After discussing evidence of irreligion and the rise of the so called " New Atheism" , the authors refute the claim that this poses a problem for the cognitive science of religion and its hypothesis that religion is natural. The " naturalness hypothesis" is not deterministic but probabilistic and thus leaves room for atheism. This, the authors maintain, is true of both the by-product and adaptationist stances within the cognitive science of religion. In this context the authors also discuss the memetic or " unnaturalness" hypothesis, i.e. that religion is a " virus of the mind" The authors criticize accounts of atheism offered by cognitive scientists of religion as being based on unfounded assumptions about the psychology of atheists, and object to the notion that the natural aspects of religion by corollary make atheism unnatural. By considering human cognition in a semiotic framework and emphasizing its natural ability to take part in semiotic systems of signs, atheism emerges as a natural, cognitive strategy. The authors argue that to reach a fuller account of religion, the cognitive (naturalness) and memetic (unnaturalness) hypotheses of religion must be merged. Finally, a preliminary analysis of the " New Atheism" is offered in terms of semiotic and cognitive dynamics. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.
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