Last April, I blogged a paper by Will Gervais, that showed you could increase people’s trust of atheists by simply telling them about how prevalent atheists are in their community. As I said at the time, the result isn’t surprising and I didn’t think it had any bearing on the debates over New Atheism per se. There were those who disagreed, and insisted that the study validated New Atheist-style “out” campaigns.

In a commentary on his research, Mr. Gervais weighs in on those implications of his work:

I think the simplest way for atheists to be perceived as more trustworthy is to be open about their lack of belief in God. There’s a wealth of social psychological evidence that shows contact with members of disliked groups can reduce prejudice. … simply knowing that there are lots of atheists in the world makes atheists seem more trustworthy. … Ara Norenzayan and I have some research (forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science) demonstrating that reminding people of other institutions that help keep people cooperative—secular institutions like police, contracts, and courts—also reduces distrust of atheists. And open atheists might be able to help remind people that there are lots of solid, nonreligious motivations for moral behavior.

That said, being an open atheist isn’t necessarily the same thing as being a strident, “in your face” atheist. Nobody really likes having their core beliefs attacked. My hunch is that “I’m here, I’m an atheist, and it’s really not that big of a deal” would be a more effective approach than a Dawkinsian “I’m here, I’m an atheist, and religions are mass delusions” approach, in terms of increasing acceptance and trust of people who don’t believe in God.

Skepticism means caring about evidence, and that last paragraph by Gervais is what the evidence consistently tells us. What does one call empiricists who ignore the evidence before them?


  1. #1 drf5na
    November 30, 2011

    A hunch is evidence?

    If you are trying to remove falsehoods from people’s minds, you should replace them with some facts. Would you please replace the text “what the evidence consistently tells us” with a live link to the evidence? The link in your post was to your blog post on Mooney’s post, rather than Gervais’ paper

    I can totally accept that if the metric/goal is public acceptance and trust of atheists, raising awareness of the prevalence of atheists is a good tactic. If the metric/goal is making atheists more likely to come out, maybe the fire-and-brimstone rallies of their bases by bombastic evangelists is effective. I don’t think that evidence for the first tactic is necessarily evidence against the second.

  2. #2 Wow
    November 30, 2011

    “A hunch is evidence?”

    He doesn’t say it is evidence.

    Most of it is accommodationist and revisionist (e.g. “Nobody really likes having their core beliefs attacked”, but atheists are supposed to allow their core beliefs being attacked without protest…), but that’s no reason to fake up a strawman. When there’s other more valid complaints, why make something up? Especially when it’s your opener.

  3. #3 drf5na
    November 30, 2011


    I was a bit frustrated by Josh’s post in that I wanted the an easy link to “the evidence” to read whether it is “accommodationist and revisionist”, supports Gervais’ hunch, or whatever.

  4. #4 Anthony McCarthy
    December 1, 2011

    The idea that a minority of atheists, who already are a small minority group, can gain anything for atheists by telling the overwhelming majority how smart they are and how stupid the majority is, is a complete refutation of their opinion of themselves. The New-gnu-neo atheists are idiots, even those with advanced degrees in various topics from prestigious universities. They have more than a little in common with entrenched aristocracies that don’t understand that the masses of people are not impressed with their magnificence.

    “Skepticism”, now there is a term that is seriously abused in the past fifty years. Most self-announced “skeptics” are not skeptical, they are entrenched scientistic materialists who have no more of a capacity for internal criticism of their ideological holdings than a religious fundamentalist. As the comments above, and many of those made on this blog, show, their reaction to criticism of any kind is the mirror image of their ideological opponents.

  5. #5 Wow
    December 1, 2011

    “who already are a small minority group”

    Nope, since there are over 200 mainstream sects of christians, they’re a minority.

    China with 3 billion(?) people are atheists or closet Shinto.

    “by telling the overwhelming majority how smart they are”

    So it’s wrong to tell people that “A is for Apple” if the majority didn’t know?

    You’d be a terrible teacher.

    “The New-gnu-neo atheists are idiots,”

    I refer you back to your previous comment: … gain anything for atheists by telling the overwhelming majority how smart they are and how stupid the majority is

    Seems like you’re a vampire: no reflection in a mirror.

    “they are entrenched scientistic materialists”

    Yes you used this meaningless phrase before.

    It still doesn’t make sense.

    (You see, this is why an atheist like me, who is, in actual observable fact, smarter than a godbotherer like yourself, will tell you you are stupid. Because it happens to be a truth.)

    “have no more of a capacity for internal criticism of their ideological holdings than a religious fundamentalist”

    Another claim with only your faith in it to support it.

