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Why don’t atheists trust each other?

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Or don’t they? From Phys.org:

A unusual social study has revealed that atheists are more easily suspected of vile deeds than Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists—strikingly, even by fellow atheists, researchers said Monday.

This 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.
And it revealed that “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous.”

The 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 countries with high numbers of believers such as the United Arab Emirates, United States, and India.

The team found that people were about twice as likely to assume that the serial killer was an atheist.
“It is striking that even atheists appear to hold the same intuitive anti-atheist bias,” study co-author Will Gervais, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, told AFP. More.

One wonders if the broad linkage of Darwinism and atheism play a role.

See also: Prof claims to know how to slam dunk creationists

and

Teaching evolution to creationist students: Why would anyone who was embarking on teaching evolution as a serious project in good faith try to involve a virulently anti-religious figure like Dawkins in the argument?

35 Replies to “Why don’t atheists trust each other?

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    A brief description of the method, which I find interesting:

    To assess worldwide prevalence of anti-atheist biases, the authors utilized the conjunction fallacy, a well-known psychological bias. The classic conjunction fallacy presents a vignette about Linda, who was a philosophy major and was concerned with social justice and discrimination. Participants then answer whether they think it is more likely that Linda is a bank teller, or that she is a bank teller and a feminist. Although logically impossible (that is, the likelihood of two phenomena occurring together cannot exceed the likelihood of either one alone), this bias occurs because the conjunction (bank teller and feminist) better matches people’s impressions of Linda than the profession alone.

    Across 13 diverse countries, Gervais and colleagues demonstrated that participants are likely to commit this fallacy when asked if an immoral target (for example, a serial murderer) is more likely to be an atheist as well as a teacher (as opposed to just a teacher), but not when asked if the target is more likely to be religious.

    While I don’t doubt that atheists can be biased against other atheists, I would guess it depends on context.

    Perhaps I would have shown an anti-atheist bias in an experiment such as the one Gervais et al performed, which involved being presented with a hypothetical about a serial killer. I doubt that many of us here would overlook the conjunction fallacy, however, so maybe this experiment wouldn’t work on us.

    On the other hand, suppose an atheist and a member of the LDS church (both scientists) were engaging in a debate concerning some archaeological evidence gathered in North America, which I know nothing about. I think I very likely would be biased in favor of the atheist in this situation.

    Edit: The paper makes a similar point:

    Although we agree that the conjunction fallacy is a useful tool for examining implicit biases, it remains unclear how information about atheism affects perceptions in natural settings. Atheism is rarely the only piece of information known about interaction partners, and it is possible that, when included with the social information that individuals collect naturally, atheism will be perceived as less indicative of immoral behaviour.

  2. 2
    asauber says:

    Atheists by definition don’t know what truth is, so I’m not surprised they don’t trust each other.

    And *I’m* distrustful of social studies as a rule, so I need to go get a cup of coffee and go find some truth somewhere.

    Andrew

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    asauber @ 2

    Atheists by definition don’t know what truth is,…

    Does anyone?

    Sure, adherents of the world’s various religions all believe their own faith is The One True Faith but since they tend to differ who knows which, if any, is true?

    At least atheists are not blinkered by a prior commitment to one particular set of beliefs and can, in principle, pursue an unbiased search for truth.

  4. 4
    LocalMinimum says:

    “The Doll Test” in Brown v. Board of Education was an example of such a result being used to indict society at large for the sake of the subject minority. Admittedly, in spite of Dawkins’ claims, people aren’t born atheists, and this is a study taken across many different societies, we can’t really do much that is objectively good with a simple prevalence of opinions; and, as promoters of a view that is a minority relative to the arenas where it is actually debated, shouldn’t.

  5. 5
    ET says:

    Atheists by definition don’t know what truth is…

    What definition would that be?

  6. 6
    tribune7 says:

    Let’s say you have a smartphone but getting a signal, receiving a call or even staying on is entirely a matter of chance.

    Can you trust it?

  7. 7
    ET says:

    Let’s say you have a smartphone but getting a signal, receiving a call or even staying on is entirely a matter of chance.

    Can you trust it?

    Yes. It can be trusted to be untrustable for any specific need or at any specific time. 😎

  8. 8
    asauber says:

    What definition would that be?

    ET,

    Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    Andrew

  9. 9
    john_a_designer says:

    Atheists have no basis for epistemological or moral truth. How can you trust somebody who doesn’t believe there is such a thing as moral truth? Morality is useless unless there is some kind of interpersonal moral standard which more than one person is willing to admit is the right, correct and true standard. An atheist has no reason to accept such a standard. So what reason would anyone have to believe that he (or she) is able to treat others honestly, fairly and respectfully? Who would know this better than other atheists? So it makes perfect sense that atheists do not trust other atheists. In other words, it takes one to know one.

