If atheists were like American Christians

via The Legal Satyricon

Study: Atheists are only as trustworthy as rapists

Well, this is disconcerting:

Religious believers distrust atheists more than members of other religious groups, gays and feminists, according to a new study by University of B.C. researchers.

The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists, said doctoral student Will Gervais, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That prejudice had a significant impact on what kinds of jobs people said they would hire atheists to do.

“People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low-trust, for instance as a waitress,” said Gervais. “But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job.”

Of course, this is pretty much a one-way street. Atheists, not having in-group thinking ingrained in them since birth (or at least having been able to shed much of that type of bad thinking), don’t particularly judge others based on religious beliefs. It just isn’t a great judge of individual character. (Group character, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.)

I think my favorite part of this is how believers give away their dumb reason in this study:

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

“If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour,” said Gervais. “But that wouldn’t apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is.”

This issue has been brought up again and again in moral discussions. Atheists will rightfully acknowledge that morality is a subjective concept unique to humans (at least on a deep level) whereas theists will incorrectly claim there needs to be an all-knowing, all-powerful lawgiver in order for morality to even exist (which, incidentally, is known as begging the question). They will say, “If there is no God, then there is nothing that makes murder wrong”, to which the atheist replies, “So if there is no God, you would do exactly whatever you please with no remorse? What a monster.” It’s like a little kid with no control over himself. He’ll behave when mom is around, but the moment she leaves the room, he’s into everything. It’s preposterous.

Now excuse me while I go praise Stalin and murder puppies.

Bastrop High School: Fuck you, atheists!

Bastrop High School is the school at the center of the Damon Fowler controversy. I say the school – not Damon – is at the center because Damon is the atheist who understands the constitution. His views are the ones to which so many Christians pay lip service all the time. In reality, nothing he has said has been novel. He just doesn’t want to hear government-endorsed prayer at his graduation. The school, however, refuses to recognize that the U.S. is secular, that the Supreme Court has banned them from conducting prayers, and that there are – gasp! – people who are not Christian. This is the result:

This is nothing more than a big “fuck you” to Damon and every other atheist. A woman even (ironically) yells “First Amendment rights!” during the unconstitutional prayer. One need not wonder what a person of such stupidity would think if the prayer was Islamic.

Update: This sums things up nicely:

Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

A Gregory Paul/Phil Zuckerman article has been making its rounds in my Facebook news feed for the past week or so, and I’ve been mulling it over since I first saw it: Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Paul and Zuckerman go through a number of correlative facts about atheists that point to a number of positive traits: low rates of racism and sexism, high scientific literacy, opposition to torture, and many more. Yet despite all this, atheists are still denigrated – and they’re denigrated for supposedly being bad or not-as-good people as Christians. Since it is abundantly clear that the statistics of the matter prove the Christian accusers to be objectively wrong, there must be some other reason why atheists are so disliked.

Unfortunately, Paul and Zuckerman don’t especially answer the question. They see it as enough to point out that the given reasons for atheists being disliked are wrong. There is value in that – on honesty points they’ve won the intellectual battle – but I want to go further.

Part of the reason, I think, has to do with the cultivated stigma around the word “atheist”. Richard Dawkins mentions in one of his books a story of a person telling his/her mother about not believing in God. All that is fine, but then the word “atheist” crops up and the mother replies, “To not believe in God is one thing, but to be an atheist!” I’ve paraphrased the story, but the point is that there is a stigma that has kept millions of atheists in the closet. Friends and families of atheists have historically had no idea that they even knew an atheist. As lawmaker Harvey Milk preached about gays, if people learn that they know even one member of an ostracized minority, that minority will be slowly become more accepted – it’s usually harder to hate a person one understands. That’s why coming out campaigns for gays have led to so many civil rights strides over the past 15 years.

But dislike of atheists isn’t anything new. Atheists have been maligned for centuries, even when they represented no threat to the prevailing religious order of the day. It’s simply easy to go after a minority. It’s even easier when that minority holds only a descriptive position, giving its members little reason to unite under any cohesive banner. Indeed, the largest atheist organizations to ever exist are ones which exist today, and their membership levels are not wildly high. With little historic organization, atheists have made for relatively easy targets.

