Barrett dismisses Freud, but answers Grayling more fully. He asserts that the research suggests it may be more difficult to "indoctrinate children away from religious belief. Unfortunately, Barrett turns his final chapter into a how-to list for "Encouraging Children's Religious Development. That is, with one exception, for me: He advocates genuine, experiential talk with children about faith and a relationship with God. Which brings me back to those Sunday school students.
Our Senior Research Fellows
A good friend has said that she appreciates the gnawing doubts expressed in my faith walk more than any pronouncements of absolute truth I might make. The working out of our uncertainties seems to add more muscle, more concrete evidence of a real relationship with an unseen, but living and loving God.
Barrett coming in March Name required. Mail will not be published required. Justin Barrett on the Naturalness of Religious Belief. Tags: agency detection , belief in God , cognitive development , cognitive psychology , experimental psychology , expertise , Hellen Keller , infants , intuition , music , naive physics , natural selection , religion , Rodney Stark , Theological Incorrectness , theology , tragedy of the theologian. The primary force at work in evolutionary accounts, the ultimate source of human morality, thus seems to be not God, but evolution cf. Dennis Krebs has, of course, in this piece accurately portrayed the standard, if not classical, conflict between biblical and scientific views.
Now, if God can be seen as the author of the evolutionary emergence of morality, can God also be seen as the 'hand' behind the evolution of our religious disposition?
Put differently, does the natural history of morality teach us anything at all about the natural history of the very human religious sense cf. In my first lecture we saw that anthropologist Agustin Fuentes turns the current discussion on the evolution of religion on its head by arguing persuasively for a direct link between human evolution, the evolution of imagination and the imaginative as our permanent perceptual state, and in this way lays the groundwork for the emergence of metaphysical ideas, and, ultimately, the natural emergence of the religious sense.
Fuentes' strongest argument, however, is that the reality of imagination, ritual and some form of metaphysical engagement with the world is inextricably entangled with our having become human beings. This dovetails closely with my own earlier argument that there is an evolutionary naturalness to the emergence of religious imagination van Huyssteen ; With this similar move, Fuentes also avoids the epistemic trap of finding the origin of religion either in adaptations via natural selection or in seeing religious belief as only a by-product of our cognitive complexity.
On the contrary, the origin of and capability to have religious beliefs do not lie wholly in the power or the content of religious beliefs as such, nor only in underlying neurological structures themselves, but rather is characterised by the interactive way in which humans all through prehistory have negotiated the world. Agustin Fuentes and I, in spite of our radically different disciplines, approaches and methodologies, completely agree that a necessary prelude to having religion is indeed the emergence of a human imagination and the embodiment of a quest for meaning as part and parcel of the distinctive human niche that has facilitated our flourishing as a species.
This is exactly why Fuentes could argue that evolutionary narratives alone will not get us a full explanation of why we are the way we are. This is also why the interaction between anthropology and theology can potentially provide a more robust narrative when we consider our human niche, our perceptual life-world. A better understanding of cooperation, empathy, compassion, the use of and engagement with materials, symbols and ritual, and the notion of a semiotic landscape in which humans and our immediate ancestors existed, do indeed move us along in our analysis of what it meant to become human.
- Document - Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds
And the understanding of all of this is indeed a true interdisciplinary process. And it is this process that creates the possibility for an imaginative, potentially metaphysical and eventually religious experience of the world. This should lead to a better understanding of the ubiquitous importance of the propensity for religious imagination and the reality of religious experiences for Homo sapiens sapiens. Again, this does not imply an argument for any particular adaptive function of religiosity, but rather we have an argument that in an evolutionary context, neither religion nor religiosity could suddenly have appeared fully blown, and it is therefore valuable to search for the kinds of structures, behaviours and cognitive processes that might facilitate the eventual appearance of such patterns in human beings.
If having an imagination is a central part of the human niche, and this imagination is a basal element in the development of metaphysics, one could indeed see how both adaptive and imaginative, creative perspectives could employ that fact as part of their understanding of the human. For Christian theologians, this provides an exciting bottom-up view of the spectacularly complex way in which God has shaped and prepared our species to be physically, mentally and spiritually 'ready' for faith.
I believe that my original intuition that there is a naturalness to human imagination, even to religious imagination, that facilitates engagement with the world in some ways that are truly distinct from other animals - even closely related hominins - thus becomes even more plausible. As Fuentes argues, if this is indeed the case, it provides a small, and fruitful, addition to the toolkit of inquiry for both evolutionary scientists and interdisciplinary theologians interested in reconstructing the long, winding path to humanity.
Religion and neural dispositions. The 'natural history of the religious imagination' has become a prominent and challenging feature in contemporary interdisciplinary discussions. The recent work of neuroscientist Patrick McNamara has added an interesting and provocative dimension to the issue of the natural history of the religious imagination. For McNamara it is exactly the deep religious propensities of the human mind that cannot be explained by a reductionist evolutionary account of human nature and behaviour only.
