Is Fear of Death the Cause of Mistrust of Atheists?

As more and more people come out of the closet as atheists, a great deal of hatred and distrust of atheists continues to be a real problem. Tom Jacobs reports on a new psychology study that might explain why. The study says that encountering atheists tends to trigger a believer’s fear of death:

But it turns out that’s not the whole story. Newly published research finds another dynamic driving antagonism toward atheists: They threaten the comforting narratives that gives meaning to so many people’s lives, and make the thought of death bearable.

Humans instinctively search for ways of “mitigating the potential terror arising from the uniquely human awareness of death,” writes a research team led by psychologist Corey Cook of the University of Washington-Tacoma. Atheists “pose a fundamental threat” to the belief systems that perform this vital function.

Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the researchers report “hostility toward, and mistrust of, atheists is particularly pronounced when existential concerns are involved.” Even more tellingly, they also find that “among believers, the mere contemplation of atheism can arouse intimations of mortality.”

The first of their two experiments featured 236 American college students (including 34 self-proclaimed atheists, whose answers were not included in the analysis). Two-thirds reported they were Christians; Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews made up the bulk of the final third.

In a nutshell, what the study found was that if you primed people by having them talk about death and what happens to us when we die, their response to atheists is much more negative than if you don’t.

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  • John Pieret

    ALL YOU ATHEISTS ARE GOING TO MAKE US DIE!!!!! AND YOU WONDER WHY WE HATE YOU?????

  • John Hinkle

    To paraphrase Sam Clemens: I do not fear death. I was dead for billions of years before I was born, and it didn’t inconvenience me in the slightest.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    I don’t understand why god-botherers are afraid of death. I mean, they supposedly think they have an all-powerful self-assigned judgmental asshole who’s going to weigh all their faults and deeds and consign them to eternal torture or eternal boredom. What could be scary about that?

  • petemoulton

    And here I thought they hated us for our lives of unbridled hedonism. Or, possibly, our diet of human babies.

  • Sastra

    To what extent are the supernatural “comforting narratives” innate — and to what extent are they learned? I think most people who examine this question agree that it’s both, but draw the line in different places.

    We atheists tend to draw that line further towards the view that it’s largely shaped by culture simply because it’s so bloody obvious to us that it’s perfectly possible to live a meaningful life without believing in comforting supernatural narratives. In fact, when closely considered many of these narratives are not only likely to be false, they’re not particularly comforting, either.

    If fear of death was the primary motivator for hatred of atheism (and atheists,) then atheism ought to be considered a courageous position, one which requires a great deal of personal mental and emotional strength. Instead, the usual attitude seems to be that atheism is a weak, self-indulgent philosophy and atheists just want to think they’re better than anyone else.

    That may be exactly the sort of immunizing strategy people who are afraid of death would adopt, though. Remove any hint of bravery and reframe the capacity to face life without the apparent need for supernatural comfort as a lie undertaken to insult others.

  • StevoR

    @ ^ Marcus Ranum : Both the torture and the boredom and the infinity of it.

    But then you already knew that yeah?

  • eric

    In a nutshell, what the study found was that if you primed people by having them talk about death and what happens to us when we die, their response to atheists is much more negative than if you don’t.

    No no no, I believe that’s very incorrect. It was not “think about death…now think about atheists.” It was “group A: you think about death. Group B: you think about atheism. Group C: you think about something else. Hey look, A and B gave the same highly negative answers to questions compared to C!” IOW, thinking about atheism and thinking about death produced the same types of negative answers in non atheists.

    I have three somewhat conflicting thoughts on these results. First, as with all such studies we should be very skeptical/very careful about making the link between “how I fill out a questionnaire in a clinical setting” and “how I treat people in the real world.” The study results could be completely credible and reproducible, and it still might not give us any real insight into why people won’t, say, vote for an atheist.

    Second, its kinda interesting. I hope they continue the work.

    Third, is it really that surprising? There’s really only two big claims to atheism that makes it different from theism: no God, no afterlife. Congratulations, the study shows that theists think about one of these differences when they think about atheism. In fact I bet the think about both differences, but the ‘no afterlife’ one has the biggest impact on their responses.

    I think a better description is: if you prime people by having them think about death, their answers to some types of questions ‘go negative’ in comparison to a control priming (or no priming at all). If you prime people by having them think about atheists and atheism instead, their answers ‘go negative’ in the exact same way as if they were thinking about death.

  • StevoR

    Isaac Asimov :

    I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of a Hitler. Besides if most human governments are civilised enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?

    I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment would be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.

    Pages 337-338 “Life After Death” chapter in ‘I Asimov : A memoir’ (Asimov, Bantam, 1995.)

    Me? I dunno.

    But I do know that whatever I may want or not want, I don’t control reality. I know what I’d like and I know that means fuck all and, yeah, at times that does scare and shit me. I don’t think I’m any exception to the rule either. None of u s are.

    It is a somewhat chilling prospect s individuals ain’t it?

  • StevoR

    I think being dead will be like being unconscious. permanently.

    Also as noted already like before we were born.

    Somehow putting it that first way is worse than putting it that second way but either way there’s nothing we can do about it.

    Like it or not. Dunno.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    the uniquely human awareness of death

    Hardly. Housecats have awareness of death. Of their owners, mostly. That’s why they prefer their food bowl full, to give them more time if you kick off to find a new owner. I had a fire in the kitchen once, and my cat, [NAME REDACTED], didn’t even wait for me to put it out before it started packing. I looked over, and thought it was calling 911 for me, but once it got through to the fire station, it just asked them if they needed a cat.

     

    Look, basically what I’m saying is that cats are awful. I hope that subject was the subject of this webpage. Who can be sure? I certainly can’t.

  • StevoR

    @8. “None of u s are.

    Make that a question mark not a full stop. I don’t know.

  • Larry

    I think its just because they can’t stand to see somebody who is happy and unconcerned about some psychotic über-pixie

  • eric

    @8: if you like the theme Asimov is talking about, and you like Sci-Fi, you should read Surface Detail by the late great Iain Banks (aka Ian Banks).

    Brief summary: high-tech civilization creates digital heaven for people to inhabit after their bodies die. Then says “hey, we should also create a digital hell. The threat of ending up there will cause our embodied population to behave better.” A different high-tech civilization objects to this as profoundly immoral. War, sabotage, philosophy, and some humor ensues.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    Larry

    I think its just because they can’t stand to see somebody who is happy and unconcerned about some psychotic über-pixie

    Really, you think we actually have such thoughts? That, for example, I can’t stand to see, say, Ed Brayton happy? This is what you actually think? That is your working model? Seriously?

    eric #13,

    That sounds fascinating– going for the kindle edition to read during graduation ceremonies!

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    Ok, I’m putting on my tentacles and best Bill Nighy/Davy Jones impression and asking people “Tell me. Do ye fear death?” I can’t offer them another 100 years of life in exchange for servitude on the Flying Dutchman, but at least it’s a start.

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #14

    Ah gee, the blog’s resident physics professor and former math department chairman once again unsheathes his patented no true Scotsman shtick.

  • raven

    I’m a bit wary of all this.

    1. How many xians really believe in an afterlife anyway? They don’t act like it!!!

    The fundie perversion of xianity spends almost all its time on hate and right wing extremist politics. Going to heaven seems a lot lower down on the priority list than hating the Affordable Care Act and cheering on Glenn Beck.

    2. The fundies are the most common groups to demand futile end of life care, a result from studies of, who wants to be hooked up to tubes for their last week.

    3. In some countries with more atheists and less fundie haters i.e. UK, Europe, Japan, Oceania, I haven’t heard of any huge atheist hate. Several people have ended up being elected president-equivalent.

  • StevoR

    @13. eric : Thanks. Will have to see if I can find that one now.

  • raven

    Everyone should be afraid of death. Just about everyone is.

    1. What does that have to do with an afterlife?

    2. If fundie xians or any theists really believed in an Afterlife, then they shouldn’t be afraid of death!!!

    What this study purports to really show isn’t that theists are afraid of death which is trivial and commons sense. They are afraid there isn’t any Afterlife. They may hope but they aren’t really all that sure.

  • raven

    Is Fear of Death the Cause of Mistrust of Atheists?

    1. This is cuckoo. The existence of atheists should have zero bearing on whether there is a heaven.

    We aren’t gods. We’ve never claimed to be gods. We have no ability or desire to destroy heaven and deepsix the angels.

    2. Taken at face value, this just shows that theists can’t think straight but are willing and enable to hate anyone at any time for any reason or no reason.

    3. Assuming the results are true, a huge if, it also shows their belief in an afterlife isn’t particularly strong.

    4. As far as I can tell, this mistrust of atheists is a product of one tiny slice of time in a few dysfunctional religious cultures i.e. fundie xians and fundie Moslems.

  • sawells

    I guess if people have been told that their religion means they won’t really die when they die, and then atheists tell them that their religion is wrong (ergo, you are going to die when you die), then people respond to atheism like it’s a threat to their lives. Dumb, but understandable.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Really, you think we actually have such thoughts? That, for example, I can’t stand to see, say, Ed Brayton happy? This is what you actually think? That is your working model? Seriously?

    Yeah, seriously. Because that’s the attitude implied in the observable words and behavior of many of the Christians we’ve encountered in our lives.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    The existence of atheists should have zero bearing on whether there is a heaven.

    Tell that to a theist who can’t get the atheist to believe his fairy-tales. They have no actual evidence or proof of their beliefs, so they rely on peer-pressure instead, and every atheist they encounter weakens that glue.

  • martinc

    The ardent hatred of atheists is largely confined to the USA among developed countries, as far as I am aware. Here in Australia the last three Prime Ministers have been two deeply religious people and one atheist. And no-one seemed to take any particular notice as to which was which. Certainly no absence of morality was impugned to the atheist, and the religious types did not attempt to make political capital out of their godliness. They recognized that Australians view politically-driven espousal of any religious (or anti-religious) dogma in a very poor light. Religion in Australia is a very private thing.

    That’s the seismic difference between the USA and here. In the USA, the theists in the Bible Belt are still trying to hold the line on the Emperors New Clothes idea that only theism gives morality. In Australia and much of the rest of the developed world, that battle has been lost. Theists recognize that atheists are often moral and that theists just as often aren’t. Ed’s other story about Huckabee’s mail list of gullible types being sold to unscrupulous advertisers would be far less effective in Australia, I suspect, because no-one would assume that the religious types like Huckabee were any more moral – and thus any more useful as a trusted recommender of a product – than the non-religious.

    If Australian theists had any particular negative attitude toward atheists, it seems to be more along the lines of us being too hedonistic – getting away with not obeying God etc. This is often aligned with the foxhole idea that we’ll all panic on our deathbed and become theists. I suppose there’s an element of wish-fulfilment there – they’d like to hear us admit they were ‘right’ – but the small print that says as long as you convert before death even without having spent a lifetime ticking all the Christian boxes, you get to heaven, must kinda rile them too.

  • Sastra

    @colnago80 #16:

    Please don’t attack ideas by bringing up someone’s personal issues or problems (or what you perceive to be personal issues or problems.) For one thing, it’s irrelevant. For another, I’m going to guess that most of us have or have had personal issues or problems.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    RB,

    Yeah, seriously. Because that’s the attitude implied in the observable words and behavior of many of the Christians we’ve encountered in our lives.

    I call bullshit. I do not believe that you have encountered many (if many implies a majority) Christians who “couldn’t stand” (see #12) to see atheists happy. You are confusing reality with the caricature in your mind.

    every atheist they encounter weakens that glue.

    Actually you don’t. If the bible taught that there were no atheists, or that any atheist could be converted given a persuasive enough argument, then you might have a point. Instead it teaches that there will always be unbelievers who will never be convinced. So why would you think that which is predicted in our holy book would “weaken the glue?” A wee bit of delusions of grandeur, perhaps?

    Memo to atheists:

    1) We don’t hate you.

    2) We actually don’t think about you much.

    3) When we do bring you up, it is usually as a form of self-criticism along the lines of: we should be doing this, that, or the other better than atheists, but there is no evidence that we are.”

    4) Your existence is about the least surprising thing in the anthropological universe, and doesn’t “weaken our glue.”

    5) We don’t go about lamenting that you are happy.

    And by we I am speaking in an aggregate sense about the thousand or so Christians I know or have known personally. It is an average statement from my experience. And yes, I know, your credible anecdotes trump mine.

  • colnago80

    Re Sastra @ #25

    I have no idea what you are talking about. Prof. Heddle is a Professor of Physics at Christopher Newport Un. He was also temporarily chairman of the mathematics department there. I quite fail to see how these are “personal” issues.

  • Sastra

    @colnago80 #27:

    I thought the boldface on “former” was meant to be a sly dig of some sort. Sorry if I misread it.

  • Sastra

    heddle #26 wrote:

    If the bible taught that there were no atheists, or that any atheist could be converted given a persuasive enough argument, then you might have a point. Instead it teaches that there will always be unbelievers who will never be convinced. So why would you think that which is predicted in our holy book would “weaken the glue?”

    My understanding is that the Bible and Christian churches teach that atheism is ultimately the result of moral or personal flaws. Angry, bitter, unhappy atheists would fit that narrative better than atheists who don’t seem to have either a bad attitude or a God-shaped gap in their hearts and lives. I don’t think that’s what anyone would have predicted in advance.

    It’s interesting that the thousands of Christians you know are both indifferent to atheism and don’t seem to think about it much. There might be a connection.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    Sastra #29,

    By saying “don’t think about it much” I am drawing a contrast to what I perceive as a common misconception that “evil atheists” take up a large percentage of our cycles. I can truthfully say that the mean-free-path between mention of atheists in a sermon in any church I’ve attended is probably something like a year. However we are not indifferent–which to me would imply an abandonment of all proselytizing/missionary activities. Far from it. The bottom line is the (average) position of my experience is that the attitude toward atheists is a) we should try to reach them with the gospel and b) they are not evil people who deserve scorn or hatred.

    Oddly enough, in my own life, I have always made closer friends with atheists than Christians. Not from design–it just happens that way. Probably just statistics–my profession is (both professor and physicist) has more atheists than believers.

    I often wonder if the surveys that indicate a distrust of atheists were broken down if it would show that nominal Christians express more distrust than devout Christians (recognizing there is no universally accepted way of making that distinction.) That would fit my (no doubt flawed) model of human psychology and also my anecdotal experience.

    My understanding is that the Bible and Christian churches teach that atheism is ultimately the result of moral or personal flaws.

    Well, that varies from denomination to denomination. Calvinists, for example, would not say it is a personal moral flaw but rather a species flaw. Other denominations would make it a personal flaw.

  • Sastra

    heddle #30 wrote:

    However we are not indifferent–which to me would imply an abandonment of all proselytizing/missionary activities.

    No, I meant to interpret the term “indifferent” in the context of the OP — the Christians you know (who may or may not be representative) do not respond negatively to atheists or atheism. That is, they do not think of them as in general any worse than people in other religions, and they do not think of atheism as worse than believing in a different version of God. If so, this seems to contradict the studies which routinely find otherwise (including I think this one.)

    That’s why I wondered if the lack of animosity you experience is related not to Christians benignly lumping atheism in with nonchristian religions, but to a decision, conscious or unconscious, to not think about it too much — to avoid dealing with it as an idea.

    Well, that varies from denomination to denomination. Calvinists, for example, would not say it is a personal moral flaw but rather a species flaw. Other denominations would make it a personal flaw.

