Atheism Culture

Controversial study links atheism to autism

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From “Is atheism linked to autism? Controversial study points to relationship between the two”
(Daily Mail, September 20, 2011), we learn,

The study authors, Catherine Caldwell-Harris and Patrick MacNamara studied discussions by 192 different posters on an autism website. They also looked at a survey of 61 people with high-functioning autism, and graphed against results from the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) test.

The results appeared to show that those with high AQ scores were ‘more likely’ to be atheists.

In the group of high-functioning autistic individuals, 26 per cent were atheists, compared to 16 per cent of ‘neurotypical’ individuals.

Here at UD News, we don’t tend to think much of this kind of study. We ran the “fat atheists” schtick as a joke, really, to make a point about stereotyping. But some do take it seriously:

Rajib Khan, writing on Discover Magazine’s ‘Gene Expression’ blog wrote, ‘I doubt this is going to surprise too many people. Additionally, we need to be careful about generalizing here.

Couple things to keep in mind: We do need to be careful about generalizing here. The true causes of autism are unknown. There is reasonable doubt whether everyone described as “autistic” experiences the same problems, from the same causes. Is it true that the autistic computer genius has the same problems as the withdrawn five-year-old who can’t speak or dress himself? Or the Aspergers guy who is painful to live or work with, because he seems to have no theory of mind and can’t be made to understand why that is a problem?

We’d keep those things in mind before drawing any conclusions about autism and atheism.

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

10 Replies to “Controversial study links atheism to autism

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Some Autistic savants are truly amazing. Shoot, I would even say some are ‘miraculous’!:

    Derek Paravicini on 60 MINUTES – Autistic Savant – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4303465

    The Musical Genius – Derek Paravicini – Part 1/3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lPziG7D6Eg

    Kim Peek – The Real Rain Man [2/5] – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJjAbs-3kc8

    The Boy with the Incredible Brain – Daniel Tammet – video
    http://video.google.com/videop.....5903075662

    Autistic Savant Stephen Wiltshire Draws the City Of Rome From Memory – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200256

    Not to leave ‘normal’ people feeling completely inadequate, these two following people, though not autistic, are amazing none-the-less:

    The Human Calculator – Ruediger Gamm – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200252

    A Beautiful Mind? 12-Year-Old Boy Genius – article with video
    http://www.theblaze.com/storie.....-big-bang/

    Here is a site with a few more details on autistic savants:

    Is Integer Arithmetic Fundamental to Mental Processing?: The mind’s secret arithmetic
    Excerpt: Because normal children struggle to learn multiplication and division, it is surprising that some savants perform integer arithmetic calculations mentally at “lightning” speeds (Treffert 1989, Myers 1903, Hill 1978, Smith 1983, Sacks 1985, Hermelin and O’Connor 1990, Welling 1994, Sullivan 1992). They do so unconsciously, without any apparent training, typically without being able to report on their methods, and often at an age when the normal child is struggling with elementary arithmetic concepts (O’Connor 1989). Examples include multiplying, factoring, dividing and identifying primes of six (and more) digits in a matter of seconds as well as specifying the number of objects (more than one hundred) at a glance. For example, one savant (Hill 1978) could give the cube root of a six figure number in 5 seconds and he could double 8,388,628 twenty four times to obtain 140,737,488,355,328 in several seconds. Joseph (Sullivan 1992), the inspiration for the film “Rain Man” about an autistic savant, could spontaneously answer “what number times what number gives 1234567890” by stating “9 times 137,174,210”. Sacks (1985) observed autistic twins who could exchange prime numbers in excess of eight figures, possibly even 20 figures, and who could “see” the number of many objects at a glance. When a box of 111 matches fell to the floor the twins cried out 111 and 37, 37, 37.
    http://www.centreforthemind.co.....hmetic.cfm

  2. 2
    Bantay says:

    I agree, we shouldn’t come to any conclusions about a study like this, except that this study points more toward autism than atheism at least as much as other studies point more to atheism than pederasty, bestiality, clinical depression, homosexuality and increased rates of suicide. Just to clarify: homosexuality has not been shown to cause atheism….in case any atheists out there were worried about it.

    Rather, a better treatment, and more accurate, I think can be found in Paul Vitz’s “Faith Of The Fatherless: The Psychology Of Atheism”

    http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Fa.....1890626252

    a brief expose of interesting characteristics that some notable atheists share among each other, notably, that their father died before the age of 7, or they had a dysfunctional relationship with their father. Examples include Nietzsche, Voltaire, Bertrand Russel, non-religionist David Hume, Jean-Paul Satre, HG Wells, Stalin and Freud, among others.

