Argument from the efficacy of prayer

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{{quote-desc||Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn't in God's Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn't it seem a little arrogant? It's a Divine Plan. What's the use of being God if every run-down schmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and fuck up Your Plan?|[[George Carlin]]}}
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{{wikipedia|Efficacy of prayer}}
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[[Image:Prayer.jpg|right|thumb|200px|"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."]]
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[[Prayer]] is the act of speaking to a [[god]] or [[goddess]], either mentally or out loud, to profess loyalty, express gratitude or ask for favors. If prayers are answered, this is evidence that God exists. A related argument is that one may [[Just hit your knees|come to know God directly though prayer]]. [[Skeptics]] reverse this argument and conclude that [[Argument from the inefficacy of prayer|Gods, or certain conceptions of God, do not exist because prayers are not answered]].
  
'''Prayer''' is the act of speaking to a [[god]], either mentally or out loud, to profess loyalty or ask for favors.
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{{quote|To God and to man, the answer to prayer is the all-important part of our praying. The answer to prayer, direct and unmistakable, is the evidence of God's being. It proves that God lives, that there is a God, an intelligent being, who is interested in his creatures, and who listens to them when they approach him in prayer. There is no proof so clear and demonstrative_ that God exists than prayer and its answer. <ref>E.M.Bounds, [http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/bounds/5bb.10597-possibilities/5bb.10597.10.htm The Possibilities of Prayer], </ref>}}
  
==Christianity and Prayer==
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{{quote|I have experienced that when I pray, things tend to work out better [...]<ref>[http://www.bethinking.org/atheism/the-end-of-faith-by-sam-harris-a-review]</ref>}}
  
Prayer in the [[New Testament]] is presented as a positive command ([[Colossians]] 4:2; [[1 Thessalonians]] 5:17). Christians are challenged to include prayer in their everyday life, even in the busy struggles of [[marriage]] ([[1 Corinthians]] 7:5) as it brings people closer to God.
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The [[New Testament]] says that prayers are answered:
  
Prayer in the New Testament is also presented as being completely dependable. For example:
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{{quote-source|Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.|{{bible|Mark 11:24}}}}
  
* [[Matthew]] 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 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!"
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==Argument==
* Matthew 17:20 "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you."
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The argument runs as follows:
* Matthew 21:21 "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
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* [[Mark]] 11:24 "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
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* [[John]] 14:12-14 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it."
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* Matthew 18:19 "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
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Thus, the stipulations one must fulfill for having their prayers answered are these:
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*Prayers are observably answered
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*Only God could answer prayers
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*Therefore God exists
  
# Have faith.  It doesn't matter how much, for even someone with the faith of a mustard seed will have their prayers answered.
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Most objections are focused on the first premise.
# Don't doubt in your faith.
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# Believe in Jesus and the works that he does.
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# Believe that you will receive what you pray for.
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# If you really want your prayer answered, get a group of people to all pray for the same thing.
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The [[Bible]] says that if you adhere to these rules then this is what God will do for you:
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==Counter arguments==
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===God is supposedly unchanging===
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[[George Carlin]] suggests the act of prayer seems a little odd for people with belief in a god who is supposed to be [[impassible]], [[omniscient]] and [[omnibenevolent]].  Clearly an omniscient god would already be aware of your problems and know what you want.  Ultimately, your request may be regarded by God as either [[good]] or [[evil]].  If it is good, then why would God not have granted your wishes already?  If it is evil, then why would God ever grant your request?
  
# He will answer your prayers, no matter what you ask for.
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{{quote-source|Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn't in God's Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn't it seem a little arrogant? It's a Divine Plan. What's the use of being God if every run-down schmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and fuck up Your Plan?|[[George Carlin]] <ref name="carlin">[http://www.rense.com/general69/obj.htm]</ref>}}
# Nothing will be impossible for you if you pray about it.
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==Objections to Prayer==
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===Contradictory prayers===
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Billions of people pray for various things every day.  Many of the prayer requests are even contradictory.  For instance, in a football game, often the players and fans on both sides are praying to win.  If God answers prayers, which side should He choose?  The side that prays loudest?
  
