Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists

Gervais, Will M., Xygalatas, Dimitris, McKay, Ryan T., van Elk, Michiel, Buchtel, Emma E., Aveyard, Mark, Schiavone, Sarah R., Dar-Nimrod, Ilan, Svedholm-Häkkinen, Annika M., Kundtová Klocová, Eva, Ramsay, Jonathan E., and Bulbulia, Joseph (2017) Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists. Nature Human Behaviour, 1. 0151.

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Abstract

Mounting evidence supports long-standing claims that religions can extend cooperative networks. However, religious prosociality may have a strongly parochial component. Moreover, aspects of religion may promote or exacerbate conflict with those outside a given religious group, promoting regional violence, intergroup conflict and tacit prejudice against non-believers. Anti-atheist prejudice—a growing concern in increasingly secular societies—affects employment, elections, family life and broader social inclusion. Preliminary work in the United States suggests that anti-atheist prejudice stems, in part, from deeply rooted intuitions about religion’s putatively necessary role in morality. However, the cross-cultural prevalence and magnitude—as well as intracultural demographic stability—of such intuitions, as manifested in intuitive associations of immorality with atheists, remain unclear. Here, we quantify moral distrust of atheists by applying well-tested measures in a large global sample (N = 3,256; 13 diverse countries). Consistent with cultural evolutionary theories of religion and morality, people in most—but not all— of these countries viewed extreme moral violations as representative of atheists. Notably, anti-atheist prejudice was even evident among atheist participants around the world. The results contrast with recent polls that do not find self-reported moral prejudice against atheists in highly secular countries15, and imply that the recent rise in secularism in Western countries has not overwritten intuitive anti-atheist prejudice. Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests that religion’s powerful influence on moral judgements persists, even among non-believers in secular societies.

Item ID: 53754
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2397-3374
Funders: Templeton Foundation (TF), Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), Aarhus University, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
Projects and Grants: TF 48275, TF 52257, TWCF 0077, RSNZ Marsden Grant (VUW1321), NWO Veni grant 016.135.135
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2018 03:01
FoR Codes: 17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170111 Psychology of Religion @ 33%
22 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society @ 33%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170113 Social and Community Psychology @ 34%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society @ 25%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950499 Religion and Ethics not elsewhere classified @ 25%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 50%
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