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The Prayer Experiment, Week 1

It’s been seven days. Since seven is the number of completion, I’d like to review how Week 1 of the Atheist Prayer Experiment has gone since I started.

I’ve been keeping a diary in which I’ve jotted the thoughts that came to mind during each prayer. There’s little to report, though the experienced Christians may be amused at my inexperienced approach.

It’s tough to stay focused, and items from my to-do list often float by … a TV in the next room is distracting … I prayed while driving to a church small group meeting, and it made me a more considerate driver … how is simply making myself open to the Deity’s input different from making a specific request? … What if someone saw me—would I be embarrassed? … I imagine calling out to the man in the dark room (from Mawson’s paper).

I’ve been trying to avoid criticisms of the process of prayer itself. I’ve posted about that before and have more to say, but this isn’t the place.

My original post has gotten a lot of comments, and many are from people who object to the entire experiment. What’s been a little surprising are the negative comments from Christians. Do they not know that a Christian organization is behind this? Are they anticipating no conversions and trying to downplay the quality of the experiment so they can tell us, “I told you so” when nothing happens?

They may be jumping the gun. Organizer Justin Brierley (“Atheist Prayer Experiment – Day 4 Update”) reported that one of the participants dropped out because the very act of researching the experiment made her conclude that, “I need Christ in my life.”

About 70 atheists are participating. As an actual scientific experiment, I’ll agree with most of the criticisms raised. But still—could a Christian ask for anything more? Given that I can’t say, “Father, I believe; help my unbelief,” what would a Christian propose instead? From the Christian standpoint, this sounds a lot better than any practical alternative.

The experiment is more than just praying. It asks participants to remain “as open as possible to ways in which that prayer could be answered.” The closest I’ve come was on Day 5, where I was working with a volunteer team at a local Boys and Girls Club. When I came home, I realized that I’d lost my red plastic “Good Without God” wristband that I’ve worn continuously for a couple of years.

Hmm—was God telling me something? But if so, what was it?

Maybe God was saying, “You can’t be good without God!” Maybe he was saying, “That’s what you get for helping a worthy organization! Do it again and I’ll punish you worse.” Maybe this was a general caution to be more attentive to my surroundings so that I don’t lose things like this again.

Even if this was a divine action, we haven’t established that this was the work of the Christian god, and an action as vague as this might mean different things coming from different deities. For example, red in Hinduism is associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and beauty. If she did this, maybe the message was, “Thank you for the red wristband. You will be rewarded.” And so on.

Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not satisfied with finding a pleasing interpretation and running with it. Most intellectually appealing is the option that there is no supernatural message at all.

This reminds me of the numerology behind the predictions of our old friend Harold Camping (I’ve written about Brother Camping here and here). He concluded that the time from Jesus’s death until the beginning of Armageddon on May 21, 2011 (oops!) was 722,500 days. But 722,500 factors nicely into 5² × 10² × 17². Jumping into the highly accurate (or completely nonsensical, depending on the authority) science of numerology, 5 = atonement, 10 = completion, and 17 = heaven. So May 21 was the day of (Atonement × Completeness × Heaven) squared. Pretty cool, eh?

But even if you’re on board with Camping’s nutty project, how do you interpret this curious factorization? How about: Since Jesus atoned for everyone’s sin, and the human project is now completed, welcome into heaven, everyone! Why is this any worse than whatever Camping imagines?

And who’s to say what these numbers mean? Why doesn’t the 5 bring to mind the number of stones David picked up before he battled Goliath and suggest his doubt that God was going to help him? Why doesn’t 10 refer to plagues?

I’d rather stay on firm ground. I’ll leave the interpretations to the Jungians and the Tarot readers.

As a parting thought, let me share Mr. Deity’s admission that he doesn’t answer prayer.

Look—if somebody prays to me and things go well, who gets the credit? Me, right? But if they pray to me and things don’t go well, who gets the blame? Not me!

So it’s all good. I’m going to mess with that by stepping in? Putting my nose where it doesn’t belong?

Good deeds are the best prayer
— Serbian proverb

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Phil

    [This is my first time commenting--just found your blog today, and it seems great. (And I've spent a lot of time today reading the posts/comments from the last week or so.) I am a regular reader of numerous Christian websites, just to find out what the other side is thinking.]

    Your blog post makes me wish I had done the Atheist experiment–I found out about it a couple weeks ago through Justin Brierley’s podcast, and toyed with the idea–but the thought of being interviewed (and then having my interview played on the radio) was too much.

    Oh well. I am guessing this whole thing will be at least mildly interesting–and another way to think about these things.

    I am curious to read more over about your reactions/thoughts over the next 33 days…(BTW, how did things go at the Mars Hill Small Group meeting, which I think you referenced in your blog post above (and mentioned in comments from last week some time)? One of the ways I came to Justin Brierley’s podcast (maybe a month ago) was through a reference to his interview with Mark Driscoll, an interview which I found to be highly interesting. Dare I say entertaining?)

    At any rate, good luck. Keep up the good work.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Phil: Thanks for the comments.

      You can turn down an interview request, of course. That’s not part of the experiment.

      I think Mark Driscoll had to do some damage control after his Unbelievable interview about his marriage book. I forget the details.

      The Mars Hill small group is moderately interesting. I enjoy discussing apologetics with Christians, but at the same time, I realize that they have an agenda and it’s not my group to disrupt. I shift the conversation where I can to tackle the difficult issues that they never want to discuss.

      • Phil

        I guess I misheard Justin Brierley. My recollection was that he said you had to be willing to record your thoughts/impressions, and be willing to do an interview, in order to participate. (Although now that I stop to think about, I am sure he/they just wanted people to do the experiment, and of course he/they would let people turn down the interview. Ugh.)

        You’re right that Mark Driscoll did have to do some damage control. At least he put out a statement explaining why he thought the interview was unfair, and that he didn’t mean to insult all British Christian men. [Just the effeminate ones.] The interview made me like Justin Brierley, who seems eminently fair.

        Finally, I agree with your point about “not your group to disrupt.” I notice the same thing with commenting on Christian blogs [ex. The Gospel Coalition]. It’s a fine line. I try (or at least I think I try) to counter outright falsehoods [the misinformation on same sex marriage drives me crazy], and occasionally provide commentary on other matters, but pretty much let it go otherwise.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          If you want a good time, find a street preacher and try to engage him in debate.

          Wait–did I say “good time”? I meant: if you want to waste some time.

  • Thin-ice

    Also just found your blog for the first time.

    When I read of one of the 70 “atheists” taking part in the experiment resulting in at least one confessing “I need Christ in my life”, the first thought that came to mind was, “What is the definition of “atheist” and what kind of credentials do they have in the way of atheist or agnostic thought or investigations?

    I mean, Kirk Cameron says that he was an atheist before he “came to Christ”, but all my reading has turned up so far is that he wasn’t involved in any particular church when he was younger. That’s FAR from being a real atheist, who has fairly examined all the evidence from all sides. “Kirk Cameron Atheists” are the only sort I can imagine being susceptible to an evangelical altar call.

    But I do look forward to more of your “investigations”!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thin-ice: Thanks for the comments.

      I agree that there are different kinds of atheists. As for my thoughts on my kind of atheist and how deconvertible I think they are, read my post “I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You.”

    • Don Gwinn

      Weeeell . . . . there *are* different kinds of atheists, but if you can’t be a “real” atheist unless you’re judged to have put in enough critical thought beforehand, who decides what’s enough?

      You’re a “Real Atheist” if you don’t believe in gods. Period.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        An atheist has no god belief. Yep, I get it.

        And I guess we also agree that there are different kinds of atheists.

  • smrnda

    A problem I see with the ‘atheist who dropped out’ is – who is keeping records of who does what during the experiment? I’ve done psychology experiments and studies and most of the time you assign people randomized numbers and after giving them instructions, try to have as little contact/influence as possible. (If interviews occur, they are usually done by interviewers who don’t know the design or predictions of the experiment, just as a way of controlling for possible biases.) If a Christian goes out and recruits an atheist for an experiment like this, and then is involved in any way you’ve got a tremendous problem in terms of pressure from the experimenter, along with the problem that the experimenter might stack the deck with atheists who are emotionally unstable who would be more open to conversion.

    Though this experiment reminds me of one a friend proposed – he was going to LIST all deities, and spend a certain amount of time praying to each one, and would take notes on if anything good happened. In that way, he was going to sort out what gods were real and benevolent. The experiment was simply never finished for lack of time to ‘test’ every god of every religion.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, I don’t think this would pass muster as a decent experiment.

  • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

    There’s a lot here, but I’m sensing I should just wish you well. Thanks for the update. Lots of food for thought. One thing I have to do is read more about the “experiment.”

    Of course, there is no scientific way to prove God’s existence. You really can’t be argued into it, either. You can only be loved into it, and I hope you will be!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Hi, Bill. Thanks for the thought.

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Nice to hear your comments on the prayer experiment. Interesting that you experience the problem of the wandering mind common to believers who pray.

    Regarding it being called an experiment, I don’t think the organizers are intending that this is a scientific experiment, more of a case of trying something different, which is a valid use of the word experiment. After all, I don’t think someone is suggesting that there are double blind tests and statistically valid samples done when teens experiment with drugs.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Karl: Yes, I think you’ve characterized it well. And I think the organizers would agree. I don’t think they have any pretensions of publishing the results in a scientific journal.

  • smrnda

    The problem is even when the organizers know this isn’t a scientific study, if one atheist has anything that can be marketed as a spiritual experience it’s going to be hyped to the faithful as conclusive proof that god is real. Part of this is that within religious circles (or at least Christian ones) anecdotal evidence counts for a lot more than it should.

    On the whole being ‘loved’ into god as opposed to being reasoned – I’ve never thought emotions and reasons are that disconnected. I love the people that I love for reasons that I could put down on paper, not because of mushy feelings that just defy any attempts at explaining them.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      We’ll see. I’m certainly wary of the possibility of this being spun inapprorpiately. But I think that the overall idea is good. It gets the religion topic into the public sphere–which is good if it invites critique.

    • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

      Love is an action. “To will the Good for another.” It has nice feelings attached, too. But it’s not just oxytocin, though apparently neuroscience find that oxytocin is involved.

      Emotions, thoughts and behaviors interact in all sorts of ways. You do the right thing, you feel better, you think better thoughts. Then something bad happens, you get upset, you do something bad or good, and then that affects the next thing. Mental health depends on getting all three lined up. But one thing I’ve learned is that behavior usually comes first, at least for me. I need to do the right things, then I feel the right things (I’m not talking about God here), and then I think better things. And vice versa … do the wrong thing, feel shitty, and then think stinky thoughts.

      My point about “being loved” is that, well, I suppose it’s possible to be reasoned into faith, but I’ve never seen it happen. Our psyches are much more murky than that, and our motives are often obscure.

      One reason I have faith is because when I go to Mass, amazing changes occur within me that are inaccessible to me any other way. It appears to come from outside me and connects me to Christ. Another reason is that when I’ve prayed the Rosary consistently, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, I experience great personal consolations and mercies. Basically, everything the Church says will happen in the sacraments, happens to me when I follow Church teaching and practice. And later, I begin to understand the reasons for Church teaching.

      Now, if you knew me, you’d probably get practical and encourage me to go to Mass a lot, because you’d see I’m a lot more peaceful and content and loving afterward, and you’d prefer me like that.

      But really, do I have any shot in convincing you that Catholicism is the truth because of my experience at Mass or in Catholic spiritual practice? I doubt it.

      Yet I have these experiences, and I can’t deny that they happen. I got there by taking a leap of faith — the ladder of reason doesn’t get you there.

      Despite my talk of experiences, our faith still can’t be built on experiences … that is clear Christian teaching. Yet many of us testify to the same kinds of experiences.

      I have no idea, however, how I can possibly share that with you or convince you of its validity. But I really wish everyone would have these times of experiences of God’s love.

      Now, I know that one of my spiritual weaknesses is to chase after experiences. And I tend, conversely, to go the other way and try to build a purely rational edifice for it. In both cases, I’m working in the realm of emotions (though these experiences go beyond emotions) and thoughts. God keeps telling me to act out my faith in real life. Not remotely successful there. I find it easier to talk about my faith than live it, except in prayer.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        one thing I’ve learned is that behavior usually comes first

        Yes, I think that’s the key idea behind the experiment. Walk the walk first and see what happens.

        I suppose it’s possible to be reasoned into faith, but I’ve never seen it happen

        I see your point. It’s more often an emotional/spiritual thing it seems to me.

        do I have any shot in convincing you that Catholicism is the truth because of my experience at Mass or in Catholic spiritual practice? I doubt it.

        Your skepticism is on target. Lots of things (meditation or reading wisdom literature, for example) can be good for improving one’s outlook and attitude. I don’t see anything supernatural here.

        I got there by taking a leap of faith

        If you’re a better person because of your spiritual practice and there are no downsides (maybe a Fred Phelps kind of thing), that’s terrific. That wouldn’t be my route, but I’m pleased that you’ve found something that works for you.

        But the leap of faith thing doesn’t work for me. I gotta have the evidence.

        I have no idea, however, how I can possibly share that with you or convince you of its validity.

        Intellectual arguments. Evidence.

      • joeclark77

        In my opinion you can reach *belief* by reason (I did), but *faith* is something ultimately supernatural. I use the word “faith” in the sense of choosing to live as if you believe. You can have belief without faith, and you can have faith while harboring doubts. So even though the logical proofs of God’s existence and the historical and scientific evidence for Christianity’s truth are overwhelming and unassailable, many people who are aware of these things still refuse to say so. At the same time you have people who are highly doubtful bur are yet moved by some reason (for example, awareness of their own sins) to kneel, to confess, and to pray as if somebody was listening. Mother Theresa, for example, said that for many years of her life she had very great doubts, but she didn’t give up the faith.

        I think that many internet atheists fail because they don’t understand this distinction between belief and faith. Think of faith in God as something more like faith in marriage. If somebody shows you evidence that your wife might be unfaithful, that doesn’t have a direct bearing on your faith, which is a commitment made by you. There isn’t a direct causal link between doubts about Christ and a person’s commitment to Christianity, any more than “your wife might be unfaithful” leads directly to “you’re free to cheat”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          By what reasoning process did you reach belief?

          I use the word “faith” in the sense of choosing to live as if you believe.

          Don’t you believe?

          the logical proofs of God’s existence and the historical and scientific evidence for Christianity’s truth are overwhelming and unassailable

          Some have argued that, but I’ve found that claim to be quite empty. But that’s just one person’s experience.

          Mother Theresa, for example, said that for many years of her life she had very great doubts, but she didn’t give up the faith.

          What if Mother Teresa were a Scientologist? I think you’d be telling her, “Hey–get a clue! Those doubts are your rational self trying to tell you that you’ve backed the wrong horse.”

          Think of faith in God as something more like faith in marriage.

          Is that what Christians mean? Most don’t, in my experience. Faith often seems to be more belief despite insufficient evidence. (With trust being belief based on sufficient evidence.)

        • joeclark77

          “By what reasoning process did you reach belief?”
          It’s hard to backtrack, but I think it started with the initial realization that basically everyone who I recognized as a great thinker or who I agreed with on intellectual issues (like politics) in either the past or present era was a Christian, and virtually everyone who I thought was an idiot or disagreed with was an atheist (like me). That’s not a proof in and of itself, but it did soften my resistance and I found myself willing to read what the best Christian thinkers had to say. (As a college atheist, naturally, I had been willing to pay attention to and make fun of the obvious morons in Christianity, just as you regularly hold up Harold Camping as a case study in your blog posts. But now I had become willing to actually read and consider the arguments of those who legitimately and competently presented Christian truth.) I recall that Dinesh D’Souza’s book “What’s So Great About Christianity?” was one of the first that I read after that realization. I also happened to see a talk by a fellow from Caltech/JPL who introduced me to an extraordinary argument for intelligent design of the universe (not of species) that you can find in the book “Privileged Planet” by Gonzales & Richards. When I got to the bit about the solar eclipses, I think that was a tipping point for me. Once I knew that God existed, of course I was even more eager to find out who He was exactly, so I read even more stuff. CS Lewis (everything) and GK Chesterton (“Orthodoxy” and “The Everlasting Man”) of course were very helpful in that regard. Oddly enough it was Ann Barnhardt’s blog that persuaded me that the Catholic Church has the strongest claim to possess the truth.

