Contesting Christianity: Prayer and Miracles

Sign with line through Christian cross(This post is part 4 of the series entitled “Contesting Christianity.” Please see the index for the other posts in this series.)

Praying handsPrayer and miracles are two more key aspects of Christianity. While it seems that the Christian faith could survive without these things, it would seem to be a pretty bland religion if it did. The efficacy of prayer is often touted in church services as evidence for the truth of Christianity. And miracles are a key element of some Christians’ defense of the faith as well. But do these arguments hold up to scrutiny? I would argue that they do not, and that the reason these arguments are used is because the individuals using them don’t adequately ask themselves what they might expect if God did not exist. Like any good scientist, in order to evaluate a hypothesis, we must establish what we would expect if the statement were true, and what we would expect if it were false. I am going to attempt to do just this in regard to prayer first, and then miracles, to determine whether these phenomena can reasonably be used as evidence of God’s existence.

Prayer

What would we expect if the Christian God existed? Such a God is said to be attentive to the prayers of his people (2 Chronicles 7:14-15Proverbs 15:29), and the Bible states that the “prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Just a few verses before that, it also states, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray…. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15). Such a theme is not at all uncommon in the Bible; it seems unequivocal that the Bible promises that God will answer prayer.

However, some Christians retort that God has a sovereign plan, and thus not all prayers will be answered in the manner we wish them to be. I’ve heard it said that “God always answers prayer, but his answer can be ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘wait’.” While I find it difficult to find a strong scriptural basis for this (though I admit there are some verses which can suggest this), it seems reasonable that God might not always answer our prayers affirmatively. So essentially, Christians seem to say that God answers prayer, but in his own way, and in his own time. Fair enough.

PrayerSo what might we expect from this state of affairs? Let’s imagine two groups of people that are similar in all ways except in one respect: one group prays consistently for their own needs to be met, and the other group does not pray at all. What expectations should we have from this scenario? While not all of the praying group would always have their needs met (since God doesn’t always answer “yes”), it seems to be the case that this group should still, on average, have their needs met more often than the non-praying group. After all, one would expect that a God who wants us to pray to him would reward us at least sometimes by answering these prayers, right? Thus, all else being equal, the praying group should end up somewhat better off than the non-praying group.

To test these assumptions, there have been several prayer studies conducted over the years. While some have shown positive results of prayer, others have shown no effect whatsoever. However, there have been criticisms of the methodology on some of the studies that showed positive results. To give one example, a study by Dr. Randolph Byrd in 19881 examined 393 patients entering a coronary care unit and randomly assigned them to either an intercessory prayer group or a control group. Those in the first group were prayed for by three to seven active “born again” Christians, who prayed for these participants daily until they were discharged from the hospital. Byrd measured 29 different health outcomes of these patients, and reported that those receiving prayer did better than the control group on six of these outcomes. Thus, he concluded that “based on these data there seemed to be an effect, and that effect was presumed to be beneficial.” The problem here, however, is that it is easy to find effects when one examines a large number of variables. Chance alone will produce significant results on a few here and there, from time to time. This is what is known as the “Texas sharpshooter fallacy“, from an analogy of firing shots into the side of a barn, then painting the target around the largest cluster of bullets. A study which does this clearly has flaws which need to be rectified before drawing any meaningful results.

In contrast to Byrd’s study, a 2005 study by Benson et al.2 examined 1802 patients from three hospitals receiving cardiac bypass surgery and assigned them to three groups: a group receiving intercessory prayer after being told they may or may not receive it, a group not receiving prayer after being told they may or may not receive it, and a group receiving prayer after being told they would receive it. (The counter-balanced group, not receiving prayer after being told they would receive it, would be unethical.) Congregations from three Christian churches were used to pray for these patients, and while they were allowed to pray for the person in whatever way they wished, they were instructed to pray specifically “for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.” Results showed that at least one complication showed up in 52% of patients receiving prayer versus 51% of those who did not, and patients certain of receiving prayer actually had complications occurring in 59% of patients. In other words, this study, widely regarded as one of the most rigorous studies of its type, found that prayer has no effect, and that if anything, a person who knows they are being prayed for might do worse.

Of course, one of the first responses to these studies is to claim that “God can’t be tested.” However, to say this is to say that “God’s answers to prayer have no real effect.” After all, if God does answer prayer, that answer should be measurable. I’m reminded of a YouTube video that compares praying to God with praying to a jug of milk. One can certainly claim that the jug of milk answers with “yes”, “no”, or “wait”, but the appearance of actual answers to these prayers is clearly an illusion based on chance. To claim that God answers prayer, but that these answers cannot be measured scientifically is to claim that prayer really has only an illusory effect.

Miracles

Similar to prayer, miracles are often claimed as proof of God. Obviously, if there is an event that is performed by a supernatural being, that supernatural being must actually exist. So in this next section, I’d like to examine whether it can be said that miracles actually occur.

Miracle Whip

Not a real miracle.

