That’s not an experiment


Only a theist could come up with this one. It’s the Atheist Prayer Experiment; they’re recruiting atheists to say prayers. It’s an amazing pile of sneaky, devious, theological nonsense.

Here’s what we’re supposed to do:

We are asking each atheist who wishes to take part to pray for 2 to 3 minutes a day for 40 days for God to reveal Himself to them.

We would like any reflections, reactions, or revelations (positive or negative) experienced during the experiment to be recorded by participants. This may be video/audio Journal, blog, on a dedicated Facebook page, sent in by email etc.

Any participants need to be willing to record a radio interview about their experience of the experiment, though not everyone who takes part will necessarily be asked to do this.

This isn’t an exercise in appealing to a deity. It’s an exercise in psychology. If you tell yourself something every day over a fairly long period of time, will it affect how your mind works? I suspect the answer would be yes. Just the act of making a commitment to a religious belief and reinforcing it with daily rituals and reflection is going to fuck up your head. Most of us atheists have defenses against it — I couldn’t go through this without grumbling to myself that this behavior is bullshit, and it would probably end up making me even more disgusted with religion (if I bothered to do it, which I won’t) — but it could affect somebody who is gullible and impressionable. There’s nothing in this ‘experiment’ that could provide evidence of a god, but there is plenty of stuff to show that plastic minds exist…which we already know.

So why are they doing this? It’s based on a philosopher’s rationalization for prayer.

The experiment is based on the paper by Oxford philosopher Tim Mawson titled Praying to Stop Being an Atheist. In it Mawson argues that, on balance, it is in the interests of those atheists who don’t think it’s absolutely impossible that there’s a God to investigate the issue of whether or not he exists by ‘the experimental method’ – trying to ask him. Those interested in participating will be sent a copy of the paper.

I haven’t read the paper, and I’m not particularly interested. I did look up the abstract:

In this paper, I argue that atheists who think that the issue of God’s existence or non-existence is an important one; assign a greater than negligible probability to God’s existence; and are not in possession of a plausible argument for scepticism about the truth-directedness of uttering such prayers in their own cases, are under a prima facie obligation to pray to God that He stop them being atheists.

If a god actually existed, it would be an important matter; the fact that in millennia of searching no one has found reasonable evidence of such a being is empirical evidence that there isn’t one. This philosopher doesn’t seem to realize that atheists don’t believe in any gods at all; the reason we are overtly godless is that there are so many people who do. We believe in god-belief, not gods, and we also are pretty damned sure that believing in things that don’t exist is bad for you.

Personally, I assign a zero probability of “God’s” existence, because no one can define specifically what it’s attributes are. Every god that is defined semi-specifically — say, the Catholic god or the Lutheran god — contradicts known aspects of the universe and doesn’t exist. The vague deist’s deity only has a minuscule chance of existing because nothing is specified about its nature, so they reserve the right to label just about anything that does exist as “god” (I also reject that approach — I think it’s dishonest.)

We all have plausible arguments for skepticism: the absence of evidence for this being, the inconsistency of definitions for a deity under different faiths, the godawful nebulous handwaving of believers, and the incompetence of sophisticated theologians in being able to generate reasonable tests for the truth of their beliefs. That Mawson even thinks there is good cause to not be skeptical discredits him.

I am under no obligation at all to practice this guy’s weird magic rituals. Every religion has its own strange practices that believers are quite sure are essential to maintain their relationship with whatever gods they think are floating around; am I obligated to follow every random cult’s beliefs for some period of time? Is he?

Now look at the procedure they expect us to follow:

The question of how an atheist should pray is an interesting one. [No, it’s not.]

Tim Mawson has some suggestions in his paper: the prayer should be kept as open as possible, e.g., rather than ‘God of Christianity; if you’re out there, turn this water into wine for me’, ‘God, if you’re out there, reveal yourself to me’ would be better.

We only ask that anyone taking part commits themselves to finding a quiet meditative ‘space’ and praying there for two to three minutes each day as earnestly as they can for any God that there might be to reveal himself/herself/itself to him or her, and that he or she remains as open as possible to ways in which that prayer could be answered.

As expected, the rule for theologians to keep the story as fuzzy as possible, and to accept any unexpected result as evidence for their specific belief. It reminds me of those idiotic ghost hunter shows that infest television right now: send some people off with night vision cameras and microphones and have them wander about in some dark and crumbling relic of a building, and every odd noise and glitch and cold draft and emotional tremor is frantically reported as a sign of unusual paranormal activity.

That is not an experiment. An experiment would have a clear hypothesis, would define the parameters of the procedure precisely, and would set specific criteria for success or failure of the experimental test. See any of that above? No. It’s just another set of wackos building a pseudo-scientific rationalization for their delusions.

Comments

  1. says

    What this dingleberry fails to take into consideration is that many of us have tried this (or at least something similar).

    The idea that gods aren’t real is not our starting point, it’s our conclusion.

  2. says

    What if we pray for some deity to revela him/her/itself and onmly Yog-Sothoth or Azathoth answer? Will that be a satisfactory result for the godboys?

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ah, the old if I can’t show conclusive physical evidence for my deity, I’ll see if you fool yourself into thinking it exists with mental masturbation, not evidence. What next? We know the Easter bunny exists because its image appears in the stores in the spring?

  4. says

    Gee! Sounds like fun! Let’s practice a little self-programming and see if it takes!

    On the other hand, I experienced several years of routine daily prayer and — surprise, surprise — it didn’t stick. I think I’ll pass on this wonderful “experiment.”

  5. says

    Like a lot of atheists, I actually did pray for God to reveal himself to me (for a lot more than 40 days) during my doubt and de-conversion from the Christianity I was raised with.
    Needless to say, it didn’t work.

  6. Onamission5 says

    I did this already from roughly the age of 7 until the age of 15. I wasn’t praying for tangilble things, either, but for stuff I was told to pray for like special feelings and bias confirmations. No deities appeared to me then when I wanted to believe, I doubt any would reveal themselves to me now, 26 years later, when I really don’t.

  7. Louis says

    I did this and it worked. I am, apparently, god. It’s dreadfully embarrassing. I mean, social positioning be damned, what does one wear to parties now?

    I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but I really don’t see how this result is invalid, after all it was tested by this experiment, so these chaps and chapesses must perforce accept the conclusion that I am god. The only one too, I was quite explicit about that when I spoke to myself.

    What’s a newly realised deity to do?

    Mind you, that water to wine thing does sound like a laugh, what? I might give that a bash. Then I’ll hop over to CERN and give those chaps and chapesses a few clues as to the precise details of the Higgs Mechanism.

    Anything particularly urgent I need to do for anyone?

    Louis

  8. says

    And when this thing fails as it most certainly will, the atheists will be called liars and trolls for messing up the experiment.

  9. Becca Stareyes says

    Asking half of them to pray to a certain conception of God and half to another* would at least provide a control sample. Deliberately make one up for one group for a real control; if the number of converts for a fictional deity is the same for a real one, that says something about the human mind, not about the existence of a god.

    When you’re testing a hypothesis where the alternative is ‘humans have all sorts of cognitive biases’, you want to make sure you account for those as best you can. This strikes me more as trying to reassure believers that one cannot ‘lose the faith’ if one goes through the rituals.

    * And to be really sure, make sure neither is one the atheist has strong preconceived notions for. I’d wager that most American atheists would have formed some sort of opinion on Christianity, even for those who weren’t raised Christian.

  10. Rip Steakface says

    Praying would be completely alien to me. I was raised without even having a concept of gods. First time I heard about anything like that was at school, about 2nd grade.

    I dismissed it as stupid, probably because I had 20 minutes before been reading a pop-sci book for kids about the universe and the Big Bang… and being a little kid, I thought it was way more awesome for a bigass explosion (yes, I know it wasn’t an explosion, but I was 7) to blast the universe into existence than for some old beardy dude to say “Let there be light.”

  11. Mary says

    Yes, people are impressionable. This morning I thought I lost my cat because I hadn’t seen her since opening the door last night for a pizza delivery. (Yes, I’m a cat person. Sorry.) Anyway, I was pretty upset going around the yard this morning calling her name. If I were still a praying person, I might have started praying. Well, you might have guessed it. I went back into the house and there she was. Hallelujah! A sign! (Not)

  12. says

    ‘Nother “Been there, done that (for many years), decided it’s all bullshit” data point here. Will we get counted in the data set? Not bloody likely.

  13. says

    If people are doing something that appears to induce a delusion, and I question them how they know it’s not a delusion – my mimicking their procedure and myself experiencing what they described hasn’t answered anything. For all I know, now I’m experiencing a delusion too.

    That’s why their standards of evidence suck.

