The purpose of this article is to critique the primary arguments given by Paul Bloom and Jesse Prinz against empathy, and to argue instead that empathy is best understood as a virtue that plays an important but complicated role in the moral life. That it is a virtue does not mean that it always functions well, and empathy sometimes contributes to behavior that is partial and unfair. In some of their writings, both Bloom and Prinz endorse the view that empathy (...) is a fixed trait, but there is little reason to think this, and the studies that they cite do not support this view. Further, a number of recent studies suggest the opposite: our empathic reactions are malleable and subject to environmental effects and learning. Although our capacities for cognitive and emotional empathy are clearly not sufficient for being moral, I argue that they are functionally necessary traits that, like other virtues, must be cultivated correctly. (shrink)
To suppose the possibility of dialogue between theology and science is to suppose that theology is an intellectually worthy partner to engage in dialogue with science. The status of theology as a discipline, however, remains contested, one sign of which is the absence of theology from the university. I argue that a healthy theology-science dialogue would benefit from the presence of theology as an academic discipline in the university. Theology and theologians would benefit from the much closer contact with university (...) disciplines, including the sciences. The university and the sciences would benefit from the presence of theology, providing a department of ultimate concern, where big questions may be asked and ideologies critiqued. A university theology would need to meet standards of academic integrity. (shrink)
Wentzel van Huyssteen's book Alone in the World? provides a thoughtful and nuanced account of human evolution from a theological perspective. Not only does his work provide what is perhaps the only sustained theological reflection specifically on human evolution, but his working through of many of the issues, particularly on the image of God literature in theology, has few parallels. Despite this, I focus on what I consider to be several weaknesses of the text, including areas of theological method, theological (...) interpretation, and the central topic of human uniqueness. Addressing these weaknesses will, I propose, improve van Huyssteen's argument and lead in new and fruitful directions. (shrink)
Biological theories of religious belief are sometimes understood to undermine the very beliefs they are describing, proposing an alternative explanation for the causes of belief different from that given by religious believers themselves. This article surveys three categories of biological theorizing derived from evolutionary biology, cognitive science of religion, and neuroscience. Although each field raises important issues and in some cases potential challenges to the legitimacy of religious belief, in most cases the significance of these theories for the holding of (...) religious beliefs is not very great. (shrink)
Robert McCauley's Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not provides a summary interpretive statement of the standard model in cognitive science of religion, what I have previously called the HADD + ToM + Cultural Epidemiology model, along with a more general argument comparing religious cognition to scientific thinking and a novel framework for understanding both in terms of the concept of the maturationally natural. I here follow up on some observations made in a previous paper, developing them in light (...) of McCauley's own response to my previous arguments. (shrink)
Owen Flanagan's The Really Hard Problem provides a rich source of reflection on the question of meaning and ethics within the context of philosophical naturalism. I affirm the title's claim that the quest to find meaning in a purely physical universe is indeed a hard problem by addressing three issues: Flanagan's claim that there can be a scientific/empirical theory of ethics (eudaimonics), that ethics requires moral glue, and whether, in the end, Flanagan solves the hard problem. I suggest that he (...) does not, although he provides much that is of importance and useful for further reflection along the way. (shrink)
Charles Taylor has recently provided an in-depth exploration of secularity, with a central characteristic being the understanding that religious commitment is optional. This essay extends this analysis, considering the possibility that American society may be entering a second stage of secularity, one in which the possibility of religious commitment ceases to be an option at all for many. The possible implications of such a development are considered for the theology-and-science dialogue.
The importance of scientific conflicts for theology andphilosophy is difficult to judge. In many disputes of significance, prominent scientists can be found on both sides. Profound philosophical and religious implications are sometimes said to be implied by the new theory as well. This article examines the dispute over natural selection between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould as a contemporary instance of such a conflict. While both claim that profound philosophical conclusions flow from their own alternativeaccount of evolution, I suggest (...) that the implication is not as great as is claimed and that the alleged implications have as much to do with their own perceptions of theology as with the actual theories themselves. Nevertheless, evolutionary theory is not irrelevant for theology. Theologians should be aware of the possible implications of evolutionary theory and at the same time theextent and limits of such implications. (shrink)
Advocates of eating locally offer a wide range of arguments in favor of the practice, but their ethical import is not always clear. Some locavore statements and arguments seem to imply a strong form of moral obligation; that eating locally is not merely instrumental to some other good, but has intrinsic value in its own right. This article examines standard arguments on behalf of eating locally, including arguments linked to the value of small farms and agrarianism, the environment, taste and (...) health, trust, and relational markets. Most arguments put forward on behalf of eating locally value it instrumentally, the main exception being arguments based on relational markets. Although these arguments provide important motives for eating locally, the strength of obligation varies widely, and even the strongest arguments possess significant qualifications. While eating locally can play a role in reducing environmental impacts, this is not necessarily so, and once removed from instrumental considerations, eating locally is more likely at best an imperfect duty. (shrink)
Nicholaos Jones argues that theology is not a respectable discipline because of its inability to meet the standards of contemporary science. Although Jones makes a bold claim, I suggest that he has not made his case by focusing on the question of defining science and metaphysics appropriately, the analysis of the literature he cites, and his central claim that theology presupposes the absolute certainty of God.
. Cognitive science challenges our understandings of self and freedom. In this article, adapted from a chapter in Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences , I review some of the scientific literature with regard to issues of self and freedom. I argue that our sense of self is a construct and heavily dependent on the kind of brain that we have. Furthermore, understanding the issue of freedom requires an understanding of the findings of cognitive science. Human beings are constrained (...) to be free; our biology in no small way determines the kinds of freedom that we are able to have. (shrink)
The preceding article by Marc Bekoff reveals much about our current understanding of animal self-consciousness and its implications. It also reveals how much more there is to be said and considered. This response briefly examines animal self-consciousness from scientific, moral, and theological perspectives. As Bekoff emphasizes, self-consciousness is not one thing but many. Consequently, our moral relationship to animals is not simply one based on a graded hierarchy of abilities. Furthermore, the complexity of animal self-awareness can serve as stimulus for (...) thinking about issues of theodicy and soteriology in a broader sense. (shrink)
This volume explores the role of both "mere habits" and sophisticated habitus in the formation of moral character and the virtues, incorporating perspectives from philosophy, theology, psychology, and neuroscience.
This volume explores the role of both “mere habits” and sophisticated habitus in the formation of moral character and the virtues, incorporating perspectives from philosophy, theology, psychology, and neuroscience.
. Adapted from the introductory chapter of Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences , I here lay out a general approach for a dialogue between theology and cognitive science. Key to this task is an understanding of theology as the science or study of meaning and purpose. I give reasons why theology should be thought of in this sense and the potential fruitfulness of this approach.
Exploring the concept of virtuous humility helps to highlight paths of human flourishing. Yet humility is difficult to study because it is often stereotyped as shame or self-abasement, it tends to defy uniform conceptualization across contexts and cultures, definitions are difficult to justify, and operationalizing humility challenges standard approaches in the social sciences. The present work develops a theory of interactive humility as openness to others by foregrounding interaction and interpersonal context. IHO theory builds on a previously published theory of (...) humility as the absence of the vices of pride and tests the new proposal against research done in conjunction with l’Arche communities. Conceptual networks from core l’Arche texts showed that openness ranks second among concepts most similar to humility, while humility ranks first for openness. These networks support the view that humility as openness in the context of l’Arche is primarily interactive and interpersonal, rather than intellectual. (shrink)