It is first important to clarify here how I am using the term “miracle.” It gets used in a number of different ways, but I prefer to define it as “an event that is not explainable by or contradicts natural laws.” This does exclude some events from being miracles, such as the “miracle of childbirth” or a “miraculous sunset.” It also does not include fortunate coincidences, like “it was a miracle that those two cars didn’t hit each other.” Furthermore, it does not include events where God is said to have worked through the laws of nature, such as “healing” a person through prescribed medication or by “guiding the surgeon’s hands.” In such cases, it would be impossible to tell whether any different outcome would result if God had not done something, so it is not helpful when trying to use miracles as proof of God. Nevertheless, although my definition does not include these things, it still includes a number of events that most people would call miracles, such as a dead person coming back to life after three days, bread and fish appearing out of nowhere, etc.

Now that this issue of definitions is settled, it’s time to determine whether miracles actually occur. Of course, such an argument is an inductive one, so it is impossible to prove in this way that miracles don’t occur. All it would take would be one genuine miracle, just like the existence of one black swan would refute the argument, “All swans are white.” So the best I can do is to provide explanations that cover most, if not all, miracles, and then see if there are any left over. Thus, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of these explanations.

1. Hearsay/Rumour

I would argue that the vast majority of miracle claims fall into this category. When I was growing up, I remember hearing many stories about missionaries in other countries who experienced amazing miracles. But such stories get passed around from church to church and from country to country, until any given person would be hard-pressed to know who the missionary was or what country it was. And just like fishing stories, such miracle claims also tend to grow with the telling. Such stories really can do nothing to provide proof of God’s existence, because we can only place a very low probability of them even being truthful. It seems best to discard any miracle stories that we cannot establish as reasonably accurate.

2. Fraud

Peter Popoff

Peter Popoff

Another explanation for some miracles is outright fraud. While I won’t claim that most or even many miracles are fraudulent, there have been notable examples that must be discarded. One such example is with the career of Peter Popoff, a faith healer whose methods of receiving information from God turned out instead to be listening to his wife feeding him information via radio transmissions off-stage. Things aren’t so miraculous when they’re outright lies. I don’t think any more needs to be said about this category.

3. Honest Mistakes/Eagerness

Obviously, humans make mistakes. Quite often, actually. And as it turns out, our many cognitive biases tend to get amplified when we are expecting something to occur. If a religious believer is in a church service and watching a faith healer who is telling the congregation that something big is going to happen that night, when something unusual happens it is likely to be readily explained as a miracle, regardless of whether it actually is or not. Again, I think it is fairly uncontroversial that humans often do not take a skeptical eye towards things that they want to believe. This is one of the reasons why science is so important, because it helps to keep our human biases in check.

4. Placebo Effect

A common source of miracle claims come from faith healers. Well-known examples of these faith healers include Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson. These individuals generally hold large revivals where thousands of people come expecting to be healed. The placebo effect works off these expectations. It is well-documented that a fake medical treatment (like a sugar pill or sham surgery) can produce perceived or even real effects on the body, simply by the power of the patient’s expectations. In a large crowd that is gathered expecting changes in their condition, it is virtually guaranteed that the placebo effect will affect at least some members of the crowd. Such a change is attributed to a miracle from God, when in reality it is merely an effect of going to the revival and expecting change. The stronger the expectation, the more likely there is to be an effect, and the stronger the effect is likely to be. Such an event does not require God as part of the explanation at all.

5. Endorphins

This is another common effect of faith healing. At the large revival meetings, typically people are placed in a hyper-emotional state: singing, dancing, swaying, cheering, shouting, clapping, etc. Such excitement leads the body to release endorphins, which are essentially natural painkillers, into the bloodstream. This is certainly not a problem by any means, and is a natural mechanism of the body. However, the most common way that people know that they are sick or injured in some way is through pain. In many chronic illnesses, the pain is also chronic. When these people go to the services and experience this rush of endorphins, suddenly the pain is gone—and thus they conclude that the illness must also be gone! When watching these services, there are always people indicating that they “can just feel that the cancer is gone” or that they suddenly have extended mobility that they could not do before because of the pain. Thus, the success of the healing is broadcasted to thousands of people. A day or two later, however, once the endorphins have worn off, suddenly the pain is back—but this failure doesn’t similarly get broadcasted. And thus, these miracle stories perpetuate without any real healing taking place.

6. Other Natural Explanations

Hindu milk miracleIn addition to the natural explanations given above, other miracle claims which seem to contradict the laws of nature actually fit within them quite well. For example, the Hindu milk miracle (while not a Christian miracle) was a phenomenon where statues of Ganesha seemed all of a sudden to be able to drink milk that was offered to them. This miracle is well-attested with living witnesses and video footage, but is easily explainable by capillary action. The milk simply ran up the trunk of the elephant statue before running down the front. This, however, did not stop thousands of people from believing it to be a miracle. A similar example from Christianity is the “weeping statue” phenomenon, where a statue of the Virgin Mary or some other notable figure seems to be crying tears, or sometimes oil or blood. In reality, it is easy to fake a statue like this, and can also be sometimes caused by simple condensation. The key point here is that it takes a critical examination of these miracle claims to determine whether they truly are “miraculous.”

