Religious Belief is Not Natural. Why Cognitive Science of Religion Does Not Show That Religious Belief is Trustworthy

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Abstract

It is widely acknowledged that the new emerging discipline cognitive science of religion has a bearing on how to think about the epistemic status of religious beliefs. Both defenders and opponents of the rationality of religious belief have used cognitive theories of religion to argue for their point. This paper will look at the defender-side of the debate. I will discuss an often used argument in favor of the trustworthiness of religious beliefs, stating that cognitive science of religion shows that religious beliefs are natural and natural beliefs ought to be trusted in the absence of counterevidence. This argument received its most influential defense from Justin Barrett in a number of papers, some in collaboration with Kelly James Clark. I will discuss their version of the argument and argue that it fails because the natural beliefs discovered by cognitive scientists of religion are not the religious beliefs of the major world religions. A survey of the evidence from cognitive science of religion will show that cognitive science does show that other beliefs come natural and that these can thus be deemed trustworthy in the absence of counterevidence. These beliefs are teleological beliefs, afterlife beliefs and animistic theistic beliefs.

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