Natural Reflections

Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Natural Reflections
    Book Description:

    In this important and original book, eminent scholar Barbara Herrnstein Smith describes, assesses, and reflects upon a set of contemporary intellectual projects involving science, religion, and human cognition. One, which Smith calls "the New Naturalism," is the effort to explain religion on the basis of cognitive science. Another, which she calls "the New Natural Theology," is the attempt to reconcile natural-scientific accounts of the world with traditional religious belief. These two projects, she suggests, are in many ways mirror images-or "natural reflections"-of each other.

    Examining these and related efforts from the perspective of a constructivist-pragmatist epistemology, Smith argues that crucial aspects of belief-religious and other-that remain elusive or invisible under dominant rationalist and computational models are illuminated by views of human cognition that stress its dynamic, embodied, and interactive features. She also demonstrates how constructivist understandings of the formation and stabilization of knowledge-scientific and other-alert us to similarities in the springs of science and religion that are elsewhere seen largely in terms of difference and contrast.

    InNatural Reflections,Smith develops a sophisticated approach to issues often framed only polemically. Recognizing science and religion as complex, distinct domains of human practice, she also insists on their significant historical connections and cognitive continuities and offers important new modes of engagement with each of them.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16623-1
    Subjects: General Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Prophecies, Predictions, and Human Cognition
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book is concerned in large part with the processes of human cognition, both how they are theorized and how they appear to operate at some significant contemporary junctures of religion and science. To introduce some of the themes associated with this topic, I relate below the story of a famous study in social psychology. Of particular interest is the duplicative behavior of the two sets of people involved: one, a team of psychologists testing a new hypothesis about human cognition; the other, a group of quasi-millenarians—or, as we might say now, End Timers—whose behavior the psychologists were...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Cognitive Machinery and Explanatory Ambitions: The New Naturalism
    (pp. 25-58)

    These English psychologists—what do they really want? One always discovers them . . . at the same task, . . . seeking the truly effective and directing agent . . . in just that place where the intellectual pride of man would least desire to find it . . . for example, . . . in a blind and chance mechanistic hooking-together of ideas, or in something purely passive, automatic, reflexive, molecular, and thoroughly stupid. . . . Is it a secret, malicious, vulgar, perhaps self-deceiving instinct for belittling man?

    But . . . if one may be allowed...

  7. CHAPTER THREE “The Gods Seem Here to Stay”: Naturalism, Rationalism, and the Persistence of Belief
    (pp. 59-94)

    The title of Scott Atran’s bookIn Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religionplays, of course, on the inscription on United States coins, but in two ways: first, by pluralizing “God,” which signals a not entirely reverent attitude toward the motto or the deity; and second, by suggesting that matters of finance or economics will figure in the study, as indeed they do. Atran opens the book by posing what he calls “an evolutionary riddle,” namely: what maintains religious belief among humans in view of its apparent costs?¹ What makes this anevolutionaryriddle, he explains, is that...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Deep Reading: The New Natural Theology
    (pp. 95-120)

    This chapter has a double focus: two intellectual projects, each involving the relations between theology and contemporary science, one essentially reconciliatory, the other distinctly antagonistic. The first is a set of efforts, primarily by scientifically knowledgeable theologians but also by some theologically inclined scientists, to reveal a cognitively satisfying consonance between the accounts of nature given in the natural sciences and traditional Christian belief. Examples of such efforts includeExploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religionby quantum physicist/Anglican priest John Polkinghorne;Theology for a Scientific Ageby bio-chemist/Anglican priest Arthur Peacocke; and, of particular interest here, a widely...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Reflections: Science and Religion, Natural and Unnatural
    (pp. 121-150)

    One of my central points in this book is that there are better and worse ways of pursuing the naturalistic study of religion. There are also, I think, better and worse ways to promote the specifically cognitive-evolutionary accounts of religion discussed here and to unfold their intellectual implications. These different ways of reflecting on the New Naturalism and on the relation of science to religion more generally will be my focus in this final chapter. I begin by considering more closely a term and concept that has been central throughout, that is, “naturalism.”

    The current theoretical wisdom, shared by many...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 151-178)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 179-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-206)