# As the George Carlin quote suggests, the act of prayer seems a little odd for people with belief in a god who is supposed to be [[omniscient]] and [[omnibenevolent]].  Clearly an omniscient god would already be aware of your problems and know what you want.  Ultimately, your request may be regarded by God as either [[good]] or [[evil]].  If it is good, then why would God not have granted your wishes already?  If it is evil, then why would God ever grant your request?
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===Unclear effect of prayer===
# Billions of people pray for various things every day.  Many of the prayer requests are even contradictory.  For instance, in a football game, often the players and fans on both sides are praying to win.  If God answers prayers, which side should He choose?  The side that prays loudest?
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Christians often state that God can answer prayers in one of three ways; "yes", "no", or "wait".  This makes God no different from random chance.  After all, when you pray it can either happen (i.e. God answers "yes"), not happen (God answers "no), or you have to wait to see if it will happen (God answers "wait"). <ref>[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI&feature=related The best optical illusion in the world!]</ref> For this reason, [[Argument from the inefficacy of prayer|skeptics argue that prayers are not answered]].
# Christians often state that God can answer prayers in one of three ways; "yes", "no", or "wait".  This makes God no different from random chance.  After all, when you pray it can either happen (i.e. God answers "yes"), not happen (God answers "no), or you have to wait to see if it will happen (God answers "wait").
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# "Successful" prayers rarely have an unambiguous form.  Apologists point to events like cancers that go into remission or people waking up from comas as [[evidence]] for the power of prayer. Yet cancer goes into remission and people wake up from comas all the time. How are we to tell the difference between cancer that healed naturally (or thanks to the presence of skilled doctors) and cancer that was cured miraculously? A commonly asked question is, "Why doesn't God heal amputees?"  Live footage of a severed limb miraculously regrowing would be far more convincing as proof of the power of prayer.  Yet such prayers are apparently never answered, or answered away from the prying eyes of meddlesome investigators.
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# Some people say that it isn't God's will to perform unambiguous miracles through prayer.  However, if it's all just God's will then why pray?  God will just do what he wants to whether you pray about it or not.
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# Christians might also say that God doesn't want to provide unambiguous proof of his own existence since this would deny faith.  However, this rationalization ignores the myriad of times in the Bible that he does just that.
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# Another common rationalization is that God uses unanswered prayers to demonstrate his power through the suffering person's life.  For example, a patient with terminal cancer whose faith is deepened because of their ordeal.  This begs the question, however, of why an all-knowing and all-loving God couldn't think of a less painful way to accomplish that particular goal. It also begs the question of why a person who already had faith has to endure more pain to have it "deepened".
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# A less common rationalization is that a person who gets their leg shot off in a way chose to be on that battlefield of their own [[free will]] and, thus, God has no obligation to heal them.  However, this ignores the millions born with missing limbs that were never healed.  It's not that God ignores some amputees, it's that he ignores all amputees.
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# Some might say that God does heal amputees by divinely inspiring doctors and scientists to cure them.  This, however, is easily refuted by [[Occam's Razor]].  God's inspiration isn't necessary for doctors and scientists to find ways to cure amputees. And why did God feel the need to bypass this kind of helpful inspiration for thousands of years and reduce the suffering only in the modern age?
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# Others say that God can't be tested since he's so much higher than us.  This ignores the story of Gideon in the Old Testament and Thomas in the New Testament who both did exactly that and who received the proof that each had asked for.
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# Some Christians say that Jesus never specified when he would answer prayers and that maybe he will answer them in the afterlife.  This is unfair since God apparently answers so many other prayers during the believers' lifetimes.  Also, the verses quoted above are unambiguous in the fact that they state that whatever you ask for you'll get during your life.
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# Some might bring up the objection that these verses aren't to be taken literally.  Firstly, the verses themselves are certainly written like they should be taken literally.  Secondly, if this objection is used the believer must provide an objective reason why these verses are non-literal.  If no reason can be provided then the verses should continue to be taken literally.
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# Matthew 21:21 says that you must have faith and not doubt for your prayers to be answered.  This offers a convenient loophole for unanswered prayers.  If you pray and you satisfy every single stipulation and yet your prayer is never answered, Christians can always fall back on saying "You didn't believe enough" or "You doubted your faith".  Since there is no empirical way to define how much belief is "enough", this becomes an [[ad hoc]] explanation which makes prayer [[unfalsifiable]].
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# It's important to remember statistical probability when considering supposed miracles.  For example, let's say there's a disease that has no cure and let's say 999,999,999 people so far have contracted it but none have survived.  However, let's say the millionth person to contract it ''does'' survive.  This isn't a miracle; it simply means that the odds of survival are now 1 out of 1,000,000.
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# Finally, when all else fails a Christian might say "People have believed in Jesus for 2,000 years.  There must be a good reason for it."  This is a non sequitur because it ignores the political and cultural forces that shape all societies and modes of belief throughout time and instead focuses on its own supposed inherent goodness. It also fails to account for all of the other competing beliefs that survived with it for equally long or longer periods of time like Islam and Judaism. Strangely, you don't hear Christians arguing that there must be good reasons for those religions' survival too!
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==External Links==
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"Successful" prayers rarely have an unambiguous form.  Apologists point to events like cancers that go into remission or people waking up from comas as [[evidence]] for the power of prayer.  Yet cancer goes into remission and people wake up from comas all the time.  How are we to tell the difference between cancer that healed naturally (or thanks to the presence of skilled doctors) and cancer that was cured miraculously?  A commonly asked question is, "Why doesn't God heal amputees?"  Live footage of a severed limb miraculously regrowing would be far more convincing as proof of the power of prayer.  Yet such prayers are apparently never answered, or answered away from the prying eyes of meddlesome investigators.
  