Yet even today we can be seemingly easy targets – key word “seemingly”. Take The God Delusion, for example. One of its biggest problems is how easily opponents have created strawmen around it. Even non-religious people have made notable errors concerning the book: the creators of South Park had an episode where they portrayed Dawkins as claiming that religion is the root of all wars and that there would be peace without it. He has never said any such thing. On any other topic such a glaring mistake would be highly embarrassing.

And, of course, there’s the simple (indeed, very simple) idea that God is good. This is pounded into religious minds, even the mind of the general public, over and over and over. So when something shows up that challenges that notion, it’s the notion itself which has not merely a foothold, but an iron grip on the debate. Our very existence suggests that all these deeply held beliefs of the religious are wrong, and that makes for a tough fight – and a lot of dislike. It’s an uphill battle.

I’m sure there are even more reasons for all this unwarranted hatred. It’s a complicated issue that has a multitude of factors involved; it would be naive and/or dishonest to try and whittle it all down to one issue, whether it be the organizing power of religion or the recent aggressive tone of the “new atheists”. But I do think the best strategy in fighting this negative public perception is probably the Harvey Milk angle. Be vocal and be heard, whether it be in a nice way or an aggressive way. What matters is that people know, hey, atheists exist and, hey, you actually otherwise like us.

Leaving the atheist closet behind

One of the things I make a concerted effort to do is be sure the people I know (and those I don’t know) are aware that it is okay to be an atheist. Whether it’s through my blog, Facebook, personal publications, in person, or otherwise, I’m not ashamed of being an atheist. My big inspiration has been the atheist writings of the past decade. Specifically, Richard Dawkins has said that he had a couple of big hopes with The God Delusion. First, he wanted to move agnostics to the more reasonable position of atheism; he never intended his book for die-hard theists. Second, he wanted people to realize that it’s okay to be an atheist. It need no longer be dirty to say “I do not believe in any god.” The values, ethics, and morals atheists hold all derive fundamentally from the same places as theists (at least when religion isn’t poisoning the picture); Being an atheist is a good thing.

I think I’ve lived up to that last sentiment; I’m proud of all the rational positions I hold, including my lack of belief in magic skydaddies. And that sense of pride is spreading:

In fact, atheists, agnostics, humanists and other assorted skeptics from the Army’s Fort Bragg have formed an organization in a pioneering effort to win recognition and ensure fair treatment for nonbelievers in the overwhelmingly Christian U.S. military.

“We exist, we’re here, we’re normal,” said Sgt. Justin Griffith, chief organizer of Military Atheists and Secular Humanists, or MASH. “We’re also in foxholes. That’s a big one, right there.”…

If the Fort Bragg group succeeds, it will be overseen by the Chaplain Corps. That might seem contradictory for a group defined by its lack of belief, but it means MASH’s literature would be available along with Bibles and Qurans. It could raise funds on base and, its members say, they could feel more comfortable approaching chaplains for help with personal problems. Recognition would also be an official sign that not believing in God is acceptable, something members say is lacking now.

This is almost certainly because of the efforts of atheist writers and scientists of the past decade. The ability to argue eloquently, to prove our moral fortitude, to show that, “Hey, we do exist”, is why we’re seeing more and more atheist groups. It’s why more and more people are becoming comfortable to declare they have no religion. They may still believe in a god, but the fact that people can say they shun religion is one of the accomplishments of the atheist movement.

I hope this trend continues – so long as it doesn’t morph into the ever-feared Islamic atheists.

Atheists: More hated than Muslims and da gays

This isn’t new research, but someone recently posted it on Facebook. As far as I remember, I don’t have a post about how hated atheists are.

The most recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, which found that atheists ranked lower than “Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in ‘sharing their vision of American society.’ Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.” The results from two of the most important questions”

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society…

Atheist: 39.6%

Muslims: 26.3%

Homosexuals: 22.6%

Hispanics: 20%

Conservative Christians: 13.5%

Recent Immigrants: 12.5%

Jews: 7.6%

I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group….

Atheist: 47.6%

Muslim: 33.5%

African-American 27.2%

Asian-Americans: 18.5%

Hispanics: 18.5%

Jews: 11.8%

Conservative Christians: 6.9%

Whites: 2.3%

I thought this was funny in light of PZ’s recent post about his wedding anniversary:

Today is my wedding anniversary. I’ve been married to the same woman for 31 years, without ever straying. Newt Gingrich has been married 3 times, divorced one wife while she was recovering from surgery, and has had extra-marital affairs.

