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BibleWhy Religion is Natural and Science is Not

by Robert McCauley

Copyright © Lorin Friesen, July 2015.

Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not is a recent volume on the cognitive science of religion written by Robert McCauley in 2011. It is a well-written and well-researched volume that discusses the cognitive basis for religion as well as comparing religious thought with theology and science, and I found McCauley's book both thought-provoking and helpful. Analyzing a book such as this is ironic because one is doing a cognitive analysis (with religious overtones) of a cognitive analysis of religion.

In brief, I suggest the following conclusions:

  • It is possible to use the theory of mental symmetry to explain all of McCauley's data, including some new information that I have not encountered before reading this book.

  • McCauley's analysis points strongly in the direction of some major hypotheses that mental symmetry makes but McCauley stops just short of stating. The most obvious one is the suggestion that science and theology are cognitively driven by a 'theory detector' that functions in a similar manner to the 'agency detector' that drives religion.

  • McCauley's book is more complete than previous volumes that I have read on the cognitive science of religion, because McCauley includes more psychological findings and he discusses science and theology as well as religion. However, this analysis feels asymmetric because he defines religion from an internal cognitive perspective, while connecting science primarily to external institutions and social interaction.

  • While McCauley discusses theology and theological thought, McCauley either belittles or ignores theological content. In contrast, I suggest in Natural Cognitive Theology that it is possible to use the theory of mental symmetry to analyze theological content from a cognitive perspective.

  • The cognitive science of religion contains a systemic weakness with regard to agents. On the one hand, McCauley says that "One way of characterizing the history of science is as a process that has, over time, steadily restricted the domains in which appeals to agent causality (of any sort) are any longer deemed legitimate, at least for the purposes of scientific explanation" (p. 117). On the other hand, McCauley says that "Religions proliferate agents. Most popular religion depends upon activating human beings' theory of mind capacities and introducing anywhere from one to hundreds of surplus agents who are ordinarily invisible at least, if not downright impossible to detect by any means" (p. 170). If science has for centuries avoided 'appeals to agent causality of any sort', can scientists be trusted when they start talking about agents?

This essay will use the theory of mental symmetry to analyze and expand upon the findings of McCauley.

The theory of mental symmetry is held together by the diagram of mental symmetry (click on parts of the diagram or listen to the audio for more details). More academic summaries can be found on my academia page. In very general terms, the theory of mental symmetry suggests that the mind can be subdivided into seven interacting high-level cognitive modules: Mercy thought, the cognitive module that deals with experiences and personal emotions; Teacher thought, the cognitive module that uses words to build general theories; Perceiver thought, the cognitive module that evaluates facts; Server thought, the cognitive module that works with actions and sequences; Contributor thought, the cognitive module that is responsible for technical thought; Facilitator thought, the cognitive module that mixes and adjusts the operation of the other cognitive modules; and Exhorter thought, the cognitive module that generates drive and imagination. Notice that this is quite different than Fodor's concept of mental modules.

Mental symmetry suggests that every person possesses a similar mind that is composed of the same seven cognitive modules interacting in the same manner. But people can also be divided into seven different cognitive styles, each of which is conscious in one of these modules. This means that the functioning of each cognitive module can be studied empirically by observing the behavior of the corresponding cognitive style. Thus, the term Perceiver thought , for instance, will refer to the cognitive module that is present in all individuals, while the term Perceiver person will refer to the cognitive style who is conscious in Perceiver thought.

We will begin by introducing the field known as the cognitive science of religion, which is a new field of research that is not known to many people.

The Agency Detection Device

The cognitive science of religion (which I will refer to as CSR) uses the two related concepts of Agent Detection and theory of mind to explain religious belief. In brief, when a person hears an unexplained noise, then the mind will naturally jump to the conclusion that some intelligent agent is responsible for that noise. For instance, if I am sitting by a campfire in the middle of the jungle and I hear a twig crack, then the 'agent detection device' will guess that some intelligent agent, such as a wild animal, is responsible for making this noise. The general hypothesis is that prehistoric jungle natives with functional 'agency detection devices' heard twigs crack, thought of wild animals, ran and hid, and survived without getting eaten. Because they managed to stay alive, they were able to pass on their genes. In contrast, jungle natives without working 'agency detection devices' ignored sounds like the cracking of twigs and thus were eaten by wild animals, losing their opportunity to pass on their genes. Fast-forwarding to the present, religion supposedly exists because the agency detection device is misfiring in the modern mind. Thus, when a modern human encounters some inexplicable event, then the agency detection device within his mind will jump to the conclusion that some intelligent agent, such as a spirit, god, or angel, is responsible for the unexplained event. Summarizing, religion is viewed as a byproduct of a cognitive mechanism that was originally used to escape from wild animals.

McCauley describes it this way: "So long as the costs of false-positive signals are not too high, it pays to have an agent detection system that is easily cued. In a hostile, competitive world that is red in tooth and claw, the costs of false negative signals are prohibitively high. All else being equal, the creature that is inattentive to the movement in the periphery, the shadow passing overhead, or the rustling in the leaves (let alone the sound in the basement) is less prepared to protect itself from predators, competitors, and foes. A mechanism with a low activation threshold for spotting agents may leave a critter a little jumpy, but, again, so long as the costs are not exorbitant, a hypersensitive agency detection device (HADD) is also more likely to leave it alive to be cautious another day" (p.82).

The idea of a hypersensitive agency detection device fits nicely into the theory of mental symmetry, and there is substantial evidence to back up this concept. However, I have three problems with using the scenario of the fleeing native as a basis for the cognitive science of religion.

First, it is not cognitive. That is because it focuses upon the external rather than the internal. Using an analogy, it is like saying that desktop computers are being replaced by tablet computers because tablet computers are smaller and more portable. This may be true, but it does not explain how a computer works. If one wishes to understand computers, then one must study transistors, integrated circuits, and operating systems. Similarly, if one wishes to understand the human 'computer', then one needs to study neurons, neurological circuits, and cognitive modules. The scenario of the fleeing native contains none of this internal detail but rather addresses the subject at the level of a consumer magazine: "PCs are going extinct and are being replaced by tablets." Similarly, "Natives without agency detectors are going extinct and are being replaced by natives with agency detectors."

McCauley's book goes well beyond the scenario of the fleeing native because it contains extensive data about cognitive modules and cognitive mechanisms. However, McCauley does not mention anything about either neurology or neurons. In contrast, the theory of mental symmetry is highly consistent with neurological data (Natural Cognitive Theology devotes 70 pages to looking at the relationship between the theory of mental symmetry and the latest neurological findings).

In addition, I have attempted to explain the agency detector of CSR using a cognitive mechanism that operates in a way that is consistent with how a group of neurons functions. I refer to this as a mental network. In brief, whenever there are enough similar memories with sufficient emotional intensity, then these individual memories will group together to form a network that functions in an integrated manner. Triggering one memory in this network will activate all of the memories within the network, which will then respond by using emotional pressure to impose its structure upon thought. (An introduction to mental networks can be found on another page.) Although I already had a general understanding of the concept of a mental network back in 1994 (as one can see on page 11 of this seminar notebook), the books on CSR that I read in 2011 helped me to realize the importance of mental networks, and I am indebted to CSR for this realization.

Second, the scenario of the fleeing native is not scientific. Science is based in observation and leads to hypotheses that can be tested. However, no scientists were around to observe natives fleeing from wild animals in the distant past. In addition, there is no way of testing this hypothesis. One can carry out psychological experiments that test for the existence of an agency detector and one can observe different cultures for evidence of an agency detector, but that is quite different than postulating how the agency detector came into existence. That scenario cannot be tested because it involves some hypothesized event that occurred in the distant past for which there is no physical evidence.

Third, it takes the form of a myth rather than a general theory. Theories place facts within an integrated structure. A myth, in contrast, is an illuminating narrative that places people within a sequence of events. As McCauley says, "We arrange a series of events in a narrative, and we understand those stories in terms of agents, their states of mind, and the sequences of their actions. This is the sense in which myths and stories serve as tools for cognitively integrating the diverse materials of experience. By organizing events in time, story lines order the past and offer grounds for coherent recollections, as opposed to random ones" (p. 185). It seems paradoxical to use a general scientific theory of cognition to explain religion and myth and then base this scientific theory upon a myth. In contrast, I suggest that it makes more sense to base a theory of religious cognition upon a more general theory of cognition. That is why my starting point is the theory of mental symmetry, and I have tested and expanded this theory by using it to explain a number of different fields (such as CSR).

Natural Thought

Moving on, cognitive science examines the type of thinking that is natural. Natural thinking occurs effortlessly, it is a default mode of thought. A person can choose to override natural thought, but this takes effort. McCauley distinguishes between two kinds of natural thinking, which he refers to as maturational naturalness and practiced naturalness.

Maturational naturalness is "the cognitive equipment that is typically up and running in human minds by the time children reach school age" (p.6). This roughly corresponds to Piaget's concrete operational stage (between the ages of about seven and eleven). If one uses mental symmetry to analyze Piaget's stages, one concludes that maturational naturalness describes a mind that emphasizes concrete thought and is controlled by MMNs. (An MMN, or Mercy mental network, is composed of emotional experiences residing within Mercy thought, while a TMN, or Teacher mental network, emerges when the mind continues to work with a general theory in Teacher thought. MMNs and TMNs are described on this page.) A child who is just entering school is not capable of being guided by abstract thought with its TMNs, and can only handle abstract concepts if they are presented using concrete examples.

McCauley's book focuses upon maturational naturalness: "'Maturationally' natural cognition... is this form of natural cognition on which I will concentrate throughout the remainder of this book. Maturationally natural cognition concerns humans having (similar) immediate, intuitive views that pop into mind in domains where they may have had little or no experience and no instruction" (p.5). In other words, McCauley will describe what it means to have a mind that is governed by MMNs. Like Piaget's concrete operational child, such a mind is capable of some abstract thought, but only if abstract ideas are illustrated using concrete examples. However, it is incapable of using abstract thought independently of concrete thought, or of being guided by abstract thought. Instead, its ultimate foundation is the collection of MMNs that were acquired by growing up in a physical body. These core mental networks impose their structure upon the rest of the mind and it takes effort to think or behave in a manner that contradicts the structure of these core MMNs. I will refer to these as 'childish MMNs', in order to distinguish them from other MMNs that are formed later on in life.

In contrast, "'Practiced' naturalness comes from having extensive experience in dealing with some domain. The most obvious illustrations are the sorts of good judgments that experts in any field can make in a snap, whether it is an engineer knowing what building material to use in a structure, a chess master knowing what move to make in order to avoid his or her opponent's trap, or a long-term commuter knowing how the fares work on his or her local transit system" (p.5). I suggest that McCauley's idea of practiced naturalness combines the two related yet distinct concepts of understanding and habit. Mercy thought and Teacher thought are the two cognitive modules that function emotionally. An MMN forms when a collection of emotional experiences within Mercy thought group together and this collection functions as an integrated unit. Teacher thought looks for order-within-complexity and feels good when many items fit together in an integrated manner. For instance, the theory of mental symmetry feels good because it provides a simple, integrated explanation for many different fields of thought. Similarly, McCauley is driven by Teacher emotion to come up with a general explanation for religion and convey this general theory in the package of a book. When a theory continues to be used, then it will eventually turn into a TMN. A theory that has not turned into a TMN may produce positive Teacher emotion but there is no drive to continue using this theory. In contrast, when a theory turns into a TMN, then a person feels driven to use this theory to explain a situation whenever this theory is triggered. In a sense, the theory becomes 'alive' and functions autonomously within the mind, attempting to 'feed itself' with new information. Because a theory only turns into a TMN when it continues to be used, there is a sense in which expertise is practiced.

A theory starts with Teacher understanding. A habit begins with Server repetition. Any action that is repeated will gain in Server confidence. As one can see from the diagram of mental symmetry, Server thought interacts with Teacher thought. Going one way, Server thought adds stability to Teacher understanding. For instance, a verbal explanation will be easier to remember if one takes written notes or if it is applied through some set of Server actions. Going the other way, Teacher thought adds emotion to Server actions. If Server thought continues to repeat some set of actions, then Teacher thought will notice order-within-complexity within these actions (because each specific repetition is similar to the other repetitions but not identical). This will eventually turn into a TMN which will motivate a person to continue repeating the action. Saying this more simply, a person will feel driven to carry out a habit for its own sake. Here too there is a practiced naturalness, but it is based solely in repetition and has nothing to do with words or understanding.

McCauley combines habit and understanding into the general concept that repetition leads to intuitive expertise, but does not develop this concept further. McCauley devotes several pages to describing the difference between habit and understanding in his discussion of technology and science, but he does not connect this explanation with his concept of practiced naturalness. (This is an example of McCauley's analysis pointing strongly in some direction but McCauley not taking the final step of putting the pieces together.)

Science is guided by Teacher understanding, while technology builds new habits within Server thought. (Chapter 11 in Natural Cognitive Theology examines the relationship between science and technology.) McCauley says that "I will distinguish scientific theory and methods and other abstract tools, such as mathematics and formal logic, from material technology, both artifacts and structured environments. Every culture possesses material technology, even if only clothing, shelter, and crude tools, but, as I will argue later, science is rare" (p.88). In other words, concrete thought with its MMNs of culture and identity is sufficient to develop technology. However, science is a different form of thinking that is guided by the abstract TMNs of math and logic. I suggest that technology became transformed during what I call the consumer revolution, which began about 1880. This is when science began to transform the tools that people used in daily life, through the invention of newfangled gadgets such as the telephone, the automobile, the electric light and the electric motor. Similarly, McCauley points out that "Science and technology have always been connected, but since the middle of the nineteenth century, they have become inextricable" (p.88).

McCauley quotes John Gribbin as saying that "Technology came first, because it is possible to make machines by trial and error without fully understanding the principles on which they operate. But once science and technology got together, progress really took off" (p.89). This is a key point because it illustrates what mental symmetry calls the path of personal transformation. The childish mind with its MMNs and 'maturational naturalness' is capable of improving identity and culture to some extent through trial and error. However, if one uses Teacher thought to gain a scientific understanding of the principles of natural law, then this understanding makes it possible to transform natural culture rather than simply improve it. Similarly, my general thesis is that if one uses Teacher thought to gain a theological understanding of the principles of human cognition, then this understanding makes it possible to transform childish identity rather than simply improve it. McCauley describes the intellectual and societal transformation that a Teacher understanding of science makes possible: "It was the birth of modern science that transformed Europe from an utter backwater into the leading center of intellectual life on the planet" (p.273). McCauley also recognizes that theology is cognitively analogous to science: "The most familiar manifestation of the intellectual side of this enterprise is theology. In the course of refining religious formulations to increase their consistency and coherence, theologians avail themselves of many of the same tools that scientists use. Typically, theologians are experts at conceptual analysis and at carrying out the same forms of deductive inference that play such a noteworthy role in science" (p.153). And McCauley states that both science and theology are expressions of abstract thought that use words, are given stability through writing, and provide Teacher-based general explanations instead of Mercy-based stories and narratives: "Theology, like science, is done most readily, most thoroughly, and most memorably when it is a literate endeavor. We, quite literally, have few, if any, traces of any theology in nonliterate cultures. The literature theologians produce, like the literature of science, is theoretical, polemical, analytical, and synthetic. Just like science, theology does not rely on narrative. Theologians normally marshal evidence for their views, which they propound with as much order and clarity as they can" (p.212). However, McCauley does not put these pieces together and postulate that theology might lead to the same kind of transformation that science has achieved, which is what mental symmetry suggests.

This leads us to a more refined definition of naturalness. A concept or behavior is cognitively natural if it resonates with the structure of the mind—as described by the theory of mental symmetry. However, thought and behavior will only resonate with cognitive modules that are 'up and running'. Maturational naturalness resonates with mental structures that are programmed as a result of growing up in a physical body in the physical world. Practiced naturalness resonates with mental structures that function as a result of training and education. Summarizing, cognitive naturalness has a hardware and a software requirement: First, some existing hardware of the mind is being activated. Second, mental software is running on this hardware as a result of cognitive development.

Science is based upon empirical evidence, data that comes from observing the real world. The methodology that I currently use is not based directly upon empirical evidence. Instead, I look for common patterns, guided by the meta-theory of mental symmetry. This is a secondary method of meta-research that is based indirectly upon empirical evidence, because it uses empirical research that is being done by others.

