Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
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Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
55 (1), March 2020

Table of Contents


Cognitive Science, Continuous Creation, and Zygon Moving On by Arthur C. Petersen

The New Scientific Study of Religion Moving On The Cognitive Science of Religion and, more broadly, the new scientific study of religion, have been in the ascendant for several decades now. In Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, both proponents and critics now take stock of how far the field has come and what may be next for it. Lluís Oviedo has organized this issue’s symposium The New Scientific Study of Religion Moving On, which contains five contributions. In his Introduction, he reflects on the emergence of approaches in the new scientific study of religion that have overcome an overly reductivist stance, and that have opened up to more plural and multilevel approaches. The first contribution to the symposium is by one of the founding fathers of the cognitive science of religion, Robert McCauley. After explaining how he understands the cognitive science of religion (including interpreting it as not having implications on the truth status of religious claims), he addresses a typical reactionary response (protectionism), addresses three trends in the cognitive science of religion (cognitive neuroscientific study of religion; the study of differences between religious experiences and memories of such experiences; and the integration of cognitive and evolutionary explanations of religion), and highlights new atheists’ wrong use of it. The second contribution, by Connor Wood, exemplifies the third trend identified by McCauley. Wood integrates cognitive and evolutionary dimensions in his study of religious ritual, in particular ritual of the antistructural kind, where his interests lie not so much in the study of religious representations, but instead of religiously interpreted altered states of consciousness. He makes the empirical prediction that antistructural ritual may provide for cultural change in religions. The other three contributions are largely critical of the cognitive science of religion but open to engaging with the field and pointing to ways forward. In the third contribution, Konrad Szocik argues that some cognitive explanations of religious beliefs, which emphasize their adaptive value for survival, overvalue the putative role of cognition. He claims that there are some domains in the field of religion and religious components that could be acquired and transmitted despite or even against alleged cognitive biases, and he pleads for combining a cognitive account with functional naturalistic approaches. The fourth contribution, by Hans Van Eyghen, argues in a similar vein against there being something about the human mind that disposes it to form religious beliefs. He argues for a predictive coding framework where religious belief is learned and part of a larger cultural constitution, and he integrates ideas from the cognitive science of religion into such a framework. In the fifth, and final, contribution, Léon Turner argues that evolutionary and cognitive accounts of religion typically depend upon a view of cognition that conceptually isolates the mind from its particular social and physical environmental contexts, and that they unwittingly embrace an abstract individualist view of individual personhood that Christian theologians have explicitly battled against. He shows that there is sufficient room left for supplementary theories.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12572


Divine DNA? Secular and Religious Representations of Science in Non-Fiction Science Television Programs by Will Mason-Wilkes

Through analysis of film sequences focusing on DNA in two British Broadcasting Corporation nonfiction science television programs, Wonders of Life and Bang! Goes the Theory, first broadcast in 2013, contrasting religious and secular representations of science are identified. In the religious portrayal, immutable scientific knowledge is revealed to humanity by nature with minimal human intervention. Science provides a creation story, explanatory omnicompetence, and makes life existentially meaningful. In the secular portrayal, scientific knowledge is changeable; is produced through technical skill in expert communities; and is ambiguous, potentially positive and negative for society. Television representations of science affect audience understandings, and this is particularly the case for nonfiction representations of science, as they are likely to be taken more seriously than fictional representations. The consequences of the religious representation of science are discussed, and it is argued that a widespread understanding of science as presented in the religious portrayal would negatively impact democracy.
democracy • DNA • science and religion • science communication • science on television
Will Mason-Wilkes is an Independent Scholar affiliated with the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK; e-mail: wjmasonwilkes @ gmail.com.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12574

Improving Evolution Advocacy: Translating Vaccine Interventions to the Evolution Wars by Thomas Aechtner

