Neurodiversity: Evolution, The Image of God, and the Fall

It’s neurodiversity week!

According to Wikipedia, “The term neurodiversity refers to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions” And, broadly speaking it covers cognitive differences such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism and others.

Being someone who is themselves dyslexic and dyspraxic, I have often wondered how should I understand neurodiversity from an evolutionary creationist perspective. Whilst I used to see my dyslexia as a curse, I now see it to be a great strength. It has gifted me with a set of skills that help me to approach things in a more creative, problem solving way than many of my colleagues. But it is also not without challenges - particularly around spelling, writing, grammar, proof reading (!) and other things. Even so, I would not want not trade away the benefits for the sake of removing the ‘weaknesses’. Perhaps, once I may have considered it a result of the fall, but no longer.

So, some questions for your general consideration and discussion. No need to address them directly if you don’t want to, more to get people thinking.

  • How should we understand neurodiversity from both Christian and evolutionary perspectives?
  • Will neurodiversity (autism, dyslexia, ADHD, etc.) exist in the New Creation?
  • What of the particular challenges the neurodiverse person experiences? Should these be considered part of the general diversity of humanity or are these a result fall or the result of some biological mechanism?

Look forward to reading your thoughts and reflections.

9 Likes

Yes. :slightly_smiling_face:  

2 Likes

I see what you did there… :face_with_monocle: :wink:

1 Like

I’m for accepting people as we find them. I’ve known some people on the autistic spectrum (I suspect there is a better term for this). I have an interest in understanding how the world can be experienced differently by others. I assume my own perspective is partial and getting other perspectives may reveal more that I am missing.

But I have a question that I hope won’t be offensive to anyone. I’ve heard that those on this spectrum are more likely to be atheists. I googled it as I can’t remember the source where I read that and found this study. I’m not familiar with the source and would appreciate any insights into its reliability. I know there are some folks I’ve heard from in the past on this site who have identified as on the spectrum and also Christian. So obviously, even if it is a tendency, it certainly isn’t a rule.

Liam, my Christian brother is also dyslexic and struggled through school though he is very bright; not bright enough to get past YEC, but I suppose that isn’t really an intelligence issue. I wonder if, like the way the blind are said to often develop sharper hearing or other senses if you think your challenges led you to develop particular faculties by way of compensation?

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NASB 95).
Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 “For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
8 “For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.

Proverbs 10:25.
When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more,
But the righteous has an everlasting foundation.

I was thinking about this doing dishes. I think our ideas of life in the New Creation are often skewed by the same Platonic ideas of “perfection” that skew people’s ideas of Eden. We know we will be raised imperishable, and I think there is reason to infer, healed of our “afflictions,” but I don’t think there is evidence we will be “made perfect” in some ideal sense or that everyone will the same. In Revelation, the image is that people keep their ethnic identities, so I would imagine we would keep other aspects of our unique identities and personalities too. I like to think that the loves that shape us now endure and shape our eternal selves. So an artist stays an artist and a thinker stays a thinker and those who thrive on giving care will always have something to nurture. So to the extent that the atypicality of a person’s mind contributes to the good and beautiful in who they are, I think it endures.

We will not be in rebellion and sin will be done away, so maybe the end to suffering and pain and tears comes mostly from being able to perfectly extend and receive grace without the interference of pride, self-doubt, shame and all the other things that make life hard for people with exceptionalities. I doubt spelling or sitting still and staying focused during long sermons is a thing in Heaven. Maybe a lot of the “disadvantages” become irrelevant in a perfectly just society where power structures imposed by “normal” people are done away with.

7 Likes

I do like to think of a quadriplegic cerebral palsy victim friend of mine leaping and running, though. He can just barely nudge the joystick on his power wheelchair, cannot feed himself, and all his food needs to be macerated now to prevent his aspirating it. Ϸ

He’s 41, which is old for that severe an affliction. He is surprisingly high functioning mentally, but not any past elementary school level, and with some speech and visual impairment. How much a part of his identity is it and how much will he shed, I wonder. One thinks of the seed:

What is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. - 1 Corinthians 15:42-43

7 Likes

Great question, Mark. thanks for asking.

