But, in practice, atheists and religious people reacted the same when daring God to do terrible things, according to a study out of Finland.
The study, which is to be published in International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, asked 16 self-described atheists and 13 religious people how they felt about statements such as “I wish my parents would drown” and “I dare God to drown my parents.”
Predictably, the religious folks said they felt more uncomfortable about invoking God to do horrible things than the atheists. But when researchers hooked all the subjects up skin conductance meters, they found something different.
“The skin test, which measures stress by sensing how much people sweat, revealed that the non-believers were just as bothered as the believers, even though an atheist ought to regard any statement calling on God to do something as meaningless,” wrote Daniel Akst for the Wall Street Journal.
No one is saying the test proves the old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes.
But the “study does seem to suggest that the idea of God is extremely powerful, even in a relatively secular society like Finland,” wrote Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“I do think it’s fair to say that tests like these could show that most atheists do not think God is a delusion, as Richard Dawkins argued in his famous 2005 book ‘The God Delusion,’ ” wrote Trent Horn at Catholic Answers.
The researchers offer a few theories as to why atheists showed stress, including a past belief in deity that can’t be shaken.
Both Bartlett and Horn wondered what the results would have been if they had asked the subjects the same questions using a clearly false diety such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Golden Magic Squirrel.
“In an e-mail, one of the authors, Marjaana Lindeman, an adjunct professor of cognitive psychology and neuropsychology at the University of Helsinki, refrained from mocking the idea of the Golden Magic Squirrel,” Bartlett wrote. ” ‘Unfortunately we did not include (the) statements you mentioned,’ (Lindeman) wrote. ‘This would indeed be an important question for future studies.’
- Do Atheists Really Believe in God? (chronicle.com)
- THEY WOULDN’T BE SO ANGRY WITH HIM IF THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE IN hIM: (brothersjuddblog.com)
There are so many ways in which U.S. society is diametrically different than Muslim society. I thought this analysis of one simple aspect of the problem went straight to the heart of why what we (as a nation) are trying to accomplish is doomed to failure.
Arab society pre-dates ours by centuries and yet we continue viewing it as if Arab societies are failed attempts at being us.
The article cited is a longer read but this except makes the point. I’m sure the book takes it even further.
The West’s two big mistakes in the Arab world : a review of Arab Society in Revolt: The West’s Mediterranean Challenge | By Cesare Merlini and Olivier Roy (Eds) (Jennifer S. Bryson, 8 April 2013, Mercator)
Roy examines some of the West’s key interpretive missteps. For one thing, Roy sees the West hindering itself from development of successful policies due to “[a]n entrenched prejudice in Western public opinion . . . that secularization in Muslim-majority societies must precede any process of democratization” (p. 47). Instead, asserts Roy, “the real issue is institutionalization of democracy, not the secularization of public space” (p. 52). In other words, Western powers are missing opportunities to help democracy set roots by distracting themselves with concern and even fear about public religiosity.
At the same time, Roy sees an opportunity for Western self-reflection to help inform policies. For one thing, he observes, the West is and has long been philosophically, politically, and religiously diverse, and the view of religious actors toward the state has been varied and has changed over time. Yet many Westerners act on an assumption of homogeneity, especially religious homogeneity, among Muslims in the Middle East. He suggests that if perhaps Europeans and North Americans were to consider how it would feel to have outsiders view them as a single culture and treat Western Christianity as a homogeneous block then they might begin to understand why Western policies assuming homogeneity among Arabs, especially among Arab Muslims, are misguided.
Roberto Aliboni maintains that the real choice the West faces is between moderate and conservative Islamist movements, and not supporting the former would be a mistake. The only alternative to these two he sees as “weak and confused Western-style liberals” (p. 204).