Atheism and autism

According to a Scientific American article, people with autism are less likely to invoke God to explain events in their lives.

Bethany T. Heywood, a graduate student at Queens University Belfast, asked 27 people with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild type of autism that involves impaired social cognition, about significant events in their lives. Working with experimental psychologist Jesse M. Bering (author of the “Bering in Mind” blog and a frequent contributor to Scientific American MIND), she asked them to speculate about why these important events happened—for instance, why they had gone through an illness or why they met a significant other. As compared with 34 neurotypical people, those with Asperger’s syndrome were significantly less likely to invoke a teleological response—for example, saying the event was meant to unfold in a particular way or explaining that God had a hand in it. They were more likely to invoke a natural cause (such as blaming an illness on a virus they thought they were exposed to) or to give a descriptive response, explaining the event again in a different way.

In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.”

Some experts theorize that certain schizophrenia symptoms (for instance, paranoia) arise in part from a hyperactive sense of social reasoning. “I’d guess that they’d give lots of teleological answers; more than neurotypical people, and certainly far more than people with Asperger’s,” Heywood says.

As an atheist and probably not an …autist, I much prefer the responses of respondents with Asperger’s Syndrome to those of the atheists.  A very reasonable response to “Why were you sick?” is “I was exposed to a virus.”  The atheist’s “There is no reason why”, is ridiculous.

I enjoy reading Scientific American and respect it but I have to wonder about the reporting in this case.  The article reports there were two studies and I would want to see the actual questions asked.

I am not disputting that people with Asperger’s Syndrome and atheists may have similar worldviews, but I, well, hope, that atheists can provide better answers than those given.



One Response to “Atheism and autism”

  1. gordsellar Says:

    It seems to me the atheist’s answer may as much be culturally informed. When you’re surrounded by people giving teleological answers to “why” all the time, one might be more inclined to repudiate that kind of view of the world by kneejerk.

    But honestly, I wonder what the real questions and answers were. (Since, for example, “Why do you think you met your significant other,” is a question where “There is no why, things just happen…” seems reasonable. There are lots of those kinds of questions, why is why I wonder what specifically was asked.)

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