          “Is that what Christians mean? Most don’t, in my experience.”
          Well, there’s the rub. Most modern Christians are more influenced by modernity than by Christianity, and don’t know much about their faith anyway. Flummoxing an evangelical friend on facebook is not the same thing as overthrowing Augustine or debunking Thomas Aquinas. What “most” people believe has no bearing on what is true. The Catholic Church has the strongest claim to the teaching authority of Christian doctrine, and the catechism (in CCC 144) says that “to obey … in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard.” I think my definition is also consistent with the way we use the words “faith” and “faithful” in ordinary English. I may choose to lend my brother money despite thinking he’s not likely to pay it back (an act of faith). I may cheat on a contract (act unfaithfully) without necessarily believing that it’s a bad contract.

          The sci-fi writer John C Wright had a great take on the definition of faith in his blog post about converting (http://www.scifiwright.com/2011/09/a-question-i-never-tire-of-answering/) :
          “So I was prepared to say adieu to logic and reason and just take things on faith, when I then found out that the only people who think you have to say adieu to logic and reason in order to take things on faith are crackpots both Christian and atheistic.
          Every non-crackpot thinks faith is that on which you rely when unreasonable fears tempt you to disbelieve that to which your reason has consented. If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump, and it is irrational to let your eyes overestimate the danger poised by the height.”

          So there are two questions: (1) What do you believe? and (2) Will you make the leap?
          The questions of belief and faith are related but they are not the same.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          it started with the initial realization that basically everyone who I recognized as a great thinker or who I agreed with on intellectual issues (like politics) in either the past or present era was a Christian

          Centuries ago, when Christianity was the only game in town, it wasn’t hard to find the Christian set full of intelligent people (and idiots too, but ignore that). Right now, science is full of great atheist thinkers.

          Dinesh D’Souza’s book “What’s So Great About Christianity?”

          Don’t get me started …

          “Privileged Planet” by Gonzales & Richards

          Seriously–don’t get me started!

          What “most” people believe has no bearing on what is true.

          There’s something to what you say, but an ongoing challenge for me is answering What is Christianity? I’ll criticize something about Christianity, and I’ll get comments that basically say, “Well, it’s not that way in my view of Christianity,” as if that somehow defeats my point. Christianity is pretty multi-faceted.

          I see many Christians blurring the distinction between faith and trust as necessary. Faith = trust when they’re talking about the strong evidence for the truth of their religion, but faith = belief with just a hint of evidence when necessary.

          If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump

          Uh, no–that’s trust. Your action is well-founded on evidence. What’s interesting about this example is the fear that gets in the way, but that doesn’t change things.

          (1) What do you believe?

          Things that are well-supported by evidence (or, at least that’s the goal).

          (2) Will you make the leap?

          Nope. No leaps of faith for this boy, thanks.

          Why would I? What’s the motivation?

        • joeclark77

          You missed the point of the two questions. I mean the generic “you”, as in the person on the diving board in Wright’s illustration. The point is that there are two separate questions: whether one believes that a certain fact is correct, and how one chooses to act based on that belief or disbelief. “Faith” refers to the choice, and does not imply the absence of doubt. On the other hand there are many believers who live as if they did not believe. Do you deny that the world is full of faithful with doubts, and believers who are unfaithful? If you want to understand faith, I would suggest an inquiry into why those two groups of people make the choices they do. It is apparent that the relationship between belief and faith isn’t linear.

        • joeclark77

          “Why would I? What’s the motivation?”
          Eternal life isn’t a good enough sweetener?

        • RuQu

          <

          >Every non-crackpot thinks faith is that on which you rely when unreasonable fears tempt you to disbelieve that to which your reason has consented. If your father says you can dive off the high dive with no risk of death, and he has never lied in the past, and your reason tells you to trust him, it is rational to take his word on faith and jump, and it is irrational to let your eyes overestimate the danger poised by the height.”

          So there are two questions: (1) What do you believe? and (2) Will you make the leap?”

          1) Fear of heights is reasonable. It is instinctual and failure to head it can reliably be shown to result in injury or death.

          2) Your father can provide evidence for his claim.
          2a) Water is a permeable surface. You can stand on the pool deck, but not the water. Rocks dropped on the pool deck bounce. Rocks dropped in the pool penetrate and sink.
          2b) You can perform low-risk experiments, such as leaping into the pool from the side, or using a lower diving board.
          2c) Your father can demonstrate by using the high-dive himself.

          3) You can rationalize your way through all of the above, and the results agree with previous experience. I don’t need to take you to a pool to repeat 2a and 2b, but we all agree that those results are repeatable.

          If your father, who has never lied to you in the past, tells you “Prayer will heal your fever,” it might be reasonable to trust him based on his history of honesty. However, that faith will be shown to be misplaced when you die of appendicitis because he never took you to the doctor. http://www.registerguard.com/web/news/28770072-57/bellews-church-death-hasselman-sprout.html.csp

          The key difference? There is no rational way to reach the conclusion that prayer heals, and no evidence or experiments to support it. Your father may be honest, but his statements should still be testable before you risk your life.

        • joeclark77

          You missed the point of the example. The point is: you can know with near certainty that the high dive is safe, but still not want to jump. Other more adventurous people might go ahead and jump, without knowing for certain. Ultimately, you can’t predict whether someone will jump, based solely on what they know about the safety of it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe: Eternal life sounds great. Show me the steps I can take to have some. (And “Just believe X” isn’t one of them!)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          You missed the point of the example.

          And I wonder if you get missed the point. The interesting thing about the high dive is fear. Faith vs. trust isn’t the issue.

          For you to make the scary jump isn’t moving from faith to trust, it’s overcoming your fear (and, BTW, using trust to know that you won’t be hurt).

  • Niemand

    Maybe God was saying, “You can’t be good without God!” Maybe he was saying, “That’s what you get for helping a worthy organization! Do it again and I’ll punish you worse.” Maybe this was a general caution to be more attentive to my surroundings so that I don’t lose things like this again.

    Or maybe a plastic wristband worn for several years will have a tendency to fall apart and slip off without any need of divine intervention.

  • Melia

    A few tips from an interested Christian:

    - The odds are, you are praying in the way that Christians do, since it’s probably the most familiar type of prayer given the culture you grew up in (correct me if I’m wrong). So I’d stick with what is familiar, although ultimately it’s your choice.
    - If you are distracted, then pray somewhere silent. I often pray just as I am slipping off to sleep. Reading something spiritual beforehand can help – I often read the Gospels, the New Testament epistles or The Little Flowers of St Francis.
    - Concerning the whole wristband thing, whether or not it is significant depends on already formed beliefs, and is therefore not theologically binding. I believe that God does reveal himself to you in moments like that, but at the same time, a ‘foolish generation looks for a sign.’ Think about it, but don’t lose sleep over it.
    - Pray using words. Pray using no words. Make it a song or a poem. Make it an informal conversation. Let it be influenced by your current state of mind.
    - Faith without works is dead. Your prayers should influence what you do in life.
    - Don’t fall into the trap of seeing God as a cosmic Santa Claus-type figure who gives you whatever you want whenever you want. Ask, but what you receive is not always what you think you want.

    Good luck, and I hope that at least this will be a worthwhile experience.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Melia: Thanks for the comments.

      I’ve been surprised at how each prayer experience is different. If I were to do this a thousand times, I’m sure I’d see regularity, but this has been a curious observation. Helps it not be boring.

      The only thing I’ve been asking for is, as suggested by the experiment, that God reveal himself.

  • Ted Seeber

    “Since Jesus atoned for everyone’s sin, and the human project is now completed, welcome into heaven, everyone!”

    I call that Catholicism.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Is Catholicism that … well … catholic? I thought that they had rules for getting in.

      “All paths lead to heaven” sounds like pantheism.

  • vksun

    Bob,
    You wrote: “could a Christian ask for anything more? .. what would a Christian propose instead?”

    Praying to generic God is a fine starting point. Just one note, is that there should still be some common-sense distinctions/priorities/merit/superiority of the realm of the good over bad, of Creator over created (assuming the former also exist). To say that one makes no distinction between his actual ‘good loving father’ and anyone else, even if the others are bad etc, will be positively offensive to actual good loving father. And also, there should be some seriousness (like one in thirst in a desert, searching for water), rather than mocking/demanding God, as if it is God who is in need. Some Christians may be expressing dismay on these issues – its like a sibling who loves the father and is grateful to the father, may be annoyed at the disrespect shown to the father by another sibling.

    Here is a possible prayer if you may try: Forgive everyone (anyone you may be having any grudge/anger etc), call upon God in repentance of all known sins/shortcomings. Ask God to show you and convict you of any unknown/forgotten sins. Please let know, how that went (that is, if you do this).

