Atheism and autism

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Autism affects the amygdala, cerebellum, and multiple other parts of the brain.

In 2011, the University of Boston published a study on the correlation between atheism and high-functioning/mild autism.[1][2]

On September 19, 2011, the Discover Magazine website had an article indicating that there were empirical results showing a positive correlation between atheism and high functioning autism and the article declared:

This is why the empirical results on the correlation between atheism and high functioning autism are important...

...some people were angry that I seemed to suggest that atheists were antisocial weirdos. Well, there is some data to back that up.[3]

Atheist science writer Matthew Hutson on atheism and autism studies

On May 30, 2012, Matthew Hutson wrote at Psychology Today website that the findings of the study at Boston University entitled Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism have been replicated by other studies.[4]

The autism-spectrum quotient is a questionnaire published by Simon Baron-Cohen and his coworkers at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK. The questionnaire consists of fifty questions and aims to determine whether adults of average intelligence have symptoms of autism or one of the other autism spectrum conditions.[5]

Hutson also wrote about atheism and autism:

Ara Norenzayan and Will Gervais of the University of British Columbia and Kali Trzesniewski of UC Davis report on four studies. The first study replicates the finding of the BU research: 12 autistic and 13 neurotypical adolescents took part, and the neurotypical subjects were 10 times as likely to strongly endorse God.

The other three studies went further. They included hundreds of participants from a variety of demographics in the U.S. and Canada and used various measures of belief in God and of mentalizing abilities. The results of all three followed the same pattern.

First, people with higher scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (items included "I am fascinated by numbers," and "I find social situations [difficult]") had weaker belief in a personal God. Second, reduced ability to mentalize mediated this correlation. (Mentalizing was measured with the Empathy Quotient, which assesses self-reported ability to recognize and react to others' emotions, and with a task that requires identifying what's being expressed in pictures of eyes. Systematizing -- interest in and aptitude for mechanical and abstract systems -- was correlated with autism but was not a mediator.) Third, men were much less likely than women to say they strongly believed in a personal God (even controlling for autism), and this correlation was also mediated by reduced mentalizing.[6]

LiveScience.com on atheism and autism

Individuals with autism have a tendency to use different portions of the brain (yellow) for a movement task compared to a control group (blue).

Stephanie Pappas wrote at the science website Livescience.com:

Autism — and people's ability to empathize with others' thoughts and feelings — runs along a spectrum, so next, the researchers turned to a sample of 327 Canadian college students to see if more autismlike traits (but not a clinical diagnosis) might be related to belief in God. The students filled out online questionnaires about the strength of their belief as well as a survey designed to place them on the autism spectrum. This survey, the Autism Spectrum Quotient, asks participants to agree or disagree with statements such as, "I find social situations easy," and "I prefer to do things the same way over and over again."

The students also filled out surveys regarding their ability to empathize with others and their ability to systematize, or reason about mechanical and physical objects and processes (an engineer would likely be good at systemization, for example).

Believers and disbelievers

The study found that the higher the autism score, the less likely the person was to believe in God, with the link partially explained by theory of mind. In other words, the better someone felt at understanding other's minds, the more fervent their belief in God.

The researchers repeated the experiment twice in American adults, with slight variations in the sorts of questions asked. In two separate nationwide samples, one with 706 participants and one with 452, they again found that autistic traits decreased belief. In both studies, theory of mind explained the differences between believers and nonbelievers. These samples were not nationally representative, but did include a broad array of beliefs and cultural backgrounds.

These studies are correlational, so researchers can't say for sure whether an inability to imagine other minds actually leads to atheism or agnosticism or whether the link is caused by something else. The researchers did control for religious service attendance, assuming that the socially inept might be less likely to flex their mentalizing muscles by mingling at church each week. That analysis showed that religious service attendance could not explain the link between autismlike traits and belief.[7]

Atheists, autism and higher levels of genetic mutations

See also: Atheists and genetic mutations

Left-handedness is a good indicator of a high mutational load.[8] People who are left-handed higher incidences of autism and schizophrenia.[9] A study found that atheists are more likely to be left-handed (see: Atheists and genetic mutations).[10][11]

Atheist PZ Myers' blog audience and their reported Asperger's quotient test results

Vox Day has written about atheists being "socially autistic".[12][13][14]

Asperger's syndrome (sometimes referred to as "High-Functioning Autism" or "HFA") is an umbrella term used to classify problematic behaviours similar to, but less severe than, those within the lower reaches of the autistic spectrum.

