What atheism and autism may have in common

By Razib Khan | September 19, 2011 3:02 pm

My post below on atheism and autism caused some confusion. I want to quickly clear up some issues in regards to the model which I had in mind implicitly. In short I’m convinced by the work of cognitive scientists of religion (see Religion Explained and In Gods We Trust) that belief in gods and spirits is intuitively plausible to most people. It does not follow from this that when you have an intuitive belief that that belief is unshakable. This explains the variation in levels of atheism across societies as well as shifts of views across one’s lifetime. But, it also explains why in pre-modern societies acceptance of supernatural entities is the null or default position, if not necessarily universal.

But what’s the basis for the idea that belief in gods is intuitive? To reduce a lot of results down to a few sentences, humans live in a universe of other actors, agents, which we preoccupy over greatly. Additionally, we can conceive of agents which aren’t present before us. In other words, the plausibility of supernatural narratives derives from our orientation toward populating the universe with social beings and agency. There’s a lot of evolutionary psychological models for why this phenotype is adaptive, but that’s not relevant to us here. The point is that religious beliefs and systems use these intuitions and impulses as atoms with which they can build up more complex cultural ideas.


This is why autistic individuals are of particular interest. They either lack, or are highly deficient in, a great deal of naive social intelligence. If the root source of religiosity is a minimum level of social awareness of other agents, then one might suppose that autistic people may have difficulty finding supernatural agents, gods, plausible. Above I stated that I personally found the work of cognitive scientists of religion about the root causes of this phenomenon plausible. The reason I stated it in this way is that I’m one of the minority of human beings who has never found supernatural agents or spirits plausible. I had to read in a book why other people found gods so compelling as a concept. Reflectively I understood the gist, and I was indoctrinated in their existence as a small child, but these entities were never “real” to me. I suspect that this is due to a more global deficit in modeling other agents.

This is why the empirical results on the correlation between atheism and high functioning autism are important. High functioning autistic individuals are a “boundary condition” of normal human psychological function, and if conventional religiosity is strongly dependent on normal human psychology you would expect it to be generally lacking among high functioning autistic individuals. When I say conventional religiosity, I’m leaving an opening for unconventional religiosity. There are stories of autistic children when told of the concept of the afterlife who formulate a plan to kill themselves, because they accept at face value the promise of a utopian afterlife. This is not the normal human reaction, and it goes to the complexity of cognition, where multiple inconsistent views can be hold together simultaneously. But, I do think that a subset of religious fundamentalists are in fact the inversions of the atheists who find religion implausible on the face of it. To be plain about it, the beliefs of most religious systems imply a lot of crazy things if you work out the logic. But most people don’t behave in a crazy manner.

Also, as I noted below the psychological profile of atheism is going to vary by society, because the proportions of atheists varies. In a culture where religion is strongly normative, such as Palestine, atheism will be espoused by a particular personality profile willing to go against a very strong grain. In contrast, in a nation like Estonia there will be little difference between atheists and theists.

Finally, some people were angry that I seemed to suggest that atheists were antisocial weirdos. Well, there is some data to back that up. This doesn’t mean that more atheist societies are worse than more theist societies (e.g., Estonia vs. Romania). But when it comes to individual differences this seems robust in many societies, though probably not all. I’m curious if people who are aghast at my generalization have a lot of experience in person with atheist organizations? (I do)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
MORE ABOUT: Atheism, Autism, Religion
  • Charles Nydorf

    It may be that the basis of Asperger’s syndrome has to do with specific kinds of intelligence. What I have noticed is that people are not necessarily equally gifted in grasping different kinds of relations. A person may be highly gifted at understanding spatial and temporal relations and poor at understanding relations of similarity such as metaphors and analogies. This would not show up as a deficit in general intelligence because relations of similarity can often (always?) be recast as spatio-temporal relations and analyzed as such but it the person’s mode of social functioning would seem odd to other people.