Guess who is considered the defender of traditional sexual morality?

The reason PZ gives is that Gingrich represents an asymmetric societal structure where patriarchal power is deemed moral and worthy and pesty things like fairness and equality are just hippie garbage. Religion is the cornerstone of it all. (Or, to put in PZ’s absolute favoritististist word, privilege. But religion is a better and more accurate answer.)

Beyond the funny marriage part (states, by the way, with the highest religiosity? Yep, highest divorce rates*), I have a hypothesis to explain why people blindly hate atheists so much. Well, at least why the religious hate us so much. It’s probably just because atheists do so much better on religious tests than they do. Jealousy is an ugly beast.

*That doesn’t mean religion makes people divorce. I think a better explanation is that poorly educated people tend to be more religious; poorly educated people also tend to be lower on the socioeconomic ladder. It would make sense for them to marry younger (and I’m sure religious pressure helps to hurry things up as well).

Christians deep down

Christians say that all we need to believe is faith. We need to have faith that God is there, that he loves us. If we let him into our hearts, he will enter and it will be glorious.

But this isn’t what Christians really believe. They aren’t motivated by their so-called love or belief in their particular, cultural god. No. What motivates them is a hatred for science and rationality and reason. They refuse to let any of these things into their minds. They don’t want to have to answer to known facts or complicated ethical problems or fundamental errors in their belief system.

Deep down Christians know there is no God. They know that science has shown the world, for all intents and purposes, to be an atheistic one. They really do know that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, that it is governed by understandable laws, that because of quantum mechanics and a law like gravity, there must be a Universe. They really do know that life is 3.9 billion years old, that it came from a simple replicator, that the why behind life is that genes will necessarily replicate as a population so long as they are able to do so. They really do know that humans are incidental, that natural selection does not demand we ever exist, and in fact, that it says our odds of being here would virtually disappear if the tape of life were to be re-run. They really do know that all that matters is what we do with the lives we have now because these are the only lives we will ever have. They really do know that things like love and sympathy and empathy and values and morality and all those special connections so many of us have with one another are what drive our goodwill. They really do know all these things and more.

But Christians will deny. They will deny it until the very end. The idea that science and reason and rationality have prevailed – not may prevail or will prevail, but have prevailed – hits at their very core. It destroys them to know that what they fundamentally hate is king of all. As H. L. Mencken once said,

The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe.

How many Christians are likely to find this post highly objectionable and wholly offensive? Perhaps all? Good. Now maybe we can stop hearing about how much atheists really deep down just hate God.

2010: FTSOS in review, July to September

This is the third installment of the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the first two here and here.

Some of the smaller posts I’ve made that I think deserve a little more attention are the ones where I emphasize that biology is all about shape. The article I wrote about the fight against HIV is one of those posts. Research earlier this year found at least one location on HIV molecules that remains a consistent shape between individual viruses. This is important because HIV’s ability to be differently shaped in different parts of a single body makes it difficult to combat.

I also wrote about the difference between atheists, new atheists, and anti-theists. One of the public relation problems for atheism is that it is viewed as a dirty word. People assume it means absolute certainty, and that is seen as arrogant. It’s ironic because belief in God usually comes with certainty and that isn’t seen as being so arrogant, but I digress. Atheism is not certainty. Furthermore, where it is involved in new atheism and anti-theism, atheism acts as a descriptive base; new atheism and anti-theism are normative positions.

One of my all-time favorite posts is the one about photolyase and cancer. Photolyase is a protein that captures light and uses two of its constituents (a single proton and single electron) to force contorted nucleotides back into place. It is not present in humans, but is common in plants and other animals, helping to keep their genes functioning properly. This may be one reason we’re more susceptible to cancer than many of our fellow organisms.

This was a skimpy month for FTSOS. I was away on a couple vacations for the bulk of the month, so the majority of the posts were either from my “Thought of the day” series or they were pictures/YouTube videos. But for what was there, I couldn’t resist pointing out and expanding on a fantastic quote from the judge who said Prop 8 in California is unconstitutional. In his quote he said a ban on gays getting married fails to advance any rational cause. I compared that sentiment to the idea that the majority cannot be allowed to discriminate simply because it is the majority.

