What Happens to Religion When It Is Biologized?

Bioreligion_3Nathan Schneider in Search Magazine:

[W]hat happens to religion when it is biologized? Many would intuitively believe philosopher and “New Atheist” Daniel Dennett, whose best-selling Breaking the Spell framed biologizing religiosity and overcoming it as two sides of the same coin; one leads naturally to the other. Confident in the possibility of this research, Dennett contends that “we” should “gently, firmly educate the people of the world, so that they can make truly informed choices about their lives,” choices that he believes will involve dispelling religion.

Less optimistically, but along similar lines, cognitive anthropologist Scott Atran suspects that “religious belief in the supernatural will be here to stay” despite those who come to understand it scientifically. He and other biologizers prefer to maintain a more agnostic stance than Dennett, purporting to pursue a scientific study of religion apart from biases and agendas. Scientific methods, they suggest, liberate the study of religion from ideological and theological debates.

Yet the lines between religion and the scientific study of it are not so clear. Biologizers depend on traditional ways of conceptualizing religiosity that have particular ideological connotations. In turn, believers of various stripes are eager to respond creatively to scientific research, and in some cases they head to the laboratory themselves to shed new light on their own beliefs and practices.