Reformed and evolutionary epistemology and the noetic effects of sin

  • Helen De CruzEmail author
  • Johan De Smedt


Despite their divergent metaphysical assumptions, Reformed and evolutionary epistemologists have converged on the notion of proper basicality. Where Reformed epistemologists appeal to God, who has designed the mind in such a way that it successfully aims at the truth, evolutionary epistemologists appeal to natural selection as a mechanism that favors truth-preserving cognitive capacities. This paper investigates whether Reformed and evolutionary epistemological accounts of theistic belief are compatible. We will argue that their chief incompatibility lies in the noetic effects of sin and what may be termed the noetic effects of evolution, systematic tendencies wherein human cognitive faculties go awry. We propose a reconceptualization of the noetic effects of sin to mitigate this tension.


Reformed epistemology Cognitive science of religion Noetic effects of sin Evolutionary epistemology 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen C., Bekoff M. (1995) Biological function, adaptation, and natural design. Philosophy of Science 62: 609–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Augustine. (5th century [1972]). The city of God against the pagans (W. M. Green, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Axtell G. (2006) Blind man’s bluff: The basic belief apologetic as anti-skeptical stratagem. Philosophical studies 130: 131–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrett J. L. (2004) Why would anyone believe in God?. AltaMita Press, Lanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  5. Barrett J. L. (2009) Cognitive science, religion, and theology. In: Schloss J., Murray M. J. (Eds.), The believing primate. Scientific, philosophical, and theological reflections on the origin of religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 76–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrett J. L., Richert R. A., Driesenga A. (2001) God’s beliefs versus mother’s: The development of nonhuman agent concepts. Child Development 72: 50–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bergmann M. (2002) Commonsense naturalism. In: Beilby J. (Ed.), Naturalism defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, pp 61–90Google Scholar
  8. Bering J. M. (2011) The God instinct. The psychology of souls, destiny and the meaning of life. Nicholas Brealy, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Bering J. M., McLeod K., Shackelford T. (2005) Reasoning about dead agents reveals possible adaptive trends. Human Nature 16: 360–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bloom P. (2007) Religion is natural. Developmental Science 10: 147–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bloom P. (2009) Religious belief as an evolutionary accident. In: Schloss J., Murray M. (Eds.), The believing primate.Scientific, philosophical, and theological reflections on the origin of religion. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 118–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boulter S. J. (2007) The “evolutionary argument” and the metaphilosophy of commonsense. Biology & Philosophy 22: 369–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Calvin J. (1559 [1960]). Institutes of the Christian religion (F. L. Battles, Trans). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.Google Scholar
  14. Clark K. J., Barrett J. L. (2010) Reformed epistemology and the cognitive science of religion. Faith and Philosophy 27: 174–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark K. J., Barrett J. L. (2011) Reidian religious epistemology and the cognitive science of religion. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 79: 639–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cohen S. (2002) Basic knowledge and the problem of easy knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65: 309–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cummins R. (2002) Neo-teleology. In: Ariew A., Cummins R., Perlman M. (Eds.), Functions: New essays in the philosophy of psychology and biology. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 157–172Google Scholar
  18. Darwin C. (1871) The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. John Murray, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Cruz, H., Boudry, M., De Smedt, J., & Blancke, S. (2011). Evolutionary approaches to epistemic justification. Dialectica, 64, 517–535.Google Scholar
  20. Dennett D. C. (2006) Breaking the spell. Religion as a natural phenomenon. Oxford, Allen LaneGoogle Scholar
  21. Fales E. (1996) Plantinga’s case against naturalistic epistemology. Philosophy of Science 63: 432–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goldman A. I. (1999) A priori warrant and naturalistic epistemology. In: Tomberlin J. (Ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 13, Epistemology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 1–28Google Scholar
  23. Grant P. (1971) Original sin and the fall of man in Thomas Traherne. English Literary History 38: 40–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Guthrie S. E. (1993) Faces in the clouds: A new theory of religion. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Harlow D. C. (2010) After Adam: Reading Genesis in an age of evolutionary science. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62: 179–195Google Scholar
  26. Henrich J., McElreath R., Barr A., Ensminger J., Barrett C., Bolyanatz A., Cardenas J.C., Gurven M., Gwako E., Henrich N., Lesorogol C., Marlowe F., Tracer D., Ziker J. (2006) Costly punishment across human societies. Science 312: 1767–1770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hick J. (1966) Evil and the God of love. Macmillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Hodge K. M. (2011) On imagining the afterlife. Journal of Cognition and Culture 11: 367–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Irenaeus. (2nd century [1884]) Against heresies (A. Roberts, W.H. Rambaut, Trans.). Edinburgh: T & T Clark.Google Scholar
  30. Irenaeus. (2nd century [1997]) On the apostolic preaching (J. Behr, Trans.). Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.Google Scholar