  10. 10
    Heartlander says:

    I don’t trust atoms – they make up everything…

  11. 11
    J-Mac says:

    Why don’t atheists trust each other?

    It’s a sign of weakness…not the fittest, which mathematically gives the trusting a lesser chance of survival…

  12. 12
    Charles says:

    Why don’t atheists trust each other?

    Because they project.

  13. 13
    rvb8 says:

    The idea that the religious don’t trust, or believe atheists are capable of altruism, or moral behaviour, is as old as religion.

    That atheists don’t trust each other is new to me; I trust atheists more than I trust the religious because I have the internet, a brain, and can read.

    Going into any prison, worldwide would suggest atheists have a more coherent grasp of, ‘the livable, legal society.’

    Any given statement from Coyne, or Dawkins, has more weight than any given statement by Schlafly, Fallwell, or the egregious Coulter.

    Just watching a small amount of Christian TV on Youtube makes one wince at the bald faced, money grubbing lies of these TV evangelists.

    The lies told by, and the crimes committed by Islamic ‘scholars’, Hindu ‘nationalists’, and Buddhist ‘mystics’, beggars belief.

    No, I’ll stick with my predictably dull atheist friends, and leave the high morality to the religious, so they can kick the crap out of oneanother, and anyone else who happens to be near by.

  14. 14
    LocalMinimum says:

    rvb8:

    Falwell and Coulter vs. Dawkins and Coyne. Hmmm. I pick C: None of the above.

    Can atheists be moral and altruistic? Sure. Even if we decided that morality is impossible outside of non-atheistic religion, atheists can imitate non-atheists; and they have good reason to do so if a non-atheist majority makes a big deal out of morality.

    I personally expect morality is innate to humanity to some degree. But people have a bad habit of not being good; and penalties, deadlines, and rewards have a funny way of motivating people towards a better nature; beyond that basic innate morality, even.

    So, while you can’t take morality away from atheists, the argument that, stochastically speaking, atheists are less moral than people with a Christian moral code isn’t incredible. Neither is the argument that morality in general will decay with the loss of population motivated to good works beyond their natural inclination.

  15. 15
    ellijacket says:

    rvb8,

    I would never argue that an atheist (or anyone) cannot behave in a morally good manner.

    The problem arises when atheists claim to be moral. What does that even mean to an atheist? How did he/she arrive at what morality is?

    When a Christian (I’ll choose Christianity because I attempt to follow Jesus, however poorly) discusses morality they are using a standard they believe flows from who God is.

    Where does the atheist standard flow from? If there isn’t an atheist standard of morality then an atheist can claim that any behavior is morally good.

    Again, I would never say you are not a morally good person. You might be more so than I am. I would question how you derive morality in a manner that is beyond just picking and choosing what you like and calling it good.

  16. 16
    john_a_designer says:

    I’ve been engaged in discussions on the internet for over ten years. During that time I have crossed paths with many people who very proudly describe themselves as atheists. (Though it’s never been my primary purpose to engage or debate atheists.) Occasionally when the debate gets heated an atheist will accuse me or other Christians as not being very Christian. But why would an atheist see Christian morality and ethics as being a viable moral and ethical standard if he doesn’t think Christianity is true? And why when it comes to ethical standards am I never tempted to tell an atheist, “that’s not very atheistic of you?”

    Of course, I agree that Christians have a basis for a moral standard and atheists don’t. Is that what atheists are unconsciously or tacitly conceding? It seems like it to me.

  17. 17
    rvb8 says:

    j_a_d,

    I never get heated with Christians, they often get heated with me however.

    I say something along the lines that, no, I can not disprove God’s existance, but I will never accept that He demands I love Him more than my family or friends. The idea of loving Christ more than my partner is never going to happen, even if by some miracle (heh:), He exists.

    God comes in as avery poor, poor second to my partner, parents, brother, sister, and friends. In fact I find it positively childish, wishful thinking to believe in an almighty sky Father who loves you.

    As for there being no basis for the morality of atheists. Of course there is, precedent. That is, atheists know very well that doing good most of the time, mostly brings abouut good results.

    Christian morality, and other religious morality on the other hand, is based upon fear of punishment. That’s a weak basis, that you fear God is watching so you do the right thing.

    As an atheist I try to do the right thing in the knowkedge that most other people also then try to do the right thing; it’s an evolved observation.

  18. 18
    ellijacket says:

    rvb8 @ 17,

    I’m not sure you see the possible error in your thinking. You say that “doing good” brings about “good results.” What does good mean in that context? How is it defined?

    It is totally possible for an atheist to say that robbing a bank is “good” if it brings about a result they like. I’m not saying you would say that, but how would you argue against it? Isn’t your definition of “good” just your opinion? If not, how so?

