Debunking arguments gain little from cognitive science of religion

Zygon 56 (2):416-433 (2021)
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Cognitive science of religion (CSR) has inspired a number of debunking arguments against god-belief. They aim to show that the belief-forming processes that underlie belief in god(s) are unreliable. The debate surrounding these arguments gives the impression that CSR offers new scientific evidence that threatens the rationality of religious belief. This impression, however, is partly misleading. A close look at a few widely discussed debunking arguments shows, first, that CSR theories as such are far from providing sufficient empirical evidence that the belief-forming processes behind god-belief are unreliable. Thus, appealing solely to CSR theories makes a debunking argument weak. Second, there are strong arguments that also invoke CSR, but these gain their strength primarily from more familiar claims about evolutionary epistemology and religious diversity. What CSR actually does in these arguments is providing an explanation of why people might believe in gods even if gods did not exist. But explaining is not debunking.



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Lari Launonen
University of Helsinki