  • Bob Dole

    Autism, Intellectual Disabilities Related to Parental Age, Education and Ethnicity, Not Income, Utah Study Finds (Sept 18th, 2011)

    “New research from the University of Utah in collaboration with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) shows that the presence or absence of intellectual disability (ID) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) varies with risk factors such as gender, parental age, maternal ethnicity, and maternal level of education. The study, published Sept. 15, 2011, in Autism Research, also shows that household income level has no association with either ID or ASD, in contrast to what other studies have suggested.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919093856.htm

  • Darkseid

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIAoJsS9Ix8
    I’ve always thought that the slight difference in learning ability between humans and animals was the cause for superstitious (religious) behavior. similar to the pigeon experiments where you can get the bird to repeat any arbitrary action that precedes food, the kids in this experiment copy the lesson so perfectly that they look idiotic. i partially think of the universal genetic predisposition for superstitious behavior as almost a hypersensitivity to clues that lead to stuff that helped us survive. we mastered all we could as far as farming techniques go and then when our crops still get wiped out by a flood we start sacrificing animals to one of the 1,000 gods that have been worshiped in the history of the world. then you add the group cohesion benefits and it seems to make sense. also, Wernor Herzog’s new film made me realize that ancient people’s not only didn’t understand science but they very well may have had absolutely no concept of the difference between a tree and an animal was and thought the sun and stars were things watching them:

    “How can you risk damaging the image? asks the fieldworker, and the man tells him I am not drawing a picture, I am the instrument of the Spirit whose image is meant to be here.”

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/05/15/open-thread-cave-of-forgotten-dreams/
    this dude thought he *was* the spirit.

  • Justin c

    First, why are you pointing this out? Second as a atheist, and a supporter of science i have to say, yes this makes sense. The benefits that an adaption for religon definitly out weigh the problems it can cause, and yes you are probably correct in saying that high functioning autism’s social deficits probably account for the high rates of atheism in that group. Yet the world is full of these commonalities, so what is it you are trying to achieve? All im trying to say is that we have to be the bigger men, lets focus our efforts to the south and get them to stop teaching creationism! Its against the constitution! We cant have any law or government policy that has any thing to do with religon because its a aspect of free speech yet they are making them and we sit here pondering of the social impacts of having autism!

  • Justin c

    Not to say autism doesnt deserve to be pondered and studied to find treatments and what not, but what i mostly find interesting is the immplications that lead to this study, the thought of religon as a social or psychological feature, which we should have our freedom to control.

  • Darkseid

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110902133042.htm
    also, if anyone didn’t know, they can do pretty accurate diagnoses for autism using brain scans now.

  • Ian

    i’m not surprised atheists are antisocial, or that they’re linked to autism. i’ve heard of autistic people who seem to obsess over certain things and not understand or take interest in others. some people think sherlock holmes was one of these. every atheist i’ve met, and i’m a philosophy teacher’s aide, seems to do nothing but talk about their lack of beliefs, and with rather brusque words try to make me justify my theism. it’s frustrating, because it’s really not that important to me, and i can tell some of the students are interesting people. i just wish they could stop preaching (or is it anti preaching) at me and let me get to know them for who they are.

  • Glen

    Very interesting post. Btw, your link to the data on atheists as anti-social wierdos doesn’t work for me, it redirects back to your frontpage. I’d be interested in your anecdotes on this. I have only dealt with a few hardcore atheists, but moreso the intelligent fundamentalist type in my church. As you say, following the logic often gets you to seemingly crazy beliefs, and these friends want to be consistent. So they are often defending crazy beliefs in a reasonably thorough manner, without really getting why others consider them crazy. I’d imagine its as much a personality thing, and similar to committed atheists.

    You’ve got me interested in reading up on the work of cognitive scientists on religion. What i’ve seen i usually find overstated, but to the extent that its persuasive, i personally find it amongst the most troubling challenges to religious belief, although its also challenging (but less so) to atheists.

  • William

    I have to say that I am a believer in science as well as a believer in the Bible. I am also autistic.
    I was professionally diagnosed with autistic disorder (ICD 299.00)

    I did not always believe in the Bible, but as I have studied both science, scripture, and other subjects for years, I have come to the logical conclusion in favor of believing the Bible. I am not a superstitious person nor have I ever been.