Day wrote concerning atheist PZ Myers' blog audience:

It's by no means a scientific test, but it is interesting to note the coincidence that 59 of the virulent atheists over at Dr. PZ Myers place report an average score on the Asperger's Quotient test of 27.8. And this does not include the two individuals who actually have Asperger's but did not report any test results."

As PZ himself said: "I took the test and scored a 24, an “average math contest winner.” You need a 32 to suggest Asperger’s, and a 15 is the average. So there. I don’t have Asperger’s, I’m just cruel and insensitive."[15]

Below is some information that Aspergerstest.com gives concerning interpreting their Asperger's quiz results:

Basically the range for possible answers is 0 to 50. The information below shows you the different ranges as recorded from others sitting this same AQ quiz over the years.

0-11 low result – indicating no tendency at all towards autistic traits.

11-21 is the average result that people get (many women average around 15 and men around 17)

22-25 shows autistic tendencies slightly above the population average

26-31 gives a borderline indication of an autism spectrum disorder. It is also possible to have aspergers or mild autism within this range.

32-50 indicates a strong likelihood of Asperger syndrome or autism.

In fact, scores of 32 or above are one of strong indicators of having as ASD.[16]

PZ Myers' antitheist blog audience and the issue of narcissism vs. Asperger's Syndrome

Michael Nugent is chairperson of Atheist Ireland.

PZ Myers is a New Atheist and New Atheism is a contemporary form of antitheism.[17][18] Therefore, it is very probable his blog appeals to people who hold to a antitheism perspective. Social science research indicates that antitheists score the highest among atheists when it comes to personality traits such as narcissism, dogmatism, and anger.[19] Furthermore, they scored lowest when it comes to agreeableness and positive relations with others.[20]

In the United States, a University of Tennessee study estimated that 15% of American atheists were antitheists.[21]

The atheist biologist Massimo Pigliucci said of Myers and his blog audience, "one cannot conclude this parade without mentioning P.Z. Myers, who has risen to fame because of a blog where the level of nastiness (both by the host and by his readers) is rarely matched anywhere else on the Internet...".[22] In April 2015, Atheist Ireland announced, "Atheist Ireland is publicly dissociating itself from the hurtful and dehumanising, hateful and violent, unjust and defamatory rhetoric of the atheist blogger PZ Myers."[23]

See also: PZ Myers' Inappropriate commentary on the suicide of comedian Robin Williams and PZ Myers' rejoicing at the accidental death of a Brazilian priest and then fantasizing about killing priests

In the United States, reports of autism cases per 1,000 children grew dramatically from 1996 to 2007. It is unknown how much, if any, of that growth came from changes in autism's actual prevalence.[24]

Dr. Mark Goulston, M.D. wrote in his article Just Listen - Don't Confuse a Narcissist with Asperger's Syndrome:

Both narcissists and high functioning people with Asperger like features are goal minded to a fault, and both can view other people more as functions or vehicles to achieve that goal instead of as people with feelings. However a critical difference between the two is that a narcissist doesn't care if they hurt you or your feelings (and the truly malignant ones may even take delight in doing so), whereas someone with Asperger's like features would prefer not to.[25]

British psychiatrist Dr. Khalid A. Monsour says regarding Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD):

“… it is noticeable that people with NPD, do not show a major degree of functioning problems in stress free environment or when they are supported (except that they are perceived as “not pleasant characters” to deal with). However under stress and without support they can become quite dysfunctional in a way not far from what we usually see in Asperger’s syndrome. “[26]

The journalist Dr. Sam Vaknin argues: "Asperger's Disorder is often misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), though evident as early as age 3 (while pathological narcissism cannot be safely diagnosed prior to early adolescence)."[27]

Causes of autism related to factors which exist in secular societies in the developed world

Although there have been no formal epidemiological studies, the evidence suggests that autism is rare in the economically developing continent of Africa and mainly exists within elite families.[28][29] Africa is a religious continent with high birth rates and low rates of obesity.[30]

African Children's choir performing in the United States featured in the picture above. In recent years, Christianity has seen a rapid growth in Africa.[31]

In 2011, Jonathan Rabinovitz published in Scope, a publication of Stanford Medicine: "Autism has sometimes been described as a disease of industrialized high-technology societies."[32] For example, evidence suggests that environmental toxins are a causal factor of autism.[33] See also: Causes of Autism - Mayo Clinic.