When considering the persuasive characteristics and prospective influences of Darwin-skeptic mass media, uncertainties remain about how to reciprocally promote evolutionary theory to skeptical audiences. This study aims to improve evolution advocacy by translating some of the most successful methods of science endorsement to Evolution Wars contexts. In particular, strategies used to address vaccine hesitancies and enhance immunization uptake policies are reinterpreted for those seeking to improve pro-evolution communications to religious publics. What results are three recommendation categories described as General Guiding Principles, Proximate Interventions, and Auxiliary Interventions.
anti-evolutionism • anti-vaccination • evolution advocacy • Evolution Wars • public policies • science-skepticism
Thomas Aechtner is Senior Lecturer in Religion and Science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland, St. Lucia QLD, Australia; e-mail: t.aechtner @ uq.edu.au.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12577

A Cultural Evolutionary Approach to Modernity: What Might it Mean for Christian Faith? by Collin Patterson

This essay introduces, for theological consideration, some recent work in the field of cultural evolutionary theory, specifically the kin-influence hypothesis. This theory holds that, following the beginnings of industrialization and economic growth, a nation’s fertility rate commences a decline, which is further abetted by the consequent and increasing imbalance in the relative influence of kin versus nonkin influences on individuals in favor of the latter. It is further proposed that this process is itself a major independent factor in the emergence of many of the features of what is called modernity, among which is that of secularization. Extending further this work, I argue that, given the historic alignment of family and religious values in Christian nations, a loss of religious belief and practice is, at least in part, the spill over effect of the opposing influence of values emerging from ever more dominant nonfamily social interaction. I conclude with some reflections on possible theological implications.
cultural evolution • family • fertility • modernity • secularization
Colin Patterson, STD, is an independent scholar, Surrey Hills, VIC, Australia; e-mail: ccpatt76 @ gmail.com.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12581

Social Research on Science and Religion in Nordic Countries by Pia Vuolanto, Paula Nissilä, and Ali Qadir

This article presents a review of the literature on science and religion in Nordic countries. Seventy-seven articles, books, and chapters on the topic were collected from five major scholarly databases between 1997 and 2018. We scrutinized how research in this data set was engaged with social scientific research. Most of the research was not social scientific. It was primarily philosophical, theological, and historical research; very little presented empirical and theoretical social scientific research. The studies reflected societal discussions, bringing out some cultural dimensions and social issues, but not specifically in the Nordic context. Some societal aspects were highlighted, such as ethics and climate change, but these were not necessarily tied to the Nordic societies. We propose that in the Nordic context there seems to be a need for social scientific research on science and religion. This research could use theoretical perspectives from, for instance, sociology, science and technology studies, higher education studies, and anthropological research.
literature review • Nordic • science and religion • social sciences
Pia Vuolanto is Researcher, Faculty of Social Sciences, Research Centre for Knowledge, Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland; email: pia.vuolanto @ tuni.fi. Paula Nissilä is a PhD student (sociology), Tampere University, Tampere, Finland; e-mail: paula.k.nissila @ tuni.fi. Ali Qadir is Associate Professor, New Social Research, Tampere University, Tampere, Finland; e-mail: ali.qadir @ tuni.fi.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12584

The New Scientific Study of Religion Moving On

Challenges, Opportunities and Suggestions for a Renewed Program in the Scientific Study of Religion by Lluís Oviedo

This is an introduction to the Symposium on The New Scientific Study of Religion Moving On. The introduction briefly indicates why the cognitive science of religion (CSR) needs re-evaluation. It subsequently gives an overview of the contributions of the symposium’s articles.
cognitive science of religion • cultural evolution • religious mind • ritual • social cognition
Lluís Oviedo is Professor, Faculty of Theology at Antonianum University, Rome, Italy; e-mail: loviedo @ antonianum.eu.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12579

Recent Trends in the Cognitive Science of Religion: Neuroscience, Religious Experience, and the Confluence of Cognitive and Evolutionary Research by Robert McCauley

Cognitive science of religion (CSR) has increased influence in religious studies, the resistance of religious protectionists notwithstanding. CSR’s most provocative work stresses the role of implicit cognition in explaining religious thought and conduct. Exhibiting explanatory pluralism, CSR seeks integrative accounts across the social, psychological, and brain sciences. CSR reflects prominent trends in the cognitive sciences generally. First, CSR is giving greater attention to the new tools and findings of cognitive neuroscience. Second, CSR researchers have done carefully designed, nonlaboratory studies of experience, incorporating precise physiological measures, obtaining astonishing findings about the experiences of ritual participants and observers. Third, CSR theorists have advanced evolutionary hypotheses about religions from eight perspectives (cross-indexing three levels of selection with three mechanisms of selection). Cultural group selectionists headline credibility enhancing displays and Big Gods in the religious consolidation of large-scale societies. Other CSR researchers marshal counterevidence and advance alternative hypotheses. CSR findings are incompatible with the New Atheists’ projects on two fronts.
Big Gods • by-product theory • cognitive resource depletion hypothesis • cognitive science of religion • credibility-enhancing displays (CREDs) • cultural group selection • explanatory pluralism • fire-walking • New Atheists • 6E cognitive science
Robert N. McCauley is William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor of Philosophy at the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA; e-mail: philrnm @ emory.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12573

Anti-Structure and the Roots of Religious Experience by Connor Wood

The cognitive and evolutionary sciences of religion offer a standard model of religious representations, but no equivalent paradigm for investigating religiously interpreted altered states of consciousness (religious ASCs). Here, I describe a neo-Durkheimian framework for studying religious ASCs that centralizes social predictive cognition. Within a processual model of ritual, ritual behaviors toggle between reinforcing normative social structures and downplaying them. Specifically, antistructural ritual shifts cognitive focus away from conventional affordances, collective intentionality, and social prediction, and toward physical affordances and behavioral motivations that make few references to others’ intentional states. Using synchrony and dance as paradigmatic examples of antistructural ritual that stimulate religious ASCs, I assemble literature from anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy of language to offer fruitful empirical predictions and opportunities for testing based on this framework. Among the empirical predictions is that antistructural ritual may provide for cultural change in religions when religions are construed as complex adaptive systems.
antistructure • collective intentions • conventional affordance • homo duplex • religious experience • ritual • social structure • status functions • synchrony • trance
Connor Wood is Research Associate, Center for Mind and Culture, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA; e-mail: connorpw @ bu.edu.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12578

Critical Remarks on Cognitive Science of Religion by Konrad Szocik

Cognitive explanations of religious beliefs propose an evolutionary past in which humans had to possess certain cognitive adaptations to survive. The aim of this article is to show that some cognitive accounts may overvalue the putative role of cognition. One such cognitive idea is an assumption that cognition has been evolutionarily shaped only, or most importantly, in the Pleistocene. This idea seems common among writers on the cognitive science of religion (CSR), but is mistaken. Cognition has been shaped throughout evolution. Another idea is that components of religion could not have been produced by natural selection (the hypothesis that religion is a by-product). But the article suggests that there are some domains in the field of religion and religious components that could be acquired and transmitted despite or even against alleged cognitive biases. The aim of this article is to argue for an extended approach that combines a cognitive account with functional naturalistic approaches, including an adaptationist one. Such distinction could imply that cognition is not functional. Obviously, this is not the case since cognition is the process of knowing, and surely knowledge is functional. However, the main argument for such a distinction lies in the key idea of the cognitive account that as far as cognition is functional and adaptive, religious components are not. Functionalism or adaptivism concerning cognition contradicts functionalism concerning religion. Numbers of scholars who consider themselves part of CSR seem also to consider both cognition and religion adaptive. However, in regard to components of religion, their adaptive, functional power is only secondary. The article concludes that the study of religion—as the study of cultural evolution in general—should include a pluralistic methodology combining cognitive and evolutionary accounts with the specificity of cultural evolution.
adaptationism • cognitive science of religion • cultural evolution • functionalism • proximate explanation • ultimate explanation
Konrad Szocik is Assistant Professor at the University of Information Technology and Management, Rzeszów, Poland; e-mail konrad-szocik @ wp.pl.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12571

