Is there a link between autism and atheism?

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Dang Martin 5 years ago.

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    Nerdy Keith

    Hey everyone! This is a topic that I have never brought up on the Think Atheist / Atheist Zone community. But a few years ago I was diagnosed with aspergers. I’m not going to get too much into that for the purpose of this thread, but if you are interested you can hear my account and experiences with aspergers here

    But a college of mine who is not only atheist but also has children on the autistic spectrum posed the question to me “Do you think there is a link between autism and atheism?”.

    That got me thinking … A lot of persons who I have come to know who have aspergers or on the autistic spectrum one way or there other; tend to be either atheists or not prescribing to any particular religion. In my support group for aspergers people, most of our members happen to be atheists. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that there are not aspies who are religious. But in my experience most persons on the autistic spectrum whom I have encountered tend to be atheists.

    Do you think there is a link between how the autistic mind works and lacking faith in a deity?

    • This topic was modified 5 years ago by  Nerdy Keith. Reason: punctuation

    The first thing that I thought of when I read this is that autistic people are possibly less prone to supernatural or magical thinking. Belief in the supernatural such as gods or ghosts has no logical basis and maybe such beliefs are not entertained because they make no natural sense?

    I am sure across the entire autistic spectrum this is not necessarily the case so I not making a blanket statement. It is just a possible reason??

    I have a young relation who is autistic and he once asked me “Are you with Jesus”. He got very upset when I said “No, I left him in the back seat”. He goes to an “educate together” school that does not have a religious ethos. However some smug catholic was indoctrinating them throughout the day. I had to get him to reason his way through it and very quickly he came to dismiss it. When he turned eleven he told me he was an atheist because it made sense even though his teacher still prayed every morning. I verbally warned the teacher never to do it again or I would have him fired.


    Dang Martin

    It’s hard to say, from my perspective.

    Autism and Intelligence: I’m over 50 and was diagnosed as having a mild case of Asperger’s recently by a psychiatrist very recently. Long story short, I went to see him after my life got destroyed by someone who was emotionally manipulative. It cost me all of my money, job, reputation, friends, and my ability to use social networking. Just about everything. He said that, certainly, I don’t “look Autistic,” whatever that means.

    Long story short, after a series of intelligence tests and other tests, he concluded that my intelligence is above average, and also came to the conclusion that some Autism is at play. My intelligence level is relevant only in helping him to determine whether or not I fell for the scam because I might be stupid.

    Never believing: With regard to my being an Atheist, this has always been the case for me. People will often ask why I left the church, or why I left god, and they have a difficult time understanding that I never left, because I wasn’t there in the first place.

    This is where things get confusing for most.

    I was never indoctrinated into religion. None. My parents never said that religion was either bad or good. They said NOTHING about it. The subject just never came up.

    So when I get to school and other kids ask me if I believe in god, they are shocked by the confused look on my face. This is probably the fastest way to have NO friends growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s.

    Religious investigation: Eventually, I would investigate Christianity, from the perspective of someone who has never been indoctrinated. The book is difficult to read and contradictory. There is very little resembling morality in the book. The preachers and the people do not do things in the way that they are told to do them in their bible.

    They’re very judgmental, fearful, hateful, and threatening people. Their threats toward me were a byproduct of their fear associated with the idea that ANYONE could possibly NOT believe what they believe.

    Christian motivation: I can only speak for the Christians I encountered in the Midwest a few decades back. They did NOT go to church because they love Jesus. This was the least motivating factor of all, to the point that it was almost non-existent. One motivator that I discovered included the need to be socially accepted and a sense of community. But one of the two biggest motivators was the fear of eternal damnation, which was topped only by the need to feel superior over others. Some of these people, who cast judgment upon me and dehumanized me, were very smug with the “knowledge” that an all-powerful creator of the universe was in an eternal battle with the ultimate evil of the universe, waging war for the grand prize of ownership of their soul. How special!

    MY SYNOPSIS, based purely on my life experience and anecdotal evidence, is that belief or non-belief in religion has nothing to do with whether or not a person is intelligence. Indeed, it is a scam that is not much different from the scam that I encountered, which ruined my life.

    Much in the same way that I was emotionally manipulated by the cancer scammer who cried and begged for her life, religious beliefs seems not all that much different.

    Indoctrination occurs mostly when a person is a child, before they are capable of intellectually defending themselves. They get sold a story, and it gets capped into their skulls with fear that is strong associated with questioning or curiosity. If you even QUESTION god, in any way, even in your mind or heart, then you are commit a grave sin that shall be punished with eternal damnation in hell-fire. Way to raise a child.

    It can also occur in adulthood, when a person is emotionally or otherwise mentally weak, even temporarily. In my case, I sincerely believed the scammer who had cancer. She cried so hard and was so grateful for my help. It gave me a fresh sense of purpose that transcended going to work, going home, sleeping, and repeating.