In 2013, the Washington Times said about the causes of autism: "The causes of autism are not understood, and recent studies have found associations between childhood autism and multiple births, preterm births, low birthweights, maternal obesity, having a full sibling with autism and having older parents."[34]

Case Adams, N.D. declared:

Recent research from the University of California at Davis has found autism to be linked with the accumulation of toxins within fat cells. This finding corresponds with previous research linking autism to immunosuppression, toxin antibodies and environmental exposures for the mother, which links to toxicity and immunosuppression.

The new research, led by Paula Krakowiak, PhD candidate, analyzed 1,000 children and found that autism was 67% more likely among children from obese mothers.[35]

Many atheists are overweight/obese (See: Atheism, autism and obesity and Atheism and obesity).

Professor Eric Kaufmann in his book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth and in some of the his other works points out the religious have higher fertility rates then secular women and that secular women often delay having children until they are older.[36]

Atheism, autism, alcoholism, illegal drug use, depression and other factors

According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) regional office in Europe, "The WHO European Region has the highest proportion in the world of total ill health and premature death due to alcohol.[37]

Secular societies and many atheists have significant problems with alcoholism (See: Atheism and alcoholism). The link between alcoholism and autism needs to be explored further based various pieces of existing data.[38][39][40] A significant number of atheists have problems with illegal drug use as well (see: Atheism and drug addiction). Cocaine use by expecting mothers may be a cause of autism according to the medical literature.[41]

Atheists have higher rates of depression and suicide than theists (see: Atheism and depression and Atheism and suicide). The use of antidepressants by mothers during pregnancy increases the risk of autism spectrum disorders in children, according to a Swedish study.[42] Secular societies and atheists tend to experience loneliness more also (see: Atheism and loneliness).

Air pollution is thought to be a potential cause of autism as far as expecting mothers and in the Western World atheists tend to live in urban environments rather than rural environments.[43] According to Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, "It’s still lonely being an atheist in rural America."[44] On the other hand, in some areas of the Western World, religious immigrants often live in urban areas.[45]

Autism appears to be rare in religious Africa

Although there have been no formal epidemiological studies, the evidence suggests that autism is rare in the economically developing continent of Africa and mainly exists within elite families.[46][47] In addition, the traditional African diet is healthier than many Western World individuals' diets and Africa has some of the lowest obesity rates in the world.[48] See: Atheism and obesity. Furthermore, Africa is a religious continent with high birth rates.[49]

Low rate of autism among the religious American Amish

An Amish farm near Morristown, New York. Due to their high levels of physical activity, the Amish have low rates of obesity.[50]

See also: Amish

The American Amish have a low autism rate which may be due to their healthy and simple lifestyle, their genetic makeup or both.[51] Due to their high levels of physical activity, the Amish have low rates of obesity.[52] Many atheists do not live a wholesome life (see: Atheism and alcoholism and Atheism and drug addiction and Atheism and health and Atheist population and immorality).

David N. Brown states that: "In March 2006, Drs. Kevin Strauss, Holmes Morton and others documented 9 autistic Amish children, which could raise the autism rate of the Lancaster Amish community Olmsted supposedly investigated to almost 1/5,000 which is still a fraction of the US average of 1/68."[53][54][55]

The Amish have high a fertility rate and in 2012 the Amish were named the fastest growing faith group in the United States. The Amish population is projected to grow to 1 million people by 2050.[56]

Autism and some data from secular Europe, atheistic China and religious countries

See: Autism and some data from secular Europe, atheistic China and religious countries

Atheism and autism correlations: Accusations of press insensitivity in Turkey

The notion that autism causes atheism has not been proved and criticisms of press insensitivity towards the issue have been leveled in Turkey.[57]

