Atheists more compassionate than believers, study finds

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by KilljoyKlown, May 5, 2012.

  1. Balerion Banned Banned

    So you're determined to ride the fence, studies be damned.

    If you want to take an irrational approach to this question, at least admit you're doing so, and don't chastise others for accepting the study's findings.

    And the platitudes like "Some of the nastiest people I've ever met are ____" or "Some of the kindest people I've met are ___" are irrelevant to the discussion, because the study does not claim that those kinds of people don't exist.
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  3. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    You know Dawg, your assertions that people like yourself are more compassionate than other people would be a little more convincing if you weren't so insulting towards everyone that you disagree with. You need to at least pretend to have some concern about other people's feeings.
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  5. Balerion Banned Banned

    Straw men and red herrings everywhere! I'm pretty sure this is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

    For one, I was commenting on your posts, not your person. In those posts, you dismissed a scientific study by redefining terms and making assertions you cannot support, and followed that up by presenting your own personal experiences--that atheists are dicks--as being more valid than the study. And then you conclude that one group is no more compassionate than the other, which is seemingly divorced from the experience you cite as reason to doubt the validity of the study in the first place.

    If that isn't simply an exercise in Political Correctness, then you have some clarifications to make. Feigning offense only makes your position look weaker.

    But since you bring it up, is that what "compassion" means to you? Pretending that an irrational argument is as valid as a rational one? In your opinion, I should have done what? Pretend I couldn't see what you were up to? This is a discussion forum, Yaz. If you don't want your arguments dissected, don't offer them.
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  7. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    The thing with compassion and generosity is that they include elements that are difficult if not impossible to measure objectively, but make all the difference in the nature and results of the act:

    - the intentions of the one performing the act of compassion or generosity,
    - the intentions of the one receiving the act of compassion or generosity,
    - the results of the act of compassion or generosity for the performer,
    - the results of the act of compassion or generosity for the receiver,
    - the results of the act of compassion or generosity for anyone else who might be involved in any way.

    I'd be interested in also seeing some studies on how the recipients gauged what they received, how cared for they have felt, and whether there was an increase of learned helplessness in them.

    When we simply give people what they want, we are acting out of a sense of our own grandiosity - to feel good about ourselves.

    From Pema Chodron:
    Pema: Idiot compassion is a great expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it's whats called enabling. It's the general tendency to give people what they want because you can't bear to see them suffering. Basically, you're not giving them what they need. You're trying to get away from your feeling of I can't bear to see them suffering. In other words, you're doing it for yourself. You're not really doing it for them.

    From Chogyam Trungpa:
    Could you briefly describe idiot compassion?

    Chogyam Trungpa:
    Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea
    that you want to do good....Of course, [according to
    the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism] you should do
    everything for everybody; there is no selection
    involved at all. But that doesn't mean to say that you
    have to be gentle all the time. Your gentleness should
    have heart, strength. In order that your compassion
    doesn't become idiot compassion, you have to use your
    intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence
    of thinking that you are creating a compassionate situation
    when in fact you are feeding the other person's aggression.
    If you go to a shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you
    go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn't seem to
    be a very healthy thing to do for others.
  8. Balerion Banned Banned

    This is exactly what drives me crazy about you. This is a dead giveaway that you haven't even bothered to click the link. You're more interested in being a contrarian than being informed.

    Intentions are precisely what was measured in the studies, and it was found that the non- or only slightly-religious have a more emotional response to images and scenes of suffering or destitution, and opted (in the final two studies, in which participants were given fake money to give or withhold) to give the most.

    Even altruism, on an instinctual level, is a selfish trait. So it's unfair to rule out those who give because it makes them feel good. Feeling good is simply a natural reward to being kind and generous. Other than that, what could possibly change the nature of the act? Someone building an orphanage so they can blow it up? Outside of the comic books, how often does something like that happen?

    Certainly people on the receiving end of generosity appreciate it, but it wouldn't matter if they didn't. Now, if you want to talk about how much a particular kind of generosity actually helps someone (thinking Welfare here) then that's a different topic for a different day, and not at all what we're talking about here.

    Completely wrong. Trungpa doesn't warn against doing it to make ourselves feel better--everyone is compassionate for precisely that reason. The drive to be generous and charitable comes directly from that awful feeling you get when you see helplessness and suffering. He's warning against doing things only because you think you should, which is smart. It's also completely irrelevant to our conversation. They were not testing how people reacted to shady characters feigning poverty while wearing a nice gold chain. They were showing real images and scenes of suffering, and gauging how people reacted to it.

