"Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism":

ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the proposal that individual differences in belief will reflect cognitive processing styles, with high functioning autism being an extreme style that will predispose towards nonbelief (atheism and agnosticism). This view was supported by content analysis of discussion forums about religion on an autism website (covering 192 unique posters), and by a survey that included 61 persons with HFA. Persons with autistic spectrum disorder were much more likely than those in our neurotypical comparison group to identify as atheist or agnostic, and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system. Nonbelief was also higher in those who were attracted to systemizing activities, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient.

...Personality psychologists have identified two styles of reasoning: emphasis on logic and emphasis on intuition (Demaria, Kassinove & Dill 1989). As the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) thinking traits are indicative of a logical cognitive style, we developed a set of thinking traits that would be represented in postings by neurotypical (NT) individuals.
The NT thinking traits embody the complimentary attributes of the ASD thinking traits. For example the NT thinking trait "emphasis on intuition" was developed to compliment the ASD thinking trait "emphasis on logic". The NT thinking traits looked for in the postings were emphasis on intuition, oriented towards social rewards, empathizing, symbolic fluidity/gestalt thinking, and openness to experience.
...[discussion forum analysis:] Religious beliefs were found to differ significantly between the HFA and NT populations, χ2 (12, N=387)= 43.69, p < .01. As shown in Figure 1, individuals with HFA were less likely to belong to an organized religion than their NT counterparts and were more likely to create their own religious belief system. The "own-construction" category comprised 16% of the HFA population as compared to only 6% of the NT population. HFA individuals also demonstrated higher rates of non-belief identities such as Atheism (26%) and Agnosticism (17%). In the NT group, only 17% of the population were Atheists and 10% were Agnostic.
...[survey:] Religious beliefs were found to differ significantly between the HFA and NT populations, __ (12, N= 166) = 22.698, p < .01. As was found in the content analysis of discussion forums, HFA questionnaire respondents were less likely than their NT counterparts to belong to an organized religion. HFA individuals were more likely to be atheist than were NT individuals. The "own construction" belief category was also found to be proportionally greater in the HFA population than in the NT population (see Figure 3).
...[from conclusion]: We suggest that individual differences in cognitive styles is an important predictor of human belief systems, including religious belief. An extreme type of cognitive style is high functioning autism. The 2 studies reported here found that individuals with HFA have a higher rate than neurotypicals of endorsing atheism and agnosticism. HFA individuals thus resemble another group of high-systemizers (scientists), who also reject religious belief at a relatively high rate.

Caldwell-Harris et al 2011.

Mostly as one would expect, although I am troubled that the second survey did not find any difference in agnostics, only the other categories.

See also: "How to be deader than dead".

New Comment
41 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:08 AM

Their neurotypical comparison group was golivewire.com...

People who go on forums in the first place are frequently much less religious than average.

This is definitely true for numerous non-autistic forum as well (I've conducted polls). Among online communities I know where an overwhelming majority of the population is non-religious...

  • HeavenGames
  • Interesting Nonetheless (INTL), an offshoot of HeavenGames
  • Reddit
  • Social Anxiety Forums
  • College Confidential (though the ratio there is only around 60%)
  • Digg (the old digg, anyways).
  • Quora
  • I'm pretty sure it's true for Slashdot and Hacker News too

(Of course, LessWrong and Imminst are even more overwhelmingly atheist, but I wouldn't consider them as reliable "NT" forums to compare with, as their philosophies are philosophies that only atheists would find more attractive - this is not the case for the communities above)

In any case, Go LiveWire might not even be a reliable sample. There's such an overwhelming presence of atheists on many popular discussion boards (especially Reddit) that a lot of religious people are driven away and end up congregating more on places like LiveWire. Alternatively, they convert to atheism (I've witnessed numerous forumers on HeavenGames turn from Christian to atheist).

Plus, forums frequently homogeneize their views precisely because the people with less popular views get frustrated and driven out (this is especially true for anyone who has conservative views - I've seen many cases where conservatives get ostracized, leaving only a small percent of them who remain). Anyways, I'm a WrongPlanet poster myself, so I'll post the study there and see what they say.

