The Ultimate Prayer Challenge to PROVE God

The Ultimate Prayer Challenge to PROVE God January 31, 2019

Editor’s Note:  OK, so this post, written by a professional writer and Clergy Project member, does not evoke the warm, inclusive feelings expressed in the last post, also written by a professional writer and Clergy Project member. That’s because non-believers, like religious people, are not all alike. The days of religious stereotyping are hopefully waning.  I think there will be fewer “angry atheists” when there is less to be angry about.  I also think there will be fewer fire-and-brimstone preachers when it becomes obvious (hopefully soon) that this brand of religion is no longer politically or financially successful.  /Linda LaScola, Editor


By David Madison

Go ahead, I dare you, theists! Give it a shot

In 2013, when the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on gay scouts, Executive Pastor Tim Hester, of the Louisville Southeast Christian mega-church, announced that the scouts were no longer welcome to meet at the church. The decision was based on a “lot of prayer.” That church boasts 30,000 members, so there must have been a lot a data streaming from the divine mind to human minds.
Is anybody suspicious?

But can’t we test this, scientifically…or at least semi-scientifically? That is, let’s approach the ‘power of prayer’ with genuine curiosity, and do our best to eliminate bias and fluke.

I’m totally serious about this, so please, let’s have no special pleading about “not testing God,” i.e., punting to Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:7,

“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Jesus was having a chat with Satan, who had invited him to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple…to see if angels would catch him. I’m not challenging God to do anything.

What I’m proposing, dear theists, is testing your claims about how you detect God, how you know God. You’ve been making these claims for centuries, and my proposal would be your chance to prove that prayer does indeed put you in touch with the mind of God.

The confident believers must be held accountable for their extraordinary claims.

  • They maintain that there is an all-powerful, personal god who has his hand in the management of the Cosmos, yet who is undetectable by the sciences.
  • Yet…amazingly—so they claim—the brain of one mammalian species is able to access the mind of this god, i.e., to channel his spirit. But usually only those minds that have been primed by religious indoctrination are equipped for this privilege. Luck favors the prepared.
  • Just trust us that all this is so. Take it on faith.
  • Is anybody suspicious?

This experiment would require the participation of 1,000 of the most devout theists we can find. We need believers who are known to spend many hours in prayer—on a weekly or even daily basis. They are respected and revered by their colleagues for their piety and holiness. They are the Olympians of praying.

We can ask for nominations.

We would have to be as inclusive as possible in assembling the 1,000 participants. In the Protestant realm, which has splintered endlessly, this will be a challenge; but we want the full spectrum, especially the evangelicals. I was a bit shocked to discover that Catholicism is pretty fractured as well. We can’t forget the most devout folks we can round up in the Greek Orthodox communion.

Of course, this vast assembly of theists must include the major and minor factions of Judaism and Islam. We cannot exclude the Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We can’t leave out the Amish or the Quakers.

We could very well end up with ten thousand participants in this Ultimate Prayer Challenge.
There are so many varieties of holy people; do they all have clear channels to God? While they’re in their intensive prayer modes, we want these folks to ask God about his will on a wide range of topics. Here is my initial list of issues that we need to know God’s feelings about.

Why not put Rev. Hester’s claim at the top of the list?

• Is it okay for gay scouts to meet in churches…or synagogues or mosques?
• Is same-sex marriage okay?
• Was homosexuality part of your plan from the get-go?
• How about evolution? Did that actually happen?
• How do the thousands of genetic diseases fit into your plan?
• Is it okay for women to drive?
• Is the Trinity a thing?
• Is it okay to eat pork?
• What made you change your mind about animal sacrifice?
• Is the New Testament your revealed word, for all theists to follow?
• Is the Old Testament your revealed word, for all theists to follow?
• Is the Qur’an your revealed word, for all theists to follow?
• Is the Book of Mormon your revealed word, for all theists to follow?
• Is transubstantiation a thing?
• Is birth control a sin?
• Is abortion a sin?
• What is the right way to worship?
• Would you be okay with a woman Pope?
• Are you okay with the ordination of woman?

Now there might be pushback.

“We can’t pester God with a list of questions like that!”

Give me a break. Every minute of every day, millions of believers beg and plead with God; they organize prayer marathons. They pray for wisdom and guidance. How could it be a violation of protocol to ask about very specific issues? God is supposed to be the ultimate arbiter of morality in the Cosmos—and what higher authority could there be on theological correctness? Who else to ask? Who else to answer?