7. As-Yet-Unidentified Explanations

It is also important to remember that humanity has not solved all the mysteries of the universe. In some cases, it is best to hold judgment before declaring something a miracle. This has been done in the past, and the people claiming it have turned out to be wrong. One example of a miracle claim which likely has a natural explanation is cancer remission. While we have made leaps and bounds toward understanding cancer, there are still things that we do not know about how it works. What is clear, however, is that people of all faiths experience spontaneous remission, and atheists do as well. Christians do not seem to have any higher rates of remission than any other group. Thus, similar to the studies on prayer up above, it doesn’t appear to be the case that remission can be used as proof of God—even though we don’t yet have a satisfactory explanation for it. What is most likely is that with time and effort, scientific study will make clear what causes spontaneous remission and thus find, yet again, a natural explanation for a medical mystery.

History

David Hume

David Hume

I think that the categories I’ve offered explain most, if not all miracle claims. However, before I finish, I’d like to say a little something about the miracle claims of history. This provides an extra challenge to verification of miracles that deserves some mention. David Hume, a well-known 18th century philosopher, put forth an argument about the inability to verify historical miracles of the distant past.3 Hume argued that miracles are by definition singular events that differ from the laws of nature, which is very similar to the definition I gave at the beginning. This means that a miracle is therefore a violation of all prior experience. Because we have prior experiences of being lied to, deceived, or mistaken, such experience will always outweigh the claim of a singular miraculous experience. Thus, Hume concludes that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.” This, of course, does not rule out the actual existence of miracles, but rather states that we will almost never be rationally justified in accepting that a miracle occurred. To state it otherwise, Hume is saying that to believe in the testimony of a miracle is irrational.

Let me make the point a little more forceful. Historians rely on probabilities to establish whether an event actually occurred in history. One of the methods they rely on is to assume that the same forces that are present today were present throughout history. In other words, human nature is still fundamentally the same, the world still revolves around its axis, etc. If historians cannot assume these sorts of things, then they can say nothing about the past, for they have no basis to say, “This likely happened, but that likely did not.” History is always about evaluating probabilities. But a miracle is by definition an unlikely event, since it contradicts all natural laws. It is, by definition, improbable. And yet, historians must rely on what is probable to establish historical claims. So, in order to establish the truth of a miracle in ancient history, a person must first establish that the event is extremely improbable (to prove it is, in fact, a miracle), then turn around and establish that the event is probable (to prove that it actually happened). John Loftus describes this as the “double burden of proof.” The more likely it is that the event happened, the less likely it was a miracle; and the more likely it was a miracle, the less likely it happened. This, to me, seems to put the final nail in the coffin of miracles.

Conclusion

Although I have not completely refuted the claims that prayer works or that miracles occur, I have given good reason why it is unreasonable to accept either one as being true. Certainly new evidence could arise tomorrow that vindicates either one, but given the current state of affairs, this seems unlikely. As civilization has embraced science and critical examination further and further, the events attributed to the actions of God have grown fewer and fewer. Just as we know now that lightning is an electrical discharge rather than the wrath of Zeus, it seems likely that as science progresses further, more and more will be explained, leaving less leeway for supernatural beings.

More Information

For more interesting information on the efficacy of prayer and on miracles, here are some links to get you going:

  • Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? – A critique of prayer and healing that questions why amputees never seem to be healed by God.
  • Studies on Intercessory Prayer – A Wikipedia page outlining the major studies that have examined the effects of prayer.
  • Of Miracles – A Wikipedia page summarizing David Hume’s argument from miracles.
  • Miracles – An excellent summary of the philosophical arguments that have been advanced for and against miracle claims.

Notes:

  1. Byrd, R. C. (1988). Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. Southern Medical Journal, 81(7), 826-829. The article is available here. []
  2. Benson, H., et al. (2006). Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. American Heart Journal, 151(4), 934-942. The article is available here. []
  3. All of Jesus’ miracles would, of course, fall into this category. []

13 responses to “Contesting Christianity: Prayer and Miracles”

feeno

W’dup Jeff

I’ve never been diagnosed with A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. or anything like that but probably only because I don’t go to the Doctor. Although when I was a little kid everyone but my Mom wanted me either drugged, sedated or put on Ritalin or something. Mom wouldn’t allow it. (thanks Momma) And very few things if any actually interests me. (Just like my profile says). The fact that I actually kept up with my blog for as long as I did is really surprisings to me. I do miss it but like everything else for me I end up getting distracted by other things.

Why am I telling you this? After you’ve been away for awhile and then come back… you seem to have a little different perspective on things. I’ve spent a half hour or so reading your latest arguments against Christianity and I just don’t think I have the stomach or patience to try to convince you just how wrong you are. The one thing that does keep me coming back to the blog world is people like you, geenks and Gandolpholoppolis. Things don’t hold my interests, but people fascinate me. And I may not blog a lot anymore but I continue to pray for you and G and others I have encountered on the internet. I know that prayer seems futile to you… at least for now. But not for me, so I’ll keep mentioning you to God.

But here’s the thing; Although you may be a sincere, bright and honest person who has actually researched his position and believes he has all his ducks in a row and all his facts gathered in a nice little package… In the eyes of God it’s just chicken shit. Do you think that God will be impressed by how smart man is?

I just finished reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I think for now it’s my favorite OT book? But it talks about the absurdity of it all. You would love the read. You don’t have to be a Believer to find that book captivating, and for amateur philosophers like us very thought provoking. But this book mocks everything people put their faith in, and eventually concludes the meaningless and purposelessness of a life with out God.

