In litigation, one of the biggest unstated principles is whether the plaintiff or defendant is trustworthy.  In other words, are they credible.  Well a new study revealed some interesting news about whether religion affects the trustworthiness of a person.

According to a new study conducted at the University of British Columbia, distrust is key factor why religious people dislike atheists. In cultures where there is a religious majority, “atheists are among the least trusted people,” says lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology.  The study, entitled Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice, evaluated 350 American adults and nearly 420 university students in Canada, posing a number of hypothetical questions and scenarios to the groups. In one study, participants found a description of an untrustworthy person to be more representative of atheists than any other group except for rapists.

The researchers concluded that religious believer’s distrust — rather than dislike or disgust — was the central motivator of prejudice against atheists, adding that these studies offer important clues on how to combat this prejudice.

The implication for such research has interesting consequences in litigation.  First, Would the religious status of a participant or witness affect the credibility of such person in the eyes of a religious lawyer, adjustor, or judge?  Second, how would a jury react if they found out that a person was an atheist?

The other issue is that there are many factors that affect credibility and trustworthiness.  Many of those factors have nothing to do with the competency of the person or the merits of the case.  Nevertheless, they are real and must be considered in evaluating cases and whether they should go to trial.


Steven G. Mehta