    “A moral or personal flaw” would probably include a moral flaw in the species which a particular person, the atheist, fails to deal with properly. If everybody knows deep down that there is a God to whom they are accountable, then the person who denies what they know is true is particularly shallow, if not perverse.

    As opposed, say, to having merely drawn a mistaken conclusion on a rational but very complicated issue.

  • jonathangray

    Isaac Asimov quoted by StevoR:

    I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of a Hitler. Besides if most human governments are civilised enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?

    I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment would be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.

    It has been speculated that God permits the demonic spirits to torture the damned souls in Hell as a merciful distraction from the far greater agony they would suffer were they left undisturbed to ponder on the separation from Him that they brought upon themselves by their own choice.

    StevoR’s wise response to Isaac Asimov:

    Me? I dunno.

    But I do know that whatever I may want or not want, I don’t control reality. I know what I’d like and I know that means fuck all and, yeah, at times that does scare and shit me. I don’t think I’m any exception to the rule either. None of u s are.

    It is a somewhat chilling prospect s individuals ain’t it?

    Yes.

    + + +

    I imagine some Christians distrust those atheists who conform to the stereotype.

  • Nick Gotts

    2) We actually don’t think about you much. – heddle@26

    Well some of you evidently do: you for one, as evidenced by your frequent comments on this blog (and on Pharyngula until commenters’ explicit feminism became too much for you). And maybe atheists are more likely to have memorable encounters with those who do think a lot about them than with those who don’t.

  • Nick Gotts

    It has been speculated that God permits the demonic spirits to torture the damned souls in Hell as a merciful distraction from the far greater agony they would suffer were they left undisturbed to ponder on the separation from Him that they brought upon themselves by their own choice. – jonathangray@32

    Yes, I’ve come across that particular piece of dishonest crap. Clearly, if separation from God was actually painful, the choice of permanent oblivion would be the merciful alternative.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    It has been speculated that God permits the demonic spirits to torture the damned souls in Hell as a merciful distraction from the far greater agony they would suffer were they left undisturbed to ponder on the separation from Him that they brought upon themselves by their own choice.

    Yeah, it’s also been speculated that a vampire can’t drink the blood of an invisible pink unicorn. If mental masturbation is your thing, that’s fine…I prefer the physical kind, since it keeps me closer to reality.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    We actually don’t think about you much. – heddle@26

    Yeah, we notice how little thinking you do every time you go out of your way to comment here.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I call bullshit. I do not believe that you have encountered many (if many implies a majority) Christians who “couldn’t stand” (see #12) to see atheists happy. You are confusing reality with the caricature in your mind.

    That’s the problem with you Christians — you simply believe what you want to believe, and ignore and deny everything else. And then, when the rest of us give up arguing with someone who simply ignores and denies what he hears, you pretend you’ve proven us all wrong.

  • Sastra

    jonathongray #32 wrote:

    It has been speculated that God permits the demonic spirits to torture the damned souls in Hell as a merciful distraction from the far greater agony they would suffer were they left undisturbed to ponder on the separation from Him that they brought upon themselves by their own choice.

    There’s a bizarre sort of contradiction in this. God permits horrible things because it’s so horrible to not be with Someone who permits horrible things. I’m not sure which is worse — worshiping a monster or casually turning human beings into monsters so one can worship something which is now no longer supposed to be a monster because “They brought it on themselves by their own choice” — and all the regrets in the world can’t change a thing or move a heart.

    It all seems very disfunctional, to put it mildly. It’s possible speculations like that may be a cry for help.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Memo to atheists: 1) We don’t hate you.

    Yeah, you only call teenage atheists “evil little things” with the purest of love in your hearts.

    That denial is just as bogus as your “love the sinner but hate the sin” rationalization of your mindless homophobia. The problem with that dodge is that all the hate you aim at the “sin” ends up hitting “sinners” — and causing them, not the “sin,” real harm.

    5) We don’t go about lamenting that you are happy.