Frederic Louis Godet a Swiss theologian and professor of theology about 150 years ago said this about 1st Corinthians 1:21 “This verse contains the whole philosophy of history” What does that verse say? “For since in the wisdom of God the world through it’s wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”

hold on, I got a little more

feeno

See, there’s nothing new under the sun, that too is from Ecclesiastes. Also there is nothing new about atheism and the arguments against Christianity. You can read all throughout the Bible how people denied God. Some sought signs and wonders or miracles or riches or powers. Some like today’s Atheists relied solely on human reasonings and logic. (The Greeks were known for that) but anyways people have always denied God and they have concocted all kinds of reasons where they feel justified about why they have rejected His message. And some of them might sound real good, but in the end it’s all just…… well, read Ecclesiastes and let me know what ya think?

Talk with you soon, late

Jeff

Hey feeno!

Yeah I haven’t seen you around much…it’s always good to hear from you 🙂

I know that you’re obviously not going to agree with me on these things – otherwise you probably wouldn’t be a Christian! But I don’t do these things so that God will be “impressed”. Regardless of whether God exists or not, my brain is the only brain that I can use to figure these things out. And if God does exist and did create us, then he created us with human reason – like Galileo said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” Like it or not, we humans must use human reason to figure things out. We have no other option. Even if we use the words of the Bible to determine our beliefs, we still need to use human reason to interpret and understand the text. And if God doesn’t like that, then he should have figured out another way for us to do it!

I like that you brought up Ecclesiastes, though. I too enjoy this book, and find it interesting and insightful. But while it is a good attempt at philosophy, his essential argument is saying that because humans are destined to die (or “wither away”), therefore everything is “vanity”. But then God gets thrown in there as the “answer” to this – without ever explaining how God is a satisfactory solution to the problem. Why do our lives gain meaning simply because someone more powerful than we are is watching us? And it can’t simply be because such a being created us for something, because if, for instance, God had created us for the sole purpose of hating and killing each other, that wouldn’t seem to provide much of a suitable meaning, would it? There is some other dimension to this, some quality of purpose that is necessary – and if we can determine what quality of purpose provides us with suitable purpose, it seems like we could create such purpose without God altogether. If we are here to love each other and be good to each other, for example, it seems that this could be the case whether God is in the picture or not.

Regardless of what you think about this, though, it seems a little strange to say that human reason is not good enough, and then point to the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that is full of the writings of a human reasoning his way through things. If the writer of the book had just instead relied on faith, there would be no book here for us to read. So it seems inconsistent to use reason when it is convenient for you and then throw it away as soon as it contradicts something that you want to believe. One needs to either commit to reason fully, or throw it away entirely, but not use it only when it suits oneself.

So I don’t mind people who try to challenge my arguments and refute them. That’s great! I also don’t mind those people who say, “I have no rational reason to believe, but I have faith all the same.” I think such people are being inconsistent if they do not do the same in other areas of their lives, but at least they’re being honest. What I don’t enjoy are people who challenge my arguments, and then when they don’t have an answer for something I say, or they realize their arguments are weak, they retreat to something like “I have faith” or “God is mysterious” or “But look what bad consequences there are if you don’t believe!” Such people are simply “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

Anyway, thanks as always for your comments, Feeno. I appreciate the time you take to respond, and I even appreciate your prayers! (I don’t think they’re helping, but hey, they can’t be hurting, right? 🙂 Best wishes to you and your family!

feeno

‘ello Jeffery

Sense, reason, Intellect? These things don’t always work together. They often contradict one another. Then we still have to figure how our emotions and our experiences fit in with all this. If not we can all just take Galileo’s word for it, after all he is so much smarter than the rest of us. Do you want people making decisions for you just because they are smarter? Me either, but why not?

I also believe like you and King Solomon that we should think our way through these things. But it’s how we view our concept of who God is which leads us how to interpret our findings. Most, like 99% of Atheists I have encountered don’t like the idea of the Christian God whether He existed or not. So I personally feel that their findings are all founded upon prejudices. Where a Christian, tho he might not understand some things God has done, will give God the benefit of the doubt realizing we don’t have the knowledge God has, plus we like God.
So you can say the Christian is also looking through rose colored glasses.

But there are plenty of intellectuals and people as smart as Galileo who sit on both sides of the fence. And if that’s true Galileo’s point about “this is the brain we got so we gotta use it” argument is weak.

BTW, I wasn’t accusing you personally of trying to impress God. My bad if it came across like that. Let me try to put it this way;”If there is a God, do you think mans wisdom is gonna impress Him?”

Thanks for responding, I am always glad to hear from you too. Peace.

Jeff

Hey again,

I’d like to just say to start off with that I wasn’t intending to use Galileo as an authority on the matter. I just happen to think he made a pretty good statement, which I agree with. I see no reason why God would make us with faculties of reason and then tell us to “just have faith.”

Now, you do make a good point that people are often biased when examining these issues. I have no doubt that many atheists are biased against the Christian God; but in the same way, the “rose colored glasses” you speak of that Christians use is simply a bias in the other direction. Don’t claim that one is “prejudice” and the other is “benefit of the doubt”. They’re both biases, and in order to come to a proper understanding of the matter, we have to try to subdue these biases and take a look at the arguments and evidence instead. (Let’s also remember that many atheists are biased in favour of God – they really would like if he existed, but they just don’t think he does.)

