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When getting theists to say they trust atheists, nothing beats fear of the police


In “Reminders of Secular Authority Reduce Believers’ Distrust of Atheists”, Association for Psychological Science reports (April 18, 2012),

In one experiment, Canadian believers were assigned to watch one of two videos: a traveler’s story about visiting Vancouver for the first time or the Vancouver police chief’s year-end report. These served as a reminder or a prime, to get half the students thinking about the police, who are a source of secular authority. Then participants responded to questions about how much they distrusted various groups, including atheists.

Viewing the video about police effectiveness significantly reduced how much believers distrusted atheists. Other experiments confirmed that this change was specific to feelings about atheists, and didn’t come from a general change in attitude towards other marginalized groups.

“Sincere commitment to belief in God may be viewed as a signal for trustworthiness, particularly by religious believers who think that people behave better if they are under supernatural surveillance,” says Norenzayan. “Atheists consider their disbelief as a matter of private conscience, while believers think atheists’ absence of belief is a public threat to cooperation and honesty. However, this negative perception of atheists declines to the extent that people are reminded of secular means of social surveillance.”

Ah, yes, we understand, officer.

This study was done in Canada, where no one needs reminding of the power of secular authority to destroy the lives of dissenters, using law enforcement.

By the way, this Association’s journal, Psychological Science, should be considered carefully in this context:

If you’re a psychologist, the news has to make you a little nervous—particularly if you’re a psychologist who published an article in 2008 in any of these three journals: Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, or the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

They’re all accused of unreproducible results.

Note: Section 13 (against offending anyone) is in the process of being repealed, due to public outcry. After repeal becomes general knowledge, it will be interesting to see if this study’s results are reproducible.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allan at Brains on Purpose


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