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Atheism/Atheist - Personality Traits ?


Johnny wrote at 2013-08-30 22:06:37
What planet are you from?

These are the facts:

Harmful Mutation/Bio-Chemical Theory

Some have argued that malnutrition at childbirth, abnormal brain development, maternal alcoholism and/or drug abuse, and maternal anxiety—resulting in the detrimental release of hormones—have been responsible for a predilection toward atheism.

In a recent study at Boston College regarding the correlation between atheism and high functioning autistics, the following was observed:

“It is hypothesized that traits typically displayed among high functioning autistic individuals such as attraction to scientism and hyper rationality…render… individuals less likely to embrace supernaturalism and religious belief. Consistent with this, Atheism and Agnosticism are more frequent in the high functioning autistic groups…. . Previous research has established systemizing and low conformity as prominent traits among HFA individuals. We proposed that HFA individuals would be likely to construct their own belief systems, drawing on their interest in systemizing and lack of need to conform to approved social behaviors.”

People with high functioning autism are people with a neural development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction.  It affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses comment and organize.  Recent studies seem to indicate that those with high functioning autism are predisposed towards atheism because of the mind’s inability to grasp supernatural concepts.  For at least some, we must say that atheism has genetic roots, mutational roots.  If this is so for some, it is quite possible for atheism to be a neural development disorder in others not suffering from autism.

With the advent of the study of atheism, new studies have shown there to be a difference between the brain of an atheist and the brain of a God-believer.   The neural picture has simply begun to be studied, but differences are already being seen.  Some studies have shown that God-believers have more brain tissue in their frontal lobes than atheists.  This area of the brain is associated with attention and reward.  Atheists have a larger hippocampus than God-believers.  This area of the brain is associated with memory and emotions—a possible reason behind the psychological and sociological predispositions for atheism discussed in chapter one.   God-believers have a higher level of dopamine in their system, which is associated with increased attention and motivation.  This could be a possible reason why atheists suffer higher rates of depression, suicide, and “sloppy thinking.”    

Studies are pointing more and more to biological and even evolutionary reasons for religious belief and disbelief.  In a study by the University of Toronto Department of Psychology titled Neural Markers for Religious Conviction, researchers found significant differences in how God-believers, theists, and atheists responded to stress tests.  The authors of the test wrote:  “These results suggest that religious conviction provides a framework for understanding and acting within one’s environment, thereby acting as a buffer against anxiety and minimizing the experience of error.”  God-believers’ anterior cingulate cortexes operate differently than atheists--religious belief has a calming effect when facing the unknowns of life.   

Belief in God is advantageous to life.  It reduces stress and the uncertainty that comes with life.  In scientific terms, belief in God is a genetically programed advantage for the survival and well-being of the species.  Those who do not have this bio-genetic factor, or God-gene as some like to say, can be considered blemished and prone to various maladjustments—thus the higher mental and psychological disorders among atheists.

Studies regarding the media have shown that viewing television hinders brain development.  There are indications that television impacts the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for the deliberate thought processes necessary for acts of planning and judgment.  The bombardment of information and video stimulation seems to idle the prefrontal cortex and stunt normal intellectual growth.   Since the media expresses the secular-atheist vision of the world, one must wonder whether the media’s impact on the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the rise of secularism in the West.

Another form of media, video games, has recently shown that atheists and God-believers prefer different types of games due to their emotional response to the games—possibly tied to the difference of the hippocampus in some atheists.  Studies have shown that atheists prefer “what you see is what you get” games; that is, games where the imagination and emotion is less active.  God-believers prefer games that require the imagination and stir emotions. Atheists dislike games that deal with unseen realms; whereas, God-believers prefer games with unseen realms.  These insights give added support to the studies that associate atheism with a predisposition towards a detachment from or repression of one’s emotional side.  The modern popularity of Ayn Rand’s atheistic philosophy makes great sense for those having such a mindset.

Sociological studies indicate that atheism is more likely in men than women.  The Pew Research Center’s 2007 study indicated that women, being more relational by nature, are more open to the relational dimension that is associated with God-believers.  Rodney Stark, in 2002, argued for a bio-chemistry root to men’s unbelief.  Studies have shown that men have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses and have a less reflective nature, and are less apt to engage in consequential thinking.  These are qualities that make the perception of the transcendental and the destiny of one’s life more difficult.