  31. Jacobsen A. (2005) The importance of Genesis 1–3 in the theology of Irenaeus. Zeitschrift für antikes Christentum 8: 299–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jenson R. W. (1999) Systematic theology: The works of God (Vol. 2). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaptchuk T. J. (2002) The placebo effect in alternative medicine: Can the performance of a healing ritual have clinical significance?. Annals of Internal Medicine 136: 817–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelemen D. (2004) Are children “intuitive theists”? Reasoning about purpose and design in nature. Psychological Science 15: 295–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lewis-Williams D. (2002) The mind in the cave: Consciousness and the origins of art. Thames & Hudson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  36. McCall G. S., Shields N. (2008) Examining the evidence from small-scale societies and early prehistory and implications for modern theories of aggression and violence. Aggression and Violent Behavior 13: 1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. McKay R. T., Dennett D. C. (2009) The evolution of misbelief. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32: 493–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Millikan R. (1984) Language, thought, and other biological categories. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  39. Mithen S. (1996) The prehistory of the mind: A search for the origins of art, religion and science. Houghton Mifflin, Boston New YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Neander K. (1991) Functions as selected effects: The conceptual analyst’s defense. Philosophy of Science 58: 168–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Norenzayan A., Shariff A. F. (2008) The origin and evolution of religious prosociality. Science 322: 58–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pascalis O., Bachevalier J. (1998) Face recognition in primates: A cross-species study. Behavioural Processes 43: 87–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Perlman M. (2010) Traits have evolved to function the way they do because of a past advantage. In: Ayala F. J., Arp R. (Eds.), Contemporary debates in philosophy of biology. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, pp 53–71Google Scholar
  44. Petrovic P., Kalso E., Petersson K. M., Ingvar M. (2001) Placebo and opioid analgesia—Imaging a shared neuronal network. Science 295: 1737–1740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Plantinga A. (1993) Warrant and proper function. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Plantinga A. (2000) Warranted Christian belief. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Quine W. V. O. (1975) The nature of natural knowledge. In: Guttenplan S. (Ed.), Mind and language: Wolfson College lectures. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp 67–81Google Scholar
  48. Reid T. (1764) An inquiry into the human mind, on the principles of common sense. Kincaid and Bell, EdinburgCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Reid T. (1785) Essays on the intellectual powers of man. John Bell & Co, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  50. Roes F. L., Raymond M. (2003) Belief in moralizing gods. Evolution and Human Behavior 24: 126–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rossano M. J. (2010) Supernatural selection: How religion evolved. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rowlands M. (1997) Teleological semantics. Mind 106: 279–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sanderson S. K., Roberts W. W. (2008) The evolutionary forms of the religious life: A cross-cultural, quantitative analysis. American Anthropologist 110: 454–466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schneider J. R. (2010) Recent genetic science and Christian theology on human origins: An “aesthetic supralapsarianism”. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62: 196–212Google Scholar
  55. Shariff A. F., Norenzayan A. (2007) God is watching: Priming God concepts increases prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychological Science 18: 803–809CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Silk, J. B., House, B. R. (2011). Evolutionary foundations of human prosocial sentiments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108, 10910–10917.Google Scholar
  57. Sosis R., Alcorta C. (2003) Signaling, solidarity, and the sacred: The evolution of religious behavior. Evolutionary Anthropology 12: 264–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Steadman L. B., Palmer C. T., Tilley C. F. (1996) The universality of ancestor worship. Ethnology 35: 63–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stephens C. L. (2001) When is it selectively advantageous to have true beliefs? Sandwiching the better safe than sorry argument. Philosophical Studies 105: 161–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stewart-Williams S. (2005) Innate ideas as a naturalistic source of metaphysical knowledge. Biology & Philosophy 20: 791–814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stich S. (1990) The fragmentation of reason: Preface to a pragmatic theory of cognitive evaluation. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  62. Sudduth M. (2009) The Reformed objection to natural theology. Ashgate, FarnhamGoogle Scholar
  63. Swinburne R. (1989) Responsability and atonement. Clarendon Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Swinburne R. (2004) The existence of God (6th ed). Clarendon Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tennant F. R. (1906) The origin and propagation of sin being the Hulsean lectures delivered before the University of Cambridge in 1901-2 (6nd ed). Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  66. Van Huyssteen W. J. (2006) Alone in the world? Human uniqueness in science and theology. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, GöttingenGoogle Scholar
  67. Venema D. R. (2010) Genesis and the genome: Genomics evidence for human-ape common ancestry and ancestral hominid population sizes. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62: 166–178Google Scholar
  68. Wenger A., Fowers B. J. (2008) Positive illusions in parenting: Every child is above average. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 3: 611–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wolterstorff N. (1983) Can belief in God be rational if it has no foundations?. In: Plantinga A., Wolterstorff N. (Eds.), Faith and rationality. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, pp 135–186Google Scholar
  70. Wrangham R., Peterson D. (1996) Demonic males. Apes and the origins of human violence. Houghton Mifflin, BostonGoogle Scholar
  71. Wyman W. E. (1994) Rethinking the Christian doctrine of sin: Friedrich Schleiermacher and Hick’s “Irenaean type”. Journal of Religion 74: 199–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhilosophyCatholic University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Somerville CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.Department of Philosohpy and EthicsGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  5. 5.Uehiro Centre for Practical EthicsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations