Maarten Boudry

Maarten Boudry
Ghent University | UGhent

About

104
Publications
47,358
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Introduction
Maarten Boudry is a philosopher of science based in Ghent, Belgium. His most recent book is Science Unlimited? On the Challenges of Scientism, co-edited with Massimo Pigliucci. His research interests include human irrationality, cultural evolution, pseudoscience, and supernatural belief. He published more than 35 papers in academic journals, and several popular books in Dutch on critical thinking and irrationality.
Additional affiliations
April 2013 - present
Konrad Lonrez Institute
Position
  • PostDoc Position
January 2010 - December 2012
Ghent University
January 2009 - present

Publications

Publications (104)
Article
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In recent years, there has been an intense public debate about whether and, if so, to what extent investments in nuclear energy should be part of strategies to mitigate climate change. Here we address this question from an ethical perspective, evaluating different strategies of energy system development in terms of three ethical criteria, which wil...
Article
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The demarcation between science and pseudoscience is a longstanding problem in philosophy of science. Although philosophers have been hesitant to engage in this project since Larry Laudan announced its demise in the 1980s, pseudoscience as a societal phenomenon did not disappear, and many policy makers and scientists continue to use the concept. Th...
Chapter
Some philosophers have argued that, owing to our humble evolutionary origins, some mysteries of the universe will forever remain beyond our ken. But what exactly does it mean to say that humans are ‘cognitively closed’ to some parts of the universe, or that some problems will forever remain ‘mysteries’? First, we distinguish between representationa...
Article
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For a long time, philosophers of science have shown little interest in the so-called demarcation project that occupied the pioneers of their field, and most now concur that terms like “pseudoscience” cannot be defined in any meaningful way. However, recent years have witnessed a revival of philosophical interest in demarcation. In this paper, I arg...
Preprint
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This chapter makes the case for (re-)introducing memes into economics. While many scholars have (prematurely) rejected the notion of memes, it is argued that by taking memes more seriously, economists could establish links between fragmented approaches and overcome an apparent bias towards mostly intentional and "adaptive" processes of innovation a...
Article
Some philosophers have argued that, owing to our humble evolutionary origins, some mysteries of the universe will forever remain beyond our ken. But what exactly does it mean to say that humans are ‘cognitively closed’ to some parts of the universe, or that some problems will forever remain ‘mysteries’? First, we distinguish between representationa...
Article
In the space of all possible beliefs, conspiracy theories stand out with a special and possibly unique feature: they are the only beliefs that predict an absence of evidence in their favor, and even the discovery of counterevidence. In the traditional, narrow sense of the term, a ‘conspiracy theory’ refers to an alternative explanation of a histori...
Article
What, if anything, is wrong with conspiracy theories (CTs)? A conspiracy refers to a group of people acting in secret to achieve some nefarious goal. But given that the pages of history are full of such plots, why are CTs regarded with suspicion? Just like with the traditional demarcation problem (between science and pseudoscience), philosophers di...
Article
What, if anything, is wrong with conspiracy theories (CTs)? A conspiracy refers to a group of people acting in secret to achieve some nefarious goal. But given that the pages of history are full of such plots, why are CTs regarded with suspicion? Just like with the traditional demarcation problem (between science and pseudoscience), philosophers di...
Article
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What, if any, are the limits of human understanding? Epistemic pessimists, sobered by our humble evolutionary origins, have argued that some parts of the universe will forever remain beyond our ken. But what exactly does it mean to say that humans are ‘cognitively closed’ to some parts of the world, or that some problems will forever remain ‘myster...
Article
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Pseudoscience spreads through communicative and inferential processes that make people vulnerable to weird beliefs. However, the fact that pseudoscientific beliefs are unsubstantiated and have no basis in reality does not mean that the people who hold them have no reasons for doing so. We propose that, reasons play a central role in the diffusion o...
Book
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Elke dag worden we overstelpt met meningen, argumenten, standpunten. Velen onder ons doen zelf mee aan de opiniestrijd: in het café, aan de ontbijttafel of op sociale media. Wij proberen anderen te overtuigen, en anderen ons. Maar wat zijn de valkuilen van ons denken? Welke retorische trucjes gebruiken slimme overtuigers om indruk te maken? Welke a...
Article
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The theory of Darwinian cultural evolution is gaining currency in many parts of the socio-cultural sciences, but it remains contentious. Critics claim that the theory is either fundamentally mistaken or boils down to a fancy re-description of things we knew all along. We will argue that cultural Darwinism can indeed resolve long-standing socio-cult...
