Demystifying Religious Belief

  • Robert NolaEmail author
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 4)


Robert Nola contrasts naturalistic with supernaturalistic explanations of religious belief. He argues that there are two broad rival explanations for religious belief. The first, the common “folk” or religious explanation, is supernaturalistic in that it invokes a deity as a central casual factor in the etiology of people’s belief in the existence of God. The second is naturalistic in that it eschews any appeal to a deity in the explanation of a person’s belief in God and instead invokes only naturalistic factors in the casual etiology of such beliefs. In his paper, he addresses two questions. The first question is how well-supported by the evidence these naturalistic theories are. The second question to how we might compare some naturalistic explanation with a non-naturalistic “folk” explanation. One way in which naturalistic and non-naturalistic theories can be compared with one another is much the same way as one might compare rival theories in science (though other considerations might come into play). Here a number of criteria can be invoked, such as ontological parsimony (other things being equal, prefer the theory which postulates fewer entities than another which postulates more) and evidential strength (other things being equal, prefer the evidentially stronger theory). On criteria such as these, Nola argues that naturalistic explanations of religious belief have the edge over non-naturalistic “folk’ explanations. Once this is granted it can be seen why many in the history of philosophy have claimed that naturalistic explanations of religious belief lead to the debunking of religion; religious “folk” theories have the wrong causal etiology for religious belief in the existence of a deity.


Cognitive science of religion Debunking arguments Theism Naturalism Unreliability 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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