Atheism and autism

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

Autism is a type of pervasive developmental disorder. It is characterized by difficulties with social interaction; difficulties with verbal communication, especially pragmatic language; difficulty processing nonverbal communication such as facial expression; intense, narrow interests; difficulty adjusting to changes in routine; and repetitive behaviors. Other signs include lack of eye contact, delayed or unusual play skills, hypo- or hyper-sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and anxiety.[1]

In 2011, the University of Boston published a study on the correlation between atheism and high-functioning/mild autism.[2][3]

On September 19, 2011, the Discover Magazine website had an article indicating that there were empirical results showing a positive correlation between atheism and 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.[4]

Atheism and autism studies: Atheist science writer Matthew Hutson commentary

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]

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.[6]

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.[7] 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

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.[8]

Atheists, autism and higher levels of genetic mutations

See also: Atheists and genetic mutations

There is a link between a person's genetics and autism.[9]

Left-handedness is a good indicator of a high mutational load.[10] People who are left-handed higher incidences of autism and schizophrenia.[11] A study found that atheists are more likely to be left-handed (see: Atheists and genetic mutations).[12][13]

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

PZ Myers 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."[14]

Vox Day has written about atheists being "socially autistic".[15][16][17][18]

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

Vox 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."[19]

Below is some information that 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.[20]

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.[21][22] 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.[23] Furthermore, they scored lowest when it comes to agreeableness and positive relations with others.[24]

In the United States, a University of Tennessee study estimated that 15% of American atheists were antitheists.[25]

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...".[26] 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."[27]

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.[28]

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.[29]

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. “[30]

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)."[31]

Atheism, autism, income and higher autism diagnosis rates

See also: Demographics of atheism and Atheism/Christianity and socioeconomic status diversity

In 2012, the Pew Research Forum reported regarding American atheists: "And about 38% of atheists and agnostics have an annual family income of at least $75,000, compared with 29% of the general public."[32]

Families with higher socioeconomic status have access to higher quality health care. Thus, the children of atheists are more apt to be able to be diagnosed with autism if they have the disorder.[33] See also: Atheism and children

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

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

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

Journal article: Rethinking Autism, Theism, and Atheism

The abstract for the journal article Rethinking Autism, Theism, and Atheism: Bodiless Agents and Imaginary Realities published in the journal Archive for the Psychology of Religion by Ingela Visuri indicates:

This anthropologically informed study explores descriptions of communication with invisible, superhuman agents in high functioning young adults on the autism spectrum. Based on material from interviews, two hypotheses are formulated. First, autistic individuals may experience communication with bodiless agents (e.g., gods, angels, and spirits) as less complex than interaction with peers, since it is unrestricted by multisensory input, such as body language, facial expressions, and intonation. Second, descriptions of how participants absorb into “imaginary realities” suggest that such mental states are desirable due to qualities that facilitate social cognition: While the empirical world comes through as fragmented and incoherent, imaginary worlds offer predictability, emotional coherence, and benevolent minds. These results do not conform to popular expectations that autistic minds are less adapted to experience supernatural agents, and it is instead argued that imaginative, autistic individuals may embrace religious and fictive agents in search for socially and emotionally comprehensible interaction.[34]

For the full journal article, see: Rethinking Autism, Theism, and Atheism: Bodiless Agents and Imaginary Realities, Archive for the Psychology of Religion by Ingela Visuri

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.[35]

See also

External links


  2. 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)
  3. Is atheism linked to autism? Controversial study points to relationship between the two, Daily Mail, 20 September 2011
  4. What atheism and autism may have in common By Razib Khan, September 19, 2011]
  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. Does Autism Lead to Atheism?, Psychology Today, May 30, 2012 by Matthew Hutson]
  7. Are People With Autism More Likely to Be Atheists? by Matthew Hutson, Huffington Post
  8. Autism May Diminish Belief in God, Stephanie Pappas,
  9. More Autism Genes Identified, TheScientist website
  11. Atheists are more likely to be left handed, study finds, The Telegraph, 2017
  13. Atheists are more likely to be left handed, study finds, The Telegraph, 2017
  14. PZ admits he's wrong by Theodore Beale, Friday, August 29, 2014
  15. The socially autistic atheist by Vox Day, August 02, 2007
  16. A lesson in atheist social autism by Vox Day, August 13, 2014
  17. Mailvox: aspies and social autism
  18. Atheists and Daddy issues by Vox Day, August 23, 2012
  19. PZ admits he's wrong by Theodore Beale, Friday, August 29, 2014
  20. Interpreting Asperger's Test Results
  21. Chronology of misrepresentations and smears in the atheist movement by PZ Myers and others by Michael Nugent on November 4, 2014
  22. Comes a Horseman by PZ Myers • 13 October 2009
  23. Science Shows New Atheists to be Mean and Closed-Minded
  24. The 6 Types of Atheists and Non-Believers in America By Amanda Marcotte / AlterNet July 11, 2013
  25. Reflections on the skeptic and atheist movements By Massimo Pigliucci Scientia Salon, Posted: May 13, 2015
  26. 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.
  27. Just Listen - Don't Confuse a Narcissist with Asperger's Syndrome, Dr. Mark Goulston, M.D., Huffington Post
  28. Do You Think of Narcissism as an Autistic Spectrum Disorder?
  29. Misdiagnosing Narcissism: Asperger's Disorder By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
  30. “Nones” on the Rise - Demographics, Pew Research Forum, October 9, 2012
  31. Here’s the Big Reason That Autism Rates Have Increased Again,
  32. Rethinking Autism, Theism, and Atheism published in the journal Archive for the Psychology of Religion by Ingela Visuri, Online Publication Date: 27 Feb 2018, Volume/Issue: Volume 40: Issue 1
  33. Likening of autistic kids to atheists causes fury, ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News, April/22/2013