  14. Beatrice says

    Besides praying for more or less tangible things, I used to pray to God to give me some sign. I was a pretty depressed little kid and I wanted him to give me some sign that he’s there, that he cares. If not to answer any other of my prayers, than at least to show me some little sign that he even exists and cares enough to listen.

    You can guess once if I ever got an answer.

  15. says

    The realization that I was only talking to myself when I prayed as a child–that nothing was listening to me, that nothing ever answered me–was one of the first things that lead me down the road to atheism.

    How about this? I’ll pray for forty days if the believers spend forty days living without their religion. Read atheist books, blaspheme, host a gay orgy/wedding, donate to Planned Parenthood, stop being a douche to everybody. At the end of the forty days, if the believer has been struck dead by lightening, I’ll consider converting.

  16. says

    Personally, I assign a zero probability of “God’s” existence

    Your assignment is a good one. I have recently investigated this matter with probability theory, and written up the result in Bayes’ theorem: all you need to know about theology, where I outline a robust mathematical argument that this probability is indeed strictly zero. The maths is actually surprisingly straight forward.

    Interestingly, this result holds, independently of the available data. Whatever evidence you have, there is always a more rational explanation than ‘God did it!’ Even if that explanation is psychosis.

  17. r3a50n says

    It doesn’t look like they specify which god to pray to, so what if I did this and prayed to Zeus? Would any unexpected results then be “proof” of the existence of Zeus?

  18. ibbica says

    I blame the biologists. You confused them with your wild and crazy ideas of what you say you mean by ‘theory’, and now you’re trying to confuse their understanding of ‘experiment’, too?!? They must fight back somehow, dammit!

    /snark

    My first reaction was that this is just begging to be messed with, but the failure of this project to demonstrate anything meaningful or useful wouldn’t require willful deception.

    A bag of chips says that positive, negative, neutral, and null results will all be displayed as Conclusive Evidence Of God. Called it!

  19. glennedwards says

    This reminds me of many conversations I’ve had with Christians, who will tell me that they believe in God in part because he “speaks” to them. (I don’t think they mean literally hearing voices, hence the quotes, but hey you never know I guess.) When I say, well, he hasn’t spoken to me, I usually get some variant of the claim that it’s because I’m not “open” to hearing him. Which always struck me as blatant question-begging, much like this experiment.

  20. Psych-Oh says

    Like others, I did this little experiment myself in 7th grade, and at the start of my agnosticism. Since I’m a Pharyngulite, I guess the experiment did not go in the direction they hoped.

    By the way, they ought to read “A Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs. He has a great documentation of his experience.

  21. dianne says

    Hate to admit it, but…Been there. Done that. Got nothing.

    Perhaps one day I’ll get off my ass and write the story of why I am an atheist for PZ’s series, but suffice it to say that lack of response to prayer played a role.

    Although I suppose a sophisticated theologian could argue that the prayer, “Ok, God. Put up or shut up” was less than the ideal way to address the diety. But, hey, if the god can’t accept a 14 year old’s prayer as it is, what use is he/she/it?

  22. dianne says

    Anything particularly urgent I need to do for anyone?

    I’ve got a list. We’ll start out with some routine miraculous cures then move on to the more important issue of getting me the Nobel Prizes I deserve. I’ll sacrifice a beer to you for each miracle you successfully bring off. Or a cup of coffee if you prefer. Two for actual limb regrowth.

  23. ibbica says

    Louis,

    Anything particularly urgent I need to do for anyone?

    Er… I thought maybe you might see your way clear to finishing this presentation for me? I mean, if you don’t mind and aren’t too busy with that wine thing and did offer after all… Only I’ve got this job interview in a week for a spot I really want and it’s not quite finished and I could use a hand…

    I’ll be totally pissed understanding if you need want to use my own hands to do it, even though because you’re all omnipotent but petty and stuff. Some rules even gods have choose to follow, amirite?

    Oh, right: Amen.

  24. Hurin, Midnight DJ on the Backwards Music Station says

    Just the act of making a commitment to a religious belief and reinforcing it with daily rituals and reflection is going to fuck up your head.

    I stopped believing in a god when I was about 15, but it took me an additional 10 years to self identify as a atheist. During those 10 years I thought that the practice of religion could have special benefits of its own (divinity notwithstanding) and I maintained a positive view of religion.

    This all ended when, at 25, I found myself struggling with depression and social anxiety disorder, and my first course of action was to use golden dawn rituals to attempt self treatment. Banishing everyday did nothing for my mental health, and the more specific, complex rituals that I picked out to help me “reconnect with positive energy” were similarly useless.

    Finally I booked an appointment with a psychiatrist, who recommended CBT. CBT pulled me out of my depression in about 1 – 2 months and helped my social anxiety disorder considerably.

    Its an anecdote, but my personal experience makes me question whether praying will have any effect at all on a person’s head. I tend to think the faithful have put a lot of effort into tricking themselves into believing the prayers and rituals are having an effect. I doubt that anyone who tries prayer with an open minded outlook on the result is going to be surprised by the effect they get.

    Aside: if this is an experimental approach, what is the control? Sitting in a room in the praying position reading Daniel Dennett?

  25. says

    My response is, “Which god? Do I get to chose? Can I pray to Allah, or Ahura Mazda, or Vishnu? If I pray to the Invisible Pink Unicorn, and She answers, will that count as a success?”

  26. r3a50n says

    What if I prayed to an invisible teapot orbiting the planet and got some unexpected results? Or if I prayed to a magical invisible unicorn that poops cheeseburgers and got unexpected results? What if I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    If they can “prove” god with this “experiment,” think of all the things we can “prove” by doing the same experiment but with different prayer targets…

  27. Beatrice says

    dianne,

    Heh, at one point point I too started with prayers that amounted to “show me some fucking evidence or we’re done”.

  28. Randide, Mangeons du jesuite says

    “And here’s something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren’t answered. What do you say? “Well, it’s God’s will.” “Thy Will Be Done.” Fine, but if it’s God’s will, and He’s going to do what He wants to anyway, why the fuck bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn’t you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will? It’s all very confusing.

    So to get around a lot of this, I decided to worship the sun. But, as I said, I don’t pray to the sun. You know who I pray to? Joe Pesci. Two reasons: First of all, I think he’s a good actor, okay? To me, that counts. Second, he looks like a guy who can get things done. Joe Pesci doesn’t fuck around. In fact, Joe Pesci came through on a couple of things that God was having trouble with.

    For years I asked God to do something about my noisy neighbor with the barking dog, Joe Pesci straightened that cocksucker out with one visit. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a simple baseball bat.

    So I’ve been praying to Joe for about a year now. And I noticed something. I noticed that all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same 50% rate. Half the time I get what I want, half the time I don’t. Same as God, 50-50. Same as the four-leaf clover and the horseshoe, the wishing well and the rabbit’s foot, same as the Mojo Man, same as the Voodoo Lady who tells you your fortune by squeezing the goat’s testicles, it’s all the same: 50-50. So just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself.”

    Thanks, as always, George.

  29. Louis says

    I should point out that I do move in mysterious ways my wonders to perform, I help those who help themselves, and sometimes my answer is no.

    Now if that doesn’t prove my ineffable deityhood beyond doubt I don’t know what will…

    …and I know everything, so it does.

    Louis

  30. anteprepro says

    I guess you can’t expect a single prayer to do the trick. Apparently 40 prayers are necessary to get God off his ass.

    I guess you can’t expect a response if you don’t let Bible God take refuge in not being specifically identified. God gets embarrassed if you remind him that he is at fault for Christianity, I suppose.

    I guess you can’t expect God to contact you if you don’t give him the largest possible set of options for what you will consider “communication”. God really doesn’t like following instructions.

    I’m sure it is completely coincidental that this means that you have to repetitiously invoke the name of a vague, undefined “God” and count anything that may happen subsequent to that as a “sign”. Surely, this is how we would expect Bible God to work. I’m sure that every appearance of God in the Bible is based on somebody praying for a month and finally Seeing the Light when they just kinda Feel It (ya know?) and, miraculously, a leaf fell right onto their head. Right on their head! What are the odds!? Surely that must mean “Don’t eat pork”.

    The Amazing Shrinking God remains shrunken.

  31. eric says

    Mawson is cherry picking his data, I’m sure. He forgets that most of his potential subject did try it, for the first 12-18 years of their life, and some of them for longer.

    That’s why I’m not particularly worried that anyone doing this experiment will have their opinion altered. Hypothetically PZ is right, but I think the amount of influence given by such a short period of repetition in the face of other experiences will not really change anyone’s mind. I could repeat “the Lions will win the superbowl” to myself every day for the next 40 days, and at the end I won’t believe that, either.

  32. dianne says

    and I know everything

    But can you invent a sudoku puzzle so difficult you can’t complete it?