There are, I think, a few factors. First is to say that most folk with dyslexia or dyscalculia score above average or higher in intelligence. However, because this intelligence does not express itself in traditional ways (reading, writing, spelling, maths, etc.) it can often be overlooked and/or dismissed. In that sense, I am not surprised to hear that your otherwise bright brother struggled through a traditional education setting. That’s often, but not always, a common theme.

Second, the dyslexic person will often (but, again, not always) develop their own coping mechanisms to help offset some of the challenges that they face. These vary in sucess and can produce depreciating returns over time. For example, a mechanism that serves a child well in school, may breakdown under the strain of university education. Certainly, some of these coping mechanisms can result in particular skills.

However, the vast majority of strengths a dyslexic person has are as a result of their neurodiversity itself. For example, a dyslexic person may have high verbal reasoning, creativity, problem solving, ‘big picture awareness’, and/or pattern recognition skills. However, this also comes with a collection of challenges (as mentioned in my OP).

Does that answer your question, Mark?

For those who are interested here is a good 1minute summary video by Made by Dyslexia Charity:

There’s also a bunch of great Tedx talks on YouTube about and by Dyslexic people.

4 Likes

I’m afraid you’ve lost me Terry as to the significance of these verse. Might you elaborate, please?

1 Like

Yes, this is a great point! As Romans 8:28-30 points out the good that God is working all things to in the lives of the believer is that we would be conformed to the pattern of Jesus. I believe that to be primary an ethical pattern. In the new creation we will be perfect in that we will not sin but be perfectly righteous in and of ourselves. I don’t think, for example, that I’ll be able to fly like superman or jump the Grand Canyon.

This is fair also; many people have pointed out that the education system (in the UK at least) is a sausage factory where children are squeezed into moulds and those who don’t ‘fit’ are eventually left behind. IN addition, our education system’s obsession with testing, measuring, and league tables also reinforces a very Victorian form of intelligence. Namely, what is sometimes called the 3 Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic). As a result, those who have face challenges in those areas are perceived as - ahem - less intelligent (read: stupid). As you say, I imagine that, and whether you can sit still for extended periods of time will be of little consequence in eternity.

Thankful for yesterday’s dirty dishes :slight_smile:.

4 Likes

Glad to see so much positive inclusion and so little weirdness. So much hope. Our seed consciousness, with all its carnal limitations, all of its experiences no matter how bad, will take root in a perfect glorified growing medium, not just a glorified brain with no practical limits for deconstruction and reconstruction, but the ultimate Counsellor in Person, the ultimate Parent and Sibling, the ultimate social environment. Is how I like to think of it. Real in the transcendent. No editing of memory, in fact perfect recall, no surgery of personality. But therapy, pearl layering on grit.

1 Like

The video was helpful. It makes sense to me that with the difficulty in taking or making use of notes that one might increase the capacity to hold ideas mentally and the concentration that requires might set loose more creativity and insight.

2 Likes

Yes, that is true… to a point. However, it is important to separate, saying dyslexic ability from compensation method. So, in my case I have, I am told, an aptitude for remember quotations (very useful for a church worker!). However, that is unlikely to a compensation for my dyslexia, and more like to be a result of my dyslexia. However, I can’t ever remember the reference for those quotes, neither can I remember, names, telephone numbers, addresses, car registrations, bank details, or significant dates. That is a challenge of dyslexia for which I do have to compensate, though as yet I’ve not seen a noticeable positive to that compensation… other than my wife not getting annoyed for forgetting our anniversary!!!

I think it is worth noting that primarily the combination of strengths and challenges that a neurodiverse person has are just that neurological. They stem from the fact that our brains are demonstrably wired differently… not better or worse… but differently. So it is that difference in ‘wiring’ that enables the dyslexic person, for example, to excel at say imaginative problem solving or creative processes (music, art, drama, poetry, etc.). However, it is that very same wiring that also produces the challenges such with note taking or hand writing.

So, in short, it is not that the dyslexic person has challenges that can produce strengths if handled properly. But rather, they have strengths and challenges due to their neurology, though the latter can often mask the former without proper early intervention and educational support.

1 Like

I was thinking that sometimes taking our busy mind with its brain storming, analysis and brain racking off line can help with creativity and insight. I wonder if prayer beads and so on exploit that too. I seem to have developed the ability to get out of my own way voluntarily but maybe that was owing to how bad I was at straightforward reasoning? I’m pretty low in investigative/ analytic tendencies. Maybe my brother is just the one who got diagnosed.

1 Like

That may well be the case since dyslexia runs in families. Both of my parents are dyslexic, and my sister too.

Reflection on the issues raised in your first question leads me to believe that elaboration would not be useful. Instead, I’ll share this cartoon:

  • Screenshot_2021-03-20 What did Albert Einstein mean when he said 'Everybody is a genius But if you judge a fish by its abil...
4 Likes

I considered starting a new thread for what I’m about to share, then figured: What the heck, this thread should be able to absorb the following: From Evolutionary Algorithms: How Natural Selection Beats Human Design

  • An evolutionary algorithm, which is a subset of evolutionary computation, can be defined as a “population-based metaheuristic optimization algorithm.” These nature-inspired algorithms evolve populations of experimental solutions through numerous generations by using the basic principles of evolutionary biology such as reproduction, mutation, recombination, and selection.
  • My personal favorite lines were these: "As more and more populations are evolved to solve a given problem, the survival of the fittest comes in: the solutions with higher fitness values, which are closer to the peaks, are selected in each generation and are allowed to “breed,” while the low-ranking individuals are “killed.” This process enables the algorithm to get nearer to the peaks with each generation.”

Neat! Computerized solutions in which “high-ranking individuals in each generation” are allowed to breed, "while the low-ranking individuals are “killed.” LOL! Leads me to believe that the answer to the question asked in another thread, i.e. “Does evolution promote morality?” would be “No”, but that evolution does evoke morality, when self-interested “low-ranking individuals” start to holler.

Enjoyed the article. The engineering solutions actually look a lot like mangrove or cypress root structure.

1 Like

Most characteristics (length, skin color, etc) show some amount of variation. My understanding is that neurodiversity is same sort of variation in particular characteristics. Some variants may be caused by errors during development or mutations but the weakness or the strength of a trait depends on the environment.

I take autism as an example. Mild forms of autism may give a person a superior ability to concentrate on certain types of work. If there are no deadlines and the surrounding environment is calm, mild autistic characteristics may be an advantage. Modern society values group work and deadlines, and work environments may occasionally be chaotic. In this kind of environment, any form of autism is a disadvantage.

Neurodiversity is natural but some traits cause suffering at the personal level. Humans can become accustomed to many kind of situations but many would be happier as “neuronormal” - if there is something that can be called ‘normal’. I believe that after resurrection, we do not suffer from such characteristics.

Yes and no. Unlike the natural world, the work place environment is malleable and reasonable changes can (and, I would argue, should) be made to ensure that a workplace cater for a broad range of neuro-types. Using your own example, many of the struggles that a person with mild autism might face in a traditional workplace can be overcome with awareness, education (particularly of line managers), and some basic accommodations to ensure equal opportunities. For example, in a loud and chaotic workplace, allowing an employee to use noise cancelling headphones may be of benefit. In a project centred workplace, giving them plenty of warning about upcoming deadlines/changes can help overcome these challenges. Again, if group activity is facilitated properly, then the person with autism may have valuable contributions to make which otherwise may have been overlooked. Half the battle is putting the best people into the best roles (more on that below).

True, but (excluding extreme examples) this suffering is most often caused by societal structures, especially within the education system (see my above post re: ‘The 3 Rs’). All evidence indicates that early identification of neurodiversity and appropriate intervention is essential for preventing this suffering and in most cases leads to high attainment. This is due to the fact that their struggle to engage with traditional learning systems often masks a higher-than-average intelligence.

The same is true for the workplace. Many people with mild to more extreme forms of autism can often flourish in IT, finance, and process-oriented roles, yet can be hampered by interview processes that place high value on social-emotional communication, even when the role (E.g. IT systems) does not require it.

Two questions here.

  1. Do you have any evidence to support the claim that neurodiverse people would be happier if they were not so?
  2. Please can you define ‘nueronormal’?

What leads you to this conclusion?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.