[MaFLa] The desirability of religion and the function of non-cognitive beliefs - 9 February, 4.30 PM

Krisztina Biber Biberk at ceu.hu
Wed Feb 3 14:14:52 CET 2010

The CEU Philosophy Department cordially invites you to a talk 
(as part of its Departmental Colloquium series)
Konrad Talmont-Kaminski  (Marie Curie-Sklodowska University)
The desirability of religion and the function of non-cognitive beliefs 

Tuesday, 9 February, 2010, 4.30 PM, Zrinyi 14, Room 412


Beliefs have the capacity to guide human behaviour regardless of their truth. In particular, false beliefs can motivate behaviour that is adaptive. Disconfirmation of the beliefs is a threat to their stability, however. The beliefs can be protected from disconfirmation by having content that minimises potential empirical consequences as well as existing in a context that discourages investigation of them or provides only very limited access to the methods that might be used to investigate them. Due to their disconnection from the truth, the plausibility of such beliefs must be explained in terms of human psychology, primarily in terms of a variety of cognitive by-products (Boyer, Atran). Properly understood, such beliefs may be termed *non-cognitive* as their truth or falsehood is irrelevant to their function - they only appear to be assertions. The paradigmatic example of such non-cognitive beliefs is provided by religious traditions: Their content appears to refer to unobservable entities, and they are protected by social rules surrounding the treatment of the sacred as well as having often opposed the development of science.

The persistence and potentially adaptive nature of non-cognitive beliefs does not indicate that their effects are such as we might desire. This is the case for two reasons. Firstly, they may only be adaptive for themselves, as suggested by some memeticians (Blackmore, Dawkins). Secondly, even if they are adaptive for believers (Stark) or groups of believers (D. S. Wilson), being adaptive does not necessary equate with furthering actual human well-being. This means that to determine whether religious and other non-cognitive beliefs are desirable we have to investigate their evolutionary function. The proper theoretical framework to examine this question is gene-culture co-evolution theory (Boyd & Richerson) as it is complex enough to allow for and distinguish between all of the alternatives considered above. Ironically, however, the close investigation necessary to determine the desirability of individual non-cognitive beliefs is anathema to their maintaining their plausibility and, therefore, their functionality.

Kriszta Biber
Department Coordinator
Philosophy Department
Tel: 36-1-327-3806
Fax: 36-1-327-3072
E-mail: biberk at ceu.hu

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