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The "Skeptic's Prayer" is introduced on page 411 of Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith, by Peter Kreeft & Fr. Ronald Tacelli.

The Skeptic's Prayer

This claim---that all seekers find---is testable by experience, by experiment. If you are an honest scientist, here is a way to find out whether Christianity is true or not. Perform the relevant experiment. To test the hypothesis that someone is behind the door, knock. To test the Christian hypothesis that Christ is behind the door, knock.

How do you knock? Pray! Tell Christ you are seeking the truth---seeking him, if he is the truth. Ask him to fulfill his promise that all who seek him will find him. In his own time, of course. He promised that you would find, but he didn't promise a schedule. He's a lover, not a train.

But---you may reply---I don't know whether Christ is God. I don't even know whether there is a God. That's all right; you can pray the prayer of the skeptic:

God, I don't know whether you even exist. I'm a skeptic. I doubt. I think you may be only a myth. But I'm not certain (at least when I'm completely honest with myself). So, if you do exist, and if you really did promise to reward all seekers, you must be hearing me now. So I hereby declare myself a seeker, a seeker of the truth, whatever it is and wherever it is. I want to know the truth and live the truth. If you are the truth, please help me.

If Christianity is true, He will. Such a prayer constitutes a scientifically fair test of the Christian "hypothesis"---that is, if you do not put unfair restrictions on God, like demanding a miracle (your way, not his) or certainty by tomorrow (your time, not his). The demand that God act like your servant is hardly a scientifically fair test of the hypothesis that there is a God who is your King.

But all this King asks for at first is honesty, not faking a faith you do not have. Honesty is a choice of the will---the choice to seek the truth no matter what or where. This is the most momentous choice you can make. It is the choice of light over darkness, ultimately heaven over hell.

Honesty is infinitely more momentous than we often think. It is also much harder than we think. Our culture trivializes honesty into merely "sharing your feelings", telling others about the state of our nerve ends. That's not the opposite of dishonesty, that's just the opposite of shame or shyness. Shallow honesty seeks "sharing"; deep honesty seeks truth. Shallow honesty stands in the presence of others; deep honesty stands in the presence of God.

The authors assert that this constitutes a "scientifically fair test of the Christian 'hypothesis'".

Can the "Skeptic's Prayer" really be considered a valid scientific experiment?


Notes

  • Interestingly, the attempt to portray this prayer in a 'scientific' light brings to mind John Lennox's assertion that Christianity can be tested (see Is Christianity testable?).

  • The notions of 'knocking on the door' and 'all seekers find' were probably taken from Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7-11, and Luke 11:5-13:

    13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV)

    7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

    5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13 ESV)

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This must be one of the grossest attempts at manipulating one's readership I have ever seen. The proposed "experiment" can never fail because the authors carefully planted 3 escape routes that will allow them to always be able to claim they haven't been proven wrong, making it as non scientific and irrational as can be.

No time line: no deadline is given. It "takes time" for God to reveal himself, we're told. Therefore if one hasn't yet found God although they're praying regularly, it's always possible to claim that more time is just necessary.

Lack of specificity: no specific description of what observation the skeptic should be expecting to identify God revealing himself is provided. Is it a feeling? A voice? Worse, we're being told it would be unfair to expect this miraculous being to perform miracles. We will have to do with natural phenomena, which is to say things we should expect to observe in the absence of any God.

The authors give us a precise protocol of what to do, but won't lower themselves to tell us what we should expect and when. Yet an experiment requires both of those components: a set up or operation to execute, and a result to expect with specific criteria to identify it. We already can conclude what is described here can't be called an experiment.

The unverifiable criteria of sincerity: basically, if the proposed protocol gives no result, the authors can always claim we haven't been sincere enough. How exactly we are supposed to give the demonstration of this inner feeling of sincerity is not indicated.

