Grump tank for disgruntled atheists.

Atheistic Aspies?

I stumbled across a ridiculous theist theory that atheists are atheists because they suffer from Asperger's Syndrome. The idea was that those with AS lack empathy for others, so they cannot feel God's Blessing:

What I found particularly interesting was the idea that people with Asperger's are challenged when understanding the mental states of other people, appreciating their intentions and worldview, and otherwise simply open to the intersubjective and experiential life of others. That would certainly explain the overriding emphasis on external, objective evidence.
I know many atheists (and many believers) but I can think of only one atheist (a computer programmer) who could be considered mildly Aspy and I know that his atheism was based on logic and not on lack of empathy. However, individual with Asperger's also love rituals and tend to see patterns even where patterns do not exist, so these qualities might make religion attractive to those with AS.

Studies are sparse, but I did find this: "Data from this study indicate that some individuals with Asperger's Syndrome find themselves aligned to the rituals and structure of organized religion while others pursue spirituality far from the mainstream." (ref)

I definitely do not have Asperger's syndrome*, though I do have a preference for the logical, particularly where rationality is appropriate. I am not immune to spiritual feelings—oneness with Nature—but I interpret these feelings as emanating from me and not from without. (We call this "internal locus of control" as opposed to "external locus of control".)

The germane point here is that an individual can be logical and favor an emphasis on external, objective evidence without having the interpersonal problems associated with Asperger's syndrome.

If indeed God is experiential and that can only come from an openness to the Being of God, then it makes sense that someone mentally incapable of openning hemselves [sic] up even to other people would find it even more difficult to do so when it comes to the Ultimate Reality of the Divine.
Openness to the idea of God relates much more to exposure to the notion of God during childhood than it does to capacity for emotional empathy. Excluding lack of childhood indoctrination, emotional reasons for atheism include loss of trust in a protective deity because of personal traumas, and rational evaluation of objective evidence.

Of course, just as temporal lobe action doesn't "disprove" religious experience, atheism correlating with Asperger's Syndrome wouldn't "disprove" atheism. It does, however, interestingly extend hypotheses about the origins of personal religiousity [sic]: atheism may not, in fact, be able to claim the default, normative state against which other religious claims must prove themselves. On the contrary, atheism is just as much a product of assorted social and physical factors as any other religious claim.
Atheism is not a religious claim, it is a rational explanation for observed phenomena, so its tenets are not disprovable by understanding the personal psychology of those who discount the supernatural as unbelievable or nonexistent. Much though the author of this piece might like to discount atheism because it is personally antithetical to his or her beliefs, even if atheism were confined to high functioning autistics, this would not disprove the logical position. Obviously, if tangible, incontrovertible, empirical evidence for the existence of supernatural beings or forces could be repeatedly demonstrated, then most atheists would become theists.

Theists love to talk of "proof" when in fact only disproof, of all except non-existence, is rigorously feasible.

I assume that the comment refers to the fact that a relatively high proportion of strong religious experiences are reported by people with temporal lobe epilepsy.

If all individuals were hooked up to a monitor of brain function while experiencing what the individual interprets as religious experience it would be very unlikely that each individual was suffering an episode of TLE, particularly since the two phenomena occur independently in others.

However, a different distinctive pattern or set of patterns of brain function would undoubtedly be observed—no brain activity, no experience. That is, correlation would suggest an association between brain activity and religious experience, just as all other brain functions are associated with neural activity. It is well established that those without neural activity (brain dead) do not react or communicate, still less describe experiences. The fact that specific patterns of brain activity are invariably associated with mental activities including movement, communication, thinking, dreaming, sensation, visualization, emotion, and religious experiences indicates that neural activity accompanies both voluntary and passive processes.

The Atheist-Aspy notion implies that the religious individual is merely a passive antenna for transmissions emanating from outside—TV-God sotospeak. Such a brain-as-antenna or heart-as-antenna concept would require postulating a second, undetectable mechanism for human experience or would require the assumption that only the religious subcategory of human experiences operated by distinct mechanisms. Both of the postulations would be convenient self-justifications for religionist arguments, but neither is logical in the face of evidence. Thus, religious experience, whatever form this takes, is disproven by all the objective evidence. Theists, of course, would argue against this, but all theist arguments begin and end with theistic insistence that there must be a deity because they believe that there is a deity.

The prevalence of Asperger's, a genetically transmitted condition, is reported as 0.01%to 3.6% of live births. (Obviously, the condition exists but is not diagnosed or reported in medically disadvantaged nations.) Atheism is the belief system of choice of at least 12-15% of the world's population and varies from region to region. There simply are not enough Aspies to explain the number of atheists.

Many studies, however, do document an inverse or negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence, educational level, education in science, liberal moral attitudes, and acceptance of the fact of biological evolution. Conversely, those who are not religious are more likely to be intelligent, highly educated, science educated, liberal, and evolutionists. Needless to say, religionists are not happy about these statistics, partly, I suspect, because they do not really understand correlation or categorical logic.

I should be interested to know the actual statistics for prevalence of deism versus atheism in AS, but I very much doubt that such pathologizing of atheists provides much insight into predisposition toward rational thinking. It strikes me that the theory's chief attraction is that it offers an emotional sop to theists—just like religion.

* I scored 12/50 on an inventory for AS, where high numbers (32+) indicated AS.

Sites Elsewhere : Take The AQ Test : Are Atheists Autistic? : Pointy-Haired Cartoonist? Scott Adams Misrepresents Atheism & Agnosticism : google Asperger's syndrome :

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. . . launched (sans champagne, alas) 10/22/06