The current debate over government spying illustrates the power of meta-research. When it was revealed by Eric Snowden that the American government was spying upon its population, the NSA responded by claiming that it was only gathering meta-data. In simple terms, it only reads the addresses and postmark on the envelope; it does not open the envelope and read the letter inside. However, meta-data is extremely revealing, if one has enough meta-data and can use computers to correlate this meta-data. As this Wired article points out, "Phone records can actually be more revealing than content when someone has as many records and as complete a set of them as the NSA does... Metadata, on the other hand, is ideally suited to automated analysis by computer. Having more of it just makes it the analysis more accurate, easier, and better... Metadata ultimately exposes something deeper, far more than what a target is talking about. Metadata is our context. And that can reveal far more about us - both individually and as groups - than the words we speak. Context yields insights into who we are and the implicit, hidden relationships between us." Similarly, I suggest that meta-research can be extremely revealing, but in order to perform meta-research, one must become conversant in a number of diverse fields, and that is rather difficult to do in today's world of hyper-specialization.

This describes the methodology used by my brother and myself. If one wishes to understand underlying cognitive mechanisms, then what is needed is meta-research. Unfortunately, the human mind is not capable of gathering and correlating data objectively like a computer. Instead, whenever the human mind notices a general pattern and uses this pattern to examine the data, then this general theory will turn into a TMN that will emotionally lock a person into viewing the data through this set of lenses.

Escaping Confirmation Bias

McCauley describes the natural tendency to hold on to a theory despite the evidence, which is known as confirmation bias: "People attend to evidence that supports the theories they favor rather than evidence that clashes with those theories. Negative experimental results rarely lead scientists to drop everything and surrender their theories. Not only are scientists disinclined to search for evidence that runs contrary to their views, but they also sometimes disregard it or dismiss it" (p.134). McCauley adds that confirmation bias can actually be an efficient strategy: "Confirmation bias may not be all bad and that it may be helpful initially. They found that participants who abandoned theories quickly in the face of contrary evidence did not make as much progress in ascertaining the physical principles of a simulated universe as those who were not so quick to bail out. Their most successful participant used confirmatory evidence initially and then explored disconfirmatory evidence to refine his hypothesis, instead of completely overthrowing it" (p.135). In other words, when one comes up with a general theory and uses this general theory, then this theory will turn into a TMN that emotionally drives a person to continue using the theory, leading to confirmation bias. The solution is not to ignore or suppress confirmation bias and attempt to use only rational thought, but rather to extend the net of data as wide as possible in order to allow the breadth of data to fine-tune the general theory.

This strategy was initially used by my older brother Lane Friesen to build the foundation for the theory of mental symmetry. Sometime around 1980, he encountered the idea that the list of seven 'spiritual gifts' described in Romans 12 actually describes seven different cognitive styles. However, this teaching was restricted to a Christian context, talking about biblical characters and describing Romans 12 spiritual gifts as something that a person receives from God when becoming a Christian. This is what Bill Gothard still teaches. Gothard is an American fundamentalist Christian seminar speaker who is one of the main proponents of Romans 12 spiritual gifts, and I have just posted an essay analyzing his juxtaposition of cognitive analysis and American Christian fundamentalism. In contrast, Lane Friesen tested the theory of Romans 12 spiritual gifts by extending the net of data beyond the Christian subculture, correlating the data from 200 biographies in order to look for common character traits. What added rigor to this process was the details. Instead of merely saying in a hand-waving manner that Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln are all Mercy persons, the character traits of these individuals (gathered independently by biographers) were compared in detail, making it possible to say with some rigor that these individuals all share the same cognitive style. Notice that this is meta-research, which does not focus upon gathering empirical evidence but rather assumes that others are gathering accurate empirical data and then looks for patterns in this data. (In a similar vein, Don and Katie Fortune have also been teaching about Romans 12 spiritual gifts for several decades and their main book on the subject has sold 300,000 copies. I went through their material recently and noticed that the traits that they independently uncovered are about 90% in agreement with the traits we have found.)

Bill Gothard does not do this type of detailed comparison. Instead, he is infamous for his hand-waving arguments. As this webpage concludes, "I don't think it's too much to say, the punch line in Mr. Gothard's teaching is virtually always anecdotal. Now this being said, it is also clear that this is quite winsome to those untrained in the analysis of the truth of material presented... Mr. Gothard's testimonials and anecdotes of his teachings seem to function as the ultimate and unchallengeable proof of their truth." Gothard also does not gather a wide net of data. Instead, his examples and anecdotes come almost exclusively from either the Bible or conservative American history. The Fortunes have gathered a fairly wide net of data about personality styles and behavioral traits. However, a Christian fundamentalist flavor can still be seen in their description of cognitive styles, which I have attempted to analyze.

I have been using a similar strategy in recent years to extend the theory of mental symmetry. I recognize that this theory has turned into a TMN within my mind, which now emotionally locks me into this theory. Instead of trying to pretend that I am capable of being objective, I have attempted to fine-tune the theory by extending the net of data. As one can see, I have analyzed many books that approach the topic of personal identity and religion from vastly different perspectives. In each case, I have not just made a handwaving comparison but rather have put together a 40 to 80 page essay that uses the theory of mental symmetry to analyze the thinking of some researcher in detail. For instance, I am quite certain that Bill Gothard and Robert McCauley would view each other as dangerous heretics. However, if one can use the same cognitive theory to analyze the thinking of individuals who find each other loathsome, then this provides powerful evidence that one is dealing with underlying cognitive mechanisms. (Cognitively speaking, one is using Perceiver thought to look for facts that cross MMNs of identity and culture.)

Returning now to McCauley, we saw a few paragraphs back that one of the main conclusions of his book is that theology and science are cognitively similar. When one finds similar thought processes in unrelated fields, then this strongly suggests that one is dealing with underlying cognitive mechanisms. One can then add rigor to this conclusion by looking for similar cognitive mechanisms in additional fields. However, instead of following this cognitive analysis, McCauley concludes that science is based in social interaction: "China's many technological breakthroughs did not signal the transformation of the relevant social and political conditions. No formally recognized social space was opened up for freer inquiry about the world" (p.271). And he asserts that it is social interaction between scientists that makes scientific thought possible: "Ultimately, science must be characterized in terms of distinctive social arrangements" (p.270). "Few people have carried out scientific investigations because few societies have established the social arrangements necessary for its persistence. If science is inherently social, then it follows that it is inherently institutional as well" (p.277). Social institutions do play a major role in science, often because scientific research is now too expensive to be carried out by individuals: "Modern science is such a complicated and costly undertaking that it is now universally pursued within the frameworks of sponsorship by the very largest institutions with the very largest budgets" (p. 275). However, I suggest that scientific thought is more basic than scientific institutions and social interaction. The best scientific equipment in the world will not produce science if it is not used by individuals who are capable of scientific thought, and the most rigorous scientific results will be ignored if individuals are incapable of thinking scientifically.

McCauley suggests that an effective way of recovering from confirmation bias is by gathering a wide net of data. However, McCauley's analysis of religion is actually somewhat limited. This can be seen by searching McCauley's book for religious terms that are not discussed. The following concepts are not mentioned in McCauley's book: salvation, atonement, punishment, redemption, and resurrection (ceremonial uncleanness is analyzed); justification, guilt, forgiveness, repentance, mercy, grace, and righteousness (morality is mentioned briefly); mysticism, meditation, transcendence, and worship (ritual is discussed extensively); miracles, spirit, heaven, love, hate, hell, and evil (imaginary beings are discussed in a generic manner). Notice that we are not looking here at McCauley's personal religious beliefs. Instead, we are examining how McCauley deals with the confirmation bias that is being imposed upon his mind by the TMN of his general understanding of religion. The concepts mentioned above occupy a central role in the minds of those who practice religion. Therefore, if one wishes to analyze the thinking of people who practice religion, which CSR claims to do, then one should discuss these terms, whether one regards them as valid or not. (Mental symmetry can be used to analyze all of these topics from a cognitive perspective.)

I have suggested that a TMN provides emotional support for a general theory. This emotional aspect can be seen in the way that information which lies outside of the general theory is handled. A common strategy when defending a theory is to use rational analysis to evaluate data that lies within the theory while belittling or ignoring what cannot be explained by the theory. (This strategy is naturally used by the Contributor person who uses technical thought to perform rational analysis within some general paradigm. We will examine this in greater detail later on.)

One can see this sort of belittling with several key religious concepts. Love is a fundamental aspect of religious behavior, expressed as love for God or love for one's fellow man. The term 'love' only occurs once in McCauley's book, within the context of describing a Rube Goldberg device: "Religions variously activate cognitive inclinations that enjoy neither a logical nor a functional unity. Cognitively speaking, they are like Rube Goldberg devices - the delightful contraptions of the great Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist from the first half of the twentieth century, who became famous for making fun of America's love of everything technological" (p.155). Notice how the term 'love' occurs within a context of religion, illogical thought, and 'the delightful contraptions' of Rube Goldberg. Similarly, the golden rule could be viewed as the most universal statement of religious morality. Quoting from Wikipedia, "The 'Declaration Toward a Global Ethic' from the Parliament of the World's Religions (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule ('We must treat others as we wish others to treat us') as the common principle for many religions." Going further, Jesus defined the golden rule as love for one's fellow man, placed the golden rule within the context of love for God, and then concluded that this combination encapsulates the essence of religion: "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).

Like love, the term 'golden rule' also occurs only once within McCauley's book, as a parody in a quote from Gilbert and Sullivan: "In the last verse this inept beneficiary of party patronage offers a final piece of advice. He counsels aspirants to high positions in the British Admiralty to 'Be careful to be guided by this golden rule -Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, And you all may be Rulers of the Queen's Navee!'" (p. 31). Thus, the two core concepts of Christianity are both belittled by associating each one implicitly with buffoonery. Similarly, the term 'heaven' is also mentioned only once in a belittling manner associated with Melanesian cargo cults: "Cargo cults are new millennial religious movements. They hold that once a proper relationship is achieved - usually, by various ritual means, between cult members and the group's ancestors - those ancestors will return with enormous quantities of cargo for the cult members, inaugurating a new heaven on earth" (p.205). Here we see the concept of heaven being associated with primitive tribesmen who build fake airplanes out of twigs and vines and hope for material wealth to drop from the sky. When it comes to the Christian concept of a Trinitarian God, then the belittling is explicit: "Understanding God as a triune entity (each person of which is alleged to have had temporary, divergent physical manifestations) presents all of the conceptual challenges that the modern psychological account of multiple personality disorder demands and more" (p.235).

It is quite possible that McCauley is not explicitly attempting to belittle core religious beliefs, and that this belittling is only occurring accidentally and implicitly. However, one of the main findings of CSR is that implicit, instinctive beliefs about religion carry more weight than explicit statements (this finding will be discussed later on). Going further, scientists such as Richard Dawkins claim that religion is inherently evil. Most researchers in CSR would not make such a statement. But when scientists belittle higher ideals such as love, heaven, and the golden rule, while exalting a 'hostile, competitive world that is red in tooth and claw', then this is actually making religion evil by replacing uplifting parables of saints with degrading myths about savages. Notice that we are not looking here at the experimental results that have been discovered by CSR but rather at the way that one interprets these facts—the paradigm into which one places facts.

The Cognition of Science

McCauley makes a number of statements regarding science and its cognitive limitations. These findings are quite interesting, and we will take a few paragraphs to look at these findings in the light of mental symmetry, starting with McCauley's description of how a mental network functions. (McCauley does not talk about mental networks, but describes in some detail how they function.)

Mental networks are based upon pattern matching. A mental network becomes activated when it is triggered. When a mental network is triggered it will attempt to impose its structure upon the mind: "Thomas Gilovich describes the representativeness heuristic as the rough and ready principle that 'like goes with like.' In college Linda was more like people's stereotypes of feminists than she was like people's stereotypes of bank tellers, so participants judge - again in violation of the norms for assessing the probabilities of conjunctions - that Linda is more likely to be both a bank teller and a feminist than she is to be a bank teller" (p. 125). Linda was described in this experiment as "a bright, outspoken philosophy major in college and who was active in a variety of causes concerned with questions of justice." This description triggered the mental network of 'feminist'. Therefore, people concluded that it was more likely that Linda was both a feminist and a bank teller rather than just a bank teller, even though statistically speaking this is an invalid conclusion. The point is that when the mental network or stereotype of 'feminist' was triggered, then it imposed its structure upon the mind, meaning that Linda was now being mentally viewed within the context of being a feminist.

MMNs are formed out of similar emotional Mercy experiences. Mercy thought acquires most of its experiences from the physical body with its senses. Therefore, when an MMN is triggered, then the mind will make conclusions based upon my personal experiences: "'Availability' describes the inclination of humans to estimate probabilities according to the ease with which they can recall or construct relevant examples (or associated items) in the class in question. When asked to recall some species of bird, Texans will probably name familiar birds such as cardinals, instead of ostriches, because, in fact, cardinals occur more frequently than ostriches in Texas. The mistake involved with the availability heuristic, however, is that because Texans might also recall whooping cranes more readily than ostriches, they infer that whooping cranes must occur more frequently than ostriches" (p. 125). Saying this more simply, MMNs cause a person to assume that the whole world functions like his personal surroundings.

A mental network will only impose itself upon thought if it is triggered. This means that the mental network that controls thought depends upon the context: "People seem to possess intuitions about objects' motions that conform to something very much like the medieval theory of impetus. That theory held that the source of the force (a thrower, a cannon, and so on) moving a projectile on the earth imparts 'impetus' to the projectile that is proportional to the projectile's speed and mass. That force continues to move the projectile in the same direction after it no longer is in contact with the force's source. Both the resistance of the air and, on the prevailing Aristotelian conception of objects' natural motions, the natural inclination of the projectile (toward the center of the earth) progressively reduce the impact of the impetus on the projectile's motion until its influence is completely spent. At that point, with its imparted impetus exhausted, the projectile's path is exclusively determined by its natural motion toward the center of the earth" (p. 129). Notice how the projectile is originally being governed by the mental network of 'shooting a cannon' and that this mental network continues to control the path of the projectile even after it leaves the cannon. However, as the projectile travels away from the cannon, its path becomes increasingly guided by the mental network of 'attraction to the Earth'. Thus, the mental network that is in charge is the one that is triggered most strongly. Notice that we are referring here to what is happening within people's minds—the mental interpretation that is being placed upon what happens externally. (I should also mention that the mind is determining facts in this illustration by averaging between the influence of two MMNs. This will be discussed later when looking at counterintuitiveness.)

McCauley describes how an MMN that is formed out of emotional experiences will attempt to impose its structure upon the mind when it is triggered, causing a person to jump to conclusions based upon incomplete data: "Maturationally natural systems guess straightaway on the basis of what in most environments has proven to be a critically diagnostic fraction of the available information. They are the embodiment of perceptual, cognitive, and action heuristics. Their sensitivities to that fraction of the available information amount to biases in their responses. It is precisely because they are biased that these systems can be hijacked. When conditions mimic the cues to which they are naturally poised to respond and interpret in some specific way, they can leap to erroneous conclusions" (p.157). (My suggestion that a mental network uses emotional pressure to impose its structure upon the mind is backed up by research from other sources which say that theory of mind has a cognitive component as well as an affective component.)

Turning now to Teacher thought, the mind is naturally driven to come up with general theories: "Without a doubt, the best illustration of what appears to be a relatively natural cognitive predilection that is integral to science is human beings' readiness to formulate speculative theories" (p.101). Teacher thought feels good when it can come up with a simple explanation that explains many items, and Teacher thought will naturally come up with the most general theory possible.

Teacher thought functions emotionally, but Teacher emotion is different than the Mercy emotion that drives MMNs: "Science gets started because, as Aristotle noted, humans naturally want to know more about their world and they take delight in their discoveries. Science becomes cognitively unnatural, however, because it reliably traffics, usually sooner rather than later, in representations that are radically counterintuitive in this sense" (p. 107). Science acquires its Perceiver facts (and Server sequences) from the physical world. When Perceiver thought acquires a collection of facts, then Teacher thought is emotionally driven to assemble these 'bricks' into the structure of a general theory. Because Teacher understanding leads to its own emotion, Teacher thought will be emotionally driven to pursue understanding for its own sake. And because a general theory is based upon material that is independent of childish MMNs, the resulting Teacher emotion will also be independent of the motivation that comes from the MMNs of culture and identity. Going further, when a general theory turns into a TMN then it will attempt to impose its explanation upon new situations whenever it is triggered. McCauley describes these various factors: "The second way in which science differs from other types of tools is that it always includes an abstract theoretical interest in understanding nature for its own sake. In fact, this comment comprises two differences. The first is that science pursues richer accounts of the world for no more reason than their intrinsic interest. The second is that those pursuits always involve speculations that aim to elucidate some aspect of the world's workings" (p.97).