  • Doris

    Considering that religion has played a huge role in the development of our society and what we nowadays consider civilization, atheism may indeed be seen as a deficiency. But – and here’s the rub – as religion was most used to control the moral and ethical backbone of the society, then obviously the one individual in that society who did not follow said religious ethical rules would indeed be deficient. However, if you have a whole society that is functioning based on a non-religious set of ethical and moral rules (for example, laws) then atheism is no longer by definition deviant of the norm.

    I do find it interesting that you’re implying as if there’s a correlation between atheism and autism where that is physiologically and psychologically simply not true.

  • Justin Giancola

    I can’t help but find it amusing that atheists are often coming down on people who “believe,” basically calling them stupid, and yet here are having a hard time dealing with this topic; taking a very defensive posture like someone was attacking their religion.

    Going along with Razib’s final paragraph: I have a lot of atypical people in my circles and amongst those I know who are atheist, it is as many people dressed all in black, or just social deviants (read deviate), as it is intellectually fashioned types.

    The libertarian thing is also an interesting curiosity.

  • AndrewV

    Finally, some people were angry that I seemed to suggest that atheists were antisocial weirdos

    I do not know any atheists IRL but many of the ones I have encountered online would certainly suggest some correlation with the antisocial part.

    I certainly find the social intelligence aspect to be very interesting. On an individual basis at any rate. Autism spectrum individuals apparently can be taught some measure of SI with varying results based on my experience. Anyone know of a recent paper on the subject?

    @Justin c
    I am not trying to be rude but the subject is interesting all by itself. If you wish to advocate there are plenty of other places you can do so.

  • AndrewV

    @Doris

    I do find it interesting that you’re implying as if there’s a correlation between atheism and autism where that is physiologically and psychologically simply not true.

    Actually, we certainly, and by no means, have a complete understanding of genetics, brain chemistry, and psychology. There may be a correlation. To bring it up and dismiss it out of hand, speaks volumes about your apparent ignorance of how ignorant we are in those fields.

  • Miguel Madeira

    “http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110902133042.htm

    also, if anyone didn’t know, they can do pretty accurate diagnoses for autism using brain scans now.”

    “”We could discriminate between typically developing and autistic children with 92 percent accuracy on the basis of gray matter volume in the posterior cingulate cortex,” said Lucina Uddin, PhD, the study’s first author. Uddin is an instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford.”

    for a disorder that affects less than 1% of the population, 92% accuracy could be very low – imagine that, for example, 3% of the non-autistics were wrongly identified as autisitcs – then, the giant majority of identified “autistics” will be false positives.

  • Kirk Job Sluder

    Again, the referenced study is based on a self-selected Computer-Mediated Communications sample: participants at wrongplanet.net. Extrapolating from CMC samples to larger populations is known to be problematic.

    I’m curious if people who are aghast at my generalization have a lot of experience in person with atheist organizations?

    Which is another self-selecting population. On top of that, organizations actively create norms for behavior so you have an immediate confounding variable here.

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com Tim Martin

    What’s with the writer of that last article you linked to? He summarizes the personality research findings as they apply to atheism, and then goes off on this:

    “Inductivist showed from GSS data that atheists commit less adultery, but I posited the same reason that Steve would have: for a variety of reasons, they’re just not attractive enough to would-be homewreckers, sheer age being the most obvious one (just look at the putz in the about.com article linked to in the beginning of this paragraph).”

    Classy.

  • Kirk Job Sluder

    Even waving away the methodological problems using self-selected Web-based CMC samples, I’m unconvinced that edge cases say much about central tendencies, at least not in a way that we can use to justify assumptions about individual behavior. The possibility (only weakly supported by the linked article) that HFAs are more likely to be atheist does not necessarily mean that atheists and other non-believers are likely to share characteristics with HFAs with an effect size large enough to predict individual behavior.

    The theory that atheists are atheist because we lack an intuitive sense of supernatural agency has superficial face validity, and it may be true for some people. But it doesn’t account for historical atheism which included impersonal forms of supernatural agency, spiritual atheists who have mystical experiences but don’t attribute them to a god, religious humanists who see religious metaphors as beautiful forms of art, and visionary writers who have explored the issue.

