A Survey of Unbelievers (Results)

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 25, 2010 in General Atheism

A few months ago, I invited you to take part in a survey of unbelievers, conducted by researchers Cheyne & Britton. Here are the preliminary results:

(Those that self-identified as “atheists” were a 25% subset of nontheists.)

1. Atheists as a group were very strongly antitheist and antireligion… Agnostics, on the other hand were somewhat less hostile… to… religion.

2. Nontheists generally reported coming to their views very largely during late adolescence…

3. Most respondents reported coming from at least moderately religious families.

4. Atheists expressed great, and agnostics less, sense of gain regarding, and confidence in the correctness of, their views than other nontheists.

5. The nontheists were remarkably liberal, with 91% rating themselves as left of centre…

6. Nontheists, particularly humanists, generally endorsed very positively a type of morality… called individuating [fairness, justice, kindness, and personal autonomy], and atheists and sceptics tended to reject a type of morality associated with conservativism, called binding/purity morality [loyalty, respect for authority, moral purity]…

Consistent with prior research, nontheists in our study, and especially atheists, were most often young…, male…, highly educated, liberal, and hostile to religion.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

G'DIsraeli September 25, 2010 at 5:22 am

Not surprising, to say the least.


al friedlander September 25, 2010 at 11:15 am

So atheists are rebels?


Keith September 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

That last description fits me except the liberal (although I am not the ultraconservative I used to be) or hostile to religion part (although I do go after it when necessary). Not sure what it means to be “highly educated”. I have an engineering degree and a masters in teaching. I’ll be 30 in November so I guess I am young still…


Garren September 26, 2010 at 5:18 am

For more on the individuating vs binding/purity distinction, see:



Jeff H September 26, 2010 at 1:33 pm

The one unfortunate thing about this research is that the methodology makes it difficult to produce firm conclusions. As far as I’m aware, there was no attempt to randomly select individuals or to achieve a representative sample of a certain population. It relied on people voluntarily filling out the survey, and ended up getting passed around on a number of atheist blogs and whatnot. Thus, it’s quite likely that the conclusions only apply to something like “non-believers who frequent atheist blogs.”

It would be much better to have had a nationally representative sample using random selection – but of course, they may not have had the funding resources to do that. So just be careful when drawing any conclusions from this: at best, it can only be considered a “preliminary study”.


Keith September 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Good points Jeff H!


shreddakj September 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I didn’t partake in the survey but I think they just described me extremely accurately!


Jim T September 27, 2010 at 9:23 am

Guilty as charged


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