The childish mind is not capable of using abstract thought to construct general theories: "Young infants would not yet have achieved the capacity for the explicit redescription of representations, which would indicate that they did not yet possess the cognitive fluidity that is requisite for theorizing of the kind that scientists engage in" (p. 102).

Teacher thought based in facts about the natural world will come up with general theories that violate the MMNs of culture and common sense: "Members of the educated public, however, still struggle mightily to swallow claims, from the first decades of the twentieth century, of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. There should be no embarrassment about this. These theories envision a world that is overwhelmingly incompatible with our commonsense conceptions of space and time and matter" (p. 109).

The MMNs of culture and identity will naturally reject Teacher theories that are based in rational thought: "Nazified physics eschewed relativity and quantum mechanics in favor of a physical science that accorded with humans' intuitive understandings of the physical universe. They denounced relativity theory and quantum mechanics for so grossly off ending commonsense" (p.110).

A general theory that turns into a TMN is capable of transforming childish MMNs by pulling them apart and reassembling them in a different manner. This will cause MMNs of personal authority to be viewed in a completely different light: "Radically counterintuitive theories re-order, re-categorize, and re-group things in the world, identifying new, unobvious regularities. Importantly, though, they do so, even in psychology and the social sciences, on the basis of claims about the properties, relations, and operations of additional imperceptible things and forces (as opposed to claims about the properties, relations, and actions of agents-imperceptible or not)" (p. 114).

The TMN of a general understanding will lead indirectly to the formation of new MMNs that cause the physical world to be viewed in a different manner: "The deepest source of science's cognitive unnaturalness is the ever-growing disparity between our maturationally natural perceptions and intuitions about things and the very different picture of the world that science discloses" (p. 106). (This relates to Kuhn's concept of incommensurability.)

These new MMNs represent Platonic forms, which are Teacher idealizations and simplifications of Perceiver facts about the real world. Science works with Platonic forms rather than specific experiences in Mercy thought: "Scientific speculations depict idealized worlds (of frictionless planes, classical genes, and rational consumers), which enable us to make some sense of how the world appears. They regularly use such unusual theoretical notions to explain common phenomena" (p.100). (Platonic forms and their relationship to science are discussed in Chapter 9 of Natural Cognitive Theology.)

Before the birth of science, people explained everything in terms of MMNs of personal identity. Their minds were literally ruled by MMNs: "Early in human history, people relied overwhelmingly on their most versatile cognitive capacity, namely, theory of mind, for the explanation of just about everything that their other maturationally natural systems did not prepare them for... They appealed to agents of all sorts, their states of mind, and their actions to explain, predict, or cope with everything from the most immense natural forces to the most minor, unexpected coincidences. These cognitively natural explanations certainly included religious accounts, but they were not confined to them. The entire world was animated" (p.116).

Science requires a form of rigorous, abstract thought that does not naturally develop in the childish mind: "Nature does not groom human minds for carrying out the disciplined criticism of theories that is the obligation of science" (p.119).

Summarizing what we have discussed so far, the cognitive path from childish MMNs to a TMN-based rational understanding back to transformed MMNs describes the path of personal transformation referred to earlier on in this essay. McCauley describes the major stages of this path with reference to science. Mental symmetry internalizes this path by defining it in cognitive terms and applying it to the MMNs of personal identity.


Moving on, a book is a physical example of Teacher order-within-complexity, because words (the basic elements of Teacher thought) are organized into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Books play a major role in the process of developing rigorous abstract thought: "The persistence of science, if not its birth (as well), depends upon literacy. Merlin Donald maintains that the invention of writing and reading was not necessary for the initial sparks of science in human cultures, but even he thinks that, without literacy, none of those scientific sparks could have ignited a steady flame among communities of inquirers for decades at a time" (p.94).

Teacher thought is inherently unstable. Server thought adds stability to Teacher words either by writing them down or by applying them in action: "Spoken symbols are short-lived. Written symbols last. They are persisting material things instead of fleeting acoustic events. Until Edison's invention of a sound-recording device, the existence of utterances was always momentary, lasting no longer than its echoes. The material medium utilized for written symbols, whether paper and ink or neon lights or combinations of pixels on a computer screen, is what underlies their longevity" (p. 95).

A book makes it possible to separate Perceiver facts from the Mercy source of these facts, allowing Perceiver thought to evaluate information without being overwhelmed by the MMNs of personal status: "Written works can be copied and transported far from where they were produced, and they can be read, considered, and criticized in times and places where no one has ever met the author" (p. 95).

A book makes technical thought possible: "Because readers can study texts at length, they can spot vagueness, incoherence, errors, and other problems that often get by when someone is only talking. Because authors are readers of their own texts, they too can locate weaknesses and mistakes and, before they make them public, remedy them. The positive side of all of this, especially for continuing rational inquiries such as science, is that in extended presentations of complex contents written symbols permit a kind of clarity and precision that is almost nonexistent in spoken utterances" (p. 97).

This last paragraph requires additional explanation. Mental symmetry suggests that both abstract and concrete thought can function in one of three different ways: mental networks, technical thought, and normal thought. We have seen how mental networks lead naturally to 'quick and dirty' conclusions. Science is based upon technical thought, which a person has to learn to use: "Science, then, depends upon the invention of external linguistic and mathematical symbols and of an educational system that engenders a facility with such symbols in enough human beings" (p. 139). Tying these two together is normal thought, which is guided by the analogies and metaphors provided primarily by Perceiver and Server thought. (This is explained in much more detail in Natural Cognitive Theology.)

The analogies of normal thought lay the foundation for the technical thought of science and they also extend the limited technical theories of science: "Mithen proposes no primordial modular capacity whatsoever for science. He explicitly holds that developing cognitive fluidity between various modules is a prerequisite for the possibility of science. The theoretical originality of science relies upon humans' abilities to discover metaphors and analogies that can issue from any corner of human knowledge" (p.93).

Abstract technical thought becomes possible when words acquire precise definitions: "Science, then, depends upon the invention of external linguistic and mathematical symbols and of an educational system that engenders a facility with such symbols in enough human beings to support a community of scientific inquirers" (p. 139). Looking at this more technically, when technical thought is being used, then Contributor thought is in control of the mind. Contributor combines Perceiver with Server. Normal thought with its analogies, in contrast, is guided by Perceiver thought and Server thought, which work with a wide range of partially certain facts and sequences.

Contributor-controlled technical thought can only emerge when carefully crafted Server sequences become combined with clearly defined Perceiver facts. For instance, mathematical symbols and operations are carefully defined ('+' is permitted, '@' is not allowed). Only specific Server sequences of mathematical symbols are permitted, and the truth or falsehood of mathematical statements and operations is known with certainty ('2 + 2 = 4' is true, '2 + 2 = 5' is false). In the words of McCauley, "Scientists often formulate their theories in mathematical language. Mathematical forms of representation possess a clarity and a precision that are crucial for dissecting the dynamics of complex systems and for guiding the exploration and measurement of everything from the most commonplace circumstances to the most extraordinary environments" (p. 119).

Technical thought can only emerge if Perceiver facts and Server sequences are known with sufficient certainty: "Scientists must not only discern relevant evidence, but often they must systematically collect and record evidence. For some kinds of theories and models, such as those addressing the relative stability of climate, scientists must examine trends over long periods of time, in widely disparate places, with considerable precision" (p. 120).

Summarizing, both abstract and concrete thought can take a technical form that is controlled by Contributor thought. Abstract technical thought emerges when Server sequences of symbols acquire precise Perceiver meanings. Abstract technical thought uses a limited collection of well-defined Perceiver facts and Server sequences, and it manipulates Server sequences using Perceiver transformations that lead to conclusions that are known with certainty.

I have learned through personal experience that Contributor-controlled technical thought with its limited set of precisely defined Perceiver facts and Server sequences is not the same as Perceiver- or Server-guided normal thought with its wide-ranging partially-known facts and sequences. I mentioned earlier that the Contributor person has a tendency to belittle or ignore information that lies outside of the current paradigm. This reaction is often stronger at the meta level when Contributor-controlled technical thought meets normal thought. My research uses Perceiver-guided normal thought to look for common patterns in unrelated fields. More than once, Contributor persons have told me in no uncertain terms that my thinking is non-rigorous and that I am jumping from one topic to another. However, the end result of using only technical thought is that knowledge becomes fragmented into specializations that are each policed by some 'accreditation process' which acts as a gatekeeper to keep out the 'unschooled' who are incapable of using technical thought to a sufficiently rigorous standard. There is nothing wrong with having professional standards. However, if one wishes to bridge the various specializations in order to gain an integrated understanding, then one must become reasonably proficient in many fields and one must use normal thought with its analogies and metaphors. This becomes almost impossible to do when knowledge is fragmented into accredited specializations. This does not mean that any sort of analogy will do. Instead, it is important to use a semi-rigorous form of analogy, and to use analogy to bridge the specializations of technical thought. (The difference between good and bad analogy is discussed here.)

Contributor-controlled abstract technical thought uses formal systems such as logic and math within some Teacher structure of order-within-complexity. Because a book is a solid, physical example of Teacher order-within-complexity, technical thought can be used with books to tighten up sequences of words, their meanings, and the flow of thought. Similarly, the reader of a book can use technical thought to evaluate, critique, and improve the Teacher structure. McCauley describes the external manner in which technical thought can be used to analyze and improve the content of a physical book. However, a book acts as an external crutch for what is happening within the mind. Whenever Teacher thought comes up with a general theory that is sufficiently well defined, then Contributor thought can use technical thinking to improve and optimize the structure of this general theory. In the words of Thomas Kuhn, science spends very little of its time coming up with general theories or paradigms. Instead, most scientists spend most of their time 'solving puzzles' within a paradigm. Saying this another way, a paradigm or general Teacher theory provides a mental 'book' for Contributor-controlled technical thought to mentally read, evaluate, and edit.

Because a theory that is used will turn into a TMN, whenever technical thought continues to work with some general theory, this mental processing will automatically turn the theory into a TMN, which will then emotionally trap the scientist into this paradigm. The emotionally trapped scientist will continue to use rational technical thought within the paradigm (because the TMN is receiving input that is consistent with the structure), but when the paradigm is challenged, then technical thought will be replaced by an emotional reaction from the threatened TMN. This explains why a rational scientist will naturally ignore or belittle that which lies outside of the current paradigm.

Science tries to protect the rational thinking of technical thought by ignoring MMNs: "One way of characterizing the history of science is as a process that has, over time, steadily restricted the domains in which appeals to agent causality (of any sort) are any longer deemed legitimate, at least for the purposes of scientific explanation" (p. 117). Thus, the TMNs of scientific theory have replaced the MMNs of personal identity as sources of explanation.

Because science tries to remain objective by ignoring MMNs, childish MMNs remain intact within the mind of the scientist, waiting to be triggered: "'Scientists, for all their vaunted training in observation and scepticism, are as much a prey to human frailty as anyone else, and their capacity for unbending objectivity is circumscribed.' In short, what all of this research shows is that from the cognitive and interpersonal standpoints, scientists are thoroughly normal human beings" (p.133).

Notice that one is dealing here with two different kinds of mental networks that use two different kinds of emotion. First, there are childish MMNs, which McCauley defines as maturational naturalness, or "the cognitive equipment that is typically up and running in human minds by the time children reach school age" (p.6). Second, there are TMNs based in general theories, which are responsible for effects such as confirmation bias. These are not the same. A child is not capable of forming general theories, and the childish MMNs of maturational naturalness remain intact within the mind when one constructs general theories that avoid the subjective.

In conclusion, it appears that everything that McCauley says about the cognition of science corresponds in detail with what mental symmetry suggests (described in chapters 8, 9, and 11 of Natural Cognitive Theology). Mental symmetry goes beyond McCauley's work by extending CSR's concept of an agency detector and by adding a cognitive explanation for technical thought.


We used the concept of TMNs combined with technical thought to explain McCauley's description of science. We will now turn to McCauley's description of religion and show how this data can be explained using the concept of MMNs. I should mention that, like McCauley, I am making a distinction between religion and theology: "What I have referred to as 'popular religion,' then, stands apart not merely from science but from the activities and representations associated with elaborated doctrines and theology" (p. 154).

McCauley states that religion is due to the misfiring of MMNs: "By speaking of 'natural religion,' I want to stress that much about humans' religious propensities are the unmediated, if latent, consequences of the operations of maturationally natural capacities on items outside their proper domains. To repeat: the mind has no department of religion" (p. 162). I would agree with McCauley's statement regarding 'natural' religion. However, my thesis is that it is possible to develop a more appropriate religion by placing MMNs within the context of the TMN of a general understanding of the mind (similar to the way that technology places the MMNs of culture within the context of the TMN of a general understanding of the natural world), and I hypothesize that these transformed MMNs might be firing in a manner that accurately represents the activity of an external 'spiritual' and/or 'supernatural' realm. In the same way that one does not know for certain that other intelligent human minds exist, but rather uses theory of mind to guess that other humans exist, so one does not know for certain that other intelligent nonhuman minds do not exist, but can also use theory of mind to postulate their existence.

McCauley suggests that much of religion can be explained using MMNs, which he refers to as 'maturationally natural cognitive systems': "A great deal of knowledge about religion is like this. With only minimal familiarity with some particular religious system or other, people can automatically grasp all sorts of facts and readily infer all kinds of connections among several of that religion's features by virtue of their engaging maturationally natural cognitive systems that make up normal human cognitive equipment" (p. 147). In other words, many of the assumptions that are present in religion come from the inherent nature of a Mercy mental network or MMN.

The primitive mind naturally acquires MMNs from interacting with the natural world, and these MMNs lead naturally to religious behavior: "Unlike science, but like technology, religion dates from the prehistoric past. Both archaeological and anthropological evidence indicates that religions require neither writing nor fixed settlements (though both, of course, have contributed greatly to the subsequent development of many religions). Religion predates both of these milestones of civilization" (p. 148).

Saying this another way, religion is based in MMNs that were acquired in childhood: "Religion in this sense employs ideas and forms of thought that are naturally appealing to the human mind, because they are rooted in maturationally natural cognitive dispositions and the kinds of knowledge they support, which are available to most children by the time they reach school age" (p. 154).

Animals are capable of concrete thought, and can be mentally guided by MMNs that come from embodiment. However, humans are capable of adding the extra internal meaning to MMNs that turns mere ritual or habit into religious ritual. Neurologically speaking, evidence suggests that this extra meaning is being provided by the frontal lobes: "If religious ritual does not seem to religious participants to be something fundamentally different from ritualized behaviors in animals, at a minimum they surely regard it as something more than that... I am willing to bet that the vast majority of religious participants hold that religious ritual is something that is fundamentally different from the ritualized behaviors of other animals" (p.150).

Unlike science, religion leads to behavior that may modify MMNs acquired in childhood but it will not contradict these MMNs: "Religions share the same cognitive origins and vary within the same limited framework of natural cognitive constraints. Science overturns those constraints and regularly produces new, original ideas. Religion mainly obeys those constraints and replays minor variations on the same ideas time and time again" (p. 152).

Religion with its MMNs is different than the abstract thinking of either science or theology: "What I have referred to as 'popular religion,' then, stands apart not merely from science but from the activities and representations associated with elaborated doctrines and theology. Religion in its popular, that is, widespread, forms incorporates assumptions that are more common, materials that are more familiar, and judgments that are more intuitive than is the case with either science or theology" (p. 154).

Religion is guided by a hodgepodge of disconnected MMNs that are being used in an inappropriate manner: "The standard features of religious mentality and conduct are cobbled together from sundry psychological dispositions that develop in human minds on the basis of very different considerations - different both from one another and from anything having to do with the roles they might play in religions" (p. 155).