  33. Louis says

    Dianne,

    I am not beholden to your mortal logic. I both can and cannot do it, and I also cancannot do it as kind of a superpositiony type thing (I’d explain, but it involves maths), I also cannotcan do it, and most importantly have will possible had done it in the before future.

    HTH

    Louis

  34. carlie says

    And for each person who says “it didn’t work”, the explanation will be that they weren’t asking in the right mindset of honestly being open to the possibility of being answered, therefore their results don’t count.

  35. blf says

    Forty days — why do Great Sky Faerie related things always seem to be forty somethings (exception: Forty-foot high killer rats) — forty days of eating pasta would become a bit boring. Tasty, at least for a few days, but eventually you’d be craving a steak (or veggie equivalent). Although I suppose a beef stroganoff (or similar veggie dishes) might be a tolerable substitute which also pleases the FSM?

  36. Nightjar says

    Count me with the “been there, done that, didn’t work” crowd. I still remember the conclusion I got away with: either there isn’t a god, or there is a god who doesn’t care whether I believe in him/her/it or not, so fuck religion either way, let’s move on.

  37. says

    Tim Mawson has some suggestions in his paper: the prayer should be kept as open as possible, e.g., rather than ‘God of Christianity; if you’re out there, turn this water into wine for me’, ‘God, if you’re out there, reveal yourself to me’ would be better.

    Pfffft. If I was going to pray (which I’m not), why in the fuckety fuck would I ask a wishy-washy bit of nonsense which is obviously leading into a self-delusion? Nope, not for me. If I were to pray, I have a simple question: To any gods out there, I’ve written down a 16 digit number. Let me know what that number is and we can talk.

  38. ibbica says

    Louis you truly are a god! No mere mortal could produce such a tangled mess of verbiage moving testament to your Awesomeness, saying so very much with such abuse of the English language elegance, promising nothing at all so very much! Are you the One involved in inspiring the meaningless rantings of Deepak Chopra? I believe!

    (Now, about that presentation…)

  39. kurt1 says

    I don´t know, what they are trying to prove. Atheists are capable of having experiences I would call religious. I remember a trip with our scouting group in 1999. We hiked through the Femundsmarka in norway, and one day I started to get ahead of the group by a few minutes. I walked on a narrow path through the swampland and started to sing, some were religious songs, others not. It was a beautiful experience. I was not an atheist, but a non-believer. I can’t explain why I started to sing, neither would I try.

    I know some atheists who meditate. They just take 10 minutes out of the day and relax a bit, reflecting what happened recently, how they feel etc. Which is a sensible alternative to praying.

    But this “experiment” of theirs stinks. People who lie for a living are not to be trusted, because they will turn every scentence like “I felt something” into “atheist found god”.

  40. says

    blf:

    Forty days — why do Great Sky Faerie related things always seem to be forty somethings

    I wonder about this myself – why is forty considered to be so magical? Is this the stress break point for peoples?

  41. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    We are asking each atheist who wishes to take part to pray for 2 to 3 minutes a day for 40 days for God to reveal Himself to them.

    Amazing how quickly I lost interest after reading that line. Sounds like they are trolling for weak willed atheists who want to believe in a deity. Reminds me of the Subgenius line; You will pay to pull the wool over your own eyes.

  42. carlie says

    I wonder about this myself – why is forty considered to be so magical? Is this the stress break point for peoples?

    Because Jesus spent 40 days in the desert praying before giving himself up to the authorities. This makes it a Meaningful Number. Also, the ark was floating for 40 days.

  43. Paulino says

    I did that! When I was 10 I enrolled in catechism classes, and the teacher told us that praying before sleep was essential for one’s well-being, especially children, who often died during their sleep (imagine my horror!). So I started praying before sleep, but after a while I noticed no positive effects in my life, I kept stepping on Lego, getting colds, being grounded, getting poor grades, scraping my knees, etc… and when I forgot to pray no ill effects manifested themselves either. So I decided to run an experiment,o some nights I would pray, on others I wouldn’t… and guess what, nothing changed, I didn’t die, and I gave up praying, and catechism classes!

  44. jand says

    PZ, your red “no it´s not” should NOT be in Comic Sans.

    Your friendly neighborhood jand.

  45. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Pfffft. If I was going to pray (which I’m not), why in the fuckety fuck would I ask a wishy-washy bit of nonsense which is obviously leading into a self-delusion?

    As one defender of AA’a higher power mantra told me, it does not matter what the higher power is. It could be a doorknob. You just need to know that you are powerless against your addiction and need the help of a higher power. Yes, you better believe it even if you know it is nonsense.

  46. Louis says

    Ibbica,

    The presentation is both done and not done. It is up to you to have sufficient faith in its doneness. Fail to have sufficient faith and you shall never taste the fruits of presentational goodness.

    For is it not written that those who prepare properly for presentations prevent piss-poor performances?*

    If you spend the next few days carefully crafting that presentation, with practise sessions, naturally, in homage to ME, your god, then I shall bestow upon you a fully prepared presentation that will go swimmingly.

    Louis

    * If it isn’t, it is now.

  47. Attila says

    I actually already did this. I had a girlfriend who converted from Atheism to Pentecostalism. In a move to placate her I gave up on honest skeptics prayer telling god if it existed please sincerely provide me with proof.

    Oddly enough my prayer was answered by Ray Comfort the next day. He was making the point that if evolution is true there is no god. Then proceeded to make the most mind numbingly stupid argument against evolution. Basically, how long did the first female of a new species hang around before the male evolved so they could mate.

    This prayer I think definitively proves there is no god, thanks Ray.

  48. Beatrice says

    especially children, who often died during their sleep (imagine my horror!)

    Funny. I sometimes prayed to die in my sleep, when I was a kid. That God is a bloody contrary bastard.

  49. Randide, Mangeons du jesuite says

    Forty days — why do Great Sky Faerie related things always seem to be forty somethings

    I read somewhere that “forty days” is merely a expression for/translation of “A really long time.” Can’t quickly find a good source while still pretending to be doing work.

  50. rowanvt says

    I tried this experiment for years, and did so while a believer. I just wanted to know that God was there… at all. But I never heard/felt anything in response to my fervent prayers. It is one of many reasons why I left christianity and tried other religious paths before eventually becoming an atheist.

  51. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I have only prayed twice. The first time, I begged the Almighty for super-powers and swore to use them only for good. The second time, I made the argument that I didn’t really include the ability to sleep standing up as a super-power.

  52. Nightjar says

    I know some atheists who meditate.

    I was into that for a while as a teenager but well after becoming an atheist, and one day I somehow managed to get myself an out-of-body experience. A quick one, but vivid nonetheless. It’s amazing what our brains can do.

    I keep telling myself I should start meditating again. I used to feel pretty good when I did it back then.

  53. says

    Carlie:

    Because Jesus spent 40 days in the desert praying before giving himself up to the authorities. This makes it a Meaningful Number. Also, the ark was floating for 40 days.

    Yabbut, why did they settle on ’40 days! 40 is magical!’ back then, when they were making up the stories? Is there a history with forty days that I’m unaware of here?

  54. machintelligence says

    They are going about it the wrong way.

    When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.
    Emo Philips

    It works every time.

  55. anteprepro says

    About 40: It’s not necessarily a magical number. It may actually just be a placeholder number that doesn’t mean 40 specifically, but is actually just supposed to mean/imply “many”. Seriously.

  56. Pierce R. Butler says

    Mary @ # 13 – You have experienced a miracle of Bastet. Proceed with great caution: her foremost attribute is vengeance.

  57. beleth says

    Once a day for 40 days? Why? Shouldn’t God be able to decide whether He is going to reveal Himself to me after one prayer? Does it really work better if you pester Him?

    I’ve made a deal with the main god of the Bible a long time ago: just have one very specific thing happen and I’ll believe in Him. It’s a simple thing, well within the scope of what He’s done in the past; it hurts no one; and it would convince only me. It could be set up in fifteen minutes for absolutely no money by anyone, which is why I must unfortunately never tell anyone what it is.

  58. Cuttlefish says

    I am not surprised that his “remain as open as possible…” bit sound so much like the standard cold-reader’s request. See a rainbow? God. Or dear old departed “M”, or was it “J”? Shiver on a warm, sunny day? God. Or is it Mary, or Margaret, something with an R. That’s right, Suzan.

    Of course, the “remain as open as possible…” is really only open-ended on the trivial side. Flowers are a sign of god, but a robot with a laser being landed on Mars doesn’t count as miraculous. Finding 27 cents on the ground, and knowing that your best friend’s cousin died a year ago at age 27, so clearly it’s a message from her or from god, that counts.

    *sigh*

  59. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    We should challenge the godbots back to not pray for 40 days, and see if it makes any difference in their life…

  60. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Oddly enough my prayer was answered by Ray Comfort the next day. He was making the point that if evolution is true there is no god. Then proceeded to make the most mind numbingly stupid argument against evolution. Basically, how long did the first female of a new species hang around before the male evolved so they could mate.