Religious Belief as Acquired Second Nature by Hans van Eyghen

Multiple authors in cognitive science of religion (CSR) argue that there is something about the human mind that disposes it to form religious beliefs. The dispositions would result from the internal architecture of the mind. In this article, I will argue that this disposition can be explained by various forms of (cultural) learning and not by the internal architecture of the mind. For my argument, I draw on new developments in predictive processing. I argue that CSR theories argue for the naturalness of religious belief in at least three ways; religious beliefs are adaptive; religious beliefs are the product of cognitive biases; and religious beliefs are the product of content biases. I argue that all three ideas can be integrated in a predictive coding framework where religious belief is learned and hence not caused by the internal architecture of the mind. I argue that the framework makes it doubtful that there are modular cognitive mechanisms for religious beliefs and that the human mind has a fixed proneness for religious belief. I also argue that a predictive coding framework can incorporate a larger role for cultural processes and allows for more flexibility.
born believers • cognitive science of religion • naturalness of religious belief • predictive processing
Hans Van Eyghen is postdoctoral fellow in Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; e-mail: hansvaneyghen @ gmail.com.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12575

Isolating the Individual: Theology, the Evolution of Religion, and the Problem of Abstract Individualism by Léon Turner

Debates about the theological implications of recent research in the cognitive and evolutionary study of religion have tended to focus on the question of theism. The question of whether there is any disagreement about the conceptualization of the individual human being has been largely overlooked. In this article, I argue that evolutionary and cognitive accounts of religion typically depend upon a view of cognition that conceptually isolates the mind from its particular social and physical environmental contexts. By embracing this view of the mind, these accounts also unwittingly embrace an abstract individualist view of individual personhood that Christian theologians have explicitly battled against. Taken as a whole, the field leaves sufficient room for supplementary theories that are compatible with theological accounts of the relational individual, but in practice, no effort has been made to engage, or even to accommodate, any other view of individual personhood.
abstract individualism • evolution of religion • individual • mind • person • relationality • theological anthropology
Léon Turner is Senior Research Associate of the International Society for Science and Religion, Norfolk, UK; e-mail: lpt21 @ cantab.net.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12580

The Concept of Continuous Creation

The History and Contemporary Use of the Concept of Continuous Creation by Fabien Revol

The concept of continuous creation is now widely used in the context of reflections on the dialogue between science and religion. The first part of this research work seeks to understand its meaning through a twofold elaboration: (1) the historical setting of the three philosophical trends in which this concept was developed: scholastic (conservation), Cartesian (conservation through repetition of the creative act at each instant), and dynamic (interpreting the emergence of radical and contingent novelty in nature as a sign of the continuity of creation); (2) a philosophical and theological critique of the concept of continuous creation regarding the question of the relationship between change and creation, in the light of its highly polymorphous contemporary use, and, in opposition, its absence within the Catholic Magisterium. This work opens the field a further step toward reflection on a renewed concept of continuous creation.
continuous creation • divine action • ecology • metaphysics • novelty • theology and creation • theory of evolution
Fabien Revol is Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ethics and Co-Director of the Research Laboratory on Integral Development, Ecology and Ethics, Lyon Catholic University, Lyon, France; e-mail: frevol @ univ-catholyon.fr.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12582

Continuous Creation: Toward a Renewed and Actualized Concept by Fabien Revol

The renewal of the concept of continuous creation follows two steps: (1) an establishment of the concept of novelty in an exercise of philosophy of nature, as a means of interpreting the scientific discourse concerning the evolution of life; (2) starting out from philosophical and theological critiques and from the concept of novelty, this work proposes a reformulation of the concept of continuous creation in its dynamic perspective. If the universe of possibilities of creation proceeds from the Divine Word by the will of the Father, as the first timeless ex nihilo creative moment, the Holy Spirit allows, in a second creative moment, the universe of possibilities to proceed continuously through a creative partnership in which all creatures are involved. Created novelty is the expression of a procession of one possibility among others, which has been selected by creatures during the evolutionary process, due to the interdependence of constitutive interactions and the propensities in which creatures are situated.
continuous creation • ecology • evolutionary theory • metaphysics • novelty • philosophy of nature • theology of creation
Fabien Revol is Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ethics and Co-Director of the Research Laboratory on Integral Development, Ecology and Ethics, Lyon Catholic University, Lyon, France; e-mail: frevol @ univ-catholyon.fr.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12583


From Commodificationto the Common Good: Reconstructing Science, Technology, and Society by Hans Radder reviewed by Arthur C. Petersen

Arthur C. Petersen; Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy, University College London, London, UK; e-mail: arthur.petersen @ ucl.ac.uk.
DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12576

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