The researchers used electrodes to measure how much sweat people produced while reading statements like “I dare God to make my parents drown” or “I dare God to make me die of cancer”. Unexpectedly, when nonbelievers read the statements, they produced as much sweat as believers — suggesting they were equally anxious about the consequences of their dares.

And that’s not simply because nonbelievers didn’t want to wish harm on others. A companion study showed that similar dares that did not involve God (such as, “I wish my parents would drown”) did not produce comparable increases in sweat levels. Together, then, these findings suggest that despite denying that God exists, nonbelievers behaved as though God did exist.

Does this mean that nonbelievers are lying when they say they reject God? Not exactly. Rather, these contradictory behaviours probably arise in part due to living in a theistic culture that hammers home the idea that God exists. Perhaps this leads nonbelievers to form “implicit” attitudes that are at odds with their “explicit” ones.