Atheism and Autism--Are They Correlated?
This month's issue of Psychology Today has an interesting piece that reminded me of everybody's dear friend, Vox Day. He asserts in his blog and his book on many occasions that atheists are more likely to suffer from what he terms "social autism"--disorders such as Asperger's Syndrome or mild forms of autism. He bases this on informal internet surveys that questioned people on their personality traits. But is the correlation really there, or is this just another attempt to disparage atheists?
"It's All Geek to Me" by Benjamin Nugent discusses the difference between the systematizing brains of so-called "nerds" and the empathic brains of the more socially inclined. Although nerds, the "intellectually gifted but socially awkward" (p.39), do share some traits of those with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders) but not to a severe enough degree to be classified as a pathology. In fact, the behavior can be brought on solely by parenting style according to Dr. Mel Levine, and the socially inept can be taught the skills necessary for more intuitive social interactions. This is where nerdiness differs from ASD. ASD is persistent despite attempts at socialization.
So what does this have to do with atheism? Vox insists that atheists are more likely to be “socially autistic,” which is slightly redundant since autism necessarily entails a type of social ineptness, but I think that the correlation there is purely coincidental. We already know that atheism/nontheism is more prevalent among those of above average intelligence. If people with above average intelligence are also more likely to be “nerds,” or have S-type brains, then it stands to reason that the true connection has nothing to do with atheism and everything to do with the fact that there are more educated and intelligent people in the atheist community who have the aforementioned traits. It is also important to keep in mind the fact that social awkwardness does not imply a pathological disorder.
Obviously, this is not a scientific study. This is my own inference based on what appears to be a logical correlation—as opposed to the completely illogical idea that atheism somehow causes autism or that autistic people are more likely to be atheists. Vox will probably backpedal and say that he was using the term “autistic” loosely, but he does spend quite some time reiterating these sentiments both in his book and on his blog.
Anybody with Lexus-Nexus or JSTOR subscriptions—I would love to get copies of any journal articles that may be relevant to this topic if you wouldn’t mind sharing.