The authors can therefore always dismiss any skeptic who engages in this experiment, tries the protocol and obtains no result: either more time is necessary, or they weren't sincere enough. This is a game of "heads I win, tails I don't lose" where we are at fault for not letting them win.

Imagine any chemistry book that proposed the following protocol: "Mix product A and product B. Something will happen that proves theory X, but we won't tell you what, nor when. If the reader isn't convinced by this book, it's because they didn't try hard enough". Nobody would ever accept this as an experiment, nor see it as a science book.

We should also mention the fact that requiring someone to sincerely address a message to an entity kind of begs the question about this entity's existence. Although one could argue it's similar to the messages we sent to extraterrestrial entities on the Voyager probes, just in case, a cursory knowledge of human psychology is enough to identify a priming technique that will dispose a person after years of daily and sincere prayer to identify any sign as a potential response from God, all the more since we are specifically told not to expect anything supernatural.

Many theories of science have been proposed, but at their core is the requirement to overcome subjectivity and bias, be it by the systematic gathering of data to avoid cherry picking, the rigor of demonstrations and specific documentation of hypothesis before testing them to avoid ad hoc explanations, the sharing of results and research of consensus to overcome individual subjectivity. The "experiment" proposed above offers none of these. Its vagueness and lack of measurable properties and its reliance on personal feelings make it so that by definition it can't overcome the subjectivity of the experimenter.

It's just a rigged game of psychological priming set so that, if the skeptic identifies any natural phenomenon - that was to be expected if there is no God - to be a sign of God the author can say "told you so", and if it doesn't work say "you haven't proved me wrong, try harder".

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It is a test of whether you can be talked into religious belief. In that respect it is rather a pointless test, since billions of people all over the world are ample proof that it is possible to be talked into all kinds of religious and other non-scientific beliefs.

Whether the test is scientific depends upon the extent to which you are prepared to debase the use of the word. If you stretch it, as Pygosceles has, to mean anything that involves the acquisition of knowledge, then virtual every activity imaginable can be considered a scientific experiment, including, for example, watching 'Judge Judy', going to work without your trousers and covering your face in peanut butter.

What you need to guard against are the kind of persuasive tricks in which someone argues a thing is scientific by using that word in the loosest possible sense, and then implies that because it is scientific in that loose sense, it must possess qualities such as rigour, objectivity, validity, reliability which are associated with the word scientific only when it is used in a much more restricted sense.

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    An equivalent argument holds for anything that purports to be a "scientific" theory. Where is your ground truth? "Science" isn't a magic wand and things that claim that nomenclature aren't supernaturally (or even naturally) blessed with any real semblance of truth. "Science" is profoundly debased debauched when it is attached to theories and opinions that lack ultimate grounding in reality or truth, which describes thousands of popular theories. Can anything be known for certain in your epistemology?
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 31 at 15:54
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    @pygosceles it's not my epistemology- I am simply referring to the way the word scientific is typically defined in dictionaries. Commented Jan 31 at 16:12
  • which is allowing the true sciences to be misdirected and misled by the whims and editorial discretion of entertainers and state-sponsored educators.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 31 at 16:37
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    Do modern dictionaries compel belief in certain theories taught in public schools that masquerade as being "scientific"? If so, then why don't all dictionaries do that (especially dictionaries that are closer to the original sources of those ideas)? Is there a meaningful distinction to be made between such theories and religious dogma?
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 31 at 20:08
  • @pygosceles to which masquerading theories are you referring? I didn't go to a public school, so I might be unfamiliar with what is taught there. Commented Jan 31 at 20:15
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No, it is not a scientific experiment, because there is no objective way to determine the outcome.

First, by refusing to set a time limit, the proposal protects itself against falsification; the "experimenter" is never allowed to conclude God has not answered. This is similar to the "invisible intangible dragon in my garage" tactic. The author proposes that something is there, but pre-emptively seeks to disqualify any test that might reasonably show a negative result. Even if the "experimenter" has waited 50 years, the author would just claim "God is not a train, keep waiting."