    No, you go about DENYING that anyone who doesn’t worship your god your way is, or can ever be, happy; and insisting that any non-believer who says he’s happy, is actually deluded or lying.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    It has been speculated that God permits the demonic spirits to torture the damned souls in Hell as a merciful distraction from the far greater agony they would suffer were they left undisturbed to ponder on the separation from Him that they brought upon themselves by their own choice.

    This is wrong (from a Christian theology standpoint). Christian theology has God as omnipresent. As many theologians have pointed out, it won’t be God’s absence that makes hell unbearable, but rather his presence,

    Nick Gotts,

    Well some of you evidently do: you for one, as evidenced by your frequent comments on this blog (and on Pharyngula until commenters’ explicit feminism became too much for you).

    I’m the exception that proves the rule. And at any rate I don’t come here because it is an atheist blog, I come here because I like Ed’s writing and there are some good regular commenters.

    BTW, It wasn’t the feminism per se. Pharyngula was always feminist and yet I posted on it for years. It was the repulsive ass-kissing (directed both toward and increasingly from PZ) and the growing and lauded “shut-up-and-listen” authoritarianism from some of the dumber (and that’s saying something) nom-de-sarcasm-tag commenters there that made it unbearable. The last straw was when they sent one commenter away (I think it was Morales) for reeducation and he returned disgustingly contrite and obsequious.

    RB,

    Yeah, you only call teenage atheists “evil little things” with the purest of love in your hearts.

    Where did I ever do that, or anything remotely like that?

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    RB,

    Yeah, you only call teenage atheists “evil little…

    No, you go about DENYING that anyone who doesn’t worship your g

    Or by “you” do you mean “some Christians, therefore I’ll paint you all with the same brush”.

    Kind of like you’d be (I’m sure) perfectly fine with me attributing to “you” Sam Harris’ views on Muslims and Bill Maher’s views on vaccines and the Koch brothers views on politics.

  • David Eriksen

    heddle,

    Perhaps some of the confusion there comes from your frequently insisting that the version of Christianity you practice is the only correct one. That’s a common position amongst Christians. I used to feel that way, myself. When we’re in a hurry, that can come across as you claiming to speak for all Christians, a self-appointed ambassador.

    However, many of the positions you take do not at all reflect the opinions we all hear on a regular basis. You’ve stated in this thread that there are a few thousand Calvinists in your circle that share your enlightened opinions (few Christians I know even know what the word exegesis means). There are a couple hundred million Christians that are not in your circle and those are the ones that we have to deal with. Those are the ones that are partially in control of the Republican party. Those are the Christians I have to hide from lest it affect my workplace evaluations.

    It seems disingenuous for you to come in here and tell us what Christians believe and then get offended when we lump you in with the majority of your fellow travelers.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    David Eriksen,

    Perhaps some of the confusion there comes from your frequently insisting that the version of Christianity you practice is the only correct one.

    You are a fucking liar.

    I defy you to once, just once (since you say I do it frequently it should be easy) where I have insisted that the version of Christianity I practice is the “only correct one.” I have never said that. Ever. Even when I teach adult Sunday school in a Calvinist church I am careful to say–we need to be charitable because might be wrong. You are full of shit. Damn I hate liars.

    However, many of the positions you take do not at all reflect the opinions we all hear on a regular basis.

    Yeah, and the positions PZ Myers opines are not the positions I hear from the majority of scientists I work with. Noisemakers and blatherers, in all walks of life, almost always take extreme positions.

    You’ve stated in this thread that there are a few thousand Calvinists in your circle that share your enlightened opinions

    I never said that. Another lie. I said in #26 that I know about a thousand Christians, not a “few thousand Calvinists who share my enlightened positions.” They are in fact a diverse group of Calvinists, Arminians, Roman Catholics, etc.

  • llewelly

    Heddle:

    … and the Koch brothers views on politics.

    It turns out the Koch brothers heavily fund some of the most rabidly conservative Christians in politics, and fund many Christian organizations. They also lobby against lgbt rights, and for abortion restrictions. Both of those things are demonstrably unpopular, and they kept doing it after being publicly called on their bullshit.

