Quote for the day

From page 9 of Natural Reflections:

…contemporary research and theory suggest that the cognitive tendencies that give rise to much of what we call religious behavior, from the positing of superior invisible beings to the performance of ritual sacrifices, are indistinguishable from the capacities and dispositions that give rise to what we call culture more generally.  Thus it appears that we could not eliminate the conditions responsible for religion and, with it, the recurrent emergence of some of its most troublesome features without risking the loss of much that we value in culture and, with it, the conditions for human existence.

Another point may accordingly be added.  Given the fundamentally ambivalent operations of cognitive conservatism as described here, it is not surprising that lists of the individual costs of religious commitment and of the many crimes against humanity committed under its sway can always be countered with equally long and impressive lists of the personal benefits of religious faith and of the many achievements for humanity performed by those inspired by it.  Not is it surprising, given the demonstrated general power of cognitive conservatism, that the final tallies in such cost-benefit assessments appear to have everything to do with the prior cognitive commitments of those doing the tallying.


  1. This is an interesting premise: that religion and culture come from the same place.
    I can see it working…or not. Does she elucidate this in the rest of the work? Does she make a compelling case, talk more specifically about the research that purports to show this? Would you recommend this book?

    1. She definitely does go through some detail, although I’m still in the second chapter. I’d recommend it for no other reason than it’s pretty short and you could get through it in a week. Just 150 pages or so. Read through her short essay in the Times that I linked to a couple posts back.

      Hope all is well.

  2. Thanks! I’ll read her Times piece (I may have missed your post if it was in August but I will look back) and then see about the book, though I already stuck it on my wish list after reading your quote from it yesterday.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *