A creative little study in Finland put together two groups of people — one religious, and one atheistic — to compare their reactions to a variety of statements about bad things happening.
There was a surprising development when God was introduced to the conversation.
In the paper entitled “Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things” researchers had their subjects make a variety of statements, while having their reactions monitored.
Here’s how Chronicle.com describes the test:
“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. It’s important to note that the study took place in Finland, which has a much higher proportion of atheists and agnostics than the United States has. According to one estimate, most Finns don’t believe in God; contrast that with the United States, where less than 10 percent of us are heathens.”
“In the study, subjects were first asked to rate the unpleasantness of those statements. Not surprisingly, believers said they were more bothered than atheists were by the thought of daring God to burn down their houses or afflict them with cancer. 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.”
That’s when things get interesting. The religious subjects’ reaction to “I wish…” statements about various bad things happening were predictably less strong than their “I dare God to…” statements about those same bad things happening. — so far, no surprises, right?
But when they studied the Atheists’ reactions, the same pattern emerged. Their reaction to “I dare God to x.” was measurably more pronounced than their reaction to the very similar “I wish x“.
Another article offers a few explanations for why this might be the case, although in weighing these answers, we would do well to remember that the percentages of belief and atheism there differ from the percentages seen here.