    Of course, you'd know this if you had actually followed the link.
  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    You insult other people and you insult the remarks that they make. Rudeness and insults aren't the same thing as thoughtful and friendly disagreement.

    Far from being a "red herring", atheists' compassion is the stated subject of this thread. Like it or not, you and the other atheists here on Sciforums are examples of atheists. How you behave towards others represents data-points relating to this issue.

    I said that my own experience has tended to contradict the study's conclusions. In my experience, the more militant sort of atheists display noticeably less compassion than the average person. They are noticeably ruder and nastier. Your behavior on Sciforums is consistent with that generalization, Dawg.

    I also said that when I turn my attention away from self-identified atheists arguing atheism to typical people in everyday secular situations, I can't generally distinguish what religious grouping a person belongs to, if any, simply by how they behave towards other people at work, recreationally or when they are shopping. People seem to display a similar compassion-range, that seems to be more a function of their shared humanity than of their religious adherence or lack of it.

    In other words, if people are behaving in non-religious contexts, I don't think that religion typically influences their level of compassion all that much. Compassion arises deeper in people's psychology.

    When people find themselves in explicitly religious (or anti-religious) contexts, the more aggressive personalities among them will often start to act like jerks. We see that happening with religious fanatics of various sorts, and we also see it happening with militant atheists. I think that's probably what explains my observation that loud atheists are noticeably less compassionate than the average person.

    The point was that atheists' aggressive and uncompassionate rhetorical behavior is self-defeating in this thread, since it belies the conclusion that they want other people to accept, that atheists are more compassionate than others. Compassion is something that atheists will have to actually demonstrate in their own behavior.

    I think that compassion is empathy and sympathy for the suffering and discomfort of others. It's typically associated with a desire to not cause additional suffering, to avoid making existing suffering worse, and to help alleviate it if that's possible.

    You've called my remarks "irrational" and told me that you "see what I am up to", but you haven't really said a whole lot about why you think I'm wrong.

    You're welcome to disagree with me. I invite people to do that. (All of my posts are made in hopes of stimulating discussion.) But especially in the context of this thread, where the topic is atheists' supposedly superior compassion, atheists need to express their disagreements... compassionately.
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Here's, Ill give you some shrugs too:

    Being more emotional does not automatically translate into wiser action.

    Religious people are more likely to be familiar with thoughts and images of aging, illness and death, and so their reaction to them may be less emotional, and more pragmatic. Meaning that they will more likely seek to do something that would really help the other person, as opposed to just trying to shut them up with some feel-good charity.

    For starters, the recipient not actually having any benefit from the supposedly compassionate act.

    The thing about love is that it is only love if the recipient feels loved. It's not much of a love that doesn't care how it comes across to the addressee of the love.
    Similar with compassion, generosity, kindness.

    It matters at least as much as the act of giving.
    A truly generous person would care whether the gift they have given is well-received.

    You don't get to set the theme of the conversation.

    Buddhist ideas of compassion are informed by a lot more than just gut feelings.
    There are concerns over karma, rebirth, merit, virtue, pragmatism, noble association, liberation from suffering to be considered.

    Of course, we can now debate on who gets to have the say on what is the true Buddhist stance on these things ...

    Not even remotely. I brought it in to exemplify a different approach to compassion, generosity.

    I know ...
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

  12. Bells Staff Member

    No it does not.

    But sometimes you also need to act before you set the person in need of help on the better path to enable them to not be in that position again. Look at aid going to Africa. Live Aid was possibly one of the biggest non-theist charity events that we had ever seen. One of the major criticisms of Live Aid is that it created a situation where the people were too reliant on charity instead of securing and building new ways to plant and ensure the safety of their crops. And that criticism is not wrong. But it has to be tempered with the knowledge that if the world had not acted and rushed into providing the charity, more would have been lost then than saved. It should have been a two pronged approach and it is something they are recognising now, by teaching new farming practices and ways of conserving water.

    But I don't think the wise action would have been to not feed them then and there where they needed it.

    Why do you make the assumption that it is religious people who will be more than likely to be more familiar with "thoughts and images of aging, illness and death" as opposed to anyone else?

    That is a strange statement to make. Do you have some proof to back that up?
  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Here's several examples of studies that argue for conclusions that I don't think that atheists are going to like. I'm curious what the response to them is going to be, if expressions of skepticism about the findings of "scientific studies" has been ruled out as "irrational".

    The problem for credulous atheists is that there's already a large academic literature out there claiming significant correlations between religiosity and a host of positive things.