Neuropsychological researcher have found, by studying damage to parts of the brain, that the right side of the brain is preoccupied with self-centeredness and the left side with other-centeredness.   God-believers hold to a philosophy, even if it is not lived out well, of being other-centered, neighbor-centered.  Atheists may not hold to, but statically express self-centeredness.  Either the atheist or the God-believer is deficient in one side of the brain? The National Institute of Neurological Disorders has reported that individuals with left-side brain damage, that part of the brain that is concerned with being other-centered, and arguably God-centered, display the psychological characteristics of atheists such as anxiety, pessimism, skepticism, negativity, and a high rate of depression and suicide.  Either the atheist or the God-believer is deficient in one side of the brain?  It is interesting to note that abnormalities in the brain can have a causal relationship to atheism but abnormalities in the brain do not have such a causal relationship to belief in God.   

In a study published in 2010 scientist affirmed that the frontal, parietal, and temporal structures of the brain play a large part, albeit not a complete part, in believing or not believing in God.   By studying brain tumors, scientist came up with certain conclusion.  Healthy frontal, parietal and temporal structures in the brain enhance a person’s ability to experience what they perceive as the transcendent.  Because these parts of the brain foster other-centeredness and the transcendent they promote that ability to see beyond the self to others—including the sense of the divine.  Damage to these areas often led to mental illness often marked by self-centeredness, selfishness, and an inability to recognize the transcendent or the divine.  In other words, brain damage to this part or parts of the brain was associated with the increased chance of atheistic thoughts.  Again, it was damage to this part or parts of the brain which caused problems and a change to what was normal.  This study like many others reminds the God-believer that we are “hot-wired” for God, created for God, and that without God we become empty and without meaning.  When that “hot-wired” dimension is damaged, problems follow, atheistic leaning problems.  This pushes us to seeing atheism as a personality disorder that is marked by a deficiency in the area of the brain.  Knowing this may lead to treatments for various mental illnesses and possibly even atheism!  As Dr. Cosimo Urgesi stated:

“These results may lead to new strategies for treating some forms of mental illness.  If a stable personality trait such as self-transcendence can undergo fast changes as a consequence of brain lesions, it would indicate that at least some personality dimensions may be modified by influencing neural activity in specific areas…  Perhaps novel approaches aimed at modulating neural activity might ultimately pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders.”

University of Missouri study researchers found:

“In many ways, the results of our study, support the idea that spirituality functions as a personality trait.”  With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe.”

If spirituality is a healthy personality trait, then atheism is an unhealthy personality trait.  In fact, one could argue a personality disorder.  Those who were less spiritual were also more anxious and introverted—characteristics associated—through sociological and psychological studies—predominantly with atheists.

  Spirituality is clearly an advantageous evolutionary gift for mental health. As Professor Dan Cohen remarks:  

“The mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs…and spiritual interventions….  Spiritual beliefs may be a coping device to help individuals deal emotionally with stress.”

Thus the poorer rates of recovery for atheists in hospitals and the higher rate of suicide amongst atheists.

  In studies regarding children, children who were spiritual were happier than those who were not.  Children that had strong personal and communal dimensions to their spirituality had a 27 percent higher rate of happiness and meaningfulness to their lives as opposed to those who were non-spiritual.   We are truly, arguably, “hot-wired” for God.  Atheism is a bad mutation in the evolutionary process of the human being.

Atheism at first appears advantageous for survival since atheistic self-centeredness is beneficial in avoiding life-threatening situations.  However, since atheism is incapable, or less capable, of authentic other-centeredness,  it is harmful for the good of society, which in turn is harmful to the individual.  Therefore, other-centeredness is more beneficial for the survival of the species than self-centeredness.  Could atheism be a negative mutation along the evolutionary path?  

  God-believers have better mental and physical health and a general better quality of life.  The Mayo Clinic report of 350 studies regarding physical health and 850 studies regarding mental health found that God-centered religion and spirituality brought about better health outcomes and quicker recovery times from ailments.   Dr. Stephen Joseph from the University of Warwick, after studying the relationship between belief in God and disbelief, found that believers are happier and healthier in every dimension of their lives.

