The agnostic prayer placebo

Hey look, it’s a Sunday so it seems like an appropriate time to be reflecting on faith, religiousity and other such stuff.

My faithful companion (the ineffable Holmes to my squidgy faced Watson if you will) James has been taking part in a social experiment of late. The Atheist prayer experiment is a group that has been set up on Facebook for the participants to chat about their experiences throughout the process. It’s an ‘experiment’ that’s been organised by a Christian radio presenter as a reaction to a paper written by an Oxford professor which suggests that

 on balance, it is in the interests of those atheists who don’t think it’s absolutely impossible that there’s a God to investigate the issue of whether or not he exists by ‘the experimental method’ – trying to ask him

Now… personally, I take it as read that if you’re calling yourself an atheist, you don’t think there’s a god or even the possibility of a god. Any set of beliefs that include the space for a possibility of a deity would be agnosticism in my book. Maybe I’m quibbling over semantics here but I’m re-labelling it as the ‘agnostic or GTFO prayer experiment’  in my head.

I really think that there is an important point to be made here though. If you have decided, based on experience, logic, gut instinct, whatever, that there absolutely is not a god then praying or reflecting on the world or meditating or any other thing is not going to make a difference to that belief unless a great big shiny thing happens.

A Great Big Shiny Thing.

For me personally, even if this happened I would be more likely to rush myself to the nearest psych unit for assessment or assume that someone had spiked my drink. Because that seems HUGELY more likely than there being a sky fairy based on my belief set.

If I was someone who talked about the importance of faith without the need for religion or argued that ‘God’ as a concept was something above and separate from the grotty human interpretation that is organised religion then I would call myself an agnostic.

I don’t call myself an agnostic.

I’m not taking part in the experiment.

I think my point is this… in my worldview there are two types of people.

Believers, who can be christian, muslim, pagan, tarot trusters, homeopaths, ghost botherers, people who say things like ‘I’m not religious but I am spiritual’ and anyone who leaves space in their world for the realistic possibility of supernatural fact.


I’m not saying that atheism comes with a total lack of doubt or the space for questioning… it does. You show me the evidence to convince me that there’s a real-life Bigfoot and I’ll contribute to the RSPCB. I’m willing to be convinced, I’m open to query and changing my mind based on the available information and evidence. Hell, I do it all of the time in my job. Evidence-based practice is the centre of my professional life.

I think if you’re going to call yourself an atheist though, really be an atheist. Stand up and be counted, don’t take any nonsense about ‘militant atheism’. We’re not militant, we’re rigorous and vigorous.  I’m fed up of pussyfooting around with definitions that fuzz up the edges.

And as for that experiment, well. James seems to be having fun with it but I’ll stay out of the way I think.

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