Mercy thought deals with specific experiences, while Teacher thought handles generalities. (This is how Mercy and Teacher thought are initially programmed in the human mind.) Because religion is guided by MMNs, it focuses upon specific experiences: "The requisite explanations focus on particular incidents, not general classes of events, because agents act in specific circumstances" (p. 170).

The mind uses MMNs to represent people. When a person is seen, the voice of a person is heard, a person is mentioned, or one thinks of a person, then this will trigger the MMN representing that person, which will then predict how that person will respond, and social interaction with that person will be heavily influenced by the internal response of the MMN representing that person. Because so much social interaction is happening internally with the MMN representing a person, it is possible to have social interaction with an inanimate object such as a doll - or with a person who has no physical body. As McCauley says, "In order to make the world readily comprehensible, we are inclined to find in it a human face. But even when there is no face to be found, human beings are still inclined to spot in it the workings of an agent's mind and the consequences of an agent's actions" (p. 183). This happens when interacting with individuals through correspondence or over the telephone, and it also makes it possible to have social interaction with imaginary people such as ghosts: "Because every normal human being is susceptible to such emotionally compelling cognitive misfires, every culture has emerged with collections of either ancestors or angels, demons or devils, ghosts or ghouls, or gods or golems possessing counterintuitive properties" (p. 159).

Notice the distinction between McCauley's explicit analysis and his implicit assumptions. McCauley says that theory of mind leads naturally to a belief in invisible people such as demons, ghosts, and gods, an analysis that is consistent with the theory of mental symmetry. However, McCauley's general theory of science with its demand for empirical evidence causes him to assume that mental networks are misfiring and that such invisible beings do not exist. This an example of the systemic flaw of CSR, which analyzes agents within a context that ignores agents. However, if one starts with a general theory of cognition, then there is no essential difference between visible people and invisible people, because both function the same way cognitively. And as Kant pointed out with his transcendental idealism, everything that a person thinks, says, and does is being filtered by the structure of the mind. Thus, the starting point for all human activity is an implicit theory of cognition, whether this is explicitly recognized or not. (Technical thought has a tendency to respond to Kant's statement by concluding that nothing can be known with certainty. Normal thought, in contrast, can handle this uncertainty because it is able to function with partially-known information. One can then use normal thought to acquire knowledge about facts and sequences with sufficient certainty to enable technical thought.)

Going further, the theory of mental symmetry actually forces a person to treat invisible people and visible people in a similar manner, because the labels Teacher, Exhorter, etc. refer both to the cognitive style of a visible person and to an invisible cognitive module that exists within the mind of every individual. For instance, I am a Perceiver person who is conscious in Perceiver thought. The way that I treat Exhorter thought within my own mind will heavily influence - and be influenced by - the way that I treat people who have the cognitive style of Exhorter. Saying this another way, the functioning of the 'invisible person' of Exhorter thought within my mind is closely related to the functioning of visible Exhorter persons who exist in the external world, and the same theory-of-mind can be used to interact with both of these.

Because religion is based in MMNs and the mind uses MMNs to represent people, religion is filled with concepts of visible and invisible people: "Most prominently, religions proliferate agents. Most popular religion depends upon activating human beings' theory of mind capacities and introducing anywhere from one to hundreds of surplus agents who are ordinarily invisible at least, if not downright impossible to detect by any means... A plethora of invisible agents or only one omnipotent one is an inexhaustible font of explanatory resources. The gods do what they do or fail to do what they fail to do, because they have beliefs, values, interests, preferences, and so on" (p. 170).

The invisible people that populate religion behave just like visible people, suggesting that MMNs are being used to represent both real and imaginary people and that the same MMNs of 'normal human behavior' are being used to evaluate the behavior of both real and imaginary people: "From the standpoint of cognitive processing, ... religious agents' counterintuitive properties notwithstanding, they are, otherwise, perfectly normal agents. They exemplify all of the standard sorts of interests, motivations, and states of mind that we recognize and acknowledge in our fellow human beings" (p. 185).

MMNs reside within concrete thought, which uses Server actions to connect Mercy experiences. This means that MMNs often represent stories, which are series of Mercy events connected by Server actions. When a situation triggers the initial events of a story, then the triggered MMN will impose its structure upon thought and predict that the rest of the story will occur as well: "Narrative activation of theory of mind systems can imbue an utterly improbable chain of events with a plausibility and fascination that human minds not only find engaging but convincing. The probability of a long sequence of events is no more probable than its least probable component... When, however, people are confronted with a story, its general consonance with theory of mind instantly purchases it coherence, memorability, and a measure of plausibility. Stories also invite humans' emotional involvement" (p. 187). "Stories often manage to convey a feeling of inevitability. This is, perhaps, the most compelling testimony about the firmness with which theory of mind grips our organization of experience" (p. 188).


The term 'counterintuitive' needs to be explained because it turns up often in CSR. Facilitator thought acts as a filter that censors extreme information. One can see this in the behavior of the Facilitator person who aims for consensus and tries to avoid extremes. (The thalamus carries out this filtering function within the brain.) This leads to an interaction between Exhorter excitement and Facilitator filtering. Exhorter thought (related to the dopamine circuit) wants novelty and is attracted to mental networks that are unusual and emotionally intense. However, the Facilitator filter will reject as unreasonable anything that deviates too strongly from the norm. Therefore, what tends to be remembered is that which deviates slightly from the norm. As McCauley explains, "The more breaches and transfers a religious representation incorporates, the more attention-grabbing it is likely to be... Experimental evidence hints, however, that even this small boost in attention-grabbing potential comes at a price. Counterintuitive representations that implicate as few as just two violations, instead of only one, prove more difficult to remember" (p. 167).

Facilitator thought functions by mixing and adjusting items in the light of fixed reference points. If mixing and adjusting is not possible, then the Facilitator person will feel trapped and will demand freedom. However, if there are no fixed reference points, then the Facilitator person will feel muddled and will demand stability. Facilitator thought finds stability through one of two main methods. The experimental method uses adjusting to hold all items fixed while varying one item. The consensus method uses mixing to average the opinions of respected individuals. Similarly, a violation of reasonableness will be regarded as minimally counterintuitive if it can be made reasonable by either mixing or adjusting. CSR refers to two similar kinds of counterintuitiveness. A breach violates one property of reasonableness, while a transfer combines the properties of one item with the properties of another.

A transfer includes all of the properties of the MMNs being mixed, because one entire MMN is being mixed with another: "Although any single instance of a transfer, for example, in a religious narrative, will mention only one transferred property explicitly, these violations typically presume the large-scale importation of the associated default expectations... a snake that talks is also a snake that has beliefs, that schemes, and that tempts, which is to say that it is a snake that also thinks and acts and is accorded the status of an intentional agent" (p. 169).

In contrast, a breach will only violate one property, because a breach uses Facilitator thought to adjust one property of an MMN: "Breaches are specific. They violate one principle only. Everything else we know will still hold... So, even though some person may be able to read others' minds, this would not automatically entail that he or she is also capable of remembering every input perfectly" (p. 169). (This distinction between the properties of a transfer and a breach is new to me. Similarly, when I first encountered CSR's concept of minimal counterintuitiveness, this was also a new idea. However, both of these traits are consistent with the behavior of Facilitator thought that I have noticed in other contexts. This provides an example of the research of others adding details to the theory of mental symmetry.)

Looking at Facilitator consensus in more detail, the weight given to each expert's opinion will be determined by the emotional status of the MMN that represents this expert. For instance, the opinions of an expert with a PhD from a major university will be given more weight than those of an expert with merely a Master's degree from a small college. We saw the same kind of processing earlier in the medieval concept of impetus. Mentally speaking, both 'the cannon' and 'the Earth' are represented as MMNs with emotional status, and impetus believes that the path taken by the cannonball is the path of consensus, with the 'expert' of 'the Earth' gaining a greater 'influence' over the cannonball as it leaves the 'influence' of the cannon.

Statistical analysis also appears to be an expression of Facilitator thought, because truth is determined through averaging and outliers are rejected as counterintuitive. However, statistical analysis is a form of Facilitator consensus that has been made more rigorous through the application of technical thought. McCauley points out that statistical analysis uses a form of processing that 'feels wrong' to natural thinking that is guided by MMNs: "Tversky and Kahneman's experimental materials reliably elicit responses from participants that violate the norms of probabilistic reasoning. Tversky and Kahneman stress, however, that even though they know the correct answers to the problems that they pose in their experiments, the incorrect answers still feel right to them" (p. 127).

Returning now to our discussion of minimal counterintuitiveness, religion is based in cognitive mechanisms that are used in many different contexts. Thus, one can find minimally counterintuitive imaginary beings based in MMNs in both religious and non-religious topics: "Modern human minds' maturationally natural dispositions have rendered them susceptible to generating and retaining a variety of representations, beliefs, and practices that presume modestly counterintuitive arrangements. These include representations of fairy godmothers, talking wolves that can plausibly be mistaken for elderly women, and Superman; beliefs in everything from Lassie, Santa Claus, elves, and leprechauns to ancestors, angels, and gods; and practices such as parades, theater, and ritual. These variations appear in everything from folktales, fantasy, and fiction to comic books, commercials, and cartoons" (p. 171).

Mental networks form an emotional hierarchy, with peripheral mental networks acquiring their structure from core mental networks. When a mental network falls apart, then this leads to a form of hyper-pain that is stronger than normal emotion which will override normal emotion. This means that the mind will be emotionally driven to go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of core mental networks. The childish mind is integrated around MMNs. Religion helps to preserve these core MMNs of personal identity and culture: "However practically and intellectually cumbersome and costly the set of solutions they provide may be, religions can assist individual human beings with their problems by furnishing explanations of puzzling events or offering emotional consolation in the face of tragedies or injustices. They may also aid human groups by engendering social support and solidarity" (p. 161).


When some situation triggers a mental network, then that mental network will also take ownership of that situation and the memory of that situation will be added to the mental network, causing that mental network to grow in size and potency. MMNs can be composed either of pleasant experiences or of painful experiences. This leads naturally to the concept of contamination, which has several properties. First, "any contact with a contaminant or a source of contagion is capable of transmitting any characteristic of that source." Thus, becoming mentally attached to an MMN composed of painful experiences means being connected with the entire mental network, because triggering a mental network activates all of that mental network. Because this contamination is occurring mentally, "the source of the hazard need not be perceptible" (p. 178). And items or persons will remain mentally contaminated even if they are externally decontaminated: "Participants across a variety of cultures will continue to reject previously contaminated items, even when they know that they have subsequently been purified. They will not drink, for example, from a glass that has come in contact with a cockroach, even though it has subsequently been cleaned and disinfected" (p. 178).

A sensitivity to contamination emerges when a child enters Piaget's preoperational stage with its dominant MMNs: "Children younger than three years appear to be utterly oblivious to these concerns about contaminants. Children between the ages of three and ten show increasingly greater sensitivity to questions of contagion, contamination, and the possibilities for purification, and by ten years of age, the principles previously described seem to be firmly in place" (p. 179).

Religious feelings of holiness are also guided internally by the functioning of MMNs. This is a general cognitive mechanism that naturally expresses itself whenever dealing with MMNs that possess strong emotions: "The activation of contamination management systems instantly bestows on religious participants a virtual instruction manual about how to conduct themselves around sacred spaces and objects. (Religions are not the only systems that take advantage of these cognitive resources. The state frequently exploits such dispositions as well. People had just as good an idea about how to conduct themselves in Lenin's mausoleum as they have about how to conduct themselves in their religions' holy places.)" (p. 179).

Contamination connects the MMNs of personal identity with MMNs composed of unpleasant or unwanted experiences. Sacrilege connects MMNs of personal identity with MMNs representing special or holy experiences. Contamination pollutes a person by connecting MMNs of personal identity with bad MMNs, while sacrilege pollutes a holy item by connecting MMNs of personal identity with MMNs that are regarded as special and different: "Religious arrangements usually invert the orientation of the contamination management systems. The danger is not that these special places or objects will contaminate participants, but, instead, that the participants or the mundane world will contaminate these sacred spaces and objects!" (p. 181).

It is possible for a person to interact with a holy item without contaminating it if that person is also regarded as holy. Such a person will often reside in areas and use objects that are represented by MMNs which are regarded as separate and special: "Priests and other religious officials are set apart from everyone else on the basis of their peculiar ritual histories... They often reside in special quarters removed from the everyday world... Only priests and other religiously stipulated persons can traverse these duly demarcated areas and handle these special objects without danger" (p. 182).

Looking at this further from the perspective of mental symmetry, I suggest that there are two ways of generating a concept of holiness. The way that was just examined ascribes especial emotional significance to specific MMNs and then build walls that prevent these MMNs from 'being contaminated' by the MMNs of normal life. This type of holy person or item will tend to be different, exotic, separate, special, and intricate. The other way of generating a feeling of holiness is through the use of Platonic forms, discussed earlier. A Platonic form is 'holier' than any real object because it is a Teacher-driven idealization that summarizes the essential characteristics of a group of real objects. (For instance, the mental concept of a circle is more perfect and more simple than any real circle.) Because a Platonic form is invisible, it can be represented by a physical object that is like this archtype. For instance, one often hears in wedding ceremonies of a gold ring being a symbol of marriage because it is pure, 'has no end', and represents the Platonic form of an ideal circle. This type of holiness will be simple, pure, and based upon similarity rather than difference.

McCauley says that "People construe negative contagious effects as more potent than positive ones. The most deleterious effects of contaminants carry a finality whose import for survival and reproduction no naturally occurring beneficial substances can match" (p.182). I suggest that this is because growing up in a physical body leads naturally to a childish mind that is driven by fragmented MMNs to seek short-term benefits, which means that most childish MMNs motivate behavior that leads to painful results in the long term.

Going the other way, McCauley interprets religious promises regarding eternal life as personal identity being religiously contaminated by a divinely potent MMN: "The counterintuitive variation these religions introduce is the possibility of a positive contagious effect, arising on the basis of securing proper contacts with the divine, which is every bit as potent as the most negative contagious effects that threaten us in the natural world. Eternal life, acquired by means of the positive contagious effects of contact with the gods (or the gods' duly authorized representatives), is a proper antidote to the finality of death" (p. 182).

I strongly suspect that most religious people view eternal life in this sort of Mercy-based manner. However, a different interpretation emerges if one adds the concept of TMNs. A patient may view a medical doctor as a person with great status in Mercy thought and may feel that 'visiting a doctor' will 'remove the contamination of sickness'. A medical doctor is often able to remove sickness, but that is because a medical doctor has acquired the TMN of a general understanding of how the human body functions, and submitting to the TMNs of medical understanding and medical procedure will bring health back to the body. Similarly, the average individual may view technological gadgets from a Mercy perspective as objects that possess the Mercy holiness of 'technological goodness'. However, technological gadgets are special because they are concrete examples of the TMN of scientific understanding. In other words, they exhibit great Teacher order-within-complexity.

This means that the two kinds of holiness behave in different ways. Holiness based in distinct MMNs is subject to sacrilege and can only be maintained by separating holy MMNs from normal MMNs with physical and mental walls. In contrast, holiness based in Platonic forms can handle the interaction with normal existence without becoming corrupted. One sees this in the Platonic forms of science. Repeating an earlier quote, "Scientific speculations depict idealized worlds (of frictionless planes, classical genes, and rational consumers), which enable us to make some sense of how the world appears. They regularly use such unusual theoretical notions to explain common phenomena" (p.100). Notice how the Platonic forms used by science survive intact even though they are continually coming into contact mentally with the MMNs of real life. That is because a Platonic form is cognitively backed up by the TMN of a general understanding. Moving on, contamination is more common than holiness when the mind contains fragmented MMNs because most MMNs will be formed by painful consequences that result from pursuing short-term pleasure. In contrast, most Platonic forms are better than the MMNs of real life because Teacher thought looks for the purified, idealized essence of real situations. And as we saw in the previous paragraph, the goodness of Platonic forms is backed up by a general Teacher understanding of how things work. Saying this more simply, when holiness based in isolated MMNs comes into contact with the MMNs of normal existence, then holiness will become sacrileged. However, when holiness based in Platonic forms comes into contact with the MMNs of normal existence, then normal existence will become more holy. Thus, McCauley's speculation regarding holiness and eternal life becomes cognitively valid when holiness is based in Platonic forms.

