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Dr Andrew Atkinson


Dr Andrew Atkinson arrived at Philosophy via the Fine Arts - and ended up in Philosophy of Biology and the evolution of religious culture. His main interests, based on what Pascal Boyer refers to as a Kantian/Darwinian axis in the cognitive sciences, are in naturalistic approaches to the prevalence and existence of religious culture. Andrew also has interests in Art, Cognitive Development, and religious polemics. This trajectory in study went through a BA (Hons) in Fine Art (Ulster), an MA in Analytic Aesthetics (Bristol), a PGCE (Bristol), another MA (Birkbeck, London) where he became interested in the shortfalls of traditional "Philosophy of Religion", to a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science focusing on (from an atheistic premise) naturalistic accounts of religious proclivities in Homo Sapiens.

His interest in the Cognitive Science of Religion concerns the role of agency detection and theory of mind in the formation and understanding of supernatural agency. He argues that they have been of varying significance in explaining religion in our evolutionary past, and the priming for it in the present. The cultural evolution of theistic concepts needs to be brought into account.

Related to the central role a healthy theory of mind is given for religiosity is an interest in the claim that all atheists are autistic (i.e. suffer a deficit in a theory of mind), mentally handicapped - 'unable to walk' even (Barrett, 2012). Andrew challenges that notion on empirical and philosophical grounds. Research surrounding the relationship between autism and religiosity is as follows: on the one hand, ASD patients (lumped together unfairly as if not on a spectrum) might be unable to grasp concepts of supernatural agency. On the other hand they might be highly attracted to repetitive religious ritual behaviour - so the thinking goes. That research should go toward supporting the role of agency detection and theory of mind in the social evolution of religion if it is shown that autists generally lack religious affiliation. It does not follow that all atheists are autists.



Barrett, J. (2012) Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief, Atria Books




Department of Philosophy

Honorary staff