Bad question, says Justin Barrett (Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology, 26):

“No aspect of our biological development, let along our cognitive development occurs without important contributions from both our biological endowment and our environment. Cells don’t divide and multiply without a steady stream of chemical nourishment from their environment, prenatal development is dependent upon hormones and nutrients from the mother, and babies simply cannot survive, let alone develop properly, without massive environmental inputs. When it comes to human thought and behavior, we see more of the same. . . . Learning a language requires exposure to that language but also requires the right biological substrate. You cannot teach a rabbit German.”

Nature v. Nurture has to be answered with a firm “both,” and “deciding if it is more one than the other may prove impossible because ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ are so vague.”

He raises similar objections to the image of “hard-wired” cognition: “it is a little odd to say that some cognition is part of our brain circuitry whereas other cognition is not: it is all part of our electrical system” (27).

When the question is put more specifically, it is answerable: Do humans come to know some things more easily than others? Yes. We are easily persuaded that snakes are scary, that rainbows have a certain number of distinct bands of color; we recognize human faces more readily than objects at birth. In short, “our minds preferentially attend to and differentially process some types of information over others” (38).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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