    It’s also a theory that shortchanges many forms of religious faith and practice, in which, supernatural agency isn’t central. Cognitive-science theories, at best, merely shine a flashlight onto one of many factors that result in complex behavior. And sometimes, those factors themselves involve feedback loops that don’t lead to simple cause-effect narratives.

  • Jacob Roberson

    Razib and (some of) the comments have hit it pretty well. My first-hand experience says ass-burgers and irreligiosity do indeed go together. (But like somebody said above, I’ve seen a few others who are quirky super-fundamentalists within a standard religion.) Don’t know if anybody else has had to deal with this, but autism leads (inevitably? seems like it?) to a mild form of anti-social manifesting as intellectually/verbally provocative behavior.

    Everybody’s got their usefulness. Socially cohesive personalities teach us all how to be comfortable in life. But we need autistics when facts matter.

  • Jacob Roberson

    Forgot to add: Razib you’re a sciency guy. And you’ve described yourself as an atheist. Do you feel autistic (spectrum)?

  • http://nosacredc0w.wordpress.com nosacredcow

    After reading this piece and the comments posted I first want to say I’m an atheist and very social. Atheists don’t appear social because while theists have churches, mosques, synagogues, groves of trees, whatever, atheists didn’t traditionally have a social circle per se. But now atheist groups are popping up all over the country. Just go to Meetup.com and search atheist or secular humanist. Otherwise you would run into us in all manner of organizations, we just didn’t bring the subject up. (partially due to the social stigma attached.) There are many atheists sitting in church pews these days only because of the social or family aspect.

    Mainly the rise in atheist/humanist groups has been due to the rise in evangelicalism in this country especially of the christian “right”. (I consider it more a backlash than anything) So the first thing I tend to question when a person claims that their only contact with atheists has been on line and they found it confrontational, what sparked it? I typically find it’s the cognitive disconnect. It’s been my anecdotal experience that there is a preponderance of Dunning-Kruger among the evangelical set. (Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry are perfect examples.)

    I also would like to point out that I rarely find any atheists that I know and being a member of a number of organization I know quite a few, (when does anecdotal become statistical evidence?) I haven’t run across too many people who open with “I’m an atheist why do you believe in such a ridiculous thing as your religion?”

    Atheists also do not fit a mold I know many that cross a broad spectrum in other belief systems whether capitalists, socialists, far left, far right, etc. The only thing they have in common is disbelief in an imaginary friend/father figure.

  • Donna

    I enjoyed the article , but didn’t understand: “There are stories of autistic children when told of the concept of the afterlife who formulate a plan to kill themselves, because they accept at face value the promise of a utopian afterlife. This is not the normal human reaction, and it goes to the complexity of cognition, where multiple inconsistent views can be hold together simultaneously.”

    Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are implying, but Christian belief includes both that there is an afterlife, and that life is a gift that God gives you that you would be very rude to throw away. There isn’t anything inconsistent with that, and I think this is a case where the child might be focusing on the detail of the afterlife without understanding the bigger picture of why Christians think they are here on earth.

    This is kind of like – we are going on a trip next week which should be great, but don’t get in the car now.

  • Jacob Roberson

    nosacredcow: Ok but do you really think Palin/Bachmann/Perry believe what they mouth? Say/believe is two different questions. Scepticism is rational, and you have to be rational to be successful at anything. Religio-political mobs are just vehicles for the atheists at the top.

  • Darkseid

    miguel – why wou8ld they be scanniong normal people? they use it for people who are suspected of having autism, smart guy;)

    Justin G – yeah, you’re being cocky while defending religious people? wow, it doesn’t get any dumber than that!

  • Justin Loe

    Appreciation of humor is connected to theory of mind and so it is somewhat unsurprising that a sense of humor is loosely (r = -.33) correlated to religiosity. (n = 56).

