Most atheists ‘still believe in the supernatural’, new study finds

Ancient broken Celtic cross laying on the ground at an English graveyard.
Ancient broken Celtic cross laying on the ground at an English graveyard.

Many of the ideas people have about atheists are a ‘gross caricature’ - and many so-called unbelievers still firmly believe in the supernatural.

Researchers from the global Understanding Unbelief programme said that many of the ideas held about atheists are ‘a simplification at best’.

Many atheists and agnostics, believe in the supernatural and that there are ‘forces of good and evil’, the researchers found.

Also, contrary to what some religious people might think, unbelievers do tend to believe in an objective sense of ‘what’s right’.

Most unbelievers endorse objective moral values, human dignity and attendant rights, and the 'deep value' of nature, at similar rates to the general populations in their countries.

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Dr Lois Lee, Senior Research Fellow in the University of Kent's Department of Theology and Religion, said: 'These findings show once and for all that the public image of the atheist is a simplification at best, and a gross caricature at worst.

'Instead of relying on assumptions about what it means to be an atheist, we can now work with a real understanding of the many different worldviews that the atheist population includes.

'The implications for public and social policy are substantial - and this study also stands to impact on more everyday interactions in religiously diverse societies.'

Project co-leader Dr Jonathan Lanman, an anthropologist at Queen's University Belfast, said: 'Our data directly counter common stereotypes about unbelievers.

'A common view of unbelievers is that they lack a sense of objective morality and purpose but possess an arrogant confidence and a very different set of values from the rest of the population.

'Our representative data across six diverse countries show that none of this is true.'