to say that they are "not epistemically justifiable" to end with "novel religion-debunking arguments". What's new from that? I've given the books you quoted a read, but from what I found, nothing presented there is a "religion-debunking argument".

 

4/17/2018 7:15 am  #3


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Well, take John Wilkins's article from the former volume mentioned above, who presents the most obvious case of a religion-debunking argument (to be found here: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56b23f391bbee0832a71e819/t/56d49fa9b654f96f8828ebb6/1456775088307/introduction-cognitive-science-of-religion-and-its-philosophical-implications.pdf): 

Here's the blueprint he offers:

"An evolutionary debunking argument has the following form (Kahane 2011): Causal premise. S’s belief that p is explained by X Epistemic premise. X is an off-track process Therefore S’s belief that p is unjustified. An “off-track process” is a process of the evolution by natural selection of cognitive dispositions or belief acquisition, in which what makes the dispositions or beliefs (for simplicity we shall refer to beliefs) fit is decoupled from its truth. For example, suppose that belief in God is a fitness-enhancer in a given social environment, because it increases one’s chances of reciprocal altruism in times of need in societies where kin relationships are unknown or too attenuated (Wilkins 2015). The fitness here is granted in virtue of the mere fact of having the same beliefs as those of your social milieu, not in virtue of the truth of those beliefs. In fact, even if the beliefs are entirely false, fitness is still conferred to the believer."

pp. 19-20
 

     Thread Starter
 

4/17/2018 8:55 am  #4


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

In what way is this different from "the fact you believe God exists is not a proof that God exists"? Or "we naturally evolved to believe in God, therefore our belief in God is not necessarily warranted by our evolution"?
In other words, is there something new here, beside conflating epistemic and subject of belief?

In your text, replace "belief in God" by "belief in X", where X is anything. The argument doesn't change.

It's basically the EEAN reworded for a naturalistic stance.

Last edited by FrenchySkepticalCatholic (4/17/2018 8:56 am)

 

4/17/2018 10:28 am  #5


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

I was looking into some of the work of Helen de Cruz a little while back, who works in this field but is not entirely unsympathetic to theistic arguments. A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion

I don't think any of this is novel. It really just looks like Kant all over again. I'm pretty comfortable saying that the reasoning underlying even cosmological arguments relies upon basic intuitions that need not necessarily be true, but if they're not true, then the natural sciences that implicitly rely upon the very same intuitions about causality collapse too. It seems like special pleading to me to say that we can keep evolutionary psychology but have to throw away natural theology. If you're going to be a radical skeptic, toss out everything.

 

4/17/2018 10:37 am  #6


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Is it so difficult to maintain that God had us evolve in precisely such a manner as would bring us to know Him? I don't think so. 
I don't either think that just because we have an ulterior (evolutionary) motive in believing, then that belief is "debunked". You have to address the epistemology, not the motive.

Last edited by Etzelnik (4/17/2018 10:39 am)


Noli turbare circulos meos.
 

4/17/2018 11:46 am  #7


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Paraschis wrote:

Well, take John Wilkins's article from the former volume mentioned above, who presents the most obvious case of a religion-debunking argument (to be found here: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56b23f391bbee0832a71e819/t/56d49fa9b654f96f8828ebb6/1456775088307/introduction-cognitive-science-of-religion-and-its-philosophical-implications.pdf): 

Here's the blueprint he offers:

"An evolutionary debunking argument has the following form (Kahane 2011): Causal premise. S’s belief that p is explained by X Epistemic premise. X is an off-track process Therefore S’s belief that p is unjustified. An “off-track process” is a process of the evolution by natural selection of cognitive dispositions or belief acquisition, in which what makes the dispositions or beliefs (for simplicity we shall refer to beliefs) fit is decoupled from its truth. For example, suppose that belief in God is a fitness-enhancer in a given social environment, because it increases one’s chances of reciprocal altruism in times of need in societies where kin relationships are unknown or too attenuated (Wilkins 2015). The fitness here is granted in virtue of the mere fact of having the same beliefs as those of your social milieu, not in virtue of the truth of those beliefs. In fact, even if the beliefs are entirely false, fitness is still conferred to the believer."

pp. 19-20
 

 
So it's pretty much a genetic fallacy. Cool.