    Try again, with some evidence (heck, try some coherency at least).

    “their reaction to criticism of any kind is the mirror image of their ideological opponents.”

    I refer you to your earlier comment “The New-gnu-neo atheists are idiots”.

  6. #6 Anthony McCarthy
    December 1, 2011

    Wow, new atheists are a small fraction of atheists, a group which is already smaller than 10% of the population. That means that your group of conceited jerks is a very small one. Most of the atheists I’ve encountered doesn’t want anything to do with you. You can play with numbers all you want to try to make yourself and your buddies feel better about it but that’s the sad truth. But only sad for conceited jerks of your persuasion.

    The rest of your comment confirms what I said.

  7. #7 Anthony McCarthy
    December 1, 2011

    Yeah, I didn’t change the number of that verb when I changed the sentence.

    It’s too bad more blogs don’t use a system you can edit after posting.

  8. #8 Wow
    December 1, 2011

    “Wow, new atheists are a small fraction of atheists”

    Didn’t dispute that.

    “a group which is already smaller than 10% of the population”


    And with 200 sects, there are only about 7,000,000 (or about 0.1%) of any one Christian sect.

    And you (one single person) is a conceited jerk under whose own reasoning is pointlessly and fruitlessly projecting onto others the vitriol of your fanaticism.

  9. #9 Anthony McCarthy
    December 1, 2011

    I invite anyone who cares to note the time wasting intention and habit of Wow. It is marginally interesting as a specimen of pseudo-rational self delusion of a kind anyone who has engaged new atheists in argument will be familiar with.

    I hope he doesn’t do anything remotely dependent on elementary mathematics or statistics that could pose a danger to living beings.

  10. #10 TTT
    December 1, 2011

    I don’t remember seeing anyone say this study “validated the New Atheist ‘out’ campaigns.”

    I did see many, many people say that this study completely invalidated the accommodationist handwringing that New Atheists would drive regular people into hating atheists more. I was one of those saying so, and I was right.

    The data shows that the NA’s have had no real effect at all, for good or for ill. Which is no feather in their cap, of course, but it means the “tone trolls” have been discredited and may now avail themselves of the newfound opportunity to shut up.

  11. #11 Wow
    December 1, 2011

    Well that’s rich coming from someone whining incessantly about how bad “material scientism” is (whatever that means, and whatever is meant to be better).

    And you’re here, a group of ONE, telling every single atheist is stupid?

    Yet you claim by your own reasoning that doing so is far more stupid and counterproductive.

    Then, when the proof of it being counterproductive is forthcoming, whines about how I’m wasting time.

    You’ve done nothing BUT waste time here with your whining little brat routine.

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    December 1, 2011

    TTT: Is Will Gervais now one of those “tone trolls”? Because he’s saying the same thing I did. This does not support your contention that New Atheists aren’t harming attitudes toward atheists.

  13. #13 Patrick Wm. Connally
    December 1, 2011

    Dr. Dawkins is very right on when religion becomes a political faction, its paid staff tells people how to vote because of a revelation, it raises funds for candidates and issues, and sends it priests and ministers to Washington to lobby.

    Democracy is about a public discussion of the public good, not the imposition of a religious-political philosophy.

  14. #14 Laurent Weppe
    December 1, 2011

    China with 3 billion(?) people are atheists or closet Shinto.

    Rule number one: Do not fucking try to fake erudition, because it always shows:
    China does not have 3 billion inhabitants and Shintoism is Japan’s traditional religion.

  15. #15 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    Rule number zero: do not complain of others being idiots when you have done so yourself in your froth-spewing diatribe.

    “3 billion (?)”

    What do you think the question mark means?

    “are atheists or closet shinto”.

    What do you think “are atheists” means? Who do you think is right next door to Japan, have been invaded BY Japan when their only religion was Shinto, and have been invaded more recently by Japan again?

    You fucking moron.

  16. #16 Anthony McCarthy
    December 2, 2011

    TTT, I never wrote a single thing criticizing atheists until the bigotry of the new atheism came to my attention. I’d seldom argued with atheists until about 2006.

    Being a gay man, let me tell you about a little known but really obnoxious fad that was current in parts of the gay community in the 70s, to openly express racial, ethnic, religious and hatred of the straight majority. Most often that which I witnessed was centered around white men living in New York City many of those I knew were taken up with the putrid writing of Ayn Rand, and, so were, incidentally atheists. It did nothing to further gay rights, it was an impediment to gaining those rights, it cost us a good deal in lost alliances and internal division.