Second, what criteria is the "experimenter" supposed to use to positively conclude God has answered? No objective criteria are specified. Presumably, the "experimenter" is meant to wait until something positive happens in their life and then attribute that to God. This is like a financial analyst with a complicated theory predicting the stock market will go up at some unspecified future time. Of course it will, eventually - but that is no evidence in favor of the analyst's theory.

Or perhaps the "experimenter" is meant to wait for some emotion about God, and if they experience such an emotion they are to take that as evidence. This is obviously not objective, and furthermore just by performing the "experiment" the "experimenter" is already hoping for a positive result. That hope would be a positive emotion. So if you hope the experiment succeeds - and you can't even properly perform the experiment without such hope, because the prayer has to be sincere - that's evidence it has succeeded! Completely tautological. In real science, scientists attempt to separate their feelings about the experiment from the measurement of the outcome, such as by using a double-blind experimental design. Scientists know that their hope for a result is liable to bias them, otherwise.

Or perhaps the "experimenter" is meant to engage with the Christian community. How could it be a sincere test if they don't do that? And then if they receive support from that community, they're supposed to conclude God has answered them. But this is only evidence that the Christian community is supportive to its members. That may be true - but the same can be said of Buddhists, Muslims, Scientologists, model train enthusiasts, or any other religion or cult. Membership in any social group can be a positive influence on your life. It does not point towards divine influence. Further, once a member the "experimenter" is under heavy social and emotional pressure to conform to the group's beliefs, strongly prejudicing their results. Christian social worship is even explicitly designed to induce strong emotion in practitioners, like worship in many other religions and political rallies. This is a social and emotional effect, not divine proof.

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All practical arts use experiments to see what works, and lots of science does not do experiments, so despite what they say in high school classes about science, experiments aren't really what makes a science. Science is the search for universal knowledge about the natural world using naturalistic methods, where universal knowledge is knowledge that is not restricted to a particular time, place, or object.

Since God is not a part of the natural world and prayer is not a naturalistic method of investigation, the Skeptic's Prayer is not science. However, that does not mean it is not a rational form of investigation. Science doesn't hold a monopoly on rational forms of investigation.

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  • "Science doesn't hold a monopoly on rational forms of investigation." True... but rationality does, kinda by definition. And this is not a rational experiment. As Armand's answer describes, it has gone to great pains to avoid allowing any form of rational conclusion to be drawn. It is a deliberately-irrational non-experiment, a ritual to try to trick the participant into believing an objective falsehood. Commented Feb 1 at 19:18
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I agree with what others have said about falsifiability and questioning what this would actually prove.

Another consideration is that a sample size of 1 tends to be an indication that you're not doing science.

If I'm reading this correctly, the hypothesis is that there's a causal relationship between saying this prayer (P) and whatever God "helping you" means (H).

If you get a result H, it may or may not be that P had anything to do with it. The way science deals with this is by having a large sample size (so you can conclude something with a certain degree of confidence) and by trying to eliminate confounding variables. If you're only considering a single instance of your own experience, you can't really determine why H happens.

To interpret what they said more generously, one might say that the goal is to get H, which is evidence that convinces you of God's existence (which is the intended goal) even if you can't establish that P had anything to do with it. But under this interpretation, the authors would be doing little more than making an assertion about what result you'd get, which is not science (even if you can make such a claim before you do science, or after you do science).

Can we make this an experiment?

If we want to turn this into a scientific experiment, we could consider many non-believers saying this prayer and we could consider how many get a result H.

I (a non-believer) could trivially grant that there's a positive correlation between reaching out to God and getting something that convinces you that God exists, but the claim is that you definitely will get H, which is a lot more than just positive correlation (and one might consider that falsified under any reasonable time limit, on account of all the non-believers who want God to exist, at least some of whom have presumably said a prayer like this). See also: the problem of divine hiddenness.