    At one point, I was so entrenched and invested in her cause that I dismissed those who tried to tell me that it might be a scam. Much like the religious, the thought of being wrong, after having invested your heart and energy into it is a thought that is too difficult to even consider. So you block it out and keep on believing. It can’t be wrong. It can’t be wrong!

    There is physical pain associated with ultimately accepting the fact that you’ve believed in a lie. It’s in the body and mind, and it hurts. There’s also the idea that you’re somehow stupid, even though it has nothing to do with intelligence. Much like the cancer scammer, it was emotional manipulation and NOT intellectual conclusion that lead me down that path. Christians are not Christians because they are thinking about it, or because it’s an intelligent decision.

    They believe in their god the same way that I believed in my cancer scammer.

    MY CONCLUSION is that a lack of childhood indoctrination can be a leading cause of non-belief, since childhood indoctrination is the leading cause of belief. It is possible that a person can “wake up” and dismiss this belief. I think it depends on the strength of the indoctrination, as well as social and cultural pressures. I can attest that growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s, there was a great abundance of social and cultural pressure to be a Christian. By comparison, the social and cultural pressure today feels relatively light.

    At this point, I’m not convinced that anything relating to intelligence is connected to belief, for some rather intelligent people still hold belief in the superstitious mythology of Christianity. It’s as confusing as watching a medical doctor step outside for a cigarette break.

    Some don’t even practice it, don’t read the bible, don’t go to church [or maybe twice per year], or anything and simply hold the label. I think that people like this are representative of a desperate internal conflict, wherein the intellect telling them that their superstitious mythology is garbage, while their emotional side — their abused inner child — clings to it fearfully.

    As someone who was sending the majority of his paycheck to a cancer scammer while simultaneously wondering if those who did not believe her were correct, I can relate to the fear this generates. You keep on giving and giving, just in case.

    There is a Psychology Today article out there from May 30, 2012, but I will not link to it for a few reasons. One is that they get into the concept of a “personal god,” which may be different from believing in a Christian god. The article goes on to declare that “[God] has a mind that humans can relate to.” Beyond the obvious sin of ending a sentence with a preposition, this sentence comes with a strong assertion that not only does this god factually exist, but that it HAS A MIND. This is ridiculous, and is a clear exhibit of their bias.

    Also, a biased website called Conservapedia cites this study, and many sections of the site come of with the idea that religious people are superior. For example, they claim that the Amish have a low Autism rate, and attribute this to their religious beliefs, and suggest that a Secular society will have more mental health problems. The idea that Christians experience no mental health problem because they’re believers is dishonest.

    Finally, there is one section in Conservapedia where they quote a entry: “These studies are correlational, so researchers can’t say for sure whether an inability to imagine other minds actually leads to atheism or agnosticism…” The minute that any website or journal entry confuses the issue by considering “Agnosticism” as being “Atheist-light,” they lose all credibility. A person can be an Agnostic Atheist OR an Agnostic Theist. The “Agnostic” part is merely the lack of a claim to knowledge. Gnostics, or people who declare to have knowledge, are either terribly misguided or sometimes bat-shit crazy.

    Is there a link between Autism and Atheism? Based on the things that I’ve been reading since I saw this post, I can only conclude that there is clear religious bias at work in these articles, based on what I have noted above. The suggestions they make are strong. One suggestion is that a Secular society is bad for your mental health. The other suggestion is that Autism is a form of mental retardation. The sense of religious superiority is overwhelming in some of these sources, especially agenda-driven sites such as Conservapedia.

    The only way to get to the bottom of this is to locate a peer-reviewed study, which shows a solid conclusion. Articles that are desperate for clicks and websites with political and religious agendas are simply not reliable sources for scientific information, even if they do have the word “science” in their name.


    @keith – I stumbled on this article just now which addresses your question. I think Theory of Mind is an important part of it.


    Simon Paynton

    Some people say that broadly, the two line up quite well: because atheists can have a tendency to be over-analytical and under-empathic, like Dr Spock, or sometimes, arrogant smart-arse.  Either way, they often miss the point of religion altogether, and what it’s all about.  i.e. it’s not an intellectual discipline like science or mathematics, and that’s OK.  It’s something different, that many atheists fail to recognise as a “thing”.  Usually, when it comes to analysing religion, what that really means is “criticise at all costs, while missing the point”.

    Anyway, to outsiders, all of that can look pretty autistic in the stereotypical sense.  I have to say, I find this pretty funny, with a grain of truth in it:


    Dang Martin

    Usually, when it comes to analysing religion, what that really means is “criticise at all costs, while missing the point”. Anyway, to outsiders, all of that can look pretty autistic in the stereotypical sense.

    At all costs?

    What costs would those be?