Also, wrongplanet is definitely not a representative sample of everyone with Asperger's. The people there are definitely biased towards more extreme forms of the syndrome (and especially biased towards those who are especially lonely in real life). In terms of severity, my form is more severe than that of almost everyone I know in real-life, yet less severe than many of the posters there.

Another thing: most of WrongPlanet's posters are adults - most of LiveWire's posters are teens. They said they wanted to match for age-group, but they didn't do a good job of doing that.

Despite the study's flaws, I don't doubt the conclusion. And I still found the article to be an intensely interesting read, and do want to see more research into this.

Their neurotypical comparison group was golivewire.com. People who go on forums in the first place are frequently much less religious than average....a lot of religious people are driven away and end up congregating more on places like LiveWire


Well, both statements could be true. Most popular Internet forums are over-represented by atheists [1], so the result is that many of the Christians (especially the conservative ones) get driven out and congregate on other forums (which may, in turn, not form particularly representative samples of the population)

Here's the other nail-biter: I'd actually suspect that Aspies might be over-represented among the highly-religious as well (though not as much among the non-religious). But they may also be especially likely to be driven out of wrongplanet

[1] relative to the U.S. population anyways. But there's another confounding factor: many forums also have a high number of internationals (there are definitely non-Americans on WrongPlanet), especially Europeans, and they tend to be even more overwhelmingly non-religious. I don't know about LiveWire's international population, but I'm pretty sure that it's less international than many other forums.

Those results look pretty weak to me, especially in the first section; with the methodology they used, I'd have expected to see something much stronger than ~35% less theism among ASD-identified individuals if there was anything to the hypothesis (owing to amplification by evaporative cooling and other group effects). With that in mind I think I find myself less confident of ASD-linked differences in religiosity than I'd have been if you asked me before reading the article, although it's intuitively reasonable. The own-construction results do seem a little more solid, although if I'm reading this right the absolute numbers would still be low enough to admit some sampling bias.

I'm also somewhat skeptical that you could get reliable statistics on religiosity out of a pool of ~200 posts per group, especially if you're comparing minorities in both groups; the article claims to be comparing clear self-assignments of religious belief, but I wouldn't expect those to be all that common even on a religious discussion forum. I'd really like to know more about exactly what their raters were trained to base their estimates on and how they managed to achieve 93% reliability in a pool that small.

The design of the second section seems somewhat better, accounting for the flaws of self-assignment, but comparing self-selected Internet people to undergrads at an unspecified northeastern university still seems questionable.

Even if the results were much stronger I don't think I'd update by much; I have a lot of concerns with their methodology here in terms of sampling and control. As you suggest a much larger sample would be an improvement but still subject to the biases that concern me.

"Divine intuition: Cognitive style influences belief in God":

"Some have argued that belief in God is intuitive, a natural (by-)product of the human mind given its cognitive structure and social context. If this is true, the extent to which one believes in God may be influenced by one's more general tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection. Three studies support this hypothesis, linking intuitive cognitive style to belief in God. Study 1 showed that individual differences in cognitive style predict belief in God. Participants completed the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005), which employs math problems that, although easily solvable, have intuitively compelling incorrect answers. Participants who gave more intuitive answers on the CRT reported stronger belief in God. This effect was not mediated by education level, income, political orientation, or other demographic variables. Study 2 showed that the correlation between CRT scores and belief in God also holds when cognitive ability (IQ) and aspects of personality were controlled. Moreover, both studies demonstrated that intuitive CRT responses predicted the degree to which individuals reported having strengthened their belief in God since childhood, but not their familial religiosity during childhood, suggesting a causal relationship between cognitive style and change in belief over time. Study 3 revealed such a causal relationship over the short term: Experimentally inducing a mindset that favors intuition over reflection increases self-reported belief in God."

The cognitive reflection test could be testing for general intelligence. Smarter people, even when given very little time - insufficient for reflection - solve problems better. Smarter people don't have invalid 'intuitive' answers to mathematical problems, or have the correct answer intuitively arriving before they can even utter the answer. If you control by IQ you still aren't controlling by general intelligence as the IQ test is somewhat noisy / imprecise.

The intuitive people, i think, simply don't reflect enough - they tend to say believe in god because they want to fit in, they never reflected on that behaviour and don't even distinguish between believing in god and wanting to fit in. They can literally feel the existence of god because they want to fit in. Psyche is a big black box that spits out sequences of sounds which can be parsed as descriptive of internal process but have very little relation to the internal process.

