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Why Are People Still Afraid of Atheism? - Comments

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 1 by Neodarwinian

Some people need to castigate people who do not hold beliefs they do not hold either, this way they appear as genuine believers to the mass of people who hold to these beliefs. A certificate of authenticity, whether authentic or not, is then conferred to these people and they support belief because the majority does.

Atheists then are deprived of possible allies by this bit of human, group, psychology.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 02:53:13 UTC | #893161

brighterstill's Avatar Comment 2 by brighterstill

That's it guys, we need to stop eating as many babies. Only on weekends guys, only on weekends!

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 03:10:20 UTC | #893166

Perfututum's Avatar Comment 3 by Perfututum

I thought it was obvious why americans can't stand atheists, and that's because their government made godlessness an enemy during the cold war.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 03:33:00 UTC | #893170

genjokoan's Avatar Comment 4 by genjokoan

I think that deep down inside their lizard brains, most people know that belief in their dear and fluffy lord is ludicrous. Subconsciously they fear being outed, of not fitting in with all the other deluded people who have imaginary friends. So while they secretly admire people who are not afraid to stand up in public and cheerfully denounce all things supernatural, their deep inner shame and embarrassment makes them act out in anger.

That is my theory. What is yours?

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 03:56:34 UTC | #893174

some asshole's Avatar Comment 5 by some asshole

Comment 4 by genjokoan :

That is my theory. What is yours?

I think religious people are just stupid assholes. It's a theory I've developed and refined carefully over the past few decades. Every day I read the news further cements it in my mind.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 03:59:07 UTC | #893175

Eyerish's Avatar Comment 6 by Eyerish

Why are religious people afraid of Atheists? I could speculate they are in some ways jealous of the freedom of mind we have. But they possibly view it as a 'disease' that they could 'catch' and the fear is not so much atheism but the knowledge of the rejection by their social networks that they would suffer as a result - after all they themselves would reject someone they know if they became an 'unbeliever'. Or it is about personal pride? The religious don't want to realise or admit that they have been taken for a ride all these years and feel foolish when 'reason' is discussed about religion - particularly when some of the nastier elements of their religious books are raised such as a God's support for murder and rape. Or asked about the how some of the stories in these texts could possibly be true when there is not only no evidence to support the story; but shear physics or laws of nature prevent such a story being even vaguely true (Noah and his ark, Jona and a whale stomach, etc...). The religious then put up the defensive shields and claim that having 'faith' is the ultimate virtue when they are possibly mistaking and mixing up the definition of 'faith' and 'trust'. It is pretty hard for someone to admit that having 'faith' in these text really means that their own stupidity for believing these stories is the ultimate virtue.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 04:13:50 UTC | #893181

debaser71's Avatar Comment 7 by debaser71


Comment 4 by genjokoan :

That is my theory. What is yours?


I think most theists have a voice inside their head that whispers "there is no god". They try to rationalize it away. So when people remind them of that little voice it makes them angry. So an atheists mere existence is a constant reminder that deep down inside most theist know it's all pretend. This is why IMO coming out as an atheist is important.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 04:39:12 UTC | #893184

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 8 by drumdaddy

People fear us because they have been taught that we are in league with the devil. You know, that demon that we know to be fictional. We're supposedly in league with him. We have him on speed dial. I'm just a bit tired of being called every name in the book by preachers. It's time to repay the favor to the manipulative lying charlatans who must be banished from the earth for cultivating ancient hatreds.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 06:47:12 UTC | #893211

genjokoan's Avatar Comment 9 by genjokoan

Like Chris Cooper's character in American Beauty, sometimes letting that inner voice speak out loud can have unfortunate consequences. For many people, putting on an angry, bigot act is going to their safe, happy place.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 07:09:19 UTC | #893214

Mike Kemp's Avatar Comment 10 by Mike Kemp

I think comment 4 has a lot going for it. It's like the theory that people are homophobic because they fear it in themselves.

It then occurred to me that this general theory of bigotry is easy to assert, but could it be tested? Perhaps there are psychologists out there who could think of a way of correlating expressed prejudice with inner suppressed belief / orientation?

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 07:40:41 UTC | #893217

dloubet's Avatar Comment 11 by dloubet

This kind of unconscious discrimination is the result of thousands of years of uninterrupted religious slander.

To be maligned as immoral by those that require a supernatural carrot and stick in order to be decent human beings always boggles my mind. How can they be moral if they're just following orders?

Obedience is not morality.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 08:03:49 UTC | #893221

Quantum Zombie's Avatar Comment 12 by Quantum Zombie

Maybe it's that the religious are convinced that there is a god and that he has made them special. They probably feel insulted that the atheist doesn't believe in this god and hence don't think they are special. I guess we hurt their feelings. :'(

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 08:06:15 UTC | #893222

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 13 by Jos Gibbons

Atheists, they argue, are widely viewed as people you cannot trust. “People use cues of religiosity as a signal for trustworthiness,” the researchers write in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Given that “trustworthiness is the most valued trait in other people,” this mental equation engenders a decidedly negative attitude toward nonbelievers.

Why are we “arguing” about this rather than settling it with evidence?

Gervais and his colleagues approach this phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. “A number of researchers have argued that religious beliefs may have been one of several mechanisms allowing people to cooperate in large groups, by in effect outsourcing social monitoring and punishment to supernatural agents,” they write. Religion, in other words, has served a specific function throughout much of human history (beyond assuaging existential fears): It keeps people in line, discouraging them from engaging in selfish acts that hurt the larger community. Gervais and his colleagues point to recent research that bears this notion out; several studies have found people engage in less-selfish behavior “when reminded of watchful supernatural agents.”

This is a group–selectionist hypothesis, so has to be wrong; it contradicts what we know of evolution just as creationism does. Maths alone prohibits it; it’s the evolutionary biology equivalent of saying you have a perpetual motion machine. Literally every evolutionary account of the origin of religion of which I’ve ever heard that puts a positive spin on religion commits this fallacy. The research in question therefore doesn’t “bear it out”.

But the link between atheism and amorality persists in the public imagination

Incidentally, I suspect on some occasions words like amoral or amorality in this article may have been intended as immoral or immorality.

Participants were asked whether they thought it was more probable that this clearly amoral man was either (a) a teacher, or (b) a teacher and a second identifying factor.

Whatever the second factor is, the answer has to be (a), because if he’s (b) he’s (a) as well but not vice versa.

“A teacher and an atheist” was the equation most likely to chosen over the simple “a teacher.” Astonishingly, it was slightly more likely to be chosen than “a teacher and a rapist.”

Was (a) the most common answer? People committing the fallacy of thinking (b) could ever be right is common, unfortunately. I do not, however, share this astonishment regarding the atheist/rapist comparison; rapists are rare enough that’s a fair assessment. The question was what is most probable given what we know of the man, not what revelations about him would make what he did most probable.

Religious belief, including belief in an afterlife, provides existential meaning to many people. Any threat to that feeling of comfort and reassurance would presumably be regarded as unwelcome, if not hostile. That alone could engender a negative attitude toward atheists.

Couldn’t another religion saying you’ll go to Hell do that even more?

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 08:35:20 UTC | #893229

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 14 by Premiseless

Atheism us understated in respect of what it is.

People prefer to go with the trauma of something they know than the uncertainty of something they don't.

This reduces people to thinking about perceived advantage. Take the Euro from the get go to now. Take morality from the get go to now. Similar pattern. God is someones currency, period.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 08:40:04 UTC | #893230

Explorer's Avatar Comment 15 by Explorer

Having scanned through the lengthy report, it seems it is not all bad news for atheists. There are some favourable trends not mentioned in the article above. For example the number of people willing to vote for an atheist presidential candidate has increased from under 20% to nearly 50% between 1958 and 1999. That to me does indicate that it is not all about "trustworthiness".

I firmly believe that there is a zeitgeist taking shape now, and that in a few more years, Christianity will be much, much weaker in our society and in politics. Whether or not the same can be said for Islam, is quite another matter.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 08:45:12 UTC | #893231

Stonyground's Avatar Comment 16 by Stonyground

I don't think that this article emphasised enough the point that this common perception of atheists is so completely at odds with the facts. More atheistic societies are healthier by a whole raft of indicators.

I am an atheist and have found a lost wallet. It had enough stuff in it so that I could contact the owner and I made sure that it got back to him. I didn't need God I just needed to understand how I hould feel if I lost my wallet and how relieved and grateful I would be to get it back. Why is this so difficult for religious folk to understand?

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 09:55:03 UTC | #893243

old-toy-boy's Avatar Comment 17 by old-toy-boy

I take my hat off to some asshole (comment 5)

I think religious people are just stupid assholes. It's a theory I've developed and refined carefully over the past few decades. Every day I read the news further cements it in my mind.

Really made me laugh. The best I could do after " ... why do you even bother getting up in the morning", is "why do you?".

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 10:01:43 UTC | #893244

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 18 by Nunbeliever

I think this study is very misleading and reflects the absurd views of religions we have. We view religiousity and religions as a coherent concept when in fact religions differ vastly and can't be treated in such a simplistic way as this study seems to assume (although the article might misrepresent the actual study).

This is especially true from an evolutionary perspective. It is in my opinion pointless to talk about whether or not religions have been important from an evolutionary perspective. Certain aspects of religions certainly have, but then we should concentrate on them and not talk about religions in general.

As far as I can see this study is actually discussing two things that does not necessarily have anything to do with religions. Tribalism and the concept of authority. Tribalism has been important for human societies. Religions often strengthen this phenomenon, but that does not mean it's an inherently religious phenomenon per se. I think the fact that atheists are regarded as unthrustworthy has more to do with that they are not considered members of the tribe than that they are atheists per se. In large societies where you don't actually know all the members of your tribe religions tend to become important since they provide individuals with the illusion that all the members share a common goal or a common descent to some extent. But, there are many other mechanisms that fulfill this function. For example cultural myths, nationalism or some other political dogma.

I think by concentrating on religions instead of tribalims you miss the point. Especially from an evolutionary perpsective it does not make any sense to talk about religions in general. You have to be much more specific than that.

The other aspect is that of authority (which is of course closely related to tribalism). This is what keeps people in line. It can be fear of a ruler, or a local authority. It can be a more diffuse sense of duty or honor. It can also of course be a supernatural authority. But, this is not really different from any other forms of authority in my opinion. Again, by concentrating on religions you miss the point.

Why do I point this out? Well, because these phenomenons can also be used against religious people. For example in the USSR, religions were seen as a liability by the communist party mainly because the leaders questioned how loyal these people were. Christians professed a higher authority than the political party. From their perspective religious people were potentially harder to keep in line than nonbelievers. Due to their religious beliefs total submission to the communist ideology was not an option. Still, I think the mechanism at work is really the same as when religious Americans regard atheists as untrustworthy. Communists regarded the religious as untrustworthy. Members of different religions are also often considered untrustworthy (as this study also mentions). Jews in Israel think muslism are not to be trusted and the other way around. I think this just goes to show that religious belief is not what we should concetrate on here, but tribalism!

But a much more important reason why I point this out. By viewing religions as important from an evolutionary perspective we are misled to believe that secular societies might be dysfunctional. When in fact, from an evolutionary perspective the argument should be that societies that lack tribalism and an authoritative structure might be dysfunctional. I am not arguing that this is the case. I am just saying that when people try to highlight the evolutionary importance of religions they are in my opinion doing us a large disservice. To me, this study seems to be yet another example of how we always try to find reasons to defend religions. "Yes, religious beliefs are not necessarily true. And they tend to lead to a lot of misery. But, our societies would be even more dysfunctional without religions. It's genetical. Religions have been important from an evolutionary perspective and you can't just ignoren our past."

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 12:10:04 UTC | #893268

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 19 by Premiseless

Comment 18 by Nunbeliever : Tribalism and the concept of authority.


Sat, 26 Nov 2011 12:32:44 UTC | #893272

strangebrew's Avatar Comment 20 by strangebrew


“People use cues of religiosity as a signal for trustworthiness,”

Yes indeed it is also the supposed Achilles heel of atheism that every bible basher and kiddy fiddler in a dog collar has relied on to shock and thrill the congregation, in equal measure, since time immemorial.

It is a form of black propaganda that played so well to the hard of thinking during the crusades and a dozen other jolly shindigs in history..the theme always favouring the will of some judeo-Christian god figure.

Propaganda is still being waged and there are even modern day apologists for the fairly regular middle eastern bloody shenanigans from 1095 onwards. One wonders if the xian cause was indeed so just...actually referred to by one present day historian (Thomas F. Madden) as a defensive strike and belated response by western based was in fact xians standing up for their friends in Turkey.