    As someone who was never indoctrinated, I am lacking in the fear required to hold this belief without question. Consider why you do not subscribe to the Muslim faith, and maybe you can have some empathy and understanding.

    Congrats on your superiority.



    My niece has Asperger’s syndrome and she is super intelligent.  She is the third generation of a family of unbelievers, so I can’t tell you her atheism is in any way connected, but as she contemplates stuff in a very focused way, I’m guessing we would have had difficulty getting her to bend the knee to a deity, should we ever have tried.


    Simon Paynton

    @dansnell dangmartin – “At all costs? What costs would those be?

    – I mean “criticise” instead of “analyse”.  I don’t understand the rest of your points.

    @strega – I have a nephew who is classed as autistic, but he definitely isn’t the stereotypical kind.  He’s non-verbal, and communicates by pointing to letters on a board.  He is freakishly smart with a photographic memory.  He’s also very nice (more than the rest of us) with great social skills, empathy, sense of humour etc.

    There are “autistic traits” on both sides of his family: math skills mainly, also, it’s impossible for me to drive, because of lack of 3D coordination.


    Dang Martin

    @dansnell dangmartin – “At all costs? What costs would those be?” – I mean “criticise” instead of “analyse”. I don’t understand the rest of your points.

    I’m surprised that you do not understand them, since you asserted your intellectual superiority via meme.

    EDIT: Interesting that you avoided my question regarding “all costs.”

    Note that in my long post about this, my main point is that believe AND non-belief have NOTHING TO DO with intelligence. Clearly, you disagree with that, as is evidenced in a meme that is meant to be both humorous and stereotypical.

    • This reply was modified 5 years ago by  Dang Martin.

    Simon Paynton

    @dansnell dangmartin – not really though: that’s just a picture of how atheists can look to the outside world.


    Dang Martin

    Still wondering about “criticise at all costs, while missing the point”.

    What costs, and what is the point?


    Dang Martin

    I won’t badger for an answer. Just noting that the question was not answered.


    Simon Paynton

    What costs

    – come what may, no matter what, ignore anything positive.

    what is the point?

    – I think that is exactly my point: you don’t see the point.  Now, as a lifelong atheist, I’m not best situated to see the real points, as I’m speaking as an outsider.  But, as an outsider who has invented my own religion, which lines up significantly with the others, and has investigated those with completely free and unbiased observation, I would say that the primary point of religion is to promote thriving and to make people’s lives better.  I know that in practice this doesn’t always play out successfully – far from it.  Religion has a light side and a dark side, just like the moon.

    We should ask @bellerose about some of the other lived benefits and “points” of religion – she could tell us about some of those, since to some people, it’s pretty much a sink or swim situation, that thankfully, most people never have to even know about.  Also, I imagine Dr Bob would be clued up on the subject.


    Dang Martin

    Ah. When someone suggests that a point is being missed, I assume they’ve got the point and can share it. The suggestion that I can’t see the point is a strange one, for a wide variety of points could be in the process of being made. I am not a mind reader.

    I don’t quite see it as a case of “ignoring anything positive.” I can only speak for myself, in that I can see the positives, even when those positives are not positives for me.

    For example, one positive of religious belief is a sense of community. I could acknowledge that, even though it was used as THE reason why I should be demonized and dehumanized. EDIT: This might be one of the “points,” although people can have a sense of community without bonding over a superstitious mythology.

    The reverse is actually true. Atheists can acknowledge those “good messages” in the bible, such as the idea of extending free health care to everyone, to feed the hungry, tend to the poor, and to offer your home to the homeless, the immigrant, and the sojourner. These are recurring themes, even though they are peppered in among the various horrors and nonsense. EDIT: If these things are “the point,” then Christians across America have missed their own point, or are ignoring it, as is evidenced in their behavior.

    It is the believer who cannot acknowledge the bad in what they believe, at all costs, and the cost for them is very, very high. Acknowledgment of the horrible things, or questioning one’s own faith, puts them at risk of losing their social standing, the loss of the comfort they get from their beliefs to counter those universal fears, and so on.

    Meanwhile, there is absolutely NO COST to me, as an Atheist. I can acknowledge the good things, and it does not cost me anything. It does not change my life. I would even suggest that many of those things are basic human ideas that can work without the belief that a god is standing over one’s own shoulders. I can also acknowledge the bad things, and again, it costs me nothing.

    The reason why it costs me nothing, as an Atheist, is because I hold no beliefs. I have no god or dog in the fight. Some will say that I “believe that there is no god,” but this is pure tripe. It’s nothing more than a case of me not buying what is for sale.

    This is why I was confused about “all costs.”

    • This reply was modified 5 years ago by  Dang Martin.

    Nerdy Keith

    Thanks @Reg really appreciate that. And thank you everyone else for your excellent insight into this.

    • This reply was modified 5 years ago by  Nerdy Keith.
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