The cognitive reflection test could be testing for general intelligence.

Er... how incompetent do you think these researchers are? That is one of the most obvious possible confounds. Of course they controlled for intelligence (and did).

If you control by IQ you still aren't controlling by general intelligence as the IQ test is somewhat noisy / imprecise.

Immediate backtracking, I see.

The intuitive people, i think, simply don't reflect enough

Non-reflective people simply don't reflect enough! I see.

Er... how incompetent do you think these researchers are?

You need to control for intelligence, all you have is IQ test which is intelligence measured with some errors (edit: to be precise, the correlation between IQ test score and "general intelligence" is presumed to be around 0.8 or less), do I need to spell it out for you that controlling for something measured with an error does not result in perfect controls? The level of competence in psychology is pretty low.

tl;dr; of course they didn't control for intelligence. They controlled for IQ, which is something correlated with intelligence (but not very well). You can pick people, measure the math portion of IQ test, then 'control for intelligence' meaning the rest of the IQ test, you still have the people with better mathematical intelligence being more correct about stuff including non-existence of god edit: and still do better on some other IQ test that doesn't correlate perfectly with the first one.

edit: just look at the "cognitive reflection test":

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

the first one, i do admit at the 0.1 popping up, but obviously - having received math education - i habitually test answers and it takes fraction of a second - note that testing your answers doesn't imply you aren't answering intuitively and note that you can't test 'does god exist' in similar fashion. The remaining two, I have to stop and think to come up with allegedly 'intuitive' answers. My suspicion is that they pop up because of some childhood conditioning that if you see numbers you must do some math operation on them.

You need to control for intelligence, all you have is IQ test which is intelligence measured with some errors (edit: to be precise, the correlation between IQ test score and "general intelligence" is presumed to be around 0.8 or less), do I need to spell it out for you that controlling for something measured with an error does not result in perfect controls? The level of competence in psychology is pretty low.

This is a fully general counter-argument. You can dismiss any test in psychology whatsoever by claiming it does not track the underlying property to your arbitrary demands. (What, 0.8 is not enough?)

Good day.

Some causal diagrams and numerical calculations clarify the argument. Call IR the score on the supposed test for intuitive vs. reflective style (for me the right answers are all intuitive), BG the score for belief in god, IQ the score on an IQ test, and G the hypothetical true intelligence. Consider the causal diagram that has an arrow from G to each of IQ, IR, and BG, and no other arrows. This is the causal diagram that controlling for intelligence is intended to rule out by finding a conditional correlation that is incompatible with it.

To really control for intelligence would require matching subjects for G value. This cannot be done, so IQ is used as a proxy, but IQ correlates only 0.8 with G. The question is then: when you control for IQ, how well are you controlling for G? How much correlation due to that possible causal diagram are you squeezing out of the relationship between IR and BG? I've only glanced at the paper and do not know if the authors have considered this question.

I shall suppose for the sake of example, and because this example is one that I happen to have worked out the numbers for, that all the distributions involved are multivariate Gaussian. IQ and G have a product-moment correlation of c = 0.8. By what factor does knowing someone's IQ narrow the distribution of their G? The answer is 1/sqrt(1-c^2) = 1.667.

That doesn't look like very much, does it? Is it enough to rule out the correlation between IR and BG as being due solely to a dependence of each on G? Well, what was the unconditional correlation between IR and BG? The paper is all F-values and NHST, but the impression I get from their Figure 1 is around 0.5 to 0.8.

So, consider a hypothetical model in which IR = G + noiseIR, BG = G + noiseBG, and IQ = G + noiseIQ, the three noises being independent. This is the model that we are trying to rule out by controlling for IQ. Choose units so that all variables have mean 0, and G has variance 1. Clearly, the conditional correlation of IR and BG given G is zero, and the experiment would find against that. But how high could the conditional correlation of IR and BG be, when what is fixed is not G but IQ?

We have IR = IQ - noiseIQ + noiseIR and BG = IQ - noiseIQ + noiseBG, so their conditional correlation given IQ is the unconditional correlation between noiseIR-noiseIQ and noiseBG-noiseIQ. Calling the variances of these noises vnIQ, vnIR, and vnBG, the correlation is 1/sqrt((1 + vnIR/vIQ)(1 + vBG/vIQ)).