Gender, Religion, and Autism

McCauley makes some interesting statements regarding the connection between gender, religion, and autism. Mental symmetry suggests that the female mind tends to emphasize the two emotional modules of Teacher thought and Mercy thought, while the male mind naturally emphasizes the two confidence modules of Perceiver thought and Server thought. Saying this another way, female thought emphasizes mental networks while male thought emphasizes technical thought. (Female thought can use technical thought and male thought can use mental networks, but these will not be naturally emphasized. This cognitive emphasis is also distinct from cognitive style, which describes the cognitive module in which a person is conscious.) Relating this to autism, McCauley says that: "Autistic spectrum disorders might be described as involving a hypermale mind, because males, on average, give evidence of higher levels of systemizing than females on everything from differences between infants' comparative looking times at videos of faces as opposed to looking times at videos of cars, to differences in adults' performances on standardized tests of systemizing" (p. 265). In contrast, "A variety of measures, including standardized tests of empathizing, indicate that females, on average, show higher levels of empathy than males" (p. 265). Empathy is related to Mercy thought and MMNs, because social interaction is triggering MMNs within the mind of the empathizer and these triggered MMNs generate internal emotions that predict what the other person is feeling. Stated simply, "I know what you are feeling, because I have gone through a similar situation." Systemizing arranges items into categories (using Perceiver thought) and sequences (using Server thought). McCauley is saying that the male mind tends to use Perceiver and Server thought, while the female mind tends to emphasize MMNs. I would add to this the suggestion that the female mind also tends to emphasize TMNs, because the male mind tends to specialize while the female mind naturally thinks in a more global, holistic manner. (This paper found that women tend to do less specialized research than men.) McCauley's suggestion that the autistic mind is hyper-male also make sense. Using the language of mental symmetry, I would suggest that the autistic mind strongly prefers the limited, controlled world of technical thought (which is based upon a limited set of clearly defined Perceiver facts and Server sequences) and finds it very difficult to work with mental networks.

Turning now to religion, McCauley says that "Regardless of the stage of life in question and, in nearly all cases, regardless of the kind of religious system and accordant beliefs at stake, women express interest in religion, affirm personal religious commitment, attend religious services, read religious materials, and pray more frequently than men. Sociological studies have turned up such results for nearly a century, and such outcomes arise so regularly that virtually every quantitative study of religiosity controls for sex" (p. 266). McCauley suggests that this is because the female mind naturally uses MMNs (expressed as empathy and theory of mind) and religion is based upon MMNs. I would agree. In addition, autistic individuals appear to be less religious. One study "compared a sample of autistic adolescents with a matched control group and found significantly lower belief in God in the autistic group. In another study they found an inverse link between the autism spectrum and belief in God in a broad national sample of American adults" (p. 263).

Paul Dirac was a world-famous physicist who most likely had some form of autism. As we shall see later, he was vehemently opposed to any concept of God based in MMNs of culture and invisible agents. However, his extensive technical work in physics eventually led him to the concept of 'God as a mathematician'-a concept of deity based in a TMN of general understanding. Thus, autism may lead a person away from religion but can also lead through a back door route to a concept of God.


Moving on, McCauley discusses some of the features of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. Glossolalia sounds like an actual language: "Describing an informal test he ran with colleagues, Samarin states that, upon first hearing him read a transcript of glossolalia, even professional linguists initially presumed that it was language. Some Malayo-Polynesian language, they suspected" (p. 176). It uses a limited set of verbal sounds that are part of a speaker's native language: "Glossolalia and xenoglossia manifested only a subset of the phonemes of their native languages. In their production of these utterances, Samarin comments that his participants seem to do 'what comes naturally'" (p. 174). "Although fluent glossolalia is not necessarily transparently formulaic on these fronts, it is a good deal more repetitious than most ordinary language" (p. 175). My hypothesis is that glossolalia uses MMNs to move through mental structures that have been laid down by learning a language. In other words, it uses Mercy thought to express Teacher data.

A similar combination can be seen in marketing-speak or techno-babble. For instance, consider the following techno-babble by Wil Wheaton: "It was like I'd detected anomalies in the starboard neutrino emitter, and instead of adjusting the warp plasma induction subroutine to compensate for multiadaptive fluctuations, like you'd usually do, I thought about it, and equalized the portable phase transmission with a self-sealing warp core transmuter." This sounds like scientific language, but it only uses some scientific words and it has no real meaning. It is basically speaking in tongues. However, a similar mental transition occurs when moving from science to technology. Science uses rational thought to construct a general understanding of the natural world within Teacher thought. Technology then uses MMNs to move through the mental structure that has been constructed using Teacher thought. In other words, glossolalia, marketing-speak, techno-babble, and applied science all use Mercy thought to move through information that was constructed using Teacher thought. The difference between these lies in the quality of the Teacher thought. If Teacher thought is limited to the sounds of speech, then the result will be glossolalia. If Teacher thought is limited to the words of some technical field, then the result will be marketing-speak or techno-babble. However, if Teacher thought possesses a genuine understanding, then the result will be technology. Thus, glossolalia may be using a cognitive mechanism in a limited way, but it is possible to use that same cognitive mechanism in a more competent manner. And if the 'speaking in tongues' of techno-babble and marketing-speak can be given substance by science and technology, then one can hypothesize that something 'out there' might also be capable of giving substance to speaking in tongues.

Religious Ritual

We saw the relationship between abstract Contributor thought and TMNs when looking at science. When words acquire precise definitions, then this enables Contributor-controlled abstract technical thought, which uses logical rules to work within a general theory and improve this general theory. A similar interaction occurs between concrete Contributor thought and MMNs, which shows up in religious ritual. Concrete Contributor thought emerges when there are specific connections between cause and effect, and Contributor-controlled technical thought will use plans to improve the MMNs of identity and culture. (This is because Contributor combines Perceiver and Server. In concrete thought, Perceiver thought organizes Mercy experiences into objects and facts, while Server thought performs actions that lead from one Mercy experience from another. Cause-and-effect is a Perceiver fact that contains a Server action, because Perceiver thought notices that Mercy experiences are repeatably connected by a Server sequence that leads from cause to effect.) Abstract technical thought uses a limited set of carefully defined terms and permitted sequences. Likewise, concrete technical thought uses a limited set of carefully defined rules and permitted actions within a restricted playing field. One sees this, for instance, in games and business. In the same way that using abstract technical thought to work with a general theory will cause that theory to turn into a TMN which emotionally traps the researcher within that theory, so using concrete technical thought to improve some concrete bottom line will cause that bottom line to turn into an MMN which will emotionally trap the businessman (or athlete, etc.) into continuing to seek that bottom line. For instance, the Contributor person who continues to play football will turn into a professional football player who is emotionally driven to send a ball from one location to another in the most efficient manner. (A concept of incarnation will naturally emerge when these two sides of Contributor thought are mentally integrated. This is discussed in Chapter 8 of Natural Cognitive Theology.)

One can see the characteristics of concrete technical thought in McCauley's description of religious ritual. Like concrete technical thought, religious ritual carries out specific Server actions in order to achieve specific goals in Mercy thought: "In religious rituals humans move their heads, limbs, and bodies in coordinated ways or they move around in the kinds of paths that suggest that their movements are both goal directed and intentional" (p. 190).

Religious ritual often requires performing a limited set of actions in a technically precise manner in a restricted playing field: "These range from the fact that they must be carried out just right each and every time, to the fact that they require concentration at each point on the particular components of the action at hand, to their focus on a comparatively small set of recurrent themes, having to do with such things as managing problems of contamination (hence, all of that cleaning and washing) and creating and maintaining order and boundaries, both physical and social" (p. 190).

I have suggested that technical thought emerges when a limited set of Perceiver and Server memories is known with sufficient certainty. Note that nothing has been said about how this Perceiver and Server information was acquired. Science acquires its Perceiver facts from empirical evidence and its Server sequences through physical movement. But it is possible to use technical thought with any collection of Perceiver facts and Server sequences as long as these are known with sufficient certainty and defined with sufficient care. On the abstract side, theologians can take some collection of irrational beliefs, define them precisely, and then perform logical analysis upon this set of precisely-defined irrational beliefs. Similarly, on the concrete side, priests can start with some collection of childish MMNs and then use technical thought to work out a precise collection of rituals that make it possible to maneuver within this collection of childish MMNs. We will look at religious ritual now and examine theology in a few pages.

A technical collection of precisely-defined rituals will seem inexplicable to those who do not share the underlying MMNs: "Unlike their everyday actions, the ritual actions religious participants undertake also have no transparent instrumental aim. Why, for example, must some person be cleaned, when it is clear that they have already gone to great lengths to cleanse themselves and are adorned in their finest clothing? Why must people be kneeling when they drink from a cup? Why must initiates be put through all sorts of excruciating tortures? The repetitions with which religious rituals are replete only magnify their lack of instrumentality. Why must pilgrims climb a mountain seven times? Why must a priest walk around an altar three times instead of only once, especially since no matter how many times he does so he ends up where he started?" (p.191). Notice how these religious rituals make no sense to the researcher who uses concrete technical thought to reach physical goals. That is because religious ritual is designed to move from one internal location to another, with internal locations defined by MMNs. When a priest walks three times around an altar, then this unusual action performed by an unusual person at an unusual location will mentally convince the mind that an internal movement has been made from one MMN to another. Repeating an action such as walking around an altar adds confidence to Server thought, allowing the mind to know with greater certainty that internal movement has occurred. Sacrilege brings a holy MMN directly into contact with secular MMNs, leading to the contamination of the holy MMN. Ritual, in contrast, makes it possible to move internally between secular and holy MMNs without committing sacrilege. (I had not thought about this aspect of religious ritual until now. So I have McCauley to thank for this idea.)

Looking at McCauley's other points, we have already seen that the MMNs that represent priests will feel more holy if these priests wear special fancy clothing that is not normally worn. People kneel in order to indicate that the MMNs of personal status are subservient to holy MMNs (because mental networks form an emotional hierarchy). Finally, initiates are put through torture because MMNs represent people, and MMNs can only be transformed if they are torn apart and then reassembled in a different way. When a MMN of personal identity is torn apart, this feels internally like torture. And if a spiritual realm exists that is different than physical reality, and if childish MMNs are acquired by interacting with physical reality, then acquiring the ability to interact with a non-physical realm would require tearing apart, at least to some extent, childish MMNs.

We have seen that religious ritual can lead to a change in internal location, in which the MMN of personal identity mentally moves from one MMN to another. This movement can be seen in religious rituals, such as baptism, conversion, and marriage that lead to a lasting change in personal status. McCauley refers to these as core rituals: "Core religious rituals, unlike other religious acts and ritualized behaviors, bring about recognized changes in the religious world (temporary changes in some cases, permanent ones in others). This is by virtue of the fact that these rituals involve transactions with CI-agents" (p.194). (CI-agent means a counterintuitive MMN representing some imaginary person.)

Core religious rituals lead to permanent changes, they are usually done only once per lifetime, and God is one of the agents: "In rituals in which representations of these CI-agents arise first in connection with the agent-slot (for example, in Christian baptism, where the priest as intermediary baptizes the ritual patient), the ritual in question will normally be performed on each individual patient only once. These are what Lawson and I have dubbed 'special agent rituals.' After all, when the gods do something - even through their intermediaries - it is done once and for all. The gods do not have to do things to the same patient over and over" (p.196). McCauley suggests that the permanence of such changes is due to the presence of numerous emotional MMNs in such ceremonies: "If, however, the event produces emotional or cognitive arousal, and the individual is a direct participant in the event, and the individual has occasions to rehearse the event in memory or to describe the event to others, and community members acknowledge the event's import for the individual and for the community as a whole by categorizing and treating the individual differently, then the event is likely to stand as a prominent benchmark in that individual's life story" (p. 199). For instance, a marriage ceremony moves a person from the state of being single to the state of being married. This is not a physical movement because nothing changes externally. However, it is a major internal move because a married couple is guided by a completely new set of cultural MMNs. The permanence of this internal movement can be reinforced by MMNs of pageantry and celebration performed in the presence of many people from the local culture who will now apply different MMNs of approval and disapproval to the married couple.

All of these factors probably come into play. However, I suggest that there is an additional more fundamental factor that is related to Teacher thought. As we shall see later, my general thesis is that a concept of God (with a capital 'G' as opposed to McCauley's gods written with a small 'g') emerges when a sufficiently general theory turns into a TMN and applies to personal identity. Humans are finite creatures who are represented by MMNs. As was pointed out earlier, the actions of finite people only have local effects. In contrast, when a concept of God that is based in a TMN acts, then this will produce a universal cognitive change. Using mathematical language (and physics uses mathematics to describe general Teacher theories), a person moves from the domain of one general theory to the domain of another. For instance, the movement may be from the domain of being single with all of its implications to the domain of being married with all of its implications. In a situation such as getting married or becoming a member of a religion, the general Teacher theory does not change, but one is performing Teacher movement by moving from one major aspect of the general theory to another.

The general Teacher theory itself 'moves' when there is a regime change. One saw this illustrated by the fall of communism, in which one entire system of laws was replaced by another system. The religious equivalent of a regime change is a new covenant, in which God interacts with humans in a new general manner. For instance, Christianity sees the transition from Judaism to Christianity as the institution of a 'New Testament' or new covenant. This can be viewed from a purely cognitive perspective as an internal movement that replaces one general Teacher theory with another. However, it is theoretically possible that this cognitive movement is also accompanied by some actual 'spiritual' shift. The point is that it can be analyzed cognitively, but it requires the concept of a TMN to do so. The idea of a new covenant can be extended to include the concept of apocalypse and rebirth. (The word 'apocalypse' means unveiling.) The idea here is that the unveiling of the new Teacher theory is sufficiently universal to provoke a fundamental change in the MMNs of culture and identity. In the extreme, this would involve a change in natural law, or in religious terms, the creation of a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1). Obviously, this would extend beyond the purely cognitive, but the effects would still be similar to that produced by a purely cognitive change.

McCauley explains the universal change produced by a core religious ritual in terms of a 'flashbulb memory': "Flashbulb memories have conventionally been understood as those that people possess about where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with when they learned of some surprising news of considerable social import. The best known are memories of when people learned about such events as the bombing of Pearl Harbor... Generally, people report having especially vivid and reliable memories associated with hearing the news about such events in comparison, say, with their memories of the day before each one of these events occurred" (p. 199).

McCauley implies that a flashbulb memory can be formed either by an intensely emotional experience or by a sufficiently universal change. The sufficiently universal change is seen in the following quote: "Neisser and his colleagues' findings, in effect, demonstrated that emotional arousal was not necessary for such flashbulb memories, since some of their participants in California were outdoors when the principal shock occurred, were not in any danger, and reported that they felt no particular emotional arousal... What they and all of the other participants in California did experience, though, was a sense of the earthquake's significance for their communities, as news about its impact emerged over the next day... In addition to viewing dozens of damaged areas over the subsequent days and weeks, area residents had also learned about the collapse of the Nimitz Freeway and of a section of the Oakland Bay Bridge, which would take a long time to repair. Thus, they had persisting reminders that they had, themselves, participated in an event of considerable consequence" (p. 200). When a society is not large enough to generate universal changes that affect Teacher thought, or when a society is not guided by the abstract thinking of Teacher thought, then the only alternative is to create MMNs using intensely emotional experiences: "This general pattern also offers some insight about why initiations, especially in many nonliterate, small-scale societies, frequently involve deprivations or torture!" In this case, the MMNs of personal identity are being blasted with sufficiently intense emotional experiences to force them to change, leading to a lasting impact upon personal identity.

The idea that core religious rituals involve movement within Teacher thought is consistent with Macauley's statement that core religious rituals are either associated with abstract doctrine or will lead to abstract thinking if this doctrine is not present: "Memories associated with special agent rituals are regularly infused with an elaborate conceptual overlay. Doctrinal religious systems furnish participants with well-codified interpretations of what has been achieved. By contrast, the religious systems of traditional, small-scale societies, especially prior to the introduction of literacy, offer participants little explicit direction about what they should make of such rites. Whitehouse terms the latter 'imagistic' arrangements and proposes that such rituals remain objects of ongoing wonder and speculation for participants, occasioning what he calls 'spontaneous exegetical reflection'" (p. 203).

