"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Study says atheists are more compassionate than the religious

Here is an interesting article from the Mail Online describing a study which concludes that less religious people are more likely to show compassion to strangers and perform random acts of kindness than the religious.
'These findings indicate that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals.'
The study comprised three experiments from the standard canon of tests for pro-social behaviour involving pre-exposure of individuals from each group to certain stimuli and measuring their subsequent willingness to share sums of money with strangers. The article does not quote any figures or error bars from the study but assuming the results were significant it does bear some speculating as to why non-religious people come out as the more compassionate.
It would come as no surprise to me whatsoever if the study had concluded there was no discernable difference between the groups. Despite religion’s claims to the contrary it does not have a monopoly on compassion and can in fact be notoriously callous in its treatment of some people. But, the study concludes that religion is actually a negative predictor of compassion.
My hypothesis is that religiosity suppresses natural human empathy for strangers by focusing its adherents on the benefits of supporting the church and its doctrine. It is true that religious people on balance give more to charity than others, especially when tithing and collection plate donations are included, but these donations often come with added proselytising. It’s charity with the intent of spreading the word and enhancing the reputation of the church; religion hijacking natural compassion to its own ends. It would come as no surprise therefore that the religious could feel they have fulfilled their obligations to society and so are less inclined to help random strangers or make ad-hoc donations.
Atheists and others unencumbered with religious belief are however able to exercise their innate humanistic instincts to assist others in need without reference to creed or dogma. It’s not that they are “nicer” just freer to be compassionate on demand.
The online atheist community has shown frequent evidence of its willingness to rally together for various causes. Scholarship funds for Jessica Ahlquist and Damian Fowler raised tens of thousands of dollars when their atheism made them objects of hate within their community. Charitable organisations like Foundation Beyond Belief, and the atheist groups at the micro lending site Kiva are also exceptionally well supported. This of course goes against the religious script that we need God to be good. We are good regardless of gods, but belief in gods it seems may limit our capacity for goodness.

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