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Hey, vksun. Glad to see you at the blog.

      To say that one makes no distinction between his actual ‘good loving father’ and anyone else, even if the others are bad etc, will be positively offensive to actual good loving father.

      And that’s a worry once we’ve identified whoever’s in the Driver’s Seat, right?

      rather than mocking/demanding God

      I don’t see this. My prayers in this experiment are nonjudgmental, I think.

      Now, if you mean the blog itself, I could see you seeing that as disrespectful.

      a sibling … may be annoyed at the disrespect shown to the father by another sibling.

      I guess. Sounds pretty thin-skinned to me.

      And isn’t this experiment a heckuva lot more Christian-y than I’ve been before this point? It seems like you have only cause for celebration.

      Here is a possible prayer if you may try: Forgive everyone (anyone you may be having any grudge/anger etc), call upon God in repentance of all known sins/shortcomings. Ask God to show you and convict you of any unknown/forgotten sins.

      Let me instead propose an experiment for you: pray to Quetzalcoatl to ask for forgiveness for any sins/shortcomings.

      Let me know how that went.

      • vksun

        “And that’s a worry once we’ve identified whoever’s in the Driver’s Seat, right?”

        The question is, how is one trying to find if there is a Driver’s Seat etc. Say, we are stranded in an unknown island and it looks like residential locality with houses, streets, gardens, trees with fruits etc and we start living by eating the fruits and put up a tent ourselves. And we want to find if there is a head/king/CEO managing the island. If we say ‘’Hey, I don’t think there is a king, and I really dont care, but let me do some favor and spend couple of minutes (king/CEO is not worth more than that), going around and ask about it to any random thing, including trees or animals’ — surely, you will agree that something is wrong in this. So, what I am saying is, even when there is search with open mind, there is still some common-sense to be applied – like the priority of a human witness over just shouting at a rock asking to reveal, or looking for possible honest witnesses, expressing/having respect for the king/CEO etc. It is also that even if the king/CEO, even if a very good/helpful person, may see no scope for a meaningful meeting, if there is a condescending attitude as described above.

        “It seems like you have only cause for celebration”

        As said above, approaching this as if doing some favor to someone or a favor to God, is condescending from the word go. God is fully/completely self-sufficient and sovereign. God loves us, but a condescending attitude leaves little scope for a meaningful meeting/revelation by God. You may say, this is like ‘heads I win, tails you loose’ – but it is not. We are talking basic common-sense attitudes etc expected. Ultimately, if there is God, it is the one who finds God who has the most to celebrate. Others who truly love you, can join the celebration/happiness, that something marvelous/good (the highest good possible, in fact) has happened to you. In the story of the prodigal son, the father is happy and there is a party, but the biggest cause of celebration is for the son.

        “Let me instead propose an experiment for you: pray to Quetzalcoatl to ask for forgiveness for any sins/shortcomings. Let me know how that went.”

        Firstly, I said “pray to God”, you said “pray to Quetzalcoatl”. The two are not equivalent. Secondly, I already call upon God in repentance of all my known sins/shortcomings. I already ask God to show and convict me of any unknown/forgotten sins. I already see the extraordinary transformation of heart, love for other of a different order/magnitude, reconcile with all, forgive, see undeniable witness of God in the spirit, constant relationship as a daily undeniable reality etc. If you want to exclude the possibility of Creator God who is perfectly Holy, you are excluding the God which almost all major theistic systems believe – and if you still want to say that you are doing a prayer experiment with open mind, that is for you to contemplate on. The proposal I mentioned is a genuine/honest/humble proposal – Let me repeat – a) forgive all, b) reconcile with all and seek forgivess (where practical/possible) if there are any who you may have wronged c) call upon God in repentence/humility as to one who is the king/Maker/Creator, to who we are all accountable d) Ask God to show you and convict you of any unkown/forgotten sins. There’s more, but this is a beginning. Now, you may ask, why do this and not something else – sure, bring whatever other possible options to the table, we can discuss them and possibly try etc (keeping common-sense priorities in mind like first trying Creator over created etc)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          vksun:

          It is also that even if the king/CEO, even if a very good/helpful person, may see no scope for a meaningful meeting, if there is a condescending attitude as described above.

          So God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving. But now we also learn that he’s a little testy, and you’ve got to ask him just right or he’ll just throw in the towel and send you to hell. Is that right?

          Look–there’s no evidence of a god. I’m happy to go through the motions just to see what will happen, since millions of Christians seem to think that doing so might yield something. If you’re saying that I not only have to go through the motions, but I have to be respectful or otherwise meet some standard of yours, then I guess I’m just not going to please you.

          (I hope God is a little less picky!)

          approaching this as if doing some favor to someone or a favor to God, is condescending from the word go.

          Seems pointless from the world go. I mean–where’s the evidence?

          Are you sure that it’s God who’s going to be insulted … and not you?

          God loves us, but a condescending attitude leaves little scope for a meaningful meeting/revelation by God.

          Let me propose this: God makes himself known, and then we take it from there.

          In the story of the prodigal son, the father is happy and there is a party, but the biggest cause of celebration is for the son.

          The prodigal son insults the father, and what does the father do? He simply forgives. No hoops to jump through, no special beliefs required.

          I wonder why God doesn’t do it the same way.

          Firstly, I said “pray to God”, you said “pray to Quetzalcoatl”. The two are not equivalent.

          Each is a god in which people now (or did) believe, and for which there is no evidence. Sounds pretty equivalent to me.

          This avoidance makes it sound like my challenge was too close for comfort.

          I already ask God to show and convict me of any unknown/forgotten sins.

          And how’s that going to help if Quetzalcoatl is the actual god?

          If you want to exclude the possibility of Creator God

          If I’m doing the experiment properly, I’m praying to whoever’s out there, not to whoever you happen to pray to.

          you are excluding the God which almost all major theistic systems believe

          So what? Popularity implies correctness?

          The proposal I mentioned is a genuine/honest/humble proposal

          No, it’s a Christian-centric prayer. That’s not what we’re talking about.

        • vksun

          “If you’re saying that I not only have to go through the motions, but I have to be respectful or otherwise meet some standard of yours, then I guess I’m just not going to please you”

          What you do, is all about you, for you, and if and only if you want/desire/thirst. I don’t think God wants you to approach in any other way. The phrase ‘go through the motions’ is not correct – those points I gave are meant to be meaningful conversations with a rational/moral mind (on assumption that such Being exists).

          “I hope God is a little less picky!”

          As I said, God is completely self-sufficient. What I meant about offense etc is one that is borne out of love and concern for us. I will be very concerned for example, if my 5 year old or 10 year old cant/wont identify me as father and is condescending. The concern is out of love for her/him and the implications for her/him (this is not same as some ‘thin-skinned’ kind of concern). If you are sure that ‘God who is Holy’ does not exist, and want to exclude that God in your prayers, there is no question of respect or disrespect anyway. It is a bigger problem if you consider possibility of ‘God who is Holy’, and yet condescending of Holy God and your Maker (a more fundamental problem, I would think). You are right about the story of prodigal son’s father (but the father was offended when the son left, out of love/concern for the son) – in fact Jesus told that story to say that God is like that father.

          “Let me propose this: God makes himself known, and then we take it from there”

          If God is Holy, He can or would meet/reveal etc only in the context of God’s Holiness and ones openness to moral transformation. You exclude that scope/possibility of gift of moral transformation in you, and you are excluding that God. Please understand – throughout NT, it repeats over and over again, about how God reveals, how God will be a witness in the spirit, manifests in you, abides in you, morally transforms, write God’s moral laws on the heart, take out heart of stone and put in heart of flesh, one that joys in righteousness etc. So ones refusal to see merit in moral transformation and refusal to desire such, is an obstacle for an engagement with God. God of course can reveal in whichever way, but going by Jesus/NT, you cannot separate need for moral transformation and the complete/full revelation of God in a person (than what is already there, from nature, common-sense, scriptures etc).

          “Each is a god in which people now (or did) believe, and for which there is no evidence. Sounds pretty equivalent to me”

          So you are saying, a notion of ‘Creator God who is Holy’ is same as Quetzalcoatl? That is so, if you add the assumption that Quetzalcoatl is somehow the name given to ‘Creator God who is Holy’. That is then just a matter of name, and is no big deal, for a starting point, at least.

