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Do non-believers tend towards a certain political view?


Disclaimer: all quotes from the AHS Convention are para-phrasings, not direct.

I've just been, yesterday, to the National Federation for Atheist, Humanist, and Secular Student ...' conference in Conway Hall, London. The AHS are a group wholly facilitated and supported by the - perhaps more familiar - British Humanist Association, and the day involved many high-profile Humanists giving salient, topical, and often humorous talks to an audience of mainly student society leaders.

The speakers included Jim Al-Khalili, a Physicist, broadcaster, and the new President of the BHA; Robin Ince, a well-known Atheist comedian and co-host of the Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox on Radio 4; Andrew Copson, Chief executive of the BHA; Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist and former BHA President; and many more notable and inspirational people.

I mention this because, during the Q&A after Polly Toynbee's talk, a very interesting point was made... A self-identifying 'Conservative Libertarian' seemed at pains with the idea that potential Humanists could be put off from identifying with the label because the organisation tends to take left-wing political views on various issues (and it's leading members are themselves vocally left-wing). According to my memory of it at least, the issue was - in his mind - a misrepresentation of the members of the BHA, as it 'was not meant to be a political organisation'.

Again, to my memory, Polly made the point in reply that the stance that the BHA takes on certain public ethical issues - such as assisted dying and sexual/reproductive rights - is intrinsically left-wing. Andrew Copson noted too, that (after beginning with 'Let me say something about the Tories', which had the hall laughing) while the BHA did have associations with Conservatives, those Tories tended to be the most left-wing of the right - perhaps of the same somewhat paradoxical group of  'Conservative Libertarians' as the man who asked the question... (Read more of this post)

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Comment by Marianne on March 28, 2013 at 1:07pm

 I believe that often non-believers have thought about not only the topic of relious matters but are often well educated in other subjects.I am a woman and all for woman's rights.  As to politics, I've been pretty much depressed about what's happening around here and the conservative view (even liberals are mid-center but maybe not right winged, though so often their levels of corruption keeps hitting the news);  before I saw myself as an anarchist and maybe a dissident, now I see myself as basically left-winged.

Comment by Carnun on March 26, 2013 at 3:32pm

Sorry for the late replies guys!

Marianne: Why? :P

Elizabeth: Indeed. We should be sceptical about any such 'research', especially when it fits with positive stereotypes.

Neo: Interesting. While I certainly disagree with your political word-view (and would love to have a chat about it), I suppose I can see how you might square off your Anarchism with your Atheism.

Stephen: "i believe in a better future for humanity" - this is where I think a centre-left political tendency of Atheism comes from (but it's just speculation - don't worry Liz :P ).


I definitely need to revisit this subject at some point...

Comment by Stephen on March 25, 2013 at 5:42pm

I'm an atheist and socialist not a synic. i believe in a better future for humanity.
as atheists if we didnt believe in the future of an evolved mankind we would become dead harted synics.

Comment by Neo on March 25, 2013 at 4:13pm

I'm an Anarchist. No Gods, No Masters, No Managers. I hate politics. Everyone thinks they have the best ideas, but in the end they just are a lying sack of crap that wants what's best for them and the rich.

Comment by Elizabeth Rose on March 9, 2013 at 4:02am

Article in Psychology Today, author: Ben Hayden

(You can find it on-line)

Decision-making from all perspectives. Psychology Today  by Ben Hayden, Ph.D.


The paper received attention because its third author is a movie star, Colin Firth, who played the King of England, won an Academy Award AND had a paper published in Current Biology. So he's having a good year.


But the content of the paper is interesting too. The authors compared the sizes of several brain structures in liberal and conservative students (in the UK, so we still have to wait for the most interesting results: brain size in tea party members).


Anyhow, the authors learned that liberals have larger anterior cingulate cortex than conservatives and that conservatives have a larger amygdala.


I have big no gripes with this paper, which is quite judicious in its conclusions. But I do have a gripe with the media coverage of the study, and with other neuropolitics studies more generally. The media like to pretend that we know what these effects mean. But neuroscience just doesn't really know. Like, we have no idea what an enlarged anterior cingulate implies.


Time magazine says, for example, that an enlarged anterior cingulate means you are "better at managing conflicting information," which kind of fits with positive stereotypes about liberals. Like, you could say that liberals are better at managing conflict, so they willing to accept compromise and be more flexible (about premarital sex, abortions, drug use, money distribution). The problem is that you could make the same facts could go the opposite way. You could also say, for example, that since liberals have a larger anterior cingulate, they feel conflict more intensely, so that they are less willing to accept compromise and be more dogmatic (about the death penalty, eating meat, hunting, economic tradeoffs associated with fighting global warming, etc). All we really know is that anterior cingulate has something to do with feelings of conflict. The rest is pure speculation.


Oh and actually, many researchers (myself included) think that anterior cingulate has nothing to do with conflict. That idea is like so 2003. So, uh, let's think of a new theory.


What is anterior cingulate activated by? I'll tell you, and then show you how easy it is to come up with silly just-so stories: just combine a brain fact with an unrelated stereotype.


It's activated by marijuana. Maybe that's why liberals are more likely to support legalization.

It's activated by anxiety, maybe that's why liberals are anxious about the environment.

It monitors rewards and money, so maybe that's why democrats are so good a keeping the deficit down.

It controls error detection, so liberals are more likely to be oversensitive to small slights. That's why they love political correctness.

It plays a central role in learning. That's why teachers' unions are overwhelmingly democratic.

It controls blood pressure and rational cognition, maybe that's why liberals are more calm and rational.

See? It's trivially easy to do neuropolitics. That's why Mr. Darcy and friends were smart to avoid both pride and prejudice in their interpretation of the data. Unfortunately, most media coverage of neuropolitics does not.




Comment by Marianne on March 6, 2013 at 9:46pm

I'm left-wing so perhaps I'm not the best person on this debate.

Comment by Carnun on March 4, 2013 at 3:38pm

Ha, busted...

"perhaps its an idea that socialists and other people of the left have more enquiring minds then conservatives, the very term conservative denotes someone who wants things to stay as they are"

I like that point, Stephen :)

Comment by Stephen on March 4, 2013 at 11:00am

perhaps its an idea that socialists and other people of the left have more enquiring minds then conservatives, the very term conservative denotes someone who wants things to stay as they are and even go backwards  to a less equal time, maybe a less confusing time.

Comment by Adriana on March 4, 2013 at 7:19am
That makes two of us completely busted :-)
Comment by Stephen on March 3, 2013 at 10:00pm

im an atheist and a humanist and a socialist oh well BUSTED.

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