    In my arguments with new atheists I have come to the conclusion that they are quite similar to the jerks I knew at that time and will be just as destructive, they are already even more obnoxious. Though, except in so far as that has a destructive influence on the political left, it’s not really my concern. Atheists have had civil rights protection under the law since 1965, others don’t. If a sizable faction of atheists want to ignore that in order to be conceited, alienating jerks, that’s mostly the problem of other atheists. I wouldn’t bother trying to work with atheists on common goals until they straighten it out. It would be a complete waste of time.

  17. #17 Laurent Weppe
    December 2, 2011

    @Wow: Don’t try to make excuses when you get caught failing at basic wiki search.

    You’re like the meta-embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect: it’s not that you are unaware of your obvious cognitive limits; you go as far as believing that you are cunning enough to hide your fatuousness.

  18. #18 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    “failing at basic wiki search.”

    Substitute: “no wiki search”.

    Go back and study english, kid.

  19. #19 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    “So I went to some methodist meetups in Kansas City…the were the most arrogant opinionated group I have ever met.”

    (still fits, doesn’t it)

    In fact you only have to read your condescention to see that it fits you too. Not to mention the “you’re all idiots” from our undecided godbotherer anthony.

    “and morally superior to everyone around them”

    Doesn’t this describe EVERY SINGLE godsquad member who proclaims that the bible is the only true source of morality?

    “No sense of humor!”

    So if you’re called a dipshit who kills babies for a living, you’re just supposed to go “Ah, that was humourous!” and chortle good-naturedly.

    Go along to WBC with a “Jesus loves man-love” t-shirt on and see how funny they find it.

  20. #20 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    “TTT, I never wrote a single thing criticizing atheists until”

    … you had posted a couple of times.

    Then you let loose your “scientific materialism baaaaadddd!” screams of woe.

    Maybe you just don’t have a sense of humour, kid.

  21. #21 Anthony McCarthy
    December 2, 2011

    Wow, I can date it exactly. Saturday, September 09, 2006, under the pseudonym I blogged under back then. That was the first time I ever wrote a mild criticism of the new atheism and my first experience with the full dishonesty of the fad. I have never interacted with new atheists without experiencing their dishonesty, distortion and irrationality. I think that form of atheism has had a uniformly bad effect in politics going back to the late 18th century.

  22. #22 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    “Wow, I can date it exactly.”

    Yes. That’s still “until … you had posted a couple of times.” like I said.

    The point being that you’re the one whining about how telling everyone else is an idiot is proof of being a bigger idiot, so YOU calling New Atheists all idiots is, as far as you know, you being an even bigger idiot.

    Unless you’re a hypocrite.

    And, yes, you’ve gotten steadily crazier and crazier as your lunatic pronouncements have been deservedly ignored.

  23. #23 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    PS what the heck was the point of that link you posted?

    It looks to me more “Shut up and suck it down, Atheists” from an accomodationist, who doesn’t appear to be you.

  24. #24 TTT
    December 2, 2011

    @12: Yes, Josh, he is tone-trolling. He has moved beyond the evidence of the study and prefers to talk about his “hunches,” regardless of how time and time again nothing supports them.

    Nothing supports the contention that New Atheists are harming public perception of atheists. This study was the final nail.

  25. #25 Wow
    December 2, 2011

    Isn’t “hunch” another word for “the answer I was expecting to find”?

    I mean, it’s OK to have a “hunch” BEFORE evidence, but after evidence, you’d be basically saying “It should have gotten a different answer”.

  26. #26 TTT
    December 2, 2011

    Anthony @16: with all due respect, I doubt “gay disco Objectivists” are a big enough demographic to matter in this or any other scientific study. I’m sure your life experience is accurate as presented, but it has no demonstrated bearing on this topic. There either is meaningful, scientifically documented evidence, or there isn’t–and in this case there isn’t.

    This is the part where accommodationists can either man up and admit they were wrong, or fiercely cling to bitterness. Either way it won’t matter at all, because if we now see the NA’s themselves have had no p.r. impact, then sure as heck the people whining about them won’t have.

  27. #27 Anthony McCarthy
    December 2, 2011

    “I doubt “gay disco Objectivists” are a bit enough demographic”

    So, a larger number of new atheists being jerks is going to have a more salubrious effect. Pardon me if I don’t see that conclusion as a logical necessity.

    I don’t care whether or not atheists believe that they “accommodate” the vast majority of the population, though even that word in this context is impressively and cluelessly arrogant.

