Is Christianity Natural? Evolutionary and Cognitive Science Perspectives
September 13-14
Seattle Pacific University

Sponsored by:
Seminars in Christian Scholarship, Calvin College
Seattle Pacific University

About the Conference

Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of minds and mental activity. Cognitive science of religion (CSR) is a young and growing field that investigates how our mental systems inform and constrain religious thought, experience and expression. CSR attempts to provide answers to questions such as: Why do humans tend to be religious? What are the causes of religious beliefs and practices? Why do certain religious ideas (for example, the possibility of an afterlife) continually recur in human cultures? Does religious belief have purely human origins?

This conference will appeal to anyone interested in the ongoing debate between religion and science and to anyone interested in the nature and workings of the human mind. The focus of the conference is the scholarly engagement between CSR and Christian belief, practice, and theology. The purpose of the conference is dialog. On the one hand, many Christians have responded with ill-informed defensiveness toward CSR and its preliminary findings. Yet CSR has great potential to illuminate important questions in Christian philosophy and theology (for example, how we can know God). On the other hand, CSR scholars have had surprisingly superficial engagement with Christianity as a rich and sophisticated religious belief system. Deeper interface with Christianity can challenge the preliminary findings of CSR and help set new directions for its research.

Plenary Speakers

Robert N. McCauley is William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University.

He is considered one of the founders of the cognitive science of religion. His other primary research areas include philosophy of science (especially philosophy of psychology) and naturalized epistemology.

His most recent book is Why Religion Is Natural and Science Is Not (2011), which compares the cognitive foundations of science and religion and comes to surprising conclusions about the potential durability of each. He is also the co-author with E. Thomas Lawson of both Bringing Ritual to Mind: Psychological Foundations of Cultural Forms (2002) and Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture (1990). McCauley is also the editor of The Churchlands and Their Critics (1996) and the co-editor with Harvey Whitehouse of Mind and Religion (2005). In addition, he is the author of more than 75 articles, chapters, and reviews in a variety of journals in philosophy, religion, anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science.

He has taught courses at Emory University in all of those fields as well as in linguistics and neuroscience and behavioral biology. He is recognized for his devotion to teaching as well as his research—he received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996 and was named the inaugural Massée-Martin/NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor for 1994-1998.

McCauley has lectured at colleges and universities as well as at conferences and professional meetings across North America, Europe, and Africa. He is recent past president of the International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion (2010-2012), and has also served as president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (1997-98).

McCauley has received grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, British Academy, National Endowment for the Humanities, Lilly Endowment, American Academy of Religion, Templeton Foundation, and Council for Philosophical Studies.

Justin L. Barrett is the Thrive Professor of Developmental Science and Director of the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Theological Seminary.

He joined Fuller Seminary’s School of Psychology in 2011. An experimental psychologist, Barrett taught for five years in Oxford University’s School of Anthropology, and is best known for his research on religion.

While at Oxford, Professor Barrett helped establish and became the director of the Centre for Anthropology and Mind, and the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology. Early in his academic career, Barrett served as an assistant professor of psychology at Calvin College, and was a research investigator and visiting professor at the Institute of Social Research and the Culture and Cognition Program at the University of Michigan.

Professor Barrett is regarded as one of the founders of the cognitive science of religion field. A new project in this area will be helping to extend cognitive science of religion to China, for which he won a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (2011–2014). Barrett’s main focus at Fuller is to work with others to develop the Thrive Center into a world leader for positive youth development—cultivating spiritual, character, and virtue development and general flourishing in childhood and adolescence.

Barrett has authored more than 60 chapters and articles concerning cognitive, developmental, and evolutionary approaches to the study of religion. His interdisciplinary interests are evident in that he has scholarly journal publications in anthropology, philosophy, religious studies, psychology, and even literary studies in interdisciplinary journals. His most recent book is Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds (2011), which critically reviews the research on the fascinating questions raised by the field of cognitive science of religion and charts where the field might be going in the future. His previous books in the field include Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief (2012) and Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (2004). He has also edited the four-volume collection Psychology of Religion (2010).

