Psychologists Say Religious People Are Autistic? But Here's Their Bias

You may have seen various news venues promoting a new ‘study‘ that came out claiming that “religious  people have trouble understanding reality” and that they are comparable to Autistic people in that regard.  This study, done by researchers in the University of Helsinki (Finland) claimed that “the more participants believed in religious phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena”. They compared religious people to people with Autism in that “both have trouble distinguishing the mental and the physical”.

Meanwhile, news media has trouble distinguishing genuine scientific findings from soft-science propaganda. Hell, they can’t even report on real science, never mind nonsense disguised as science.

Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t religious people who are stupid or believe plenty of stupid things.  Those of you who regularly read my articles here on Break know that I’ve written more on the subject of crazy, weird or ridiculous religion than anyone else. I’m highly skeptical of all organized religion and most fringe religions and belief in general.  But I’m not pretending to be a scientist (I’m an historian, but history is one of the liberal arts, not a “social-science”). I’m not trying to back up my own theories with deceptive appeals to the objectivity of the scientific method. Or using that to hide my biases. Which is what almost all the ‘soft-sciences’ (the Social Sciences: Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science) have been doing for a long time now.

For starters, this particular study was conducted by Finns in a European university. The whole of European culture is generally more hostile to religion than American culture. 60% of Finns are agnostics, atheists, or non-believers, compared to about 20% of Americans.

But more specifically, Clinical Psychologists (wherever they live) are way more hostile to religion and religious beliefs than the average population.  The Gross-Simmons study (Harvard) of almost 1500 professors found that Psychology departments had the HIGHEST rate of Atheism of any department in universities, at 50% of the faculty. And that was for American universities. It is safe to presume that, Europe being much less religiously devout as a society than the United States, the percentage there would be much, much higher. 

Note that psychologists weren’t always hostile to the spiritual world.  Some of them used to be more complex about it:

A few of them still are; but it turns out that in certain subjects, like religion, that could be really inconvenient to your career.

This hostility to religion also ties into politics. In a survey in 2012 of psychologists in universities and political affiliation, it found that 85% of psychology professors self-identified as left-wing. The study, from Tilburg University, was a direct survey. And it revealed that the few conservatives that do exist in psychology departments hide their political beliefs out of fear of consequences to their career. And note it’s getting worse: initial data has been announced from a new survey of senior post-doctoral psychologists, which finds that in 2015, 89.3% of these identified as Left-wing, 8.3% as moderate, and only 2.5% as right of center. This is a ratio of 36 to 1 in favor of a world-view that, while not automatically friendly to atheism, certainly tends to be strongly hostile to traditional religion.

In fact, as far back as 1986, a study published in the Professional Psychology journal sent identical (fake) applications for doctoral program admissions to 356 professors of Clinical Psychology. But half of these fake applications listed the candidate as having no religion, while the other listed the candidate as being Christian.  There was a significant bias found, as the applications of the Christian candidate were more likely to be rejected on that basis alone.  And that was 30 years ago!

And this all has real effects: a 2008 study by Jennifer Ruff of Fielding Graduate University examined a group of psychologists in the field, presenting them with fake ‘patients’ with identical symptoms meant to lead to a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. But half the patients were identified as Evangelical Christians while the other half appeared to have no strong religion. The study found that the Christian patients were generally treated worse and misdiagnosed more often than the non-religious patients with exactly the same symptoms.

So Clinical Psychology hates religion, and religious people, to the point that it affects their ability to do their job. It’s not really a surprise that they’ll come up with ridiculous studies trying to literally claim that religious people are mentally disabled. What’s surprising is why anyone believes what they’re doing in any way resembles “science” or that their biased soft-science (really unscientific) method proves anything at all, except for confirming the theory of “Smug Atheist Liberal Academics Hate Religious People”.

There has been a MASSIVE problem in the “soft sciences” for a very long time now. A 1996 study of peer-review by the University of Pennsylvania found that there are significant biases in the articles approved based on the political prejudices and adherence to current trends in academia. In other words, they’re all just telling themselves what they want to hear: you know you will only get approved and advance in your career if you follow the political and social bias of your field.  Clinical Psychology (and other soft-science fields like sociology or anthropology) has become an echo-chamber that the media presents as though they were making real quantifiable discoveries of the hard-science variety. 

Being religious doesn’t mean you’re autistic. In fact, what sounds more “autistic”: that some people sense a spiritual quality to ordinary things? Or the fact that some people can’t stop talking about and hating on something they insist they don’t believe in?

Note: this article should be taken to imply any kind of offense against autistic people. I especially apologize for comparing them to social-sciences professors.

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