Core religious rituals are performed once and lead to permanent changes in personal status. There are also religious rituals that are repeated many times in a habitual manner. McCauley describes these repeated rituals: "Christians may bless themselves repeatedly in the course of a day or partake of the Eucharist regularly, even though they are typically baptized only once. Special instrument and special patient rituals are the ones that participants perform so frequently that performance of these rituals feels habitual" (p. 201). A core religious ritual changes a person's status in a permanent manner. A repeated ritual internally reconnects the MMNs of personal identity with religious MMNs: "These are rituals, such as sacrifices, where humans do things to or for the gods (or ancestors, saints, or so on), customarily for the purpose of influencing their states of mind and, consequently, of increasing the probabilities that they will conduct themselves benignly. But, in the case of special instrument rituals, since humans' failures are unending, they are always in need of further help. Another blessing never hurts" (p. 201). This type of ritual is required when religion is associated with MMNs. That is because living in the physical world fills Mercy thought with one set of MMNs while religious activity is associated with a different set of MMNs. Thus, living in the physical world implies turning one's back upon god (small 'g') while calling on a god means performing some technical ritual to reconnect mentally with the MMNs of religion.

When a TMN of general understanding leads to the concept of a God (capital 'G'), then the idea of reconnecting with God becomes intellectually absurd. How can one reconnect with a being who is present everywhere? However, there still is a reconnecting with God in the sense that one can get so caught up in the MMNs of finite human existence that one forgets that everything is held together by the TMN of a general understanding. The idea of reconnecting with God becomes truly absurd when there is an apocalypse and rebirth, because one is then continually conscious of existing within the framework of a universal Teacher understanding, similar to the way that science is now impossible to ignore because of the manner in which we are literally surrounded by science-driven technology.

One sees this ubiquitous presence of God being described in the biblical passage that talks about the new heaven and new earth: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them'" (Rev. 21: 1-3 NASB). When this is the case, then there is no longer any need for temples with their repeated religious rituals to mentally reconnect the MMNs of personal identity with a concept of God: "I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Rev. 21: 22-23).

McCauley says that most religious rituals fall into these two categories: "The first region captures our notion that rituals are routine actions that are performed so frequently that participants are often said to carry them out 'mindlessly.' ... On the other hand, we also think of religious rituals as highly stimulating events that mark some of the most important and most memorable moments of our lives" (p. 203).

Summarizing these last few pages, McCauley's observations regarding natural religion can be explained by the concept of MMNs combined with concrete technical thought. However, in order to explain these observations fully, it is necessary to add the concept of TMNs. CSR recognizes the existence of MMNs with its 'agency detector device', but it does not recognize that the mind also contains a 'theory detection device' which is driving theologians and scientists (such as researchers in CSR) to come up with general theories to explain situations.

While the data that McCauley presents can be explained using the theory of mental symmetry, it is possible to put different interpretations upon this data. McCauley appears to conclude that religion is probably mistaken but cognitively inevitable. In contrast, my general thesis is that religion is a natural expression of childish MMNs and that religion is mistaken because childish MMNs cause a person to deal in an inadequate manner with physical reality, personal identity, and social interaction. McCauley would probably suggest that there is no alternative to religion, whereas I suggest (and present the thesis in Natural Cognitive Theology) that there is a natural theology that is based in cognition which can provide an adequate framework for both religious and scientific thought. Similarly, McCauley would probably conclude that there is nothing behind religion, whereas my hypothesis is that an external 'spiritual realm' exists that functions in a manner that is similar to the way that mental networks function.

This illustrates the effect that a TMN has upon rational thought, which was discussed earlier when looking at confirmation bias. At the level of Perceiver facts, the empirical evidence that McCauley presents is consistent with the facts that are used by mental symmetry. However, at the level of Teacher theory, McCauley assembles these bricks into a theoretical structure that is different than the theory of mental symmetry. Science insists that general theories must be based upon empirical data. But what does one do when the same empirical data can be explained by different general theories? One is now dealing with a cognitive problem because Teacher thought is placing the same Perceiver facts about the external world into a different internal theoretical structure. And one cannot avoid this problem by separating empirical facts from general theories, because there is no such thing as a fact apart from a theory. As McCauley says, "evidence is always evidence relative-to-a-theory" (p. 134).

When this is the case, then one way of comparing general theories is by seeing which theory is more general than the other. If one theory can explain the other theory, then the more general theory becomes a superset of the more specific theory, and the more specific theory will then have to adjust itself to fit within the more general theory. McCauley describes this theoretical adjusting: "Given enough time and enough theological ingenuity, there is no particular scientific claim that theologians and, therefore, doctrinal religions cannot accommodate... After a time, theologians have devised intellectual means for tolerating even the most revolutionary scientific claims" (p. 250). Notice how science is the more general theory that is coming up with revolutionary claims, while theology takes on the role of the more specific theory that adjusts itself to fit within the more general theory of science. Similarly, I have noticed a strong drive among scientifically-trained Christian academics to adjust their theology (and teach others to adjust their theology) so that it is consistent with the current consensus of science. However, when it comes to the theory of mental symmetry, then it appears that the shoe is on the other foot because the findings of CSR (including McCauley's observations about scientific thought) appear to be a subset of mental symmetry. In addition, mental symmetry includes neurology, which CSR ignores, it is capable of explaining theological content, which CSR belittles, and it is based in extensive observation of human personality.

Theological Incorrectness

I suggest that a mental concept of God (with a capital 'G') emerges when a sufficiently general Teacher theory applies to personal identity, and that a concept of God acquires emotional power and acts in an agent-like fashion when this general Teacher theory turns into a TMN. I say agent-like because both MMNs and TMNs are mental networks that behave like living beings, but we have just seen that when a TMN 'acts', then there are universal repercussions, whereas the action of an MMN has only a local, finite impact. A general Teacher theory will only be viewed in personal terms if that general theory applies to personal identity. That is because a TMN motivates a person to belittle or ignore that which the general theory cannot explain. (We saw this when looking at the behavior of the scientist.) Therefore, if a general theory is objective and avoids the idea of agents, as is the case with the theories of science, then a conflict will emerge between the content of the general theory and the cognitive behavior of a TMN. On the one hand, an objective theory will explicitly deny the idea of a universal agent, while on the other hand, the TMN supporting the general theory will implicitly act like a universal agent. One can see this struggle in the manner in which science typically refers to Nature (with a capital 'N'). On the one hand, Nature is never referred to explicitly as God. On the other hand, Nature is continually described using attributes that can only refer to a universal being with powers and influence that extend far beyond the finite abilities of any human or even superhuman individual.

One can see the contrast between the concept of gods based in MMNs and the concept of a God rooted in a TMN in two famous quotes by the physicist Paul Dirac, referred to briefly earlier. In the first quote, Dirac questions the need to explain natural events using the MMNs of counterintuitive agents: "If we are honest - and scientists have to be - we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can't for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet." Notice how Dirac says that primitive man used MMNs to explain the natural world, while modern man can use the TMN of rational understanding. Dirac adds that religion leads to inequalities between the MMNs of personal identity, it causes some individuals and groups to impose their MMNs upon other individuals, and it is an effective way of suppressing the MMNs of the lower classes.

Later in life, Dirac made a different statement regarding God: "It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better." Notice that the TMN of a rational scientific understanding of the physical universe has caused a concept of God (capital 'G') to form within the mind of Dirac.

This throws a different light upon McCauley's statements regarding science and agency. McCauley says that "One way of characterizing the history of science is as a process that has, over time, steadily restricted the domains in which appeals to agent causality (of any sort) are any longer deemed legitimate, at least for the purposes of scientific explanation" (p.117). This is an accurate statement if one equates agents with MMNs. However, we have seen that science is guided by the TMNs of general understanding, and that a TMN is agent-like. However it is a different kind of agent that lives in words, works with general theories, and produces universal movement. One can see this concept of a universal agent when scientists talk about 'Nature'. McCauley only describes Nature-as-a-universal-agent once: "Nature does not groom human minds for carrying out the disciplined criticism of theories that is the obligation of science" (p. 119). However, an earlier book on CSR by another researcher uses the word 'design' to describe the 'work' of evolution almost 50 times. Similarly, Hanke observed in a 2002 book that "Bizarrely, evolutionists lead the world in substituting teleology for objectivity. How so? One major reason is the manner in which natural selection slipped seamlessly into the place of the Creator: the Natural Selector as the acceptable new face of the Great Designer." Notice that the kind of agent being described here is a Teacher-like agent who improves the order-within-complexity of the biological and physical universe in a universal manner that vastly exceeds the abilities, awareness, duration, and power of any finite individual represented by some MMN.

Most scientists would explicitly deny a belief in any sort of universal divine-like agent. However, one of the most famous series of experiments in CSR was carried out by Barrett and Keil, which compared an explicit concept of God with an implicit concept of gods. Subjects explicitly stated that they believed in a theologically correct universal concept of God. However, "What Barrett and Keil found was that in the online memory task participants recalled the passages in a manner that was inconsistent with their theologically correct, consciously available, religious representations. Instead, their memories of the passages squared with their maturationally natural conceptions of agents. So, for example, in this case, participants recalled the passage in a way that indicated that the short delay between the boy's prayer and God's response was either because God (rather more like Superman) required some time to relocate, however fast he might be able to do it, in order to deal with the boy's plight or because God, even if omnipresent, had to finish answering another prayer before attending to the boy" (p. 217). In other words, religious believers may explicitly talk about a concept of God that is consistent with the TMN of a universal understanding, but they will implicitly believe that God is actually a god based in an MMN representing some finite, Superman-like, invisible being.

Barrett and Keil's experiment compared an implicit concept of gods based in MMNs with the explicit description of a universal God that is compatible with Teacher thought. As McCauley points out, the TMNs of scientific understanding can be overruled by the MMNs that were acquired in childhood: "Learning scientific models and principles that correct maturationally natural systems' deliverances about the world does not seem to undo those deliverances. Maturationally natural cognitive systems of the most diverse sorts not only substantially resist cognitive penetration, but they regularly reassert themselves, even in the face of scientific training that contradicts them" (p.129). However, the fact still remains that something is motivating the scientist, the mathematician, and the theologian; something is causing these individuals to come up with the concept of a universal order-generating agent; and something is causing these individuals to typically respond in an emotional fashion when the topic of such a universal agent is raised. I suggest that that something is a TMN. The TMNs of scientific understanding may be insufficient to completely overrule the MMNs of childish identity (largely because science has historically made a policy of ignoring these MMNs), but they are sufficient to lead at least implicitly to the fairly robust mental concept of a universal agent, as expressed by the 'actions' of either Nature or evolution. The point is that a scientist's explicit statements regarding the non-existence of a TMN-based universal agent carry less weight than a scientist's implicit statements that act as if such a universal agent exists.

And this implicit concept of a universal agent continues to persist despite scientists doing their best to eliminate this concept. Notice the strong language used in the following quote (which directly precedes the quote made earlier): "It is no longer acceptable to think of biological objects as having any purpose because the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion is that they were not designed and built by a Creator (a mental construct necessary to inject a human sense of purpose into existence) with purposes in mind for them. Instead, we believe (I will put that as strongly as I can) they are products of Darwinian evolution. Now this ought to mean that we can turn with some relief to the scientists who study the mechanism of evolution for an alternative, new way of thinking rigorously about biology that does not fall back on subjective modes of thinking. Er . . . not so. Bizarrely, evolutionists..." As Barrett and Keil's experiments show, when one is dealing with an implicit mental concept of deity that re-emerges despite one's best explicit efforts to eliminate this concept, then one is dealing with a cognitive mechanism.

Science and Theology

We saw the role that abstract technical thought plays in science. McCauley says that the same kind of technical thinking can be found in theology: "In the course of refining religious formulations to increase their consistency and coherence, theologians avail themselves of many of the same tools that scientists use. Typically, theologians are experts at conceptual analysis and at carrying out the same forms of deductive inference that play such a noteworthy role in science" (p. 153).

The technical thought that is used by theology is similar to the technical thought used by science: "Theology, like science, is done most readily, most thoroughly, and most memorably when it is a literate endeavor. We, quite literally, have few, if any, traces of any theology in nonliterate cultures. The literature theologians produce, like the literature of science, is theoretical, polemical, analytical, and synthetic. Just like science, theology does not rely on narrative" (p. 212). Summarizing, both use words which are building blocks for Teacher thought, both use Teacher thought to produce general theories, both give stability to Teacher words by adding the Server sequences of writing, both avoid the narratives of concrete thought, and both use logical reasoning to make statements regarding truth and error. In brief, both use abstract technical thought.

The technical thinking practiced by both theology and science requires extensive training, because it uses mental circuits that do not naturally develop in the childish mind: "Theology is one of the few academic undertakings that can result in formulations that are very nearly as distant from and as obscure to humans' common understandings of the world as the most esoteric theoretical proposals of science are. As a characteristically literate undertaking, theology too requires the mastery of a host of intellectual skills. Fully qualified participants in theological disputes depend on formal credentialing, just as scientists do. In its most august versions, theology, like science, requires extensive education in programs and institutions specially dedicated to such forms of study" (p. 212).

Both science and theology use abstract technical thought to come up with conclusions that make no sense to the MMNs of the childish mind: "No one has ever really understood quantum mechanics. The same might well be said about all of the most famous doctrinal conundrums of Christianity (or any other doctrinal religion), such as those proffered for resolving the Christological and Trinitarian controversies of the early Church" (p. 153).

We now come to the differences between science and theology. Science is guided by the TMN of a general understanding. As a result, it is able to break free from the assumptions imposed by childish MMNs and come up with theories that are truly original. In contrast, theology stretches forward from the MMNs of religion. Even though theology uses abstract thought, the ultimate basis for theology is still religion with its childish MMNs: "Theology, like Lot's wife, cannot avoid the persistent temptation to look back - to look back to popular religious forms. By contrast, the radically counterintuitive commitments at which the sciences inevitably seem to arrive commonly produce unbridgeable gaps with the intuitive assumptions underlying our commonsense explanations. The sciences fairly quickly get to a point where they can no longer look back to our maturationally natural predilections for inspiration. Theology is largely devoted to making sense of and bringing some logical order to the claims of popular religion" (p.228).

Science with its TMNs of general understanding is able to transform the physical world, and it is popular primarily because it has been so successful at using technology to go beyond the existing MMNs of personal identity and culture: "The practical benefits of the technologies for which modern science is responsible play an undeniable role in what cultural prestige science enjoys. This is particularly true with respect to the biomedical sciences. This is not just a point about popular views of science. Science's epistemic standing rests in large part on the fact that the natural sciences regularly enable us to do things that once seemed, if not impossible, then at least hardly possible" (p. 99).

The transformations produced by science challenge the MMNs of culture and status: "As scientists have invented innovative means for studying more and more of the ways that the world works, their researches inevitably clash with an increasingly wider array of common practices... deeply rooted beliefs... and profitable business interests" (p.280).

Summarizing this in diagrammatic form, science follows the path: childish MMNs -> TMN of new understanding -> transformed MMNs of society and medicine. This was described earlier as the path of personal transformation. In contrast, theology follows the path: childish religious MMNs -> understanding held together by childish MMNs of personal authority and culture -> cannot go further.

We saw earlier that technical thought starts with a limited set of carefully defined Perceiver facts and Server sequences that is acquired from other sources. Science and theology both use abstract technical thought. However, theology and science acquire their Perceiver facts and Server sequences in a different manner. Science acquires its Perceiver facts from empirical evidence and its Server sequences from physical action. Theology, in contrast, acquires most of its content from holy books. This combination of technical thought, words, books, and personal authority can be seen in the following quote: "Doctrinal religious systems undertake the explicit codification, logical organization, and systematic formulation of religious ideas. Literacy may not be strictly necessary for such developments, but no doctrinal religious systems exist in nonliterate cultures that have not had contact with doctrinal systems from literate cultures (most often, missionary Christianity). Intellectually, doctrinal religions rely on offline, theological reflection. Socially and politically, they rely on ecclesiastical leaders and institutions to inculcate and enforce doctrine" (p. 238). Religion that is based in holy books is different and more recent than popular religion with its MMNs: "'Religions of the book' certainly appear to depend upon literacy, printing, and educational institutions in a way that is not true of prehistoric religion... historically, they are comparative late-comers, having arisen only in the last thirty-five hundred years" (p. 276).

