Monthly Archives: December 2009

Problems with prayer, part 2

If you are a christian, you believe that prayers are answered, right? Of course you do. It says so in the bible. See a recent post for some references.

I’ll show you why you’re wrong. Imagine a scenario:

A christian famer is worried about being unable to harvest his crops at the right time and is praying that there is no rain for the next three weeks. Half a mile away, a christian homeowner is worried about the cost of watering his garden using tap water and is praying for immediate rain, so that his plants will thrive.

Or how about this one:

There is one place left in the school cheerleading team. Two christian girls are both praying that they will be given the place.

Now Jesus said, according to more than one quotation in the bible (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Mark 11:24, and John 11:12-14 among others) that if people pray to god in his name and believe that their prayers will be answered, they will be.

But which ones?

It’s clear that for almost any prayer made earnestly by a christian believer, there will be another christian believer praying for a result that is in conflict with it. The above examples are simple opposites, other examples might be more indirect but valid nonetheless. In each example above, at least one of the two prayers will not be answered, meaning that most claims about prayer in the bible are false.

If large parts of the bible are false, there can be only two explanations. The first is that god is a liar (either the parts about prayer are lies, or the parts about the bible being his word are lies, or both). So, if you are a christian, the problem of unanswered prayers means acknowledging that your god is capricious and mendacious at best. Where does that leave his promise of eternal life?

The second explanation is that prayers have no effect on reality for the simple reason that god does not exist. When a prayer appears to be answered, it is nothing more than coincidence.

In the first example above, if it rains the homeowner may believe his prayer has been answered, if it stays dry the farmer might believe his prayer has been answered. Perhaps the outcome depends simply on prevailing weather conditions, as you might expect?

In the second example, the girl who is given the team place may believe her prayer has been answered. Perhaps the outcome was determined by the coach according to how well each girl demonstrated her skills, as you might expect?

All things being equal, the simpler explanation is usually the correct one.

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Problems with prayer, part 1

For me this is an enjoyable post to write, because it illustrates a point that is so blindingly obvious, it’s a wonder there are any christians left in the world.

Let’s take some quotes from the bible.

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

These are fairly self-explanatory verses. If we truly believe in the christian god, and pray in Jesus’ name for something to happen, it will happen. End of. That’s all there is to it. There’s no weaseling out of this one. It’s clear and unambiguous.

Now think about how many amputees around the world have had their severed limbs grow back. I’m sure many of them are christians and will have prayed for it to happen.

If you’re not willing to accept that last assumption, think instead about how many christians must pray for a cure for cancer or leukaemia every day. I think we can safely say this is a large number of people.

Think about how many christians must pray for world peace, for that matter.

All the above requests are understandable, reasonable and, in the latter two cases, totally unselfish. Not that this should be an issue – going by the verses shown above, all christians should be able to pray for a Lamborghini and have it arrive in their driveway shortly afterwards.

However, with these prayers, as with countless million other prayers, it’s a little difficult to find evidence that they have any effect. The number of amputees who have regrown severed limbs is, to the best of my knowledge, zero (I feel fairly confident that CNN and Fox would make sure we all knew if it happened). People still die every day from cancer, and many nations around the world are currently at war with each other.

There’s a simple conclusion that must be drawn: prayer doesn’t work.

This means that the above claims in the bible are false. And if that’s true, then either the christian god is one who lies and is arguably unworthy of worship, or he simply doesn’t exist.

Which one of those two explanations is easier to believe?

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