Gene Expression

A personal experience of mine is that many apostates from religion have…issues. On the other hand, people who were raised, or always were, atheists tend to mostly be almost confused by religion. But I was curious as to possible differences between these two groups, and those believe in God, or were unbelievers and now believed in God. So I decided to check the GSS. Here’s the bottom line for the GODCHNG variable:


In the tables below you read from left to right, those who are atheists, always were, to those who are atheists, weren’t always, those who are theists, weren’t always, and those who are theists and were always. Two points

1) I’m surprised at how step-wise some of the trends are. Look at the proportions for sex for example.

2) There are some data which suggest that those who leave religion experience stressed relationships with their family. See the data for time spent with family.















  1. #1 Tyson Koska
    August 18, 2008

    That is fascinating stuff! I’m am doing some similar, albeit less “controlled,” research on religious labels (why they are adopted, what they mean to the person wearing them, and if they are ever changed). You can read about some preliminary results or participate in the survey by going here…

  2. #2 agni
    August 18, 2008

    hmmm… I need to check it in my society. thanks for the idea

  3. #3 Hugo
    August 19, 2008

    I find the more remarkable graph by far the last one.

  4. #4 bgc
    August 19, 2008


    My guess is that the underlying factor is the positive association between IQ and atheism.

    High IQ kids in modern cultures seem often to become spontaneously atheist aged about 6-8 – unless otherwise socialized. This is not currently explained.

    I am unsure whether atheism is an advantage or a disadvantage on average – and the answer would probably be different for different levels of analysis and different religions.

    Probably atheism is maladaptive (in a biological sense – i.e. fitness reducing, fertility lowering) maybe because atheism supports more effective pursuit of individual happiness. I understand that most surveys suggest that atheists seem to be more selfish/ less altruistic then Christians (in the USA).

    Some (not yet published) research makes clear that atheists differ from religious people in terms of Simon Baron Cohen’s personality dimensions of empathizing and systemizing – atheists being less empathizing and more systemizing. Presumably these personality traits would be substantially heritable.

  5. #5 Inductivist
    August 20, 2008

    Interesting how the spouses of most atheists belong to some religion. Non-believers are so rare, it’s difficult to find their own to marry. I imagine this kind of coupling causes some friction. As an atheist, I was always tolerant of my girlfriends’ beliefs, but my skepticism didn’t always sit well with them. (And no, I didn’t have these girlfriends at the same time.)

  6. #6 themadlolscientist, FCD
    August 20, 2008

    Hey! What about us agnostics: always agnostic; was agnostic, now believer; was believer, now agnostic.

    I think the second graph is interesting. So much for that “no atheists in foxholes” BS. Even when I was officially a believer, I couldn’t understand that. How could anyone be out there in the living hell of a battlefield and believe there was a loving god in all this? Reflexively saying a prayer when the bullets and grenades are flying all over the place, or taking communion before the battle starts, doesn’t consitute belief. For a lot of people, it’s mainly old habit and/or a comfort ritual.

    I’m also suspicious of the family relationships correlation. Some of us don’t spend much time with our families because we’re too far away. One of my brothers lives on the opposite coast, and I’m 300 miles away from our parents, so we can’t afford to visit more than once or twice a year. (We email back and forth pretty often.) My other two sibs live within a few miles of the rest of the family and are in and out of each other’s houses all the time.

    As for the friction between believer/nonbeliever family members: I’m a Preacher’s Kid, albeit from a progressive/liberal background, and I’m not sure my parents know I’m an agnostic. I don’t talk about it, no big deal. My parents and I share political and social values although I’m quite a bit more liberal than they are.

    My sister and one of my brothers are still at least nominally mainline Christian and have raised their children in a Christian environment but aren’t church members currently. The only relationship that might be described as somewhat strained is with my other brother, who became a hardcore Fundamentalist.

  7. #7 genesgalore
    August 21, 2008

    humans love music, meditation and community. religion provides that. it’s just that the premise is all fooked up.

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