    Ethics and Religion: An Empirical Test of a Multidimensional Model
    J. Business Ethics 80:387-398

    This study found that belief in church authority, degree of spiritual commitment, and religious behavior such as church attendance and prayer, all have significant inverse correlations to individuals' willingness to justify unethical behaviors.

    The impact of Religiosity on Personal Financial Decisions
    J. Religion and Society

    This one found a significant positive correlation between high levels of individual religiosity and credit scores, and a significant negative correlation with credit card balances, foreclosures and bankruptcies.

    Religion, Spirituality and Medicine - Research Findings and Implications for Clinical Practice
    J. Southern Medical Association 2004 pp 1194-1200 Medical J CME-Koenig.pdf

    This one is kind of a continuing medical education review article. It claims that religious beliefs and practices are positively correlated with lower suicide rates, lower anxiety, less substance abuse, less depression, faster recovery from depression, greater feelings of well-being, hope and optimism, greater sense of meaning and purpose in life, higher levels of social support and greater marital satisfaction and stability.

    There's hundreds more where these came from.
  14. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Just read scriptures, from pretty much any religion.
    They often contain graphic analyses of aging, illness and death.

    For example:

    Look at the beautified image, a heap of festering wounds, shored up: ill, but the object of many resolves, where there is nothing lasting or sure.
    Worn out is this body, a nest of diseases, dissolving. This putrid conglomeration is bound to break up, for life is hemmed in with death.
    On seeing these bones discarded like gourds in the fall, pigeon-gray: what delight?
    A city made of bones, plastered over with flesh & blood, whose hidden treasures are: pride & contempt, aging & death.

    §10 Reflections on her body by the former beautiful courtesan, later the arahat nun Ambapali

    Black was my hair, the color of bees, curled at the ends;
    with aging it's likened to fibers of hemp —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's[2] words.

    Fragrant was my hair, full of flowers like a perfume box;
    with aging it possesses the smell of dog's fur —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Thick as a well-planted grove and comely with comb, pin and parting;
    with aging it's thin here and there —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Braided well, adorned, black masses beautified by gold;
    with aging has the head become quite bald —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    My eyebrows then as though by artists were well-drawn;
    with aging they are wrinkled, hanging down —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Flashing and brilliant as jewels, black and long were my eyes;
    by aging overwhelmed no longer beautiful —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Long, beautiful and delicate my nose in the bloom of my youth;
    with aging has become quite pendulous —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Fair my earlobes, formerly as bracelets well and truly crafted;
    with aging they are wrinkled, hanging down —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Then were my teeth beautiful, the hue of plantain buds;
    with aging they have broken and yellowed —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Sweet was my singing voice as cuckoo in the forest grove;
    with aging it is broken now and then —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Formerly my throat was beautiful, polished like a conch;
    with aging decayed it is and twisted —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Round as door-bars then were my arms beautiful;
    with aging they are weak as the trumpet-creeper —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Adorned with gold and delicate signet rings my hands were beautiful;
    with aging just like knotted and twisted roots —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Full and round were my breasts, close together, lovely and lofty;
    pendulous they hang now as water-skins without water —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Fair was my body then as a well-burnished tablet of gold;
    now it is covered all over with very fine wrinkles —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Lovely both my thighs as the trunks of elephants;
    with aging they are as a bamboo's stems —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    Fair were my legs adorned with fine golden anklets;
    with aging stick-like as the sesame —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    As though filled out with down my feet so lovely;
    with aging they are cracked and wrinkled —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    So was this congeries; decrepit now, abode of dukkha;
    old house with its plaster falling off —
    not other than this are the Truth-speaker's words.

    — Verses of the Elder Bhikkhunis 252-270

    Monks, it is just like an ulcer that had been growing for many years, having nine gaping wounds, nine lesions, and whatever discharged and oozed out of it would be foul and stinking, it would be loathsome.

    "Ulcer," monks, is a name for this body consisting of the four great elements, procreated by mother and father, and built up out of rice and bread. It is subject to impermanence, to breaking up and wearing away, to dissolution and to disintegration, having nine gaping wounds, nine lesions. Whatever discharges and oozes out of it is foul and stinks, it is loathsome.

    Therefore, monks, turn away from[5] this body.

    — A. IX, 15

    This impure body
    like a wave that rises suddenly,
    breaks and disperses.
    This impure body
    like a speck of dust
    in a desert land
    where mirages are seen.

