My attention was drawn to this article with the title Can You Be Good Without God? and it does not start out well.
“If God did not exist, then we would have to invent him,” said the French philosopher Voltaire. His point: that without a divine being to check right and wrong, any number of atrocities are possible and could go unpunished.
A recent study (of more than 3,000 people in 13 countries) published in the journal Nature Human Behavior echoes Voltaire’s maxim.
The article quotes the lead author Will Gervais of a new study.
“These effects appeared across religiously diverse societies, including countries with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and non-religious majorities,” says the new study, “showing that intuitive moral prejudice against atheists is not exclusive to Abrahamic or monotheistic majority societies. To the contrary, intuitive anti-atheist prejudice generalizes to largely secular societies and appears globally evident even among atheists.”
“For many people, including many atheists,” the researchers say, “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.”
But as you read the article, all that the paper claims is that 3,000 people in 13 countries believe that lack of religion can lead to bad behavior. That is hardly a surprise given the widespread prejudice against atheists. In fact the title of the actual paper that you can read here is Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists, hardly a controversial claim
So while the article header was clickbait, it does go on to quote several atheists who rebut the implication of the opening paragraphs.
“We are products of our culture,” says Monette Richards, a board member for Secular Woman, an organization that seeks to “amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women.”
She too sees this as the result of centuries-old indoctrination. “Our culture is so steeped in upholding the religious as good and worthy of respect and casting unbelievers as evil, that a few years of increasing numbers of non-believers isn’t going to break that right away.”
But she believes there is a way to change it. “The more we meet those we consider ‘Other,’ and the more we love them, we learn to see the trope for what it is. The knee jerk associations of serial-killer-means-atheist will, eventually, fade. With the numbers of non-believers and unchurched rising like they are, we will see more and more people realizing that atheists are good people, too.”