“Their research does not show that many people, or many atheists, believe that ‘without God everything is permitted.’,” says Croft. “Rather, it shows that people have an intuitive bias against atheists, such that they intuitively associated immoral acts with disbelief in God. This says nothing about the participants’ own moral beliefs, nor about their beliefs regarding any relationship between religion and morality.”
When asked about Croft’s concerns, Gervais reiterates that the study is only descriptive of individual intuitions.
“It’s really important to note that our paper focuses on people’s perceptions of a religion-morality link,” he says. “Perhaps most people on Earth intuitively feel that morality requires belief in a god or gods. But at the end of the day, morality is a really complicated beast, built upon various prosocial intuitions and cultural processes, including—perhaps, in some cases—religions.”