August 25, 2012

Does Mental Illness Cause Atheism?

On a broadcast of "Evidence for Faith", Keith and Kirk (both are former atheists) discussed a study from the Psychology Department at the University of British Columbia called "Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God". It shows that people with a tendency toward mental disorders, especially autism, are more likely to be disbelievers. The more severe the autism, the stronger the disbelief.

To try to determine the causes of atheism has been the subject of several projects. There is probably no single cause, however. 
The last three points, above, seem to emphasize the findings in the autism study.

Now I want to take this out of the realm of scientific research and personal experience into the spiritual realm.

There is a term that I learned a couple of years ago that is used in certain apologetics and theology circles. It is the "noetic effect of sin". To keep this to the surface level, I will just say it means that sin affects the entire person, including reasoning abilities as well as morality. This is most strongly emphasized in Romans 1.18-28, with the emphasis that "God gave them over". I have encountered people who are brilliant in some ways, but when it comes to anything related to God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation and so forth, they not only become antagonistic, but their reasoning abilities become nonexistent.

This is the spiritual version of "atheism causes brain damage". That is, the spiritual nature is continually damaged by rejection of and hatred for God. Their sin increases, they hate God more, commit more sin, their sin increases, other areas of life are impaired (especially reasoning)...

So, I think that perhaps both "atheism causes brain damage" and "autism impacts atheism" (I am using unrefined descriptions for simplicity and emphasis) are true. One feeds the other.

The only way out of this vicious circle is salvation through Jesus Christ. All have sinned (Romans 3.23) and the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ (Romans 6.23). When someone humbles himself and says, "I am a sinner" and accepts Jesus Christ through faith, he becomes a new creation (2 Cor. 5.17) and receives new life (1 John 5.11-12).

While physical, emotional, psychological and sociological influences cannot be erased, they can be managed by becoming a new person in Jesus Christ.

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