Masters Thesis

Are Atheists Immoral? Patterns of Values of Atheists, Deists, and Theists on Moral Foundations

The present study sought to determine the level of accuracy in the public perception of atheists as immoral. Moral profiles of atheists, deists, and theists were evaluated and compared within the Moral Foundations Theory framework. Data were analyzed from 492 respondents to an online survey who completed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) and responded to several moral scenarios and religious identity questions. Using moral scenarios in concert with the MFQ provided insight into how the belief groups applied their moral priorities when making moral judgments. in contrast to atheist stereotypes, atheists had moral profiles similar to those of theists and deists, with all groups giving much more priority to the “individualizing” foundations than to the “binding” foundations. However, in between-groups comparisons, theists gave the highest priority to the binding foundations of purity, in-group loyalty, and authority/respect, whereas atheists gave the highest priority to the individualizing foundation of fairness/reciprocity. the MFQ did not predict moral judgment in a scenario where killing one person would save many others. Theists rated this action as more wrong than right, whereas atheists and deists rated it as equally wrong and right (maximum moral ambivalence). Moral judgment appears to result from an interaction between moral dispositions measured by the MFQ and situational details that potentially activate one or more of an individual’s higher priority dispositions, e.g., purity/sanctity in theists, which may have increased their aversion to violating a basic moral prohibition.

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