A Follow-up to ‘Are Foxhole Atheists Really Seeking a Cure?’

This is a follow-up to a recent article “Are Foxhole Atheists Really Seeking a Cure?

I reviewed an article by science writer Matthew Hutson who reported on three studies suggesting that fear of death will inspire atheists to believe in the supernatural.

The studies were done out of the University of Otago in New Zealand. I also pointed out that “in discussions promoting ‘belief’ over ‘atheism’, the specific belief is often left extremely vague.”

There’s now a new study distinguishing between agnostics and atheists and it has more precise results:

“The findings confirm that while religion can help people deal with death, we all manage our own existential fears of dying through our pre-existing worldview, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin… 

… In other words, the myth that atheists turn to God on the battlefield or in other times of peril didn’t hold up, [research lead Kenneth] Vail and his colleagues wrote.”

These findings come from a University of Missouri study by Kenneth Vail III that was similar to the Otago studies in that they studied the correlation between reminders of death and belief in the supernatural. Identifying that people turn to their beliefs when faced with death was confirmed, but when being more precise about the level of certainty — those without a belief in a higher power versus those who still entertain the possibility — it turns out atheists do turn to reality and naturalistic means to cope with the reminders of death

Vail and his colleagues suggested that future research may study different types of spiritual or nontheistic beliefs in more detail. At least this study seems to indicate foxholes atheists are not seeking a cure.

About Jason Torpy

**Comments at Friendly Atheist do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.** Jason Torpy serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military. MAAF also educates military leaders about the needs of nontheists and advocates where necessary. Jason is a former Army Captain and Iraq veteran with a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

  • Matto the Hun

    Here’s an article right now:
    “Does being a theist tend to make a person a ghoulish dick that preys upon people’s fears in order to smugly convince them of bullshit?

    Yes. A review of theistic attitudes shows that it generally does.”

    Shortest article you’re likely to read.

  • pete084

    Wishing there really was a sky daddy, in a moment of crisis, is very different to believing in one, and “Oh god” is an exclamation, not a prayer.

    Most of those injured in battle call out for their mother, what significance do theists read into that?

    • rich h

       [lame humor]
      I thought “Oh god” was an interjection … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e24kdjdbtw
      [/lame humor]

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/KNS2UDSXYOFR5C3KCW2SYW3FLI Dolly Dagger

       For combat pilots, they not only call for their moms, they also say: “Shit”

  • Baby_Raptor

    Sorry for being That Person, Mr. Torpy, but there’s a typo in your biography blurb. I think you mean “or any other organizations.” 

  • Au_catboy

     Anyone who repeats the lie “there are no atheists in foxholes” is
    admitting that the reason is that the christians are too busy cowering
    in a hole like the cowards they are, pissing themselves and crying,
    begging their imaginary friend to save them, while the atheists are
    DOING THEIR FUCKING JOBS!

    I know perfectly well that that insult is not actually true. Just as
    the christians insulting atheist veterans know that THEIR insult is not
    true. It’s no more true that all christians are cowards than that all
    atheists are cowards. And yet, christians object only to MY statement,
    not to the lie I am responding to.

    They apparently can’t
    bring themselves to object to such an insult unless it’s directed at
    christians. When someone tells an obvious and slanderous lie about a
    group they don’t belong to, they don’t have a problem. They only
    complain when their ox is being gored. Why is that? Why do they object
    to me insulting christians, but not to other christians insulting
    atheists? If it’s okay for them to do it, then it’s okay for me to do
    it. And they haven’t shown the slightest sign that it’s not okay with
    them if they do it…

  • rich h

    While I never got shot at while I was in (submarines, life got tough when the ice cream machine broke…), we did have plenty of emergencies (drills and for real).

    When things started going south, the last thing I wanted was some clown to start praying. I wanted him to follow procedure, not panic and deal with the emergency.

    I suspect that when the shooting starts, as long as the individual can exert some control over the situation, they stay pretty damned atheist.

  • Victoria

    These studies — at least the earlier ones, which I’ve read — mean no such thing.

    There’s a certain amount of controversy about the meaning of the IAT, although psychologists generally do agree today that the IAT means something about unconscious attitudes and ideas. Nevertheless, you cannot possibly interpret an IAT study as meaning that every member of the group in question shares these ideas, or that they’re universal. Just that there is an overall change in attitudes or an overall subconscious attitude among the group as a whole.

  • dantresomi

    I remember learning about the Uruguayan rugby team depicted in that movie “Alive.” In the movie, one of the characters was an atheist who railed against God. In the end he converts. Many of the survivors of this team traveled around the world to evangelize the Gospel. Then I read Nando Parrdo’s account of the crash and fight for survival a few years back. 

    Parrdo is obviously an agnostic but never makes the claim. He does point out that unlike his fellow survivors he doesn’t give credit to any supernatural being for their survival. He also mentions that there is a small rift between him and the other survivors because of this. 

    I wonder why his story is rarely mentioned as compared to the others. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jukkalattu Jukka Lattu

    I guess you could say following the same logic that when falling on hard times, Christians will turn to Judaism for comfort, since they know in their hearts that its the true religion. Just as Muslims will turn to Hinduism and Mormons will turn to Catholicism.

    ….doesn’t make much sense? I didn’t think so either.


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