October 14, 2007

Study: Atheists Rate Lower Than Believers When It Comes To Love, Patience, & Friendship

I read an article published in the National Post. Instead of just giving an overall reaction to it, I feel the need to review it by paragraph:

Athiests put less value on love than believers: study

By Charles Lewis
National Post
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Don't you love it, in this day and age of spell check programs, that "atheist" can still be misspelled in a national newspaper? It isn't hard to spell "theist," why is it so difficult to spell "atheist"

A new Canadian survey has found that believers are more likely than atheists to place a higher value on love, patience and friendship, in findings the researcher says could be a warning that Canadians need a religious basis to retain civility in society.
The survey of 1,600 Canadian adults, led by University of Lethbridge professor Reginald Bibby, gave a list of 12 values - from honesty to family life to politeness to generosity - and asked the participants if they found each "very important." In each case, theists ranked the values as more important than atheists.
OK, go on.

The reason for this, suggests Prof. Bibby, a prominent sociologist, is that those who are involved with religious groups are being exposed to a whole range of values that are not being propagated well by any other major source. "To the extent that people are not involved in religious groups ... they're not being exposed to those interpersonal values and they're simply not holding them as strongly," Prof. Bibby said in an interview.

I don't think many theists go to church that often. So I think there has to be a little more to the answers given than this.

The study says: "To the extent that Canadians are saying good-bye to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price."

Again, when I believed in God, I wasn't any differently socially than I am now. I've always tended to be a little introverted, but not believing in God didn't change me.
Now, those regular church goers who answered the study may socialize a tad more than non church goers just because they have their church friends. If the social price is interacting with less people because you are missing the interactions with church goers....who cares?

He said people who are believers are encouraged ­- whether by a desire to please God, or because of a fear of God - to adopt these values. "If you don't have that as a major source in the culture then what will be the source? I think that's where we've been really superficial ... we've really been underestimating the contribution religious groups can make." Prof. Bibby describes himself as a believer in God who holds many of the values that the theists in his survey value. But he has no particular religious identity beyond saying he is a Protestant and describes his own family as being secularized. He acknowledged that many non-believers still place a high value on morality and ethics. But he said some of that is a legacy from previous generations who held deeper religious views.

Bibby is full of it. Here it is again, without religion how can we have morality and ethics??? I've answered this one before on numerous occasions. We evolved a susceptibility to appear moral and ethical, and then even if we think about doing something nasty, the law and fear of prison works just as affectively as the fear of God and hell. Bibby, why are atheists less represented in prisons?

In many families, he said, Grandma is the "symbolic saintly person in the clan."
"So valuing Grandma also means valuing many of the thing important to her. In successive generations you have a lingering effect of morality. But further down the road generations get further removed from the sources of those values. That's where it gets tricky."

I had a grandmother who was "a saint" but she hardly ever went to synagogue. Older people tend to be more conservative or at least thought of as more conservative and moral. And to my knowledge that hasn't changed because of the higher percentage of atheists and agnostics than from 30-100 years ago.

In the survey findings, there was only a five percentage-point difference between how theists and atheists valued honesty. But of all the categories, honesty is the value that is least connected to broad emotions such as love and compassion. In other words, someone can be honest and brutal.

If someone scores low on love and compassion they are brutal? I'm starting to sense that atheists are more apt to tell the truth on surveys than theists are.

But in the realm of forgiveness, which is a core value of many major religions, particularly Christianity, the difference - 32 percentage points - is stark.

Christians preach forgiveness, but how many actually practice it? How many Christians don't give certain friends or family presents at Christmas because the friend or family member did something the present giver didn't like?

"That's a pretty explicit value within a large number of religious communities," said Prof. Bibby.
"Look at the culture as a whole and ask yourself: to what extent do we value forgiveness against themes like zero-tolerance? We don't talk very much about what we're going to do for people who fall through the cracks. So I think forgiveness is pretty foreign to a lot of people if they're not involved in religious groups."

I think it is pretty retarded to forgive OBL or a serial killer, but that is just me.

The study says that believers will not always translate their views into action but "at least they are inclined to hold the values" and that atheists "do not have as many explicit support groups that are committed to intentionally promoting [a] positive interpersonal life."

What exactly is positive interpersonal life? Oh, and at least Bibby is admitting that theists don't practice what they preach. Maybe their values are just a bunch of bs.

Religious philosopher and writer C.S. Lewis believed that the inner call to be good comes from a higher power that speaks to conscience. But atheists such as Richard Dawkins, author of the recent best-seller The God Delusion, rejects that idea as nonsense and looks to evolution as the author of morality. Prof. Dawkins believes morality comes through the altruism gene or the "selfish gene" and it is to everyone's benefit and survival that we behave civilly with one another. Among family members, it is a way to protect our own gene pool. "Animals tend to care for, defend, share resources with, warn of danger, or otherwise show altruism towards close kin because of the statistical likelihood that kin will share copies of the same genes," Prof. Dawkins wrote.

Hey, isn't this what I said. And C.S. Lewis was wrong. How would he explain the altruism seen in animals? Is that from God too? Well then atheists have the same God given altruism too, and you don't need religion to have "values."