I still don’t get the point about man’s wisdom impressing God. I really don’t think that when talking about our own faculties of reason, that God’s reason has anything to do with it. Let me make an analogy. I have some writing ability, but I’m certainly don’t have the skill to write great works of literature. The analogous statement is, “Do you think your writing ability is gonna impress Shakespeare?” Well no, but who cares? I don’t think that my own writing ability (or anyone else’s) has any less value simply because it is not the best. In the same way, human reason still has value, even if there might be some being that has more knowledge than we do. Ability is still ability, regardless of whether it is limited or not perfect. Knowledge is still knowledge, regardless of whether it is limited or not perfect. And the fact is that we do have some knowledge.

Now certainly, if a being exists that has greater knowledge than us, we would be wise to listen to it. But I don’t think it’s at all clear that we have access to God’s knowledge. We have a Bible, which is written by man and reflects man’s understanding of history, science, and philosophy. What we know is that the Bible was authored by human beings. What some believe is that it was somehow “inspired” by God – but how one demonstrates that, I simply don’t know. (Well, I do know of the attempts to demonstrate it, but I think they are pretty poor – which is what I am arguing in this blog series!) So, without good evidence to show that the Bible’s knowledge is super-human, it seems like we are stuck with human reason, whether we like it or not. Since, as I said, human reason has some value even if it is incomplete, then we can still gain something from using it.

Gandy

Feeno said…”BTW, I wasn’t accusing you personally of trying to impress God. My bad if it came across like that. Let me try to put it this way;”If there is a God, do you think mans wisdom is gonna impress Him?””

What …if there is a God, you believe he will be impressed by idiotic morons , who dont bother to think or reason much , but instead just read books written by ancient men and follow whats written like a bunch of kindergarten kids playing Simon said ? …Your God is impressed by this mindlessness ?

Feen ….Personally if there is any God …im picking its going to be the Christians are going to be wishing there wasnt a God, when they meet him .

Its very obvious God didnt create man with a brain for no reason Feeno.And Christian have talked this crap about suggesting people dont use their brain and reason to much for years now ….And its why we have abusive cults that people suffer in .

Dont ever think im afraid of God …Feen …I wish there was a God ..You people are the ones who need to fear Gods existence.

If God actually exists …Its the faithful that are in for one mighty rude awakening ! when they finaaly meet him.

They been talking this crap about God wont be impressed by people intelligence or reasoning for years …Even back when faithful idiots threw their live babies into the flames of fire ,i faithful hope it might bring better fertility.

All you faithful folks who continually “promote” this stupid idea, that God wont be impressed or pleased with peoples use of intelligence and reasoning .

Are in with all those idiots who caused the death of those Children …You folk “share” your part in all the guilt of the crap my family in the Christian cult, still suffer from.You folk who continue to promote this rubbish ,share guilt in ALL the pain people suffer under faith , worldwide ! …You Feeno share “some part” in the guilt of why children are still being accused and ,murdered as witches in Africa .

Why ? …Because you take part in continually “promoting” this rubbish that suggests God isnt impressed with people who use intelligence and reasoning …Thats why

And you come here suggesting us atheists just dont want to believe God exists …You try and make yourself feel better by suggesting maybe we might fear his existence .

I have absolutely no reason to fear any God that may exist, Feeno .For i dont faithfully continually promote continued use of faithful ignorance like so many folks like you do.I leave that up to the faithful folk.I leave them with “ALL” the guilt of “ALL” the abuses it “CONTINUES” to caused humanity also .

And yet you think, it is i that might have some reason to be fearful ?.

Pffffftttt ! .

🙂 You faithful folk would make great comedians . But it often shows that it seems your “reasoning” and “intelligence” really has gone all dull and dusty ..From being tucked away hidden in some dark dusty closet …for far too long !

Its sad thing.. that the faithful are STILL so full of themselves ..they still BLINDLY think its the athests that have “reason” to fear God-s

But still thats life …We are born into this world …And these big-headed faithful folk live here too.

We dont hate em .We actually still love them .

And so part of loving people, is also being mighty “straight up” !,with them.

Feen you sound like my folks in the cult ..they caused people to not use “intelligence” or “reasoning” .they told them …God is not impressed by human intelligence and reasoning ….So they didit use it …and familys got split and divided ..people even suicided .

And these folk my family like you Feen …still dont use any intelligence or reasoning …because they too think its me that has need to “fear God”.

🙂 aint those faithful folk comedians Feen ? ..They is like some deluded demented serial murderer , who “faithfully” fully believes everyone else is all those who has need to fear jail.

Anyway friend 🙂 nice hearing from you again..Just reminding you i dont ever ! fear God-s.

Its the “endless delusions” of faithful folk that i find a little worrying .Because “time and time” again history keeps reminding us how dangerous it is .

anonymous

(Let’s also remember that many atheists are biased in favour of God – they really would like if he existed, but they just don’t think he does.)

Why would an atheist wish God existed?

Jeff

The idea of a being that is in control of life and that will make sure that everyone gets exactly what they deserve when they die can be a comforting thought. There are some days when I wish God existed, because he gives a nice, easy answer to why life is the way it is, and what life is supposed to be all about. It’s comforting to think about the afterlife existing, and someone watching over you and caring about you.

