A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 44% of Americans (compared with 26% of Canadians) think that a belief in God is needed to be moral. Other polls have found that distrust of atheists is common among theists who belief that a belief in God is needed to be moral. A new study by Tomas Staahl and associates at the University of Illinois at Chicago has examined the moral compasses of theists and atheists. The study is published online (Feb 24, 2021) in the journal PLOS One. The study shows that there are many similarities between the moral compasses of theists and atheists, but also some key differences. Both groups highly endorsed moral goals like fairness and protecting the well-being of vulnerable people, for instance, and both highly endorsed liberty but not oppression. However, the study found that, in making moral judgments, atheists tend to place less emphasis than theists on matters of group cohesion, such as valuing loyalty and respecting authority. The study refers to the theory that morals are largely founded on five central values: caring, fairness, authority, loyalty and sanctity. Caring involves a desire to protect vulnerable individuals from harm. Fairness involves concepts such as justice. Authority involves acting in accordance with the law and directions of authority figures such as police, parents, teachers, officials, etc. Loyalty involves not acting in way that would go against principles or values of one's own groups (social, community, country, etc.) Sanctity involves not doing anything perceived as degrading or "unclean". The study found very little difference between atheists and believers on the values of caring and fairness. However, atheists placed much less emphasis on the other three values than theists. All three of those values can be seen as involving group cohesion - maintaining harmony in a social/cultural group. In making moral decisions, atheists typically did not regard those three values are being of high importance. These findings still held when the survey results were controlled from political orientation, making it more likely that the differences are actually due to religious orientation rather than to political orientation. Both groups (atheists and theists) scored low on questions meant to detect amoral attitudes (i.e. a lack of concern about whether a choice or a course of action is moral). For instance, both groups strongly disagreed with statements like "I am willing to be unethical if I believe it will help me succeed." The study did not investigate whether the groups differed in actual behaviours, as opposed to their expressed opinions. Both groups highly endorsed statements like "Society works best when it lets individuals take responsibility for their own lives without telling them what to do.", which is a statement about liberty and oppression. Both groups said they saw rational thinking — believing in evidence-based claims and being skeptical of claims lacking evidence — as a moral issue, which is interesting because it is a reasonably commonly-expressed opinion that religious belief and rational, scientific thought are incompatible. The study found that atheists are more likely than believers to base their moral judgments on the consequences of actions, rather than on a more fixed set of principles ("It is just wrong to do X, and if I did this thing I would be doing X, so that would be wrong.") When it comes to reasons or explanations for the differences in the moral compasses of atheists and theists, the study found some correlations which, it should be noted, are not necessarily causes. For example, participants who were raised religiously, or in strongly religious environments, and observed important people in their communities engaging in religious activities, were more likely to share the "typical" theist moral compass described above. The authors speculate that this is because, in such an environment, it can be costly for a person to decide or express the opinion that the religious beliefs and moral "rules" might be false. Whether a person viewed the world as a dangerous place was also correlated, with those who saw the world as being more dangerous being more likely to have the theist moral compass than the atheist one. The authors speculate that this might be because the believers surveyed thought that God would help protect them from harm. More analytical thinkers were more likely to have the typical atheist moral compass, and more self-identifying atheists were found to be "analytical thinkers" than self-identifying theists, in the study. The study was based on 4 surveys, conducted in the US (a highly religious country) and Sweden (a highly secular country), with atheists and theists in both countries. The findings were replicated across both countries. The authors express interest in seeing whether the findings are duplicated in non-Western countries. For example, China is a largely irreligious but very group-oriented country. They are also interested in examining countries in which atheism is officially forbidden, such as in some predominantly Muslim countries (e.g. the United Arab Emirates). ----- Do these findings fit your own ideas about your own moral compass? Do you fit the "typical" theist or atheist mould, as described here?