Article
Judgments of the rationality of beliefs must take the costs of acquiring and possessing beliefs into consideration. In that case, certain false beliefs, especially those that are associated with the benefits of a cohesive community, can be seen to be useful for an agent and perhaps instrumentally rational to hold. A distinction should be made betwe...
Article
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For a long time, philosophers of science have shown little interest in the so-called “demarcation problem” that occupied the pioneers of their field. However, recent years have witnessed a revival of interest in that old chestnut, and even the emergence of a ‘philosophy of pseudoscience’. In this paper, building on the work of Sven Ove Hansson, I d...
Article
Full-text available
For a long time, philosophers of science have shown little interest in the so-called “demarcation problem” that occupied the pioneers of their field. However, recent years have witnessed a revival of interest in that old chestnut, and even the emergence of a ‘philosophy of pseudoscience’. In this paper, building on the work of Sven Ove Hansson, I d...
Article
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Is replication in the cultural domain ubiquitous, rare, or non-existent? And how does this relate to that paradigmatic case of replication, the copying of DNA in living cells? Theorists of cultural evolution are divided on these issues. The most important objection to the replication model has been leveled by Dan Sperber and his colleagues. Cultura...
Article
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The human brain is the only object in the universe, as far as we know, that has discovered its own origins. But what, if any, are the limits of our understanding? Epistemic pessimists, sobered by our humble evolutionary origins, have argued that some truths about the universe are perennial mysteries and will forever remain beyond our ken. Others ha...
Article
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Cultural evolution explains not just when people tend to develop superstitions, but also what forms these beliefs take. Beliefs that are more resilient in the face of apparent refutations and more susceptible to occasional confirmation stand a greater chance of cultural success. This argument helps to dispel the impression that shamans are mere cha...
Article
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In this commentary on Daniel Dennett's 'From Bacteria to Bach and Back', I make some suggestions to strengthen the meme concept, in particular the hypothesis of cultural parasitism. This is a notion that has both caused excitement among enthusiasts and raised the hackles of critics. Is the “meme” meme itself an annoying piece of malware, which has...
Article
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Whitehouse's theory offers one plausible pathway toward extreme self-sacrifice, but it fails to explain sacrificial acts that are inspired by heartfelt ideological beliefs, including jihadi terrorism and mass suicide in cults. If he wants to offer a “single overarching theory” of self-sacrifice, he will need to take seriously the power of belief.
Article
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In this paper we develop an epidemiological approach to account for the typical features and persistent popularity of pseudoscience. An epidemiology of pseudoscience aims at explaining why some beliefs become widely distributed whereas others do not and hence seeks to identify the factors that exert a causal effect on this distribution. We pinpoint...
Article
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Are there any such things as mind viruses? By analogy with biological parasites, such cultural items are supposed to subvert or harm the interests of their host. Most popularly, this notion has been associated with Richard Dawkins’ concept of the “selfish meme”. To unpack this claim, we first clear some conceptual ground around the notions of cultu...
Chapter
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Over religie, geweld en extremistische morele overtuigingen. Wat is de rol van religieus autoritarisme en gepercipieerde onrechtvaardigheid? Handboek Politiediensten, losbladige publicatie, aflevering mei 2017 Over religie, geweld en extremistische morele overtuigingen. Wat is de rol van religieus autoritarisme en gepercipieerde onrechtvaardigheid?...
Article
Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism states that evolution cannot produce warranted beliefs. In contrast, according to Plantinga, Christian theism provides (I) properly functioning cognitive faculties in (II) an appropriate cognitive environment, in accordance with (III) a design plan aimed at producing true beliefs. But does...
Article
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According to some philosophers, we are “cognitively closed” to the answers to certain problems. McGinn has taken the next step and offered a list of examples: the mind/body problem, the problem of the self and the problem of free will. There are naturalistic, scientific answers to these problems, he argues, but we cannot reach them because of our c...
Chapter
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Science, in the classical view, is the epitome of a rational endeavor, untrammeled by social and cultural influences. It strives to reflect the way the world really is, and is elevated above our petty human lives. Social explanations come into view only when science goes astray – when it stops being science. In recent decades, radical sociologists...
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Why do irrational beliefs adopt the trappings of science, to become what is known as “pseudoscience”? Here, we develop and extend an epidemiological framework to map the factors that explain the form and the popularity of irrational beliefs in scientific garb. These factors include the exploitation of epistemic vigilance, the misunderstanding of th...
Article
Full-text available
Are there any such things as mind viruses? By analogy with biological parasites, such cultural items supposed to subvert or harm the interests of their host. Most popularly, this notion has been associated with Richard Dawkins’ concept of the “selfish meme”. To unpack this claim, we first clear some conceptual ground around the notion of cultural a...