I also made a post about a website devoted to philosophical thought experiments. The thought experiment I chose to highlight was Judith Jarvis Thompson’s Trolley Problem. My big motivator was a recent discussion with another blogger who laughably claimed that the trolley experiment was merely a logistical exercise, not an exercise about morality. To date he is still the only person in the world to believe that.

I also went through a few theistic arguments that are obviously failures. The most notable in my mind is the argument that says everything has a cause, therefore the Universe had a cause. There are two major problems with this. First, then why not just say a sort of ‘exo-nature’ caused the Universe? There is no need for consciousness – in fact, that only makes the theistic argument less probable. Second, the whole basis for this argument rests in the idea that forces result in reactions. For instance, if I push a chair, that chair moves; I applied a force. This is basic physics. But the whole shebang of forces and equal and opposite reactions? We’re talking about the science of what we know that happens within the Universe. And all we know necessarily breaks down prior to the Big Bang. The First Cause argument cannot be used because it rests about an unwarranted extension of science. Religion abusing science? Crazy, I know.

The beginning of September was just as skimpy as the end of August because I was still on vacation. But while I never gave a huge post on the subject, the defining moment of the month (and year and decade and…) for me was my hike of Kilimanjaro. I have started writing about it at this point – just not for FTSOS. But in lieu of that you can read the account of the journey from my fellow group member and current Facebook buddy Jim Hodgson.

I also gave a very lengthy post on why prostitution ought to be legal. No one seemed to care, but I put a lot of effort into, so I thought I would mention it here. Basically, we make the practice illegal because of our own discomfort with sex as a society. We also draw false correlations between it and other illegal activities: of course one illegal thing will bring with it other illegal things if it’s something people want. Finally, for the safety and health of all involved, it would be better to legalize and regulate prostitution than keep the old system we have now.

One of the most popular posts on FTSOS that people found via search engines was the one where I lamented low science and math scores in the United States. A lack of funding relative to other areas, hostility towards science, and a general anti-intellectual trend in the U.S. all contribute to the decline of America on the world stage in education.

Another lament was my post about the anti-vax crowd causing deaths. The fact is, people who advocate against vaccines or for made-up alternatives to vaccines are making the world a more dangerous place, making people sick and even causing deaths. Get vaccinated – and, if you have them, especially get your children vaccinated.

Once again I really want to highlight a fourth post here. In this case, it is the one I made about the Problem of Evil. This has forever been an issue that no Christian (or other relevant believer) has been able to resolve. If God is good and evil exists, then we need to answer why. Appealing to free will fails because while God is necessarily good, free will does not need to necessarily exist. In other words, God is required to be good; he is not required to create free will.

Expect October to December tomorrow.

Atheists at a Christmas parade

PZ has a post about how 18 atheists upset an entire town in Texas by having the audacity to march in a Christmas parade. PZ covers most everything, but I want to really emphasize a quote from the article.

The decision to parade though didn’t sit well with many of those in attendance.

“Wasn’t exactly happy about the Christmas Parade this year, I spent many years teaching my children to love and respect other people and to love the fact that they were children of God and I don’t feel that they should be influenced in any other way especially not at a Christmas parade,” said Tina Corgey, who is a lifelong Bryan resident.

I guess when Corgey talks about all that “love” and “respect”, she didn’t mean for other people. She just meant for other Christians. And she doesn’t want her children to be influenced by knowing that atheists even exist? That isn’t shielding her kids from something she thinks is bad; it’s keeping her children ignorant of a basic fact of the world. She ought to be ashamed.

But I’m sure she isn’t.

Atheists score higher than religious on religious survey

Pew has a new and unsurprising poll about what Americans know about religion.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

One head of an atheist organization has an idea why we’re seeing these results.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

And for some, I suspect, the deep conflict between science and religion helps to inform people about the religions of the world. People see the truth of what science has to tell us, then they hear the lies of religion (miracles, for example), and they look into both more deeply. I lend much more weight to Silverman’s more straight-forward explanation, but I think there’s something to be said of my suggestion; people want to know what’s true and religion hasn’t a single answer.