* [http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/god5.htm Why Won't God Heal Amputees?]
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Some people say that it isn't God's will to perform unambiguous miracles through prayer.  However, if it's all just God's will then why pray?  God will just do what he wants to whether you pray about it or not.
* [http://www.valleyskeptic.com/george.htm George Carlin on Religion and Prayer] (full version)
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Scientific studies into efficacy of prayer have not found it to be effective. <ref>[http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-power-of-faith-and-prayer/]</ref>
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{{quote|These findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer,the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. <ref>[http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19370557]</ref>}}
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{{quote-source|If you could give some scientific evidence that prayer actually makes an organic difference, not just makes you feel better, that would be something to put on the table. The fact that its not put on the table shows that prayer is pretty much talking to yourself.|[[Dan Barker]]<ref>[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btJazTimH4M]</ref>}}
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{{quote-source|So I've been praying to Joe [Pesci] for about a year now. And I noticed something. I noticed that all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same 50% rate. Half the time I get what I want, half the time I don't. Same as God, 50-50. Same as the four-leaf clover and the horseshoe, the wishing well and the rabbit's foot, same as the Mojo Man, same as the Voodoo Lady who tells you your fortune by squeezing the goat's testicles, it's all the same: 50-50. So just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself.|[[George Carlin]] <ref name="carlin"/>}}
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With anecdotal testimony of answered prayers, apologists are effectively [[cherry picking]] successful prayers. They don't tend to have testimony of prayers that God answers with "no". In fact, prayers are so ineffective it is arguable that [[modern Christianity does not fulfill biblical signs]].
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===God does not heal amputees===
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{{main article|Healing of limb amputation}}
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It's not that God ignores some amputees, it's that he ignores all amputees.
 +
 