Article
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We summarize the argumentative theory of reasoning, which claims that the main function of reasoning is to argue. In this theory, argumentation is seen as being essentially cooperative (people have to listen to others' arguments and be ready to change their mind) but with an adversarial dimension (their goal as argument producers is to convince). C...
Article
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Religious people seem to believe things that range from the somewhat peculiar to the utterly bizarre. Or do they? According to a new paper by Neil Van Leeuwen, religious “credence” is nothing like mundane factual belief. It has, he claims, more in common with fictional imaginings. Religious folk do not really “believe”—in the ordinary sense of the...
Research
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(chapter for an edited volume: Science Unlimited? On the challenges of scientism Boudry, M. & Pigliucci M. (eds.) University of Chicago Press.)
Article
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There is one thing you can be absolutely sure of when you defend the claim that modern science has rendered the existence of the supernatural implausible and that science and re-ligion are therefore in conflict: you will be accused of a sin called “scientism.” What exactly it is that you’re being accused of is not always clear. It certainly isn’t c...
Chapter
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Enlightenment thinkers viewed logic and mathematical probability as the hallmarks of rationality. In psychological research on human (ir)rationality, human subjects are typically held accountable to this arcane ideal of Reason. If people fall short of these traditional standards, as indeed they often do, they are biased or irrational. Recent work i...
Article
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Philosophers of science have given up on the quest for a silver bullet to put an end to all pseudoscience, as such a neat formal criterion to separate good science from its contenders has proven elusive. In the literature on critical thinking and in some philosophical quarters, however, this search for silver bullets lives on in the taxonomies of f...
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Book
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Kunnen we zonder illusies leven? Niemand wil in een totale waanwereld leven, maar de waarheid kan ook kwetsen en verontrusten. Mag je haar niet af en toe wat geweld aandoen? Maarten Boudry vraagt zich af of er nuttige illusies bestaan, uitgekiende en doordachte wanen, heilzaam voorlichaam en geest. Wat is er mis met een placebopil, als je er beter...
Article
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This paper discusses the ecological case for epistemic innocence: does biased cognition have evolutionary benefits, and if so, does that exculpate human reasoners from irrationality? Proponents of ‘ecological rationality’ have challenged the bleak view of human reasoning emerging from research on biases and fallacies. If we approach the human mind...
Article
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Certain enterprises at the fringes of science, such as intelligent design creationism, claim to identify phenomena that go beyond not just our present physics but any possible physical explanation. Asking what it would take for such a claim to succeed, we introduce a version of physicalism that formulates the proposition that all available data set...
Article
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True beliefs are better guides to the world than false ones. This is the common-sense assumption that undergirds theorizing in evolutionary epistemology. According to Alvin Plantinga, however, evolution by natural selection does not care about truth: it cares only about fitness. If our cognitive faculties are the products of blind evolution, we hav...
Article
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After contrasting obscurantism with bullshit, we explore some ways in which obscurantism is typically justified by investigating a notorious test-case: defences of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Obscurantism abuses the reader's natural sense of curiosity and interpretive charity with the promise of deep and profound insights about a designated subject ma...
Article
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What makes beliefs thrive? In this paper, we model the dissemination of bona fide science versus pseudoscience, making use of Dan Sperber's epidemiological model of representations. Drawing on cognitive research on the roots of irrational beliefs and the institutional arrangement of science, we explain the dissemination of beliefs in terms of their...
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What is wrong with ad hoc hypotheses? Ever since Popper's falsifi cationist account of adhocness, there has been a lively philosophical discussion about what constitutes adhocness in scientific e xplana-tion, and what, if anything, distinguishes legitimate auxiliary hypotheses from illicit ad hoc ones. This paper draws upon distinct examples from p...
Article
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The scientific study of living organisms is permeated by machine and design metaphors. Genes are thought of as the "blueprint" of an organism, organisms are "reverse engineered" to discover their functionality, and living cells are compared to biochemical factories, complete with assembly lines, transport systems, messenger circuits, etc. Although...
Article
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The concept of burden of proof is used in a wide range of discourses, from philosophy to law, science, skepticism, and even in everyday reasoning. This paper provides an analysis of the proper deployment of burden of proof, focusing in particular on skeptical discussions of pseudoscience and the paranormal, where burden of proof assignments are mos...
Article
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Several scientists, scientific institutions, and philosophers have argued that science is committed to Methodological Naturalism (MN), the view that science, by virtue of its methods, is limited to studying ‘natural’ phenomena and cannot consider or evaluate hypotheses that refer to supernatural entities. While they may in fact exist, gods, ghosts,...
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This paper discusses the relationship between religion and science education in the light of the cognitive sciences. We challenge the popular view that science and religion are compatible, a view that suggests that learning and understanding evolutionary theory has no effect on students’ religious beliefs and vice versa. We develop a cognitive pers...
