Atheism – An Evolutionary Weed with the Wheat?

Augustine Pamplany CST

A recent study headed by British Scientist Edward Dutton at Oulu University, Finland, found a correlation between atheism, autism and left handedness. People who are left-handed or autistic are more likely to be atheistic. The research focussed on people who were either left handed or had autism or schizophrenia. Scientists examined whether they were more or less likely to be religious. They found that there was a ‘weak but significant’ association between left-handedness and being non-religious, and a stronger one between autism and being non-religious. It means that religious belief is partly a matter of genetics and excessive number of genetic mutations is responsible for autism or left-handedness and conversely atheism. Thus people who underwent certain genetic mutations are less likely to be religious.

It is associated with the anthropological finding that in the pre-industrial age religiosity was passed on to the next generation like any other genetic attributes. Religiosity was associated with greater stability, mental health and better social behaviour during this period. One of the traditional argument of atheism is that religiosity was born from the existential fears of the primitive human at the threatening natural phenomena like storm, thunder, etc. Now, even if that being the case, there is an optimistic observation here that humanity urges for stability, tranquillity and peace amidst the natural chaos and religiosity gets consolidated at such a state of stability. Our natural and social experiences make up our genetic structure. Accordingly, as some of the recent exponents of neuro-religion claim religiosity is evolutionarily coded in our genes. The study by the Finland scientists very well corroborates with these claims.

According to them, religious believers have fewer genetic mutations and the chances of being left handed, autistic or schizophrenic are relatively low. In modern times, many people who would not previously have survived are making it to adulthood and they reproduce. This leads to a greater incidence of atheism. They argue that lack of belief in God is connected to genetic mutations which cause attributes such as left-handedness or autism. The paper also argues that the phenomenon is also behind a rise in belief in the paranormal. It was found that compared to 40 percent in 2005, 52 percent of the British people believe in the supernatural along the paranormal line in 2013. Modern religious people were likely to be descended from those who were highly religious in pre-industrial times. The study states: “Religious people in Western societies… are a remnant, selected population that likely would have survived in preindustrial conditions. …By contrast, atheists and believers in the paranormal would, disproportionately, never have reached adulthood or never have been born, because these beliefs, though very different, are partly an expression of the breakdown of selection and thus of rising mutational load.”

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