    Attila, many sensible people have had a good laugh over that one for a few years. On the old SB version of Pharyngula, PZ had a post mocking that idea. Be nice to be able to link to it.

    Holy shit, she went from an atheist to a pentecostal? Did she hold her breath for ten minutes before she did that?

  61. jamessweet says

    I’m actually all for this, except they need to have three groups: All three groups must be atheists and skeptics. The first group is a control, and does nothing. The second group prays daily for God to reveal herself. The third group reads the horoscope daily and tries to apply its guidance to their daily lives.

    My hypothesis is that the uptick in god belief in the 2nd group will be approximately in line with the uptick in astrological belief in the 3rd group.

  62. ibbica says

    Oh, Louis, I’m sorry to break from the script but I just have to say you have my co-workers worried about my sanity, because…

    Hold on a tic. That giggle-fit was your doing, wasn’t it! You’re telling me that I should be working on my presentation instead of killing time reading blogs! ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY LOUIS!

    (…seriously: I LOL’d)

    (Oh, and in case anyone was actually worried, the presentation’s done, I’m just rehearsing endlessly now.)

    (…thanks to Louis. Naturally.)

  63. Rip Steakface says

    @57 Antiochus Epiphanes

    This is why Batman is the best superhero. He didn’t need to ask (or be/become) a god to be a badass, he just is.

    Well, being a multibillionaire probably helps too.

  64. Attila says

    Janine:

    “Holy shit, she went from an atheist to a pentecostal? Did she hold her breath for ten minutes before she did that?”

    I suspect she was neither, she was just a lying sociopath who would tell anyone what they wanted to hear.

    After I changed the locks (not because of her conversion, but because I realized her true colors) I warned the pastor of the church.

    She had already told them of all the problems she had with brain cancer. No she didn’t have any disease, but she was miraculously healed during a revival.

  65. r3a50n says

    @ 60:

    When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.
    Emo Philips

    Heh, the moral of the story? It is better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission…

  66. blf says

    Because Jesus spent 40 days in the desert praying before giving himself up to the authorities. This makes it a Meaningful Number. Also, the ark was floating for 40 days.

    And numerous other things are also forty. As the Pffft! of All Knowledge says:

    The number 40 is significant in Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other Middle Eastern traditions. …

    It then goes on to give a long list of the use of 40 in all those mythologies. What I have not been able to find is any sensible hypothesis of Why 40 (and not, say, 42 or 17).

    One site, which is babbling a bit (not surprising, it’s a cretinist site), claims that 365 40-day intervals is exactly 40 years (duh! and 17 365-day intervals is 17 years, albeit perhaps with a larger error bar) and that that, somehow, explains things. And that is, in some sense, the “best” I’ve been able to find, so far, at the U. of Google™…

  67. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    She had already told them of all the problems she had with brain cancer. No she didn’t have any disease, but she was miraculously healed during a revival.

    Sounds like she found her people.

  68. assassingrl says

    I wonder if Mawson would find closing my door and calling out “Hey God, Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!” for 2 minutes an acceptable ‘non-denominational prayer? My only worry is I’m not sure I want Louis in my bedroom should he be correct about his new found deity-ness.

  69. bananaslug says

    I’m actually surprized PZ hasn’t asked everyone to participate so his results can be flooded with “tried it, nothing happened.” Of course, I already suspect things will be somehow skewed in his favor in the end.

  70. Louis says

    (Oh, and in case anyone was actually worried, the presentation’s done, I’m just rehearsing endlessly now.)

    BEHOLD THE PROOF OF MY MIRACULOUS ABILITIES!!! FEAR ME YE DOUBTERS!!!

    Louis

  71. says

    To be fair to Mawson, he restricts the set of atheists that he thinks should do his “experiment”, in a way that probably rules out most Pharyngulites:

    In this paper, I argue that atheists who think that the issue of God’s existence or non-existence is an important one; assign a greater than negligible probability to God’s existence; and are not in possession of a plausible argument for scepticism about the truth-directedness of uttering such prayers in their own cases, are under a prima facie obligation to pray to God that He stop them being atheists.

    Most of us here are probably hard-line enough to fail his conditions (not that that makes it a reasonable experiment even for the “squishy” atheists that pass — in fact, they’re the kind on whom his experiment might “work”, if they have suggestible psyches).

    It’s sometimes surprising to me how little the question of God’s existence came to matter once I declared myself frankly atheist. I’ve had that argument (with myself), I’ve reached a conclusion I’m satisfied is solid, and I’ve got newer, more interesting, more relevant things to think about. The specific god-hypotheses are too absurd, and the non-specific ones too vague, to take seriously. So the existence of God (pick one) would be massively important, if true? Big woop. I can easily devise (read: extract from excretory orifice) a dozen hypotheses of similar world-shaking import — all of which can be dismissed out of hand.

    Example: I am God, and I want all of everyone’s money. If there isn’t at least $100 million in my bank account by this time next week, I will smite all of humanity in my anger.

    How long did you seriously consider that claim before dismissing it? (The correct answer should be: about as long as it took to read and process the words). The only thing the god-hypotheses of conventional religion have over my example is social sanction derived from historical momentum. Mere consequences do not make a hypothesis important in the absence of some non-negligible level of a priori probability of being true.

  72. Louis says

    Eamon,

    Example: I am God, and I want all of everyone’s money. If there isn’t at least $100 million in my bank account by this time next week, I will smite all of humanity in my anger.

    Erm, sorry, that’s not an “example”, that is my demand. In fact I require ever so slightly more than $100 million…

    Chop chop humanity, make with the dosh. And also nubile ladies. For some reason nubile ladies seem to feature highly in this demand.

    Louis

  73. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    It’s kind of fun to read biblical passages omitting the word “forty” and replacing it with “like, a bazillion”.

    The Israelis were lost in the desert for like, a bazillion years.

    It rained for like, a bazillion days and like, a bazillion nights.

    Jesus fasted in the wilderness for like, a bazillion days.

    After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of like, a bazillion days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

    & cetera

  74. Stevarious says

    Well the thing is, the ‘experiment’ seems carefully designed to introduce confirmation bias into the methods. In fact, it literally couldn’t work without confirmation bias! For a prayer to ‘work’ (or so I’ve been told over and over) you have to really believe that it’s going to work.

  75. Ganner says

    I’d decline to participate because I ALREADY FUCKING TRIED IT. I grew up religious. I tried to hold on to it once I realized I didn’t think it made sense to me. I didn’t set out with the intention of deciding that there is no god, I set out to figure the truth. And that included PLENTY of time spent praying “God, if you exist and you want me to know it, somehow show it to me, somehow lead me to know you.” And it never fucking happened.

  76. Dick the Damned says

    So, we have to pester the hypothetical bugger by mental telepathy for forty days to get it to do what it ought to have done, anyway.

    WTF! I’d get a bit tetchy with anyone who pestered me for a lot less than forty days.

    Who’s not to say that the hypothetical bugger, especially if it’s that Bible Bogey, wouldn’t smite the supplicants with earthquakes, tsunamis, lightning strikes, or the plague?

  77. catwhisperer says

    Seriously, I’ve got a friend who rarely has her phone with her / charged / switched on. I can get hold of her in far less than 40 attempts, and I know for a FACT that she’s not omnipotent.

  78. dantelevel9 says

    The problem with prayer : Nobody is listening. You’re talking to yourself. Now, it might be a fine idea to sit quietly by yourself without any distractions and relax and think nice thoughts. I’m sure it’s good for the blood pressure. I think that’s called meditation. No gods involved.

  79. rowanvt says

    @87-

    I’ve got a friend who rarely has her phone with her / charged / switched on.

    Do I know you? XD Massive hate relationship with my cellphone. More likely to win the lottery than reach me on it.

  80. sabazinus says

    I pray every time I play the lottery, and so far, nothing! HUMPH! From now on it’s sacrificing chickens, sprinkling rum, and creating zombies for me. Even if it doesn’t work I’ll get to drink some rum, make fried chicken, and have zombies around to do the laundry.

  81. ChasCPeterson says

    Last week I saw a rainbow while enjoying a nice kif buzz, listening to the Dead play Birdsong (6/22/73) and eating a really good nectarine.
    And I still don’t believe in god. What’s he gonna do for a better sign than that?

  82. says

    1. So, an all-powerful deity that can’t come into one’s “heart” without daily prayers and meditation is a not an all-powerful deity. In fact, any deity that depends on a human act (prayer or not) to reveal itself is a piss-poor excuse for a lame-assed deity. Give me Chthulu any day of the week.

