The Great Prayer Experiment

I was told by a religious friend of mine recently that I had nothing to lose by reaching out to God and praying. If there's no God (which is my position, as you know), then saying a prayer does nothing but take up a minute or two of my time. But if God exists (and of course, she means her Abrahamic god), then I have everything to gain, because her god is a god of Love.

After thinking about it for awhile, I had to agree with her. There really is nothing to lose by praying. As a skeptic, sometimes you have to do research. So I thought I'd do an experiment with God.

Here is how I did it. First, she supplied me with a prayer by a former atheist who, once he said this, found God reaching out to him. So it (anecdotally) worked once already. Unfortunately his prayer would have been untrue for me.

Here it is as he said it originally:
Dear God,

I know (because I can prove it with the certainty that a geometer can prove opposite angles are equal) that you do not exist. Nevertheless, as a scholar I am forced to entertain the hypothetical possibility that I am mistaken. So just in case I am mistaken, please reveal yourself to me in some fashion that will prove your case.

If you do not answer, I can safely assume that either you do not care whether I believe in you or you have no power to produce evidence to persuade me. The former argues you are not beneficent, the latter not omnipotent - in either case, unworthy of worship. If you do not exist, this prayer is merely words in the air, and I lose nothing but a bit of my dignity. Thanking you in advance for your kind cooperation in this matter,

John Wright

First, in my view, John is wrong. As we just discussed in the comments of a previous article, there are atheists who feel we can "know" God doesn't exist. I'm not one of them. I come from the standpoint that you can't prove a negative (and the burden of proof lies on the person making the positive claim, so you don't have to)  Anyway, I can't say the first line. And I think he is weak in his request. He sets it up so that God can be any kind of confirmation bias (a pet peeve of mine). So I rewrote it a bit differently.

Some of his second paragraph is pretty good so I used it. Here is the prayer I came up with:
Dear God(s),
I am confident that you don't exist because there is no evidence of you or anything supernatural in the entire known universe.
Of course, since no one can prove a negative, there may be positive evidence I'm not aware of, in which case I am wrong and you exist.
This is a formal request for you to reveal yourself to me in a way that will be unmistakable and clear. I would also like to be able to tell that your presence is not a hallucination or illness that I've suddenly contracted. So again, it really needs to be clear that you, God, are talking to me, and not some demon, alien, hallucination, brain disorder or mental illness.
If I am contacted by you, I request in advance that you verify your existence more than once so that I can make sure it's not confirmation bias or a fluke.
I also need you to make your presence known within a reasonable amount of time. If you wait till I'm on my deathbed at age 89, I will not remember that I prayed once when I was 42. So, if you want to show yourself, it needs to be in a reasonable timeframe that I can then attribute to you correctly.
If you don't answer, I can safely assume that you don't exist (in which case I am talking to myself), that you don't care whether I believe in you or not, or you don't have the power to produce any evidence. If you don't care, you're indifferent and not loving. If you don't have the power, you're not omnipotent. Either way you wouldn't be worthy of my worship.
Thank you,
Neece (you know which one, right?)
PS, if you exist, help (name withheld) who has stage 4 cancer. And all the starving, abused children and animals in the world.
Thanks in advance!

I know it's not really specific and demanding, but according to my friend, you can't do that with her god, so it would null out the experiment. I aimed for an earnest request with the least amount of wiggle room and most verifiable rigor. I know it's not perfect, but I think it's good as a first "pilot study" prayer.

So at 1pm ET yesterday I said the prayer, and will now look for verifiable evidence. I've always said that as far as we know there are no gods or anything supernatural at all. I'm confident that nothing will come of this 2 minutes of me talking to the ceiling. But again, I can't prove a negative so I'm willing to test it out.

This isn't about me being right or my friend being wrong. It's not about my ego. I can certainly be easily proven wrong (but I will require more testing if there is anything substantial that comes of it).

This is about using critical thinking and science (roughly) to look for evidence instead of relying on very unreliable emotions, feelings, sensations, thoughts, etc. Anecdotal evidence means almost nothing to me, especially when it comes to experiencing a supreme deity.

And as we all know, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Thank you Carl Sagan, my hero. God is really the ultimate extraordinary claim, so the evidence that would sway me will have to be pretty extraordinary (and repeatable).

I will keep you updated on anything I might experience. Supposedly God has been reaching out to me and was very close to me when I prayed. Honestly, I felt nothing but a bit embarrassed, and my dogs thought I was talking to them.

It's been over 18 hours and nothing is different. I feel exactly the same as before. My life is exactly the same. And I haven't heard on the news that all child and animal abuse has miraculously stopped either. That would be a good first sign, I would think. It would certainly warrant a follow-up experiment at least.

This is just a pilot study. If there is any hint of success (so far there is nothing at all, not even a different emotion or feeling - which is NOT enough to sway me anyway), I will go forward with a more controlled experiment.

By the way, my friend is also praying for me. So that's two people.