Other explanations for the evidence?

I'd also say one could get H because random things happen and one's cognitive bias towards accepting God's existence may be greater than one's critical evaluation of the evidence, or there may otherwise be some fallacious reasoning (e.g. appeal to popularity). Given that the quote didn't say what H is, I can't really address that further, but suffice to say that many skeptics consider there to be simpler explanations for any evidence believers have.

Even if we grant some evidence H, a Christian would still have all their work ahead of them to make the case that God is the best explanation for that.

Many Christians may also accept that evidence could be explained in non-divine ways... as long as we're talking about evidence relating to the existence of deities they don't believe it (although themselves or others may also attribute the resulting false belief to some supernatural influences or something else).

If we define H more strictly to be reliable evidence that God exists, a skeptic might say that no-one* has received this evidence, and therefore it has been falsified. But that's a whole other discussion of what reliable evidence for God's existence does or can look like.

The problem of "sincerity"

The way Christians tend to deal with these potential falsifications (in addition to saying God works in his own way and on his own schedule) is by saying you need to be sincere (which the quote in question does too). This merely adds another means to avoid falsification, and moves further away from being scientific. When a Christian is faced with a non-believer who sought God but couldn't find him, the Christian can trivially dismiss this as the non-believer having been insincere. This may be handwaving away a lifetime of someone's experiences (most of which you don't access to, even if you know them really well), in favour of attributing some character flaw to them. That's really disrespectful, and not conducive to getting a shared understanding of reality.

Side note: why would a non-believer pray?

It's also very weird to expect that someone will try to talk to an entity they don't believe exists. How many religious folks have tried or would try to talk to deities of other religions, or the unicorn they don't believe is in their backyard, or the invisible fairies they don't believe is flying around them all the time?

That's very much in the mindset of "my worldview is definitely correct, so everyone must come over to my side, and anyone who evaluates the evidence differently just needs to try harder or is lying". It's not trying to understand how other people see the world, and why they see it that way, addressing the reasons why they reached a different conclusion, or making a case for why the believer's conclusion is correct.

It's especially unreasonable for dealing with former believers, who used to see the world in the same way, but then reached a different conclusion. This often came after a lot of mental anguish of having to face the possibility of heading towards eternal torture instead of eternal bliss, because that's the threat hanging over the head of anyone who dares to honestly try to evaluate whether Christianity is actually true... at least according to plenty of denominations. If there's anything that would bias someone to sticking to a false belief, I don't think you can do much better than "you'll be tortured for all of eternity if you stop believing it". Yet despite this, many people ended up no longer being convinced of God's existence, and they discuss the reasons why they used to believe, why those weren't good reasons, and why they no longer believe.


The quote says it's "unfair" to be "demanding a miracle" (presumably meaning expecting a specific outcome) and "certainty by tomorrow" (presumably meaning any specific deadline at which you consider the result to be evidence against God's existence). But both of those are fundamental parts of scientific experiments (in terms of falsifiability).

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No it is not scientific at all, for a lot of reasons. Most obviously, there is no measurable outcome being claimed. God will answer, you say? In what way? At what time? Without some bounds to the answers to those questions, there is no experiment that can be done. Also, "seeker" is ill-defined and the mere assertion that one is a seeker does not make it so.

There is a more fundamental problem, which is that an experiment of this kind requires the consent of the involved parties. Imagine you were conducting a linguistic experiment, asking whether participants were able to define certain obscure words. You call someone to solicit his participation in the experiment, and he hangs up on you. While it is true that he did not define any of the obscure words in your list, it would be dishonest to mark him down in your data as "failed to define any of the words."

Or perhaps, a better analogy is this: You are handed an email address, and you want to find out whether it belongs to anyone or not, so you send an email to the address asking for a reply. You don't get an answer. Is it reasonable to conclude, therefore, that there is no one on the other end?

