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.