Research

I work on several different interconnected areas, dipping in and out of these topics over the years. The overall question that guides my research is how humans can form beliefs in domains that are remote from everyday concerns, such as mathematics, theology, and science. I'm interested in why humans across cultures reach for things beyond those of immediate survival- and reproduction-related concerns, things that awe, delight, and inspire us.

My areas of specialization are philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of religion, and experimental philosophy.

Below are a selection of papers and books for each area of interest. A full list of publications can be found on my CV.

Awe, wonder, and philosophical imagination

Philosophy is born in wonder. We are driven by our epistemic emotions, such as wonder, awe, and curiosity, and these stir the imagination, opening up paths to inquiry. I am currently working on a monograph on wonder and awe, and have several published pieces on philosophical imagination and thought experiments.

This is an edited volume with 42 illustrations I made of philosophical thought experiments. The volume aims to show both how thought experiments help to stir our philosophical imagination, and how pictures can further help us to philosophize. Each picture has a commentary by an expert on the significance of the thought experiment, in some cases, written by the author of the original thought experiment.

A short public philosophy piece on the importance of awe in scientific creativity.

This paper examines the role of awe and wonder in scientific practice. Drawing on evidence from psychological research and the writings of scientists and science communicators, I argue that awe and wonder play a crucial role in scientific discovery.

I argue that many philosophical intuitions originate from spontaneous, early-developing, cognitive processes that also play a role in other cognitive domains. Additionally, they have a skilled, practiced, component.

Philosophy through fiction

Philosophy can be done in a variety of formats. We can philosophize in poetry, fiction, visual art, film, video games, and many other ways. I aim to expand the range of philosophical formats in which we can express ourselves. I aim to facilitate ways to broaden the philosophical discussion.

A collection of eleven short stories with deep philosophical significance by award-winning SF authors and philosophers.

The Introduction to this edited volume is a story co-written by Eric Schwitzgebel, Johan De Smedt, and me, and explores three possible positions about how philosophy can de done through fiction. A draft version of this Introduction can be found here.

Speculative fiction, such as science fiction and fantasy, has a unique epistemic value. We examine similarities and differences between speculative fiction and philosophical thought experiments in terms of how they are cognitively processed.

Cognitive science of religion and its theological implications

The cognitive science of religion (CSR) is a multidisciplinary field that examines how people form religious beliefs and engage in religious practices, by appeal to ordinary (non-religion-specific) cognitive processes and evolutionary pressures. I examine what implications we should draw for perennial philosophical questions such as the justification of religious beliefs.

I examine whether etiological accounts affect the rationality of religious practices, looking at two influential evolutionary accounts of ritual, the hazard-precaution model and costly signaling theory.

This paper examines the cognitive foundations of natural theology: the intuitions that provide the raw materials for religious arguments, and the social context in which they are defended or challenged.

This is the first edited volume to comprehensively deal with the emerging field of experimental philosophy of religion.

In this monograph, we survey eight theistic arguments, including the argument from design, the cosmological argument, and the argument from miracles. We probe the cognitive origins of these arguments and examine the implications for philosophy of religion.

An examination of how cognitive science of religion can shed light on the problem of divine hiddenness.

An examination of how the cognitive science of religion can shed light on the origin and success of theological concepts, not just folk religious concepts, with a focus on afterlife beliefs and how we appraise natural theological arguments.

A review article on natural theological arguments and their cognitive basis.

This paper examines intriguing similarities between deficiencies in our cognitive apparatus that are proposed in Reformed and evolutionary epistemology, and critiques Reformed epistemology for the incoherence of its concept of noetic effects of sin.

Experimental philosophy of religion

This is a qualitative focus-group study of how being a minority in philosophy of religion, intersectionally understood, affects one's work, approaches and topics.

This is a qualitative survey study among professional philosophers of religion, probing how their philosophical views are influenced by what philosophers call "irrelevant factors," such as the religion they grew up with, and their education.

This is a quantitative survey study examining how academic philosophers conceive of religious disagreement, whether their religious beliefs affect how they approach philosophical disagreements about religion (spoiler alert: they do!)

