Friday, November 26, 2010

A Prayer Experiment for Atheists and Christians

I am posting this experiment with the permission of the original writer on the website He is a "Canadian skeptic/humanist interested in furthering a critical analysis of religious belief systems." He expressed amazement about how many people on the Internet (Twitter) ask others to pray for them or offer prayers for others. This post was originally presented by him on July 22, 2009 but I just ran across it last week and was intrigued by his proposal. His proposal is listed below:

"1.Decide on what you would like to pray for - we will call that result A

2.We agree that you will pray to God (or whatever supernatural being you choose)
for result A to happen.

3.I will pray to the ghost of Michael Jackson to ensure that result A happens.

4.If result A happens, you will explain to me why it is more likely that God made
it happen than the ghost of Michael Jackson or you will fairly concede that it is
just as likely that Jacko did it.

5.If result A does not happen, we will agree that neither God or Jacko answers
prayers. You will then explain to me why the entity you chose to pray to
selectively answers more prayers than Jacko."

My question to you, my gentle readers, is "How do you answer him?" I want both Christians and Atheists to feel free to respond - I will not tolerate any name calling or belligerence of any kind. I am simply interested in how both sides respond to this experiment.


  1. Mary, Just a couple of off-the-cuff thoughts. I think that there are some assumptions here:

    - That God is ready to prove His existence by saying, "Yes" to requests.

    - That God has to say, "Yes" to every request. "No" or "There's a better way" are not acceptable.

    I think that God tells us that proves His existence in other ways: through Creation (Romans 1), through fulfilled prophecies, through the resurrection of Christ, etc...

    I do not think that God is under any obligation to prove His existence through answered prayer - but I have seen Him answer prayer graciously for both believers and non-believers...

    These are not very well thought out points, but maybe could be a springboard for deeper thought.

  2. Thanks Linda - I appreciate your comments and you make some very valid points. I agree that there are some assumptions inherent in the proposal that really comes from a superficial understanding of what prayer really is all about. But as many non-believers have this superficial understanding, I was really interested in how people would answer the proposal and also how non-believers would then respond. To an atheist - the proposal seems quite logical and to refuse to participate is taken as an admittance of a faulty belief system. Thank you again for your insights.

  3. As with many "logical" arguments, this one by your atheist corespondent is shot through with fallacies and faulty premises. Shame on us Christians for being willing to enter debate in such territory.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Gordon. As I was expaining to Linda - I agree that the whole proposal has many fallacies and faulty premises - but that a non believer would take a Christian's reluctance to participate in the experiment as a lack of faith. So as far as I know, no Christian has taken up the experiment or entered the debate. What I am interested in is not the debate - it would actually be pointless - but how would you explain to a non believer just why it would be pointless - and could it be expained so that the non believer could actually understand the reason?

  5. I try to experience life wholly, rather than a series of positive experiences and negative experiences. Every cloud has a silver lining. Even though something doesn't go as wanted, somehow everything works out for us in one way or another. Change and learning is what life's all about.

    I would hope that most Christians can relate to that in their own way by believing that sometimes prayers shouldn't be answered... that something else is planned and it will all work out.

    And I would hope that most atheists see that this particular atheist's proposal is overly simplistic and designed to be rude. There's no real thought or understanding behind it. I'm sure that any atheists who took part in his experiment really just wanted to jump into the rude fest!

  6. Wise words Tonja. I was hoping that you would comment - you always have great insight. Yes, I think the atheist gentleman was baiting the hook and hoping for a Christian to bite. I looked over his blog and read quite a bit of it - as far as I know, no one took him up on his offer. He seems to phrase things in a nicer way and seems genuine in his wanting an honest discussion. Most atheists that I know, have a chip on their shoulder and want to argue not discusss - but I was intrigued by the proposal because he presented it in a way that shows the mind set of non believers and did really seem to want a logical discussion on the matter. I am interested in how different people would approach this topic logically, rationally and without rudness. So far, there have been some really great comments.

  7. I see the question as short sighted, because if the ghost of Michael Jackson exists (ghost being conceived in Judeo-Christian terms), then there's automatically a God, and Michael would use any power through service to him. It's also kind of tacky using the much maligned, late pop star in the example. A much more thoughtful analysis on this topic was given by Scott Burdick on his website, in one of his several essays. In the end it all comes down to faith. You either have it or you don't. You can't cling to evidence on either side.