Absolute Truth versus Universal Truth

In order to understand what is happening cognitively, one must examine the relationship between Perceiver thought and Mercy emotions. Perceiver thought evaluates facts by looking for connections that are repeated. For instance, a bicycle is composed of two wheels, handlebar, pedals, and a seat, all connected together through a frame. Whenever a person sees this combination of items connected together, then Perceiver thought recognizes the object of bicycle. (The verbal label is then added by Teacher thought.) As a person sees this combination repeated, Perceiver thought will gain confidence in the fact of 'bicycle'. Saying this more generally, Perceiver thought searches for universal truth by looking for connections that are repeated in many different contexts. Science is based in a search for universal truth about the physical world. For instance, everywhere one looks one sees the same connection of 'electrons orbiting around neutrons and protons'; this is a universal Perceiver truth about the physical universe.

Perceiver thought finds it difficult to function in the presence of emotions. Thus, one could define confidence either as the ability to hold on to a Perceiver fact (or Server sequence) in the middle of emotional pressure or as the level of certainty that Perceiver thought has in a fact as it notices this fact being repeated. (These two aspects of confidence are related but I am not sure if they are identical.) For instance, Perceiver thought may know that there is a connection between 'eating chocolate cake' and 'being fat', but the emotion of drooling at a slice of double chocolate cake may overwhelm Perceiver thought and cause Perceiver thought to temporarily lose the ability to know this connection. Science tries to avoid this problem by remaining objective. Researchers attempt to observe facts without getting emotionally involved, and the facts of one researcher will be checked by the facts of other researchers who are able to adopt a more objective approach.

McCauley says that science is better than any other method for correcting errors: "Like any human activity, science must deal with fraud and deceit. No human pursuit does remotely as good a job of ferreting out such deceptions. That is because, unlike all other human activities, the sciences have developed procedures that are superb at smoking such ruses out, at least eventually" (p.142). This may be true when evaluating objective data that can be separated from personal emotions. But I suggest that science is not the best method for correcting error when personal emotions are the primary topic of study. That is because science protects Perceiver thought by avoiding MMNs of culture and identity. But it is impossible to avoid MMNs of culture and identity when one is studying MMNs of culture and identity. And the primary thesis of CSR is that religion is driven by MMNs of culture and identity. When one cannot avoid subjective emotions, then one must gain sufficient Perceiver confidence to be able to use Perceiver thought in the midst of emotions. And that building of Perceiver confidence is what happens when one takes steps such as 'holding on to faith in the midst of trials, temptation, or persecution' or when one 'learns in the midst of suffering'. These are topics that theology discusses, science ignores, and McCauley does not mention.

McCauley claims that "Science is certainly not the only way for humans to acquire knowledge, but as a knowledge-seeking activity, it is second to none. Scientists have erected all sorts of safeguards to catch and correct the sorts of mistakes that scientific inquirers, indeed, all human inquirers, are wont to make" (p.140). This statement may be true when acquiring empirical knowledge about the physical world, but I suggest that theologians (and 'suffering saints') have had more practice at correcting the sort of mistakes that emerge when one attempts to use Perceiver thought in the midst of emotional pressure.

McCauley points out that "Individuals, including individual scientists, make mistakes. Scientific communities operate with principles designed to catch and correct them. Knowledge, criticism, and decision making are all distributed across the scientific community. They are collective accomplishments" (p.143). In other words, the scientific community as a group is able to correct errors made by individual scientists. This is a powerful error correction mechanism. But it is unable to correct for systemic flaws that apply to science as an institution. Instead, peer review will actually reinforce systemic flaws because the behavior of a group of scientists will form a culture that is backed up by MMNs. And the tendency to preserve Perceiver thought by avoiding MMNs rather than gaining sufficient Perceiver confidence to be able to handle MMNs is a systemic flaw that applies to science as a whole.

If the emotional pressure is strong enough, then Perceiver thought will become overwhelmed by Mercy emotions and will 'know' that a certain fact is 'true'. This, I suggest, is the cognitive basis for absolute truth. Absolute truth uses the emotional intensity of an MMN in Mercy thought to overwhelm Perceiver thought into believing that a specific fact is true. This can happen in one of three primary ways: First, some traumatic incident may fool Perceiver thought into believing that this situation is universal. For instance, if one dog bites me viciously, then I will know that all dogs always bite. Second, Perceiver thought may believe a fact because it is spoken by a person who is mentally represented by a MMN that has great emotional status. For instance, if the Right Honorable Reverend Doctor Smith tells me that the moon is made of green cheese, then I will know that this is true because of my great respect for Reverent Doctor Smith. Third, Perceiver thought may believe a fact because it is written in a book whose author has great emotional status. For instance, the Christian fundamentalist believes what is written in the Bible because he believes that the Bible was written by God, who is mentally represented by a MMN with great emotional status. The first way describes how a lot of religious 'truth' is initially acquired. For example, the traumatic experience of having lightning strike close by will lead to the formation of a MMN, which will then be interpreted in personal terms as an invisible agent. Hence, a god of lightning, such as Zeus or Thor. The second way describes how cultural and religious 'truth' is propagated. If some priest who has great emotional status makes a statement, then this will be accepted as absolute 'truth'. The third way describes the method of the holy book, in which absolute truth is accepted because it is 'written in the Bible' or 'written in the Quran'.

A 'religion of the book' leads to a transitional form of knowing due to the characteristics of a book that were described earlier on. On the one hand, the author of a holy book is represented by a MMN with great emotional status. That is why theology that is based in a holy book 'looks back' to the MMNs of religion and culture. On the other hand, a book is a physical example of a general Teacher theory that possesses order-within-complexity, and it is possible to separate a book physically from its author, making it possible to evaluate the content of the book apart from the MMNs that represent the author of the book. Thus, even though a holy book is ultimately based in the MMNs of personal status, studying a book makes it possible to build a general Teacher theory and develop abstract technical thought, especially if the words of the book can be given precise meanings and the concepts of the book fit together in an integrated fashion.

McCauley emphasizes that science is based in data from the physical world and that theories are tested through experiment. However, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, that is not how science is taught : "In these fields the student relies mainly on textbooks until, in his third or fourth year of graduate work, he begins his own research. Many science curricula do not ask even graduate students to read works not written specially for students...until the very last stages in the education of a scientist, textbooks are systematically substituted for the creative scientific literature that made them possible (Kuhn, p.165). Saying this hor of the book. Thus, even though a holy book is ultimately based in the MMNs of personal status, studying a book makes it possible to build a general Teacher theory and develop abstract technical thought, especially if the words of the book can be given precise meanings and the concepts of the book fit together in an integrated fashion.

McCauley emphasizes that science is based in data from the physical world and that theories are tested through experiment. However, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, that is not how science is taught : "In these fields the student relies mainly on textbooks until, in his third or fourth year of graduate work, he begins his own research. Many science curricula do not ask even graduate students to read works not written specially for students...until the very last stages in the education of a scientist, textbooks are systematically substituted for the creative scientific literature that made them possible (Kuhn, p.165). Saying this more simply, there is very little cognitive difference between the textbooks of science and the holy books of a 'religion of the book'. As McCauley complains, "Too often science is taught as truths-to-be-memorized instead of as our tentative, best-available answers (given the current state of the inquiry) in a never-ending investigation of how we might improve upon what we know" (p.281). Students of the Quran also place a great emphasis upon memorization, and this does not encourage the type of critical thinking that is needed to go beyond absolute truth: "The focus of Islamic education is the memorization of the Qur'an, first and foremost... The time and effort devoted to memorizing texts, whether religious or scientific, does not leave much time, energy, or motivation to explore criticisms of the positions advanced in those texts" (p.272).

I suggest that one is actually dealing with a cognitive limitation. When Perceiver thought is functioning, then a person will look for repeated connections in order to find universal truth. However, Perceiver thought can only start to function if it already possesses facts which are known to be true. The end result is that Perceiver thought acquires its initial set of beliefs as absolute truth based in the MMNs of personal authority, these initial beliefs make it possible for Perceiver thought to start functioning, and Perceiver thought then uses a search for universal truth to retroactively evaluate the facts that were initially acquired as absolute truth. Using the language of education, rote learning occurs before critical thinking. Using religious language, absolute truth lays the mental foundation for universal truth.

(Looking briefly at other sources regarding absolute versus universal truth, Habermas suggested that European society has gone through three stages. Habermas' first stage describes a mindset in which Perceiver truth is determined by Mercy status, while Habermas' second stage describes a mindset in which Perceiver truth functions independently of Mercy emotions. Turning to neurology, the hippocampus acts as a processor to determine facts and sequences. The anterior section of the human hippocampus interacts heavily with the emotional processing of the amygdala, while the posterior section of the human hippocampus functions independently of the amygdala.)

In order to make a mental transition from absolute truth to universal truth, the truth must describe facts about 'something out there'. For instance, while the Perceiver facts of a science textbook are initially accepted by the student of science as absolute truth, these facts describe connections that occur repeatedly in the external world. Thus, it is possible to retroactively examine the facts that were taught in the science textbook by seeing if the textbook is an accurate description of the facts that occur universally in the physical world. In addition, if these Perceiver facts fit together in an integrated manner, then it is possible for Teacher thought to form a general theory about these facts, and if this general theory turns into a TMN, then this TMN can provide an alternate emotional source of integration to the MMNs of personal authority. One has then made a mental transition from absolute truth based in a textbook written by esteemed sources to universal truth based in repeated connections held together by a general understanding. Tying these two aspects together with the language of philosophy, Teacher thought looks for coherence, while Perceiver thought looks for correspondence.

The theology that McCauley describes looks for coherence but does not necessarily look for correspondence. On the one hand, theology takes the facts that are written in some holy book and attempts to put them into an integrated package. The result of this abstract technical thought is the TMN of a reasonably coherent, integrated system of theology. McCauley describes theology's search for coherence: "In the course of refining religious formulations to increase their consistency and coherence, theologians avail themselves of many of the same tools that scientists use. Typically, theologians are experts at conceptual analysis and at carrying out the same forms of deductive inference that play such a noteworthy role in science" (p. 153). However, the Perceiver facts that are being assembled to form a general theory are based in the absolute truth of some special book internally backed up by MMNs of status and culture. Therefore, McCauley complains about theology's lack of correspondence: "It is not for lack of trying that no religion has yet made a case for its truth that comparatively disinterested observers from around the world find persuasive. This contrasts with the way that huge majorities of the world's professional scientists do find the resolutions of so many of the controversies in their fields of study convincing, at least provisionally, given the current state of the evidence. Scientists regularly arrive at such views on the basis of relevant evidence and without epistemologically troublesome coercion (from governments, corporations, religions, and so on)" (p.228). As McCauley implies, when there is Teacher coherence but not Perceiver correspondence, then there may be an explicit structure of Teacher order-within-complexity backed up by some TMN, but the underlying implicit foundation is still the MMNs of some specific culture or religion. And the experiments of Keil and Barrett have uncovered this internal juxtaposition of explicit systematic theology and implicit absolute truth. Using an analogy, theology has constructed impressive buildings of general theory, but if one examines the bricks of these buildings, one finds that they are stamped with labels such as 'written in the Quran', 'thus saith the Bible', or 'signed by a doctor of the church'.

This juxtaposition of a theoretical Teacher structure built out of the Perceiver bricks of absolute truth leads to the 'tragedy of theology': "The predilection to revert to cognitively natural religious representations results in what Boyer calls the 'tragedy of theology.' His position, in short, is that no matter how meticulously theologians articulate doctrines or how strenuously ecclesiastical authorities police orthodoxy, human minds will regularly follow paths and introduce variations that more closely harmonize with their natural cognitive prejudices" (p. 238).

However, I suggest that there is also a corresponding 'tragedy of science': No matter how meticulously scientists think about thinking or how strenuously scientists use peer review to evaluate data, scientific thought will still be twisted by the fact that people are doing the thinking. Even the best social institutions can only remove subjective bias after it has affected thinking, because they do not address the source of subjective bias, which is internal personal identity.

Theological Truth?

McCauley generalizes from this to conclude that all theological truth is ultimately based in the MMNs of some specific religion or culture, rather than being based in cross-cultural Perceiver facts: "What specific religions have to say about meaning and morality always ends up turning, sooner or later, on their particular contents, commitments, and practices. The problem, if these religious systems' recommendations are to be persuasive to anyone other than their followers, is that these distinctive features of religious traditions carry little, if any, authority precisely where they need to - namely, beyond the confines of that particular religious system's subscribers. These contents, commitments, and practices must retain their credibility in a complex and diverse world, if they are to supply any basis for either general, morally obligatory prescriptions or what people, across cultures, take to be meaningful arrangements. Arguably, a particular religion is exactly what any grounds for binding moral authority cannot depend upon, if rational and psychological purchase across religious systems and cultures is the aim" (p.226). McCauley adds that the MMNs of religion and culture are reinforced by MMNs of personal status: "Theologians, as part of an educated elite in societies (whether or not those societies possessed science as well), were typically supported and aligned with powerful ecclesiastical and political leaders" (p.214). And McCauley points out that "Jared Diamond argues that throughout human history chiefs, kings, and the political leaders of states have repeatedly enlisted religion to render rationales for their kleptocracies" (p. 215). Any system of understanding that is ultimately based in MMNs is capable of being misused and hijacked by MMNs of personal status.

While there is substantial evidence to support McCauley's statements, I suggest that he is overlooking some significant facts, as well as painting an incomplete picture. First, the two primary inventors of theology were not aligned with powerful ecclesiastical and political leaders. The theologian N.T. Wright provides extensive historical evidence for the hypothesis that Paul invented theology. N.T. Wright explains that Christianity was the first religion that was held together by theology rather than by the MMNs of culture; it was the first 'religion of the book' that was at least officially integrated around a TMN. Far from being aligned with ecclesiastical and political leaders, Jesus, the founder of Christianity, was killed by ecclesiastical and political leaders. Similarly, Paul was continually running afoul of religious and political authorities. (And if one wishes to include Moses, who originated the core theological concept of monotheism, then the story of the Jewish Exodus describes a group of slaves attempting to escape from the religious and political authorities.) Even if the stories about Paul, Jesus, and Moses are myths, they are still the founding myths of theology. Theologians may have become aligned with the MMNs of power and status, political leaders may be very willing to hijack religion for their own ends, and many religious leaders both past and present may deserve McCauley's generalization, but the birth of theology was characterized by precisely the opposite.

Similarly, the birth of science was also characterized by 'intellectual giants' and I suggest that it too has cognitively morphed into a social system backed up by the mental networks of academia: "In the early stages of many sciences' development, some individuals, no doubt, qualified as the giants on whose shoulders subsequent researchers stood, but these days the scientific enterprise is mostly carried along by small armies of researchers dispersed in research groups that continuously interact, often in collectively regulated public forums at professional meetings and in scientific journals" (p. 270). McCauley suggests that "science is one of the major forces in history that has made for human freedom" (p. 280), and there is substantial evidence is to support McCauley's claim. However, because science ignores the MMNs of agency, and because scientists are still 'normal people' driven by childish MMNs, science, like theology, is also capable of being hijacked by political leaders. This hijacking was especially apparent in the first world war and can be seen currently in the military-industrial complex.

Second, McCauley neglects to mention the philosopher Kant, whose categorical imperative formulates morality in terms that are universal and not dependent upon any specific culture. In simple terms, Kant said that any action which can be applied universally is morally good. For instance, lying is morally bad because if everyone lies then no one will believe anything that is being said, making it impossible to convincingly lie. In contrast, it is possible for everyone to tell the truth. Going further, lying only works if some people lie within a general context that assumes that people do not lie. Kant referred to this combination of violating a rule within a society that follows this rule as radical evil. Kant is so well-known that making conclusions about the universality of morality without mentioning Kant is a significant omission.

Turning now to the larger picture, McCauley says that "The sciences fairly quickly get to a point where they can no longer look back to our maturationally natural predilections for inspiration. Theology is largely devoted to making sense of and bringing some logical order to the claims of popular religion. Science, by contrast, follows wherever its inquiries lead and that has reliably been away from the automatic deliverances of the maturationally natural mental systems that inform our commonsense understandings of the world" (p. 228). But CSR is also trying to 'make sense of and bring some logical order to the claims of popular religion'. And CSR also looks at 'maturationally natural predilections' for inspiration. And we have seen in several areas that McCauley does not 'follow wherever his inquiries lead' but rather stops short of the destination. In addition, his direction is not 'away from' the childish MMNs of the 'maturationally natural mental systems'. Instead, he concludes that "Depending upon material and cultural conditions, religion may wax or wane, but religion will never go away. Campaigns to make it go away will not work" (p. 244). Thus, it seems that McCauley's complaints regarding the shortcomings of theology apply also to the field of CSR.