 +
Some might say that God does heal amputees by divinely inspiring doctors and scientists to cure them, or through the "miracle" of modern medicine. <ref>Deacon Jeff, [http://forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=8362758&postcount=4 Comment #4 on Better theological response to "why doesn't God heal amputees?"], Sep 14, 2011</ref> This, however, is easily refuted by [[Occam's Razor]].  God's inspiration isn't necessary for doctors and scientists to find ways to cure amputees. And why did God feel the need to bypass this kind of helpful inspiration for thousands of years and reduce the suffering only in the modern age? There is still no evidence of ''miraculous'' healing which could be attributed to prayer.
 +
 
 +
===Improbably events sometimes occur naturally===
 +
It's important to remember statistical probability when considering supposed miracles.  For example, let's say there's a disease that has no cure and let's say 999,999,999 people so far have contracted it but none have survived.  However, let's say the billionth person to contract it ''does'' survive.  This isn't a miracle; it simply means that the odds of survival are now 1 out of 1,000,000,000.
 +
 
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{{quote|There is nothing that is less probable than a miracle <ref name="fiction">Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, [http://edge.org/conversation/36-arguments-for-the-existence-of-god 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction], 2011</ref>}}
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===Which God?===
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{{main article|Which God?}}
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Many religions claim that prayers are answered. It is unclear which God(s) or which theology is proved by this [[broken compass argument]].
 +
 
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{{quote|Even if only men from the first Baptist Church of Harvester were able to consistently have their prayers clearly fulfilled, where they pray for stuff and we can verify it came though consistently, let's say, at an 85-90%, what conclusion can we reach? Is it because there is actually a God answering that? We don't know what the mechanism is and we have no way to investigate that currently.<ref>[https://youtu.be/3xHqaQrCKXY?t=1m28s Atheist experience 2016-7-3]</ref>}}
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==References==
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<references/>
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==External links==
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* [http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/ Why Won't God Heal Amputees?]
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* [http://web.archive.org/web/20060614202108/http://www.valleyskeptic.com/george.htm George Carlin on Religion and Prayer] (full version)
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* [http://godisimaginary.com/i44.htm Proof #44 - Think about a Christian housewife] from GodIsImaginary.com: "''Take one moment to think about a typical Christian and her "answered prayers."''"
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* [http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/encyclopedia.html Prayer on An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural] (By [[James Randi]])
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[[Category:Religious concepts]]
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[[Category:Religious rituals]]
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{{Arguments for god}}

Latest revision as of 10:02, 13 February 2017

Wikipedia-logo-en.png
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Prayer is the act of speaking to a god or goddess, either mentally or out loud, to profess loyalty, express gratitude or ask for favors. If prayers are answered, this is evidence that God exists. A related argument is that one may come to know God directly though prayer. Skeptics reverse this argument and conclude that Gods, or certain conceptions of God, do not exist because prayers are not answered.

"To God and to man, the answer to prayer is the all-important part of our praying. The answer to prayer, direct and unmistakable, is the evidence of God's being. It proves that God lives, that there is a God, an intelligent being, who is interested in his creatures, and who listens to them when they approach him in prayer. There is no proof so clear and demonstrative_ that God exists than prayer and its answer. [1]"
"I have experienced that when I pray, things tend to work out better [...][2]"

The New Testament says that prayers are answered:

"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Mark 11:24 Bible-icon.png

Contents

Argument

The argument runs as follows:

  • Prayers are observably answered
  • Only God could answer prayers
  • Therefore God exists

Most objections are focused on the first premise.

Counter arguments

God is supposedly unchanging

George Carlin suggests the act of prayer seems a little odd for people with belief in a god who is supposed to be impassible, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Clearly an omniscient god would already be aware of your problems and know what you want. Ultimately, your request may be regarded by God as either good or evil. If it is good, then why would God not have granted your wishes already? If it is evil, then why would God ever grant your request?

"Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn't in God's Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn't it seem a little arrogant? It's a Divine Plan. What's the use of being God if every run-down schmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and fuck up Your Plan?"