What do you think would constitute success for this prayer? I know I should have laid out the exact parameters of what success would look like, but I was so eager to get started I sort of jumped in with both feet. (I'm a bit impatient and not scientifically trained, unfortunately)

If need be I can do a second prayer that is better written. So feel free to contribute to it. And also, please let me know what you think I should look for. I have a good idea of what my extraordinary evidence would be, but even more than that I'm pretty clear (even though I am not sure how to concisely articulate it) on what is not acceptable.

Oh, and if you decide to pray for me to experience God, let me know!


  1. If it was me, I would have asked that he prove his existence by curing my arthritis, diabetes and any other ailments that I might have - anything that can be verified by my doctor. Then I would have asked for amputees to have their limbs restored - in perfect working condition. That would do for starters.

  2. Thanks Mary. I thought about that too, asking for a cure of my ailments, and that's great to ask for amputees to have their limbs restored in perfect working order.
    I was trying to take it easy on God, since this is the pilot study. I thought, I'd better not be too demanding, since my religious friend said God doesn't respond to demands like that. I didn't want to null out the experiment.
    But I will definitely step up the requests if any evidence comes to light in a timely manner. Thanks very much for your suggestions. They're great! :)

  3. Pascal's wager redux! It seems interesting to me that believers (especially of the Christian variety) cover their butts in these matters by "knowing" that "God doesn't (always) respond to your prayers/doesn't answer demands/doesn't heal amputees/cancer patients/innocent children with terrible illnesses/etc." In this manner,,whatever the outcome or lack thereof from earnest prayers, the results are "God hears all prayers, but doesn't necessarily respond in demonstrable ways" because of His "Plan" for us, which we are incapable of understanding because we are only human (and, incidentally, sinful and damned for eternity). Certainly covers all the bases!

  4. I agree, Harvey! I never know what to say to counter those arguments. There are several logical fallacies at work there. The one I can identify most easily is Moving the Goalpost. But I'm sure there are many more. It drives me crazy!
    What I'm waiting for is for my friend to start telling me that my good mood is God talking to me, or that my good day is God nudging me, etc.

  5. In the original prayer, the guy wasn't claiming with absolute certainty that God doesn't exist, just that he's really sure. It's a bit of a math joke, but there is uncertainty in the opposite angle comparison.

  6. It's funny that you did a post on this subject (it must be fate!). A few days ago I did a bit on my blog about Gideon, a character from the book of Judges, and how he developed some empirical tests to see what God wanted.

    I friend of mine, who is a fundamentalist minister, gave me some grief on the post so I told him I would replicate Gideon's test. There would have to bee some changes since I didn't have a sheepskin handy. I had my coat hanging up and I was going out of the house. If God existed He could drench my coat with whatever liquid He wanted. When I returned my coat was bone dry (of course).

  7. SEE? God is reaching out to both of us, Andrew! :P
    I'll have to read that, because I think I let God off too easy with my prayer. I think it was way too wishy washy. I should have asked (courteously) for definitive, repeatable, verifiable evidence like you did.
    I am seriously considering another prayer, but I will give this one a bit more time. Maybe there is paperwork to be done up in heaven when new requests come in. Who knows what kind of red tape there is!

  8. I don't believe this will have any effect. Any more than when I was 16 years old and I was in love with Tracey . I specifically remember this incident because I had a Tallit (a Jewish prayer shawl) and used it. She never went out on a date with me. In retrospect, she did not turn out to be so great a catch anyway. At the time, though, I wanted her to love me really badly. I prayed with all my heart and sincerity.

    Yesterday I saw a video clip that showed some college football players praying before the game. This in particular upsets me because, whether or not they win, there are thousands of women and children abused each day over the world as well as thousands of people all over the world who are starving. Why would the omnipotent ruler of the universe care about a sports match, when so many of his "creation" are suffering so badly each day?

    12 years ago, me and my entire church (100+ people) prayed weekly for my profoundly disabled daughter's "cure." Well, she is still disabled. (though she *is* very cute) :)

  9. Thanks, Drew. The math joke went right over my head. :P

  10. I agree, Mike. I'm confident this will result in nothing.
    I also agree that people praying for trivial things, like winning a football game, is about as self-absorbed as you can possibly be. But it's just more evidence that an omnipotent, loving deity doesn't exist. Of course, he could exist and simply not care or find it funny that children starve to death every day. In which case he's not worth worshiping anyway.

  11. I think the few times I can considered I've prayed, have been when someone I care for had some problems and they prayed, so I would say say something like, "Hey God, I don't believe in you, but he does, and he trusts you. So don't be a jerk and do something for him. Not for me, for him", of course, eventually the problems were solved with or without god. The only result I can see is some kind of relief, in the same way when you talk to someone, just that in this case, it's an imaginary someone. The sad thing is that when problems are solved, credit is given to that imaginary someone.

    Now, as offending as it might be, Insanity Wolf has some interesting position regarding this issue:

  12. Thanks Diego. It is sad how credit goes to the invisible friend one prayed to and not all the humans that actually helped in reality.