If we could ever get theists to engage in this project, I’m sure that many more questions can be added to the list. There’s a lot that inquiring minds want to know. By the way, just to keep things honest, the 1,000 (or 10,000) cannot know who any of the others are. Comparing notes would not be allowed. The collecting of questionnaires and tabulation of results would have to be done by an independent secular research organization.

Now, drumroll: If God is real, if all these prayer Olympians have truly been channeling the divine mind, the results would be unanimous. How could it be otherwise? Hey, I think that would be pretty good evidence for God. Without unanimity, however—with answers reflecting the great diversity of human opinions—our suspicions would be justified. These super-devout believers have not been channeling God at all—or perhaps, as Dan Barker has suggested, God is hopelessly confused. They have spent hours and hours of prayer time talking to themselves; the brain’s capacity for imagination has been working at full throttle. The most generous explanation would be that cultural and religious biases have garbled and corrupted the signals coming from God—this, of course, would increase the workload for countless apologists who defend the countless brands of theism.

Alas, this project will never happen. Theists won’t go out on such a limb. They will mumble that “God cannot be tested”—and grumble that skeptics don’t trust them, but they know the risks as well as we do.

  • The real reason to balk, of course, is that theists don’t trust other theists. They don’t trust the spiritual experiences of those outside their narrow in-groups. Just one example: There are many Catholic women who know that they have been called to be priests; their intimate connection with God has convinced them of their vocation. But Pope Francis won’t hear of it. Nope, it would seem that those female spiritual experiences are dead wrong. So, two different messages from God? …or, on the side of the bureaucracy, fierce protection of territory, heavily laced with misogyny?
  • They’re not afraid of testing God—they’re afraid of being tested themselves. They don’t want to come to grips with the awful truth that all of the prayer-waves they’re “sending out” are just bouncing around inside their own skulls.

Saying Yes to this Put-Up-or-Shut-Up challenge would be, so to speak, a good faith gesture that theists are willing to cooperate—are not afraid to follow the curiosity. But this holds no appeal for theists. Why would it?

They occupy many thousands of fiefdoms—the brand names are endless—and have succeeded in hoodwinking enough people over the centuries to make it worthwhile…and to get away with it.

But Sam Harris’ indictment will stands as long as theists cannot back up their claims:

“Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed it is ignorance with wings.”

There is no evidence that prayer has shattered that ignorance. God remains an unreachable figure dwelling in the human imagination. But theists DO have a way to show us otherwise.


David Madison,a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.  The above post originally appeared on the Debunking Christianity blog.

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  • Anat

    Well, Jews can be exempt. In the first century CE they determined, based on what God allegedly said in Torah that God had no right to tell them how to interpret his laws, but that the proper way to do so is by majority rule of the sages of each age. The story is about the end of revealed tradition in Judaism and the transition to reasoning of the laws.

  • Tawreos

    If the theists don’t like that list of questions they should be reminded of how often they ask god for help finding their keys or a parking space. If he doesn’t have problems with those requests then philosophical questions about religion should be a snap.

  • Reminds me of the showy biblical prayer showdown at Mount Carmel. (In church the slaughter at the end of the story was usually quickly glossed over.) Baal was obviously a false god because prayers to it didn’t produce the astounding and undeniable results that Elijah’s prayers did.

    Problem was, I eventually couldn’t stop myself from noticing that my experiences with prayer were far more like the Baal side than Elijah’s…

  • TwirlyGIrly

    The folks at did a “study” back in 2010 or so to determine whether prayer could determine the will of God. I put “study” in quotes because they readily admit their “study” did not meet scientific standards. However, their results are just what you’d expect (and I doubt would be much different if it had been a controlled scientific study).

    Here’s the link to the main page discussing what they did:

    Scroll down the page to where it says “A pilot study to determine if people can assess the will of God through prayer:” The five links below that are the individual pages addressing various aspects of the “study” and the results.

    Interesting read!

  • R. Green

    I don’t usually comment on posts such as this, but I thought it might be good to offer an earnest response. Please, take it as it is intended… as just an fyi, and something upon which to ruminate.

    I think most reasonable people can understand that, just as you might ask people living in different countries about the laws of the road, you are going to get responses based upon their experience. Each response is going to be different. It’s the same with the questions posed in the above essay. People from different religious beliefs are going to answer based on their knowledge and perspective.

    I personally am a Christian who believes that the Bible is God’s word. Literally, His Word. And in His Word, He has already provided the answers to your questions.