Choosing our units earlier means that all of the variances vIQ, vIR, and vBG are relative to the variance of G. This tells us the value of vIQ: a correlation of c=0.8 between G + noiseIQ and G implies that vIQ = 1/c^2 - 1 = 9/16. We don't know vIR or vBG, but the correlation between G + noiseIR and G + noiseBG is 1/sqrt((1 + vIR)(1 + vnBG)), and we estimated this to be around 0.5 to 0.8.

Given the ratio of vnIR to vnBG (which we do not know) this determines the correlation between IR and BG conditional on IQ. My calculations indicate that the correlation is very insensitive to the ratio vnIR/vnBG over a range of 1/4 to 4, so I'll just give results where vnIR=vnBG.

For an unconditional correlation cIRBG between IR and BG ranging between 0.5 and 0.8, here are the correlations cIRBGIQ conditional on IQ:

 cIQG     vnIQ    cIRBG     vnIR     vnBG  cIRBGIQ
0.800    0.562    0.500    1.000    1.000    0.360
0.800    0.562    0.600    0.667    0.667    0.458
0.800    0.562    0.700    0.429    0.429    0.568
0.800    0.562    0.800    0.250    0.250    0.692

You would need a much higher correlation betweeen IQ and G to push cIRBGIQ close to zero:

 cIQG     vnIQ    cIRBG     vnIR     vnBG  cIRBGIQ
0.900    0.235    0.500    1.000    1.000    0.190
0.900    0.235    0.600    0.667    0.667    0.260
0.900    0.235    0.700    0.429    0.429    0.354
0.900    0.235    0.800    0.250    0.250    0.484

0.950    0.108    0.500    1.000    1.000    0.098
0.950    0.108    0.600    0.667    0.667    0.139
0.950    0.108    0.700    0.429    0.429    0.201
0.950    0.108    0.800    0.250    0.250    0.302

0.990    0.020    0.500    1.000    1.000    0.020
0.990    0.020    0.600    0.667    0.667    0.030
0.990    0.020    0.700    0.429    0.429    0.045
0.990    0.020    0.800    0.250    0.250    0.075

0.995    0.010    0.500    1.000    1.000    0.010
0.995    0.010    0.600    0.667    0.667    0.015
0.995    0.010    0.700    0.429    0.429    0.023
0.995    0.010    0.800    0.250    0.250    0.039

0.999    0.002    0.500    1.000    1.000    0.002
0.999    0.002    0.600    0.667    0.667    0.003
0.999    0.002    0.700    0.429    0.429    0.005
0.999    0.002    0.800    0.250    0.250    0.008

You get it wrong. It's their responsibility to show 0.8 is enough. I dunno if it works as a general counter argument in psychology, but in physics (and non-diseased disciplines in general) you do have to account for errors in your measurement apparatus as a possible source for your correlations, and if you don't, no-one is obligated to believe you.

edit: imagine you had been measuring speed via proxy that has at best 0.8 correlation with speed.

edit: okay, the article seem to find stronger correlation between belief in god and the failures at their test, than between belief in god, and IQ. At same time, there's many ways to describe what their test measure, e.g. intellectual laziness would do as well (the fallacious answer is a mathematical operation on last 2 numbers you heard - won't get simpler than this), or the arrogance (never self doubting enough to check if the answer makes sense).

and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system.

This is the part of the results I found most surprising and most interesting. I'm HFA, and during the brief phase of my life where I was religious, I constructed a weird belief system with parts borrowed from all over the place. I had no idea then or since that that was a common enough thing that it would be treated as a category in a study (Edited for accuracy).

You still don't. One study doesn't prove anything.

There's a huge body of fairly neurotypical young adults (and older) that get lumped into "neo-pagan" who are basically recreating their own myths and belief systems. A rather well known one is ESR (Eric Raymond). He's consciously done it.

I edited my comment to be more well-supported.

Autistic adolescents expressed less belief in God than did matched neuro-typical controls (Study 1). In a Canadian student sample (Study 2), and two American national samples that controlled for demographic characteristics and other correlates of autism and religiosity (Study 3 and 4), the autism spectrum predicted reduced belief in God, and mentalizing mediated this relationship. Systemizing (Studies 2 and 3) and two personality dimensions related to religious belief, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness (Study 3), failed as mediators. Mentalizing also explained the robust and well-known, but theoretically debated, gender gap in religious belief wherein men show reduced religious belief (Studies 2–4).