          “This avoidance makes it sound like my challenge was too close for comfort”

          As I said “I already call upon God in repentance of all my known sins/shortcomings. I already ask God to show and convict me of any unknown/forgotten sins. I already see the extraordinary transformation of heart, love for other of a different order/magnitude, reconcile with all, forgive, see undeniable witness of God in the spirit, constant relationship as a daily undeniable reality etc”. If you want to say that Quetzalcoatl claimed to have done something better or does something better etc, I want to know what it is.

          “If I’m doing the experiment properly, I’m praying to whoever’s out there, not to whoever you happen to pray to”

          Question is, in your list of possibilities, are you excluding the notion of ‘God who is Holy’. In the APE facebook page, people are reporting prayers to Dionysus etc, which is fine. But that does not mean that one should limit the possibility only to Dionysus and exclude ‘God who is Holy’. Each persons choice anyway.

          “So what? Popularity implies correctness?”

          I never said that it implies correctness. I just said that ‘God who is Holy’ is the biggest/major notion and even shared across multiple faiths, and it is up to you to decide whether you want to exclude that possibility.

          “No, it’s a Christian-centric prayer”

          Firstly, the notion of ‘God who is Holy’ to who we have to approach in repentance etc is agreed by multiple theistic systems, and I don’t think many theists will object to my suggestion list, but it is true that the notion is most clearly well defined in the worldview of Jesus/NT. What I listed is straight out of NT. Secondly, why do you deny that it is ‘genuine/honest/humble proposal’ just on the basis that it is Christian-centric? I gave that on the basis of my own experience and genuinely on the basis of what I see as highest merit/good/true. Just because I give a proposal, on the basis of one possibility, how does that become non-genuine? If someone proposes a Buddhist-centric view, that automatically becomes non-genuine? Not at all – that is a view and up to the listener whether to consider or not. If you want to exclude the possibility of worldview of Jesus/NT, that is your choice, but if you are open to all possibilities, then what I listed is one of the possibilities. which you can try along with any other possibilities that you have in mind – including calling out to Quetzalcoatl, Dionysus etc if you like).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          vksun:

          if and only if you want/desire/thirst. I don’t think God wants you to approach in any other way.

          Then I guess I’ll be disappointing God. I don’t thirst for knowledge about God’s existence like I don’t thirst for knowledge about Julius Caesar’s life. Both would be interesting to learn about. And my interest in God will suddenly spike once I know that he actually does exist. My interest is built on evidence. Right now, there is basically none.

          on assumption that such Being exists

          Right, and I don’t have that assumption. That’s gotta be earned.

          What I meant about offense etc is one that is borne out of love and concern for us.

          Whoa—enough with the presuppositions, OK? We’ve been over this many times. You know as well as I do (1) that the point of the experiment doesn’t include presupposing vksun’s god and (2) that I am not going to have any faith or expectation that Yahweh will answer me.

          So you are saying, a notion of ‘Creator God who is Holy’ is same as Quetzalcoatl?

          As I’ve already said, I’m saying that Yahweh and Quetzalcoatl are two gods for which I have no evidence. That puts them in the same category. That you fancy one over the other is irrelevant, sorry.

          As I said “I already call upon God in repentance of all my known sins/shortcomings.

          And as I said, you don’t call upon Quetzalcoatl. Weird—I wonder why that is … ? I dunno—maybe you don’t have any evidence for his existence? And in that case, you can perfectly understand my position. So stop pushing your particular god, whether it’s Yahweh, Quetzalcoatl, or whomever.

          Question is, in your list of possibilities, are you excluding

          I’ve already made it clear that this is inclusive. Did you not read the summary of the experiment?

          people are reporting prayers to Dionysus etc

          Yeah, and I’m not directing my prayers to anyone!

          why do you deny that it is ‘genuine/honest/humble proposal’ just on the basis that it is Christian-centric?

          Are you not paying attention? Because a Christian prayer is not in keeping with the point of the experiment!

  • T

    Some random thoughts by a Christian, I will follow the blog for this experiment because it’s intersting how prayer (if it’s sincerely practiced) over a period of time would effect the mind of an atheist. I don’t see how you can be sincere though; how would I go about praying to Vishnu? I couldn’t; I don’t think. If you came to believe what would that mean? What does “I need Christ in my life” mean? Frankly it sounds more like what an atheist thinks a Christian would say, than what a Christian would say. That being said: I need Christ in my life. They say that praying for faith is a good plan, but I think they really mean for more faith not the first dose. Christians debate the mystery of why the grace of faith is given to some and not others, but I don’t think that this is among the theories. If the Calvinists are right, you’re just S.O.L. It reminds me of the movie “The Grey”: (SPOILER ALERT) an atheist demands proof of God and gives him like thirty seconds, he gets eaten by wolves, not sure what that means. He was Aslan from the Narnia movies, not sure what that means either. My point I guess is you have no right to demand faith or proof, and of course if you have proof that isn’t faith anyway. Yes I know that that drives atheists up the wall. I think demanding proof is whiney, that drives Almighty God up the wall, (or so I imagine . . . but look what happened to the guy in “The Grey”). Anyway it should be interesting to see if it messes with your mind. But, watch out for wolves – just saying.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      T: Thanks for the comments.

      No, I can’t be sincere. I can go through the motions, but that’s all I can promise (and that’s all I’ve been asked to do).

      No, I don’t need Christ in my life.

      you have no right to demand faith or proof

      I demand evidence. I don’t get evidence, I don’t believe.

      I’m funny that way. I guess that’s how God made me.

      if you have proof that isn’t faith anyway

      Yes, I see that, but what good is faith? Faith is always second best. Isn’t strong evidence much better?

      The need for faith is an enormous clue that there’s nothing there.

      I think demanding proof is whiney, that drives Almighty God up the wall

      Tell me more. Why would this bug God, especially since he made us this way?

      And are you saying that we should just have faith in every possible belief that comes along?

      • Kristen inDallas

        Catholics agree that God built all of is that way (curious and in need of rationality). That’ why they teach faith through reason. Rather than the it’s not faith if you have a reason stuff that I see in a lot of protestant churches. I could never swallow that, because I can’t logically believe that God would build my brain in a way that gauranteed his rejection. The trick is knowing the differnce between different kinds of proof/evidence. Ie. we can’t “proove zero” through scientific observation, there’s no such thing. But we can use mathematical and philosophical arguments to understand it, and we can accept the concept of zero, and do calculations about our world that employ it’s meaning without feeling foolish or decieved. There’s a difference between asking for help with your brain working out the math, and demanding to “see” a zeus-like figure in a bush of flames that you can snap a picture of…

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kristen: Sounds like we have a similar rational approach to things.

          If God exists, he made me to insist on evidence. That helps prevent false positives, which I think is a good thing.

    • Don Gwinn

      I realize I have no “right to proof” or “right to evidence.” By the same token, nobody has a right to my belief or credit, either. Those are earned.
      In my case, you can only earn them by trading evidence for them. You give me evidence, I give you belief. You give me no evidence, I give you no belief. I understand that you see it differently, and that’s OK with me, but it doesn’t change that basic requirement for me.

      One thing I had trouble with above, though, was Vksun’s admonition that Bob should not act as if he is doing someone a favor. As a non-believer, Bob naturally bases his participation on the *people* involved, as would most atheists, I think. The people behind this “experiment” actually did appeal to atheists to take part in their experiment at considerable personal trouble over an extended period, and they aren’t offering pay or compensation as far as I know.
      In short, they *did* ask him a favor, and by taking part, he *is* doing them a favor. No reason for him to be snide or arrogant about it, but I don’t think you can make a serious argument that he has been.

  • Beth T.

    I think this project is great! One Christian, at least, with no complaints about it. Oh, and items on my to-do list regularly pop up when I pray, too. :)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Beth: Thanks! It’s nice to hear some positive comments.

      This is new territory for me. We’ll see what happens.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Have you tried a generic request for truth? Praying for “help in believing” sort of begs the question who are you asking for help, and presupposes belief as a starting point. Saying out loud, to any deity that may exist, to the universe, to whatever untapped part of your brain that may hear it:

    “My sincerest desire is to believe things that are true. If there is a power out there beyond my ability to fully comprehend, I desire that my pride does not impede the rest of me from coming at a sense of it. If there is nothing, I desire that I would not allow my fears to fool me. Ultimately, I desire a better understanding of my own pride and my own fears in order to most acurately understand the true nature of the world.”

    may be all you really need…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Kristen: I don’t pray for help in believing. I simply ask for evidence (which is what I always ask Christian for).

