Recently, I noted a post on Ed Brayton’s Dispatches From The Culture Wars, about Bill Keller and his silly challenge to the leader of ISIL, the vermin in the Middle East. Mr. Keller challenged Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the Old Testament contest found in 1 Kings 18, where the prophet Elijah has two altars built and calls down his god’s power to consume the offering on one. He then has all of the priests of the other god murdered.
In my decades of questioning theists’s claims, I’ve often asked Christians to do this contest with me. I’d bring a Zippo, a industrial sized torch or even just a magnifying glass on a sunny day, and they could pray as long as they said was necessary. Unsurprisingly, everyone refused this challenge giving many excuses: that they weren’t a prophet so their god wouldn’t answer, that this god only did such things thousands of years ago, that their god shouldn’t be tested (belied by the stories of Gideon and the words in Malachi and 1 Thessalonians), that they didn’t have time, etc.
Now, here we can get this done! I thought. He has claimed he is a prophet, so there goes that excuse, and since al-Baghdadi likely won’t answer, he’ll have time in his schedule. Mr. Keller obviously believes this will happen in this modern time, so that excuse is gone too! I promptly sent off a request for Mr. Keller to do the challenge with me at a place and time of his convenience.
Here’s the email I sent (and yes I did use my real name, if you are curious about that, do the work):
I have seen your challenge to the leader of ISIL: ““I will come to Iraq, Syria, any location you desire,” says Keller. “We will each take an unblemished animal, cut that animal into pieces, put those pieces on wood, but not set fire to the wood. Once prepared, you have one hour’s time to call on Allah to rain down fire on your offering. If at the end of that hour Allah has still not answered your pleas, I will call upon the one true God of the Bible … not just to bring down fire on my offering, but yours as well.” “If your god Allah does not answer you … you will resign as the leader of ISIS. You will retire from your life of terror. You will encourage your followers to live in peace and I will be free to return to the United States.”
“If your god Allah answers your pleas by fire [and] my God does not, I will renounce the Christian faith, and you’re free to kill me or do whatever you like.”
I would like to ask you if you are willing to take the same challenge from an atheist, to pray for fire from your god. I will meet you at a place of your choice in the US (perhaps midway between Florida and Pennsylvania?) with two altars, as you describe above. You may pray to your god for fire to consume it. If there is no response, I will use a means of ignition discovered by the scientific method, a Zippo would be a fine choice, to light both altars. These proceedings would be videotaped. If you god answers you, I will be happy to publically announce that I believe in this god, though I would not worship such a being. If there are no flames, you will publically announce that your god does not exist. You also may choose to announce that your god does not respond to you if you prefer.
I look forward to your response.
Lo and behold, I got a response, which I do appreciate. I won’t reproduce it here verbatim until I get permission from Mr. Keller since he has the copyright but I’ll talk about what it said and my thoughts on it. UPDATE – 9/1/14 @ 8:28 pm. I got another response, and no refusal of publication. Mr. Keller has said he was too “bored” to read my email. So, here is his first response:
LOL..sorry…first..Dr. Keller gets 40,000 emails a DAY…mostly for prayer…there are 700 of us..all retried pastors who work with him to make sure each one is prayed over and answered..Dr. Keller isn’t into “stunts”..but is led by God’s Holy Spirit in all that he does….the things he does are God-led..not simply a game..my suggestion..you will die one day..even a genius like yourself who claims there is no God..meaning you were nothing but a genetic accident and your life is absolutely meaningless..will accept that..at that moment..you will either be correct..and go into the ground like a dead plant..or as the Bible teaches you will stand before God and cast into hell..for your CHOICE to reject Christ..you are clearly worried about the wrong things..and should be focused whether you are willing to stake your eternal soul on the lies of this world..we will pray for you though.
btw..your offer is foolish since proving God’s existence only requires you do something every day..look into a mirror..there is ZERO explanation for you other than God..glad to have helped and saved you the drama..blessings
Know that I am praying for you, be richly blessed, Bill Keller Founder, www.liveprayer.com To get Bill Keller’s FREE Daily Devotional…sign up at the link below by putting in your email address and look for the confirming email you must reply to…http://www.liveprayer.com/signup.cfm
It is fascinating that prayers aren’t known at all by their god, but must be handled by pastors. Seems like the same “intervention” as Catholics require. And I was wrong about 40,000 a year. Of course, there is not one independent verification of such a strangely high number. I did get another response which I shall post in a day or two. It’s even more amusing.