...In neuroimaging studies, thinking about [14] and praying to [15] God activates brain regions implicated in mentalizing; thus mentalizing might be a necessary component of belief in God, without being a sufficient cause. When adults form inferences about God's mind, they show the same mentalizing biases that are typically found when reasoning about other peoples' minds [16]–[18].

...Finally, mentalizing is deficient at higher levels of the autism spectrum [8], [9], [21], [22], and interestingly men are both more likely to score high on the autism spectrum [23] and more likely to be non-believers [24]–[26].

  • Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S (2004) The Empathy Quotient: An investigation of adults with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. J Autism Devel Dis 34: 163–175.
  • Crespi BJ, Badcock C (2008) Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain. Behav Brain Sci 31: 284–320.
  • Roth L, Kroll JC (2007) Risky business: Assessing risk-preference explanations for gender differences in religiosity. Am Sociol Rev 27: 205–220.
  • Stark R (2002) Physiology and faith: Addressing the “universal” gender difference in religious commitment. J Sci Stud Relig 41: 495–507.
  • Walter T, Davie G (1998) The Religiosity of Women in the Modern West. Brit J Sociol 49: 640–60.

"Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God", Norenzayan et al 2012

Analytic priming reduces theism tendencies: "Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief", Gervais et al 2012 (LW discussion).

Regarding atheism and autism, something that struck me as significantly different about the views regarding theism on Less Wrong (which has a self-reported high frequency of autistic tendencies) -- as well as similar views among 'New Atheists' -- is that they try to force theistic beliefs into overly literal interpretations, so that the beliefs the atheists ultimately disagree with don't seem to really represent what theists believe.

Forcing overly literal interpretations is a stereotypical autistic trait, though I now classify it as also a broadly atheist trait with perhaps some overlap.

Sometimes, maybe mostly, theists actually are 'wrong' in some sense. But often they're just espousing a perspective. The uselessness and vacuity of this perspective as applied to the real world has impressed me since my conversion to ideas such as 'make-beliefs-pay-rent', but I force myself to apply the principle in the other direction too: I won't argue with a theist unless they insist on something which actually makes a prediction different than the prediction I would make. Otherwise, it's just not a real argument about something, and not worth it. So I hardly every argue with theists.

Possibly this has to do with the sort of 'theists' one is exposed to? I would not have said "overly literal" or "just espousing a perspective" myself, but I am aware my perception of the wider 'theist' community is somewhat skewed by attempting to get a degree in psychology at a university where more than half the faculty believe in possessing demons.

(On a not-unrelated note: faith healers are evil.)

You're right, believing in possessing demons and faith healing seem really extreme examples of theism to me so it certainly depends on the sort of theism you're exposed to. The sort of theism I've been dominantly exposed to throughout my life is a sort of network of memes and moral ideas that operate to define a culturally consistent sense of what a 'good person' is and what defines a good life. 'Belief in God' mostly means you have a positive accepting relation to this culture, and people very rarely think of God as an existing entity, but if pressed he has more of a deist quality.

Man, that sounds pretty great. I don't know if I'd go so far as to identify myself as 'atheist' if I'd grown up with that culture - hang on-

I grew up (and still relate closely to) people who do literally believe in miraculous healing and don't particularly associate it with 'extreme' so much as 'actual' or 'vaguely coherent'. When I think of extremes I think of people believing others are Not Good Persons and not having an acceptable relationship with the culture based on professions of belief. Fortunately the theists I expose myself to don't tend to be the bad kind.

If true, then it might well explain why atheism is a "fringe" belief: the set of atheists has, at a deep level, diminished capacity to communicate with theists and may actually serve to push them away.

Though this brings up the question I've posed to people who are proud of themselves: if we find that the reason you've reached the correct conclusion is that some cognitive feature effectively forecloses your ability to entertain an incorrect one, should you think of yourself as better at reasoning or fortunate in how it is presented?

Careful with your syllogisms. Autism spectrum -> atheist only weakly implies atheist -> autism spectrum.

