Atheists are Cheats and Liars

Robin Hanson shares the results of a new survey showing that people distrust atheists, while they don’t distrust other groups which are often targets of discrimination (such as teh gays). Then, he shares experimental evidence showing that atheists are, indeed, more likely to cheat and lie.

I am utterly shocked by the results. The paper suggests that people mistrust atheists (and atheists cheat) because the atheists do not fear God’s judgment. But I doubt that this is the case.

My theory is that people mistrust atheists because [they believe] atheists are too naive and simple-minded. The world is built on hypocrisy and deception, and you want leaders and colleagues who are expert at lying when necessary, and who tell the truth at just the right time. Fighting against a being you believe to be imaginary, while most of the people who profess belief in that being do not even follow any of that being’s commands, is evidence of poor judgment. It’s evidence of a person who doesn’t know how to pick his battles.

This, I believe, is consistent with the evidence showing that atheists actually cheat more. In the studies, the cheating was always a very simple-minded sort of cheating. It’s the sort of cheating you would expect from someone who is bad at picking his battles. My theory should be easy enough to test empirically. For example, you could see if people prefer religious folks in jobs that require subtle duplicity, such as politics and diplomacy. I think the answer would be “no”. And you could test to see if atheists cheat more frequently in more sophisticated scenarios where hypocrisy is an advantage. Again, I suspect the answer is “no”.

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