Really though, if that has been actually published, then it makes me worry for the state of academic publishing. Can someone please explain to me how "Belief in X has been formed by an off-track process" implies no one can ever have any real justification for X? Plantinga's EAAN at least could be formulated as best explanation argument (instead of a skeptical threat) and could arguably be limited to empirical experience. This one is just ridiculous. If my belief that 2 + 2 equals 4 is explained by an off-track process that gives me a bias for thinking 4 is the result of adding 2 and 2 as a way to manage inventory, does that mean I have no justification to believe 2 + 2 equals 4? Of course not. A belief being formed by an off-track process would not imply that it cannot have justification, even if that justification were to somehow show up later.

Not to mention that kind of view basically invites a Plantinga EAAN response. Really, if we could deal away with rational justifications for a belief simply because it was produced by an off-track process, then we open a pandora's box in which all beliefs would be similarly threatened, including any beliefs about evolution or something as complex as cognitive theory.

Last edited by Miguel (4/17/2018 12:01 pm)

 

4/17/2018 12:06 pm  #8


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Etzelnik wrote:

Is it so difficult to maintain that God had us evolve in precisely such a manner as would bring us to know Him? I don't think so. 
I don't either think that just because we have an ulterior (evolutionary) motive in believing, then that belief is "debunked". You have to address the epistemology, not the motive.

 
That too. Unless an off-track process were to imply that the belief in question *has* to be false, which is of course question-begging. It's like a genetic fallacy writ large.

 

4/17/2018 1:12 pm  #9


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Miguel, I would urge you to investigate the article under question (by John Wilkins). In it he offers an argument for why moral and religious arguments are susceptible to evolutionary debunking while scientific statements are largely evinced. It's called the Milvian Bridge principle, developed also here: https://philpapers.org/rec/WILEDA-3 

For a fairly lengthy critique of this very position, I would suggest https://www.academia.edu/29023067/Are_Evolutionary_Debunking_Arguments_Self-Debunking
and
https://www.academia.edu/34425790/Evolutionary_Debunking_The_Milvian_Bridge_Destabilized

     Thread Starter
 

4/17/2018 1:44 pm  #10


Re: Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR)

Paraschis wrote:

Miguel, I would urge you to investigate the article under question (by John Wilkins). In it he offers an argument for why moral and religious arguments are susceptible to evolutionary debunking while scientific statements are largely evinced. It's called the Milvian Bridge principle, developed also here: https://philpapers.org/rec/WILEDA-3 

For a fairly lengthy critique of this very position, I would suggest https://www.academia.edu/29023067/Are_Evolutionary_Debunking_Arguments_Self-Debunking
and
https://www.academia.edu/34425790/Evolutionary_Debunking_The_Milvian_Bridge_Destabilized

 
Right, that should be interesting. Including what would count as a "scientific statement" and how we can correctly categorize it. I wonder if metaphysical statements are included, considering how they're fundamental to science.

But how does that salvage the argument from its main issue anyway? The skeptical threat is just one problem. The main issue is that the argument is simply invalid or irrelevant. A belief's being produced by an off-tracking process does not mean it can have no rational justification. That goes for any belief, including my example about mathematics, because it's a general point. An evolutionary study of the origins of a belief says nothing about whether it can be justified or not. There's also Etzelnik's point.

It seems pointless to me. Cognitive theory cannot show PSR isn't true (and certainly not without undermining itself), for instance, or that the necessary being can fail to have godlike attributes. It can't show that our intellect is material or that intelligence and mind emerged from non-intelligence and non-mind. It can't tell us platonism is better than divine conceptualism. It just can't. A belief X being rationally justifiable has nothing to do with whether it wasn't produced by an off-tracking process.

 

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