    Another item:
    “religiosity (RF and orthodoxy) tended to predict low propensity to
    humour creation”
    ref: (p. 41), http://www.uclouvain.be/cps/ucl/doc/psyreli/documents/2001.MHRC.Hcreation.pdf

    Humor and autism:
    “Research has shown that individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome are impaired in humor appreciation”
    ref: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15628606

    Another possibility is that the humorist is inherently skeptical of all institutions, whether religious or not.

  • Justin Giancola

    yes, being a defender of others is dumb. best to attack.

    I think you read way too much animosity into me having a chuckle at a double standard.

  • AndrewV

    @nosacredcow

    So the first thing I tend to question when a person claims that their only contact with atheists has been on line and they found it confrontational, what sparked it?

    I will clarify. I self identify as an an atheist but I do not make a big deal out of it. So, I could have unknowingly met fellow atheists IRL.

    An example of confrontational individuals of that ilk may be found below. This may not be a very good example by virtue of the fact that they were embroiled in turmoil over the Elevatorgate scandal. However, it is one that comes to mind. What sparked it? Perhaps I did when I said:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/gynofascists_are_invading_the.php#comment-4407537

    It is somewhat difficult in my opinion, to impresss anyone with your ability to engage in a calm discussion yourself, when you give the impression that you not currently capable of the same.

    I just did a quick review of my comments and responses. While I did at the time get an overall sense of hostility, enough for me to classify this somewhat facetiously as a hate site, I suspect that a more normative person than myself, would have responded somewhat more emotionally.

  • AndrewV

    @Justin Giancola

    I think you read way too much animosity into me having a chuckle at a double standard.

    I suspect that the apparent double standard may be classified as people behaving normally. To wit, many of us appear to have some sort of self invested in being “right”. So the possibility of being “wrong” is an inherent attack on the self, and must be defended with vigour less you suffer some sort of diminishable affect.

  • Kirk Job Sluder

    @AndrewV: The problem is that public discussions on the internet are not representative of much of anything other than public discussions on the internet. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, including:

    1) They’re usually self-selecting. P. Z. Meyers is known for his anti-theist criticism, therefore, he’s going to attract people who share his politics and tone.

    2) Disagreement creates longer discussions than agreement.

    3) People less interested in contentious discussions tend to drop out or just lurk.

    4) The Greater Internet F-Wad Theory has partial support. But I suspect anonymity is less of a factor than the lack of visual feedback cues. There were Internet F-Wads back when the Internet was a small collection of academic mailing lists.

    The type of discourse you can find at a site is going to depend a lot on the technical features, moderation policy, audience, and community norms. Because CMC is a unique mode and medium of communication, I don’t think you can make valid conclusions about how participants engage in face-to-face communication.

  • Puppetmistress

    Justin Giancola,

    I dress all in black, and I’m a nondenominational theist. However, Darkseid is probably one of the people you mentioned. Therefore, the attack felt extra personal, hence their immature reply.

    The atheist I met wore Abercrombie. Like Ian, I noticed that she spent a lot of time talking about her atheism. It got old fast! I don’t like to talk about people’s non belief or belief systems. We won’t know until we’re dead, and until then, we’re all blundering about in the same fog. Arguing about this sort of thing always seems like a waste of time.

    AndrewV, whenever someone use the phrase ‘To wit’ I think of that owl who’s call is often written as, ‘Tu wit, tu wu’

  • Derek

    Re> But when it comes to individual differences this seems robust in many societies, though probably not all. I’m curious if people who are aghast at my generalization have a lot of experience in person with atheist organizations?

    You’re confounding group affiliation with individual differences. Sure, they may be correlated but they aren’t the same thing. I’m an atheist but I don’t feel the need to spend my time attending meetings of atheists. Same can be said about people who believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or who love model trains. There are (many) other factors at play.

    At our current level of understanding, speculation like this about complex behaviour may be worse than useless. People differ on belief in supernatural figures? There’s a gene for that!

  • Jason Landry

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    Your argument may be well-researched, but ultimately flawed. I may passionately hate that you are ignorant enough to believe what you wrote, but at least you researched before speaking. Most people on the Internet cannot say that.