The experiment only works if we can guarantee that, if God exists, he would agree to the terms of the experiment. Where is such a guarantee? I am a Christian myself and I don't find any in my religion's teachings.

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    Nicely said. I am personally a believer, but I acknowledge that I took a leap of faith. I do not have objective proof to show to point to and this particular "experiment" is certainly not a way to gain objective proof. (Though it could, possibly, lead some people to subjective results, but that is different.) Commented Feb 2 at 17:35
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Such a prayer constitutes a scientifically fair test

No, it does not.

A proper scientific test establishes beforehand what specific outcome of the experiment is expected or a success, and even more importantly which outcomes would constitute a failure. Success and failure here in the sense of confirming or falsifying the hypothesis that is being tested.

This "test" leaves absolutely everything open. I can easily devise a similar test that says "if you send me $10, the god Ijustmade Himup will reward you with a larger but not specified amount at an unspecified time in the future in an unspecified way."

In the words of Popper, this is unfalsifiable, and therefore, not scientific.

I could simply claim that any sum of money you come upon in the future is said reward. Got an unexpected raise? Won a raffle? Found a wallet on the street? Success in a project that gained you a bonus? That's all the holy Himup in action! You can never prove me wrong.

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The short answer is no, it is not an experiment, and no, it is not science.

However, the longer answer is that it is closer to science than many here might realize.

Science operates in different modes, depending on the maturity of the field. When a field is not well understood, the first three steps of science are: exploration, directed exploration to try to gain insight into areas of particular interest, and the initial try out of concepts and hypotheses. Even informal experiments don't show up until the 3rd stage. The process of "A skeptics prayer" is directed exploration. So -- it isn't experimentation, but is still a category of science.

What makes this NOT science, is that the prayer as outlined is intrinsically dogmatic and close minded.

Science involves an open minded effort to explore all possibilities. A scientist would not do the Skeptics Prayer in isolation, but rather in combination with:

  • Mediation, to discover if one can break free of the illusion of this life
  • Practice FLOW, to see of one can lose oneself and merge with the ALL
  • Spin in circles for hours to open oneself to Allah's words
  • Take Peyote and dance sky clad thru the night until one goes on one's spirit journey to meet one's totem
  • Engage in Stoic self-reflection and learning thru self-examination such that one may control ones emotional responses and achieve equilibrium
  • Study logic, reasoning, and analytic philosophy until one attains the certainty of crystal clear knowledge.
  • Et cetera
  • Sure, then try the Skeptic's Prayer

Mingling it with a large collection of other lifestyle explorations will probably not lead to the outcome that the Catholic Apologism reference desires.

IF exploration discovers interesting concepts and proto-hypotheses, then one can actually design experiments to test them. Tests of Christian theology include the Problem of Evil, Problem of Imperfect communication, and multiple other falsification test cases.

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    I think the main argument that makes it "not science" is that it looks like an obvious psychology trick: if you willingly engage in prayer everyday then after enough days you're inevitably going to convince yourself that your prayers are heard, regardless of whether that's true or not.
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 31 at 17:16
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    @Stef -- The exploration of prayer is not a trick, nor is the exploration of any of the other modes of religious and philosophic practice. The particular apologism reference WAS a trick -- designed to draw the marginal maybe believer back into the fold. The trick was well crafted, better than most apologism is, which led to a lot of anger in the answers here. It is frightening and frustrating how effective good irrational apologism can be. I am a theist, and I was angry too! I tried to set that anger aside, and offer a more productive context to see the "skeptic's prayer" in.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 31 at 18:48
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    I think this is "not salvagable" in that it's an answer to "is the skeptics' prayer a good way to explore spirituality?". It's not a bad answer to that, but the actual question is about a scientific experiment. Commented Jan 31 at 20:26
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    @OwenReynolds -- exploration is part of science. It precedes experimentation. A good answer here to a poorly thought thru question may start with "No", followed by "that is the wrong question" then follow THAT with a more useful way to think about the issue.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 31 at 20:31
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    If you want to pose this as a Frame Challenge, it's best to say that up front. But, IMHO, the OP correctly sees how that handbook presents the Skeptics' Prayer as a science-based experiment. Their question is solid. I'd suggest you attack the handbook instead. For example, googling "Skeptic's Prayer" gets hits without any mention of it being scientific (but I suspect they all stole it from that handbook). You're thesis is probably "the HCA:RAQF is misrepresenting the SP". Commented Jan 31 at 23:12
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On the face of it, the obvious answer is "no." Religious questions are not scientifically decidable--if they were, we'd live in a very different world.

