This is a follow-up to a recent article “Are Foxhole Atheists Really Seeking a Cure?”
I reviewed an article by science writer Matthew Hutson who reported on three studies suggesting that fear of death will inspire atheists to believe in the supernatural.
The studies were done out of the University of Otago in New Zealand. I also pointed out that “in discussions promoting ‘belief’ over ‘atheism’, the specific belief is often left extremely vague.”
There’s now a new study distinguishing between agnostics and atheists and it has more precise results:
“The findings confirm that while religion can help people deal with death, we all manage our own existential fears of dying through our pre-existing worldview, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin…
… In other words, the myth that atheists turn to God on the battlefield or in other times of peril didn’t hold up, [research lead Kenneth] Vail and his colleagues wrote.”
These findings come from a University of Missouri study by Kenneth Vail III that was similar to the Otago studies in that they studied the correlation between reminders of death and belief in the supernatural. Identifying that people turn to their beliefs when faced with death was confirmed, but when being more precise about the level of certainty — those without a belief in a higher power versus those who still entertain the possibility — it turns out atheists do turn to reality and naturalistic means to cope with the reminders of death.
Vail and his colleagues suggested that future research may study different types of spiritual or nontheistic beliefs in more detail. At least this study seems to indicate foxholes atheists are not seeking a cure.