LINK: Study on Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism

Catherine Caldwell-Harris and Patrick McNamara have published a very intriguing study in the cognitive science of religion entitled, “Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism.” Here is the abstract:

The cognitive science of religion is a new field which explains religious belief as emerging from normal cognitive processes such as inferring others’ mental states, agency detection and imposing patterns on noise. This paper investigates the proposal that individual differences in belief will reflect cognitive processing styles, with high functioning autism being an extreme style that will predispose towards nonbelief (atheism and agnosticism). This view was supported by content analysis of discussion forums about religion on an autism website (covering 192 unique posters), and by a survey that included 61 persons with HFA. Persons with autistic spectrum disorder were much more likely than those in our neurotypical comparison group to identify as atheist or agnostic, and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system. Nonbelief was also higher in those who were attracted to systemizing activities, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient.

LINK

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    I know people with High FUnctioning Autism who are Christians, and tend to be traditional protestanrtt or catholic.

    I really don't trust these sorts of Initial "Pet" studies.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16718427136116646031 Keith Augustine

    I wonder what they mean by "systematizing activities," exactly. I can take a guess, but specific examples would be interesting…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    According to this article by Simon Baron-Cohen at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge:

    "Systemizing is the drive to understand the rules governing the behavior of a system and the drive to construct systems that are lawful. Systemizing allows one to predict and control such systems."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    I don't see hwo a Drive to understand the systematic Rules of behaviour or attemptign to use that knowledge to cotnrol an outcome leads to At5heism, given that a lot of thought in Theology is derived from the idea that the Universe itself is Governed by Laws that can be understood and a lot of Religious practice is styalised and thus predictable.

    I still say this is just a pet theory that they seek evidence to support and not real Science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05194364351115708769 Unknown

    Claims of "laws" are not enough. You have to have complete consistency without any loose ends. If you're actually driven to understand the underlying principles behind a system's behavior, then you will never accept a religious answer, as all religious propositions require a greater unexplained component that has no evidence, detailed description, or logical consistency with both itself and the observed universe.

    An autistic person asks "well where did the mass-energy of the universe come from?" They might be told that the matter of the Big Bang might have been created by the rethermalization of an Inflaton field, and offered mathematical formula as support, and more formulae to show how chaotic inflationary theory, based on observational evidence of the early universe, might soundly require no origin and continue eternally, from eternity into eternity, or perhaps formulae showing how the energy could have emerged from the primordial vacuum ex nihilo, and the corroborating evidence of vacuum energy. No entire, wholly undescribed entity need be invoked to explain these processes – specific details just need to be polished out of the woodwork as experimental evidence supports or shoots down one hypothesis or another. Now, explain to that same person that a deity created the mass-energy, but we have no mathematical descriptions of that entity, and no evidence of it as yet has been observed in the Cosmic Microwave Background, and a theological approach to understanding will fall flat. God without an analytical description is meaningless and ergo no form of explanation whatsoever. And not just "God." Ahura Mazda, the Cosmic Egg, Brahman, anything supernatural is fundamentally symbolic or metaphorical, or at the very best a distant and anecdotal Chinese whisper that is utterly devoid of any empirical meaning. The invocation of any of them to explain anything raises infinitely more questions than any are capable of answering, and essentially shank Occam with his own razor, so to speak.

    Math and physics will always appeal to more literal, clinically minded individuals than largely symbolic/ metaphorical spiritual speculations. Speaking as a person identified along the fringe of the spectrum, I can tell you that emotion has little explanatory appeal when applied to things independent of emotion, and ultimately, religion is derived entirely derived from human emotional needs, it has no relation to the origins or structure of the universe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    ONE thing I hate is how unfounded claims about Religion have become truisms bandied about by Atheists. One such is that Religion requires a component that is irrational and improvable. Well, no it doesn’t. Why do you say it does?

    When you say this…

    Claims of "laws" are not enough. You have to have complete consistency without any loose ends. If you're actually driven to understand the underlying principles behind a system's behavior, then you will never accept a religious answer, as all religious propositions require a greater unexplained component that has no evidence, detailed description, or logical consistency with both itself and the observed universe.

    …You fall into that category. I have studied Religion for years. I know that while its popular in Modern Atheistic Literature, the claim that religion requires a component of unexplained answers is daft nonsense.

