- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199827265
- ISBN-13: 978-0199827268
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,376,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not 1st Edition
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"Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not provides a powerful new paradigm to explore the relationship between science and religion."--Journal of Religion
"McCauley's book is a superb introduction to the problems of intuition, reflection, science, and religion, opening up an entirely new way of looking at the debates concerning science and religion from a cognitive perspective." --Journal of the Cognitive Science of Religion
"McCauley's richly illustrated and wonderfully accessible book is an intellectual treat. He brings the emerging Cognitive Sciences to bear on the issue of the cognitive awkwardness humans typically feel when trying to grasp the concepts of Theoretical Science, as compared to the cognitive naturalness we typically feel when contemplating the doctrines of Religion. Unlike others, McCauley has no particular doctrinal axe to grind here: he is simply concerned to understand a gulf that is familiar to all of us. This is a book that will engage everyone." -- Paul M. Churchland, author of The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul
"Robert McCauley is a philosopher of science and was a pioneer in creating a cognitive science of religious thought and behaviour. No one could better explain what he calls the naturalness of religion and the unnaturalness of science. In the past, discussions of 'science' and 'religion' have been as sterile as they were poorly informed. McCauley re-examines this contrast in cognitive and evolutionary terms. He shows how our mental systems make religious belief so easy and scientific thinking so difficult, and explores the consequences of these divergent ways of thinking for the future of religious organizations and scientific knowledge." -- Pascal Boyer, author of Religion Explained
"In Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not, McCauley strikes a pleasing balance between erudition and precision, and between accessibility and sophistication. This is the best book I have read on the cognitive science of religion and on the cognitive science of science. McCauley makes an exciting contribution to each area and places the so-called science-religion debate on entirely new ground. " -- Justin L. Barrett, author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God?
About the Author
Robert N. McCauley is William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor and Director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University. He is the co-author of Rethinking Religion and Bringing Ritual to Mind.
Top customer reviews
McCauley presents a compelling case for the claim that religion is a cognitively natural human activity, whereas science is not. He starts with the concept of `maturationally natural systems,' that is, human cognitive systems that operate automatically, unreflectively, and (mostly) unconsciously. Maturationally natural systems are those that were so evolutionarily advantageous that they became (nearly) invariable capacities of the human mind. They include things like language, face recognition, and most importantly, "theory of mind."
The phrase "theory of mind" refers to the human cognitive capacity to interpret behavior in terms of the mental states of agents. McCauley explains how evolutionary selection pressures resulted in "hyperactive agency detection," a natural human tendency to interpret events in terms of agents and their actions.
According to McCauley, hyperactive agency detection is at the core of the cognitive naturalness of religion. Religions universally invoke what McCauley calls "minimally counterintuitive agents" to explain a wide array of natural phenomena. In effect, religion is getting a free ride on some of our most basic cognitive capacities. As McCauley puts it, religion is like a Rube Goldberg device, a collection of functionally unrelated mechanisms strung together to serve a purpose outside their proper domain.
In essence, the naturalness of religion is a consequence of the naturalness of the cognitive systems it activates. Those cognitive systems evolved to solve other problems our human ancestors faced (hunting, social dominance, lie detection, etc.). Religious thinking and behavior employ the very same cognitive systems. That is why religion feels - and is - so natural.
McCauley goes on to explain the variety of ways in which science is a cognitively unnatural human activity...
--Unlike religion, scientific theories are often esoteric and counterintuitive in the extreme. Think: General Relativity, quantum mechanics, plate tectonics, evolutionary biology, etc.
--Unlike religion, scientific activities are often rigorous and exacting in the extreme. Think: the development of the Periodic Table, the Human Genome Project, the creation of the Large Hadron Collider, etc.
--Unlike religion, science depends on a very specific combination of cultural elements, including literacy, long term education, freedom from religious and political repression, the allocation of resources to theoretical research, and so on. This combination of cultural elements is both historically rare and inherently fragile.
Perhaps the most important difference between science and religion is the fact that science involves procedures that result in the SYSTEMATIC DETECTION OF ERRORS. The scientific norm that experimental results must be repeatable to be valid is an example of how science systematically detects errors. More broadly, scientific research is largely a matter of collecting, recording, generating, and analyzing evidence. That evidence is marshaled for or against scientific hypotheses, with the result that false theories are detected (eventually) and scientific progress is made. According to McCauley, systematic error detection is virtually unique to science, and altogether absent in religion.
The book culminates in a number of surprising conclusions that follow from the unnaturalness of science and the naturalness of religion. Among them... Science is no threat to the persistence of religion. Science depends more on cultural and institutional support than religion does. Science's continued existence is fragile.
Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not is a compelling account of the cognitive foundations of two fundamentally dissimilar human activities. The book reveals how the dissimilarity between science and religion is far deeper, and its implications far broader, than previously recognized. It's is a real eye opener for people interested in science, the study of religion, and cultural analysis more generally. Highly recommended!!
Overall, this book offered a persuasive explanation for the pervasiveness and persistence of religiosity - that religion is cognitively appealing - an explanation that I had not encountered before. While the faithful may not find this book likable, it should certainly offer them reassurance that religion is going to stick around without too much effort on their part. On the other hand, the book offers a cautionary tale for supporters of science, because it suggests that science will only persist if we maintain the environment in which it thrives and if we continually invest the resources that are required to sustain it. This book will be an interesting read for those interested in science or religion, and, particularly, for those interested in the relationship of those two domains with public life. Highly recommended.