Of course, wishful thinking does not make something true. But my comment was that some atheists wish something like this existed. For me personally, I would like it if the God of, say, unitarian universalists existed, where everyone goes to heaven and whatnot. I’m not sure I’d want the God of the Old Testament or the God of the Qur’an to exist. But yeah, there are some days I wish God existed. Then I remember that life is rarely that simple 😛

feeno

Jeffery,
I’m glad I stopped by. I get to say hi to you and G. And if Cori-B is lurking out there in cyberspace I want to let her know her picture is cute. So ‘ello everyone.

Yeah I knew you weren’t using him (Galileo) as an authority on anything. And I could have picked anyone who was a genius for my analogy. But he was there so I ran with it.

Maybe if I respond to Gandyman’s reply it will answer your question as well? I’m not trying to suggest we shouldn’t use our brains to figure out whether or not God exists. As a matter of fact I’d say only an idiot wouldn’t. Gandy is in such a big hurry to discredit anything that comes from a Christian perspective he gets in the way of himself. I wasn’t limiting the atheist to the question about “whether God would be impressed with mans knowledge?” Not a Christian intelligence or an Atheists intelligence, but rather mans.

If intelligence was the only factor in choosing or rejecting God then we wouldn’t have dumb ass and smart atheists. They’d be either one or the other. Same with Believers. I once asked Mr. Loftus on this same subject; “If it was this simple than anybody whose IQ was over 140 was smart enough to be an atheist, and if your IQ was less than that, I guess your doomed to Christianity. That’s why in my original reply I mentioned other things that need to be accounted for.

I’m not blaming G for his negative view of Christianity. If you know anything about how he was raised it would give you reason to view Christianity negatively. My point is this tho; had his circumstances been different, maybe his beliefs would be too? We have no way of knowing, but more than just intellect helps us make good and right decisions.

I’ll check in tonight from church. Having a “lock in” with youth.

later, feeno

Jeff

You know, Feeno, I do agree with you when you say, “If intelligence was the only factor in choosing or rejecting God then we wouldn’t have dumb ass and smart atheists.”
It’s certainly important to take a look at what our biases are and what other factors influence our decisions. And there are certainly non-rational factors playing a role for religious and non-religious people.

However, I have to disagree when you say that “more than just intellect helps us make good and right decisions.” Just because we do make decisions based partially on non-rational factors, that doesn’t mean we should do so. I think we generally have pretty good evidence to show that our decisions are better when we try to limit our biases and feelings and concentrate on making good, rational arguments with solid evidence. Sometimes, when we have limited time to make decisions, we need to rely on heuristics or shortcut “intuitions” to help us decide, but these are still typically based on what’s worked in the past and what makes the most sense.

I guess I just find it hard to come up with a case where relying on non-rational factors helps to make a better decision (other than in trivial cases that are entirely dependent on our own preferences, like what kind of ice cream to eat). So I just don’t know how the fact that we do have other factors influencing us is an argument for why we should let such factors influence us. It doesn’t seem to follow.

Have fun tonight! It’s always dangerous being locked in a building with a bunch of teenagers 😛

Gandy

Jeff said …“Of course, wishful thinking does not make something true. But my comment was that some atheists wish something like this existed.”

No sadly it doesnt.Wishful thinking cures nothing ,it might help prop up the hope ,but still wishful thinking wont be what helps us.

Nothing wrong with wishful thinking though mind you,hopes always good thing ! …because it stops us being to hasty in giving up.

But still the opposite of being to hasty ,can sometimes be about us being FAR to tardy..To slow ..(To faithful)

Faith becomes a danger whenever its built entirely on hope,without any good bases ….In otherwords faith thats completely unfounded.

Specially become a grave danger when its very important that people need to be learning, to rely on more knowledge and action, rather than relying on hope

1.Say if i decided to rely on the “hope” that maybe my car will run without petrol.

2.That becomes = hopeless hope

Therefore hope is not really always a good thing .Sometime “hope” can become far more! of a hinderance

anonymous said : <b."Why would an atheist wish God existed?

God might have a far better chance ! of managing to talk some good sense into the Theists , than atheists ever can hope to acheive in any great hurry.

Its the year 2010 ALREADY ,and yet theism still slaughters children and old folk in some places like Africa , people condemmned to death accused of being witches.

Just as faith in places like Hiati has Theism being the cause! of death surrounding matters of Voodoo http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/12/24/haiti.cholera.killings/?hpt=T1

Why wouldnt an atheist sometimes really wish and hope like crazy ! ,that a God might by chace exist ,that could help straighten some THEIST things out abit

