Atheist prayer experiment: Week 1 – Introduction

I decided to be one of the seventy-ish atheists/agnostics/non-believers taking part in the atheist prayer experiment. I figured I’d give approximately weekly updates on how things develop over the next 40 days, maybe with some parenthetical remarks. For now, an introduction.

I used to be a Christian until the age of 14, although I wasn’t too hot on theology back then. Then I stopped. I’m not sure I can provide an easy account why: no traumatic life event, no road to damascus moment, and I don’t recognise the accounts offered for backsliding (love of sexual sin, daddy issues, in a strop with god) there either. My best guess was that I thought that belief in god became increasingly isolated from other beliefs and commitments I held, and eventually I came to the conclusion it was an intellectual bridge too far. I’ve been irreligious ever since.

Since then, I’ve gotten most of the way through medical skill, and cultivated (heaven help me) an interest in philosophy: you can find all the meritless scribblings around the blog. The other thing that exercises me is trying to save the world (and all the quixotic altruism that entails): I’m a member of Giving What We Can, and generally help out as community manager. I hope I will manage to follow through on my intend to give large amounts of my income to effective charity. Wish me luck.

An older but less important habit is arguing on the internet, especially philosophy of religion. Apologies in advance.

Life has been good to me, and I’d struggle to think of too many ways it could be much better – compared to the host of hypothetical peers who never got to exist at all, I am blessed beyond all measure of desert even if I die tomorrow. So I’m quite an optimist about the human condition, and don’t (at least not knowingly) have some deep yearning for God.

But I figured I have nothing to lose by giving it a go. Although I don’t find a godless universe much to despair over, it would be a shame to miss out something so important: I don’t find god that probable (0.1 > P > 0.01, most days), but it is high enough that 2-3 minutes of time would be a fair investment. I also find that the time I spend on philosophy of religion and general seeking probably is not the most valuable way I could spend my time – it is becoming a bit of an atavism compared to the issues I think are really worth thinking about. So if at the end of 40 days nothing has happened, I will be happier ‘seeking less’, stopping thinking about this stuff so much, and worry about more prosaic matters instead. Following Mawson’s original paper, although it is worth shouting into the room ‘just in case’, after 40 or so times perhaps it is better to leave any voice to shout at you if they’re really there.

As far as possible, I avoid preconceptions about what sort of God will get in touch, and how – the putative divine being in question will know what would be good at persuading me, and I’m sure he/she/it/they could provide any information about his being on a need-to-know basis. So I haven’t asked for particular signs or intercessions or tests. So far, however, nothing has jumped out to me. Barring 2-3 minutes of quiet, life has continued as before. We’ll see what happens next week.

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