    — Wijayasiri Amaratunga

    The food and drink so greatly prized —
    The crisp to chew, the soft to suck —
    Go in all by a single door,
    But by nine doors[14] come oozing out.
    The food and drink so greatly prized —
    The crisp to chew, the soft to suck —
    Men like to eat in company,
    But to excrete in secrecy.
    The food and drink so greatly prized —
    The crisp to chew, the soft to suck —
    These a man eats with high delight,
    And then excretes in dumb disgust.
    The food and drink so greatly prized —
    The crisp to chew, the soft to suck —
    A single night will be enough
    To bring them to putridity.

    — The Path of Purification, Ch. XI, para. 23

    Secular sources are not famous for such analyses.
  15. Bells Staff Member

    And? So do most books, fictional and non-fictional.

    Aging is a part of life, as is illness and death. To claim that religious people are more in tune with those facts is a bit strange considering that it is something that everyone witnesses and experiences.

    Possibly because we live it and see it daily. We see ourselves age as we look at our parents and other older family members and when we look in the mirror each morning.
  16. Bells Staff Member

    Again, one only has to look at Westboro Baptist Church for the "correlations between religiosity and a host of positive things". You can even look at the Catholic Church and Islam for just how well it treats homosexuals and how compassionate they are towards them, as one example. Or how compassionately the Church has handled cases of child sex abuse by shifting the clergy around to hide it (which would pertain to your first link).

    And this:

    Tell that to the women being denied reproductive care in many parts of the world if they so happened to go to a Catholic hospital during a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy and the doctors, under strict instruction from the clergy, refuse to perform life saving surgery on the mother because the fetus still has a heart beat.

    I wonder how theists such as yourself are able to explain such correlations between religiosity and the denial of basic medical care? Do you think that is positive and compassionate?
  17. Believe Happy medium Valued Senior Member

    The article only speaks to peoples motivation to help someone, not if they will help them or not. When you need help do you really care WHY someone is helping you?
  18. Balerion Banned Banned

    Where have I insulted you?

    You are not an object of compassion. You are participants in a debate. You're not even really people; you're just words on a screen. And as such, I'm taking my argument to those words, not to your person. I don't know you. I don't know what you look like, I don't know what you sound like, your temperament, or anything important about you. I can only judge you here by your arguments, and then only the traits relevant to these debates, such as your intellectual honesty, perhaps your ethics depending on what the debate is, or your tendency toward Political Correctness. And your argument against the studies presented are indicative of intellectual dishonesty and Political Correctness. I can tell that you're smart enough to understand the studies and their conclusions, so I'm only left with the option that you consciously choose to ignore it.

    Your conclusion is not based on the same criteria those studies were based on, and you're presenting a much different definition of "compassion" than we are operating under. For you, compassion is politeness in debates, but I don't know anyone (outside of the usual suspects here) who would agree to that definition. The study itself consisted of people being shown images of suffering and helplessness, and asked to either give or withhold fake money. This is not the same as studying two people engaged in a philosophical or scientific debate and seeing which one between the theist and the atheist is more rude.

    I would not be surprised if many atheists you met were less than patient with you if presented with silly ideas. For example, dismissing a group of studies by redefining terms and making assertions you won't or can't support might make an atheist think you're being intentionally dense.

    Again, compassion is not simply how well you get along with your workmates, so I'd question your authority to make such a claim. How often in your everyday life are you witness to situations in which compassion would come into play? Even if you were to tell me that you sit next to a homeless man asking for change every day for an hour, how could you say that there was no difference in general between atheists and theists unless you knew what each person passing by was? The simple answer is that you can't, therefore your claim is baseless.

    The studies suggest otherwise. Can you link to any studies that actually support your claims?

    What explains your observation is a misunderstanding of what "compassion" means.

    a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.​

    Compassion is not how someone reacts to your silly ideas and irrational arguments.

    Again, you're using "compassion" incorrectly. If I call you an idiot for your beliefs, I am not demonstrating a lack of compassion, because you are not stricken by misfortune. I am perhaps showing a lack of patience, and depending on the level of vitriol, a lack of civility, but certainly not a lack of compassion. Compassion does not come into play here.

    Oh, so then your misuse of the term above is witting? That's troubling.

    Don't play that game. Of course I have said why you're wrong. And there are three studies after the link which also contradict you.

    Once again, you misuse "compassionately." But aside from that, I do not need your permission to disagree with you. Once you put your thoughts on the forum, they are up for debate. And I sincerely doubt that your post was made to stimulate discussion. The fact that you know what compassion means yet use it incorrectly to suit your needs suggests that your only goal (or perhaps your primary goal) is to appear moderate, because the appearance of moderateness can be mistaken by the uninformed as the appearance of intelligence or thoughtfulness.
  19. Balerion Banned Banned

    So is that an admission that you didn't actually follow the link?

