In the autobiographies of autistic individuals, God, the cornerstone of most people’s religious experience, is presented more as a sort of principle than as a psychological entity. For autistics, God seems to be a faceless force in the universe that is directly responsible for the organization of cosmic structure—arranging matter in an orderly fashion, or “treating” entropy—or He’s been reduced to cold, rational scientific logic altogether. […] What is noticeably missing is a sense of interpersonal relations between the autistic individual and God. It’s almost as if the algorithmic strategies used to deal with other people spill over into the authors’ religious beliefs as well. […]

On the other side of the clinical coin from autism is the disorder of paranoid schizophrenia, in which the term “paranoid” captures the essence of a theory of mind gone completely wild. These individuals see personal signs and messages in nearly everything. The experience of apophenia (seeing patterns of connections in random or meaningless events) that is more or less endemic to the psychology of these patients is especially telling. For example, University of Edinburgh psychiatrist Jonathan Burns writes,

Patients with schizophrenia seek meaning in the bizarre phenomena of their psychoses. Theistic and philosophical phenomena populate their hallucinations, while the frantic search for, and misattribution of, intentionality must lie at the heart of symptoms such as thought insertion, ideas of reference and paranoid delusions.

– Jesse Bering, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life (2011)


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