With reasons of the heart before God. On religious experience from an evolutionary-theological perspective

  • DP Veldsman
Keywords: Blaise Pascal, Wessel Stoker, Joseph LeDoux, Antonia Damasio, Emotion, Mood, evolutionary biology, neurosciences, evolutionary theology, affective-cognitive dimension of personhood


What does the affective-cognitive dimension of being human entails? Many contemporary scholars from theological (especially religious experience) perspectives as well as from evolutionary biological (especially neuroscientific) perspectives have made exciting inroads in the on-going anthropological discourses on this very dimension of being human. My article partially makes work of their respective contributions. For the former theological perspective I will utilize Pascal and Stoker. For the latter neuroscientific perspective I will concentrate on LeDoux and Damasio. I call my contribution an evolutionary-theological re-conceptualisation of religious experience for which I make use of Pascal’s famous words from his Pensées (1670) “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know” and “(i)t is the heart which experiences God and not the reason”. Therefore the title: With reasons of the heart before God. Such a formulation however immediately raises the question: Does such an emphasis on the “heart” re-introduce irrationality into the scientific scholarly dialogue? The answer is clear: Yes, it does. It is argued that it should be re-introduced constructively into contemporary science-theology discourses in order – on the one hand – to critically address the very accusation, and – on the other hand – to present us with a far richer, deeper understanding of personhood. From the constructive integration of the two perspectives, namely the theological and neuroscientific the words of Pascal is finally re-formulated from an evolutionary-theological perspective and qualified in which emotion is presented as the embodiment of the logic of survival.