    Religious beliefs are often well thought out and are usually, if done by actual Theologians, very much involved with presenting evidence for their propositions, and always employ the use of Logic and try to make their statements Logically Constituent. Anyone who has read an actual Theology book will also scoff at the idea that they lack detailed descriptions. I just recently read something by Rowan Williams and it has a lot of detailed descriptions in it.

    The idea that religious belief is illogical and irrational may bolster an Atheists sense of superiority, but its hardly an accurate depiction of actual Theology.

    Incidentally, an Atheistic answer is also a Religious one. If the Autistic person can never accept a religious Answer, then they can’t accept an Atheistic one either as Atheism is not the opposite of Religion. I am not saying “lack of belief in a god” is Religion before that’s brought up again, I’m saying religion is not the same as belief in a god. Religion is formally defined as beliefs about the nature, cause, and origins of the world we live in that pertain to its meaning and the meaning of our existence. Any Atheistic Philosophy, such as Secular Humanism, which covers the same essential ground as religion and answers the same basic questions as religion is, by definition, Religion.

    I realise a lot of modern Atheism insists that they are not Religious and use Religion as some sort of evil oppressive force, but that is not so.

    I also have to wonder why you think an Autistic person can never accept a Religious Answer. You really mean theological but we’ll go with what you said.

    The reason I wonder this is because Autistic people can be Christians, Jews, Muslims, ect… I know this study says they lean toward Atheism, but I question the validity of this Study based on numerous encounters with various Autistic people who were Christian in my own Psychology studies. If they can never be “religious” then how is it that they usually were when I met them?

    I think this is like the “Studies” that proved that Black people were inferior to white people, or the Studies that said Homosexual men must act more feminine because they identify with feminine role models. All you have to do is meet a smart black man or a gay man who is really super macho to know its bunk.

    Just because this has the “Science” label on it doesn’t mean its true.

    “An autistic person asks "well where did the mass-energy of the universe come from?"“

    Actually most Autistic people don’t ask this. One of the major problems with the study itself is that it doesn’t even differentiate between types of Autims. Most Autistic people in general are like most people in general regarding those questions. They simply never come up at all.

    If the person suffers Aspersers they are High Functioning, but may still never ask this question. From personal experience with a Girl I knew with Aspersers though, she accepted that God created the Universe. So again, I’m not really overly convinced with either this study or your particular claims regarding Religion.

    Continued below.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    Continued From Above.

    They might be told that the matter of the Big Bang might have been created by the rethermalization of an Inflaton field, and offered mathematical formula as support, and more formulae to show how chaotic inflationary theory, based on observational evidence of the early universe, might soundly require no origin and continue eternally, from eternity into eternity, or perhaps formulae showing how the energy could have emerged from the primordial vacuum ex nihilo, and the corroborating evidence of vacuum energy. No entire, wholly undescribed entity need be invoked to explain these processes – specific details just need to be polished out of the woodwork as experimental evidence supports or shoots down one hypothesis or another. Now, explain to that same person that a deity created the mass-energy, but we have no mathematical descriptions of that entity, and no evidence of it as yet has been observed in the Cosmic Microwave Background, and a theological approach to understanding will fall flat. God without an analytical description is meaningless and ergo no form of explanation whatsoever. And not just "God." Ahura Mazda, the Cosmic Egg, Brahman, anything supernatural is fundamentally symbolic or metaphorical, or at the very best a distant and anecdotal Chinese whisper that is utterly devoid of any empirical meaning. The invocation of any of them to explain anything raises infinitely more questions than any are capable of answering, and essentially shank Occam with his own razor, so to speak.

    This is why I question the validity of your claims about both High Functioning Autism and the nature of “Religion” which is really Theology.

    1: The big bang Theory was itself created by a Jesuit priest and was initially rejected as it posited a Creation of the Universe, as opposed to an Eternal one that had been previously held. Steady-State theory was predominant and this was seen as a Religious idea.

    2: Big Bang Theory today still has a lot, and I mean a lot of holes in it and is not anywhere near proven, and has been challenged by contemporary Scientists.

    3: You fall back on the usual claim that God is somehow simplistic and people who offer a Theological exfoliation must by necessity be vague as they have no Evidence and would never work with Complex Equations or real Science, and would not have an equally complex Alternative. God just “Did it” and that’s that.

    Well, that’s not what I get by reading actual Theology books. Even Saint Augustine didn’t think “Goddidit” was a reason for the Universe being Created and postulations about how God formed the world have been made by Modern Benedictine and Jesuit Scholars as well as Protestant ministers or Orthodox Clergy that deal specifically in big Bang Theory. Ideas about God, the Nature of God, and how Giod made the Universe actually are complex and do take into consideration modern Science.

