De Cruz - The Argument from Miracles and the Cognitive Science of Religious Testimony

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers De Cruz, Helen
Year 2012

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The argument from miracles is currently not considered a strong natural theological argument. Nevertheless, historically, the testimony of miraculous events had an important apologetic function, not just in Christianity but in other religious traditions as well. How can this apologetic function be explained? In this paper, I use a theoretical framework developed by the cognitive scientist of religion Pascal Boyer to understand the psychological mechanisms that underlie the testimony of miraculous events. It is problematic to apply to pre-scientific traditions the view of miracles as events that violate laws of nature, a view that only emerged in the 17th century. Instead, I argue that miracles can be best understood as events that violate intuitive ontological assumptions - such events are termed MCI (minimally counterintuitive). Psychological studies indicate that MCI information is more easily remembered and more readily transmitted than other types of information. Combining empirical evidence and philosophical work on testimony, I explore whether it is ever reasonable, and if so, under what conditions, to believe in miracles on the basis of testimony. Implications for the argument from miracles will be considered.

Helen De Cruz is senior lecturer in philosophy at Oxford Brookes University. She previously had appointments at the VU Amsterdam, the University of Oxford, and the University of Leuven. Her main specialization is philosophy of cognitive science, and she has also published in philosophy of religion, epistemology and general philosophy of science. Her work is concerned with the question how humans form beliefs in domains that are remote from everyday concerns such as in mathematics, theology, and science. She examines how we can form such beliefs, and what explains their transmission.