In his book, The Neuroscience of Religious Experience , McNamara develops his own central conviction that religion is a defining mark of what it means to be human, as emblematic of its bearer as the web for the spider cf.
Browse more videos
McNamara ix. The special focus of McNamara's work, however, is to examine the phenomenon of religion through the eyes of the human self. Strikingly, in spite of the self's great dignity and worth, it is still treated by religions as divided, conflicted and in need of salvation. Most importantly, McNamara argues that there is a considerable anatomical overlap between the brain sites implicated in religious experience and the brain sites implicated in the sense of 'self' and self-consciousness. This accounts for the crucial conclusion that religious practices often operate to support a transformation of self such that the self becomes more like an 'ideal self' whom the individual hopes to become cf.
Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds
McNamara xi. In this sense, religious practices directly contribute to the creation of a unified self-consciousness and to what McNamara calls an ideal 'executive self'. So, when religions are operating normally, they tend to create a healthy, unified and integrated sense of self. Religions accomplish this feat by promoting a cognitive process that McNamara calls decentering f. McNamara's bold claim, then, is that religion is irrevocably a central part of the evolution of symbolic and religious behaviour and of the construction of a centralised, 'executive' self.
As for the evolutionary status of religion, this implies that religion is not an unfortunate by-product of more useful cognitive capacities of the human mind. On the contrary, this implies that religion is indeed an adaptation, which is confirmed by the fact that the practice of religious rituals and belief in supernatural agents occur in virtually all human cultures cf.
McNamara And it is precisely religion's impact on the problems associated with the self and consciousness that could be seen as adaptive. The self and its default position, the divided self, should thus be taken into account when discussing the evolutionary history of religion cf. Patrick McNamara's neuroscientific argument for the adaptive status of religion has recently found interesting and, up to a point, converging support in the work of well-known New York Times science writer, Nicholas Wade. In his book, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures , Wade has made the point that religions normally point to the realm of the supernatural, thus assuring people that they are not alone in the world.
Many - both believers and atheists - still find it difficult to understand religious behaviour from an evolutionary perspective: on the one hand, people of faith may not like the idea that the mind's receptivity to religion has been shaped by evolution; on the other hand, those who are hostile to religion often do not embrace the idea that religious behaviour evolved because it might have conferred essential benefits on ancient societies and their successors cf.
Wade Wade, however, argues explicitly that an 'instinct for religious behaviour' is indeed an evolved part of human nature. Because of the definite survival advantage conferred on people who practiced a religion, the behaviour - whether adaptive or non-adaptive - became written into our neural circuitry at least 50 years ago, and probably much earlier cf. Wade , 6. Or, as Wade puts it, religion is a complex cultural behaviour built on top of a genetically shaped learning machinery cf.
People are born with the innate ability to learn the language and religion of their communities, and in both cases, culture supplies the content of what is learned. This is also why languages and religions differ so widely from one society to the next, while remaining so similar in their basic form. Against this background, Wade's definition of religion emerges: religion is a system of emotionally binding beliefs and practices in which a society implicitly negotiates through prayer and sacrifice with supernatural agents, securing from them commands that compel members, through fear of divine punishment, to subordinate their interests to the common good cf.
As to the crucial and defining role of morality in religion, Wade thinks religion and morality share a common feature that reflects their origins as evolved behaviour: both are rooted in the emotions cf. Wade , and both religious knowledge and moral intuitions appear in the mind as strong convictions, not as neutral facts.
Wade makes the interesting point, also argued - as we saw earlier - by Frans de Waal, that morality in a sense is older than religion, because we now know of its roots in primate behaviour. In this sense one could say that religious behaviour was engrafted on top of the moral sense in the human lineage alone cf. Understanding how moral intuitions evolved thus makes it easier to see that religious behaviour also has an evolutionary origin. Frans de Waal's work on building blocks of morality in primate behaviour, and its direct links to empathy and reciprocity cf. De Waal , already argue for this important fact, and clearly hominins and later humans would have inherited these building blocks from their apelike ancestors and developed them into moral convictions.
Evolutionary biology thus gives us a fascinating new explanation for moral instincts and for religious intuitions: moral behaviour and the religious disposition do not originate from 'outside' the human mind or even only from conscious reasoning, sources often favoured by theologians and philosophers, but rather have been wired into the genetic circuitry of the mind by the process of evolution cf. Religion and empathy or attachment. The important work on human personhood and the origins of morality, and specifically embodied empathy, by scholars as diverse as Maxine Sheets-Johnstone and Frans de Waal, finds a particularly exciting enhancement in the work of psychologist of religion, Lee A.