Monday, May 15, 2023

The Efficacy of Prayers


“According to the bible, Jesus said that a true-believer could command a mountain to move and it would move (Matthew 17:20). Jesus also claimed that whatever one asks of him in his name, he will do it (John 14:13).

“Jesus didn’t add any ‘ifs’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts.’ He didn’t say your prayers will come true: if it’s within god’s plan for you, and if your prayer isn’t selfish, but only if you pray with the proper respect. The apologists add these conditions on their own ‘authority,’ justified by the simple ‘fact’ that if Jesus said something, then it must somehow be true.

“These simple, direct, and unambiguous statements concerning the power of prayer have been tested millions of times by millions of people and been found wanting over and over. Nobody has ever moved a mountain by prayer and prayers go unanswered all the time.

“Yet, people continue to pray and pray and pray, while using their twisted logic to justify their belief. I’m sure every one of us have heard this one: ‘How can you not believe in a god when you look at the beauty of a sunset, the magnificence of a rainbow or the miracle of childbirth?”

“My response is ‘you’re absolutely right, and what day of the week do you think god created pathogenic bacteria and viruses? And since you brought it up, how do you think those sunsets and rainbows looked from Auschwitz in 1943?’

“Interestingly, perhaps tellingly, even believers wouldn’t pray for the regeneration of a human limb, or for the pregnancy of a woman who’s had a hysterectomy. They know nature doesn’t work this way, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“Thus, they would never pray for something that nature or chance could not accomplish on its own. Yet, they fail to see any evidence of anything troubling in this. For the intelligent Christian, the cognitive dissonance must be agonizing.

“Whenever prayer has been scientifically tested with carefully constructed, double-blind research methods it has always failed. The best known of these is The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), conducted under the auspices of Harvard Medical School (2006). It showed, you guessed it, no positive benefit from prayer.

“But are the believers buying this? Not on your life! Why not? Well, as one high-profile hospital chaplain said, ‘God is not subject to scientific research.’ How does he know this? Well, because the research failed to provide a positive outcome, of course. Duh…

-Michael Binetti, Atheism United



Think about the logic of these two assertions: 1. God listens to and answers prayers in "real time." 2. There are approximately eight billion people on earth. 

Why do we thank God for the good things that happen in our life (however trivial they might be), but we don't blame God for the bad things that happen in our life? Indeed, we know there are few scientific studies done about the efficacy of intercessory prayers. "We can assume no religious organization would want a scientific confirmation either because of the high risk for logical refutation." 

Furthermore, how do we justify all the unanswered prayers?  “Consider petitionary prayer (in contrast to a merely meditative sort): in the first place, the idea of an omni-god that would permit, for example, children to die slowly of leukemia is already pretty puzzling; but to permit this to happen unless someone prays to Him to prevent it—this verges on a certain sort of sadism and moral incoherence (imagine a doctor who acted in this way!), and one wonders what people have in mind worshipping Him” (Rey).

On a lighter note: the comedian Emo Phillips once said: "When I was a child, I used to pray to God for a bicycle. But then I realized that God doesn't work that way, so I stole a bicycle and prayed for forgiveness" (Dennett). 

-Glen Brown

Dennett, Daniel C. Breaking the Spell. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Rey, Georges, "Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-Deception," Philosophers Without Gods. Ed. Louise M. Antony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pgs. 243-265.

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