      Leah Libresco suggested a variation on the Litany of Tarski: “If there is a god, I desire to believe there is a god. If there is not a god, I desire to believe there is not a god. Let me not become attached to belief I do not want.” That sounds a bit like yours.

      Thanks for the input.

  • Makoto

    I’ve tried this sort of experiment many times over the years, since my family, and especially my parents, are very religious. It did lead me to examining my own thought process and how humans in general pick up on patterns, which is good. Other than that it just lead me to try to keep a few minutes aside each day to think on what happened, and to intentionally let my mind drift a bit, since that’s where I find some important solutions to programming problems at work.

    Never got a sign from any god, however.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Not a bad idea–to have this be an ongoing habit, but instead of a prayer to a god, have it simply be a thought of thanks and gratitude.

      Thanks for the idea.

  • JohnH

    “he made me to insist on evidence”

    As surely as the Lord liveth that is gathering Israel from all the lands whither He had driven them and is bringing them to their land that was given to their fathers there is evidence of God. As was prophesied the blessings of the Lord came to Israel, and as was prophesied the cursing (Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 26), and finally as prophesied the Lord is gathering His people Israel from their long dispersion (Deuteronomy 30).

    There verifiable evidence. Everyone reading this is likely already aware of the dispersion of Israel and the life of the Jews hanging in doubt before them and everyone is also probably moderately aware of the gathering of the Jews to their land Israel, the land that was promised to their fathers. Likely everyone is less aware of the nothing short of miraculous military victories that created the nation Israel and with which it has been defended time and again against forces over three times the strength of the defenders but they are also there for all to see.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      John: Miraculous victories?

      (1) I don’t see that they were miraculous. (2) Who can say that the reports that we have were accurate? Stories grow with the retelling.

      Is every remarkable battle–Agincourt, Cannae, and so on–proof of God’s existence?

      • JohnH

        First you missed the main point of what I was saying if you are focusing on the victories. Second, what are you talking about with retelling? We have first hand accounts of thing like the Six Day War and news reports from all of the conflicts in question (being the ones since the ingathering started) such that they aren’t legends whose actuality is lost in the mists of history.

        If Agincourt was the subject of a 3-4000 year old prophecy then I would say it was evidence of God, I know of no such prophecy or any prophecy in regards to Agincourt and so on so I do not in general think they are evidence of much of anything.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Retelling: I was thinking about the stories of battles in the Old Testament.

          Was the Six Day War miraculous? I don’t think so.

          No, Agincourt wasn’t prophesied in the Bible. Was any other battle?

        • JohnH

          Based on the next post of yours it appears that you have this odd idea of miraculous that requires that a natrual law be violated. Which is interesting as according to my faith God works within the laws of nature but may apply higher laws which we currently do not understand, meaning your third option is the one that we expect and that we are commanded to work towards if we run up against the appearance of the fourth option.

          Yes there are multiple battles prophecied in the Bible, however as I said this is missing the main point.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          you have this odd idea of miraculous that requires that a natrual law be violated.

          That would be miraculous, wouldn’t it? And that’s what many Christians see as a miracle, as I made clear in that post.

          If God works within the laws of nature, that’s fine, but then how do we detect God’s hand from just nature? I hope you’ll agree that we must watch out that we don’t simply imagine into existence that which we want to be.

      • JohnH

        Let me spell out in simple terms what I was saying, as I believe that you understood what I was trying to say and focused on the part that you could willfully misinterpret and equivocate on.

        First: In the Leviticus and Deuteronomy God says Israel would be scattered. This scattering was finished during the time of Rome. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora

        Second: In those same books God promises that after being scattered the Jews would still not have peace but the persecuted and their lives would be uncertain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jews_in_the_Middle_Ages http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust

        Third: In those same books as well as in Isaiah and Jeremiah and elsewhere, God promises that He will gather His people to the lands which their ancestors held. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel

        The books in question are thousands of years old and provably older then the scattering of the Jews. Therefore we have evidence of God.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          focused on the part that you could willfully misinterpret and equivocate on.

          Hey–I’m an atheist! You should know that I’m in the thrall of the Dark Lord and am simply incapable of doing anything but deliberately misinterpreting and equivocating.

          The books in question are thousands of years old and provably older then the scattering of the Jews. Therefore we have evidence of God.

          Sure, let’s call that evidence. It’s just not very good evidence.

          I’ve written a post about good vs. weak prophecies.

        • JohnH

          Perhaps you would like to go into more detail on exactly how this evidence is not a good prophecy. It would appear fairly startling, I am actually withholding about some additional levels of preciseness in regards to this prophecy but it is already fairly precise if you would read the chapters in question, I just demonstrated that it is accurate, self fullfilling, really you think the Jews engineered their own diaspora, persecution, and ingathering?, you admit that it is verifiable and persumably that the fullfilment is honest, I know you might possibly equivocate on fullfilment after the prophecy but as I said I have multiple levels of preciseness that I am currently withholding.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I went into great detail about what, IMO, is a good vs. a poor prophecy in the link I provided. Check it out.

        • JohnH

          And I was respionding point by point to that detail from the link in my response.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I think the next step is for you to read that post and comment on it.

        • JohnH

          I just said I read that post and that my response was commenting on the points made on it and you say to read and comment on it???

          1. Startling and not mundane:
          Prophesying of occurrences that will happen over many generations and that involve a people being scattered all over world and the repeated attempted extermination of that people by empires, nations, and multiple religions and then their eventual gathering back to where they starting thousands of years previously seems to me to be fairly not mundane.

          2. The prophecy must be precise and not vague
          The prophecy is of a precise people and what would happen to them over a long period of time starting from a precise land and eventually returning to that same precise land. The scriptures on the subject that I have referenced so far have extremely precise details on the part of the scattering, particularly Deuteronomy 28:49-57 and vs 68 which details can be verified in the histories from the Roman empire (also vs 68 and vs. 49 would appear to rule out Babylon as Babylon was near at hand to the Israel, they understood the language of Babylon, and Babylon did not sell them as slaves in Egypt after wards).

          I am intentionally leaving out additional scriptures that give some details on the gathering of Israel, when that would happen, and when it would begin for two reasons: one, I want the evidence to be as general as possible in terms of faiths it is applicable to and anything additional I give will start restricting who accepts it, and two: you are being very slimy in your responses; quit being slippery and make me show my hand or else I will be forced to think that you are completely bluffing about wanting evidence of God.

          3. accurate
          You have as much admitted that it is accurate, though again I sort of expect you to be slimy (or slippery whichever is less offensive to you) about this one based on the rest of your blog.

          4.predict not retrodict
          I already pointed out that the prophecy is thousands of years old and therefore a prediction.

          5. Not self-fulfilling
          I hope you are not suggesting that the Jews engineered their scattering, the siege of Jerusalem, their persecution at the hands of many empires and religions, the holocaust and other similar massacres and expulsions, World War 1 which opened up the possibility of a general Jewish return, and the outrage over the concentration camps which made the forming of a Jewish state acceptable to some of the world powers.

          6. prophecy and fulfillment must be verified
          You have as much admitted to this being the case.

          7. The fulfillment must come after the prophecy
          The prophecy is from thousands of years ago, the fulfillment is recent and ongoing.

          8. The fulfillment must be honest
          I am interested in your attempts to say that it is dishonest as they should be amusing.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I just said I read that post and that my response was commenting on the points made on it

          Perhaps I was confused. It looked like you commented on the post even before I gave you the link.

          “Israel will be reconstituted as an independent state on May 14, 1948″ would be startling, precise, and accurate. I don’t recall seeing that in the Bible, sorry.

          You’re simply quote mining after the fact, a la “Bible Code.” My proof: no one in the 1800s said, “It’s coming! The permanent Jewish state will be here in 1948!”

          Again, you’d laugh at this argument of yours if given by someone from another religion. Why shouldn’t I do the same?

        • JohnH

          “no one in the 1800s said, “It’s coming! The permanent Jewish state will be here in 1948!”

          Actually, you are incorrect. The LDS Apostle Orson Hyde dedicated the land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews in 1841. The LDS church sent letters to the Jewish leaders in Europe warning them to flee to Israel in order to escape the desolation that would come to them if they did not. The Book of Mormon says that when it comes out then the gathering of the Jews to Israel is about to happen. One of the Articles of Faith has “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel”. And a whole lot more.

