2008-2009 Templeton Research Lectures
Culture and Religion in a Naturalistic Perspective

Dan Sperber
French National Center for Scientific Research
Institut Jean Nicod

Lecture IV

Religion and science: an old comparison in a new epidemiological perspective

Thinking of religious phenomena in epidemiological terms, as a mesh of causal chains where mental and environmental events alternate, we can identify causal factors that weigh not globally on religions, but locally on every micro-event in the propagation of religious ideas and practices. Approaching science from the same epidemiological point of view, the causal factors we can identify both in the cognitive mechanisms and in the social interactions involved determine quite a different dynamics. Are the differences such as to make the comparison an ill-framed exercise? Does the epidemiological perspective throw any light on the historical and current relationships between religion and science?