    2. I did this experiment already. When I was 13. I tried. I really, really tried. Especially in church. And each and every Sunday, while all the other congregants were reciting the creed and all the rest of the chants, I was mouthing the words along with them. But inside my head, the only thing I could think of was “fuckedy fuck fuck fuck.” It’s an exercise in futility.

    3. I wonder if the same exercise would work with Satan, or Brahma, or brain-eating zombies. The whole thing reminds me of the treacly “Miracle on 34th Street”. If you believe, good things will happen. Bullshit.

  83. Outrage Zombie says

    I already did that “Pray desperately and at length for months trying to get some belief that god up there somewhere, or anywhere at all” thing on my own, right before I admitted to myself that I was an atheist, and always had been (LA LA LA LA GOD IS REAL, SMITE THE UNBELIEVERS LALALALALACAN’T HEAR YOU BRAIN LA LA LAAA).

    It’s bullshit. At best it’ll buy you a few periods of feeling sure and calm, but those always pass eventually, and then you’re right back where you started.

  84. r3a50n says

    @ 53:

    I had a girlfriend who converted from Atheism to Pentecostalism.

    I may well be wrong but I find stories of those that were atheists that then converted to a religion difficult to swallow and I maintain that if such is the case, that person was never an atheist to begin with. Agnostic, maybe, but not atheist.

    It’s like the story of Anne Rice, who went from believer to atheist and back to believer again. My theory is that she was never really an atheist, but simply told everyone that she was because of her anger at the church and at her god. I sincerely doubt that she ever thought about it critically because if she had, there would be no going back.

    Atheists that arrive at atheism by way of critical thinking, logic and reason cannot then “unlearn” all that they know such as to believe in a diety unless they suffer from some kind of brain trauma. I just don’t buy it.

    It would be like someone in this day and age eschewing their belief that the world is round, based on scientific evidence, to embrace the view that the world is not round but flat. They couldn’t do that if they had ever actually accepted that the world is round. It would be possible, however, if they never actually accepted that the world is round despite saying that they did.

    If someone switches from atheism to any religion, I maintain that they were never actually atheists to begin with.

  85. Randomfactor says

    Sounds like they are trolling for weak willed atheists who want to believe in a deity.

    “Paging S.E. Cupp, S.E. Cupp to the courtesy phone, please…”

  86. anteprepro says

    What I have not been able to find is any sensible hypothesis of Why 40 (and not, say, 42 or 17).

    You cut off the quote from the Pfft! a sentence too soon.

    The number 40 is significant in Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other Middle Eastern traditions. It can represent an estimate, or many of something.

    So, really, those numbers probably aren’t actually 40. It’s A Lot of Days and A Lot of Nights for the Flood. A Lot of Years of wandering for the Jews. Kings rule for A Lot of Years. Moses spends A Lot of Days and Nights on Mount Sinai. Jesus spent A Lot of Days in the desert. And Jesus was around for A Lot of Days between resurrection and his flying off into the sunset.

    I’m sure some of the 40s are actually supposed to be 40 and arise to allude to the 40s that are not actually 40. And now I’m making my brain hurt.

  87. says

    I’m an atheist because I don’t have a deity-shaped hole in my life. If I did, I wouldn’t be praying for god to reveal itself so I could have faith; I’d already be a theist (particularly since I wasn’t raised atheistically, at least not on purpose).

    So another way the premise of this is wrong is that it assumes my atheism causes me distress. I may be overestimating how easy it is to believe, though.

  88. says

    Oh by the way.

    If God were so all-fired interested in revealing himself to me, he could darn well answer the prayers of all my theist friends with regard to someone close to me who is in a coma. All the “prayer warriors” have done jack shit to this point.

    It’s the EMTs, cardiologists, pulmonologists, neurologists, nurses, and the entire modern health care system who have actually done something. God. He yawns.

  89. rowanvt says

    @99, Kevin-

    That’s probably because your friend in the coma is not praying. Clearly since that individual is not praying, they want to be there, right?

    At least, considering how evil and sadistic I find the god of the bible to be, I could imagine that being its logic.

    That said, I am hoping that your friend recovers soon, and as fully as possible.

  90. says

    Another atheist who has done this, here. The last few months of my life as a Christian, I prayed this prayer daily, several times a day, in earnest, with not a hint of an answer provided.

  91. guychapman says

    Still, an experiment could be designed. One group could pray to the Christian God, another to the FSM or J. R. “Bob” Dobbs.

  92. says

    “…any God that there might be to reveal himself/herself/itself to him or her, and that he or she remains as open as possible to ways in which that prayer could be answered.”

    This is the part I love the best. Will it be an image in toast? Will I be enraptured with a sunset and suddenly believe that such beauty could only be created by a benevolent, artistically-skilled god, strictly for the enjoyment of mankind? Will my dog speak to me or look at me meaningfully? Will I stub my toe and realize I’m not trying hard enough? If god loves me and wants me to be happy, he/she will let me win the next lotto jackpot, live forever and be happy and healthy the whole time, and he/she will end all suffering and wanton stupidity on the planet. I’ll believe then.

  93. allencdexter says

    Been there. Done that. Results — I’m now a devout atheist.

    How many who perished in the holocaust prayed fervently for their deity to intervene and save them? They’re dead. Some who survived might delude themselves into thinking their urgent prayers saved them. It’s still the luck of the draw that they misinterpret to make themselves feel special.

    That’s just one example of the impotence (and non-existence) of the deities people bow and scrape before.

  94. anteprepro says

    I may well be wrong but I find stories of those that were atheists that then converted to a religion difficult to swallow and I maintain that if such is the case, that person was never an atheist to begin with.

    Shades of No True Scotsman. I share your incredulity regarding atheists converting into whatever flavor of religious nonsense suddenly tickles their fancy. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t really atheists. It just means they probably weren’t very good atheists. I don’t doubt Leah Libresco was actually an atheist. I just doubt that she was a particularly logical one, or that her reasons for conversion make a lick of sense.

    Even people who have a firm grasp of atheism can still be dumbfucks, though. You can throw logic out the window or compartmentalize heavily and still be an atheist. Just look at Randroids and the Sexism Brigade. Converts have just suddenly decided to throw logic out the window on the subject of religion, in contrast to the atheists who do so on the subjects of basic human decency, economics, equality, etc.

  95. says

    boskerbonzer:

    Will it be an image in toast? Will I be enraptured with a sunset and suddenly believe that such beauty could only be created by a benevolent, artistically-skilled god, strictly for the enjoyment of mankind?

    Just don’t start praying and then go hiking anywhere you’re likely to encounter a triune waterfall.

  96. DLC says

    Wait. which God or Goddesses should I pray to ?
    Crom Cruach ? Morrigan ? Babdh ? Louis ?

    And really, if you want to get my attention, don’t make a rainbow. I rarely look outdoors. For a real grabber, chop my age in half, or reverse my gender, or both. That’d get my attention.
    Do something that would totally violate the laws of physics.
    Make dirt fall into the sky around PZ’s feet. Make PZ float around on a cloud of flubber. Come on, you want my belief, make it worthwhile. Drag Mars inside the asteroid belt and drop a couple hundred iceballs on it from the Oort Cloud to make it habitable. Yank Venus back from the fire and dump some ash on it to quell the acid and let it cool off. Come on, do something snappier than putting your face on a grilled cheese sandwich.

  97. Ichthyic says

    If someone switches from atheism to any religion, I maintain that they were never actually atheists to begin with.

    coincidentally, I have spoken to many evangelicals who would say the same thing, and insist that there really ARE no atheists at all.

    :P

    of course, it’s really all just projection in that case.

  98. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Split infinitive. Shame on you, PZ.

    Please stop trying to fit English in the Latin mode.

  99. Parse says

    @20 Jasper:

    What I’d like to propose is a Theist Prayer Experiment, where theists do not pray for 40 days, and then see how much of a change that produces in their lives.

    What would probably happen is that the theists would expect everything to go wrong, and thus remember every single thing that didn’t go right. It wouldn’t be more than normal, and I doubt that they’d intentionally make up problems, but because they’re looking for such things and actively remembering them, they’d think their life was a disaster, and thus show the need for prayer.

  100. says

    DLC:

    if you want to get my attention, don’t make a rainbow.

    Now you’ll have offended Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow and messenger of the Gods. They ain’t gonna be getting your message now.

  101. Ichthyic says

    So, really, those numbers probably aren’t actually 40.

    no…

    you’re missing the OPs point.

    not “what 40 IS”

    but WHY 40.

    why not 2 or eleventy?

    your post does not address this AFAICT.

    also, I do believe there are other numbers used that represent “a random long number of days”, like 7.

  102. Louis says

    DLC,

    Clearly to me. I have already demonstrated my prowess on this very thread. Do not scorn the Miracle of Ibbica’s Presentation.