Justin Trottier, executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, a Toronto-based atheist group, thinks the problem with Prof. Bibby's survey is with the definition of values. He said the categories in the survey fit in the mould of the Ten Commandments, so a religious person's enthusiastic response to them is not surprising.
"To me, scientific thinking is a value. Critical thinking is a value. Open inquiry is my biggest value," said Mr. Trottier. "If he made those values - the way atheists would - he would have gotten different responses."

Trottier is pretty smart.

He said that people should be judged by their actions, not by how they respond to survey questions. A person can claim to be any number of things but the proof is in the pudding. He said his own group, for example, has a sobriety support group, and that many nations that are highly secular do a better job of taking care of their poor than religious ones.
Don't forget at atheists being underrepresented in jails too.

"Religion tends to be very polarizing, so religious people always feel very passionately about those values. They always feel 'very strongly.' Religion always does this black-and-white thing. An atheist is a lot more temperate, a bit more hesitant. An atheist might be more nuanced in his or her thinking."
Good points. In other words, an atheist is most likely to base his or her answers on personal experience: an atheist is most likely to give real honest answers. An atheist will answer a morality survey question based on what he or she really thinks, not what he or she thinks God wants us to say.

Update: Excellent piece by Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner on the same topic.


  1. LOL.

    The usual claptrap. The usual self-fulfilling belief-system-within-a-belief-system.

    "So valuing Grandma also means valuing many of the thing important to her. In successive generations you have a lingering effect of morality. But further down the road generations get further removed from the sources of those values. That's where it gets tricky."

    Bit of a problem if Granny turns out to be a theist serial killer... Tricky Granny...

    The whole premise of this piece of drivel is of course to make morality into something really complicated and most of all absolute... and God given! Baloney...

  2. I would like to know if there is statistics on whether atheists have a longer life expectancy than believers or not. As I'm reaching maturity in my life, I want to consider my options.

  3. Lex, it depends on quite a few factors.
    Are you planning on blowing yourself for Allah? Do believers in the third world count?
    I'm also told that if you believe in God, you live for eternity.

  4. As I like to say, not only is morality without belief in god possible, IT'S EASY!

  5. Why would atheists be less exposed to values of love, friendship ... The whole popular culture including movies, songs, and literature are full of stories about friends, enemies, loyalty, betrayal. There is so much of it everywhere. Besides one learns much more values from Shakespeare than from the Bible but they are much more complicated than the biblical cliche of love. I think the problem with this study was that the list of values was not complex enough. The choices didn't reflect the more sophisticated values that atheists subscribe to. This is a mere conjecture, but it sounds that the study was done with a list of 12 values - that's not a lot to work with. I mean there is love, and then there is a complicated type of love that refers to putting a dying dog to sleep, for example. The problem with cliches is that they have lost all meaning from overuse and have become irrelevant in the post-modern world. I don't think a a simple survey like that can do justice to the complicated differences between the moral standards of atheists and theists.
    Love, Patience and Friendship are very lofty and admirable ideals, but they are dead, together with God. And we can see it from the movies and books that touch our
    hearts. It's always an expression of some complicated feeling that moves us, as opposed to the simplistic piety of Sunday school stories about One Good Boy Thomas.
    Life is complicated and naive notions of morality live only within the inflamed feverish imagination of rabbis and pastors.

  6. Christians commonly report higher than average compassion, altruism etc when the question is put to them in a survey. However, when tested under laboratory conditions, the differences evaporate (see work by Saroglou in Belgium, and also Norenzayan at British Columbia). In other words, Christians report being the type of person they would like to be, rather than the type of person they are (and they are not alone in this!)

  7. Every time someone says "Atheists don't believe in God so they can't be moral" I want to say, "So wait, you're only a good person because you're afraid God will punish you? What are you, five? I'm a THEIST and I know that there are many more important reasons to be moral than 'God wants me to be and if I'm not I'll go to hell.'" They use it all the time and it's the stupidest reasoning ever. It's like saying the only reason I don't murder people is because I would get arrested.

    In other words, "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."
    --Albert Einstein

    Also, the "Grandma" bit made me smile because grandmothers can be the most bigoted, backwards people you'll ever meet, due to their age. If I value my grandmother does that mean that I, too, hate Jews, Catholics, "ethnics," "darkies," women in positions of authority and children who speak out of turn? And my great-grandmother played piano in a gay bar, so which grandmother is more "valuable?"

  8. Basiorana, I did a video on the topic of what morality would fundies have if they became atheists.

    Tom, I think atheists probably don't exaggerate as much collectively because we aren't worried about God seeing the survey.

    Ari, religious people do tend to have more kids and bigger families, so there could be more socializing available to them, but you make very valid points on the 12 values used in the survey.

    Tommy, we can't escape from being friggin moral....it is in our genes.

  9. The statistics for atheists in the survey are based on the responses of the 7% of the 1600 people who said they definitely did not believe in a god.

    That's a sample size of 112 people. The margin of error in such a sample is about ±9%, 19 times out of 20.

    So quite apart from the inherent problems with the survey's methodology and design, the results are statistically worthless.