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.
Another item for the “not new, but new for me” category. Justin Barrett is a cognitive scientist of religion and the author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God? In that book, Barrett advances an intriguing explanatory hypothesis for why most people believe in God: the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD) hypothesis.
I have to admit that, when I first heard about HADD, I considered it to be very plausible on the assumption that humans are the products of evolution. It reminds me of Stewart Guthrie’s important book, Faces in the Clouds. What is interesting about HADD is that it appears to provide a plausible explanation for the pervasiveness of theistic belief, even on the assumption that theism is false.
Of course, the truth of HADD, if it is true, does not in any way logically contradict theism. I think the significance of HADD is that, if true, it provides a defeater for an argument for God’s existence based on the fact of the pervasiveness of theistic belief. (I’ll have to think about this, but for the same reason it may also provide a defeater for C.S. Lewis’s argument from desire. Perhaps Victor Reppert or another Lewis scholar can comment on that.)
I haven’t yet researched what sort of critical responses, if any, have been offered to HADD. It will be most interesting to follow the debate and research on this topic.