    I care that atheists are a covered group under the civil rights laws, just as I care if other covered groups are, I don’t care if they are popular or if they make themselves even more unpopular than they are. Or, rather, that they allow themselves to be made even more unpopular through the antics of a subset of the relatively small subset of all atheists. That’s the problem of atheists. That atheists in general are beginning to distance themselves from counterproductive, conceited faddists is OK by me, bit it ceases to interest me, though I once wondered why it’s taken them so long. Why agnostics allow even the casual attempt to associate themselves with it is even more odd.

  28. #28 TTT
    December 2, 2011

    Since the whole point is we now know they AREN’T “being made more unpopular by these antics” and that it HASN’T been “counterproductive,” such concerns are moot.

    As for civil rights, there are plenty of people worldwide who are victims of crime and harassment even if they are legally allowed to get married, so I am not impressed by the fevered one-upmanship and grievance-size-contests of professional martyrs.

  29. #29 Brandon
    December 2, 2011

    Or, rather, that they allow themselves to be made even more unpopular through the antics of a subset of the relatively small subset of all atheists.

    Of course, if someone bothers to point out that there’s no particular evidence that said antics have made atheists any more or less popular, that’s just materialist, naturalist, indeed scientistic idiocy.

    The most recent studies on the matter suggest that the primary reason for dislike of atheists is founded on a lack of trust for them – it should be self evident that this is not a result of atheists openly stating disagreement with beliefs, or doing so rudely. I’ve yet to see any evidence that said dislike stems from a perception of atheists as rude or strident.

  30. #30 Mark Erickson
    December 2, 2011

    In your linked post: “there are no well-established metrics for skeptical outreach, so it’s hard to really know what works and what doesn’t work”.

    Have you created the metrics yet? Its been six months Hard to be empiricist about it without any.

  31. #31 Anthony McCarthy
    December 3, 2011

    Brandon, I’d be curious to know why any rational person would believe that their being rude to other people would have a different effect on those people than the rudeness has on them. That rudeness, which makes you angry with the person being rude would cause other people to be more positively inclined when they experience rudeness. That is bypassing the fact that all of the “evidence” of the kind you rely on @30 is based in self-reporting of attitudes and so is not evidence at all.

    I’ve known atheists who were quite moral but they had no basis for articulating their morality that was consistent with materialism of any kind.

    As to people distrusting atheists, let’s get right down to the problem, atheists can’t come up with any solid basis for believing in morality. Certainly those who are scientistic materialists can’t. There is no scientific evidence that shows morality exists anymore than there is that shows God does.

    Any that are propose have no basis that is as obvious as the idea that immorality is acting against the will of God. Of course, holding that acting in opposition to the expressed will of God is no guarantee that the person holding that belief will, actually, act in accord with the resulting moral code but at least they can account for its existence. Materialism in any form can’t do that. And, at its very base, morality is accepted on the basis of belief. Is it any wonder, especially when they can see how new atheists act, that people would be skeptical of the moral nature of atheism?

  32. #32 Wow
    December 5, 2011

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

  33. #33 Anthony McCarthy
    December 5, 2011

    Wow, Jefferson believed in the superiority of white men over black men, he believed in the superiority of men over women, he maligned the natives of North America at a time when they were subject to active genocide. All of those beliefs are far more malignant and superstitious than a belief that God is three persons in one, a belief I don’t happen to hold with but one which doesn’t seem to have any inherent and essential malignant content.

  34. #34 Wow
    December 5, 2011

    Is that all you have to say?

    You haven’t managed to explain what the hell you’re on about with your whining complaints about “materialism” and my ridicule of you and your whining is precisely because there is nothing of intelligence behind your complaints, nothing solid to debate, just woomancering and complaining.

    So I ridicule your ideas because they are unformed, precisely because you don’t know what the hell you’re on about.

  35. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    December 5, 2011

    OH, I’ve got lots more to say but it’s not my blog and I try to abide by house rules in other peoples’ houses.

    Taking advice on morality from Thomas Jefferson isn’t quite as bad an idea as taking it from Aaron Burr, at least in the popular understanding of history. Though Burr didn’t share several of Jefferson’s moral defects, certainly not his gross hypocrisy on the subject of slavery.

    You do know, or at least you would if you read much of Jefferson on religion that he called himself a “Christian” and he endorsed Joseph Pristeley’s theology, Priestly was a “Christian” minister, though of a peculiarly Unitarian kind. He waren’t no atheist.

  36. #36 Wow
    December 5, 2011

    “Taking advice on morality”


    I wasn’t.

    Maybe you were, who can tell.

    I was showing you the error in your self-serving self-pitying cry

    “I’d be curious to know why any rational person would believe that their being rude to other people would have a different effect on those people…”

    The reason for “being rude” is that we’re ridiculing your idiotic parroting of new-age christian babble.

