Religious credence is not factual belief

Cognition. 2014 Dec;133(3):698-715. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.08.015. Epub 2014 Sep 29.


I argue that psychology and epistemology should posit distinct cognitive attitudes of religious credence and factual belief, which have different etiologies and different cognitive and behavioral effects. I support this claim by presenting a range of empirical evidence that religious cognitive attitudes tend to lack properties characteristic of factual belief, just as attitudes like hypothesis, fictional imagining, and assumption for the sake of argument generally lack such properties. Furthermore, religious credences have distinctive properties of their own. To summarize: factual beliefs (i) are practical setting independent, (ii) cognitively govern other attitudes, and (iii) are evidentially vulnerable. By way of contrast, religious credences (a) have perceived normative orientation, (b) are susceptible to free elaboration, and (c) are vulnerable to special authority. This theory provides a framework for future research in the epistemology and psychology of religious credence.

Keywords: Belief; Cognitive attitudes; Cognitive science of religion; Credence; Imagination; Religion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Cognition*
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Religion*