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Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers Paperback – June 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
RAYMOND F. PALOUTZIAN
Professor of Psychology, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA
Editor, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
"This slender, conversational, but methodologically sound treatise on the inner world of atheists will pleasantly surprise readers accustomed to the soporific ‘academese’ of most sociological studies…The study is limited in scope, but the flaws are so forthrightly acknowledged and the writing is so fresh, honest, compelling and entertaining, that it is bound to become an important launching point for more studies of what makes atheists tick."
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Top Customer Reviews
Of the active atheists, he found with great surprise that they can be as dogmatic and close-minded as the staunchest bible-thumping Protestant. Of course, it isn't surprising that members at opposite ends of any religious, philosophical, scientific, or political belief system would tend to dismiss those who strongly disagree with them (in Andrew Newberg's new book, WHY WE BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE, he does the first brain scan study on an atheist, showing biological evidence that the contemplation upon opposing beliefs causes neurological dissonance in the frontal lobes, where logic and conscious reasoning occur). However, they are far less authoritarian than fundamentalists, and far more likely to encourage a wider variety of religious beliefs throughout the world.Read more ›
A few of the conclusions are also questionable. For example, the authors claim that atheists are more dogmatic than one might expect, but their own evidence shows that atheists are substantially less dogmatic than most other religious groups. Their assertion about the dogmatism of atheists is on dodgy ground, and seems to have more to do with adding drama to the research findings than with those findings themselves.
Aside from these points, a good introductory foray into an important topic of research.
If you are interested in people and how they think and see themselves against what they perceive as a hostel environment full of irrational religious people, this is a good addition to your library.
The authors readily acknowledge that their samples are not necessarily representative of all American atheists, and their methods are limited (all involve written surveys). They see this as preliminary work. Fortunately, they provide detailed descriptions of their sample populations, and they reproduce all of the survey questions, so you can see for yourself and draw your own conclusions. The authors' "finding" that in some cases atheists can be more dogmatic than theists provides a good example of why this is important. In my opinion, their operant definition of "atheist dogmatism" and their method of testing for it is questionable, but you can examine the whole thing and decide for yourself.
I was particularly intrigued by a concept discussed late in the book -- an idea not brought up in any of the reviews here. The concept is authoritarianism, discussed here as mode of thinking, an element of social psychology, rather than as an aspect of political systems or of a particular government. In other words, authoritarianism in this sense is not necessarily a particular government's overextension of authority and power at the expense of individual rights, but the degree to which individuals are inclined to accept certain assertions simply because they emanate from some source of authority, whether it be an elected official, an expert or respected leader, the police, the Bible, or whatever. One of the authors has done considerable research on authoritarianism and considers general attitudes about authority to be a more useful explanation for some of their research results than whether the respondents were theist or atheist. And I think the concept might often provide more useful insight into the behavior of our electorate than the more common characterizations of liberal vs. conservative.
I find that most of the book's results reinforce the feeling I've had for a long time that atheism is more a consequence, rather than a cause, of how one's mind apprehends the world. Particularly noteworthy are the authors' accounts of former devout believers who became atheists. It turns out there is a way to raise your children in a heavily God-and-Jesus-saturated household that will increase their risk of apostasy--and that way isn't what a deeply cynical person might suspect. In other words, parents don't drive their offspring from the faith through abuse or harassment; sadly, such treatment likely keeps them within the flock.
The authors candidly, and repeatedly, admit that they were surprised by their own results. A lifelong atheist, I was at times as well. Are atheists more or less dogmatic than believers? More or less zealous? More or less ethnocentric? I reckon most folks, atheists and believers alike, feel confident they could make qualitative guesses about all of these. Hunsberger and Altemeyer show us data. Some are bound to be disappointed, and others pleasantly surprised--yet it's not always the same team that sees its prejudices vindicated.
Atheists is pretty short (only about 150 pages), is engagingly, informally written, and makes for a brisk read.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book should be of interest to anyone involved in the study of the psychology of religion. It offers the results of the authors' survey and interview studies of the attitudes... Read morePublished 23 months ago by OldGrayDog
I'm an atheists by my self....so, I find the book very informative, little may be to "numbering?" but in general very good.-
Anyone who has been told there is something unAmerican or amoral about atheists should check this out. Read morePublished on November 1, 2012 by Sophia
For all of the social science research that's been done on religious belief, far too little has been done on religious unbelief. This work stands as a useful corrective. Read morePublished on August 21, 2012 by J. Marlin
Disclaimer: I love Bob Altemeyer. Or, at least, I love his writing. He's hilarious - a nice break from the dry, humorless writing typical of almost anyone writing on psychological... Read morePublished on July 25, 2011 by Harrison Koehli
By Bob Altemeyer, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, and Bruce Hunsberger, of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Manitoba (winner of the... Read morePublished on February 6, 2011 by Nonfiction Steve
The low score given to this book needs explanation. The book bored me to tears. However, i am not blaming the authors: I doubt I could have done any better at writing a book about... Read morePublished on November 18, 2008 by The Skeptic Arena
This survey research is not based on a scientific sample. Atheists are few, so that it is not possible to draw a random sample to interview. Read morePublished on June 5, 2007 by Wolf Roder