Wednesday, March 20, 2013

From the "There is No Atheist in a Foxhole" Department"

From this past Saturday's Wall Street Journal's Review section:


Atheists With an Asterisk

Atheists may not believe in God, but they're still uncomfortable urging a deity to "make someone murder my parents cruelly."
That was one of 10 ugly requests of God that volunteers were asked to read aloud, as part of a study in Finland, while their skin conductance was measured.
Asked how they felt, believers were more bothered by the statements than nonbelievers. But the skin test, which measures stress by sensing how much people sweat, revealed that the nonbelievers were just as bothered as the believers. An atheist ought to regard any statement calling on God to do something as meaningless.
The researchers suggest several explanations, including that atheists might believe deep down in a deity, or might once have believed and can't completely shake the notion.
"Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things," Marjaana Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki and Tommi Makkonen, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (Feb. 19)


  1. The article's abstract:

    We examined whether atheists exhibit evidence of emotional arousal when they dare God to cause harm to themselves and their intimates. In Study 1, the participants (16 atheists, 13 religious individuals) read aloud 36 statements of three different types: God, offensive, and neutral. In Study 2 (N = 19 atheists), ten new stimulus statements were included in which atheists wished for negative events to occur. The atheists did not think the God statements were as unpleasant as the religious participants did in their verbal reports. However, the skin conductance level showed that asking God to do awful things was equally stressful to atheists as it was to religious people and that atheists were more affected by God statements than by wish or offensive statements. The results imply that atheists' attitudes towards God are ambivalent in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response.

  2. Was there a control group that was asked to read out things like "Boy, I wish someone would murder my parents"?

    Because maybe it was the thought of having one's parents killed that was bothersome to the atheists, not the God part?