    4: I also doubt the average person, whether Atheist or Theist, could explain the Big bang Theory in any detail.

    5: Again, there are to many Autistic people who are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or other assorted Faiths to actually claim that none of them would be satisfied with a Theological explanation about Origins.

    6: I also think you are falling into the usual platform s justification after the fact. I find this illogical itself,. You read one article then expand the ramifications of said Article beyond what the Article itself said, to fit a previous paradigm.

    To you, Autistics prove the superiority of Atheism because they are ever so Logical, but you just read into the situation their Logical Minds wanting real answers as you already have in place the ideal of the Supremacy of Atheism. If the study said Autistics were more likely to believe in God, you’d reverse this and say that it proves that belief in God requires suspension of some mental faculties.

    You just want to use this to bolster your own Biases.

    Something More Below.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    From The Above…

    Math and physics will always appeal to more literal, clinically minded individuals than largely symbolic/ metaphorical spiritual speculations.

    I will repeat myself. You know nothing of Religion.

    To assume Religion is more about Emotional reaction and Symbolism, and thus people who are more analytical or Logical will be less likely to be Religious, is a Modern Cultural impression, not a Reality. Oftentimes Christians make good Mathematicians. Gregereis LeMarte for example. Or what about Kurt Goddel?

    Logical Minds given to Critical Thinking do not always become Atheists, and Atheism is not always a position held by the clinically detached.

    Further, Aspergers Syndrome, a form of high Functioning Autism I have studied personally, does not make people cold, logical and focused. Aspersers syndrome makes people feel emotional impacts more deeply and more succulently. It does not, however, improve upon ones ability to use Critical Thinking Skills or to be Logical. This is not to say someone with Aspersers can’t be Logical or use Critical thinking, but they are not proficient in it above the average person.

    Aspersers Syndrome really simply means you are more likely to focus on a singular topic of interest, not that you are clinically detached and purely driven by liogic. It means you are comfortable in Routines and prefer predictable outcomes, but it also means you become emotionally distressed if those routines are not followed. Though this is not as bad as in other more severe forms of Autims.

    You clearly demonstrate how your image of Atheism, as driven by Logic and Reason, and producing Scientifically oriented people who use Critical Thinking and Reason on all things, has been transferred to the Autistic as if they embody this Ideal somehow. But you have never studied Autism at all or you’d know that this is not True.

    Speaking as a person identified along the fringe of the spectrum, I can tell you that emotion has little explanatory appeal when applied to things independent of emotion, and ultimately, religion is derived entirely derived from human emotional needs, it has no relation to the origins or structure of the universe.

    Er…no, Religion is derived from the same place Science is. Religion is simply a Foundational Philosophy about how we understand the world. it’s the same thing as “Worldview”, a new term created because some people were offended at being called Religious and got people to play along with it.

    Religion exists to codify ideas about who we are, where we came from, and how our world works, and how best we should Live. It is the need to understand our world that created Religion, and Religion is just the Narrative Structure we use to interpret our surroundings. As a result, everyone is Religious, even those who say they are not.

    Of course you mean “Theology” and “Belief in God” not “Religion” but even this is wrong. The idea that people only believe in God because it makes them feel good is just another cobbler that isn’t True. Not everyone who believes God exists has a particularly deep Emotional attachment to God, and some have concluded a god exists simply based on Logical Argumentations, such as Anthony Flew who is now a Deist.

    Meanwhile I’ve known of some Atheists, like john Loftus, who clearly have become Atheists for emotional reasons, not because they are Logical.

    Not all Theological beliefs are rooted purely in Emotion and a good deal fo Rational thought goes into Religious Questions.

    Its really just absurd to say otherwise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17668854596329493360 ZAROVE

    One last thing…

    Read the “study’ again. It’s mainly taken from one Source, which happens to be an online message Board. That is hardly the best sample.

    The NT study, those without Autism, for instance, scored a whopping 10% for Atheism, and 17% for Agnostics, when the general public according to Census Information is 10% for both Atheists and Agnostics combined.

    What you are witnessing on the Internet message Boards is an Echo Chamber, like minded people tend to gravitate toward it. IMDb is rife with Atheist posters too, but that doesn’t mean the general population is Atheistic.


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