What he does nor elaborate on is why there were so many different crusades...up to nine, some say more, over the next century and a half and all seemingly directed towards regaining Jerusalem? That is not defence of Turkey that is aggression to gain land and a religious iconic city elsewhere. But I am obviously uninformed according to Prof Madden..not to mention several 'men of god' to whom I have engaged this debate with in the past! And if defensive then it failed western xianity is certainly not the flavour in Jerusalem since at least '47'

Anyway if so just why should we all be horrified and apparently embarrassed...try and engage any contemporary theologian on the subject...they weasel and whine, splutter and sweat about that being a traditional stick to thrash xian religion with and when that fails to impress then declare that morality was of a different hue back then...some even look wistful while they excuse the blood baths in the name of god because the justification was plain.

Madden even has a similar take on the was not as bad as the 'myth' fact according to Prof Madden, most of the killing was performed by secular authority which absolutely scandalised the Catholic church and presumably made the bhabi jeebus cwy!... The RCC wanted to give the accused a fair trial and they hardly were ever beastly to them.... Prof Madden is apparently a very 'respected' source...until I found a suspicious chink in his medieval armour... He is senior faculty at Saint Louis University apparently a very Jesuit example of affiliated educational institutions. Coincidence, situational or agenda you decide...if you can be bothered. But that is the insidiousness of propaganda...folk tend to respect it that is why it is a successful tactic.

The same is true of declaring atheists unreliable...there is no research or indeed literature must less pristine examples that can declare as much...all claims are made by ecclesiastical authority. They have no proof...but it is what they all do in fact it is all they can do....malign the is all they have ever done....the lies come so natural to the lips of men of is what it is!!

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 14:34:19 UTC | #893296

Extreme-Madness's Avatar Comment 21 by Extreme-Madness

Why is Stephen Hawking does not commit suicide! Sick joke, but unfortunately some people think seriously. I just read an article in a Croatian weekly political magazine "Objektiv". Author of the article is obviously wonder why Stephen Hawking does not commit suicide because he does not believe in God, according to some kind of sick logic, a severely disabled person has no reason to live because he does not believe in God. For me, the author is immoral piece of shit. I really despise when theists so dirty defaming a person on the fact that this person is both an atheist and physically handicapped.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 17:26:25 UTC | #893348

john000001's Avatar Comment 22 by john000001

It would be helpful if neither side used stereotypes to describe the other side. I am a Christian and I don't believe atheist stereotypes as described in the article. Nor am I, and most Christians, a bunch of "Lizard brains" (which at least made me laugh). If we can debate, then we can enrich each other's thinking. Is that not a good start?

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 19:00:03 UTC | #893376

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 23 by Mr DArcy

Certainly in modern Britain, atheism bears no stigma. In fact God hardly dares rear His ugly head. (Okay Christmas is coming and a great profit shall come throughout the land). Even in previously staunchly Catholic countries like France, Ireland, Spain, the punters are voting with their feet. I didn't mention Italy, because they obviously have a fondness for the Vatican, and the croonings of former PM, Silvio Berlusconi. Yes Italy, land of devout Catholics and a thriving Mafia, where yet again they prove their love of Jesus by making some of the world's best wine!

IMO the same process of shunting God onto the back burner, will take place in the USA, - but it will take some time!

So come on USA! A lot more disdain for all religions, and a lot more respect for reason and science!

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 19:40:18 UTC | #893382

john000001's Avatar Comment 24 by john000001

I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive "reason and science" and "religion". So, I too, being a scientist during part of my career, have respect for reason and science. But, I am also a Christian. And I have respect for that too.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 19:56:16 UTC | #893384

genjokoan's Avatar Comment 25 by genjokoan

Comment 22 by john000001 :

Nor am I, and most Christians, a bunch of "Lizard brains" (which at least made me laugh).

John, it was not an ad hominem, nor was I calling anyone or any group out. "Lizard Brain" is an evolutionary neuroscience concept. Read about the Triune Brain, or as I first encountered the notion from Carl Sagan's book, "The Dragons of Eden".