See also

External links

Notes

  1. Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism, Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Caitlin Fox Murphy and Tessa Velazquez at the Department of Psychology - Boston University); Patrick McNamara (Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine)
  2. Is atheism linked to autism? Controversial study points to relationship between the two, Daily Mail, 20 September 2011
  3. What atheism and autism may have in common By Razib Khan, September 19, 2011]
  4. Does Autism Lead to Atheism?, Psychology Today, May 30, 2012 by Matthew Hutson]
  5. Woodbury-Smith MR, Robinson J, Wheelwright S, Baron-Cohen S (2005). "Screening adults for Asperger Syndrome using the AQ: a preliminary study of its diagnostic validity in clinical practice" (PDF). J Autism Dev Disord 35 (3): 331–5.
  6. Are People With Autism More Likely to Be Atheists? by Matthew Hutson, Huffington Post
  7. Autism May Diminish Belief in God, Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience.com
  8. RELIGIOUS PEOPLE LIVE HEALTHIER, LONGER LIVES—WHILE ATHEISTS COLLECT MUTANT GENES, Newsweek, 2017
  9. Atheists are more likely to be left handed, study finds, The Telegraph, 2017
  10. RELIGIOUS PEOPLE LIVE HEALTHIER, LONGER LIVES—WHILE ATHEISTS COLLECT MUTANT GENES, Newsweek, 2017
  11. Atheists are more likely to be left handed, study finds, The Telegraph, 2017
  12. The socially autistic atheist by Vox Day, August 02, 2007
  13. A lesson in atheist social autism by Vox Day, August 13, 2014
  14. Atheists and Daddy issues by Vox Day, August 23, 2012
  15. PZ admits he's wrong by Theodore Beale, Friday, August 29, 2014
  16. Interpreting Asperger's Test Results
  17. Chronology of misrepresentations and smears in the atheist movement by PZ Myers and others by Michael Nugent on November 4, 2014
  18. Comes a Horseman by PZ Myers • 13 October 2009
  19. Science Shows New Atheists to be Mean and Closed-Minded
  20. The 6 Types of Atheists and Non-Believers in America By Amanda Marcotte / AlterNet July 11, 2013
  21. Reflections on the skeptic and atheist movements By Massimo Pigliucci Scientia Salon, Posted: May 13, 2015
  22. Atheist Ireland publicly dissociates itself from the harmful and hateful rhetoric of PZ Myers by Michael Nugent, April 7, 2015
    • Prevalence and changes in diagnostic practice:Fombonne E. The prevalence of autism. JAMA. 2003;289(1):87–9.
    • Wing L, Potter D. The epidemiology of autistic spectrum disorders: is the prevalence rising? Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2002;8(3):151–61.
  23. Just Listen - Don't Confuse a Narcissist with Asperger's Syndrome, Dr. Mark Goulston, M.D., Huffington Post
  24. Do You Think of Narcissism as an Autistic Spectrum Disorder?
  25. Misdiagnosing Narcissism: Asperger's Disorder By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
  26. Autism in Africa?, Jonathan Rabinovitz published in Scope, a publication of Stanford Medicine, 2011
  27. Out of Africa and Into Autism: More Evidence Illuminates the Somali Anomaly in Minnesota, By Mark F. Blaxill, AgeofAutism.com website (I don't agree with the anti-vaccine portion of the article)
  28. The African apostles: How Christianity exploded in 20th-century Africa
  29. Autism in Africa?, Jonathan Rabinovitz published in Scope, a publication of Stanford Medicine, 2011
  30. Autism and Toxic Chemicals: Are Pollutants Fueling Rising Prevalence?
  31. Autism rates rise in U.S., plateau in U.K.
  32. Autism Linked to Toxin Exposure During Pregnancy
  33. Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth, Eric Kaufmann, 2011, page 280, footnote 13[1]
  34. World Health Organization's (WHO) regional office in Europe- Alcohol usage of Europe
  35. Pharmacol Res. 2015 Sep 25;102:71-80. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2015.09.011. Epigenetic mechanisms: A possible link between autism spectrum disorders and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Varadinova M1, Boyadjieva N2.