Other work in philosophy of religion (notably, epistemology and science and religion)

A short monograph (about 33,000 words) on how evolution poses a challenge to religion. It focuses on the relationship between science and religion and how evolution fits into the debate, and then presents three case studies: teleology, human origins, and the origins of religion to flesh out this relationship.

A short monograph (about 30,000 words) on religious disagreement, focusing on disagreement with friends, with your former self, with experts, and on the importance of agreement. Proposes a conciliationist approach to religious disagreement (i.e., if you disagree with someone about religion this fact of disagreement constitutes significant higher-order evidence and should be accorded significant weight).

Religious conversion gives rise to disagreement with one’s former self and with family and friends. Through Augustine’s De Utilitate Credendi (The Usefulness of Belief) I show that reasoned argument should play a crucial role in assessing the evidential value of religious conversions, both for the person who converts and for her (former) peers.

A 15,000-word encyclopedic survey on the relationship between religion and sicence.

The cognitive basis of mathematics

Mathematics is the quest for patterns. What are the implications of the sciences of the mind for perennial questions in mathematics? I aim to answer these questions, looking at the importance of mathematical practice, the neural structures underlying mathematics, the way mathematical capacities develop in young children, and precursors to mathematics such as geometrical and numerical cognition in non-human animals. In recent papers, I argue that these findings from cognitive science provide some support for a form of mathematical realism (ante rem structuralism).

An argument for why empirical observations about animal numerical cognition support mathematical platonism.

A paper on the role of testimony in the acquisition of number concepts, and how this should change how we think about mathematical cognition and its development.

A closer look at the neural structures underlying numerical cognition, and whether we can draw conclusions about the ontology of mathematical objects (this paper, like the 2019 one, argues in favor of mathematical platonism).

A paper examining how mathematical symbols help us think, by offloading some of the cognitive work we would otherwise do in our heads.

Review article on the cognitive origin of arithmetic.

Explores the philosophical notion of innateness and how this has been used in the developmental psychological literature, with a focus on the acquisition of number concepts.

Introduction to a thematic special issue on the relationship between number concepts and number words.

Uses the concept of extended mind to argue that the distinctly human ability to use external representations as a complement for internal cognitive operations enables us to represent natural numbers.

A look at the cultural evolution of mathematical concepts.

The cognitive basis of art and literature

The cognitive basis of science and scientific understanding

The way we understand scientific information, as laypeople and as experts, is subject to cognitive constraints. I examine how this affects scientific creativity, the reception of scientific information by laypeople, and whether we can make some inferences or predictions based on these cognitive constraints about the history of science.

Examines why the reception of scientific communication can become politically polarized, and how to address this problem. I argue that people are guided both by epistemic aims (a desire for truth) and aims to belong and put their own beliefs in line with those of the group they belong to.

A case study of epistemic peer disagreement on the taxonomic classification of Homo Floresiensis.

We show that the cultural transmission of scientific knowledge can lead toward representations that are more truth-approximating or more efficient at solving science-related problems under a broad range of circumstances

Examines some practical implications of cognitive science in teaching evolutionary theory.

This paper offers an analysis of scientific creativity based on theoretical models and experimental results of the cognitive sciences. Its core idea is that scientific creativity — like other forms of creativity — is structured and constrained by prior ontological expectations.

Taking the case of human evolution, we explore relationships between intuitive ontological and scientific understanding. We show that intuitive ontologies not only shape intuitions on human evolution, but also guide the direction and topics of interest in its research programmes.

Helping to improve the philosophy profession

These papers are some efforts to help make the philosophy profession a more just, inclusive, and equitable place, and to counter racist, sexist, and classist prejudice within it.

This is a letter to the editor.

This paper argues that philosophers of religion ought to be more open to epistemic friction, from underrepresented religious traditions and from members of underrepresented groups, and draws on my earlier work in experimental philosophy of religion to make this case.

I propose that in spite of avowals of egalitarianism and commitments to social justice, academic philosophy exhibits steep prestige hierarchies which perpetuate structural injustices and problems. I respond to the objection that prestige bias would be a useful heuristic to filter out quality. The paper also contains some practical ideas on how to counter prestige bias.