Freethought Today · September 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Anti-atheist bias still exists over morality

Study shows respondents think nonbelievers more likely to be serial killers!

Even with the number of nonbelievers increasing worldwide, there's still an inherent bias against atheists when it comes to questions of morality.

Specifically, a new report shows that most people around the world, including nonbelievers, presume that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than believers. The study, which included more than 3,000 people in 13 countries, appeared in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Previous studies had found evidence of public suspicion of nonbelievers in smaller samples within religious countries, like the United States. The new survey suggests the findings may extend globally, and it finds those same suspicions happen even in highly secular societies.

The study, led by Will M. Gervais, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, had a team of researchers sample about 100 or more adults in 13 countries, including countries in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

One of the questions asked of the respondents began with a description of a sociopath: a man who, having tortured animals when young, later began hurting people and "has killed five homeless people that he abducted from poor neighborhoods in his home city. Their dismembered bodies are currently buried in his basement." It was followed with one of two questions, where half the participants got one and the other half got the other.

One group got this question: "Which is more probable? 1) The man is a teacher; or 2) The man is a teacher and does not believe in any gods."

The other half got this question: "Which is more probable? 1) The man is a teacher; or 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 nearly 60 percent of the people who had the choice to pick 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 atheists were less biased than the average, but not by much, the study found.

The anti-atheist bias was stronger in highly religious countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, than in more secular ones. Gervais, whose work explores bias against nonbelievers, had publicly backed off some of his own earlier studies, finding them too small to be convincing. "This time we got the numbers, and the effect was clear," he told the Times.

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