Conference Schedule

This is a working, tentative schedule and is subject to change.

Friday September 13, 2013

12:00-6:45 p.m. Registration Check-In
5:45-6:45 p.m. Dinner Buffet (included in conference registration fee)
6:45-7 p.m. Welcome
7-8:15 p.m. Plenary 1 (this session is free and open to the public). Robert McCauley, "Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not."  
Response: Justin Barrett.

Saturday September 14, 2013

8-8:30 a.m. Light Continental Breakfast Buffet (included in conference registration)
8:45-10 a.m. Session I
James Creswell (Northwest Nazarene University), Don't Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater: A CSR that Addresses Cultural Realities"
Julie Yonker (Calvin College), "Intelligences and Religiosity"
Matthew Van Cleave (Lansing Community College), "Cognitive Architectures and the 'Naturalness Thesis' in CSR"

10:15-11:30 a.m. Session II
Danielle Polage (Central Washington University), "Memory for MCI (Minimal Counterintuitiveness) Theory
John Williams (Biola University), "Implicit, Explicit, and Neurophysiological Measures of Attitudes toward God"
Adam Green (St. Louis University), "Cognitive Science and the Natural Knowledge of God"

11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Box Lunch (included in conference registration fee)

1:15-2:30 p.m. Session III
Liz Krumrei (Pepperdine University), "Evaluation of a Christian Movement Meditation Practice"
Tapio Puolimatka (University of Jyväskylä-Finland), Born Believers in Denial"
Adam Johnson (Bethel University-MN), "After Life Beliefs: Does Death Provide the Deceased Access to New Knowledge?"

2:45-4:00pm Session IV
Julie Yonker (Calvin) and Laird Edman (Northwestern College), "Priming Analytical Thinking Does Not Diminish Religious Belief"
Myron Penner (Trinity Western University), "Cognitive Science of Religion, Reformed Epistemology and Theistic Arguments"

4:00-4:30pm Coffee Break

4:30-5:45pm Session V
Nani Skaggs (Northwest Christian University), "Other Minds: Understanding Omniscience in a Perspective-taking Task"
Laird Edman (with Kirsten McConnel) (Northwestern College), Too Weird or Just Weird Enough? The Counter-Intuitiveness of
Christian Theological Concepts"
Mark Markuly (Seattle University), CSR and Religious and Theological Education: Implications, Impediments, and Strategies for Deeper

6:00-7:00pm Dinner Buffet (included in conference registration fee)

7:00-8:15pm Plenary 2
Justin Barrett (Fuller Seminary), "How to Train Your Dragon: A Christian Response to Cognitive Science of Religion"
Response: Robert McCauley.

8:15-8:30pm Goodbye

Registration and Lodging Information

$95 for General Registration
$70 for Student Registration

Registration includes conference materials, evening reception, Friday and Saturday dinner, Saturday continental breakfast, lunch, and breaks.

Please register using one of the following methods:
1. Register online and pay with credit card or Paypal account. A small processing fee will be applied.


2. Fill out and print the mail-in registration form along with a check or money order made payable to Calvin College. Send one registration form per person along with your payment to:
Seminars @ Calvin
1855 Knollcrest Circle SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546-4402

Conference Location:
Seattle Pacific University
3307 3rd Ave W
Seattle WA 98119


Registration does not include lodging. Limited rooms have been reserved at:

Marriott Courtyard Seattle Downtown Lake Union
925 Westlake Ave N
Seattle WA 98109
206-213-0100 (local)
800-321-2211 (national reservation toll-free)

Please tell them you are with the “Cognitive Science of Religion” meeting.
(If no rooms remain available in this category, ask for the Seattle Pacific University rate, which is the same rate.)

There will be limited complimentary shuttle service between the conference venue and the hotel.

Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2013