However, I think there's some important nuance here that is missed in the other answers:

  • Although this "experiment" doesn't meet the standards of scientific inquiry (and thus can be appropriately challenged as "misleadingly labeled"), there's a legitimate argument to make that it's in the "spirit" of scientific inquiry. The ethic of the scientific life is an openness to phenomena outside your current experience, and a willingness to try new things in the pursuit of new knowledge.

  • Some of the other answers seem to misjudge the intent of this "experiment." The goal is not to score rhetorical points, or play "gotcha games." The religious person is saying, in effect, "If you think my belief system is worthless, test it." Their honest belief is that anyone who prays with sincerity to God will receive a divine answer. The skeptic may understandably predict that if the answer does not come, the goalposts will be moved ("Your prayer wasn't sincere enough." "You haven't waited long enough for an answer.") but that is not the aim of the experiment. The religious person is acting in sincere faith that the other person will receive a divine answer.The test yields different results in the case that the skeptic is correct, and the case that the believer is correct.

One might still dismiss this approach after understanding it, but it's important to give it the charitable read if you want to have any apprehension of why this is a meaningful topic. Without that, it's difficult to explain why people would even discuss it.


NOTE: There's a challenge in the comments to the effect that this represents a "trick" by the religious person--an initiation into faith disguised as a harmless experiment. But there's no deception here. The religious person has honestly presented their expectation (God will answer). It can be taken as obvious that becoming a fellow believer would be the expected result of that eventuality, so it's not as if that's a "hidden" goal. I could see this being viewed as a trick if the believer thought that the prayer could somehow turn the skeptic into a believer WITHOUT God's intervention, but there's no reason for either party to think that. So, while it may not be "science," it is an honest test (at least if the believer abides by the results, even in the case they don't match his expectations).

I guess another way it could be a trick is if it "tricks" the skeptic into an unwanted relationship with God--but that could only be the case if God actually exists. So it's a trick only in the case that the skeptic is wrong. So for the skeptic to argue that it's a trick is to argue against their own position. Maybe that's the real trick.

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    Your objection assumes the non-existence of God. From your point of view as a skeptic, it doesn't make a difference who you pray to, because all objects of the prayer are equally imaginary. Whereas, from the point of view of the believer, there's a very big difference between praying to God and praying to Spiderman. The point of the test is to discriminate between the two situations. If you both agree that an imaginary being can't and won't answer prayer, and the believer says that God will answer your prayer, then it sounds like a good test of which one of you is right. Commented Feb 2 at 1:27
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    It's worth noting that not every believer would agree with testing God in this way. But there doesn't seem to be much downside for the skeptic in trying this unless they think something about the experience will illegitimately rob them of their skepticism. Or unless they think God actually does exist and this will trick them into a relationship with God they don't want. Commented Feb 2 at 1:30
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    One big thing to note is that a very useful effect of the scientific process is the attempt to minimize the impact of your biases on the results. This is a major flaw with this method of "proof" for god. The requirement for sincerity is a perfect primer for confirmation bias. So although the believer may be completely sincere about their motivations, and arent trying to "trick" anyone, the entire test is set up in a way to allow confirmation bias to impact results. It's set up in a way that the confirmation bias cannot be controlled for, which takes away a lot of its scientific properties.
    – JMac
    Commented Feb 2 at 14:17
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    "Religious questions are not scientifically decidable" - but they are. It's just that the religious people don't accept the answer. If your religion says that pure water heals all diseases if you drink it while praying we can absolutely decide whether or not that's bs scientifically.
    – Tom
    Commented Feb 2 at 14:25
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    @JMac - I think we're in agreement that this isn't actually "science." Commented Feb 2 at 15:37
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Don't get too hung up on the phrase "scientifically fair test" - it is made up of three very vague weasel-words, each capable of massive equivocation in isolation, and no stronger than the weakest, when chained together like this.

