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Saving the Appearances: a Study in Idolatry.

The assessment, however, cannot avoid some criticism and some
expectations of correction, which would facilitate a better theological reception.
There are some evidential limits to what may become a ‘standard cognitive
model of religious behaviour’. As many authors have stressed in recent years,
the main problem of the reductivistic stance is their isolationist policy,
particularly for what concerns the other factors that converge in human
development; its embodiment, the environment where one lives, and the
relationships he or she establishes [12]. There is an evident lack of ‘exteriority’,
which is detrimental to the reach and heuristic capacity of cognitive psychology.
Furthermore, the theory underestimates the weight of information, its quality or
Oviedo/European Journal of Science and Theology 2 (2006), 1, 47-54
52
veracity, the difference it makes to a more or less trustworthy source, beyond the
congeniality of the content. And last but not least, the described theory shows no
consideration of the so-called ‘plasticity’ of the human mind that manifests itself
already at the neurological level. This would imply that the mind is not simply a
closed system of modules, a structure unable to adapt to or develop new
situations, in both the ontogenetic and phylogenetic way, as an answer to new
stimulus and outside input.
Theology should make a contribution to cognitive research and even relate
her own surveys and fruits of empirical observation to the compilation of a
correct cognitive theory of religious perception. Only in this way can there be
avoided a too-reductive approach and the field then be opened to the real
capacity of the human mind to transcend the physical limits of the world in
which it finds itself. Some authors have already asserted this non-reductive
approach, but further research should be promoted, especially in order to show
the complexities of religious experience and their cognitive structure when
applied to the more mature world religions. It is necessary to move beyond the
naïveté evident in the study of the ontogenetic evolution of religious ideas
despite its initial helpfulness in reconstructing the picture brought to much more
evolved views. Certainly, theology should also acclimate itself in a similar
interdisciplinary way in order to understand religious issues, where that
experience admits to a ‘natural-cognitive’ explanation, inclusive of other
viewpoints besides the theological one. It remains to be seen if, after the
cognitive reduction of religious thought, theology will still be taken seriously as
a worthy interlocutor in the dialogue with science. The greatest danger is that the
new scientific project will silence any kind of theological voice, reduced to a
‘parasitic’ and reflexive attribution schema, rendered useless and unsafe by the
new ‘Enlightenment