A study of over 3,000 people in 13 countries has found that most of the world think atheists are immoral.
Most interesting of all, is the finding that this perception even exists among atheists themselves.
The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, surveyed 3,000 adults from Australia, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Participants were given a scenario of a man who shows violent tendencies as a child, which develop further into adulthood.
At the culmination of the scenario the man murders and mutilates five homeless people.
They were then asked if their view of the villain changed if he was:
a) a teacher
b) a teacher who believes in god/who is an atheist.
This second option varied from participant to participant to avoid asking participants directly about religiosity.
It found there was strong evidence for an intuitive prejudice against atheists.
People overall are roughly twice as likely to view extreme immorality as representative of atheists, relative to believers.
The prejudice was found to be consistently strong across the spectrum of those with strong religious types and non-believers.
Professor Will Gervais, the lead author, and a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, told the AFP why he believes atheists distrust other atheists.
I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms,
Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular, people still seem to intuitively hold on to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard.
Distrust of atheists was found to be highest in countries where religion was dominant, such as the UAE, the US, and India.
Secular states such as Finland and New Zealand did not yield conclusive evidence of an anti-atheist prejudice.
The study concludes:
Nonetheless, our findings reveal widespread suspicion that morality requires belief in a god.
For many people, including many atheists, the answer to Dostoevsky’s question 'Without God … It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?' is 'Yes', inasmuch as ‘everything’ refers to acts of extreme immorality.