Article
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According to a widespread philosophical opinion, science is strictly limited to investigating natural causes and putting forth natural explanations. Lacking the tools to evaluate supernatural claims, science must remain studiously neutral on questions of metaphysics. This (self-imposed) stricture, which goes under the name of ‘methodological natura...
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This paper offers an epistemological discussion of self-validating belief systems and the recurrence of “epistemic defense mechanisms” and “immunizing strategies” across widely different domains of knowledge. We challenge the idea that typical “weird” belief systems are inherently fragile, and we argue that, instead, they exhibit a surprising degre...
Article
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Creationists are becoming more active in Europe. We expect that European biology teachers will be more frequently challenged by students who introduce creationist misconceptions of evolutionary theory into the classroom. Moreover, research suggests that not all teachers are equally prepared to deal with them. To make biology teachers aware of what...
Article
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What are the consequences of evolutionary theory for the epistemic standing of our beliefs? Evolutionary considerations can be used to either justify or debunk a variety of beliefs. This paper argues that evolutionary approaches to human cognition must at least allow for approximately reliable cognitive capacities. Approaches that portray human cog...
Article
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Sober has reconstructed the biological design argument in the framework of likelihoodism, purporting to demonstrate that it is defective for intrinsic reasons. We argue that Sober’s restriction on the introduction of auxiliary hypotheses is too restrictive, as it commits him to rejecting types of everyday reasoning that are clearly valid. Our accou...
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The psychology of prayer and supernatural causation has received surprisingly little attention from empirical researchers. This paper discusses implicit belief patterns about the causal mechanisms by which God effects changes in the world. The authors offer a psychological account of belief in supernatural causation based on the existing empirical...
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We present an inference to the best explanation of the immense cultural success of Freudian psychoanalysis as a hermeneutic method. We argue that an account of psychoanalytic facts as products of unintended declarative speech acts explains this phenomenon. Our argument connects diverse, seemingly independent characteristics of psychoanalysis that h...
Article
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Social constructivist approaches to science have often been dismissed as inaccurate accounts of scientific knowledge. In this article, we take the claims of robust social constructivism (SC) seriously and attempt to find a theory which does instantiate the epistemic predicament as described by SC. We argue that Freudian psychoanalysis, in virtue of...
Article
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An immunizing strategy is an argument brought forward in support of a belief system, though independent from that belief system, which makes it more or less invulnerable to rational argumentation and/or empirical evidence. By contrast, an epistemic defense mechanism is defined as a structural feature of a belief system which has the same effect of...
Article
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The leading Intelligent Design theorist William Dembski (Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2002) argued that the first No Free Lunch theorem, first formulated by Wolpert and Macready (IEEE Trans Evol Comput 1: 67–82, 1997), renders Darwinian evolution impossible. In response, Dembski’s critics pointed out that the theorem is irrelevant to biological...
Thesis
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This dissertation is an exploration of the hinterland of science and the strange ‘creatures’ dwelling there. In philosophical circles, the subject of pseudoscience has stirred relatively little philosophical excitement. The demarcation project has fallen on hard times, and many philosophers have grown suspicious of the very term ‘pseudoscience’, as...
Article
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The psychology of prayer and supernatural causation has received surprisingly little attention from empirical researchers. This paper discusses implicit belief patterns about the causal mechanisms by which God effects changes in the world. The authors offer a psychological account of belief in supernatural causation based on the existing empirical...
Article
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In a previous issue of Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, Filip Buekens argues that evolutionary psychology (EP), or some interpretations thereof, have a corrosive impact on our "manifest self-image". Buekens wants to defend and protect the "global adequacy" of this manifest self-image in the face of what he calls evolutionary revisionism. Although we lar...
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The concept of Irreducible Complexity (IC) has played a pivotal role in the resurgence of the creationist movement over the past two decades. Evolutionary biologists and philosophers have unambiguously rejected the purported demonstration of "intelligent design" in nature, but there have been several, apparently contradictory, lines of criticism. W...
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In recent controversies about Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC), the principle of methodological naturalism (MN) has played an important role. In this paper, an often neglected distinction is made between two different conceptions of MN, each with its respective rationale and with a different view on the proper role of MN in science. According t...
Article
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Genes are often described by biologists using metaphors derived from computational science: they are thought of as carriers of information, as being the equivalent of “blueprints” for the construction of organisms. Likewise, cells are often characterized as “factories” and organisms themselves become analogous to machines. Accordingly, when the hum...
Article
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Book review of "Massimo Pigliucci: Nonsense on stilts: How to tell science from bunk. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010".

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