Posted by: Oliver in: Atheist Prayer Experiment
Background at: http://www.premier.org.uk/atheistprayerexperiment
When I was a child, about 7 or 8, I bounded in from school one day with a “tee-hee naughty” look on my face, and proudly announced to my father “I don’t believe in God”. To which he raised an eyebrow and replied, “And what precisely is this God in which you don’t believe?” By all accounts I slunk off sheepishly. I think he had a very good point.
We were not a religious family, I should add, although there was a general respect for, among other things, the obvious, common-sense stuff that Christ says in the bible (much like there was respect for the morals of Aesop’s fables).
As a teenager I made some pocket money by playing the organ in a couple of local churches, and very quickly had to decide whether to join in with the Amens and other responses/prayers. I couldn’t be seen or heard, it made no difference to anyone else, but it mattered to me: if I did, I’d be supporting everyone else there (which would be a nice thing to do), but it would be hypocritical to say prayers when I had no beliefs in that direction. In the end I decided to join in: after all, it’s normal to take on some characteristics of whatever group you’re in at the time, and from that point of view it didn’t seem hypocritical. It is, though, one of those situations where how you look at the situation entirely influences your conclusions: is it a vase or two faces?
So here I am again, praying to God. A bit odd, but from the right point of view I think it’s acceptable. I have to say, the paper on which this experiment is based is very waffly and loosely argued (without wishing to offend Mr Mawson, the chatty and long-winded style reads a little like something I might have written during my GCSE years). But read in a generous light it gives good reasons to try this out. My other main reasons for wanting to be part of this are a) as a lover of the scientific method I can’t resist a fun experiment, b) I know that meditation in general is extremely good for you, so this is a good excuse to get into the habit, and c) I love new experiences and forcing my brain to think in new ways.
What are my current beliefs? I certainly don’t believe in an omniscient being. If the concept of God is anywhere, though, it’s in the astounding complexity of the world. Take genetics: when DNA and genes were discovered, the implications were huge. Once the Human Genome Project had finished sequencing our genes, surely we would understand how life works? But no. There are yet more layers: (inherited) methylation, physical pressures, the bacteria in our gut, all potentially having more effect on our bodies/personalities than genes ever could… I’m quite sure the connectome project, to map out our brain’s neural connections, will go the same way. This is not to say these discoveries are useless, far from it: science is constantly giving us amazing insights and new ways of looking at life. But every time we think we might have got to a seam rich enough to explain things, there’s yet another turtle below it.
So for me, God is in the seemingly unending and infinite interactions between all the matter, people and universe that there is. And that means you can’t pray to God. Instead, like swimming in a turbulent current, life is about finding out how to be swept to where you want to go. You can’t battle or control the current, nor can you assume it will take you somewhere nice. Instead you have to try to understand it, experiment with it, see what happens if you nudge yourself in this or that direction, learn to cope when it sends you in the wrong direction, and hope that a combination of your alertness and luck will wash you up in a place you want to be.
Although I go into this experiment with the best of intentions, I do hope God doesn’t answer my prayers: if there’s just a creator, that’s rather boring. I much prefer my version of the world.