    Ridicule is your lot because you are unable to create an intelligible proposition. All you have is whining about “entrenched scientistic materialists”.

    Until you can make an intelligible statement, you will be ridiculed.

    And the one being ridiculed will always see it as being rude. Live with it or make some sense for a change.

    Your choice.

  37. #37 Anthony McCarthy
    December 5, 2011

    Wow, you are as ignorant as you are rude. Anyone who has read much of what I wrote and who had the first clue about the topic would realize I’m not a Christian. “New Age” I can imagine how someone who holds a rather conventional, old fashioned view of science as being entirely dependent on physical evidence and so can address only the part of the physical universe covered by that evidence might seem “new agey” to you boys. But only because scientism is an ideology opposed to that fact. To tie this in to the topic of this thread, I’ve known way, way too many atheists of that type.

  38. #38 Wow
    December 5, 2011

    Nope, I’m supremely unfazed by your problems since they’re completely of your own making.

    I’m rude to you because you see ridiculing your pathetic whining as being rude.


  39. #39 Anthony McCarthy
    December 5, 2011

    WithOut Wisdom
    Waste of Words
    Words, Only Worthless

  40. #40 Jim Ramsey
    December 5, 2011


    If “Evolution” gets called “Darwinism”, why don’t we call “Intelligent Design” “Johnsonism”?

  41. #41 Wow
    December 6, 2011

    Anthony, do you live in the USA?

    He was one of the founding fathers, you know.

    You just dissed an entire country.

  42. #42 Anthony McCarthy
    December 6, 2011

    I am not a follower of the Founders fetish, a recent innovation invented by segregationists and their ideological allies. The American Constitution is in need of drastic updating.

    Jim Ramsey, “Darwinism” is a term that has been used synonymously with “evolution” by, among others, Richard Dawkins. He has stated one of his goals is to convert the infidel to Darwinism, not only on this one and only planet on which there is some evidentiary basis for making the claim but, literally, in the entire universe:

    More, I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence. This makes it a doubly satisfying theory. A good case can be made that Darwinism is true, not just on this planet but all over the universe, wherever life may be found.

    Curious about the very recent folk etymology that it is used only by creationists, I traced it back as far as one of the more prominent, and arrogant, Sciencebloggers (no, not PZ). In fact, it is a word that has been used by most of the evolutionary biologists since Thomas Huxley gave it its modern meaning (it had previously been used to designate Erasmus Darwin’s evolutionary ideas). In trying to point this out, to said Scienceblogger among other men of, un, science, I’ve found they will not let any amount of evidence overturn their devoutly held belief.

    All of which shows that scientists aren’t always very careful with fact when it comes to things outside of their specialty, such as etymology and history. Religion, also.

  43. #43 Wow
    December 6, 2011

    “I am not a follower of the Founders fetish”

    But you are living in a country he helped create.

    Therefore, since you apparently believe that since TJ thought whites were superior to blacks, he’s wrong on everything else, the USA was created in error and is based on racism.

  44. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    December 6, 2011

    Wow, I am not beholden to Thomas Jefferson, I am not bound to accept more of what he said than seems rational and useful. The country I live in has a history blighted by the deficiencies in its founding documents. His pronouncements on religion are no more authoritative than his example as a slave holder are worthy of imitation. Though I, as you have not, have bothered to read what he said as opposed to copying selected quotes as found in the catalog o Prometheus Books and the ideological tracts of the pseudo-skeptics.

    Having read quite a bit about the French Revolution and its disastrous aftermath recently, Jefferson’s enthusiasm for it seems more than a bit unhinged. But, then, he was in the habit o

  45. #45 Anthony McCarthy
    December 6, 2011

    cont. he was in the habit of looking at people as objects for use by more powerful people. Certainly available for his use.

    Jefferson was morally obtuse for all his eloquence and relative erudition. Far as I’m concerned, that disqualifies what he said on the topic of religion and morality from being important.

  46. #46 Wow
    December 6, 2011

    Therefore what?

    That irrational and unformed propositions are NOT best responded to with the ridicule they deserve?

    I’ve already told you I’m not using him to form my morality, and in any case, the morality of those times are not the morality of these times, hence you have to take the context of the society he was in to find out if he was “immoral”.

    But I guess rationality is impossible for you, woomancer.

    “Jefferson was morally obtuse for all his eloquence and relative erudition.”

    But your proof for that is nonexistent, consisting solely of ad homs.

    And, in any case, does not refute the quote, since it isn’t about morality, but on the rational response to idiots who spout nonsensical phrases.

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