    1. “Is it okay for gay scouts to meet in churches…or synagogues or mosques?” – 2 Cor. 6: 14 – 18; Rom. 1: 18 – 27.

    2.”Is same-sex marriage okay?” – Rom 1: 18 – 27; 1 Cor. 6: 9 – 11

    3. “Was homosexuality part of your plan from the get-go?” – Gen. 2: 24; Matt. 19: 5; Eph. 5: 31

    4. “How about evolution? Did that actually happen?” – Gen. 1: 1 – 31

    5. “How do the thousands of genetic diseases fit into your plan?” – Gen. 2: 16, 17; Gen. 3: 1 – 24; Rom. 5: 12; Rev. 12: 9

    6 “Is it okay for women to drive?” – John 14: 30; 1 John 5: 19; Luke 20: 46, 47; Luke 20: 20 – 25; John 17: 15, 16; John 18:36; Rom. 13: 1 – 7; Titus 3: 1,2; 1 Jo. 2: 15 – 17; Is. 2: 3, 4; Acts. 5: 27 – 29; Dan. 2: 44; Rev. 16: 14; 19: 11 – 21

    7. “Is the Trinity a thing?” – John 14: 28

    8. “Is it okay to eat pork?” – Acts. 10: 9 – 16; Heb. 10: 1; Rom. 7: 6; Rom. 10: 4; Eph. 2: 15; Col. 2: 13, 14; 16, 17

    9. “What made you change your mind about animal sacrifice?” – Ps. 40: 1 – 13; Heb. 10: 1 – 9: 1 Jo. 1: 5 – 2: 6; Gal. 3: 1 – 25

    10: “Is the New Testament your revealed word, for all theists to follow?” – 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17; 1 Pet. 1: 21; Rom 15: 14; 1 Cor. 10: 11; John 4: 24. 24; Rom. 9:4; Rev. 19: 10

    11. “Is the Old Testament your revealed word, for all theists to follow?” – 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17; 1 Pet. 1: 21; Rom 15: 14; 1 Cor. 10: 11; John 4: 24. 24; Rom. 9:4; Rev. 19: 10

    12. “Is the Qur’an your revealed word, for all theists to follow?” – Gal. 1: 6 – 9

    13. “Is the Book of Mormon your revealed word, for all theists to follow?” – Gal. 1: 6 – 9

    14. “Is transubstantiation a thing?” – Matt. 26: 28; Lev. 19: 10; Acts. 15: 20, 29

    15. “Is birth control a sin?” – I’ve tried to answer with scriptures only so to keep ethnocentrism at bay as much as possible, but this one requires very close reading… Deut. 25: 5 – 10; Ruth 4: 5; Mark 12: 19. Read Gen. 38: 6 – 10. as the details of the scripture reveal, it wasn’t the birth control action in general that was a sin before God, it was Onan’s selfish attitude. So, although I apologize for inserting my personal comments, this scriptural teaching is easily misused.

    16. “Is abortion a sin?” – Ex. 21: 22 – 25; Jer. 1: 5; Ps. 139: 15, 16; Gen 9: 6; Lev. 24: 17; Num. 35: 31; Rev. 21: 8

    17. “What is the right way to worship?” John 4: 23, 24; John 17: 17

    18. “Would you be okay with a woman Pope?” Matt. 23: 5 – 12

    19. “Are you okay with the ordination of woman?” Rom. 16: 1

    Now, as I alluded in my introduction, I don’t post this to argue or deny the experiences of any person or their beliefs (or perhaps lack of belief.) I simply did my best to earnestly provide scriptures that speak to each query. As to the idea of ‘not putting God to the test…’ the point Jesus was making in Matt. 4: 7 concerns a person who has come to know God who goes on tempting His patience and justice, not one’s asking for understanding. (Deut. 6: 16; Ps. 95: 8, 9; 1 Cor. 10: 9; James 4: 17; Luke 12: 47; John 9:41; John 15: 22; James 1: 5, 6)

    I will try to refrain from commenting further. I may answer earnest questions, but I’m not supplying these scriptures to diminish, nor disrespect any person’s free will to believe as they like. I do wish that all people can come to know God, and His Son Jesus, but I don’t wish to engage in discussions or arguments that only serve to bolster one’s self importance (especially my own.) – 1 Pet. 3: 15

    I also recognize that most are really not interested in looking up scriptures, but this manner of response speaks to those who may have earnest inquiry. If one has no earnest desire to understand, then please feel free to ignore my response.