But a "thought experiment" is still an "experiment".

Two thought experiments that may be useful to assess the viability of this "experiment":

  1. Would Christians be willing to undertake a similar multi-year experiment to pray to some other God? I don't think so.

  2. Would the experiment show anything different if it were directed at a "Satan" or an "Easter Bunny", rather than a "God"? Again, I don't think so, and the described ritual gives no way to identify the difference between such outcomes if we did.

Given both of these thought experiments, this does not seem to be a useful experiment, regardless of whether or not it is a "valid scientific" one.

The "experiment"'s reliance on the use of "signs and portents" as evidence of divinity is a well-known and roundly-mocked form of charlatanry.

I'd argue that rather than a "rational experiment", it has all the markings of an "irrational ritual", deliberately designed to be irrational, in order to make the participant more likely to believe something that is objectively false: that evidence has been provided when it wasn't.

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Semantics

The question suggests you find it questionable. This is simply because the author is using the word "scientific" loosely to mean "testable", the same thing we have discussed in the "properly basic beliefs".

The process of seeking God should not be confused with the outdated philosophical scientific "verificationism", which assumed the self-refuting principle that if you can’t verify something with your five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch), then it is meaningless. That would be it in a nutshell. If you can’t touch it, smell it, taste it, feel it or see it, it’s meaningless. This rendered metaphysical propositions like theological questions meaningless, along with ethical and aesthetical statements.

The prayer should not be presented as a formula that it should work as a charm or code to unlock the spiritual world, as I am sure, the author didn't mean it that way as well. The same goes with the sinner's prayer or conversion prayer, which should not be understood as a simple and easy tool to quickly conjure up God or his miracle as what happens in occult and witchcraft. There are many stories where seekers did not even pray, but God himself talked to them in their times of earnest hopelessness. The proof or revelation is itself a miracle, so this prayer does challenge or tests God, which is according to the Bible itself. I recommend reading a more solid philosopher's like Dr Craig's which would not cause such confusions as with low level authors.

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  • What are your thoughts on this answer?
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 2 at 12:14
  • @Mark that question asks the biblical support for seeking God, which is too obvious. The answer promotes LDS a mormon cult of incest and polygamy. I warn against such cults because you should test churches or sects on the bible and basic morality. I will write a simple answer there on how to continue seeking and search bible verses.
    – Michael16
    Commented Feb 2 at 12:38
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Yes, perfectly so.

"Science" means knowledge, therefore anything that results in knowledge is a valid scientific experiment. This is true regardless of whether the subject or the means used to answer the question--in this case, receiving revelation or manifestations proving the reality of God--do not find themselves commonly used in or acknowledged by laboratories or secular think tanks.

Some object to the claim that an experiment asking God to reveal Himself is scientific because God might not answer on our timetable, requiring our patience and faith rather than receiving an answer immediately. However, the requirement of patience is not unique to religious propositions. In general it is impossible to know in advance that a strictly algorithmic process will terminate on a given input. This is known as the Halting Problem of computer science and it is practically ubiquitous in all scientific fields. This is a hard science and the proof is irrefutable. The proposition that a given program will terminate on a given input is also in general unfalsifiable, but that does not prevent it from being verifiable.