Bryan Norford

Hi Jeff:
Sorry that it’s been a while since I corresponded, but as I believe I mentioned, the summer was a very busy time, including travelling. Now back into some routine, I’m anxious to pick up our discussion again, if you are still interested.
Starting with your article on prayer and miracles, you have clearly done much research and given much thought to the matter. The ideas you raise, of course, are not uncommon, even for some who believe in a god of some sort. In fact, I have little difficulty in agreeing with much that you write concerning both prayer and miracles—but with a different twist, as you might expect.
I would be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that the question of answered or unanswered prayer is not easy, even for the Christian. James 5:13–15 suggests that God’s positive answer is unequivocal as you say. However, there are conditions that James applies: confession of sin to each other, the prayer of a righteous man—not perfect, but under the covering of Christ’s righteousness—and fervency, as demonstrated by Elijah’s earnest prayer, verses 16–17.
Of course, the immediate reaction might be “Who is sufficient for these things?” if not for the encouraging reminder that Elijah had similar failings as all of us. Especially for “experiments” in organized prayer, these conditions are so uncertain or unobtainable as to make the test meaningless. In addition, the mechanical nature of the study is apt to produce mechanical prayers, especially if the participants are not known to each other.
Further, as I’m sure you’ll agree, context is important, and within the analogy of faith, other Scriptures that bear on the subject should be taken into account. Particularly, “anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him,” Hebrews 11:6. Some participants in the studies might be Christians, yet hold similar views to your own. Intangible variables increase with thought and decrease the effectiveness of the experiment.
But perhaps the most critical response is understanding the nature of prayer—and yes, it does involve the sovereignty of God! The major text that sets the pattern for Christian prayer must be the Lord’s Prayer. The opening clauses set the parameter: prayer must honour God and be in accordance with the establishment of His kingdom on earth. You may recall the additional D.V. that used to accompany the making of plans—if the Lord wills!
If the Christian’s mandate is the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, then dedication to Him is less about having my prayers answered than allowing Him to direct my life, irrespective of adversity. Hebrews 11:32–38 is instructive in this regard, where those serving Him were both victorious over, but also died during, adversity. Prayer for personal relief should always be uttered within these parameters.
Unfortunately, in our self-obsessed culture, many Christians seem to consider God as an errand boy to satisfy all their needs. This superficial faith of many is due to ignorance of the radical counter-cultural nature of the Christian faith, which in turn, leads to the superficial reasoning for the faith that you so easily counter.
Of course, my approach here can easily be seen as the grand cop-out to unanswered prayer, but never-the-less, is the path Christians should choose. Faith is not just acceptance of God’s offer of salvation, but a trust in God for his direction and companionship throughout life, whatever befalls. Faith that only perseveres through the good times is no faith at all—at least not in the radical Christian sense.
Just a couple more thoughts, and I’ll move on to miracles! First, nothing I have said precludes God from answering the prayers of anyone. Many have noted in retrospect that God intervened in their lives before they had any interest in Him—the sovereignty of God is still intact! Second, I have necessarily majored on Christian reasons in response to your challenge, but also believe with your knowledge of the Christian faith, you might understand the ideas expressed, even if unaccepting of them.
Before getting to the concerns that you express about miracles, I wish to step back a little to what I consider at least one precursor to the discussion. I notice that in general arguments of this type, there is often a tacit belief that miracles don’t occur, and arguments are formulated to come to that conclusion—circular reasoning. For instance, secularists who believe in nothing beyond the physical, discount the supernatural. Because this is usually regarded as the source of miracles, they are automatically excluded, so the mind is closed to the idea.
If, as I think you believe, we can rely only on empirical evidence for discerning the probability of miracles, I agree that none will be forthcoming as miracles, by their nature, cannot be repeated for examination. I also agree, and sympathize with much of your concern with rumour, fraud, over-eagerness, and other reasons that bring claims of miracles into disrepute. But clearly, these don’t disprove the legitimacy of all accounts. Some rumours or over-eagerness may still be the result of real miracles, and perhaps not all the endorphins wore off!
I appreciate your faith that science will one day explain all mysteries. It reminds me somewhat of my faith in God that He will one day bring about the harmony that we all desire. If I recall correctly, you deny that faith has any standing in your beliefs, yet all either if us can do is work with probabilities based on experience or examination, providing at best circumstantial evidence. As long as science can only deal with the physical, its understanding of anything beyond is truncated. Thus, it cannot have all the answers for it doesn’t have all the questions.
Miracles clearly fall into this category. But despite all the rhetoric about the inadequacy of experience you quote by Hume and Loftus, miracles have been recorded for all of human existence. If they didn’t exist, the probability is the idea of miracles would have died out early in human experience, if it had even surfaced to begin with. Hume’s reasoning is a cynical attempt to suggest that all recorded miraculous experience is fallacious. Carried to its logical conclusion, as all historians have their own agenda none never be trusted.
I do have to comment more on Loftus, who comes up with the most blatant and transparent double-talk. Frankly, for your thoughtfulness, you are unworthy of it. First, the definition of miracle, as you espouse it and I agree, is improbable; it doesn’t need proof that it is! Second, the fact that it happened doesn’t suddenly make it any more probable. It was improbable before it happened, and remains an improbable event after.
Improbability, by definition always retains within it possibility. I doubt many Christians would go beyond that, perhaps differing between themselves and particularly with you on the proportional percentage of each. And surely, for you to state miracles probably do not occur is little different from my assertion that they possibly do!
Look forward to hearing from you again, Jeff, and if not, I’ll spend some more time on your “Contesting.”

Jeff

Hi Bryan,

Welcome back! It’s good to hear from you again, and thanks as always for taking the time to read through my thoughts and craft a response.

