Leah Giddings and Thomas Dunn, of Nottingham Trent University in the UK, set out to replicate some of the earlier work on atheism and trust, but with a twist.
They gave a group of 100 people a short story to read about Richard. It’s the same story that’s been used in previous research, and it goes as follows:
Richard is 31 years old. On his way to work one day, he accidentally backed his car into a parked van. Because pedestrians were watching, he got out of his car. He pretended to write down his insurance information. He then tucked the blank note into the van’s window before getting back into his car and driving away.
Later the same day, Richard found a wallet on the sidewalk. Nobody was looking, so he took all of the money out of the wallet. He then threw the wallet in a trash can.
Half the participants were asked whether they thought Richard was a teacher, or a teacher and a Christian. The other half were asked whether he was a teacher, or a teacher and an atheist.
Now of course there’s nothing in the story to indicate Richard’s spiritual beliefs, so if they claim it does that’s evidence of prejudice.
As expected, Christians were likely to be prejudiced against atheists. But once again, so were the atheists (albeit to a lesser degree – nearly 50% of atheists and over 75% of Christians associated atheism with untrustworthy behaviour).
So here we are in one of the most secular countries on earth, and even atheists think that other atheists aren’t to be trusted.
To follow on from this, the researchers gave the participants some statistics on the number of atheists in the country. Some of them got accurate statistics, and some got statistics that inflated the number of atheists.
It didn’t make much difference. Pro-christian prejudice went down, but anti-atheist prejudice did not.
As usual, this is only one study, so don’t take it as the definitive say on the matter. It’s more likely that this study is descriptive for the environment it was created in instead of it describing some fundamental human nature.
I only put that caveat there because I kinda get tired of people pointing to one study and claiming it is the be all end all of all argument. But this study is still interesting nonetheless!