Over at This View of Life, Michael Blume summarizes a paper by psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Will M. Gervais regarding the origins of religious non-belief. Blume distills Norenzayan and Gervais’ argument quite nicely, showing four possible steps to religious non-belief:
1. “‘Mind-Blind’ Atheism”: the non-belief of those who cannot, for reasons psychological or physiological, imagine the presence of supernatural agents.
2. “Apatheism”: the non-belief of those who live in environments that provide “existential security” in themselves, lessening the perceived need for a supernatural source of security (like eternal life, supernatural prosperity, etc.).
3. “InCREDulous Atheism”: the non-belief of those who live in societies where religious Credibility Enhancing Displays (CREDs), like public rituals, are not prevalent or are non-existent; these societies are “comparatively devoid of cues that others believe in any gods at all.”
4. “Analytic Atheism”: the non-belief of those who have — like most people on Earth — intuitive leanings toward experiencing the supernatural, but override those intuitions through analytical thought.
Ara Norenzayan and Will M. Gervais, “The Origins of Religious Disbelief.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17 (2013): 20-25.