UC Berkeley has published a series of “generosity” experiments intended to test the “pro-social behaviors” of both atheists and the religious. Unsurprisingly (to the readers of this blog, at least), atheists scored highly in the experiments.
“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies. “Across three studies, we found compassion played a much bigger role in the way that less religious people treated others. Religious people, in contrast, tended to behave as generously as they would regardless of how compassionately they felt.” At the same time, Willer said, the view of nonreligious people as cold and amoral needs adjustment. “We find that nonreligious people do feel compassion for others, and that those feelings are strongly related to whether they choose to help others or not.”
An evangelical professor interviewed for the above-linked article noted that religious people don’t need to feel compassion to perform good deeds, they do it because they believe God expects them to.