  A recent study by the University of Illinois, after studying two million tweets from 16,000 active Twitter users, found that God-believers are more positive in their thoughts and emotions, as indicated by the words they used in their tweets—words such as “love,” “happy,” “great,” “family,” “friend,” “team.”  Social relationships and intuitive thinking are the focus of the majority of their tweets.  On the other hand, the same study found that atheists tended to be unhappier emotionally.  Their tweets were sprinkled with words such as “bad,” “wrong,” “awful,” “question,” “reason.”  Good mental health is marked by optimism and positive self-illusions.  Atheists lack both.  God-believers had both qualities necessary for good mental health.

  The Iona Institute reported in 2000, from its examination of forty-two studies involving approximately 126,000 subjects that active God-believers lived longer than atheists by some 29 percent, and that Church attending believers increased their chances of living longer by 43 percent.   

  The World Health Organization and the renowned sociologist Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College have documented that the suicide rate among atheists far exceeds that of God-believers.  When classifying nations according to beliefs, atheistic, secular nations are marked by higher suicide rates, despite being among the richest of nations.  Catholic countries have a suicide rate of 4 percent per 100,000; Protestant Countries have a 13.8 percent rate per 100,000.  Atheistic countries have a 31.1 percent rate per 100,000.  Secular schools, at all levels, produce a higher rate of mental illness and mild forms of functional impairment than religious schools.  

Atheists are half as likely to get married and more likely to have few or no children.    

Nature and nurture is what makes us who we are.  Having said this, we must examine the brain to learn more in regards to the differences between God-believers and atheists.  Studies show that atheist have a higher rate of stress, fear and anxiety than God-believers.  Could this be due to some abnormality at work in the amygdala or the prefrontal cortex?  Studies show that atheists have a higher rate of negativity, depression, and self-motivation.  Could this be due to some abnormality at work in the anterior cingulate cortex?  Studies show that atheists tend to suffer more mood disorders that are associated with memories than God-believers.  Could this be due to some abnormality at work in the hippocampus that may be responsible for much of the psychology of atheism as pioneered by Paul Vitz?   

The same character traits found in many atheists are found in following mental disorders.  Is this a coincidence?  Is there a possible correlation?  dddddddddddddd

If there is a bio-chemical, psychological, sociological component to the difference between atheists and God-believers, then the possibility exists for there to be a deficiency that can alter belief.  Is it possible that atheists are lacking a necessary bio-chemical component, a God-gene?  If more people believe in God, then is it possible that atheists are lacking what the majority have?  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes over 300 mental disorders, each of which is treated by medications or some kind of therapy. Why is it improbable for atheism to be a mental disorder--characterized by an inability to detect the supernatural?  Since, statistically, atheists are less well-adjusted than God-believers, is it possible that atheists are suffering from a mutation or imbalance of some sort?

It is clear that we are “hot-wired” for God, and in terms of evolution, belief in God is better than non-belief.  We have spent thousands of years studying belief; it is now time to start studying unbelief.  


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Jeffrey Ellsworth


I am well versed on the arguments for both sides about the existence of God and am especially aware of the philosophical ramifications and psychological reactions to atheism. Also, if you have a question about atheism as that pertains to Science or Skepticism, I may be an especially good pick. However my knowledge of non-Judeo-Christian religions and Biblical archaeology is generally limited to knowledge about directions to more informative resources.


I've been an atheist for 14 years now, open about it for 9 years after being raised in a Roman Catholic family. In that time I have held many different philosophical perspective on the subject and had different emotional and psychological reactions to atheism. I have absorbed many internet articles, video debates, atheist publications, and secular podcasts in my process of understanding and supporting the atheist movement. I routinely hold conversations on the subject.

One article in If Journal, an interfaith publication.

I have a BS in Physics and Mathematics from the College of William & Mary I am pursuing my Ph.D in Physics at Indiana University at Bloomington. I have very little formal training in philosophy or sociology.

Awards and Honors
I was president of the William & Mary Students for Science & Secularism before graduating.

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