          I suppose you could say that saying in 1830 that the generation living would pass away before the fullness of the gentiles came in is not as specific as giving the exact date. The Bible actually says that Jerusalem would not be held by the Jews again until the time of the fullness of the gentiles, so with the additional revelation then the Bible *does* have that Israel would be reconstituted as an independent state and that Jerusalem would be re-held by the Jews in the time frame in which it actually did happen.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          not as specific as giving the exact date

          Yes, this is one of the problems. You’d think God, who knows quite a lot, would be able to make a precise, remarkable prediction. That it looks simply like a vague guess makes it simply another manmade “prophecy.”

        • JohnH

          Wow are you something else. You say no one in the 1800′s was saying such and such and I say that actually they were and that they were saying it in such a way that it limited the time frame to within five years of the actual event and you say it was a manmade prophecy because the exact date was not given? You say that a prophecy made thousands of years ago that accurately predicts thousands of years of world history is not a real prophecy or evidence of God because it was not detailed to the point of containing exact dates when every event would occur. I met exactly your main objection.

          You are assuming that the purpose of God in having prophecy is to convince people of His existence, which it isn’t. There is no prophecy and related fulfillment in anyones scriptures that I have read (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, or Maya) that matches what you desire out of a prophecy. The closest would be the coming of the savior as prophesied by Lehi and Samuel the Laminate in the Book of Mormon and even then it was a year time frame (and interestingly enough there were people like you there that were getting ready to kill all the believers if it didn’t happen by such and such a date).

          You may want to look up Luke 21:24-32 with the JST of 24, the appendix JST of 24-25 and the JST of 32. Is that not supposed to be a prophecy because the exact day and time are not stated?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          You say no one in the 1800′s was saying such and such

          I said that no one in the 1800s made a precise, accurate prophecy about Israel and–whaddya know?–I was right.

          We’re talking God here, right? I think a prophecy accurate to-the-second is simply what we’d demand to make sure we weren’t fooling ourselves.

          There is no prophecy and related fulfillment in anyones scriptures that I have read

          Fair enough. Then don’t make claims of fulfilled prophecy.

          You may want to look up Luke 21:24-32 with the JST of 24, the appendix JST of 24-25 and the JST of 32.

          What does JST mean?

        • JohnH

          “We’re talking God here, right? I think a prophecy accurate to-the-second is simply what we’d demand to make sure we weren’t fooling ourselves.”

          God is not a law of physics but a being and has purposes for giving prophecy that have very little to do with proving His own existence.

          “Then don’t make claims of fulfilled prophecy.”
          No, it just means that your standard of prophecy isn’t the same standard as what everyone else in the world uses and is certainly not the standard which God would appear to use. Assume for a moment that Jesus really did rise from the dead, even though he rose from the dead was Him prophesying His own resurrection not really prophecy because He didn’t give the exact timethat He would rise? (Or even the exact date, just that it would be three days after He died (which if He actually died on Friday evening before sunset and rose Sunday morning before sunrise as is traditional is an interesting interpretation of three days (but I wouldn’t want to start a holy war and schism over questioning on which day Passover fell that year, that has already happened in Christianity (a few times))))

          JST = Joseph Smith Translation

        • Bob Seidensticker

          purposes for giving prophecy that have very little to do with proving His own existence.

          OK, then I’ll assume you’re not trying to use prophecy to prove God’s existence.

          No, it just means that your standard of prophecy isn’t the same standard as what everyone else in the world uses

          Gotta disagree with you there. The guidelines for a good prophecy that I laid out in that blog post are exactly what everyone–you, too, I bet–uses when weighing a remarkable claim. “Ganesh was a boy whose father chopped off his head and then stuck on an elephant head to make him alive again,” for example. I think you’d be as skeptical as I would be.

          and is certainly not the standard which God would appear to use

          Use for what? God has no interest in using prophecy to prove his own existence, remember?

          was Him prophesying His own resurrection not really prophecy because He didn’t give the exact timethat He would rise?

          No, it wasn’t really prophecy because (1) it was a story and (2) the documentation of the prophecy and the fulfillment were made in the same document. A good prophecy would have the prophecy clearly precede the fulfillment.

        • JohnH

          ” OK, then I’ll assume you’re not trying to use prophecy to prove God’s existence.”

          Fallacy and slimy. “very little” is not the same as “nothing”.

          “Use for what?”

          “A prophecy consists of divinely inspired words or writings, which a person receives through revelation from the Holy Ghost. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10). A prophecy may pertain to the past, present, or future. When a person prophesies, he speaks or writes that which God wants him to know, for his own good or the good of others. Individuals may receive prophecy or revelation for their own lives.” LDS.org, The Guide to the Scriptures

          I said “assuming” in relation to the resurrection, assuming that it was real, assuming that say you were alive and heard Jesus give the prophecy and then saw him die on the cross and then saw him alive again.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t think we’re getting anywhere.

          The NT is a story. Before we take it as history, we must show that it’s history. That this story says that Jesus did this or that doesn’t mean much to me.

        • JohnH

          Look at the scripture I asked you to (the Luke one with the JST) and let me know if it is supposed to be a prophecy even though it doesn’t give an exact date. It has nothing to do with the hypothetical.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John: OK, I’ll take a look. Can you provide a link? I want to make sure I’m looking at the right thing.

        • JohnH

          Luke 21:24-32, the appendix JST of 24-25 and the JST of 32.
          Link here:
          https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/luke/21?lang=eng

          The appendix JST is footnote a of 25 which is the “And” at the start of the verse.
          JST Luke 21:32 is the only foot note in the verse on “shall”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          What is this supposed to be of? Of Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple in 70? If Luke was written after the destruction, here again that’s not much of a prophecy.

          Luke 21:32 is rather damning. Sounds like a misfire to me.

        • JohnH

          I said read the JST and I meant it.

          “and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And he answered them, and said, In the generation in which the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, like the sea and the waves roaring. The earth also shall be troubled, and the waters of the great deep;”
          JST of 32:
          the generation when the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled, shall not …

          It is talking about the generation when the Jews retake Jerusalem, that Jesus’s second coming would not come before then and that the generation when the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled, shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          And Jesus said, “This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.”

          Didn’t happen.

        • JohnH

          You are purposefully being dense and ignoring the JST:
          The JST says (which I told you to read and you agreed to):
          ” the generation when the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled, shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.”
          meaning the “this generation” is referring to the generations when Jerusalem is retaken by the Jews. Now if everyone that was alive on June 7, 1967 were dead then you might be able to says that it didn’t happen, otherwise you are again willfully misinterpreting what is being said for unclear reasons (for this thing)

          Whatever, the very fact that you have latched on to that means that you think of it as a prophecy which condemns yourself and your own stated position from earlier. By saying that this was or is a prophecy (I guess it doesn’t matter which) then you have to (in order to be consistent) admit that the same type of prophecy in regards to the gathering of Israel done by Joseph Smith is in fact specific enough and valid.

          However, I know that you have no desire for evidence of God, that is just an excuse you give so that you can ignore what everyone that has experienced God says. I could speculate as to the reasons why you do this but it really all come down to Matthew 12:39 (taken literally). Even still though based on what you have said you have evidence of God that meets what you have in practice demanded of a prophecy.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          meaning the “this generation” is referring to the generations when Jerusalem is retaken by the Jews.

          Meaning the “this generation” that is listening to him.

          Are you really unaware of the many places in the gospels where Jesus talks about the imminency of the end? Didn’t happen.

          the very fact that you have latched on to that means that you think of it as a prophecy which condemns yourself and your own stated position from earlier.

          I’m happy to consider a reasonable claim that the Bible has fulfilled prophecy. I’ve seen nothing so far.

          No inconsistency, but thanks for your concern.

          admit that the same type of prophecy in regards to the gathering of Israel done by Joseph Smith is in fact specific enough and valid.

          Whaaa … ? Am I not being clear? All these “prophecies” fail!

          I know that you have no desire for evidence of God, that is just an excuse you give so that you can ignore what everyone that has experienced God says.

          Golly … it’s like you’re reading my mind!

          it really all come down to Matthew 12:39

          Does God exist? Then he gave me a brain to use. You bet I’m going to ask for a sign. To stumble into a worldview blindly is not using God’s gift for what it was meant to be used for.