As outlined in this answer to the linked question, unfalsifiability does not and cannot rationally preclude the scientific verification of a true claim. In any case, patience is an integral ingredient of the scientific method. There never was a scientific discovery made in the absence of patience and even faith--faith being the belief in something that is true which has not yet been observed. All worthwhile discovery requires effort.

Some claim that receiving a revelatory response from God is not a sufficiently specific criterion. However, this is not accurate. Knowing God or knowing that He exists is a very concrete and undeniable condition, no less so than verifying that your neighbor exists by knocking his door and seeing him or talking to him on the telephone. The only possible reason to argue otherwise is special pleading because the subject is God. Determined skeptics do not apply this special criterion to any other knowable proposition or thing, only to God.

Try to find a canonical definition of the Scientific Method anywhere that does not ultimately depend on both faith and patience. You cannot do it because it does not exist. There never was a scientific discovery that did not require both patience and faith. Is science therefore unscientific?

Some object to religious evidences by calling spiritual experiences "subjective" because they are spiritual or for some other weird reason. Again we find special pleading. It would be just as rational to refer to all physical experiences as "subjective" for the same reason. Experience is experience and it does not lend itself to contradiction. Some object to spiritual experiences because they say they are subject to interpretation. So are physical and intellectual phenomena. The only question is the reliability of the mode of interpretation or the fidelity of understanding, which is always impossible to falsify without at least an equivalent understanding. A false dichotomy is often employed trying to make a distinction between spiritual experience or knowledge and physical or "empirical" knowledge. However, this distinction is entirely artificial and misrepresentative. Does the receipt of knowledge that God has answered a "believing skeptic's" prayer preclude its being empirical? Of course not. Empirical, experiential and experimental are all equivalent terms. They all mean exactly the same thing. Experience is empirical. Bona fide experience, whether intellectual, spiritual or physical, is equivalent to empirical evidence.

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  • 14
    Disregarding falsifiability in science leads to trusting that some herbs you saw in a forest will heal your cancer purely because that's what your intuition says, or living in a house which was built with zero engineering principles in mind, because the builder intuitively felt that building it that way would not lead to it imploding. There are very specific criteria for something to be deemed a scientific experiment, and those criteria exist because they work. You can make your case for gaining knowledge without those criteria, but that doesn't give you a seat at the science table.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 31 at 12:34
  • 8
    "We didn't build flying machines by worrying and fretting endlessly that there might not exist a definitive proof that human flight is impossible" - in your analogy of ancient times, I'd be the one saying we don't have any good reason to believe some method of human flight works, and trying to derive experiments to test it, and you'd be saying it definitely works, to the point that we don't even need to test it (probably shortly before jumping off a cliff, trusting that you'd fly). Until we actually have that evidence, we shouldn't believe it to be true.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 31 at 16:54
  • 13
    @pygosceles In pretty much every second sentence you imply that we don't need to test it. You just redefine "test" to include things which have no conceivable fail condition. I don't usually harp on semantics, but your entire debating strategy seems to be to redefine every word as convenient. You seem to accept that jumping off a cliff is a "test" for whether a method of flying works, but then after 10000 people have tried that method and fell to their deaths, you still maintain that the method of flying definitely works, and your only justification is that "everyone (somehow) knows this".
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 31 at 18:35
  • 12
    @pygosceles "it's blatantly dishonest to liken a proof of the existence of God to jumping off a cliff" - I think this might be the second time you've accused me of "blatant dishonesty" after I used your own analogy to make an argument against your position. If you don't want someone to relate a belief in God to people falling to their death, you probably shouldn't equate your belief in God with belief in human flight, in the context of testability. The clearest failed test of human flight is someone falling to their death. It's barely extending your analogy.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jan 31 at 20:48
  • 5
    @pygosceles So your position is that there's an absolute pure true language which exists outside of human usage? How does one gain access to this pure, immutable source?
    – barbecue
    Commented Feb 1 at 19:57

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