    And the fact is that many Democrats, especially Hillary, and Bill, and right up to just a few years ago, Obama, supported their tar sands and other fossil fuel crap for a long time. Actually, even Obama only objected to one pipeline out of many, and in fact supported tons of fracking projects the Koch brothers invested into. And don’t bring up Waxman Markey, because first of all it included a lot of gas-as-a-bridge crap that would have made them money, and second, it would have acted so slow that they would surely be dead before it had a big effect on their fortunes. If Koch brothers *wanted* more Democratic support for their fossil fuel empire, they could easily get it, with just a little money. But instead their money goes to far more conservative Christians.

    (Yes, I am aware that they funded a Smithsonian display on evolution – so they’re obviously two faced on that topic. But since The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth was funded by oil barons, who relied in part on geologists for their fortunes, some of the funders of some conservative Christianity has been two-faced on related grounds for a long time.)

    You can make a “secret atheist” argument if you like, much as Hitchens did for Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps evidence for it will turn up eventually.

  • Nick Gotts

    heddle@40

    I’m the exception that proves the rule. And at any rate I don’t come here because it is an atheist blog, I come here because I like Ed’s writing and there are some good regular commenters.

    As I noted, encounters with such “exceptions” (if that’s what they are – you do know that “proves” in that saying means “tests”, I assume) may be more memorable than those with Christians who don’t think about atheists much. As to why you come here, of course I can only judge by your comments – most of which are directed at what you consider atheist slurs at or misunderstandings of Christianity.

    BTW, It wasn’t the feminism per se. Pharyngula was always feminist and yet I posted on it for years. It was the repulsive ass-kissing (directed both toward and increasingly from PZ)

    No doubt you’ll be able to provide clear examples of such “repulsive ass-kissing”. Of course Pharyngula has some stupid commenters; so does this blog.

    The last straw was when they sent one commenter away (I think it was Morales) for reeducation

    What a stupid and offensive metaphor. Particularly from one who worships a God he believes tortures people forever.

  • jonathangray

    heddle:

    It has been speculated that God permits the demonic spirits to torture the damned souls in Hell as a merciful distraction from the far greater agony they would suffer were they left undisturbed to ponder on the separation from Him that they brought upon themselves by their own choice.

    This is wrong (from a Christian theology standpoint). Christian theology has God as omnipresent. As many theologians have pointed out, it won’t be God’s absence that makes hell unbearable, but rather his presence,

    Separation need not mean absence. The fact that Hell, the demons and the damned souls exist at all is sufficient to demonstrate God’s presence. (“God alone is — everything else exists only by participation”.)

    Nick Gotts:

    you do know that “proves” in that saying means “tests”, I assume

    It has come to mean that in certain contexts. Originally it meant that exceptions to a rule imply the existence of a rule which applies to everything that isn’t an exception.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    Nick Gotts,

    What a stupid and offensive metaphor

    You might have a point. Except for the fact that it wasn’t a metaphor.

    llewelly

    You can make a “secret atheist” argument if you like,

    Secret? I thought it was established that the Koch brothers are non-believers. Is that not true? I think I even read that on this blog. If they are not, then that is a bad example I used in #41 and I retract it. If they are then it is perhaps the best possible example of why we shouldn’t paint everyone in a group with a broad brush based on famous members of the group. (Or would you argue that in spite of claiming to be unbelievers (if they do) they are not True Atheists?)

    jonathangray,

    The fact that Hell, the demons and the damned souls exist at all is sufficient to demonstrate God’s presence.

    No, that does not follow. There could be hell and demons and damned and yet God could be nowhere to be found in the confines of that hell.

  • theDukedog7 .

    The reason that encountering atheists kindles fears of death is that people remember all of the people killed by atheists in the 20th century. Gulags, the Holodomor, the Killing Fields, North Korea.

    Atheism in power=death is a perfectly reasonable inference.