    No one said it did.

    That's utter nonsense. The entire world is full of images of aging, illness and death. We probably all know someone with or who has died from cancer. We all have lost parents or grandparents. There are children too young to have any faith or to consciously reject it in cancer wards all over the world.

    Why, because scripture has poetic, vague, and inaccurate descriptions of death and illness? If you want a secular source, go to WebMD. The descriptions are less poetic, but they're more accurate, and arise from an actual understanding of the human body.

    Again, nonsense. One, charities don't get "shut up" by your donation, so there's goes that rationale. Two, even if a charity only brings food to a starving village, that's probably the best that can be done with limited funding. Are you to say that just because we can't enrich the soil so that they may grow crops, or provide a permanent source of clean water (yet, at any rate) that no one benefits from alternatives like temporarily slaking a child's thirst and hunger?

    Third, you're speculating. What evidence do you have that the people who withheld their money from the impoverished and starving children did so because they'd rather give their money to a program that "actually helps"? And what programs fit that bill? Remember, if you can't show me one, then those people are simply being irrational.

    Can you give me an example of a charity that doesn't actually benefit people?

    That's not true at all. I did not feel loved when my parents disciplined me, yet they did so out of love for me. It doesn't make a difference whether the person being loved knows it or not.

    Again, wrong. If I love you and act out of love for you, your failure to appreciate it doesn't make the act any less loving.

    Again, no.

    It depends on what you mean by "well-received" (can't count on you to intend correct definitions of terms, after all). If you mean that the generous person would care whether the gift helped or benefited them, then of course. But if you're talking about whether or not the person receiving it knew it was charity or appreciated it, then no, a generous person wouldn't be bothered either way, because recognition is not the goal of the truly generous person.


    Intellect always plays a role, but if they really are bothered by all of these other items, then you prove the studies correct, in that religious people tend to act with regard to their dogmas rather than their humanity, and as such atheists--unbound by those dogmas--are more compassionate.

    No, you brought it in to obfuscate the discussion. Either that or to attempt to change the definition of "compassion", which appears to be a common trait on these forums.

    Clearly you did not.
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    If you can't even figure out whether the person you're talking to is a theist or an atheist ...
  21. Bells Staff Member

    I would say that he/she is more of an agnostic.

    Yataza's argument in this thread has been very much a theist one. If Yataza does not wish to be identified as a theist or an atheist, then Yataza is more than capable of stating so him/her self.
  22. Neverfly Banned Banned

    The problem with "studies" is that they are based on low end statistics.

    Generally speaking, religions often perform poorly in studies. Namely because religions perform poorly. So studies can influence; they can give a generalized idea; But they are not really science- They are guesswork.

    I've been an atheist for a good while. During that time, I have shown compassion and greed.

    I've lied and I've hurt people. I've acted like a fool.
    In the past two years, as an atheist, I've made a lot of bad decisions and sad mistakes. In short- I've been an asshole.

    And I've been good too. I've also been honest and direct. I've been very helpful to others at sacrifice to myself. I've tried hard to account for past mistakes and do better. I have my asshole moments and I have my good ones and I keep plugging away...

    I'm a Human. Whether I lack beliefs or if I were to try to adhere to them, I'd still be stuck with the human condition, human behaviors and human faults.

    This study is no surprise. But it's not science.
    I'm sure it's a shock to fundies who simply will not or cannot accept the idea that a lack of God doesn't mean self fulfilling anarchy. I'm sure it's a boost to atheists, who tire of fundies drama.

    But it's a group of 1300 people out of 7 odd billion.

    Looking at my own example... well, I'd like to BELIEVE I am better at rational thought than most fundies. But the reality is I'm no better of a person than they are. Sure I'm different- But not any better.

    The only real difference is that I don't get to blame the Devil when I "F" Up and I don't get to ask Jesus to save my nonexistent soul.

    I only get the option of trying to buck up and face myself and my mistakes or being a delusional prick and trying to deny them.

    Tried the delusional prick thing... Didn't work out so hot... tried that 'facing yourself and being honest bit' and that had good results.
    One doesn't have to disbelieve in God or believe in God to see the basics. One needs only have experience in life.
    This study is amusing but misleading enough to be worthless.
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    You can't even spell his name right ...

    You also owe him an apology for ascribing to him a stance he does not have -

    Last edited: May 11, 2012

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