This response was purportedly from one of his “700” retired pastors who handle the prayer requests for his ministry. It began with “LOL”, which didn’t exactly give me any great hopes on the content of the missive. It was also full of ellipses, which always baffles me why anyone does that, other than to make their response rather incoherent. My guess is that this is from Mr. Keller himself considering how the post is written, with claim of “I” do this, etc, and not from a random pastor. We also do not have the name of the pastor which is unusual from my point of view. Why not take ownership of one’s actions? So, from this point, I will treat the letter as written by Mr. Keller. The writer also says “Dr. Keller” but I cannot find any information he has received a doctorate from anywhere, not even in his own biography. This appears to be an attempt to appeal to authority. I have asked for information where the doctorate came from.
The letter opens with the claim that the ministry gets “40,000” prayer requests a year. (UPDATE: this is supposed 40K per “day”. I have asked for the email stats for this since there is no independent confirmation of such a ridiculous number. google stats may be able to take care of this. The Exchange server certainly could do this.) This appears to be an excuse of “I don’t have the time”. This would average out to around over a 100 a day. Certainly the 700 pastors can handle this for a day or two while Mr. Keller tends to altar business?
Mr. Keller then goes onto say that Mr. Keller isn’t into doing “stunts”. This seems to indicate that this challenge by Mr. Keller is now a “stunt”. Or that he wasn’t serious about doing this at all? However, the letter writer states that Mr. Keller is “God-led” by his god into doing everything, which would indicate that Mr. Keller is serious about this “stunt”.
Then we have what is expected from a Christian asked to do complete the challenge he has offered to another religious figure. I am told that I will die one day, a great shock to everyone, I’m sure….. 🙂 I am threatened with hell as usual and the pastor claims that he will pray for me. I am told that I simply must have no meaning in my life and that I am a “genetic accident”. I am then told that I just have to look in the mirror to see evidence for Mr. Keller’s god because “there is ZERO explanation for you other than God” for it. Except for the claims of nearly every other religion that their god/gods made me exist, all with the usual lack of evidence that Mr. Keller has. This lovely excuse is what is offered instead of doing the altar challenge that Mr. Keller proposed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. I guess we can see what Mr. Keller’s excuse would have been should the self-described “caliph” accept his challenge.
Thank you, Mr. Keller. You have shown that no one should believe your claims.
The above is the short and sweet version of the story. Now, if you want to read my much longer response to Mr. Keller, with juicy details, here you go:
I am astonished that you get “40,000” requests a year to do something. That would mean that you get over one hundred requests a day Now, I can believe that you may get a high number of prayer requests because that is what your ministry is based on. Those would not be the same as a request for you to make good on your offer to summon your god’s attention and set an altar on fire. I see that you have a team of people to handle these prayers so again I can see that this seems to be only an excuse given so you do not have to support your claims that you are a prophet of your god like Elijah supposedly was, and that your god will respond to you when called upon as Elijah supposedly did in 1 Kings 18. Now, one would think you would be eager to since you have claimed that other Christians are false prophets, Satanic, etc. It seems that you cannot even support those claims, which would make those instances of bearing false witness against others.
Now, since you have made the offer to the head of ISIL *and* one can safely assume he won’t answer, you have a space in your schedule that your own words have confirmed. Thus your excuse that you can’t possibly meet me to set up two altars and summon your god is just that, an excuse to avoid doing what you have claimed the ability to do. To claim that you can’t actually respond to *anyone* because of a claim of a ridiculously high number of requests for your attention is rather amusing. Pick one, Mr. Keller, and actually show that your god will respond to you. There is nothing preventing you from doing that.
All of your excuses are those that have been used by every charlatan that has ever existed, Mr. Keller.
As for your claim of being entitled to the honorific “Dr.”, I do not see any mention of such a degree in your biography that you have written yourself. You may wish to include this information to support the claim in your biography and perhaps also on your Wikipedia entry.
The style of your email does intrigue me. I mean, really, ellipses with no reason for them other than to make your words somewhat incomprehensible? First you write as if you are not Mr. Keller and then you do write as if you are Mr. Keller. I am guessing that you really are Mr. Keller and want to present more false information to make it seem you are more important than you are. You may be one of these many retired pastors but why not use your own name and take ownership of what you do?
You, Mr. Keller, are indeed into “stunts”, as you call it, when you have publically offered to go to the Middle East and compete with a Muslim to have a god respond to prayer. You have offered to do exactly what I have proposed you do with me. It’s is amusing when you wish to call what you have requested a “stunt”. If it was just a stunt, then you weren’t serious, were you?