George Carlin [3]

Contradictory prayers

Billions of people pray for various things every day. Many of the prayer requests are even contradictory. For instance, in a football game, often the players and fans on both sides are praying to win. If God answers prayers, which side should He choose? The side that prays loudest?

Unclear effect of prayer

Christians often state that God can answer prayers in one of three ways; "yes", "no", or "wait". This makes God no different from random chance. After all, when you pray it can either happen (i.e. God answers "yes"), not happen (God answers "no), or you have to wait to see if it will happen (God answers "wait"). [4] For this reason, skeptics argue that prayers are not answered.

"Successful" prayers rarely have an unambiguous form. Apologists point to events like cancers that go into remission or people waking up from comas as evidence for the power of prayer. Yet cancer goes into remission and people wake up from comas all the time. How are we to tell the difference between cancer that healed naturally (or thanks to the presence of skilled doctors) and cancer that was cured miraculously? A commonly asked question is, "Why doesn't God heal amputees?" Live footage of a severed limb miraculously regrowing would be far more convincing as proof of the power of prayer. Yet such prayers are apparently never answered, or answered away from the prying eyes of meddlesome investigators.

Some people say that it isn't God's will to perform unambiguous miracles through prayer. However, if it's all just God's will then why pray? God will just do what he wants to whether you pray about it or not.

Scientific studies into efficacy of prayer have not found it to be effective. [5]

"These findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer,the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. [6]"

"If you could give some scientific evidence that prayer actually makes an organic difference, not just makes you feel better, that would be something to put on the table. The fact that its not put on the table shows that prayer is pretty much talking to yourself."

Dan Barker[7]

"So I've been praying to Joe [Pesci] for about a year now. And I noticed something. I noticed that all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same 50% rate. Half the time I get what I want, half the time I don't. Same as God, 50-50. Same as the four-leaf clover and the horseshoe, the wishing well and the rabbit's foot, same as the Mojo Man, same as the Voodoo Lady who tells you your fortune by squeezing the goat's testicles, it's all the same: 50-50. So just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself."

George Carlin [3]

With anecdotal testimony of answered prayers, apologists are effectively cherry picking successful prayers. They don't tend to have testimony of prayers that God answers with "no". In fact, prayers are so ineffective it is arguable that modern Christianity does not fulfill biblical signs.

God does not heal amputees

Main Article: Healing of limb amputation

It's not that God ignores some amputees, it's that he ignores all amputees.

Some might say that God does heal amputees by divinely inspiring doctors and scientists to cure them, or through the "miracle" of modern medicine. [8] This, however, is easily refuted by Occam's Razor. God's inspiration isn't necessary for doctors and scientists to find ways to cure amputees. And why did God feel the need to bypass this kind of helpful inspiration for thousands of years and reduce the suffering only in the modern age? There is still no evidence of miraculous healing which could be attributed to prayer.

Improbably events sometimes occur naturally

It's important to remember statistical probability when considering supposed miracles. For example, let's say there's a disease that has no cure and let's say 999,999,999 people so far have contracted it but none have survived. However, let's say the billionth person to contract it does survive. This isn't a miracle; it simply means that the odds of survival are now 1 out of 1,000,000,000.

"There is nothing that is less probable than a miracle [9]"

Which God?

Main Article: Which God?

Many religions claim that prayers are answered. It is unclear which God(s) or which theology is proved by this broken compass argument.

"Even if only men from the first Baptist Church of Harvester were able to consistently have their prayers clearly fulfilled, where they pray for stuff and we can verify it came though consistently, let's say, at an 85-90%, what conclusion can we reach? Is it because there is actually a God answering that? We don't know what the mechanism is and we have no way to investigate that currently.[10]"

References

  1. E.M.Bounds, The Possibilities of Prayer,
  2. [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 [2]
  4. The best optical illusion in the world!
  5. [3]
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. Deacon Jeff, Comment #4 on Better theological response to "why doesn't God heal amputees?", Sep 14, 2011
  9. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, 2011
  10. Atheist experience 2016-7-3

External links

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes
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