  • colnago80

    Re David Eriksen @ #42

    Hey, that’s just the blog’s resident physic professor and former math department chairman brandishing his no true Scotsman shtick.

    Re #48

    Actually, as a percent of the population of Central Europe, the number of people killed in that area in the 20th Century pales in comparison to the number killed in the 30 Years War, all the killing performed by self proclaimed Christians. It is well that Tilly, Wallenstein, and Adolphus didn’t have access to 20th Century weapon systems or the entire population of Central Europe would have been exterminated.

    By the way, the Holocaust was carried by self proclaimed Christians. All the members of the SS were required to profess to be Christians which was a requirement for membership. Ole Hister himself was a loudly proclaimed devout Christian who informed his audiences in this regard in every public speech he made.

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #47

    The Koch brothers have never made any secret of the fact that they are non-believers.

  • colnago80

    Re llewelly @ #42

    they also lobby against lgbt rights, and for abortion restrictions

    That’s not entirely accurate. It would be more accurate to say that they support organizations that lobby for those things. There was an interview with David Koch several weeks ago where admitted to being a non-believer, being pro-choice on abortion, and in favor of same sex marriage. He supports anti same sex marriage and anti abortion rights groups because it is advantageous to his bank account.

  • colnago80

    Re llewelly @ #42

    I would point out that there was controversy over the support provided to the PBS series on evolution. There were charges made by some critics that material on AGW was downplayed in some of the episodes of that series in deference to the Koch brothers.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    The fact that Hell, the demons and the damned souls exist at all

    Oh, an all-powerful supernatural entity isn’t good enough. Religion also needs angels, devils, souls, eternal life (as if there’s an eternal anything), winged horses ascending to “heaven”, rising from the dead, on-and-on ad nauseum. Very strange that people would still be clinging to such nonsense.

  • llewelly

    colnago80:

    There was an interview with David Koch several weeks ago where admitted to being a non-believer, being pro-choice on abortion, and in favor of same sex marriage.

    I have read or listened to several interviews with each of the Kochs, and as far as I know, none of them say anything specific about religious beliefs. If you have a link to a specific interview which does say something specific … then, I will apologize for arguing they are believers. “social liberal” does not necessarily mean “non-believer” .

    As for being in favor of same sex marriage, or abortion, well, they make that claim, but then, why do they support the most conservative Christians in US politics, instead of Hillary? The “bank account” argument is not good, because the Democrats have supported far more fossil fuel development, especially tar sands, than they have objected to.

  • Anton Mates

    eric @7,

    It was not “think about death…now think about atheists.” It was “group A: you think about death. Group B: you think about atheism. Group C: you think about something else. Hey look, A and B gave the same highly negative answers to questions compared to C!” IOW, thinking about atheism and thinking about death produced the same types of negative answers in non atheists.</blockquote.

    There were actually two studies involved. The first one was "Think about [death/pain]…now talk about [atheists/Quakers]. Hey look, people say more negative things about atheists than they do about Quakers, and this difference becomes even stronger when they've thought about death!"

    The second one was closer to what you describe: "Think about [death/pain/atheism], then choose some words based on ambiguous cues. Hey look, people who've thought about atheism are more likely to choose death-related words than people who've thought about pain, and just as likely to choose such words as people who've thought about death!"

    IOW:

    1. People* disapprove of atheists more than Quakers

    2. People* primed with thoughts of death are extra-disapproving of atheists

    3. People* primed with thoughts of atheism are extra-likely to think about death

    *for a given value of "people", namely "American undergrads who identify as religious"

  • Anton Mates

    Bleh, only that first paragraph should be blockquoted above.

  • Matt G

    Tell them you’re an atheist, THEN tell them Santa doesn’t exist! They’ll be blubbering for hours.

  • Nemo

    @heddle #43:

    I defy you to once, just once (since you say I do it frequently it should be easy) where I have insisted that the version of Christianity I practice is the “only correct one.”

    How about comment #40?

    This is wrong (from a Christian theology standpoint).