But sorry, I have difficulty accepting anyone's claims to be both a scientist and a christian. I have encountered enough such persons in academia to have become very firm in this belief. For a scientist to become christian they must abandon the very essence of what it means to be a scientist. Being a christian fundamentally requires setting aside a whole realm of supernatural claims to be outside of, or immune from some of the defining tenets of science - critical examination and reason. The book simply cannot withstand genuine scrutiny. The book requires faith. And if you have practiced any kind of science, I hope you agree that faith should not enter into the equations of science.

IMO, of course. YMMV.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 21:43:25 UTC | #893399

john000001's Avatar Comment 26 by john000001

OK...anyway, it made me smile (Lizard brain). So never mind. Well this all comes down to the central philosophy behind this web site and it is this (I believe). That you accept as knowledge only those things that fall within the rigours of scientific discipline, namely observation, theory, experiment (where experiment can only, at best, disprove theory...which leads to revised theories). If that is your starting point...your rules of engagement with others, then I see where you are coming from at least. That only science and the disciplines of science provide knowledge. Now, I have been a scientist. A Ph.D. in mathematics on the mathematics of tidal flows in the oceans of distant planets with much deeper oceans than the Earth. I have been and still am an inventor in the space of telecommunications. So I can claim to be a scientist. But I don't believe science, or even scientific discipline is without its problems. Among the most notorious problems for science are phenomena within the realms of chaos theory, where tiny changes in information change everything. We would all of us, even today and likely for the next thousand years fail to predict exactly what the weather will be like in any locality in the year 3011. And yet these events are part of the universe just as much as any other. Kurt Godel had another take on knowledge. He was able to prove that, in any system of knowledge, there would be new truths that could not be logically determined or in any sense a consequence of our existing set of known truths. Philosophically, therefore, we can't deny something is not true because it is not part of existing scientific established facts. But if that was all of my problems they wouldn't begin to touch on the sense of wonder I feel at the beauty of the universe or the need of us all to experience love. Yet these things are hardly discussed on this site.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 22:13:29 UTC | #893406

john000001's Avatar Comment 27 by john000001

But I will go further, since evolution is central to most of this site and your thinking. As a mathematician, I would look at evolution as a series of "jumps" (mutations) within the set of all possibilities that life may take. So evolution is really good at saying what happens when any jump occurs. Basically it either survives in that environment or it dies out. Maybe it survives better than others and starts to dominate. Good. Explains a lot. Lots of experimental evidence as well. Great. But...and you were expecting a but? Again mathematicians ask awkward questions. How did this set of possible life forms come into being? Would the consequences of the big bang have already laid down all the necessary pre-requisites? In other words, suppose there was a brilliant scientist alive just after the big bang. Could that person (who we assume can do any physics or chemistry) have made some carbon, oxygen, etc...and (using their phenomenal brilliance in chemistry) have made a DNA molecule? These are questions. I don't really understand the total complexities of evolution. But if that was possible (that my DNA was already "baked in" as a possible molecule right at the beginning of the universe) then something rather strange is going on. Sure, evolution gets the molecule created eventually. But I wonder entity with light focusing eyes, sound detectors, etc could already have its existence established in the framework of what the universe "allows" to happen through its properties.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 22:34:15 UTC | #893416

strangebrew's Avatar Comment 28 by strangebrew

I smell the smell of utter bollox...

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 22:44:37 UTC | #893420

john000001's Avatar Comment 29 by john000001

But I still haven't begun to explain myself when it comes to religion. How do you start to explain to another person that you feel you can talk to someone who is not there? The natural reaction of the other would be to scoff. How do you explain that you've been in trouble and sensed an overwhelming sense of peace suddenly descending on you as if to reassure you its going to be OK? And it turns out that this is exactly what happens. How would you, using the rules of science, even begin to devise a repeatable experiment that could satisfy the sceptical that what you experienced was genuine? No, I believe there is God. And (despite all the stupid or horrible things that particular people do who believe in God) there is a message of love at the heart of this. Forget all the crap (if possible). This is what I believe it is all about. And science doesn't help me understand it any better. Science is good at what science is good at. So, it's not "science is bad". That's crap too.

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 22:48:46 UTC | #893425

john000001's Avatar Comment 30 by john000001

OK...and all of what I said is "utter bollox" because....?

Sat, 26 Nov 2011 22:51:07 UTC | #893426