    Just because you gleaned from what seems like less-than reputable sources, that there seem to be similarities between the 2 completely different objects, atheism and autism, does not mean that being an atheist implies you may be autistic. Look at the IQ levels of people around the country; non-believers tend to have a higher average IQ than believers, would you say there’s something wrong with believer’s brains that causes the, to be stupid? I would, but for the sake of science, no, you would not.

    Moral of the story: stop forcing your pro-Christian agenda onto the masses using “science.” It’s stupid.

    Source: http://freethinker.co.uk/features/atheists-are-more-intelligent-than-religious-people/

  • Darkseid

    Justin G – yeah, people who “believe” in facts are not on par with those who choose make -believe. that is not a double standard. you need to look up what “false equivalence” means because you’re clearly not smart enough to catch it naturally.

  • Clark

    for a disorder that affects less than 1% of the population, 92% accuracy could be very low – imagine that, for example, 3% of the non-autistics were wrongly identified as autisitcs – then, the giant majority of identified “autistics” will be false positives.

    However it’s probably not a disorder but rather a very broad catch-all for a large spectrum of behaviors. Even when you talk about high functioning autistics (i.e. like Asperger’s which I’d lay good odds describes a lot of readers of this blog) you have people with pretty different limits. Then you have behaviors frequently confused with autism. For instance my son kept being thought of as autistic even though he was very social and techniques to deal with autism (such as holding tight) have exactly the opposite effect on him. But sense a subset of his behaviors matched high functioning autism he was labeled as autistic until we took him to speech and occupational therapists who instead identified him as having sensory integration disorder. They changed the therapy and he improved remarkably quickly.

    My point is that most of these mental “disorders” aren’t really a single phenomena. And of course even disorder is a bit of a misnomer since it’s a spectrum issue relative to a norm – probably in a different social situation such as times before public schooling of the young it wouldn’t even be an issue.

    While I don’t doubt one can identify a place in the spectrum with brain mapping, the underlying neurology is probably complex enough as to make 93% success pretty remarkable.

  • Justin Giancola

    I think we just found a prime candidate for what the topic is about. You are a very unpleasant person Darkseid, from what I’ve seem from a lot of your posts.

    What I was implying was that people were not taking well to the idea that they might be in Any Way inferior to there believer counterparts intellectually (even implicitly via connection with autism) as that seems to be a tenet of their atheistic beliefs. And that the comments were often anti-social in tact towards the poster for even bringing up such an idea, which is humorous in light of the topic.

    @AndrewV

    being you’ve got the skillz with the block quotes and bolds ;) I’ll take the stance you know what you are talking about, but can you please explain it to me cause I don’t fully understand? It’s not the prose so much as the relation and whether it’s sarcastic.

    Here’s your chance to look down on me Darkseid! you smarty smart you! :D

  • Spike Gomes

    I’m an atheist who can’t stand to be around other atheists. I spend too much time around myself to desire being around other socially tone-deaf confrontational types. I’d rather hang around people who blunt my rough edges and keep me from getting a big head from huffing my own intellectual farts.

    Also I kind of giggle when people talk about the diversity of atheists at atheist gatherings. It’s rather missing the point. After finally coming to grips with my own wrestling with my rather strong agency detection (in the overactive right temporal lobe sense, instead of the social one), the last thing I wanted to have anything to do with was religion, or the lack thereof. I got only so much time in existence, and there are a shit-ton of things to do and learn before my consciousness ceases. If God doesn’t exist, then why trouble yourself with what him and his followers are up to with those precious minutes? Moreover, some of the stuff they do is pretty fun. I love Christmas carroling, not because I’m into praising the baby Jesus, but because I love singing and playing music.

  • Jenn

    What an ableist mess.

  • Matt

    So people who are very interested in and good at detecting other minds, persons and intentions and who tend to see the world as a social narrative played out between minds and persons will be drawn to a worldview that sees minds, persons and intent behind nature – which is what religion is, more or less. So people with more social cognitive ability* will be more drawn to religion, all things being equal.

    Now, of course, it’s not the case that all things have to be equal, necessarily. We can imagine a world in which, despite having less “mind” in nature, atheistic philosophies still have as much draw to people who are mind-sensitive through having more focus on actual existing human minds.