  36. Alcohol and Autism, AlcoholRehab.com
  37. Int J Epidemiol. 2010 Aug;39(4):1074-81. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyq056. Epub 2010 Apr 5. Prenatal alcohol exposure and autistic spectrum disorders--a population-based prospective study of 80,552 children and their mothers. Eliasen M1, Tolstrup JS, Nybo Andersen AM, Grønbaek M, Olsen J, Strandberg-Larsen K.
  38. Reprod Toxicol. 2015 Aug 15;56:155-69. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2015.05.007. Epub 2015 May 27. Prenatal factors associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Ornoy A1, Weinstein-Fudim L2, Ergaz Z3.
  39. Study: Autism Linked to Antidepressant Drug Use During Pregnancy
  40. Reprod Toxicol. 2015 Aug 15;56:155-69. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2015.05.007. Epub 2015 May 27. Prenatal factors associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Ornoy A1, Weinstein-Fudim L2, Ergaz Z3.
  41. [http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/24/atheists-in-the-bible-belt-a-survival-guide/ Atheists in the Bible Belt, CNN
  42. Counting Immigrants in Cities across the Globe
  43. Autism in Africa?, Jonathan Rabinovitz published in Scope, a publication of Stanford Medicine, 2011
  44. Out of Africa and Into Autism: More Evidence Illuminates the Somali Anomaly in Minnesota, By Mark F. Blaxill, AgeofAutism.com website (I don't agree with the anti-vaccine portion of the article)
  45. Christianity/Islam and Africa
    • 4 healthy habits to steal from the Amish, Fox News Health, December 04, 2014
    • "Amish Have Lower Rates of Cancer, Ohio State Study Shows". Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Medical Center. January 1, 2010. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
    • Puffenberger, EG; Jinks, RN; Wang, H; Xin, B; Fiorentini, C; Sherman, EA; Degrazio, D; Shaw, C; Sougnez, C; Cibulskis, K; Gabriel, S; Kelley, RI; Morton, DH; Strauss, KA (Dec 2012). "A homozygous missense mutation in HERC2 associated with global developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder". Human Mutation 33 (12): 1639–1646
    • Jackman, C; Horn, ND; Molleston, JP; Sokol, DK (Apr 2009). "Gene associated with seizures, autism, and hepatomegaly in an Amish girl". Pediatric Neurology 40 (4): 310–313.
    • Alarcón, Maricela; Abrahams, Brett S.; Stone, Jennifer L.; Duvall, Jacqueline A.; Perederiy, Julia V.; Bomar, Jamee M.; Sebat, Jonathan; Wigler, Michael; Martin, Christa L.; Ledbetter, David H.; Nelson, Stanley F.; Cantor, Rita M.; Geschwind, Daniel H. (10 January 2008). "Linkage, Association, and Gene-Expression Analyses Identify CNTNAP2 as an Autism-Susceptibility Gene". American Journal of Human Genetics 82 (1): 150–159
  46. Puffenberger, EG; Jinks, RN; Wang, H; Xin, B; Fiorentini, C; Sherman, EA; Degrazio, D; Shaw, C; Sougnez, C; Cibulskis, K; Gabriel, S; Kelley, RI; Morton, DH; Strauss, KA (Dec 2012). "A homozygous missense mutation in HERC2 associated with global developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder". Human Mutation 33 (12): 1639–1646
  47. Jackman, C; Horn, ND; Molleston, JP; Sokol, DK (Apr 2009). "Gene associated with seizures, autism, and hepatomegaly in an Amish girl". Pediatric Neurology 40 (4): 310–313.
  48. Alarcón, Maricela; Abrahams, Brett S.; Stone, Jennifer L.; Duvall, Jacqueline A.; Perederiy, Julia V.; Bomar, Jamee M.; Sebat, Jonathan; Wigler, Michael; Martin, Christa L.; Ledbetter, David H.; Nelson, Stanley F.; Cantor, Rita M.; Geschwind, Daniel H. (10 January 2008). "Linkage, Association, and Gene-Expression Analyses Identify CNTNAP2 as an Autism-Susceptibility Gene". American Journal of Human Genetics 82 (1): 150–159
  49. For Amish, fastest-growing faith group in US, life is changing
  50. Likening of autistic kids to atheists causes fury, ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News, April/22/2013