    I would not be surprised if Hitchens, Dennett and Harris were added to the list someday, but that would require a new study that they probably would not participate in, at least not if Ben Stein is conducting the interviews.

    Whoops…As it happened, Hitchens’ father was absent for long periods as a naval commander during WWII. This may or may not have anything to do with Hitchen’s homosexual experiences later in life, mentioned at the bastion of factual accuracy, Wiki, as well as in his own book “Hitch-22”.

    Daniel Dennett’s father died before Daniel’s 7th birthday.

    Sam Harris grew up in a home parented by a secular Jewish mother and Quaker father. During and between times of experimental drug use, Sam was financially supported by his mother. No mention of a father during this important, chaotic and formative time period.

    Well, like the autistic atheists, we really shouldn’t draw any conclusions on the issue of atheists having some inherited condition.

    What I find most interesting about autistic savants, is the relationship between the condition and mathematical excellence, which in other circles would be considered “beautiful”, and a kind of marker of design. But mathematical expression as a foundation for the underlying order of the cosmos should be sufficient for the observant.

    Mathematical beauty does not have the characteristic rawness of the Darwinian world, but an elegant structure of placement that suggests design. Mathematical elegance and precision existed long before our capacity to recognize it or express it through numbers. It’s as if it was placed here as an elegant, universal language of understanding the cosmos, for our benefit.

    After all, the physical laws of the entire universe can be expressed through mathematics on a single piece of paper, while Dawkins requires 416 pages of hardbound God Delusion to communicate his ideas….and communicates 416 times less meaningful information. Mathematics are simply more elegant than the best atheist rant.

    The autistic savant evidently recognizes this elegant, orderly structure on a greater scale and exploits it on occasion while biologists like Dawkins choose to give God-like, creative powers to nature and chance, and then expect everybody to believe he’s still an atheist. We’re not fooled. Dawkins really is an atheist and mathematics is no less structured and beautiful in a way Darwinism would not have prepared us to benefit from.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    This has come up before but I say autism, aspbergers, and retardation , have all been wrongly understood.

    Its a great prejudice that math or counting matchsticks or building ancient cities has anything to do with thinking.
    All these things i have concluded, if I may so , are merely high concentrations of memory.
    Its the memory that is the problem for their learning comprehension and its the memory that gives fantastic, by regular standards, results in particular memory things.

    Therws nothing wrong with the mind/brain but rather a problem with the memory.

    These math things are not requiring thinking but only memory of seeing the numbers in ones head.
    Powerful memory easily segregates falling matches.
    Music and the rest are simply memory issues.

    I suspect its not the memory but rather the trigger to memory that is the great problem.
    Savants tend to therefore to be men as men are more triggered, or motivated, to achieve and so it triggers their memory to accomplish things they wrongly think matter.

    I think healing these people is possible if, like in origin issues, the great presumption of their being brain problems was dropped.

    Just do, as i did, a thought exercise . Imagine trying to teach a person with great shirt term memory problem. then imagine the person is worse. tHen worse.
    Soon one would think the person is retarded because they can’t learn what you are teaching. They can’t remember the connecting points.

    it should of been in these things the first clue and insight that over memory ability was indicating the actual problem.
    Profound concentration of memory indicates a profound lack of control over memory.
    We all have the same ability but its hidden in our general stable control.
    I think i’m right.

  4. 4

    It doesn’t surprise me a bit.
    Autism and Asperger’s are characterized by a difficulty relating to people. They somehow find it impossible to put themselves in another person’s position and figure out what the other one is thinking. They lack “emotive” capabilities.

    Religion, on the other hand, and especially Christianity, is all about emotive properties providing insight into ethics, epistemology, metaphysics. Schliermacher would say that religion is nothing but emoting.

    Hence the correlation isn’t so surprising.

  5. 5

    The paper Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism is free for download here:
    http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.e.....er0782.pdf

  6. 6
    Janice says:

    Rubbish.

    The great commandment is to love God with all one’s mind as well as one’s heart, soul and strength.

    One of my sons has Asperger’s. His tertiary entrance rank was over 95 (out of 100). He’s a Christian, and a YEC Christian to boot.

  7. 7
  8. 8
    steveO says:

    If science can make progress in discovering the causes and reducing the incidences of the spectrum of autistic disorders then it’s a win-win for families and society at large.

    Also, Someone is going to have to come up with a new verse for the John Lennon song beginning:

    “Imagine no new atheists, it isn’t hard to do..”

  9. 9
    jstanley01 says:

    Peter Hitchens, Christopher’s brother, is definitely not an atheist.

  10. 10
    Sonfaro says:

    He had been one at one point though… At least that’s what I heard.

    – Sonfaro

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