Atheism

Even Atheists Think that Atheists Are More Likely to Be Immoral Than Believers

"Our findings reveal widespread suspicion that morality requires belief in a god."

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Prazis/Dreamstime

Religious believers in the United States and Canada trust atheists just about as much as they do rapists, according to a 2011 study. Now one of that researchers behind that study, University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais, has published a new study bolstering his earlier findings. Gervais and his team's new report, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, looks beyond North America to survey more than 3,000 people in 13 countries, ranging from secular strongholds like the Netherlands and Finland to such deeply religious places as the United Arab Emirates and India.

To probe the salience of anti-atheist prejudice, the researchers took advantage of people's propensity to fall for the conjunction fallacy—the erroneous assumption that more specific conditions are more probable than general ones. In this particular study, the researchers told a gruesome story in which a man who used to torture animals when he was a boy grew up to kill five homeless people whose dismembered bodies are now buried in his basement. Half of the respondents were asked: Which is more probable? (1) The man is a teacher. (2) The man is a teacher and does not believe in any gods. The other half were asked: Which is more probable? (1) The man is a teacher. (2) The man is a teacher and a religious believer.

"We used this psychopathic serial killer because we thought that, even if people didn't trust atheists enough to let them babysit their children, they wouldn't necessarily assume them to be serial killers," Gervais told the New York Times. But they did. As the Times reports:

About 60 percent of the people who had the option to flag the teacher as an atheist did so; just 30 percent of those who had the option to flag the teacher as a religious believer did so. Self-identified nonbelievers were less biased than the average, but not by much, the study found.

When given the teacher/atheist conjunction, 52 percent of atheists selected it. Asked about the teacher/believer option, only 27 percent of atheists picked it. The only country that did not show any greater prejudice against atheists than believers was Finland.

Why do so many people believe that atheists are more likely to be immoral? The researchers suggest that "anti-atheist prejudice stems, in part, from deeply rooted intuitions about religion's putatively necessary role in morality." Evidently, many people believe that moral behavior requires a belief that something like a sky-god is watching and enforcing good behavior. The researchers note that "highly secular societies are among the most stable and cooperative on Earth. Nonetheless, our findings reveal widespread suspicion that morality requires belief in a god."

Interestingly, Public Religion Research Institute's 2013 American Values Survey reported that "fewer than 6-in-10 (58%) libertarians believe that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship, one-quarter (25%) believe God is an impersonal force in the universe, and 16% report that they do not believe in God."

So what to do? A Pew Research poll earlier this year reported that Americans who don't personally know any atheists feel colder toward them. There may be more of us than is generally thought. In January, Gervais and his colleagues estimated that 26 percent of Americans qualify as atheists. Coming out of the nonbelief closet is one way to begin to overcome anti-atheist prejudice.

Disclosure: I have been out as an atheist since I was a teenager, and as far as I can tell I have not personally experienced any anti-atheist prejudice. I am an atheist in the same way that I am a-unicornist.

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  1. Funny – just last night my wife and I were laughing about what an idiotic and poorly constructed study this was, conducted clearly at great expense, to come to a conclusion everyone already knew anyway.

  2. The only country that did not show any greater prejudice against atheists than believers was Finland.

    Which should make it obvious that when given the option of classifying the serial killer teacher as theist or atheist the correct answer is ‘Finnish’.

  3. I’m starting to suspect that the answers to these questions don’t really reflect the test taker’s opinion of atheists. They were given a binary choice in a hypothetical scenario and basically fell for the logical fallacy.

    To test for someone’s actual opinion, just ask if it’s more likely that this person is a believer or non-believer.

    1. To test for someone’s actual opinion, just ask if it’s more likely that this person is a believer or non-believer.

      What’s funny is that they thought they were adequately controlling for the inherent bias in that question by asking whether the person was a believing or non-believing teacher.

      No way anyone saw through that ruse.

    2. Limited, false choices given, yes…

      “Have you stopped beating your wife yet, yes or no?”

      1. Has the bitch stopped running her mouth yet? Oh, I’m sorry. I answered your question with a question.

    3. To test for someone’s actual opinion, just ask if it’s more likely that this person is a believer or non-believer.

      People are terrible at evaluating their own motivations.

  4. What are incentives, chopped liver? It seems pretty cut and dry that the religious are incentivized towards morality, i.e., their religious doctrine of morality.

    1. Empty promises?

    2. Atheists are as well… I mean, they have to be seen as just as moral as religious people or they couldn’t sneer as effectively, right?

      1. I don’t give a shit about atheists. I just get tired of their snide anti theistic antics. Atheists just get so serious you would think they’re turning atheism into a religion.

        1. So turnabout isn’t fair play? Atheists still face widespread discrimination and in some countries a death penalty. So whine some more about a little attitude…

          1. Atheists still face widespread discrimination and in some countries a death penalty.

            The same can be said about Christians, and many religions.

            (Not trying to make an argument, but a point.)

    3. Except that the actual behavior of the religious shows that they aren’t buying in to those incentives.

      If you’re looking at an eternal reward for a few short years of mediocre existence on this world – if you really believe that shit then you don’t regularly violate your religious tenants. And most religious do.