What it does imply is that autistics will be overrepresented in the set of atheists, hence when speaking to atheists there is a greater likelihood that one is speaking to an autistic than when speaking to theists.

Well, no wonder they are trying to exorcise us. :)

They should have taken him to a Catholic Priest. The exorcism still would have failed, but at least the patient would have survived.

Thanks for that warning! I might have followed that link and gotten yet another horror thought/image stuck in my mind. I really, really don't want to know any details.

I think our current culture tends to push people into a certainty that they may not be inclined to, thus over-representing both atheists and some-sort-of-deists. My observation is that many people do not like uncertainty and are uncomfortable with it. We prefer knowing over not-knowing, and I suspect that many will adopt a position closer to the poles than their facts and knowledge would suggest. There is also quite a bit of herd mentality.

I am an agnostic because I have no faith, not because logic tells me there is no god. This same lack of faith makes me doubt things like the Big Bang (Just because Carl Sagan/Richard Feynman says so is no better to me than "Because the Pope/Mohammad says so". Both sets are Human, and both sets have other agendas and both sets can be wrong).

The big bang, and the rest science provides a more useful tool in predicting what will happen tomorrow than "God Did It", but there's no evidence that "Let There Be Light" wasn't what God said right as he initiated the Big Bang.

You believe what gets you to bed at night, and I'll lay awake with my uncertainty. I've been uncertain about a lot of things for a long time, and I'm not going to say I'm ok with it, but I'm used to it.

Oh, and without having seen a neurologist or psychiatrist (though I've tried), I tend to exhibit many of the symptoms of mild aspergers--down to some of the odd details.

The other thing is my eldest child, who was not raised by me much, has pretty much the same religious beliefs (or lack of same) that I do, tempered by the fact that she's still in her early 20s, and as such feels them SO MUCH MORE.

think our current culture tends to push people into a certainty that they may not be inclined to, thus over-representing both atheists and some-sort-of-deists.

I get the opposite impression, that our current culture pushes people to express uncertainty instead of certainty, and especially if they are leaning towards atheism. That's why "agnostic" is much more societally acceptable than "atheist". If one says "I doubt there's a God" or "I don't know if there's a God" that signals humility. If you say "There is no God" that's seen as arrogance.

but there's no evidence that "Let There Be Light" wasn't what God said right as he initiated the Big Bang

Are we talking about this supposed being called 'God' producing acoustic vibrations in the pre-expanded matter of the early universe that corresponded to those English words in particular? Or was God speaking Hebrew?

If we did manage to detect that far back into the early conditions of the universe, and we figured that there's no such acoustic vibrations corresponding to human words anywhere in the early matter of the universe -- would that satisfy you as evidence against?

I am an agnostic because I have no faith, not because logic tells me there is no god. [snip] but there's no evidence that "Let There Be Light" wasn't what God said right as he initiated the Big Bang.

I recommend you read some of the sequence posts, for example Occam's Razor and Absense of Evidence is Evidence of Absense.

What makes you think I haven't?

You didn't mention that there is also no evidence that Odin didn't make the big bang happen, or His Noodliness, or any of the many possibilities that are just as complicated and just as undisproved. Not mentioning this makes it seem like you didn't take it into account - that is to say, you don't know why Occam's razor makes sense.

What makes you think I haven't?

Reading your nearby comments - you don't come across as someone who is deliberately trolling. Yet you still made the statements Emil quoted (and half a dozen similar errors). The likely (and more polite) assumption is that you are merely ignorant of the basic principles of clear thinking rather than that you were deliberately violating them to provoke a response.

Atheism only has meaning in the context of someone else's religious beliefs. If you don't know anything about a god you really are by default an atheist. I don't believe in other people's fairys or pink unicorns. That's not a position of absolute knowledge but a skepticism against any mysticism or mythology for which there is no credible evidence. I do not need to examine every set of religious beliefs that anyone has ever held and determine if they sound credible to me before I consider myself an atheist.

A denial of knowledge is agnosticism. It's what the word means, and it is mostly in the context of your beliefs, not others.

One can completely disavow the possible existence of the god of every religion on earth and still not be an atheist because he has developed some personal, internal theology.

