Atheists suspect fellow unbelievers of being immoral, survey finds

(Wikimedia Commons/Fibonacci Blue)Atheists at the Twin Cities Pride Parade 2011.

A new survey has found that atheists are not only considered as immoral by adherents of various religions, but also by their fellow atheists.

According to an article published in the online journal Nature Human Behavior, a worldwide study has shown that there is an "extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists" by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even fellow atheists.

The study, conducted by an international team of researchers, found that religious belief is intuitively viewed across the world as a "necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct."

Participants from across the world were given a description of a fictitious person who tortured animals as a child, then grows up to become a teacher who murders and mutilates five homeless people, according to Phys.org.

Half of the group were asked how likely that the murderer was an adherent of a particular religion, while the other half was asked how likely that he was an atheist. The results of the survey revealed 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," said Will Gervais, a co-author of the study.

Gervais, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, suggested that the bias against atheists 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," he noted.

The study looked at the attitudes of 3,256 participants from 13 countries, including the United States, Australia, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.K.

The researchers found that only in two secular countries — Finland and New Zealand — did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice.

Gervais noted that the distrust of atheists was "very strong" in highly religious countries like the U.S., United Arab Emirates and India, and lower in more secular countries.

The Abstract of the study stated that the "results contrast with recent polls that do not find self-reported moral prejudice against atheists in highly secular countries ... and imply that the recent rise in secularism in Western countries has not overwritten intuitive anti-atheist prejudice."

Gervais contended that the research was about more than stigma alone. "In many places, atheism can be dangerous, if not fatal," he added.

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