Atheism and autism (and why theists bring it up)

Oct 30, 2011 4 Comments by

Before I launch into this post it is only right I acknowledge having Asperger Syndrome, as it makes me an example of the sort of correlation evidence is beginning to uncover (and at this stage could well be wrong about), and which some theists have already become crowing about.

There has been an occasional suggestion there is a link between atheism and autism, or at least a version of it called Asperger Syndrome. I’ll discuss below what the evidence says about this. First it is worth exploring why theists like to bring it up (it’s still a rarely used argument, but given time it may be their new Kalam Cosmological Argument). It’s an example of the association fallacy: autism is considered to suck, so atheism sucking is hoped to follow. Like atheism, autism is considered as if toxic. Consider the anti–vaccination brigade. While in the US they mostly wear their theist “God ought to heal us” attitude on their sleeves, “scientific” reasons to object to vaccines are sometimes presented, often involving lies about what mercury compounds are in them or what they do. In the UK, what little – but still seriously dangerous – opposition to vaccination exists is primarily due to Britons still thinking the thoroughly discredited–as–a–fraud “MMR causes autism” paper that cost Andrew Wakefield his medical license might just be more accurate than countless studies that found no such link. But in the defence of vaccination launched in response to this nonsense, no–one seems to have made the obvious point that autism has its pros and cons: and no–one articulates evidence of this better than “autie” spokespeople. Why hasn’t it been brought up? Because autism being bad has been more or less axiomatic in our society for so long it also was in the discussion on MMR.

To hear those who think atheism having a link of any kind to autism would be one point for religion in the tennis match speak, you would think autistic ways of thinking were provably inferior to those of “neurotypical” people. Yet in all ways in which neurotypical and neurodivergent thinking differ and, in terms of their difference, correlate with the contrast between theists and atheists, it is the neurodivergent and the atheists who are more rational by any of the criteria philosophers developed on the matter when working on epistemology, the theory of knowledge. The idea that truth is both more important than and not contingent on our social niceties is a logical necessity often ignored in human discourse, and this is why things like tradition and “revelation” are taken seriously.

What does the evidence say, anyway? It appears people with Asperger Syndrome are more likely to be atheists than everyone else, and it appears both behavioural and neurological analyses of the neurotypical–autistic and theist–atheist distinctions indicate the distinctions in question correlate to some extent. The truth is this research is still in its infancy. But religious people pounce on even the slightest apparent scientific reason to think theism is awesome as soon as they can misquote it from research publications they don’t understand. We have seen this with literally hundreds of examples concerning the creation–evolution “controversy”. I have discussed in several of my previous posts examples from theoretical physics, which even the world’s best physicists must admit we’re still not very knowledgeable about. (In my time as a recent physics undergraduate I’ve followed the relevant work very carefully.) But, of course, the theists just KNOW the constants couldn’t be this helpful without a designer. In truth, they don’t even know the “constants” are constants; they’re not, which is why physicists call them parameters, as I’ve mentioned before.

Biology, Neurology, and Medicine, Sciences

About the author

For most of my time as an undergraduate there was an atheist society in my university, which was founded late in my first year there. I was a committee member from then until my degree ended, by which time the society was atheist, secularist and humanist (you needn't be all three!). This gives me many experiences to relate. I have long critiqued pro-religious arguments, including in hundreds of posts - many of them thorough rebuttals to articles - on under my name. My degree was in physics, and I know a lot of the science - physics and otherwise - relevant to the debate on religion.

4 Responses to “Atheism and autism (and why theists bring it up)”

  1. Neil says:

    NIce, I wondered why on earth they’d claim this as some sort of victory too. Most people with Aspergers or Autism that I’ve read about seem to be amazingly talented individuals who just so happen to be less good at social skills.

  2. Michael says:

    I don’t think there’s a link. There are countries where the majority of people are atheists. Perhaps there’s a correlation in America, but overall, I haven’t seen any good evidence that shows a causal link between atheism and autism/aspergers.

  3. Michael says:

    Autistic people may be more likely to be atheists, but that won’t be true the other way around.

  4. Em says:

    Aspies adhere to evidence and logic. its no wonder they wouldn’t believe in something as unfounded as religion.