  19. 19
    ellijacket says:

    rvb8 @ 17,

    Also, as far as fear of punishment…..for the Christian, no. A right understanding of who Christ is has nothing to do with punishment.

    Jesus promises life. Don’t confuse that with eternal life. He promises life today. Life that rises above the concerns of the world. Obedience to him then flows out of this new life. I don’t obey because I’m scared. I obey because I have life that I didn’t have before and obedience is a natural consequence of that.

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks,

    Back in some contact, still busy with matters tied to bereavement. Let me say, I have been personally present at a lucid state beatific vision and conversation on passing.

    I note, morality is pivotal, indeed take out something objective behind conscience and the voice that urges to truth and right in reasoning, speaking and acting is in effect assigned delusional status.

    Not just morality but rationality collapses.

    A coherent woldview must be one in which morality is not a delusion, including that conscience is a compass. So, the world root must be an is that grounds ought.

    As I have pointed out there is just one serious candidate, the inherently good creator God, a necessary and maximally great being, worthy of loyalty and the responsible, reasonable service of doing good in accord with our evident nature. Such a serious candidate NB will either be impossible as a square circle is, or else is actual, framework to any world existing. Just as no world is possible without distinct contrast thus two-ness. And much more that a light duty keyboard is too little for.

    Nothing in that is about irrational fear of punishment, though shame on exposure of wrong is in itself sometimes sharply painful. So, I think some projections on ethical theism by those who reject it, need to be reconsidered. Where cold anger is just as objectionable as hot, cold anger coming out in snide contempt and insistence on dismissive, denigratory caricatures of the other. Too many self-declared atheists I have dealt with over the years are characterised by that sort of cold anger and I think some reconsideration is in order.

    So, let us refactor the discussion.

    KF

  21. 21
    daveS says:

    Good to see you back, KF, and I’m sorry to hear about your loss.

  22. 22
    john_a_designer says:

    Philosophers of morality and ethics (ethicists) tell us there are three basic approaches to ethics:

    Virtue Ethics (or Virtue Theory) is an approach to Ethics that emphasizes an individual’s character as the key element of ethical thinking, rather than rules about the acts themselves (Deontology) or their consequences (Consequentialism).

    Clearly, if you bother to actually read the New Testament, Jesus’ was teaching was a form of virtue ethics. His emphasis was on being good rather than just doing good.

    But how can humans be good when they are so morally flawed? That’s also something that Jesus taught. Unlike the virtue ethics of the Greeks it was not based on self-righteousness in any form, personal self-righteousness or some kind self-righteous group think. Jesus clearly condemned this kind of self-righteousness… even those from his own religion. We need to keep in mind that Jesus was an observant Jew. He did worship at the temple. He did celebrate Passover.

    Apparently rvb8 thinks his self-righteousness is a sufficient moral basis for himself. But even if he deludes himself into thinking it is, it’s absurd for him to claim it is a sufficient basis for anyone else. So what exactly is he arguing?

  23. 23
    tribune7 says:

    Very well said KF.

  24. 24
    john_a_designer says:

    Many atheists are forced to concede that at best, according to their worldview, morals are just subjective preferences. For example,

    Bertrand Russell said… “I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.” In Russell’s atheistic world all values are subjective and the only thing that could possibly be wrong with wanton cruelty (or pedophilia, for that matter) is that he doesn’t like it. [Another atheist, Michael] Ruse understands the dilemma quite well. A subjective system of morality is nothing more than a rickety shack with no foundation; it will collapse in the first good wind:

    “But it [morality] is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down…very quickly there would be no morality and society would collapse and each and every one of us would suffer.

    How then do we escape this seemingly intractable problem? Ruse offers us his solution:

    So morality has to come across as something that is more than emotion. It has to appear to be objective, even though really it is subjective… Because that is what morality demands of us. It is bigger than the both of us. It is laid upon us and we must accept it, just like we must accept that 2+2=4. [emphasis added]

    https://www.algemeiner.com/2012/01/03/atheism-and-pedophilia-part-ii-the-incoherent-moral-philosophy-of-michael-ruse/

    So it’s like the placebo effect. But how effective is a placebo if everyone knows it’s a placebo?

  25. 25

    It’s called the a/mat delusion. Perhaps the greatest delusion of all time. Trick the mind into thinking that objective morality exists when there really is no objective morality.

    If a/mats were honest they would admit that Hitler’s subjective morality was just as valid as their subjective morality. But they are never honest about that.

  26. 26
    kenneth hugh says:

    KF, I know that we have had many disagreements in the past (Acartia, William Spearshake, Tintinnid, Armand Jacks, Ziggy Lorenc, and a few others), but I just wanted to express my sympathy at your loss. Regardless of our differences, we are all, ultimately, part of the same family. I hope to see you back in fighting form soon.

    Kevin Middlebrook.

  27. 27
    kairosfocus says:

    To those expressing condolence, thank you.

