Committee Chair

Hood, Ralph W., Jr., 1942-

Committee Member

Caldwell-Harris, Catherine; Shelton, Jill; Holcombe, Jenny M.


Dept. of Psychology


College of Arts and Sciences


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


Contemporary theorists of religion have argued that religious beliefs are “natural” because they arise from normally functioning social cognitive capacities, especially Theory of Mind (ToM). Hence, attempts to explain atheism have relied heavily on the assumption that nonbelievers may have a malfunctioning ToM and other traits associated with the autism spectrum continuum (ASC). However, few studies currently address this topic and the evidence either way remains ambiguous. The current research narrows this empirical gap, addressing these claims with a two-fold approach. First, a near comprehensive review of ToM is provided. Second, this study is exploratory, employing a unique methodology and previously untapped empirical measures to test for differences in ToM components and ASC traits between atheists (N = 2423) and theists (N = 103).


I am forever in debt to my thesis committee, Drs. Ralph W. Hood Jr., Jill T. Shelton, Jenny M. Holcombe, and Catherine Caldwell-Harris, thank you all for countless hours of guidance and wisdom, and for your encouragement and enthusiasm for the ideas in this manuscript. To my advisors, friends, and mentors, Ralph W. Hood Jr. (again) and Christopher F. Silver, the years spent under your tutelage have been my utmost privilege, thanks for paying attention to the white crows in life. Standing on the shoulders of giants, I am grateful for correspondence with the following individuals and for their positive influence on my thinking (in alphabetical order): Leonardo Ambasciano, Robert B. Arrowood, Matthew Bashor, Lee Bridenstine, Tiffini Coleman, Christopher R. Cotter, Matthew Durham, Julie Exline and the “Expletives” lab, Luke Galen, Carmencita Eugenia Guevara Guardado, Stewart Guthrie, Sara Hall, Brandon Jones, Jonathan Jong, Barbara Keller, Justin E. Lane, Bob McCauley, David G. Robertson, Kenan Sevinç, John R. Shook, Heinz Streib, Sally B. Swanson, Ingela Visuri, and Ms. Zielke. To my parents and family, I owe you everything. Moreover, I am thankful for Jonathan Jong and Miguel Farias, my new advisors at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, where I will pursue my psychology PhD on the evolution of belief. And finally, a big thanks to all the people in the world who help keep dreams alive.


M. S.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science.




Religion -- Philosophy; Atheists -- Research -- United States; Atheism


Theory of mind; cognitive science of religion; Evolutionary psychology; Atheism; Religion



Document Type

Masters theses




xiii, 163 leaves





Included in

Psychology Commons