CSR would probably respond that it is following a superior route to theology because it is taking the 'scientific' role of the 'disinterested observer' by studying the MMNs of other individuals: "It is not for lack of trying that no religion has yet made a case for its truth that comparatively disinterested observers from around the world find persuasive. This contrasts with the way that huge majorities of the world's professional scientists do find the resolutions of so many of the controversies in their fields of study convincing, at least provisionally, given the current state of the evidence. Scientists regularly arrive at such views on the basis of relevant evidence and without epistemologically troublesome coercion" (p. 228).

However, when it comes to making sense of the MMNs of religion, McCauley points out that scientists are incapable of being 'disinterested observers. Instead, "'Scientists, for all their vaunted training in observation and scepticism, are as much a prey to human frailty as anyone else, and their capacity for unbending objectivity is circumscribed.' In short, what all of this research shows is that from the cognitive and interpersonal standpoints, scientists are thoroughly normal human beings" (p.133). Saying this another way, there is a form of 'epistemologically troublesome coercion' that every scientist is personally subject to, which is the internal emotional pressure that MMNs place upon Perceiver thought, making it difficult to arrive at 'views on the basis of relevant evidence'. And this internal emotional pressure cannot be avoided when one is studying MMNs because mental networks will use emotional pressure to impose their entire structure upon thought when they are triggered. And the thinking of a scientist is affected by the childish MMNs that reside within his mind: "Maturationally natural cognitive systems of the most diverse sorts not only substantially resist cognitive penetration, but they regularly reassert themselves, even in the face of scientific training that contradicts them" (p.129).

The point I am trying to make is that when one is studying the childish MMNs that drive religion, then it is not possible to follow the scientific ideal of dispassionately observing the evidence. Instead, one must pursue the much more difficult path of learning to determine Perceiver facts in the presence of strong Mercy emotions. Stated simply, one must practice personal honesty. Why does science 'move forward'? Because it is guided by the TMN of a general understanding based in an honest appraisal of physical reality rather than the MMNs of childish thought. But following such a rational understanding is easy to do when one is dealing with an objective world that sits there and does not emote. Why does theology tend to 'look back'? Because it is attempting to build the TMN of a general understanding about the MMNs of childish thought using Perceiver facts that are based in the MMNs of personal status. Thus, science is able to look forward by ignoring childish MMNs while theology focuses upon childish MMNs but it has problems looking forward. Saying this another way, science, as McCauley points out, is good at honesty, while religion, as McCauley also points out, focuses upon the personal. But what is needed is not honesty or the personal but rather honesty about the personal, and that combination is difficult to achieve. (This topic is discussed in Natural Cognitive Theology.)

My goal is not to question scientific thought but rather to extend it to the realm of the subjective, so that one can personally experience the same kind of benefits that science has made possible in the objective. Scientific thought must be extended because the current status quo is not stable. Instead, scientific thought itself is currently under attack by the MMNs of childish identity: "What we are seeing is the empowerment of ideologues who have the ability to influence the course of science far more than ever before... The basic integrity of science is under siege" (p. 283) (the italics are in the original). As McCauley points out on the final page of his book, "Science's radical counterintuitiveness makes it cognitively unnatural in the extreme. Humans have produced science so infrequently in their history because not only does it not come to them naturally but because it is incredibly difficult to do and the doing of it is incredibly difficult to sustain... science was once lost and had to be reinvented. One consequence of the position that I have been defending is that nothing about human nature would ever prevent the loss of science again" (p. 286).

Experimental Theology

That brings us finally to the topic of 'experimental theology'. Personal honesty involves an interaction between Mercy thought, the cognitive module that handles identity, and Perceiver thought, the cognitive module that deals with honesty. We will now look at the relationship between Teacher thought, the cognitive module that handles general theories, and Server thought, the cognitive module that handles sequences and actions. McCauley says that "Although some contemporary theologians attend to bodies of empirical evidence that the sciences have generated, theologians do not produce such evidence themselves. To date, anything described as 'experimental theology' has exhibited far more vitality in the fictional world that Philip Pullman describes in his novel The Golden Compass than in the world in which flesh and blood theologians carry out their projects" (p. 213). This is a significant observation. In order to examine this point, we need to look at the role that experiment plays in science as well as the form that 'experimental theology' would take.

McCauley describes how science and technology became intertwined in the mid 19th century. Thomas Kuhn makes a stronger statement, saying that the generality of science comes from exemplars, which he defines as "the concrete problem-solutions that students encounter from the start of their scientific education, whether in laboratories, on examinations, or at the ends of chapters in science texts... such as: the inclined plane, the conical pendulum, and Keplerian orbits." Using the language of mental symmetry, if one performs the Server sequence of solving a physics problem that is based in a Server sequence of 'how the world works', then one is actually learning how to solve a class of problems that predicts how the world works in many similar situations. (Exemplars are discussed in Chapter 11 of Natural Cognitive Theology.) Notice how Server sequences are associated with Teacher generality both within the mind and in the natural world. When the student of physics performs the Server sequence of solving one physics problem, then he has gained a general Teacher understanding of how to solve many similar problems. Similarly, if one can analyze the Server path that one planet takes as it revolves around the sun, then one can also analyze the Server paths of other orbiting planets, moons, and satellites, leading to a general Teacher understanding of how the world works.

We saw earlier how writing uses Server thought to give stability to Teacher words, but the assumption was that the generality comes from Teacher thought, because Teacher thought looks for general theories. Kuhn says that this is a faulty assumption: "Philosophers of science have not ordinarily discussed the problems encountered by a student in laboratories or in science texts, for these are thought to supply only practice in the application of what the student already knows. He cannot, it is said, solve problems at all unless he has first learned the theory and some rules for applying it. Scientific knowledge is embedded in theory and rules; problems are supplied to gain facility in their application. I have tried to argue, however, that this localization of the cognitive content of science is wrong. After the student has done many problems, he may gain only added facility by solving more. But at the start and for some time after, doing problems is learning consequential things about nature. In the absence of such exemplars, the laws and theories he has previously learned would have little empirical content theory itself" (Kuhn, p. 187). In other words, the philosophy of science assumes that one can focus upon the general Teacher theories of science and regard the Server actions of applying these theories as something secondary that is added. But that is not the case. Instead, one gains a general Teacher understanding by performing the Server sequences of solving problems, and this provides a general Teacher understanding of how the world works because the world performs Server sequences that are similar.

Now let us turn to the scientific experiment. When one is studying the physical world, then one must first learn how to use Perceiver thought in the presence of MMNs, because the physical world is composed of objects and experiences from the physical world and these physical experiences trigger MMNs. However, this Perceiver honesty is only the first step. The next step is to realize that what is really 'solid' in the external world is not Perceiver objects but rather Server sequences. How the world looks can be changed, but how the world behaves stays the same. For instance, I can throw a stone, an apple ball, or even my grandmother over the cliff. These are vastly different objects, but they will all take a similar Server path to the bottom of the cliff because they all follow the same exemplar. (This means that science is actually one step removed from empirical evidence, because it observes primarily not objects but rather the paths that are taken by objects. Objects can be seen; paths must be inferred.) Scientific observation studies the physical world for these natural processes, because it assumes that Server thought can find repeated Server sequences in 'how things work'. This is then followed by a general hypothesis. Guided by observations of how things work, Teacher thought comes up with a general theory of some natural process. If this general theory turns into a TMN, then this TMN will motivate the mind to extend this general theory by applying it to additional situations. A person will then experiment to see if the real world really does behave in this manner. Notice the interplay between world and the mind. The scientist thinks in terms of exemplars, finding Teacher generality in Server sequences. But this only works because the natural world functions in terms of exemplars. The scientist observes a natural process, uses the concept of exemplars to predict how the world will behave in some new circumstance, and then performs an experiment to see if the internal exemplar corresponds with how the world works.

Now let us apply this to the realm of theology and religion. McCauley says that "Gould assigns science and religion to two different 'magisteria.' He asserts that 'the . . . magisterium of science covers the empirical realm' while 'the magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value.' This strategy for dividing up the turf is popular, because it promises intellectual peace. Gould stresses that 'these two magisteria do not overlap,' which eliminates possibilities for conflict. In this two-state strategy, each, according to Gould, rules in its own realm" (p. 226). I would agree with Gould that science and religion involve different domains. Science deals with the physical realm, while theology and religion make sense when one examines the cognitive realm. As McCauley points out, people tend to associate religious activity with the realm of the cognitive, being "significantly more likely to pray, for example, that their gods ensure a surgical team's mental alertness than that their gods heal the patient in some biologically inexplicable way that would render the surgery unnecessary" (p. 246). However, my thesis is that it is possible to use a single cognitive meta-theory to explain scientific thought, religion, and theology, similar to the approach taken by CSR. In addition, I suggest that the structure of the natural world is similar to the structure of the mind, as illustrated by the similarity between physical exemplars and the cognitive interaction between Server thought and Teacher thought. (This similarity is explored in a 2018 essay on Physics.)

That brings us to the question of experimental theology. If experimental science performs experiments within the empirical domain of science, then it makes sense that experimental theology would perform experiments within the cognitive domain of religion. With this in mind, let us revisit McCauley's statement about experimental theology: "Although some contemporary theologians attend to bodies of empirical evidence that the sciences have generated, theologians do not produce such evidence themselves. To date, anything described as 'experimental theology' has exhibited far more vitality in the fictional world that Philip Pullman describes in his novel The Golden Compass than in the world in which flesh and blood theologians carry out their projects" (p. 213). Notice how McCauley is equating the process of experimentation with the domain of science: Theologians are supposed to base theology in empirical evidence, they are supposed to produce empirical evidence, and they are supposed to recognize that humans are material beings of flesh and blood. In other words, McCauley's 'experimental theology' gathers data from the realm of science, performs experiments in the realm of science, and treats humans as beings who only exist within the realm of science. But religion and theology involve a different domain than the domain of science. Using an analogy, McCauley is saying that expertise in French should be gained by studying English, speaking English, and recognizing that one lives in an English world. But if French is a different language than English, then one learns about French by studying French, speaking French, and living in a French world. Someone who studies French and speaks French should not be faulted for lacking fluency in English. Similarly, theology with its domain that is different than the empirical domain of science should not be faulted if it does not do its experiments within the empirical domain of science.

What then does it mean to do experiments within the domain of theology and religion? Experiments involve a cognitive component and a component that is independent of cognition. The cognitive component involves the interaction between Teacher thought and Server thought. In science, the independent component is provided by how the world works. For theology, I suggest that one can find a similar independent component in 'how the mind works'. Saying this another way, one performs experiments within theology by reprogramming the software of the mind (the cognitive component) to be compatible with the hardware of the mind (the component that is independent of cognition). In other words, one forms a general Teacher understanding of 'how the mind works' and one then uses the TMN of this understanding to reprogram childish MMNs so that they motivate personal identity to function in a way that is consistent with 'how the mind works'. This type of experiment can be tested in one of three ways: First, does the mind function better when it is reprogrammed in this manner? In simple terms, does one experience mental wholeness and personal fulfillment. Second, does society function better when human minds are reprogrammed in this manner? Third, does reprogramming the mind to function in a manner that is consistent with the structure of the mind lead to any interaction with non-physical realms?

The researcher in CSR might complain that the third point violates common sense, because 'we all know' that there is no such thing as a non-physical realm. But, as McCauley points out, one of the hallmarks of scientific theory is that it comes up with predictions that violate common sense: "The deepest source of science's cognitive unnaturalness is the ever-growing disparity between our maturationally natural perceptions and intuitions about things and the very different picture of the world that science discloses" (p. 110). However, even if such a realm does not exist (or if one wishes not to contemplate such a 'very different picture of the world'), one can still perform experimental theology by seeing what happens to my mind and my society when I reprogram my mind to function in a way that is consistent with the structure of my mind. Notice that I have phrased this in personal terms. That is because the experiments of science involve physical objects, while the experiments of theology involve me and my culture, because theology studies the MMNs of personal identity.

That sort of experimental theology has been carried out for almost 500 years by the Anabaptist tradition in which I was raised. Anabaptism has recognized from the beginning that general Teacher theories of theology cannot be separated from Server sequences of personal action. Quoting from the Mennonite Encyclopedia, "An old and almost universal tradition among Mennonites views 'theology' with much distrust... This fear of theology had its origin in part in the bitter experience of the Anabaptists (and later Mennonites) that it was the theologians who were their worst enemies, whether Lutheran, Reformed, or Catholic, and who were often responsible for prodding the rulers into harsher measures of persecution... Another root of the fear of theology was undoubtedly the experience that theological speculation and disputation was often remote from life, a type of rationalistic intellectualizing with little fruit in piety and ethics, whereas the Anabaptist-Mennonite emphasis was on newness of life, holy living, and discipleship." In addition, Anabaptists have also historically attempted to follow the second kind of experimental theology by applying theology as a community of individuals. Thus, while Anabaptist theology has been somewhat lacking, Anabaptism can be described both cognitively and socially as a form of experimental theology. (Calvin's theocracy in Geneva was also a form of experimental theology.)

I am not suggesting that experimental theology will never involve the empirical world, because how one thinks and behaves will always have an indirect impact upon one's physical environment. And if non-physical realms exist, then it might be possible for experimental theology to impact the physical world in a more direct manner. However, I suggest that it is inconsistent to state that religion has a different domain than the domain of science and then assume that experimental theology must involve the empirical realm of science.

This means that the situation with theology is not as grim as McCauley makes it out to be. McCauley says that "catechisms, doctrines, and statements of faith are, quite commonly, formulae that theological and ecclesiastical elites have carefully devised to work through various conceptual, theoretical, and political thickets. They are designed to clarify what will count as acceptable belief, to corral wayward-thinking participants, and to direct theologically minded disputants" (p. 211). The assumption is that abstract technical thought is being used to analyze Perceiver 'truths' that are based in the MMNs of personal and social status. This does describe a substantial portion of theological thought.

However, if there is an experimental relationship between theology and 'how the mind works', then it is possible to gain a better understanding of theology by applying theology and observing the internal, social (and possibly spiritual) results. Applying theology will also transform theological truth from being absolute truth based in the pronouncements of some holy book to being universal truth that describes how the mind works. Using the building analogy, some of the building bricks will no longer have 'thus saith the Bible' or 'religious leaders have declared' stamped upon them, but rather will be given the label 'this describes how the mind works'. McCauley does not make any reference to theology as a guide to personal transformation. However, countless books have been written over the centuries about practical theology (with varying levels of intellectual and personal rigor) which basically boil down to some version of either "follow these steps and you will have a more wholesome personal existence" or "follow these steps and you will experience personal enlightenment".

While many of the bricks of theology have been translated from absolute truth written in a holy book to universal truth about the mind (and apologists such as Josh McDowell now talk about universal truth rather than absolute truth), I am not aware of any theologians who have managed to state the core doctrines of theology in cognitive terms. However, it appears that the theory of mental symmetry is capable of doing this and Natural Cognitive Theology presents a cognitive explanation for the core doctrines of Christianity as well as the proto-theology of Buddhism and mysticism. (As of 2019, about 40% of original Greek text of the New Testament has been analyzed from a cognitive perspective and about 1500 pages of analysis have been posted on the website. Thus, it is now possible to state with considerable confidence that Christianity can be reformulated using a general theory of cognition.)


In conclusion, the cognitive approach taken by CSR brings an area of overlap to the two seemingly incompatible domains of science and religion, and McCauley's book expands the area of overlap significantly by including a discussion of theological thought and scientific thought. I have also been attempting to bridge these two realms by using a methodology of comparing different fields for similar cognitive patterns, guided by a cognitive meta-theory. It appears that these two approaches result in the same data. However, they do place different interpretations upon this data.

McCauley says that the 'tragedy of theology' is that theologians seem incapable of completely escaping the childish MMNs of 'natural cognitive prejudices'. Similarly, I am not sure if CSR is capable of completely escaping the 'natural cognitive prejudices' imposed by objective, empirical science. In both cases, it appears that a cognitive approach may provide a way out, because one is looking for universal cognitive principles that lie behind childish MMNs, and one is emphasizing cognition that is one step removed from empirical data.