The second study recruited 105 UBC undergrads —they purposely targeted a more liberal sample from a less-religious nation — to test whether distrust of atheists is more pronounced than distrust of other groups, including Muslims. The students read a description of an untrustworthy man who pretended to leave insurance information after backing his car into a parked vehicle and were asked to say whether it was more likely the man was either a Christian, Muslim, rapist or an atheist. People were far more likely to say he was either an atheist or a rapist and not part of a religious group. They did not significantly differentiate atheists from rapists, something Mr. Gervais found disconcerting.

“It’s pretty shocking that we get the same magnitude of distrust towards atheists simply because they don’t believe [in God],” said the researcher, who is himself an atheist. “With rapists, they’re distrusted because they rape people. Atheists are viewed as sort of a moral wild card.”

Another among the six studies found people are more likely to hire someone for a job that requires high levels of trust, such as a daycare worker, if they believe they are religious. They would hire atheists for a low trust job, such as a waitress, the study found.