  • Linda_LaScola

    There are no scriptures supplied above – only their numbers, implying that the post only addresses people who already know those scriptures or people who are willing to look them up.

    I’m guessing that this list has been posted before and is just copied and pasted here. To me, it appears that the primary motive is to show knowledge of the Bible, not to help anyone understand or to facilitate inquiry.

  • R. Green

    Well, this is a reason that I don’t post on topics like this one. I’m basically an anonymous person, and I have no need to prove anything to anyone. Since we aren’t in person, there’s really no way I can prove the negative of your supposition about whether this response was my own effort at the moment. I will tell you that it took me over 3 hours to research and list the scriptures – that does not include the 20+ years of my life spent studying the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures to find answers to such questions as listed in the essay.

    And yes, I already said that I was only answering for those who had earnest inquiries and were willing to look up the scriptures. With internet access at the finger tips of anyone reading this post, it shouldn’t be too difficult to search the references – but it does require an effort. Jesus himself faced similar situations. In Matt. chapter 13, when teaching crowds that were gathered around him, Jesus offered parables that contained lessons. When the disciples asked him why he taught in such a manner, as found in verses 10 – 15 he explained – even going on to quote from Isiah – the reason.

    I also wished to avoid disagreements over preferred Bible versions, as well as leave personal interpretations out of the content. Each person who wishes to look up the references can make their own determination about whether the scripture applies to the individual question, and has value to a reader’s earnest inquiry.

    I have never seen this list if questions, nor do I have scriptures sitting around waiting for an opportunity to use them. I have only my mind and the reference material found on the internet for all to use (perhaps, prayerfully, God’s Holy Spirit.) If you wish to ask a random question to search out whether I am being honest and earnest, then I’m open to responding.

    And, to reiterate, no, I have no desire to promote myself, nor my knowledge of scripture. I am simply a slave of the Christ who too was open to help those who earnestly sought out the knowledge of God. You’ll find no resume of my writings nor self-promotion. In fact, I apologize if I’ve caused any consternation for responding here.

    If you recognize my name, that’s fine, I do comment from time to time… but very rarely. Something about this article ‘spoke to me’ and inspired me to comment.

    Thank you for your response.

  • R. Green

    Oh, and btw… some of those questions were extremely difficult to answer just using scriptures! lol The one about whether women should be able to drive required a LOT of thought and I’m still not sure I answered it well. I just did my best from my perspective.

  • Linda_LaScola

    Thanks for your response. I appreciate the explanation, and will say I wish you had devoted at least some of the time explaining the scripture references. However, I understand from what you wrote above that you were hoping to incite enough interest that some readers would check the references themselves.

    Unlike me, many the readers here are former clergy who know the scriptures very well.

  • R. Green

    You’re welcome.Your response seemed quite genuine, so I thought it fine to reply. Most of the interactions on the internet are so decisive and vitriolic, replying is often problematic. Thank you for your civility. If you would like some explanation of the scriptures I used, or of the reasons I used them, please feel free to ask.

    I will say, without intent to disrespect any individual (and I suspect it’s not a new thought to you,) that being a member of a clergy is no guarantee of anything but a title. As for me, I’m pretty much an – as one version renders Acts 4: 13 – uneducated, common man.

  • mason lane

    Harvard Medical School did a study with 1800 heart surgery patients in 6 hospitals and the study tested prayer to God and prayer tested as worthless, in fact those not prayed for fared better.

    Everyday on this planet thousands of young girls/women who are being raped, and some murdered, pray in wretched earnestness to the nonexistent deaf and blind God for help. The results are well known.

  • mason lane

    All the bible verses you list are contradicted in the link provided here, and explained for anyone who isn’t a blind faith believer in the fascist totalitarian Jehovah & Son mythological deities (actually same deity) “I and the Father are one.” John 10:30 The Jesus deity is culpable for the plethora of sadistic atrocities committed by Jehovah in the Jewish mythology. The good news is it’s all Jewish mythology.

  • mason lane

    This will help to elucidate and educate you about the bible if you make even a modicum of effort. Right now you’re just parroting, and copy and pasting, Evangelical propaganda. Think, don’t engage in blind faith; you can do so much better.

  • mason lane

    Harvard Medical School did a very scientific control study of 1800 heart surgery patient in 6 hospitals and prayer, of course, was a flop and was beaten by no prayer.

