Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds

By Auday, Bryan C. | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds


Auday, Bryan C., Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


COGNITIVE SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THEOLOGY: From Human Minds to Divine Minds by Justin L. Barrett. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2011. 234 pages. Paperback; $19.95. ISBN: 9781599473819.

Anyone unfamiliar with how cognitive science can elucidate contemporary topics within religion and theology should read this book. The book originates from the Science and Religion series supported by the Templeton Foundation. The foundation commissioned a stellar, seasoned cognitive scientist to write a brief book that would identify areas of potentially fruitful dialogue between cognitive science and religion. Justin Barrett, currently the Thrive Chair and Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, has written a solid book exploring questions concerning the role that the mind plays in human behavior and experience, with a significant emphasis on religious experiences. Readers familiar with the Templeton Science and Religion series will be happy to know that this book does not overlap in content with Malcolm Jeeves and Warren Brown's book Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion: Illusions, Delusions, and Realities about Human Nature published earlier in 2009. While Jeeves and Brown's book emphasizes the role of developments in brain science and the biological underpinnings of cognitive processes that impact religious questions, Barrett stays true to the literature in cognitive science, which discusses conceptual and theoretical mental constructs in relation to similar religious topics.

Barrett has clearly written the book for the nonspecialist. He notes that a large number of highly educated people are not even aware that cognitive science exists as a discipline, let alone that recent experimental findings in the field could amplify our understanding of religious beliefs. PSCF readers who are academics might want to consider requiring this book for undergraduate students in psychology, philosophy of science, or neuroscience programs as a conversation starter that could then be supplemented with more in-depth scholarly writings.

A central goal of the book is to show how cognitive science can address meaningful questions, such as why do people believe in an immortal soul? Readers familiar with Ian Barbour's well-worn four-fold typology of how science might come into dialogue with religion will recognize that Barrett embraces the typology of integration. From this perspective, a dialogue built from a foundation of mutual respect between the scientific and religious communities needs to exist if there is to be meaningful, substantial progress in finding answers to complex questions regarding human thought.

The book contains nine chapters, five of which address theological themes. …

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