    However that doesn’t seem like it’s the way that things actually shake out in present day Western societies at least, and I’d guess situations where religions end up being significantly less human mind-sensitive relative to secular philosophies (rather than equal or greater) are relatively improbable.

    * It would be interesting to compare in affective empathy levels in atheists and agnostics, to see if there is a sociopath-spectrum relative affective empathy deficit or “just” an autsim-spectrum relative cognitive empathy deficit.

    The suggestion that some forms of fundamentalism may also have positive autism spectrum correlations due to the way they attempt to systematize religious law, perhaps at the expense of focus on minds and intentions of supernatural entities relative to the mainstream, is an interesting idea.

    Appreciation of humor is connected to theory of mind and so it is somewhat unsurprising that a sense of humor is loosely (r = -.33) correlated to religiosity. (n = 56).

    “religiosity (RF and orthodoxy) tended to predict low propensity to
    humour creation”

    Appreciation of humor and humor creation are kind of different. Women, who on average have greater theory of mind than men, tend to not be renowned for humor creation relative to men, and also aren’t really described as having so strong a defecit (or any deficit) in humor appreciation.

  • Clark

    It’s also interesting that women tend to be more religious than men. It’s interesting how many feminists I know get quite bothered that “patriarchal” religions have more female adherents than male adherents.

  • Kirk Job Sluder

    @34: It’s something of a Catch-22 here.

    “I don’t think that research is all that strong.”
    “How anti-social of you!”

    @35: Oh yeah, I love a good Christmas service and you can pry away my Beethoven, Bach, and Pärt off of my mp3 player when I’m dead. But, as much as I’m a jolly participant in interfaith/transfaith communities, people seem to say the silliest things about atheists on a regular basis. Here, I think the social cognition model is a silly thing about both atheist and religious philosophy, but so it goes.

    @37: Again, you have to deal with the fact that many forms of religion do not envision God as another mind, while you have scores of atheists who describe having very similar forms of transcendental experience as theists. Somewhat ironically here, I’m raising the same criticism of the social cognition model that religious people have been making about Dawkins and Hitchins for years: it’s based on an oversimplification of religious philosophy and psychology.

  • Clark

    Kirk, to second your comment about 37. It seems to me a lot of more liberal Christian theologians, say like Tillich, are effectively atheists talking about being in general. And of course in Europe a lot of people very attached to the traditional state religions do so more for aesthetic reasons rather than any belief in God. (I think this is true of a lot of American Jews as well, although birth rates among orthodox are changing the makeup) Finally as you note some atheists are quite fine with quasi-religious movements like say Zen Buddhism or general meditation. And often with regards to cosmology and ontology it’s hard to really distinguish atheists from deists. (Within philosophy, where nearly everyone is an atheist, you still have what some call the religious turn in Continental philosophy where folks are making explicit use of Catholic theologians to do ontology)

    The point being that there is a region where the differences are pretty blurry. There’s no problem distinguishing Pat Robinson from Richard Dawkins but not everyone is that easy.

  • Justin Giancola

    40, has the word agnostic fallen out of favor; since when are all these suposed non-adherers just lumped as atheist?

  • Kirk Job Sluder

    @41: In some ways, yes. Huxley’s contrarianism seems a bit quaint and obsolete in the 21st century where most knowledge claims are provisional and limited to the extent of the available evidence.

  • Clark

    Justin I think the words have long been blurry. For instance consider Hume who not only didn’t consider himself an atheist but didn’t think there actually were any atheists. While Hume’s use is perhaps a bit idiosyncratic it seems to me that there are lots of people who simply don’t want to be called agnostic even though others looking at them might so judge them. (I think it is analogous to the place of “moderate” in political debate where the term has the sense of not being to the right or left but also a sense of being somewhat wishy washy – understandably those with firm well thought out views don’t like being thought wishy washy)

  • Justin Giancola

    That’s so disappointing…just another example of how we can’t seem to help but polarize everything. We opt away from a nuanced discussion/multi-party platform and prefer this cowboys & indians, hollywood movie goodguy bad guys, god vs. satan version of reality.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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