Saturday, June 02, 2012

Mentalising my foot

A study has apparently found that autistic people are less likely to believe in God. This is very old news to me, as it is clear that declared atheists or agnostics are over-represented in my massive list of famous autistics. I've considered compiling a sub-set list of famous non-believer autistics, but I've not had the time to pursue that idea. As is the case with every research finding about the autistic spectrum, an explanatory theory based on questionable assumptions has been offered, with no mention of any alternative explanations; "We reasoned that if thinking about a personal god engages mentalising abilities, then mentalising deficits would be expected to make belief in a personal god less intuitive, and therefore less believable". That explanation would make sense if we can take a lack of mentalising ability in autism as a fact, but I caution that there are many serious thinkers who do not believe in this idea, and guess which autism researcher played a central role in establishing the idea of a theory of mind deficit as a central feature in autism, with his Sally-Anne Test? Guess! Yes, the researcher who has been the subject of a long run of articles written by me, pointing out many obvious and bizarre errors and strange claims in his work. Yes, a study done by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues was central to this theory. From the point of view of 2012, that theory certainly doesn't look like a truth beyond question. 

So, I have no time for a theory of mind or mentalising deficit as an explanation for why autists are apparently more likely to be atheists. So what's my explanation? Couldn't it just simply be the case that loners and autistics like myself feel less uncomfortable with the existential loneliness that a belief in a godless universe entails? (I'm calling myself a loner these days). I know for sure that many neurotypical people are left feeling emotionally naked when they consider a world in which a deity is not at all times present in their lives as a personal support and guide. God is "our father", a supernatural parent, and the thought of a godless world leaves many neurotypical people feeling like orphans. In contrast I enjoy being alone, not all of the time, but I'm very happy to handle solitude in spades and spades. And the thought of having a live or a supernatural parent figure at my elbow 100% of the time is simply a horror to me. I like my privacy! Don't you? Which famous person said that "Hell is other people"? Was it Ayn Rand, or some other philosopher or novelist? All things being equal, I'm much more likely to agree with that quote than to endorse a claim that Hell is being alone. So go stick your mentalising deficit theory where the sun don't shine. It's a stupid idea. 

Coghlan, Andy (2012) Autism study strengthens idea that we read God's mind. New Scientist. 30 May 2012.


Anonymous said...

This was yet another weird claim that follows from the axiom that autistics are broken. It isn't just SBC of the high profile researchers with this presumption; Uta Frith and Francesca Happe think we're defective too. It's especially annoying because if you pointed to one feature that distinguishes autistics it might be that we're more rational. This is kind of obvious and all results, including this one, suggest it. They keep attacking us with the premise that if you don't see reality through a socially oriented filter, you aren't seeing things correctly. But it's just a filter!

Lili Marlene said...

I'd argue that it's more of a filter - it's a distortion that has many harmful effects.

scintor said...

I would posit that a great percentage of people who believe in any religious position (including atheism) do so as part of a social group. As people with autism tend to care less about what everyone else thinks, they are less likely to take a religious position.

John Mark McDonald

PS I am a 42 year old religious autistic. Just thought I should disclose my bias.

Lili Marlene said...

Mr McDonald, what's your theory about why autistic people (might) care less about what others think? Do you believe one explanation applies to all?

Justthisguy said...

I generally get a pew all to my self when I attend Divine Services, which suits me just fine. I seem to be rather faithless by nature, but like Elizabeth Tudor, I take some comfort in the ritual of a good old-fashioned Anglican service. No electric guitars, if you please.