Science news sites have recently included some unusual articles: reports about the science of atheism.  What can scientists say about atheism without leaving the domain of science altogether?

The science of distrust:  PhysOrg reported a study from the University of British Columbia about why believers distrust atheists.  A sense of the feelings of the researchers can be seen in their title of their paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice.”  Surveys of 350 American adults and 420 students found that atheists ranked lower in trustworthiness than Christians, Jews, Muslims, gay men and feminists – only rapists ranked comparably low.  “The researchers concluded that religious believer’s distrust – rather than dislike or disgust – was the central motivator of prejudice against atheists, adding that these studies offer important clues on how to combat this prejudice,” the article stated, mentioning also a Gallup poll that showed only 45% of Americans would vote for an atheist president.  If it’s a prejudice, it cannot be a well-thought-out position, can it?  Study co-author Ara Norenzayan said, “believers may consider atheists’ absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty.”

Christmas for atheists:  They may feel it grounded in folly, but many atheists still celebrate Christmas.  Science Daily reported on a study by some researchers in Texas and New York why that is.  Some do it because they want to expose their children to a variety of belief systems, including religion.  Some do it to please a spouse.  Some do it because they “want a sense of moral community and behavior, even if they don’t agree with the religious reasoning.”  Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, principal investigator for the paper published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Dec. 2011), wanted to show that atheists do not typically indoctrinate their children one way or another.  “I think that understanding how nonreligious scientists utilize religion in family life demonstrates the important function they have in the U.S.,” she said….

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