I will indeed die one day, Mr. Keller. So will we all. It’s great to see you descend into using threats and personal attacks. I know not all “retired pastors” rely in such things, but in my experience many of you do and are excellent examples of TrueChristians, creating a god in your image and ignoring the parts of the bible that are inconvenient. I am not a genius, though I am quite intelligent. I do not consider calling you out on your claims to be some joke, Mr. Keller. I consider it a very serious matter because I find lies abhorrent, as your god supposedly does per the bible, even lies told for its benefit (Romans 3). I find the only lies acceptable that are to save someone’s life, like the lies told to the Nazis in the attempts to save people like Anne Franke.
A “genetic accident”, Mr. Keller? No, I do not believe that at all. Physics and chemistry work in very predictable ways, at least on the scales we interact with. Thanks to lots of evidence, I accept that evolutionary theory is correct. The same science that shows that evolutionary theory is correct is the same that allows all of us to have modern medicine, criminal forensics, computers, cars, etc. You use all of those things, Mr. Keller, and accept their results. You are a hypocrite for trying to say that it’s okay to accept one part but not all.
There is no need of a god, yours or any others, to make my life have meaning. I do not need to pretend that some magical being will answer prayers when there is no evidence it does. I have plenty of meaning in my life. I do good work that helps people. I love my husband of 23+ years. I have a wonderful family. I have excellent friends. I contribute to causes that help people and animals. And I do my best to show when religion harms people and when theists tell lies. All of this gives my life much meaning and shows that your claims are again false, lies dependent on what you baselessly hope that other people experience. I am also not lonely, bitter, sad, rebellious, etc, all words used by theists against atheists when they hope we are unhappy because we dare not to believe in their, or any, gods.
I do not rely on threats of death and damnation to scare people into obedience like you do, Mr. Keller. You are an unfortunate subset of Christian who needs to pretend that your god has the same hatreds as you do, with no evidence to support that. I know plenty of Christians who aren’t like you at all. Perhaps you’d like to stand with one of them at the altars and see who gets a response?
I do not have an “eternal soul”, but if you can provide evidence that I have, please do so. I am very willing to trust the evidence that neither your god, nor any other, exists. I am an atheist looking for evidence of your god. *You*, Mr. Keller, have claimed to be able to provide it by calling your god’s attention to an altar and getting this god to consume the offering with divine fire. I am asking for you to provide this evidence. If your god exists, and if this god will do anything to help the “lost sheep” (Luke 15) and will give evidence to a doubter like Thomas without hesitation (John 20), then it, and you, should have no problem in doing this act.
You finally claim that I just have to look in the mirror to see “proof” of your god’s existence. Really? A Muslim would tell me the same thing, and have as much evidence as you do that he was right – none. So would an shaman from New Guinea, a Wiccan priestess from San Francisco, a Asatru from Wisconsin, a Zoroasterian, a Sikh guru, and a Hindu priest. How can we tell that you are the only right one and all of them are wrong? Ah yes, that altar test, right?
I again offer you the chance to make good on your claims. You may indeed pray for me, Mr. Keller. I have had hundreds of Christians, and a few Jews and Muslims, claim to do so. Some say they will pray for God to reveal himself to me. Some say that they pray for my mind to be changed forcibly by this god. Over the 20 or so years I have questioned the claims of theists, nothing has come of those prayers. Why is this, Mr. Keller? Is your god happy with me as I am, an honest atheist? Is your god damning me with no chance, like Romans 9 declares, and the Calvinists are right? Is it that your prayers are ignored by your god because he doesn’t like you? That you didn’t pray in the “right” way, whatever that is? Or is it that there are no gods at all? I know all about prayer. When I was losing my faith, I prayed to this god for help retaining it. I read the bible, did all of the things I was told. Nothing happened. Why is this?
Now, I can look at the geologic record and see another well-supported idea showing why I exist, the increase of complexity of organisms over time, all inexorably leading to one branch of life that is primates. I also see in the geologic record no nonsense about a massive global flood. Again, there is plenty of evidence against your particular religion being true, Mr. Keller. And nothing to say your particular sect of it is right.
Thank you very much for your response. I have long hoped for someone regarded as a pastor to make the claim you have about the altar, since other Christians have claimed that no one can do that because they aren’t real prophets, that this god only did these “stunts” back thousands of years ago, etc. In that you have said that those Christians are all wrong by your words, and you have refused to do the same challenge you have offered to someone of another religion, you have done an excellent job of proving my point, that Christians do not agree with each other and have no evidence for their claims. I will be mentioning your remarks in a blog pose of mine, which you will be able to find at clubschadenfreude.com in a few days. I will not reproduce your email without your permission but will address what it says. If you wish the email reproduced in toto so there may be no mistake in what you said, please tell me and I will make it available.
Thank you for your time.