  • R. Green

    I hesitate to respond, as I see that this exchange, different than with Linda LaScola, will not be productive in any way. Linda had the modesty to use such terms as “guessing” and “appears”. What’s the difference? Your comment is telling me flat out that I’m ‘parroting’ and ‘copy and pasting’. Assumptions that often come from arrogance and ignorance. Your ignorance can be overlooked (as I explained to Linda, we aren’t in person, so it isn’t possible for me to prove I wrote that all out during 3 hours of contemplation, research, and effort of typing.) However, the arrogant manner in which you address my efforts – especially after I already explained (and was willing to answer any random question immediately…something I cannot do at this time due to prior engagements) that I authored that list of scriptures applying to each of the questions for this blog entry itself – flies in the face of civil discourse.

    I listed scriptures that any person could look up in the Hebrew/Greek Bible version of their choice and use their own minds to reason on the applications. I didn’t provide a link to another person’s website, nor flippant memes. If you wish to interact with me, I expect personal, respectful exchanges. Your comment, as it stands, does not meet that criteria. Another reason I rarely bother replying on the internet.

    The way your comment is phrased, it is obvious you aren’t willing to exchange ideas. You seem to want to tell me I’m wrong and that my perspective is invalid. That is not an avenue towards civil discourse. Have a nice day.

    Linda, I apologize that this comment on your blog is so direct, but most people who are mature enough to exchange on a post like this should have had at least 16 years of parental rearing and a good dose of public, if not formal education. There’s just no excuse for people to be uncivil. The internet is arguably the greatest advance in communication potential and it’s use is often futile… how sad…

    I’ll go back to my corner now…

  • Linda_LaScola

    Don’t worry about it. No need for anyone to apologize, in my opinion.

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    Why should we CARE what your ‘bible’ says, anyway?

    As far as we’re concerned, it’s fiction, with, as most good fiction has, certain elements that correspond to the real world.

    If you want me to take it seriously, you’re going to have to DEMONSTRATE it, not just assert it while demanding blind adherence. This goes double for all the extraordinary, supernatural assertions.

  • R. Green

    To give you the benefit of the doubt… Take what seriously? What exactly do you want me to demonstrate? I haven’t demanded anything. I guess you could say I ‘asserted’ that (if we are talking about the God of the Bible… Jehovah/Yahweh) there’s no real reason to pray for the answers to the questions in the above post because they’ve already been answered in His Word.

    If you like, you could pray for understanding, or perhaps for guidance in understanding such inquiries of God, but it’s your choice.

    If you want to understand the answer that I provided through the Hebrew/Greek Scriptures to one – or more – of the questions above, then just look up the scriptures in the Bible version of your choice and preference. If you would like me to explain why I chose those particular scriptures, or would like to know how they apply to the particular question, then please… feel free to ask.

  • Sophotroph

    It’s amazing that you’re complaining about people not being mature enough to have an exchange when, so far, you’re the only person here who has put up any roadblocks to having one. Nobody has been uncivil to you.

    What you posted is simply a number of bible references. They convey no actual information unless you specify how you believe they apply. Furthermore, without a justification as to why quotes from your holy book should be taken as more authoritative than applicable but contradictory quotes from other texts, there’s not a lot of reason to bother looking them up.

    You offered what you saw as an answer, but you did so from a Christian framework that simply assumes the value and veracity of what you posted.

    To engage with a wider audience that includes (and here is largely comprised of) non-theists, you have to learn to couch your statements in language that explains that you understand that Christianity (and all other religions) has not earned the credibility given to it by its followers.

    We’re all willing to exchange ideas here. Here’s one for free: You cannot read minds. Don’t assume we’re not willing to have a mature, honest conversation about facts.

    Just know that we’ve likely heard before (and robustly debunked) almost any claim you’d be likely to make, and we (by necessity) don’t have a lot of patience for theists making the same arguments we’ve heard dozens of times as if they’re new.

    It can make us a tad prickly, but you have to understand that we deal with “this one new unique Christian genius who has figured out how to prove Christianity once and for all to those arrogant, ignorant atheists” only to come face to face with another reworded Pascal’s Wager basically every day.

    A giant pile of unelaborated prooftexting presented as evidence is something we see almost every time we encounter anything resembling this discussion.

    Forgive us if we get a little agitated when we see it for the millionth time.

  • R. Green


    Yes, I will put roadblocks up. I have no desire to make this about me, or about how I compiled the list – that has already been addressed. If you would like to comment on the substance of the information, don’t understand how the scriptures apply, or would like specificity on one of the questions and the corresponding scriptures I proffered, please feel free to ask.