  • Steph

    I think if you have no belief in God whatsoever, then you are praying the right way, and that is that God would reveal himself to you. I do believe however that your attitude should be one that says to God, “I don’t believe you exist. I’ve seen no evidence of it. But, if I’m wrong I want to know. I don’t want to be in the dark about your existence if you are real.” I believe you need to be receptive to a response. If you are just saying words with no desire to really know or get a response, you should rethink your process. I would also suggest that you not pray like you’re praying to a brick wall (even if it feels like you are.) ; ) I know you don’t believe this, but God loves you. He knows everything about you, and he wants you to know him, so pray like you are talking to someone who is listening. (What can it hurt?) Talk to him like a friend or any other person. I think if you do this it will make this whole experiment more meaningful. Thanks for sharing your journey here. I look forward to future updates.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Steph: Thanks for the comment.

      In response to your “What can it hurt?” that’s like asking what can it hurt for you to pray to Xenu or Vishnu. I think you’re coming at this with the presupposition that God exists … which is the whole point of the experiment.

  • Jess

    Here’s one Christian that’s happy you’re doing this! I don’t know why any Christian wouldn’t be. I just have one bit of advice, really keep an open mind as to what constitutes “evidence.” It seems that you may be already, as you’re acknowledging losing a wristband as a *possible* result from your prayers, but if you’re looking for incontrovertible, scientific, recordable evidence, you very well may not find it. And, if you don’t mind my asking, what sort of evidence would convince you? I personally recommend reading people like Lewis, Chesterton, Aquinas, Augustine, etc. – all awesome Christian intellectuals. And you’d be surprised how much going through the motions can do. God sees that you’re trying something. (Of course, that probably sounds like nonsense to someone who doesn’t believe in God, but… :D)

    Just search for the truth with an open mind and you’ll find it… and I really believe that that Truth is Catholicism. I hope you come to that conclusion sometime in the future, because once you really do, you’ll be so happy you did. And it might not happen during this experiment. Maybe a few months or years from now, you’ll see a little glimpse of God, begin a deep search, and once you search, it’s all uphill from there. :)

    http://thereluctantatheist.blogspot.com/2005/08/all-labors-of-ages.html
    Maybe you should read Jen Fulwiler’s blog. A lifelong athiest turned Catholic. It’s pretty interesting. This is her first post. I praying for you! God bless!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jess: Thanks for the input.

      But if I get just vague evidence, why trust it? Why isn’t that simply wishful thinking on my part trying to cobble together an argument for God’s existence?

      Surely if I had vague evidence that Scientology or Islam were right, you’d be coaching me that that’s insufficient.

      Good evidence would be if God stopped being hidden–not just to me, but to everyone in the world. We look to consensus within the scientific world, and a consensus view (like this would establish) would be the way to go with God as well.

  • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

    What evidence would satisfy you enough to count as proof of God’s existence?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Because the mind can play tricks on one, I’d like to see the awareness of God’s existence to be a shared thing. Imagine a spiritual dream that everyone in the world had on the same night, for example. That there was a consensus that the dream was real would be a big step.

      Of course, it could still be aliens, but God is pretty hard to prove.

      • joeclark77

        So, you mean, like Fatima.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Was Fatima a dream or vision shared identically by the entire world?

  • Alan R.

    Hello Bill,
    I think it is good that you are praying. I hope that you keep praying. I once read (I can’t remember where) that if one lives an upright life and seeks the truth without fear and desires to do what is good in all things, God will reveal Himself to you in a way that you no longer question whether He exists or who he is. He may reveal himself by sending someone to tell you the truth which you will be prepared to believe or by an extrodinary gift will reveal Himself to you directly.

    Up until a few years ago I was agnostic but only because I could never really get my mind wrapped around all the varying descriptions of who God is and what He wants from me. But for me, the prayer that God answered was “God, please! Eather kill me or save me”. I was dying and was desperate so some may chalk this up to just another testimonial from a weak minded person…but it is the truth. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I would be a Christian let alone Catholic.

    I guess I would encourage you to pray always but especially when you are desperate :)

    Peace be with you,
    Alan

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve never seen any guarantee that God will reveal himself, regardless of the conditions. It’s a nice thought, perhaps, but it’s just wishful thinking, it seems to me.

      It’s good to hear that you’ve passed through that medical crisis, but people of other faiths have the same kinds of stories.

      I don’t know why being desperate would make much of a difference. If God doesn’t exist when things are doing well, I’m not sure why he would exist when they’re not. (Though I can see how the temptation to pray would be greater.)

  • Owlmirror

    Hi Bob,

    I left this comment on Leah’s blog about the “experiment”, out of frustration with the whole vagueness of what exactly prayer was supposed to accomplish. Note that I didn’t think of “Bob” in the dialog as corresponding to you, but to a generic or composite believer, and the name was taken directly from the “Alice and Bob” characters used in discussing cryptography and communications.

    I also was referencing a comment further up in that same thread: “I could be wrong, but I believe the Catholic Church teaches that peace is the discerning state for spiritual experiences. If you experience complete peace of mind, body, emotion, and soul during your experience, then your experience includes the presence of God.” Although that same commenter followed up and qualified the notion to remove any possibilty of clear and direct causation.

    What I always find so frustrating is that it certainly seems simple and obvious to me that if God existed, and had a large body of knowledge [infinite knowledge is often claimed, but I'm willing to consider various alternatives], and could respond to requests for information, then it would be trivial for God to in fact communicate that information, especially so as to establish the empirical facts of existence and knowledge. But this never happens.

    Whenever I suggest this to believers, all I get is ad-hoc excuses for why God doesn’t communicate clearly, not even to believers. Or they just drop the argument like a hot potato.

    It’s not rationality; it’s rather weak rationalization.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Agreed–very weak rationalization. The Problem of Divine Hiddenness is as troublesome a problem for the Christian IMO as the Problem of Evil.

  • Selah

    Bob , I believe He is telling / commanding you to ” believe , repent and be baptized “.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve done all those things at various points in my life. But why imagine that the Christian approach is the correct one? It looks like thousands of other unsubstantiated religious views.

    • dorcheat

      Selah, may I offer you a wee bit of advice. Preaching to atheists will not get you anywhere at all and is generally regarded in poor taste and in most cases, blatant trolling.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Hi Bob, I’m very interested in your prayer experiment and have blogged about it over on Standing on My Head. Good luck! Here’s the link.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2012/09/a-prayer-experiment.html

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Much appreciated! Thanks for your interest.

  • Pingback: A Prayer Experiment

  • Arkenaten

    No matter how I try to approach this – and I did give it some thought after reading about it on your blog – I just cannot get my head around praying to an invisible sky daddy.
    I already meditate on occasion and use visualisation techniques (usually for certain types of goal setting or to relax) and would say the results are often positive. I used visualisation extensively during serious marathon training a few years back.
    As I mentioned to Rebecca Hamilton, personally I would feel hypocritical even acknowledging the possibility of a deity manifesting in some way.
    Just feels altogether odd.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I acknowledge the possibility. Said another way, I’m not certain that there is nothing supernatural.

      But I’m allergic to hypocrisy. I’m never going to say “I believe” if I don’t.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      BTW, you’ve named yourself after Akhenaten, the pharoah who introduced monotheism into Egypt? Is there a story behind that?

  • Brigette

    Mr. Seidensticker,
    I want you to know that I am encouraged by what you are doing. As to why any Christian would hurl negativity your way during this time is a mystery to me, but let this be some positivity from a Christian right now! God revealed himself to me at a young age, and so my story is different than yours because I have had faith in God for a while. Because of that, I recognize that you and I are coming from very different vantage points, so I don’t want to be ignorant and say that believing in God is easy, because what I SHOULD be saying is that it has been easy for ME. I want to encourage you with this; faith by definition implies uncertainty. In my life, I have searched for answers and found no peace. I spent years of my life wanting answers, wanting to understand, and what I found was that I was always restless, always searching. Then, rather than looking for answers, I searched for knowledge of who God is. The more I learn about the character of Jesus Christ, the more comfort I find in the uncertainty. I don’t have answers, but I seek to draw near to the one who does, and in that I have found peace and comfort in my life. I know this sounds ignorant, but I believe that faith in God means admitting that I don’t have the answers, but he does. If there was no mystery to God, faith would be easy, but at the same time if there was no mystery to God, faith would not be necessary. (1 Corinthians 1:18-31 is a good passage to look over).
    I didn’t mean to write this much, but I hope you find encouragement all along this journey, no matter what you find at the end. I don’t know how valuable this is but I will say it regardless; I am praying for you. I’m excited to hear more about this process, and excited to see what you find!
    Best,
    Brigette

    -Also, I apologize for this late comment. I am just now getting the chance to read this entry!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for the encouragement.


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