      From fucking outside of wedlock to the use of contraceptive to signing up in to the military to murder people on the other side of the world, the religions (*all* the religions – even the ‘pacifistic’ Buddhists) do this.

  5. deeply rooted intuitions about religion’s putatively necessary role in morality

    With all due respect, did the study examine what people think “morality” is?

    1. With all due respect, did the study examine what people think “morality” is?

      Nope. It added some factors to its calculus based on some unexamined assumptions, though, which kinda counts.

      And, it’s been awhile but IIRC the common phrase in Arabic that tends to translate as “believe in God” is more literally “fear God,” and strongly carries the connotation “obeying God’s laws,” as in Islam what you do is far more important than what you believe.

      Therefore, this study is not actually asking everyone the same question. Muslims are likely being asked whether the serial killer is following God’s laws. The answer is obvious. Western Christians are being asked a different question.

      This study’s attempt at reaching a global conclusion is one of the key things that hamstrings it.

      And, as I mentioned elsewhere, the question pertains to serial killers, not to atheists. Asserting that serial killers are less likely to subscribe to some sort of traditional religious belief is not the same thing as asserting that atheists are more likely to be serial killers.

  6. We used this psychopathic serial killer because we thought that, even if people didn’t trust atheists enough to let them babysit their children, they wouldn’t necessarily assume them to be serial killers.

    But this study doesn’t actually ask that question – it asks the opposite question, i.e. “are people more likely to assume a serial killer is an atheist” rather than “are people more likely to assume an atheist would be a serial killer.”

    This is why I have been saying for years that science majors need to be made to take philosophy classes. All the experimentation in the world can’t make up for a basic logic fail in your central premise.

    1. Logic? LOGIC?! What is this, the Seventeenth Century?

    2. Exactly – the belief that killers are more likely to be atheist versus religious does not mean ALL athiests are likely to be immoral. Sure, some people only behave because they fear deity-of-choice’s wrath, but there are also people who misbehave only to incur that wrath.

    3. When someone is a clinical psychopath, I don’t think that their religious philosophy or lack thereof enters into the equation anymore.

  7. The only country that did not show any greater prejudice against atheists than believers was Finland.

    Finland is one of the world’s happiest countries

    Coincidence?

    1. They also drink a lot

      1. And commit suicide a lot. Happy!

        1. Well, if you let the unhappy people sort themselves out, it leaves everyone else measuring more happiness.

          That’s called efficiency, people.

      2. And dance the tango a lot.

      3. And they have the best music. For some reason, Finland consistently produces great music.

    2. It’s also one of the most homogeneous. Everyone looks the same, dresses the same, and thinks the same.

      1. Even Europe’s newests residents don’t want to go there.

      2. Everybody looks the same when bundled up for the cold.

        1. Except Crusty. Crusty looks like a tribble.

    3. It’s also the whitest most culturally homogeneous country in the world with super strict immigration policies. None of these things are correlative.

  8. Even Atheists Think that Atheists Are More Likely to Be Immoral Than Believers

    The researchers suggest that “anti-atheist prejudice stems, in part, from deeply rooted intuitions about religion’s putatively necessary role in morality.”

    Or the fact that militant atheists murdered around 120 million people last Century with no restraint or mercy. Or what do you think Communists believed in?

    That’s why I am not militant anything. I prefer to be a moral person. Now, get off my lawn!

    1. Karl Marx?

    2. Orthodox progressivism is cetprtainly a religion. One that should be banned forever.

    3. Nice fallacy you got there. Where is the evidence that atheism was even a minor factor. Atheism is not a belief system it’s just a lack of belief in deities. Communism and fascism on the other hand…

      1. By that definition of “deities”, everyone has one or another. Ergo, “No true Atheist” fallacy.

  9. Why do so many people believe that atheists are more likely to be immoral?

    The results to the serial killer question does not say whether people think atheists in general are more likely to be immoral. It said that people think a serial killer is more likely to be atheist than religious.

    This sure looks like a logical fallacy to me. I think it could be “hasty generalization” but I’m not sure.

    There are many more ways to be immoral than serial killing. So even if a person thinks that all serial killers must be atheists, they haven’t said they think that the average atheist is less moral than the average believer.

    1. It’s not hasty generalization, although the study does indulge in some of that.

      It’s actually a structural fallacy. The logic simply doesn’t add up. The Boolean categories don’t line up the way the argument says they do. It’s like arguing “All men are mortal; Socrates is mortal; therefore all things that are mortal are Socrates.”

      1. J & S=C: I will just add that in the supplementary material, the researchers report the results of a subsidiary study they used to check how likely people were to fall for the conjunction fallacy when told that the serial killer did not believe in gods, evolution, horoscopes, global warming, or vaccine safety. They report participants were more likely to commit conjunction errors for targets who do not believe in God than targets who disbelieve in evolution, horoscopes, vaccine safety, or global warming.

        In another supplementary study they tested whether people would assume that a serial child molester who also happens to be a priest is, in fact, a priest who does not believe in God. The result was that most test subjects assumed that a perpetrator of serial child molestation does not believe in God, even though he is a priest.

        1. I don’t disagree that the authors of the study introduced some interesting complexities, but it doesn’t change the fact they’re being a bit too clever for their own good and missing the basic logical problem at the center of their study.

          IOW, none of what you just laid out in any way changes the fact that this study tells us what people think about serial killers and child molesters as regards the odds of people in those categories also being in the category “atheists.” The study doesn’t actually ask any questions about atheists as a category.

          Not, as I said above, that I disagree with the study’s conclusion. But its methodology is bunk. It’s not unlike declaring that we know the earth revolves around the sun because angels are weightless.

  10. OT: FBI conducted predawn raid of former Trump campaign chairman Manafort’s home

    The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.

    Unlike Hillary. It’s OK, Paul — “No reasonable prosecutor ….”

  11. “Atheism means never having to say ‘I’m sorry'”

    “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard”.

    /Cue kiss, airplane taking off and roll credits.

  12. Wouldn’t it be easier to just question a cohort of known bad-guys — say, in a prison — about their religious beliefs?

    1. “Check your privilege!”

    2. But that wouldn’t answer the question of what people think about atheists.

      1. I thought the question was, are atheists more immoral? Actually I’m not sure what the hell the question is.

        1. It’s “Do people consider atheists less moral than religious believers?”

          It’s part of building the Atheist persecution narrative. Because Atheism is not a religion.

          Dawkins goes on about this at some length in The God Delusion and argues that Atheists are a persecuted (not-)religious minority that needs to be empowered to stamp out other people’s religions because other people’s religions cause Evil.

          1. Dawkins is cringeworthy much of the time, especially when it comes to nuance and complexity regarding religions.

            “Religions”, not “religion”. He often refers to religions as one large entity, and then assigns a set of downfalls to them. Whenever someone (even another atheist) tries to steer the conversation toward specifics of regions, denominations or other finer-grained conversation, Dawkins takes a shrugging approach, as if these kinds of inquiries are unnecessary and a waste of time. He then steers the conversation back to the problems of “religion.”

            1. If Dawkins spoke in an American accent, people’s perception of his IQ would drop about 20 points.

    3. It’s been done and it’s been found felons in prison are overwhelmingly Christian. But it’s not particularly reliable since professing to have religion in prison increases the odds of parole, creating bias.

  13. And they’re right !

  14. Who is more moral? The person who does the right thing out of fear of a vengeful, wrathful god, or the person who does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do?

    1. I vote for the latter… If we believe in a “vengeful, wrathful god”, we are more likely to be “vengeful and wrathful” … MeThinks it is that simple!

      1. I never understood this need for a God to be moral. How did God decide that it is wrong to kill and steal? He must have had some reasons, no?

              1. I don’t know what the site’s problem is today, but just go to Wikipedia and search “Divine Command Theory.”

                1. God works in mysterious ways.

                2. Divine Command Theory is silly. So God has no reasons for his commands? They are just whims? Why should we be slaves to divine whims? And it opens up another question: how do we distinguish true commands from fake ones?

                  1. Yeah it is a stupid augment.
                    It boils down to this.

                    If Moses wrote “thou shalt kill” then murder is a moral undertaking.
                    Which is bollocks.

                    In my opinion morality is more closely related to the phrase “do unto others…etc”
                    I don’t want my family or myself to be murdered because that would cause pain and suffering, therefore murdering someone is immoral.

                    You don’t need god to tell you what is moral, just a desire to not suffer (and therefore not cause) pain / fear.

                    Simple?

                  2. Yeah it is a stupid augment.
                    It boils down to this.

                    If Moses wrote “thou shalt kill” then murder is a moral undertaking.
                    Which is bollocks.

                    In my opinion morality is more closely related to the phrase “do unto others…etc”
                    I don’t want my family or myself to be murdered because that would cause pain and suffering, therefore murdering someone is immoral.

                    You don’t need god to tell you what is moral, just a desire to not suffer (and therefore not cause) pain / fear.

                    Simple?

                    1. Dam you god for inflicting me with the double post disease.
                      I shall never doubt you again.

                    2. This isn’t Soviet Russia goddamnit

                    3. Satan! Or is it Santa? Same letters in their name…..both wear red…….

                      SAME GUY!

                    4. Here’s the very best argument I’ve heard (this comes from Thomas Bradwardine):

                      The laws of morality that were created for this world were created in the instant that God created this world. This instant is all time from our perspective.

                      Thus, while God’s will is changeable, and all morality is dependent on God’s commands alone, God’s instantaneous act of will represents Eternal and Immutable Principle, from our perspective.

                  3. Oh, I agree that it’s silly (mostly, but I’m gonna respond to Ariki, below). But it’s necessary to the proposition that God is omnipotent.

        1. According to SOME people, ya got the wrong God on the line here….

          God COMMANDS us to kill EVERYONE!

          Our that them thar VALUES of society outta come from that them thar HOLY BIBLE, and if ya read it right, it actually says that God wants us to KILL EVERYBODY!!! Follow me through now: No one is righteous, NONE (Romans 3:10). Therefore, ALL must have done at least one thing bad, since they’d be righteous, had they never done anything bad. Well, maybe they haven’t actually DONE evil, maybe they THOUGHT something bad (Matt. 5:28, thoughts can be sins). In any case, they must’ve broken SOME commandment, in thinking or acting, or else they’d be righteous. James 2:10 tells us that if we’ve broken ANY commandment, we broke them ALL. Now we can’t weasel out of this by saying that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament, because Christ said that he’s come to fulfill the old law, not to destroy it (Matt. 5:17). So we MUST conclude that all are guilty of everything. And the Old Testament lists many capital offenses! There’s working on Sunday. There’s also making sacrifices to, or worshipping, the wrong God (Exodus 22:20, Deut. 17:2-5), or even showing contempt for the Lord’s priests or judges (Deut. 17:12). All are guilty of everything, including the capital offenses. OK, so now we’re finally there… God’s Word COMMANDS us such that we’ve got to kill EVERYBODY!!!

          1. There’s working on Sunday

            Except Jesus himself did that.

            What you’ve done is lay out the argument for Original Sin. You forgot the line “Vengeance is Mine, sayeth the Lord.”

          2. Logic mistake: The reason God called for the death of some people is for one of 2 reasons:

            A. Repayment to the victim (murder, aka “an eye for an eye”).

            B. It was God’s land (Leviticus 25:23), and those rules applied because it was God’s claimed land (Deuteronomy 6:2, Deuteronomy 12:1).

            So yes, we are all guilty of sin, as you’ve pointed out. You are also correct in saying we all deserve death. You are wrong in thinking that any humans are called to kill anyone other than those guilty of death in example A. Example B hasn’t applies since about AD 30 – 70 (depending on when you want to call it).

            So though you and I deserve to die, no one is commanded to kill us (thankfully, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”). And, though God would be well within his rights to kill us, his Son already paid the price:

            “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

            “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9

            See also Isaiah 53:3-5, 1 Peter 3:18, Philippians 2:5-11, Galatians 2:19-20

    2. I’m not concerned with degrees of righteousness — only the opposition to evil, dig?

    3. Unfortunately, most people actually seem to not see any reason to not be assholes if they’re not going to be punished for it.

      1. You would think the mountains of evidence all around them that bad people aren’t being punished by a vengeful god in any manner visible to the rest of us would disabuse them of that idea somewhat.

        1. Oddly it seems to go precisely the opposite direction, in just the way that shitty government makes people call for more government. The more evil people thrive in this world, the more passionately people cling to the belief that they will be punished in the next.

          1. Poignant.

      2. It’s the only rational individual position to take if you don’t believe in some sort of karmic balance (assuming by being assholes they are maximizing their individual benefit). Rules change if you want to include utility for the species as whole, but libertarians aren’t supposed to like that amount of collectivization.

    4. The person who decides for himself what evil is, or the person who just takes someone else’s word for what evil is?

      1. You know who else decided for himself what evil was…

    5. Neither, morality dictates actions not intentions

    6. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s a very simplistic viewpoint.

      You might as well argue that atheists do the right thing because they fear the law.

    7. How do you know what the right thing to do is?

  15. “16% report that they do not believe in God”

    Thank God libertarian Atheists are uncommon!

    1. And thank the Starless Void this country gets less religious every generation.

      1. No, that’s a bad thing. Progressivism has filled the void.

        1. That is unfortunately true. However, the upside of the rise of the Church of Marxism in the United States is that atheists like me won’t have to put up with as many intimations of sub-human status by individuals like SIV anymore (at least, not because we’re atheists).

          In case it wasn’t clear, annoyance at said intimations are the only ill will I have towards the religious. I disagree with what Christians believe, but I bear no hostility towards you for believing it. Only when I am attacked first.

  16. About that them thar God v/s atheism v/s agnosticism thang?
    I used to wonder a lot, but I had my agnostic friends convince me that God, if He does exist, does NOT want us to worship Him, because He does not believe in Himself (He needs self-esteem counseling, I was told. Else He’d make Himself far more visible). If God doesn’t believe in Himself, then we obviously shouldn’t, either. I was left to wonder, well then, WHO in the Hell is qualified to give self-esteem counseling to God Himself?!?! Never got an answer?

    1. Then my devout atheist friends convinced me, that to get to Atheist Heaven, one had to NOT believe in God, and do that non-believing thing in JUST the EXACT right way? As for example, they’d say, “See, Madeline Murray O’Hair, SHE is the ONLY one who REALLY quite properly, understood EXACTLY how God does NOT believe in Himself, and only SHE in Her Divine (Anti-Divine?) Perfect Understanding, was fit to be “Ruptured” through the space-time vortex portal, straight to the Atheist Heaven that She deserved, and all the rest of us? Even the less-than-perfect atheists? Are “Left Behind” after the “Great Rupture”. And since Madeline Murray’s body was never found, I had to accept their argument, She was the PERFECT atheist, and only SHE, in Her Perfect Disbelief, had been Ruptured? Her and Her alone? to be continued?

      1. ?BUT THEN THEY FOUND HER DEAD BODY!!! The arguments of my atheist friends were utterly crushed! I had just BARELY started to think that maybe they were correct! Now, I just dunno WHAT in blue blazes to think any more!!! What do y’all say, especially you atheists? PWEASE advise me, ah ams ignernt?

        1. The body is obviously a convincing replica fabricated by apostates.

          1. OK, great, thanks! NOW I finally understand!

        2. I’m giving this comment thread 2 out of 5 Agile Cyborgs.

  17. “secular societies” can be comprised of 100% religious people. The things aren’t mutually exclusive.

  18. Religion is an evolutionary aspect of culture, and it informs our most basic assumptions. I have no doubt that atheists are just as subject to cultural assumptions as anyone else that is raised within that culture, but ignoring the ultimate origins of those ideas–because one is atheist–is deny the validity of social evolution completely.

    American atheists may not believe that everyone should be treated equally before the law because Jesus died for each and every one of them, but if their most basic assumptions include the one that everyone should be treated equally, rationality requires us to attribute those cultural assumptions to their correct origins.

    When atheists say that they should be treated the way Christians would want to be treated if Christians were a minority, there’s nothing wrong with that–but that idea didn’t just drop out of the sky. Well, if it came out of the sky, Christians might say it was accompanied by angels and met by wise men bearing gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh.

    1. Are you saying everything ultimately comes from religion? If not, what are you saying?

      1. It’s really not that confusing.

        Region is an evolutionary adaptation–as other aspects of culture. Hell, even taboos are often adaptive.

        If an atheist’s morality is shaped by culture (and why wouldn’t it be?), then can you guess the source from which that morality derives?

        Do you think everyone should be treated equally before the law? Do you think other people should treat you the way they would want to be treated? Do you imagine those ideas sprang forth ex nihilo?

        Effects have causes, and the ultimate source of social mores in our culture isn’t mysterious. Even if you’re an atheist, these religious attributes have permeated the culture. Tell me an atheist can be moral, and I’ll agree.

        Tell me an atheist’s morality is in no way influenced by religion (or culture), and I might start laughing.

        1. “Tell me an atheist’s morality is in no way influenced by religion (or culture), and I might start laughing.”

          While I agree with this statement would you agree to the following statement?

          “Morality existed before religion”.

          It didn’t take religion to tell people that murder is wrong. Rather religion just wrote down the prevailing thought born through the formation of family units into larger societies.

          “I don’t want my children to be murdered, therefore I shouldn’t murder someone else’s” does not require a stone tablet to exist, only to be recorded.

          1. Hard to say. We’ve been good at killing each other for longer than we can remember.

          2. “I don’t want my children to be murdered, therefore I shouldn’t murder someone else’s” does not require a stone tablet to exist, only to be recorded.”

            If morality didn’t arise from the natural world, that would be an excellent argument for the existence of God.

            However, Adam Smith showed that it does. He’s basically accounting for altruism in the state of nature through the invisible hand. “Theory of Moral Sentiments” is social evolution before Darwin. It’s no wonder that Darwin was a close reader of Smith. And, anyway, we have examples of altruism existing throughout the natural world.

            To say that morality existed before religion is going too far. What the argument above suggests is that our neocortex evolved to become capable of language and religion–because those things were adaptive and gave us an advantage. Bonobo females, while are notoriously polyamorous, will shun males who refuse to share what they have with others. That’s selecting for what some would call compassion or morality before their brains were capable of religion.

          3. That being said, you gave an example of murder being wrong, which is complicated–because the passage I quoted above is about religion arising as hominoids became capable of contemplating their own mortality. Surely, the kind of ethics you’re talking about–realizing that killing others is wrong–requires someone to comprehend their own mortality before they can realize that killing others is wrong because they themselves don’t want to be killed.

            To the bigger question of how our morality evolved, to be clear, we’re talking about Christianity. Some of these ideas developed in other cultures and other religious traditions, but that’s not what our was influenced by. Our culture has been infused with Christianity for 2000 years, and guessing at morality in our cultural context without accounting for Christianity’s influence is probably impossible.

            If it’s possible for some morality to have existed before humanity invented religion and culture, surely that’s beside the point at hand. The fact is that Americans are born into a culture that has been influenced by Christianity. See Heidegger on “thrownness”.

    2. Morality has much more to do with empathy than with religion. Religion is just a tool we devised to harness that emotion.

      http://www.bbc.com/news/scienc…..t-23431793

      Without inborn morality/empathy humans could never have formed large scale societies.

  19. Culture is passed down through generations. It’s an evolutionary adaptation of which religion forms an important part. Yes, religion is an evolutionary adaptation, and research suggests our neocortex, which separates us from our apish cousins, evolved to accommodate both language and religion. Our ideas about religious freedom ultimately derive from that adaptation, as well–thank Martin Luther and the concessions protestants won in the Peace of Westphalia for our First Amendment.

    I know atheists are moral people, but their sense of morality is deeply informed by culture, which has been profoundly influenced by our shared religious heritage–how could it be otherwise?

    1. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge … Book by Matt Ridley (Author) does a great job of saying at great length, what you just said, and more…

      1. The crib notes version:

        “The relative neocortex size of any species correlates with the level of social complexity of the particular species.[8] The neocortex size correlates with a number of social variables that include social group size and complexity of mating behaviors.[9] In chimpanzees the neocortex occupies 50% of the brain, whereas in modern humans it occupies 80% of the brain.

        Robin Dunbar argues that the critical event in the evolution of the neocortex took place at the speciation of archaic homo sapiens about 500,000 years ago. His study indicates that only after the speciation event is the neocortex large enough to process complex social phenomena such as language and religion. The study is based on a regression analysis of neocortex size plotted against a number of social behaviors of living and extinct hominids.[10]

        Stephen Jay Gould suggests that religion may have grown out of evolutionary changes which favored larger brains as a means of cementing group coherence”

        http://tinyurl.com/ybxu6mdd

        And yet so many chat room atheists seem to be mystified by the suggestion that religion is an evolutionary adaptation (like language), that adaptations are passed down because they’re useful, etc. Might as well say the same thing about opposable thumbs.

        1. If religion is an evolutionary adaptation, then what is atheism?

          1. Another religion, just a Godless one.

          2. To some extent, it is just another religion, another belief system…

            If you talk long enough to just about any atheist, you can find that they “worship” (adore, admire, try to follow) SOMETHING, some ideal(s)…

            To me, it’s not worth ANY fighting… Just pay attention to what people DO, not what they SAY…

            “By their fruits, you will know them.”

            1. Can we generalize this to “believing…things… is an evolutionary adaptation”?

              1. Well, yes, I think that’s pretty accurate… Intelligence (in us humanoids and a bunch of other higher Earthling species) is “generalist”, not instinctively programmed to believe certain things… UNlike, for example, “XYZ move in the wiggle dance means this-that-and-the-other”, for honeybees, for example, is less-intelligent, more-instinctual… We are GENERALISTS… Note that most Buddhists do NOT believe in “deities” per se… We have a need to “believe” in systemization of some sort or another. Belief in “God” (however defined), will serve. Some other ideology or “logical” categorization / explanation will serve as well…

                1. Well OK, lemme amend that?
                  One of the very-very few “memes” (ideas) that may be hard-encoded in the human brain, is self-righteousness. Whoever can convince their fellow tribesmen that THEIR rituals and beliefs are good and true and correct, and power and status are due to them for that reason? And that greedy violence against the unbelievers is there for justified? May often have made more babies than the rest of us. These kinds of ideas are VERY dangerous, in a world of nuclear weapons and global trade! We have GOT to leave behind, the “reasoning” of our gene-embedded craziness, in such cases! Tribal warfare is TOOO dangerous anymore!
                  Jesus was correct in ignoring all the “social issues” that Rethuglicans focus on, and focusing, instead, on self-righteousness. “If ya see a speck in yer bother’s eye, take the log outta yer own, first, and then ye can see clearly, to focus on that speck.” See the writing of Peter McWilliams, a gay man, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do, The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society”.

    2. I think one could even argue that, historically at least, atheism is an outgrowth of radical Protestantism.

      1. Yes, I agree!!!! With “radical Protestantism” generally = = broad-minded thinking, tolerant religiousity, etc. Look out there on the internet, and you will find support groups for Xtian ministers who have “lost their faith”, but are soldiering on, in leading their flocks… And “unbelieving spiritual believers”, etc., who believe in “nothing” (AKA, doubt everything), but would like some (???? whatever) belief support, on college campusses, for example.

        Godspeed to them!!!

  20. Atheists suffer from a poor public image issue. They aren’t more or less moral, but man, most of their most famous representatives are flaming assholes.

    The exception seems to be Penn Jillette, who is a very kind person. If more atheists were like him, the entire movement would be better off. I mean, how many famous atheists do you actually like as people? Dawkins is a supercilious turd, Maher is a misogynist piece of shit, Hawking is creepy (even if the dude’s brilliant)… After that, the number of people that the public knows dwindles sharply.

    1. the number of people that the public knows dwindles sharply

      Well, yeah, because they are generally loathed. I am sure there are plenty of kind atheists who don’t walk around talking about it.

      1. ^This^-most atheists tend to keep it to themselves. Then there are the ones who seek people out to get up in their face about it, much like the religious nuts they claim to loathe so much.

      2. Bingo. They don’t talk about it, at least not in the same way that Sam Harris condescendingly does or how Dawkins goes rabid without acknowledging any nuance whatsoever.

        Plenty of atheists also cringe at these people. For many atheists, being atheist is no bigger deal than not believing in ghosts, or wizards. They basically don’t revel in their non-belief as some sort of intellectual superiority.

    2. The exception seems to be Penn Jillette, who is a very kind person.

      I find Penn Jillette to be a flaming asshole of the liberal variety. He’s a pacifist who on more than one occasion has called the states armed thugs to act on his behalf. He’ll support the rights of himself and fellow comedians to denounce Christians and Jews because Christians and Jews are bullies and, in the same breath, insist that the same people’s reluctance to make fun of Muslims isn’t cowardice, but common sense.

      IMO, he’s a liberal who’s spent a lot of time on window dressing.

  21. I always understood the various definitions to be that atheists believe there is no god, agnostics wonder if there is a god, theists believe in different gods.

    My brother, rabid fundie Christian, once accused me of being agnostic. I said I was an I-don’t-give-a-shitist. He never bothered me with that crap again.

    Is, isn’t, I just don’t care. If there is a god, and he’s nice guy, then he won’t mind my attitude. If he’s an asshole, then my attitude is immaterial to him. And if none, well, I still don’t care. You may as well ask me what I care about the weather in the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

    1. I’ve always liked Vonnegut’s Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

    2. 100% chance of wet. I agree with the other three sentences in your last paragraph also.

    3. The original meaning of ‘agnostic’ is to without knowledge. Belief and knowledge are separate things. By that definition even most religious people are agnostic since you can’t actually know that God exists you can only choose to believe it.

    4. If there is a god, and he’s nice guy, then he won’t mind my attitude.

      If the branch cuts itself off from the vine, having a “good attitude” about the vine won’t save the branch.

      “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

      Jesus disagrees with your assessment.

  22. I am an atheist in the same way that I am a-unicornist.

    I’ve been hearing this one lately, and since I’ve crossed swords with Ron on this one before, I can’t help but poke at this:

    This is pretty much saying “I don’t believe that other people’s figurative representations of the Supreme Being are literally true.”

    That may give you an edge over Billy-Bob the Young-Earth Snake Handler, but you’re not talking to actual theologians, who generally agree with you that the figurative representations are not literally true. IOW, it’s a Straw Man.

    1. Considering that there is just as much evidence for a god as there is against one, I find it easy to say that the atheist is guilty of the same fallacies as the true believers. Both of them believe something that can’t be proven.

      While sure, the notion of a god is a ‘man made’ construct in terms of the organization of religion the fact that this type of spiritualism arises time and time again across cultures all over the world means it could certainly be said to be a natural phenomenon of some kind. Who are we to say this isn’t the result of a god letting us subtly know of their existence with unknowable or impossible motivations beyond our understanding? Or that it could be the simple results of our evolution and psyche searching for some meaning in a meaningless universe?

      Neither is predominant. This is what the Catholics call agnosticism rather than atheism.

      1. What evidence? Absolutely all of it is man-made. We humans are (even now) highly prone to believe in things that are not real. Why would it have been any different 2000 years ago when there was virtually no scientific knowledge and people were actively punished or killed for speaking out against the theocracy. Not believing in the extraordinary is the default, it doesn’t require any evidence to justify it.

  23. This is a signal that, clearly, societies with religion are better.

    So, we should drop this “First Amendment” crap and force all the children into religious public schools.

    1. Yes, but… But WHAT religion should be taught in the public schools?

      Me, personally, I worship Algebra… As things are today, then, Algebra (being a Deity) should be OFF LIMITS in the public schools!!! But NO ONE seems to give a DAMN about me and my Algebra worship!

      Maybe we could just declare EVERYTHING to be a Deity, then we could have a free-for-all in the schools! Teach whatever the students and their parents want taught!

      1. We need public schools for every religion.

        Think of the jobs!

      2. Me, personally, I worship Algebra… As things are today, then, Algebra (being a Deity) should be OFF LIMITS in the public schools!!! But NO ONE seems to give a DAMN about me and my Algebra worship!

        Fucking algebrists. All your bakers will bake homological cakes willy-nilly while actively denying me my Constitutional Right to a heterological cake.

      3. i have a right to know what X is, and it’s the government’s responsibility to tell me.

  24. who gets to decide wtf moral is?

    1. The evangelical right or the evangelical left

      Sorry, I have a tendency to repeat myself

  25. As a libertarian agnostic myself and having attended many “freethought” meetings with mostly atheists, I can say this unapologetically: the problem with most atheists is that they are socialists who do not believe in “free will”. Apparently to them, free thought is real while free will is an illusion. As many of you readers know, socialists a far more immoral than libertarians. Whether they are theist or atheist is irrelevant.

  26. This must be another bell-curve that I’m on the fringe of.

  27. Pretty sure I would be a mass murder if it I didn’t believe in God. I mean, why not? And these thieves I see are so bad at it, I’d make for a far more efficient criminal. I used to steal toys from under a paraplegic kids wheelchair ramp until I overheard a conversation about a lake of fire…

  28. Bailey thinks believing in the existence of God is silly.
    Yet, he believes that something came from nothing.

    Come on, Ron.
    It’s just rudimentary logic.

    P1: Something cannot come from nothing.
    P2: The universe is something.
    Concl: Our universe came from something.

    So what is that something?
    Don’t call it God, if that offends your sensibilities, but it is definitely something.

    1. OK then, if God made the universe, who made God? Simple question… This can be pushed off to layer after layer! All that matters is, “Are we treating others as we’d like to be treated?”

      1. Be excellent to each other

        1. And party on.

        2. I practice “The Golden Rule Plus”, that is: “Treat others better than you would expect them to treat you.”

      2. The Universe is in the box. “God” made the box. What is in the box must follow the rules of the box. What created the box doesn’t need to follow the rules of the box.

        1. Why must the box follow the rules of the box? Why doesn’t the creator of the box need to follow the rules of the box? How are forces outside the universe not the same forces as inside the universe? Do gravitational, magnetic, electric, weak, strong and other “endo-universe” forces exist in the “exo-universe”? You don’t need god to follow my Golden Rule Plus: “Treat others better than you would expect them to treat you.”

    2. Is “God” not “something”?

      What if something *didn’t* come from nothing?

      What if there has never been “nothing”?

      What if there has only ever been “something”, one Big Bang leading to another, in a beginning-less and endless eternity? That is what I believe.