    Also, rainbows, pffffff. I am capable of at least full on double rainbows all across the sky.

    Louis

  103. says

    Um. I think someone better tell this guy that the experiment has already been running for a few thousand years. Pray to Marduk, you get responses from Marduk. Prayers to Isis certainly felt their prayers answered. Aesclepius even cured diseases and brought people back from death’s door. Okay. Now what?

  104. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Prof Mawson seems to be going out of his way to demonstrate that 1) philosophy is useless and 2) you can be an academic at Oxford and an idiot at the same time.

    Good job for reinforcing those stereotypes!

  105. cuervodecuero says

    Sounds like this ‘experiment’, if there’s an actual address for ‘participants’ to contact is nothing more than a method to build a list of self-identified non-believers holding a wistful hope there is a Santa Clause in their lives.

    The people naive or doubtful enough to hand over their locations and contact info can then be tracked and love-bombed by true Christian (because as phrased, there’s no other god allowed in this ‘test’)believers and the one or two of the participants that succumb to peer pressure will be touted as proof…somehow that gods exist. Sorry, Yahweh exists.

    Everybody here already knows the victim blaming that will go on for those that remain atheist. Just.Didn’t.Try.Hard.Enough.

    I remember that accusation lobbed at Matt Dillahunty by an apologist at INR2 during the Friday night ‘debate’ about god existing or not. He was the ideal of restraint and no BartSimpsonStrangling ensued.

    What gets me is that apologist and the philosopher involved here are so able to proclaim that atheists must come to their non-belief while living in a religious vacuum, naught but a tabla rasa until this Great Suggestion comes along.

  106. 'Tis Himself says

    The whole 40 days of prayer is silly. If a god wanted an atheist to believe in it, then one prayer would be sufficient.

  107. says

    ‘Now we sing dis stupid song!’
    ‘Sing it as we run along!’
    ‘Why we sing dis we don’t know!’
    ‘We can’t make der words rhyme prop’ly!’
    ‘Sound off!’
    ‘One! Two!’
    ‘Sound off!’
    ‘Many! Lots!’
    ‘Sound Off!’
    ‘Er… What?’

  108. r3a50n says

    RE 105:

    Some very good points.

    Even people who have a firm grasp of atheism can still be dumbfucks, though.

    *cough* Thunderf00t *cough*

    You can throw logic out the window or compartmentalize heavily and still be an atheist.

    That is true, though to be clear, I think this still stands:

    Atheists that arrive at atheism by way of critical thinking, logic and reason cannot then “unlearn” all that they know such as to believe in a diety unless they suffer from some kind of brain trauma.

    I know that I could never unlearn what I know such that I would ever not be an atheist. There are plenty of people that have arrived at atheism through other means that could in theory be duped into believing in a diety. But again, and despite the shades of “no true Scottsman,” I don’t believe that such an atheist is an atheist simply because they call themselves one. I could call myself a Baptist, but that doesn’t make me one.

    If one has any room for acceptance of a god or gods without evidence, then that person is agnostic irrespective of what they call themselves and even if they call themselves “atheists.”

    It reminds me of a joke told by Abraham Lincoln: How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four, because you can call the tail a leg, but that doesn’t make it a leg.

    Just as someone that self-identifies as an atheist isn’t really an atheist if their beliefs are in reality more in line with agnosticism or with religion.

  109. unclefrogy says

    would it count in this experiment if I tried to “see god” if I tried to contact the the god of Rastafari by “praying” using the method of smoking ganja for forty days. would contacting Jah count?
    or would it only be the bible god that counts?

    uncle frogy

  110. anteprepro says

    you’re missing the OPs point.

    not “what 40 IS”

    but WHY 40.

    why not 2 or eleventy?

    your post does not address this AFAICT.

    lolwut? “What 40 is” is a number representing an estimate. That’s also “Why 40″: Because 40 means “lots”. That answers why that number appears so much. The only alternative is that you change “Why 40″ to “Why does 40 mean many”. Which I’m sure you’ll see is an entirely different question.

    And no, seven is not similar in this kind of usage. I’ve already linked to an article specifically about forty, but here’s one about Hebrew numbers in general.

    Seven: The most sacred number. The origin of its sacredness is found by some in its factors three and four; by others, in its correspondence to the number of the planets; while others assert that it arose from a sacred six by the addition of one

    Forty: Stands in the Bible for a generation (e.g., the forty years of wandering in the desert), hence for any period of time the exact duration of which is unknown (comp. Gen. vii. 4, 12, 17; viii. 6; Ex. xxiv. 18, xxxiv. 28; Deut. ix. 9, 11, 18; x. 10; I Sam. xvii. 16; I Kings xix. 8; Jonah iii. 4). In later literature forty is commonly used as a round number (comp. Giṭ. 39b, 40a; Soṭah 34a; Yer. Ta’an. iv. 8; et al.).

    So, no. I’m not missing the point.

  111. r3a50n says

    would it count in this experiment if I tried to “see god” if I tried to contact the the god of Rastafari by “praying” using the method of smoking ganja for forty days.

    I kinda doubt it but I would be willing to participate in this particular experiment with you just to be sure. ;)

  112. David Marjanović says

    For it to be a good experiment we need a control.
    First, we need a sham deity for half the participants to pray to…

    Thread won, right in the first comment. Well done!

    If I pray to the Invisible Pink Unicorn, and She answers, will that count as a success?

    Arrrrrrrrrrrr.

    This is why Batman is the best superhero. He didn’t need to ask (or be/become) a god to be a badass, he just is.

    Well, being a multibillionaire probably helps too.

    Thus proving the Golden Rule: the one with the gold makes the rules.

    Money is the true superpower these days.

    Example: I am God, and I want all of everyone’s money. If there isn’t at least $100 million in my bank account by this time next week, I will smite all of humanity in my anger.

    One hundred BILLION dollars!!!
    – Dr. Evil

  113. theophontes (坏蛋) says

    @ anteprepro

    Not far off. 40 was used in calculating solar years. This was always very difficult for the ancients because a year is not quite a whole number of days. There are numerous other systems of course , but the 40 day system was one of them . And holy – of course- that goes without saying. (Actually, the babble folk (especially xtians) where pretty crap at timekeeping mathematics.)

  114. grumpyoldfart says

    So basically the Christian is saying God’s existence can be proven when atheists change their mind. Stuff that! let’s really put God to the test. Let’s ask him to give us answers to the Clay Institute’s Millenium Prize Problems.

  115. anteprepro says

    I know that I could never unlearn what I know such that I would ever not be an atheist. There are plenty of people that have arrived at atheism through other means that could in theory be duped into believing in a diety.

    Agreed with the majority of your post, but I just needed to respond to the above. You don’t need to unlearn logic and critical thinking to become a theist. You just need to stop applying logic to religion (or at least not do it as rigorously). Possibly because you are convinced by wishy-washy nonsense claiming that religion really does rely on Other Ways of Knowing and is about Belief, not Facts. Possibly because you succumbed to social pressure or emotional blackmail. But that’s all that needs to go wrong with otherwise perfectly good critical thinking abilities in order for someone to get infected with the God Virus. Ability to use logic is helpful, but a commitment to not give religion special treatment is roughly as important, and possibly even more important.

  116. David Marjanović says

    Split infinitive. Shame on you, PZ.

    ROFLOL. Thou hast no inkling about that about which thou babblest.

    also, I do believe there are other numbers used that represent “a random long number of days”, like 7.

    Well, yes, except that 7 isn’t actually long.

    Funnily enough, BTW, Noah’s Flood lasted both 7 and 40 days. Yes, at the same time. Look it up!

  117. Janine: Fucking Dyke Of Rage Mountain says

    Lady Claire Gurney: How do you know you’re God?

    Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.

  118. phhht says

    A similar “experiment” has been running at the Bathroom Wall of The Panda’s Thumb for more than a year.

    I prayed to the Christian gods for miraculous conversion, three times, in writing!

    So far, still NOTHING.

  119. r3a50n says

    @ 132:

    I agree, though I would say that this would not be possible for me because of what the application of critical thinking, logic and reason has taught me. I would have to “unlearn” all those lessons in order to eschew atheism, in addition to misapplying critical thinking, logic and reason going forward. I think it would take nothing short of severe brain trauma for that to happen to me.

    But I agree that there are some weak-minded atheists that are susceptible to Jedi mind tricks that could potentially lead them away from atheism, which would require the misapplication of critical thinking, logic and reason (and which I think are the targets of “experiments” like the one this post is about).

    The bottom line is that even atheists are imperfect humans, and some atheists are more imperfect than others. As we have seen empirically, atheism is not mutually exclusive with being a bad person.

    If someone is an atheist, that doesn’t preclude them also being, for example, an asshole (as in the above example), nor does it indicate their proper application of critical thinking, logic and reason. As such, it would indeed be possible, however remotely, for an atheist to become a theist and thus, I stand corrected.

