Zev Porat

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adult Swim! Does Autism Lead to Atheism?


Following are relevant excerpts from an article dated May 30, 2012 by Matthew Hutson in Psyched! It remains a subject of great displeasure to many but we cannot ignore a physical explanation for the denial of the self-evident, that is, the existence of a personal God who desires a relationship with His creation any more than we can deny the reality that poor eyesight can be the result of poorly functioning eyes instead of demons behind the eye sockets. We do live in a fallen world after all.

"You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free." - Jesus

In most religions, and arguably anything worth being called a religion, God is not just an impersonal force or creator. He has a mind that humans can relate to. Maybe you're not gossiping on the phone with him late at night, but he has personality traits, thoughts, moods(?), and ways of communicating with you. If you didn't know what a mind was or how it worked, not only would you not understand people, you would not understand God, and you would not be religious.

That's the theory, anyway. Scientists who study religion have come to agree that belief in God (or gods) relies on everyday social cognition: our ability—and propensity—to think about minds.

Which means if you are autistic, and unable to "mentalize," you would be an atheist. New research published [recently] in PLoS ONE provides fresh evidence for this claim.

But first, the existing evidence.

Jesse Bering, in a 2002 paper, noted that in autobiographical accounts written by people with high-functioning autism, God is more a principle than a person. He/it provides order but isn't much concerned with human affairs—the idea of him satisfies the intellect rather than the emotions. Temple Grandin, for example, described God as the entanglement of millions of interacting particles.

In line with such a conception of the divine, Simon Baron-Cohen, who proposed the mindblindness theory of autism, [explains] that "sometimes I meet people with autism who are religious, but their motivation is driven more by the rules (the system) in theology rather than the anthropomorphizing."

One outcome of the ability to mentalize is the ability to think teleologically—to see the purpose of objects or events.

Bethany Heywood, in collaboration with Jesse Bering, found in her Ph.D. research that even atheists tend to say that certain things happened to them "for a reason," e.g., to teach them a lesson. But subjects with Asperger's gave significantly fewer teleological responses than a control group did, and several even expressed confusion regarding the questions about purpose. 

The strongest connection between atheism and autism before now was a paper presented at a conference by Catherine Caldwell-Harris and collaborators at Boston University. Survey respondents with high-functioning autism were more likely than control subjects to be atheists and less likely to belong to an organized religion. (They were also more likely to have religious ideas of their own construction, perhaps something similar to Temple Grandin's.) And atheists were higher on the autistic spectrum than Christians and Jews. But the researchers were not able to demonstrate that mentalizing deficits were responsible for the connection.

That's where the new paper comes in. 12 autistic and 13 neurotypical adolescents took part, and the neurotypical subjects were 10 times as likely to strongly endorse God.

The other three studies went further. They included hundreds of participants from a variety of demographics in the US and Canada and used various measures of belief in God and of mentalizing abilities. The results of all three followed the same pattern.

First, people with higher scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient had weaker belief in a personal God. Second, reduced ability to mentalize mediated this correlation. 

 "It's hard to have an experience of God in your life unless you think of him as a person, with mental states, who you can pray to, who will answer your prayers, who cares about you,"

Source (edited for our purposes):

With the preceding information in mind, can we ignore the very real possibility that physical healing is a pre-requisite (prayer) obligation of believers witnessing to the body of the world's population suffering from autism and related disorders? We have received reports of people being healed from autism. God is able, after all.

In a debate with Christopher Hitchens, Rev Al Sharpton was forced to interrupt "Hitch" and rebuke him for not looking at him when he spoke to him... essentially... assuming it was rudeness which could be corrected. However, if Hitchens was simply manifesting undiagnosed autism, then he really couldn't help it.

On a sad side note, Hitchens remarked in the aforementioned debate how wonderful it would be if people were (more like himself) able to think for themselves without any faith (in god or man). What a horrible indictment against his own worldview since Hitchens, without the benefit of Godly, biblical instruction, both drank and smoked himself to death; a fault he himself readily acknowledged before his death. 

No comments:

Post a Comment