Like other neo-Stoic authors of the period, Gournay admits that the nature and authenticity of virtue is elusive. But unlike many of her contemporaries, she does not simply dismiss virtue as a mask of the vice of pride. In Vicious Virtue , she argues that the elusiveness of virtue is tied to the hidden motivations behind virtuous acts. While one may observe external actions, one cannot observe the occult motives inspiring the moral agent to act in an apparently virtuous manner. “One cannot remove from humanity all the virtuous actions it practices because of coercion, self-interest, chance, or accident. Even graver are the external virtues which follow on some vicious inclination…To eliminate all such virtuous acts would place the human race closer to the rank of simple animals than I would dare to say.” Much, if not all, of human moral action is motivated by immoral or amoral factors. External virtuous conduct is caused more by personal interest or accident than by conscious virtuous intention. To eliminate all the moral actions inspired by less than virtuous motives is to eliminate practically all deliberative moral action; the only remaining activity is comparable to that manifested by non-rational animals.
An essential feature of religious experience across many cultures is the intuitive feeling of God's presence. More than any rituals or doctrines, it is this experience that anchors religious faith, yet it has been largely ignored in the scientific literature on religion.
"... [Dr. Wathey's] book delves into the biological origins of this compelling feeling, attributing it to innate neural circuitry that evolved to promote the mother-child bond...[He] argues that evolution has programmed the infant brain to expect the presence of a loving being who responds to the child's needs. As the infant grows into adulthood, this innate feeling is eventually transferred to the realm of religion, where it is reactivated through the symbols, imagery, and rituals of worship. The author interprets our various conceptions of God in biological terms as illusory supernormal stimuli that fill an emotional and cognitive vacuum left over from infancy.
These insights shed new light on some of the most vexing puzzles of religion, like: