Atheists tend to be seen as immoral – even by other atheists: study

Aug 8, 2017

By Agence France-Presse

Atheists are more easily suspected of evil deeds than Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists – even by fellow atheists, according to the authors of a new study.

The finding suggests that in an increasingly secular world, many – including some atheists – still hold the view that people will do bad things unless they fear punishment from all-seeing gods.

The results of the study “show that across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct,” an international team wrote in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. It revealed that “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous”.

he study measured the attitudes of more than 3,000 people in 13 countries on five continents. They ranged from “very secular” countries such as China and the Netherlands, to those with high numbers of religious believers, such as the United Arab Emirates, the US and India.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

15 comments on “Atheists tend to be seen as immoral – even by other atheists: study

  • Reminds me of Jesse Jackson recounting an experience he had while walking home one night and hearing footsteps behind him. He got a bit scared and looked behind him to check. To his own amazement he thought: Thank God, it’s a white guy!

    Report abuse

  • @OP link – “It is striking that even atheists appear to hold the same intuitive anti-atheist bias,”
    the study’s co-author, Will Gervais, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, said.

    “I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms.
    Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular,
    people still seem to intuitively hold on to the believe that religion is a moral safeguard.”

    I think, even on this site we see atheists who have recently moved away from religious belief, carrying cultural bigoted religious baggage and indoctrinated prejudices!
    Those who have spent their formative childhood in cultures where they are constantly bombarded with religious “No True Scotsman” propaganda, take considerable time and evidence to shake this off!

    Only in Finland and New Zealand, two secular countries, did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice, said the team.

    I think where the culture has high atheist numbers and secular schooling, the delusional religious bias, equating religion with moral behaviour, is less prevalent.

    Faith-belief in the morality of an indoctrinated childhood religion, and branding of outsiders as “evil”, is deeply deeply persistent, regardless of the actual analysis of behaviour within populations.
    The glaring classic example is the Saudi Arabian law branding peaceful atheists as “terrorists”, in a country which sponsors religious wars and rebel uprisings against those outside its Wahhabi Sect!

    We know that even atheist tyrants such as Stalin, usually had religious up-bringings, and often strongly and abusively religious parents!

    Report abuse

  • I’m not completely surprised by this finding but I’d like to know exactly what questions were asked and how they were phrased. I suspect that in some regards religion makes people afraid to do some types of harm in case they go to hell for eternity but also encourages them to do or think other types of harm (anti gay, anti condoms, anti abortion, anti people from any other religion) which they don’t see as being bad because of their indoctrination.

    Report abuse

  • Alan’s point about the proximity of atheists to a recent religious environment is key here. Atheism is pretty much new fangled and as it relaxes into a generations deep commonplace, this discrepancy clearly evaporates.

    The experiment though is so much less than it could have been. So, “atheist” is a term simply implying a lack of belief. More telling whether ideas of a godlessness or lack of beliefness cue the morality judgement could have been had with the inclusion of humanists as a group. I suspect humanists would have been rated rather highly. Equally moral harms simply included psychopathic, loner, crimes. What of societal minority abuse? Was this a commentary on an image of a socially unconnected individual? “Atheist” (as opposed to the merely godless) may still conjure images (even among the godless) of a lone, asocial aspie male, political activist etc. etc..

    For the last ten years I have come to believe the atheist state is morally preferable, especially in these complex social times where moral dogma serves us increasingly ill. I have ever been with Sean Faircloth in believing that we atheist folk should lay claim to the moral advantage of starting with a clean slate. We need to change minds here. Bring ordinary folk up to the understanding of social scientists and psychologists who know, full well the moral and social achievements of the most secular states.

    Report abuse

  • In my experience of life (70+years) the most untrustworthy and dishonest people that I have met have predominantly been those of the christian persuasion. I mused that they felt it was ok to act this way because they were only attempting to comply with a supernatural being’s imagined edicts, rather than being responsible for their own moral behaviour. But I could be wrong.


    Report abuse

  • phil rimmer #4
    Aug 8, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    So, “atheist” is a term simply implying a lack of belief. More telling whether ideas of a godlessness or lack of beliefness

    Indeed! The term “atheist” makes no statement about moral ideological or political beliefs.

    cue the morality judgement could have been had with the inclusion of humanists as a group. I suspect humanists would have been rated rather highly.

    “Humanist” does identify altruistic attitudes to fellow humans, whereas a membership of a religious organisation, indicates to varying degrees, tribalistic adherence to unevidenced preached dogmas, seeking answers from faith in “faith-leaders” interpretations of ancient mythology, and usually some form of irrational mental gymnastics to pretend that the leaders’ “interpretations” of mythology, have credibility in the light of modern scientific knowledge in the modern world!

    Report abuse

  • The term “atheist” makes no statement about moral ideological or political beliefs

    It rather makes a statement that you are prepared not to hold a prevailing (perhaps belief).

    This is one of the problems of the word, that will only go away when the belief itself has become a curiosity and perhaps quaint in the very old.

    Report abuse

  • Stalin was a communist and that means he was an atheist. So that means that all atheists are immoral like Stalin. Case closed.

    Atheism is a religion too. They believe in atheism (and fake news). That’s their religion.

    Make America Great Again. Build that wall. Force Mexico to pay for it.

    -Trump supporter (Better believe it.)


    Report abuse

  • @rzzz #5

    I’d qualify that.

    If you live in a predominantly Christian country/region it’s statistically inevitable that a large proportion of the scalawags you encounter will profess to be Christians.
    It’s my experience in about the same lifespan that it’s not so much Christians who have turned out to be the worst scoundrels but specifically those people who identify themselves to you as Christian. It’s almost like a form of deceit right from the start: “Hi, my name’s Mr X I’m a Christian (so you know you can trust me)”. In a way however it’s a form of Freudian honesty – they’re telling right up front they are dishonest. But we’re by nature dishonest so in a way they are really not telling you anything you should not already expect. Curious though that such people chose to think it’s important to let you know that they are Christian. Ick.

    I know and have known plenty of Christians who were lovely people. I don’t hold it against them. None of them however have really been the sort to tell me that they are. It’s the ones who tell you that bother me. Sleeping on some chairs in the old Hong Kong airport some schmuck US elderly people ignore that I look like I haven’t slept for 30 hours and haven’t had a shower and stand right in front of me demanding if I believe in God. Double ick. Triple Ick.

    But it’s not just Christians. Christians do seem in general to be the only ones to do that. Buddhists don’t come up to you out of the blue and announce they are Buddhists or demand to know if you are a Buddhist. Muslims either. I did have one experience on a beach in Tel Aviv where a man followed me around making repeated requests for me to pull down my swimmers so he could see if I was circumcised. Maybe that’s the same though otherwise no problem with Jews.

    There is though increasingly one group of people I encounter who do the same as the ick Christians above.

    That is “ex-Christians” who make a point of telling you they are atheists.

    Like gee mate, do I look like I want to know?

    Report abuse

  • The example given is ridiculous and extreme. I also would have said the perpetrator was most likely an atheist or at least was not a member of any mainstream religion.
    One can think of any number of examples which are much more reasonable.
    For example someone who cheats people. Someone who believes laws should be passed to make people behave in a certain way, etc. etc..

    Report abuse

  • Here we go again. So many commentaries are using the term “belief” or “believe” as if everyone reading the comment would know exactly what they are talking about. When one asks “Do you believe in God close?” Or do you “Do you believe in evolution?” The use of the term “believe” in those two questions has very different meanings. Personally I do not accept the existence of a God. However I do accept some of the hypotheses of evolutionary biology because there is evidence to do so.

    “The results of the study “show that across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct,”

    So what does “religious belief” mean? Who wrote that comment? Was it St. Augustine or was i it Aristotle? It says it was written by Agence France-Presse. Was that author an atheist, Christian, Muslim, and new, or a Buddhist? A search through the Internet I found Agence France-Presse (AFP) is an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. So it was a news agency, but who was the author? Was that author a noted scientist or an Archbishop? Without context the term “belief” has no real meaning. Nor does the term “believe” have a clear and understandable meaning whenever it is used or by anyone.

    Report abuse

  • 14
    maria melo says:

    I really have serious doubts about the validity of this study, it´s objectivity and so on. That´s kind of strange to me . Am I right that the authors of this “study”are american, the country that doesn´t accept an atheist as president, that doesn´t allow atheists to hold public office?
    The question made seems even immmoral to ask, it´s even offensive to justice principles, not even religious people that I know would think of an atheist as immoral-serial killer, the connection moral-immoral, serial killer, doesn´t make sense. By experience people aknowledge there are a few serial killers out there and even religious people recognize there´s something wrong with that person, not because he/she is an atheist or religious, usually realism is a precious quality that even religious people preserve in normal life.

    Report abuse

  • To a theist whose god-delusion is the source of “all morality” and “all moral (religion promoting) conduct”, those “evil atheists” who have killed or expelled, their god-delusions” have renounced all “morality” and hence are the demonic source of all evil!
    Some even openly criticise, oppose, and defy, those “wonderful, glorious” holy dogmas and doctrines! (What more proof is needed :-))

    This is made abundantly clear by their god-delusions (and pastors), using faith-thinking and the “No True Scotsman” fallacy!

    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.