Problems with Prayer (Part 2)

Please check out Part 1 of this post.

As I have discussed in the first part, the concept of prayer does not play well with the concept of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god.  The next two points will deal with using “answered prayer” as evidence for a god’s existence.

II.  Consistency

I know that Calvinists will disagree with the premise of this point.  So, if you are a Calvinist reading this, skip on to the next point.  The god that Christians try to portray is a personal god who loves all people equally and wants all men to be saved.  If this is true, why the inequity among answered prayers?  Why isn’t god consistent in answering prayers?  It’s almost as if it is up to chance!

There are other examples, but I think the best question is… “Why won’t God heal amputees?”  I think this is a very fair question.  I hear people often praising God for healing their cancer or some other sickness, but why are amputees being ignored?  I think the following excerpt from gets it exactly:

No matter how many people pray. No matter how sincere those people are. No matter how much they believe. No matter how devout and deserving the recipient. Nothing will happen. The legs will not regenerate. Prayer does not restore the severed limbs of amputees. You can electronically search through all the medical journals ever written — there is no documented case of an amputated leg being restored spontaneously. And we know that God ignores the prayers of amputees through our own observations of the world around us. If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day.

Isn’t that odd? The situation becomes even more peculiar when you look at who God is. According to the Standard Model of God:

  • God is all-powerful. Therefore, God can do anything, and regenerating a leg is trivial.
  • God is perfect, and he created the Bible, which is his perfect book. In the Bible, Jesus makes very specific statements about the power of prayer. Since Jesus is God, and God and the Bible are perfect, those statements should be true and accurate.
  • God is all-knowing and all-loving. He certainly knows about the plight of the amputee, and he loves this amputee very much.
  • God is ready and willing to answer your prayers no matter how big or small. All that you have to do is believe. He says it in multiple places in the Bible. Surely, with millions of people in the prayer circle, at least one of them will believe and the prayer will be answered.
  • God has no reason to discriminate against amputees. If he is answering millions of other prayers like Jeanna’s every day, God should be answering the prayers of amputees too.

Nonetheless, the amputated legs are not going to regenerate.

What are we seeing here? It is not that God sometimes answers the prayers of amputees, and sometimes does not. Instead, in this situation there is a very clear line. God never answers the prayers of amputees. It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them.

III.  Confirmation Bias

We all have weaknesses in our thinking.  We are all prone to biases.  One such bias is confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor information which “confirms” what we already believe while ignoring information which contradict that belief.

This bias is clearly evident in Christians who use their answered prayer as proof of their god’s existence.  If it is reasonable to believe that the Christian god exists because their prayers get answered, then it should also be reasonable that the Muslim god exists when a Muslim’s prayer is answered.  The same would be true of a Hindu of Buddhist.  Yet, these gods are mutually exclusive.  Not all of them can exist, but it is possible that none of them exist!  I think this is the more reasonable explanation.

Lastly, if answered prayer proves god exists, shouldn’t unanswered prayer prove god does not exist?


Problems with Prayer (Part 1)

Christians love to talk about prayer.  “There’s power in prayer.”  “Prayer changes things.”  “I am praying for you.”  These are all common expressions among Christians.  They can also quote Bible verses that talk about prayer.  Some examples…Luke 18:1, Philippians 4:6, James 5:16, and one of the favorites of Christians I know Jeremiah 33:3:

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

For many Christians their personal experience of “answered prayer” is a reason they believe in God.  It can be very encouraging to think that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving being is watching out for you and giving you what you ask for.  It is like having your own genie in a bottle!

Yet, I find some problems with the concept of prayer.  Prayer is basically a person talking to their god (whether audibly or mentally).  They usually spend some time giving thanks and sending praise, but the biggest aspect of prayer is asking.  Christians ask god to keep them healthy, give them wisdom, or meet their needs.

I do not necessarily have a problem with the act of praying.  Rather, I want to point out the problems of using “answered prayer” as evidence of god.  And the problems it creates for some of the attributes of their god.