I've never heard, nor heard of a theology that is plausible, but this does not mean that in the whole of the universe there isn't one. As I was trying to jokingly indicate, a mechanistic clockwork or quantum/clockwork universe with predictable rules does not inherently rule out the possibility of a creator god. Occams razor simply indicates that one must not "multiply entities unnecessarily", and it's corollary "the simplest explanation is usually the most accurate" is a heuristic, not an ironclad law.

Yeah, there probably isn't a god, but since in my life, for the problems I am interested in, God? no God? no difference. As there is no difference to the problems I'm interested in I stopped worrying much about it, and have no ego in either outcome so I can listen and discuss things with representatives from either side without having the whole "you're full of shit" thing get in the way.

Between being raised in a college town, and spending over 15 years in the computer industry, as well as hanging out with a sub-culture within a sub-culture that consisted mostly of people who were if not smarter, at least had better educational pedigrees than I, I've spent a LOT of time around really smart people. Many of whom were atheists, and many of whom were not. To be able to speak to either group, to ask questions from the perspective of one who seeks knowledge, and who doesn't have to (internally) fight that information in order to understand it and to integrate it.

As an example, I have very good friend of mine in the south bay area who is a fundamentalist christian. He is a very bright man with multiple patents in a variety of disciplines under his belt, and one who understands his faith, has read deeply about it, questioned it and not found it wanting (much). We were talking about the paradox of humans having free will, but God still knowing How It Will All Turn Out. This, to one how must have all answers Does Not Make Sense. Hence paradox. He admits it is a paradox, but (to him) this is the mystery of God, and something one must accept in faith.

No, not a satisfying answer for me, but by accepting that I cannot understand the mind of God, should he exist, and by accepting that what I...let's say "suspect"...may be wrong, I can listen to him and get more out of the conversation than if I just dump his answer into the bucket marked "fucking bullshit".

How you wish to deal with these sorts of questions is your life, but I have approached the world with arrogance and a belief that I was in the Right, and I have (tried to anway) approached with world with a bit of humility (even if it's manufactured for the purpose) to try to understand the other side. One gets you a LOT more information about what and how people think than the other. And frankly the problems and questions I find most interesting these days are more about people than not.

As others have pointed out to you in this thread and Eliezer has explained in detail, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Why on this one topic would you deny the possibility of knowledge based on all the evidence you have?

There was no evidence of black swans, until there was.

To many people there is evidence of God, it's just that to others that evidence is (via Occam's razor or other tools) evidence of the vastness of the universe, evolutionary adaptions, the big bang, spontaneous remission etc.

I don't have the tools to evaluate many of their arguments, and at my age i'm fairly certain (not due to age, but due to my track record where advanced math and such is concerned as well as other interests and commitments) that will not be able to acquire the skills and knowledge to evaluate them.

In many of my social and professional activities I have to rub elbows with folks who are of varying degrees of religious, and it makes my life more interesting if I can listen to them with the possibility, however faint that they are right.

Why does this bother you so?

In many of my social and professional activities I have to rub elbows with folks who are of varying degrees of religious, and it makes my life more interesting if I can listen to them with the possibility, however faint that they are right.

A good bayesian will always assign a small chance that anyone is right, even the homeless guy down the street claiming that the aliens are living in the sewers and stealing our nuclear energy. That doesn't mean it is likely. Moreover, how interesting it is to temporarily entertain a claim has nothing to do with how likely the claim is. I entertain myself by discussing minutia of halacha (Orthodox Jewish law). That doesn't mean I need to pretend that that has any more connection to reality than the rules for Dungeons and Dragons.

Why does this bother you so?

You are posting on a website devoted to improving human rationality and you are wondering why people feel a need to respond to a set of arguments that directly advocate assigning higher chances to certain hypotheses because they make the world more interesting?

The big bang, and the rest science provides a more useful tool in predicting what will happen tomorrow than "God Did It", but there's no evidence that "Let There Be Light" wasn't what God said right as he initiated the Big Bang.

In general, there are many flaws in the metaphorical interpretations of Genesis which assert that it matches up with the order of events in the universe as scientists have determined them. See Talk Origins.

I think our current culture tends to push people into a certainty that they may not be inclined to

People don't necessarily just have one degree of certainty they're naturally inclined to. I do not think it is culture making people feel more sure than they think they should be. This was recent and relevant.