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Between Religion and Science: Integrating Psychological and Philosophical Accounts of Explanatory Coexistence

Legare C.H.a · Visala A.b
aUniversity of Texas at Austin, Austin, Tex., USA; bUniversity of Oxford, Oxford, UK Human Development 2011;54:169–184 (DOI:10.1159/000329135)


Examining the relationship between religion and science has until recently been considered a philosophical exercise and, as a consequence, theories of how natural and supernatural explanations are related tend to be highly abstract and operate at the level of ideal rationality rather than in the psychological reality of actual believers. Although cognitive developmental psychologists have studied the topic of explanation quite extensively, until recently little has been known about how people interpret, accommodate, and reconcile natural and supernatural explanations in everyday life. We review psychological data from three core biological domains and provide an analysis of how philosophical and psychological accounts are complementary. We propose that emerging psychological accounts of the coexistence of natural and supernatural explanations may be developed further by adopting the conceptual resources provided by philosophers, especially with respect to the topics of explanation and possible relationships between science and religion. Furthermore, psychological data can inform philosophical accounts by providing information concerning how people reason about topics of fundamental concern to humans.


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