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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