I.  Contradictions

It seems Christians got carried away when naming the different attributes of their god.  One such attribute is omniscience.  This means possessing all knowledge.  I have heard more than one Christian say things like, “God knows the end from the beginning.”  “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has occurred to God?”  I really doubt that omniscience is even possible. (Here is an excellent video talking about the impossibility of omniscience.)

So, if god does know the end from the beginning (foreknowledge), then he already knows all things that will happen.  Your prayers cannot change that.  You could respond that God looked ahead and saw that you prayed, then changed the outcome.  Yet this creates another problem.  If God gained knowledge from looking ahead at what you would do, then he did not possess all knowledge before that time.

Another attribute of the Christian god is omnibenevolence.  This means that god is all-loving.  God is also referred to as a father or parent.  Let me give an example and you tell me whether or not a loving a parent was portrayed:

I am a father of a young son.  I tell my son often how much I love him.  One day my son starts complaining of headaches.  I attempt to make them go away through over the counter medicine.  The headaches persist.  After the continued pain, I take my son to the doctor.  The doctor runs a battery of tests.  Then, he breaks the news to me…He has brain cancer!  Now I know what caused the head aches.  It is going to cause him severe suffering and death.  Now let’s suppose I have a cure for the cancer.  I have the antidote locked up and only I have the key.  It is 100% effective, works instantly, and is pain free.  Yet, I decide that I will not give my child the medicine unless enough people come to my house.  Then, they have to tell me how awesome I am and beg me to give him the medicine.  Well, I still decide that was not enough and just let him die.

The above story was purely hypothetical.  In the story, would you consider me a loving father?  Absolutely not!  I do have children and I would do anything within my power to prevent their suffering.  Nobody would have to ask!  I just do not understand Christians’ thinking when asking somebody to pray for a child who has a terminal illness.  According to their theology, he knows (or could create) a cure for all possible diseases.  He has the power to do it.  He is supposed to love this child beyond all human love.  Yet, God lets children die of terminal illnesses every day.  It is terrible when children die of diseases that have no known cure, but even worse are the thousands of children who die of preventable diseases!  So, God allowing such suffering without intervening or only intervening if enough people beg, creates real problems with the idea of god being all loving.

I want to continue this, but this post has run long enough already.  Look for part 2 in the near future!

To the Doubters

I was a fundamentalist Christian for most of my life.  During most of that time I never questioned what I was taught.  You see, I am not a confrontational person by nature.  I did not want to be considered rebellious.  The pastor and Sunday school teacher were older than I was and they believed.  Surely they knew more than I.  I surrendered to preach.  I wanted to be like these spiritual people.  I wanted to share my faith.  I had the truth.  Everyone needed to hear the gospel message.

I attended church faithfully.  I read my Bible often.  I listened to preaching tapes everyday.  I prayed and had a walk with God.  I read Christian books and surrounded myself with people who helped support that belief.  I witnessed to the lost.  I was fully committed.

Yet, as I got older and met people who believed differently than I, questions arose in my mind. (I intend to write about my deconversion in detail later.)  Questions I thought I knew the answers to.  Soon people pointed out the flaws in my answers.  Maybe things were not as I suspected.  I tried to push the questions out of my mind.  They never went away.

I did not feel I could express these questions to the religious around me.  I already knew the answers they would give.  I wanted an outside opinion.  So, I did what all people do nowadays with questions…I turned to Google!  Before I knew it, I found I was not alone. There were others out there that had the same questions I did.

My journey went from belief to questions to doubt and ultimately to disbelief. This post is for those who find themselves at the questions/doubt stage. You are not alone! I have sat where you sit. I have asked the same questions you ask.

For the last year or so of my deconversion, I still attended church regularly wearing a suit and tie with a smile on my face and a Bible in my hand. I sang along with the congregational songs. I shouted “Amen.” during the sermon. Yet, I didn’t believe any of it. I was an impostor. I was not intentionally being deceitful. I was trying to “fake it until I make it.”

I will not tell you what to believe or how your journey should go. I do want to provide some resources to help you along the way.

Robert Ingersoll

Skeptics Annotated Bible

Bart Ehrman