In 2008, Sam Harris posted an online survey seeking the opinions of Christians and atheists on a wide variety of topics. The real aim was to design the survey for their subsequent laboratory research with properly phrased questions that would either polarize the two camps or show common ground. However, the raw data does show a few interesting things.

The section on religious beliefs has fairly predictable differences between atheists and Christians and merely illustrates that some of the questions are better phrased than others. To get the best results in the subsequent fMRI experiment requires that the subjects respond to clear and unambiguous statements.

However, the section on psychological beliefs - largely about oneself and one's social relationships - shows a large degree of commonality. Statements such as "I am a very analytical person", "I very rarely tell a lie", "I am a compassionate person" and so on, have a very similar distribution of answers between the believer and non-believers. The only statements that show any significant differences are those where an external doctrine can be felt edging its way in, such as,"I can live my life any way I want to." But on the whole, personal psychology and morality seem to have little to do with being either a believer or non-believer. And Christians love to claim that atheists have no morals?!

However, some huge differences start to emerge again in the section looking at social attitudes. Politically, the Christians come across as largely conservative, with the atheists predominantly liberal. But again, those statements that are purely personal show a common response, but replies to political and scientific questions brought religious doctrines back to the fore.

One amusing thing, though,"I am very sensitive to the suffering of other people" showed common agreement, and yet "Wives should honour their husbands as the head of the family" got overwhelming support from the Christians and huge thumbs down from the atheists. Perhaps being in a bad relationship doesn't count as suffering.

As I said, the real aim of this online survey was to avoid using ambiguous statements in the subsequent study on how the brain looks in states of belief and disbelief. Interesting that both sides look largely human as individuals yet poles apart on group issues. The tyranny of group-think.