      1. What if there has only ever been “something”, one Big Bang leading to another, in a beginning-less and endless eternity? That is what I believe.

        I’m inclined this way as well – Aristotle goes down this very path and decides the only logical proposition is that whatever exists has always existed, and will always exist.

        I’m also inclined in a more Buddhist way to suggest that we tend to confuse ourselves with the “nothing/something” distinction.

    3. P1: Something cannot come from nothing. God is something. God cannot come from nothing. Therefore, god always existed.
      P2: The universe is something. Something cannot come from nothing. The universe cannot come from nothing.
      Concl: Our universe always existed.

      So, which came first? The universe or god? The chicken or the egg?

      The above arguments are so Newtonian. Throw in Einstein’s theory of relativity with its “event horizons” and you turn Newtonian arguments on it’s head.

  29. The finding may be totally unrelated to belief about depth of morality, it only shows that people think unbelievers are less constrained in their moral actions. The most developed morality is individualized and not blind acceptance of the rules of an authority figure.

  30. Not sure how it is rational to be anti-unicornist. Agnostic to unicorns, sure, but to be anti- would seem to require faith, unless narrowly qualified. (Absence of evidence and all that.)

    Now, there is nothing wrong with an otherwise rational person to take certain things on faith now and again, as we must with our very limited personal experiences. However, it still doesn’t make the object of that faith rational.

  31. Simple explanation. For me and I’ll bet for Ron. There are two types of atheist. anti-religious and (me) non-religious. This atheist believes that most atheists are anti-religious, thus not to be trusted (as bigots).

    The vast majority of “famous” atheists are anti-religious. The most famous was also the most hateful — Madelyn Murray O’Hair, who was an atheist on faith alone!

    Penn Gillette nailed it, by labeling himself an agnostic. He doesn’t know, because he can’t know. (Cannot prove a negative) He’s open to being convinced that there is a God, but doesn’t expect anyone to ever do so — since it has never been done. That’s also, for him, a good way to show believers that he doesn’t hate them.

    My own version, originally developed for online dating sites, “I’m non-religious, not anti-religious, and I admire anyone who lives their values on a daily basis.” Very few actually do that. Too many atheists are driven by hatred, as are too many believers (in defiance of Christ and/or Muhammed)

    1. So basically you’re just an atheist who is bigoted against other atheists? Nice.

  32. No one else seems to have caught this ridiculous tidbit:

    “The researchers note that “highly secular societies are among the most stable and cooperative on Earth.”

    As if the converse it not what is demonstrably the case: the most stable and cooperative societies become highly secular.

    Fucking socialists get everything backwards.

  33. Well, considering that too many atheists start worshiping the state and have regularly committed mass atrocities on a scale that the religious rarely manage . . . they may have a point.

    God, like the robber baron, may some times be sated. The state? Never.

  34. Atheists are usually thought to be logical thinkers. That 52% of them would fall for the “conjunction fallacy” on any question is very surprising in itself.

    1. Atheists cultivate a self-image of being a logical thinker. How many of them achieve such a state of mind is debatable.

  35. Were they asking about objective or subjective morality?

  36. Actually, the greatest crimes against humanity – particularly ideologically motivated mass murders known as wars – are directly attributable to the religious and supernatural justifications for such behavior, and, with them, the immunity and lack of accountability for the perpetrators and participants. So let’s keep things in perspective, shall we?

    1. “the greatest crimes against humanity – particularly ideologically motivated mass murders known as wars – are directly attributable to the religious and supernatural justifications for such behavior”

      This is complete B.S. Considering just the Soviet and Chinese governments, avowed athiests killed 140 million in the last century, more than double the cumulative casualties of every war over the same period.

      It would also be quite a stretch to claim that the biggest conflicts, WW1, WW2, Korea, or Vietnam had anything to do with religion. That the Germans were Christian is coincidental, not causal.

      The greatest crimes against humanity have nothing to do with God. If he were ever that pissed, all he has to do is throw a big rock at us.

      1. While it is absolutely true that we atheists can get our murder on just as well as you religious folks (equality!), you’re forgetting that most of religion’s crimes occurred before humanity’s population was very large. It is more useful to view it on a per-capita basis, eg:

        The Thirty Years War (Catholic vs. Protestant) killed as many people per capita as the Second World War (Fascist vs. Marxist vs. Libertarian) did.

        If you look at the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and missionary-enabled Colonialism on a per-capita basis, you’ll find they were just as murderous as the Nazis and Marxist-Leninists.

        1. And if you look at pretty much all of these instances, you’ll see that the “true belief” of all of these evil actors was in their government.

          Government worship kills.

  37. There is a Russian saying “If you don’t want to get idiotic answers don’t ask idiotic questions”. This study fits perfectly to this saying. First, the study based on a highly popular but wrongful opinion that being atheist, meaning believing that no god exists, is not a religious believe. Second, the study suggests comparing someone believing in God. which for many people means somebody believing in common in a place of study set of moral principles with somebody who has an opposite views, meaning a person who basically opposes common moral principles. And what results did the researchers expect?

    1. You: “meaning believing that no god exists,”

      Dictionary: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods

      Not quite the same…

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