  120. Brian says

    I suspect the biggest problem with this “experiment” is the issue of self-selection. The atheists that would participate in this experiment (aside from a handful of contrarians) are going to be people who already harbor doubts, if not actual misgivings, about their atheist stance, and will therefore likely be in a suggestible state of mind.

  121. No One says

    remains as open as possible to ways in which that prayer could be answered.

    *in my best Gordon Ramsey voice*

    “Really!?! Piss off!! Look at me… Fuck off!”

    As for the forty thing. It’s hard to get a third person to play a game of “count the fingers and toes”.

  122. says

    While this guy is disingenuous, my spouse was just writing an essay this weekend about how religious activities – like praying, meditation, ritual – can be used as a tool to increase learning, skill execution, and social interaction.

    From quieting the mind and heart, the idea is that you can then reap greater focus on storing memories or executing tasks.

    I’m not sure how to go about it; I’m a sort that has to think to do everything. It seems to take me a long time before I ever internalize something; more repetitions. And at the same time, I really, really abhor doing things repeatedly. Alas.

    But there probably are some lessons we can take from religion, even as we discard its toxic structures, dogma, and traps.

  123. ibbica says

    ‘Now we sing dis stupid song!’
    ‘Sing it as we run along!’
    ‘Why we sing dis we don’t know!’
    ‘We can’t make der words rhyme prop’ly!’
    ‘Sound off!’
    ‘One! Two!’
    ‘Sound off!’
    Many! Seven! Lots! Forty!’
    ‘Sound Off!’
    ‘Er… What?’

    FTFY ;)

  124. unclefrogy says

    meditation is a discipline or practice of thinking or none thinking that is not unlike any other exercise like weight lifting or wind sprints that strengthen the body. The mind is after all a function of the body, and could benefit from focused attention. The benefits might be similar to practicing music which I believe has been studied.
    It can be used to quieten the mind of the emotional noise that distracts and impedes clear thinking and attention. You could also find gods thus It could also be used for self hypnosis and perpetuate self delusion.

    uncle frogy

  125. RFW says

    @ 30 r3a50n says:

    What if I prayed to an invisible teapot orbiting the planet and got some unexpected results?

    You would have performed an invalid experiment because, as is well known to all thinking people, celestial orbiting teapots are (a) visible (as the rings of Saturn) (b) made of chocolate and (c) contain a kitten each. Your prowess at experiemental design is sub-standard.

  126. anitainrp says

    I prayed everyday for 16 years, if anything the futility of prayer actually hastened my loss of faith and subsequent atheism.

  127. 'Tis Himself says

    I prayed to Louis for a Dalamore 50 Year Old Decanter. This is a simple thing even a semi-competent god like Louis could miracle. I just checked the liquor cabinet and there’s no Dalamore there. So Louis is off the belief list for me.

  128. Stevarious says

    I no longer believe in Louis.

    So Louis is off the belief list for me.

    Typical atheist hastiness. Loius answers EVERY prayer… it’s just that sometimes, the answer is “No!”

    Maybe you can’t see Louis. But you can see the effect of Louis. You can’t see the wind, either, but you can see the leaves of the trees move. That’s Louis, suffering from the beans and cabbage he had for dinner last night.

    My faith in Louis is unshakable. If your faith has failed, that’s your fault, not his.

  129. PatrickG says

    @’Tis Himself

    A better test of Louis’s divinity would be to find out if the liquid content of your current bottles has mysteriously declined.

  130. Christoph Burschka says

    Praying to Stop Being an Atheist

    Petitioning an entity you don’t think exists to fool you into thinking it exists. Yeah, that makes sense.

  131. (e)m says

    @107 DLC

    You don’t want your gender reversed if you are happy with the gender you were assigned at birth. Trust me.

  132. says

    Well, this seems fairly straightforward. I pray to Odin to smite my enemies, then in 40 days I check back to see whether my enemies have been smited and if they have, Odin exists.

    Seriously, there’s a lot of scope for piss-taking here.

  133. gordona says

    Oh ye of little faith. I started praying to Dionysus as soon as I saw this and he has already told me I need a decent drink

  134. john3141592 says

    I might be tempted to help them out, but as a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster I’m constrained by Boyardee’s Wager. I can’t chance missing out on the beer volcano or the stripper factory in the afterlife (which we believers call Leftovers).

  135. cormacolinde says

    Personally, I assign a zero probability of “God’s” existence, because no one can define specifically what it’s attributes are. Every god that is defined semi-specifically — say, the Catholic god or the Lutheran god — contradicts known aspects of the universe and doesn’t exist. The vague deist’s deity only has a minuscule chance of existing because nothing is specified about its nature, so they reserve the right to label just about anything that does exist as “god” (I also reject that approach — I think it’s dishonest.)

    Yes, yes, yes!

    I’ve been saying the same thing for years when anyone says “you can’t disprove god”. Well, yes, I can.

    The 3O god, as defined by most christian denominations, is inconsistent with what we know of the universe. Every day we observe the universe through our senses and examine it using science; we learn more all the time. And what we have learned in the past 200 years, the laws of physics we have managed to understand, it creates a model of the Universe that is inconsistent with that definition of god, it is a universe in which this god simply cannot exist. You can reject reality, reject god or equivocate till the day you die. And I don’t even mention how illogical and self-contradicting such an entity would be…

    As for those who won’t even give you a definition, well, come back when you have one. Making vague statements about “being” does not constitute a statement about reality, it’s not even a fantasy.

  136. crocswsocks says

    You’d be hard-pressed to find an atheist who does think deities are “100%” impossible. You’d be much more likely to find one (or several million) who think deities are, at best, undiscovered.

  137. r3a50n says

    @ 157:

    Not sure if this is in response to what I posted but I agree that no one, including atheists, can be 100% sure that there are no deities as deities can neither be proved nor disproved. However, I would argue that if someone thinks deities are merely undiscovered, they are not atheist (irrespective of whether they refer to themselves as such) but are agnostic.

  138. AlanMac says

    Pascal’s Wager mixed with good ol’ Baptist “Fake it ’til ya make it” (self-programming). This wasn’t meant for atheists, this was meant for the choir to nod sagely at during the “who we hate and why” part of the weekly sermon.

  139. jnorris says

    Let me get this straight: if I believe there is a possibility that Yahweh actually exists and I make a daily Old Testament blood sacrifice to Yahweh for forty days, then Yahweh will reveal Himself to me.

    Because helping to save my soul is the most important thing a Christian can do, I’m going to ask forty of my Christian neighbors to give me their first born male child.

  140. says

    (e)m #153

    Or I could hedge my bets and pray to both. They’re both from polytheistic pantheons so they won’t mind.

  141. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    Louis@80,
    Well I’m convinced! When I convert to worshiping you, how should I refer to my self, am I a Louistian?, Louisite? Louisonian? Louistifarian?
    When do I get my pony?

  142. says

    Louis, your sophistimicated thelology has convinced me! Sign me up! Now, how do we address you? “Our Father” seems a bit naff. “Your holiness” is already taken.

    Also, please fix my lungs and buy me a winning scratchie kthxbai.

  143. Ichthyic says

    …except that 7 isn’t actually long.
    Funnily enough, BTW, Noah’s Flood lasted both 7 and 40 days.

    you countered the first point with the second?

    well done, David?

  144. Ichthyic says

    lolwut? “What 40 is” is a number representing an estimate. That’s also “Why 40″: Because 40 means “lots”.

    wow, how can you be so obtuse.

    again, this doesn’t answer why the number 40 was chosen, only that it represents “lots”.

    amazing.

  145. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Serious note: How would Tim Mawson explain the Christian preachers who lost their religion and are atheists?

    They were never true Christians.

  146. inflection says

    I did this when I was younger, actually. Usually on Christmas Eve or Christmas night. I’d go outside, look up at the stars, and ask God to show himself if he was there.

    Nothing happened and after a few minutes of standing in the cold I’d go in.

    Since the whole exercise kind of depressed me, I quit after several years of trying.

  147. maxdwolf says

    “We are asking each atheist who wishes to take part to pray for 2 to 3 minutes a day for 40 days for God to reveal Himself to them.”

    My answer; Thirty bucks. That’s how much my time is worth (yeah, I’m a lowly tradesman). My participation will commence as soon as the check clears or the cash hits my hand.

  148. anteprepro says

    mwow, how can you be so obtuse.

    again, this doesn’t answer why the number 40 was chosen, only that it represents “lots”.

    amazing.

    What the fuck are you on about? Clarify what you mean by “chosen”. “Chosen” as the number to use in a lot of Bible-y things or “chosen” as the number to represent “lots”? Because the former is (potentially!) explained by the fact that 40 represents “lots”. And the latter is a stupid question outside of the context of already being aware of the fact that 40 represents “lots” and is quite clearly a distinct fucking question.

