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The Psychology of Atheists

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What is the psychological personality type of atheists, agnostics, and church defectors? Well, they tend to exhibit a strong preference for thinking and perceiving.

Are Atheists Just Selfish, Arrogant, or Angry at God?

Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ claims that atheists are too selfish and immersed in an immoral lifestyle to embrace Christianity. He suggests that relinquishing one's belief in god is merely a convenient way to engage in worldly pleasures.

Well, like many other statements from Lee Strobel ... this is a flat-out lie. Dr. Matthew J. Baker conducted a comprehensive study that drew upon a diverse sample of 10,525 atheists who left the church, as well as 1,977 theists who remained devout in their faith. Astonishingly, both groups scored low on selfishness according to the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP). The difference in their mean scores was negligible, debunking the notion that selfishness (and thus, a desire to live a sinful life) is a dominant driving force behind atheism.

Hilarious graphic from the 2023 International eConference on Atheism. By Shane Almgren.

Much like Lee Strobel, Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity portrays atheists as arrogant rationalists who believe their so-called "scientific approach" to life somehow gives them special access to all truth and knowledge. But Dr. Baker's research dispels this assumption, as well. When employing another scale from the IPIP to measure arrogance, he found no significant difference in mean scores between atheists and theists. In fact, the real variance lay with gender where males generally exhibit more arrogance than females, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Thus, the assertion that arrogance leads to atheism simply lacks empirical support.

Some Christians also contend that atheists are not godless by choice but harbor a deep-seated resentment toward God, often stemming from life's tribulations. Once again, using IPIP scales, Dr. Baker's research shows that anger does not contribute to atheism's roots in any significant way.

So why do people deconvert and become atheists?

Dr. Baker's work in this area aligns with the findings of Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger, who concluded that atheists predominantly convert due to intellectual rather than emotional reasons. They are relentless truth-seekers, willing to pay the price for their conviction that a person's worldview should be dictated by evidence. In other words, atheism is actually the result of very certain personality traits, specifically a preference for thinking (T) and perceiving (P) on the Myers-Briggs scale.

In one major study, differences in psychological type were examined among three samples, all of which comprised individuals who grew up attending church as children.

Of the three groups, the atheist/agnostic church-leavers differed the most from current churchgoers in terms of psychological type. For female atheist/agnostic church-leavers, the majority exhibited the following personality traits:

  • ISTP (Introverted, Observant, Thinking, and Perceiving),

  • INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving), and

  • ISTJ (Introverted, Observant, Thinking, and Judging).

For male atheist/agnostic church-leavers, the majority exhibited the following personality traits:

  • ISTP (Introverted, Observant, Thinking, and Perceiving),

  • ESTP (Extraverted, Observant, Thinking, and Perceiving), and

  • INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving).

These findings underscore the hypothesis that psychological type plays a substantial role in leaving the church, particularly among those who become atheist or agnostic. It appears that individuals with certain personality traits, characterized by a preference for thinking and perceiving, are more inclined to embrace atheism than their more emotional counterparts.

Moreover, the data largely aligns with the view that Christian churches tend to attract individuals with preferences for:

  • ISFJ (Introverted, Observant, Feeling, and Judging) among women, and

  • ISTJ (Introverted, Observant, Thinking, and Judging) among men.

This finding suggests that psychological type may indeed be a critical factor in understanding why atheists and agnostics depart from the church more often than those who retain some belief. Atheists are not inherently selfish, arrogant, or angry individuals. Instead, they are passionate about searching for truth and relentlessly pursuing intellectual honesty.



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