  28. 28
    rvb8 says:

    kairosfocus,

    welcome back.

    If you will accept condolences from an atheist, then accept mine; I’m sorry at your loss.

    kairos, I will continue to deeply disagree with your stands on God, Christ, redemption, ID, abortion, evolution, and just plain rationality.

    TWSYF @25,

    Darwin-Evolution-Hitler-the Devil etc. Really? Yawn!

  29. 29
    rvb8 says:

    elijacket @18,

    you have it exactly backwards, as most religious people do.

    Your morality is based on Christianity, and the teachings of Christ, as most honest IDers here would also admit to.

    This plain fact, that your morality is based upon Christ, explicitly implies the moralities of not only all atheists, but all other faiths is lacking.

    Don’t feel too bad as all other faiths, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc, believe their morality is superior to yours.

    Who’s right? Well, obviously you say, Chrianity’s morality is the purist.

    As an atheist, I and my fellow atheists say, ‘you’ve had your day, now pass on the batton, and let science and rationality, have a bash at this ‘morality’ quandry you so fail at!’

    You see as an atheist, morality is actually a very simple problem, as it is no problem.

    Morality, when it is practised is recognised worldwide by all cultures and in all situations. The women who stops to help the child, the man who aids a victim of violence, the child who refuses to join her fellows in stealing.

    All moral acts recognised in all cultures at all times. Religion, with its divisevness actually works to reduce morality in people as it actually creates a competition in moraltiy.

    You know like the senator who takes his oath of office on ten Bibles, as opposed to one. Or the evangelical preacher who invokes the name of Christ before meeting his gay, drug addicted lover at a truck stop.

    My morality is learned from family, friends, and society. It is learned, has some religious tennets, and will be passed on. You know? Inherrited over eons of human trial and error; almost evolved:)

    Better than religious morality, as it predates the period when man invented God.

  30. 30
    ET says:

    Atheistic morality is an oxymoron. Atheists ride the coattails of the religious when it comes to morality.

  31. 31
    ellijacket says:

    rvb8 @ 29,

    Thank you for your reply. I understand what you are saying, but I don’t see how it answers the question.

    First, senators and preachers who fall into sin do not take away from the truth of objective morality found in Christ. They actually point towards it. If there were no objective morality then these would not be failings.

    You say you learned your morality from family, etc. That’s great. No problem there. My question is what is it based on that makes it true? True for all? Why is robbing someone wrong…really wrong, objectively wrong at all times for all people? What standard are you basing it on?

    That’s my question. Again, I appreciate your perspective, but I’m looking for the foundation of your morality, not whether you have a system of morality.

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, bereavement is a common experience and condolences are welcome. they are part of our common humanity. Right now I have little time or energy for debates or back-forths. Till later. KF

  33. 33
    Seversky says:

    I only just became aware of your loss, kf, so allow me to offer my condolences. Whatever our differences, confronting mortality is common to us all.

  34. 34
    rvb8 says:

    ellijacket @31,

    I’ve heard this question many times before from the religious; ‘Sure atheists can be moral, but what is your morality actually based upon, we have Christ and His Word, you have nothing.’

    Is that about right? You see an atheist answers it this way; my morality is ultimately based upon ‘self interest’, it is selfishly based upon the best survival strategy for me and the people I love. (Love? Yes atheists have this too, and it is also based upon survival strategy. I know the religious will say this is a poor basis, but it works, and I know the love I have, although ultimately an evolved response to protect my genetic lineage, is nonetheless very real.)

    You see, your morality, and your insistance of the necessity of an ultimate arbiter (God), of what is good or permissable allows for morality to chop and change; one minute slavery is fine, the next it’s bad, one minute you only eat fish on Friday, the next meat is fine.

    I don’t know how you can live in the shifting moral sands of faith, mine is rock solid, and devoid of God.

    Final question to all here; Has ID finally decided to admit the elephant in the room, and come clean that it is explicitly saying the Designer is Christ? In almost all posts nowadays that fact is almost flagrantly accepted, why just not admit it, and be done?

  35. 35
    ellijacket says:

    rvb8 @ 34,

    I think you have it backwards. Your morality is like shifting sands as your on self-interests and love changes. As soon as you have a different feeling your own morality can change. That’s not rock solid. It’s also allowed Mao, Stalin, etc. to commit all kinds of atrocities in the name of their own self-interests.

    Also, I don’t know who IDist claim the designer is or if they claim anyone. I don’t come here for ID as I’m not much of an IDist. I don’t speak for ID or Uncommon Descent.

    I’m only commenting because you keep making objective morality claims without stating the foundation of your morality. You have now admitted, as you ultimately must, that you don’t have a foundation. It’s just based on what you like and who you care about. If that’s what you want, then that’s ok, but it does not make it rock solid by any means. It reveals it to be qucksand.

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