There was another interesting post this week from Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education – “Do Atheists Really Believe in God?” It cited a recent study in Finland.
In a forthcoming paper in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, titled “Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things,” researchers asked subjects to make the horrible statements mentioned above. Some statements were offensive (puppy kicking), some were malevolent (parents drowning), and some dared God to do awful stuff, to the subjects, their friends, or their families. Of the 29 subjects, 16 were self-described atheists and 13 were religious . . . .
Then subjects were asked to read aloud the statements while hooked up to a skin-conductance meter, which basically measures how much you sweat. The idea is that the more you perspire, the more worked up you are about a particular statement . . . . According to the skin-conductance tests, the atheists found asking God to harm them or others to be just as upsetting as religious folks did. The researchers also compared the reactions of the atheists when making statements like “I wish my parents were paralyzed” and “I dare God to paralyze my parents.” Atheists were, like believers, more bothered by the latter statement, if you believe the skin-conductance tests.
A number of comments responding to the post pointed out that the study may not prove very much. Perhaps the atheists were still affected by things they were taught as children, and so forth. What struck me, though, was Bartlett’s reference to the “supernatural.”