Especially for “experiments” in organized prayer, these conditions [that James mentions] are so uncertain or unobtainable as to make the test meaningless.

You’re right that we’d expect to see variation in the “condition” of the hearts of the interceders in these prayer studies. However, scientific experiments have a powerful antidote to these variations: random assignment. As long as the interceders are randomly assigned to patients (or vice versa), the variations in their “conditions” should effectively even out, such that they can’t be used to challenge the results of the study. This is only the case if there are enough interceders, of course, but virtually all scientific experiments rely on random assignment to take care of extraneous variables. So it’s not an adequate challenge, because at least some of the interceders should be on good terms with God, right?

In addition, the mechanical nature of the study is apt to produce mechanical prayers, especially if the participants are not known to each other.

Some prayer studies have used specifically scripted prayers, while others have allowed the interceders to pray in whatever way they felt comfortable. That is a reasonable challenge to any prayer study, but I think at least some people are capable of praying fervently for people that they don’t know much about. That’s been my experience, anyway.

The opening clauses [of the Lord’s Prayer] set the parameter: prayer must honour God and be in accordance with the establishment of His kingdom on earth.

That’s fine, but I’m sure you’re aware of the difficulties that makes in explaining what the actual purpose of prayer (especially intercessory prayer) is. If God answers prayer that already is in line with his will (i.e. what he was going to do anyway), why pray? Certainly Christians have pointed out various other benefits of prayer (concern for others, focus on God’s will, and so on), but that makes the actual communication with God that prayer is supposed to be, irrelevant. You can still be concerned for others and focused on God’s will by sitting quietly thinking about these things. Why talk to God to ask for things he has already decided he will or won’t do? And perhaps more to the point, this difficulty would plague both the prayer studies that show negative results and those that show positive results as well. In the end, we still haven’t proven any effectiveness of intercessory prayer.

I notice that in general arguments of this type, there is often a tacit belief that miracles don’t occur, and arguments are formulated to come to that conclusion—circular reasoning. For instance, secularists who believe in nothing beyond the physical, discount the supernatural.

I’ve noticed that as well, which is why I specifically tried to avoid such thinking in my article. However, I do think there is justification for preferring natural explanations over supernatural ones. After all, who prefers the idea that Zeus is throwing lightning bolts over the explanation of electrical discharges between the clouds and the ground? We know that natural process occur, and we have abundant evidence for them, so all else being equal, we should prefer them over supernatural ones. That doesn’t totally exclude supernatural explanations, but the evidence for them must be higher, since they’re less common (if present at all).

If, as I think you believe, we can rely only on empirical evidence for discerning the probability of miracles, I agree that none will be forthcoming as miracles, by their nature, cannot be repeated for examination.

Empirical evidence doesn’t always necessitate repetition or replication. It certainly helps, of course, but we have much empirical evidence of, say, dinosaur bones, that we obviously can’t replicate.

I also agree, and sympathize with much of your concern with rumour, fraud, over-eagerness, and other reasons that bring claims of miracles into disrepute. But clearly, these don’t disprove the legitimacy of all accounts. Some rumours or over-eagerness may still be the result of real miracles, and perhaps not all the endorphins wore off!

I agree. But given that many miracle accounts can be explained in this way, the probability of any given miracle claim being genuine gets smaller and smaller — and with it, the claim that “God performs miracles” gets less likely. After all, even if we dig through the trash and find a handful of genuine miracles, now God is a God who has only intervened a half dozen times despite all the terrible afflictions, disasters, and tragedies that have occurred to millions of people. The fewer genuine miracles we can find, the less impressive such a God becomes.

As long as science can only deal with the physical, its understanding of anything beyond is truncated. Thus, it cannot have all the answers for it doesn’t have all the questions. Miracles clearly fall into this category.

No, actually they don’t. Miracles may originate in the supernatural, but they still have effects in the physical world. Meaning that science can still study them. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that many of the miracle claims throughout history (curing of disease, for example) have been subsequently studied by science. Regardless of their conclusions, science was still able to access the claims and study them for greater insight. It’s just that invariably they have turned out to have natural causes.

But despite all the rhetoric about the inadequacy of experience you quote by Hume and Loftus, miracles have been recorded for all of human existence. If they didn’t exist, the probability is the idea of miracles would have died out early in human experience, if it had even surfaced to begin with.

Trying to come up with such probabilities is difficult at best. We are talking about a multitude of human cultures throughout thousands of years of history, here. And the fact that ancient cultures had an idea of miracles doesn’t in any way mean that genuine miracles occurred. The same explanations I gave in the article still would have clearly applied to them back then as well — only they didn’t have the benefit of a rigorous scientific process to determine their causes.

First, the definition of miracle, as you espouse it and I agree, is improbable; it doesn’t need proof that it is! Second, the fact that it happened doesn’t suddenly make it any more probable. It was improbable before it happened, and remains an improbable event after. Improbability, by definition always retains within it possibility.

And therein lies the difficulty. I choose not to believe in “merely possible” things, because unicorns, leprechauns, tooth fairies, Santa Claus, genies, and invisible dragons are all possible beings. But they are also vastly improbable, and so anyone with good sense uses that improbability to discard them. Making an exception for miracle claims seems to be special pleading.

Anyway, thanks for the response, and I look forward to hearing more from you!

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