    I’m no expert on this, and don’t really give too much of a fuck about it. I’m open to being wrong. But your present quibble, as far as I can tell, is pretty much bullshit. Which is pretty disappointing coming from a regular that I respect.

  149. kp71 says

    Dear God:

    Please reveal yourself to me by leaving a million dollars outside my door in the next 2 minutes. Thanks!

    Note to all: If I don’t comment on this thread again, there is no money outside my door.

  150. mikee says

    How about for 40 days I pray that god doesn’t exist?

    Does that mean after 40 days he won’t?

  151. unclefrogy says

    I all so wonder how the number 40 came to stand for many.
    I doubt it not that it does but languages are not my area and I am curious why that number and not some other.

    uncle frogy

  152. says

    More than 10 years spent praying for God to change me so that I wouldn’t want to be a woman, would want to be ‘normal’ and not even the remotest response about it. Over 10 years spent with something that made me feel wrong and weird and hurt me inside, and no response from the one who was supposed to comfort me and be there for me.

    Prayer doesn’t work.

  153. blf says

    I originally asked (paraphrasing) “Why 40, and not, say, 17 or 42 or ‘lots’?” I am aware forty is used (in the fairy tales in question) in the sense of “many”, but that usage does not answer the question of (rephrasing) “How did forty come to mean ‘lots’?” Or, to put it yet another way, what is the etymology here? (Since the usage as ‘lots’, being the result, clearly doesn’t answer my question of how did it become the result, I deliberately did not include the Pfft! of All Knowledge‘s mention of this acquired meaning.)

    One of my favorite resources, the Online Etymology Dictionary, observes:

    [T]he number 40 must have been used very frequently by Mesha’s scribe as a round number. It is probably often used in that way in the Bible where it is remarkably frequent, esp. in reference to periods of days or years. … How it came to be so used is not quite certain, but it may have originated, partly at any rate, in the idea that 40 years constituted a generation or the period at the end of which a man attains maturity, an idea common, it would seem, to the Greeks, the Israelites, and the Arabs. [“The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” James Orr, ed., Chicago, 1915]

    “Forty years” being a shorthand for a human lifetime or time needed to obtain extensive experience certainly seems plausible, similar to “twenty years” being a shorthand for a human generation. From there, the leap to “lots of time” seems easy, and then the final leap to simply “lots” would happen naturally.

    Presuming that etymology, the usage of forty to mean “lots” seems plausible.

    But what about “forty days”? Maybe coincidence, possibly with some astrological mumble-jumble or astronomy as a supporting rationale. Perhaps more likely, with forty having acquired the meaning “lots”, “forty days” is a back-derivation for “many days” but often less than a year (similar to how “couple” or “several” is often a shorthand for “few” or single-digit quantities).

    And none of the above is dependent on the fairy tales, so a wider diffusion to neighboring cultures and their mythologies is unsurprising.

  154. says

    (e)m #172

    If I got actual, tangible results I probably wouldn’t care. But that’s not very empirical, so I guess I probably should ask them each to smite different enemies and make a note of where the thunderbolts land.

  155. Ichthyic says

    Because the former is (potentially!) explained by the fact that 40 represents “lots”. And the latter is a stupid question outside of the context of already being aware of the fact that 40 represents “lots” and is quite clearly a distinct fucking question.

    *rips hair out*

    the question is: why WAS 40 picked as opposed to any other number!!!

    it’s bloody simple, so the only thing I can figure is you must be misinterpreting what the question actually IS.

    again, I refer you to #130, which is more along the lines of what the answer being looked for is.

  156. Ichthyic says

    How it came to be so used is not quite certain, but it may have originated, partly at any rate, in the idea that 40 years constituted a generation or the period at the end of which a man attains maturity, an idea common, it would seem, to the Greeks, the Israelites, and the Arabs.

    thank.

    you.

  157. Ichthyic says

    I guess I probably should ask them each to smite different enemies and make a note of where the thunderbolts land.

    oh, with their aim, you KNOW how that’s gonna end up.

    better make sure you stay in a well grounded building after asking that!

    in fact, you might want to warn the general populace.

  158. Louis says

    1) Whether or not anyone agrees with or believes in me, I am god. I told myself so after this Sophisticated Theological Experiment, therefore it is true (argumentum ad lavender scented lace hankie and haughty sniff). I also told myself I was the only god, therefore this is true. I also said that first, therefore this is also true (argumentum ad dibs/argumentum ad shotgun/argumentum ad seat blag). And I also told myself that is is always true retroactively, into the future, now and across all dimensions, universes, omniverses and multiverses for all possible values of true for every concept of time and everything forever so there (argumentum ad nyahnyahnyahnyahnyah).

    2) No titles needed, just call me Louis. I’m not that kind of deity.

    3) No official title for religion is really necessary, but if you must call yourselves something, use your own name, I’m not big on group identities except for convenience of language.

    4) There will be alcohol in your liquor cabinets as soon as you propitiate me by buying some.

    5) There will always be refreshments.

    6) On this thread I am god, on another I am an arsehole. This is evidence I am both. I can live with this.

    7) Some things might not be serious.

    Louis

  159. John Morales says

    We are asking each atheist who wishes to take part to pray for 2 to 3 minutes a day for 40 days for God to reveal Himself to them.

    3 minues × 40 times = 2 hours of my life wasted?

    (How much are they willing to pay me?)

  160. flapjack says

    Just last night I got texted by my highly impressionable mate of mine who’s a lapsed Catholic gay guy, but still feels the urge to fill the faith void with whatever woo comes along.
    He engaged me in a long and rambling conversation about thinking he might not be gay after all, but when I dug deeper his reasons were pretty lame, mostly to do with residual catholic guilt combined with wanting kids.
    At one point in his ramble he told me that he was out in the garden a few months back and a robin kept divebombing him and that the robin was “trying to tell him that gayness was wrong, and that he should settle down with his landlady and have kids”.
    How he garnered all that information from a bird that doesn’t speak English was a bit of a leap.
    I suggested it was probably protecting a nest.
    Similarly I currently live in Liverpool and came across a sculpture dedicated to the late John Lennon which consisted of a white feather against a globe with some musical notes. The blurb on the plaque explained that Julian Lennon was once told by his dad that he’d be watching over him after he died, and he’ll know this cause one day he’d discover a white feather. Sure enough he found a white feather.
    If you think about this for even a moment, how many times have you seen a white feather in your life?
    If you set the bar really low for omens and miracles then you can always find exactly what you’re looking for.
    I’m going out later and should I pass a red letter box on the way to work it ‘proves’ that god exists. For surely.

  161. Louis says

    If you set the bar really low for omens and miracles then you can always find exactly what you’re looking for.

    I predict that everyone reading this comment will be doing so on some form of personal computer. Therefore I am god.

    Louis

  162. slowdjinn says

    Another anecdatum here for “I don’t believe in God ‘cos he don’t believe in me, and he never returns any of my calls”.

    I prayed earnestly for god to reveal himself to me when I began to doubt my faith…and sure enough, he didn’t.

  163. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    If you set the bar really low for omens and miracles then you can always find exactly what you’re looking for.

    Story of my life

  164. blf says

    If you set the bar really low for omens and miracles then you can always find exactly what you’re looking for.

    Story of my life

    Yeah, you’re the lowest bar that can be set without digging a bloody great hole. </snark>

  165. anteprepro says

    the question is: why WAS 40 picked as opposed to any other number!!!

    it’s bloody simple, so the only thing I can figure is you must be misinterpreting what the question actually IS.

    Well you’ve done a brilliant job of explaining the error of my ways by repeating the same thing over and over and answering none of my questions so that I might have an inkling of what the fuck you are even talking about. The fact that you disregard my explanation as an answer but accept the one presented by theophontes, despite the fact that it is just as susceptible to repeated whines of “but WHY 40!?” is entertaining.

    By the way, thanks blf. Yours is clearly a more in-depth explanation. The links I’ve used also allude to those points, btw.

  166. anteprepro says

    By the way, thanks blf. Yours is clearly a more in-depth explanation.

    Clarification: The above is sincere, not sarcasm. I’m not sure how it comes off without making that clear.

  167. Anri says

    I prayed to Lolth and got to have all kinds of hot kinky sex with awesomely amazing spider people!

    …ok, not actually. But that would have been a cool result!

  168. Anri says

    Anri, you prayed for forty days?

    Actually I prayed for like, a bazillion days.

    That good enough?

    (Thank you, AE @ #83!)

  169. says

    If just one person doing this convinces themselves that an unexpected event within the 40 days means “god answered me”, the people running the “experiment” will have a great poster child for the “see, it works if you only try” campaign. Sneaky.