Does prayer work? Not a snowball’s chance in Heck – not that there really is a Heck of course. The proof of the pudding is of course, if prayer really worked, there would be a miracle in that we’d all be lotto winners or at least pretty rich and famous! We’d be total successes at our jobs, in our relationships, have perfect partners and perfect children. And our cars wouldn’t break down! Further, the sun would shine down on us every day of our lives.
Even if we all just prayed for good things in general, not personal things in particular, and if our benevolent prayers really worked, then there would be no disease or suffering or crime or wars, etc. We’d all live in a utopian Camelot. But we don’t! I mean, come every Christmas and Easter, the Pope publicly prays for world peace. That’s noble of him. But, come next Christmas and Easter, he has to do it all over again! Now if the Pope can’t get results, what hope for the great unwashed?
Since a result, that is, world peace (as one of many possible examples), hasn’t happened; it’s obviously not the case, then either God doesn’t exist, or doesn’t answer prayers. If the latter, then God doesn’t give a tinkers damn about us, so why should we give a tinkers damn about Him (again, being traditional and assuming the masculine)? If we don’t give a damn, then Gods existence, or lack of existence, is basically irrelevant.
Think of all those trillions of man-hours (sorry, person-hours) wasted over the centuries by those in pursuit of an illusion – that praying brought results. Do you really think our world today is a better place for all that time, effort and energy? No? Then I say again – what a waste. Further, no scholarly studies ever done on the beneficial results of praying have ever shown that praying works.
If prayer does seem to work at times on a personal level, it’s probably more a case of mind-over-matter, the power of positive thinking, and akin to the placebo pill in medicine. Every now and again, the improbable happens. Just because you prayed for an improbable event doesn’t mean the prayer worked, and therefore that there’s a God who answered it.
Further, as in the case of supposed miracles, prayer validation is also a highly selective bookkeeping exercise in that a hit is documented and displayed for the entire world to see; a miss is never mentioned or discussed.
Quasi related are the buzz words ‘faith’ and ‘ritual’. As far as I can tell, all the faith in the world in a supernatural being isn’t going to heal up a broken leg any faster, or anything in a similar type of basket. You would be hard pressed to provide evidence that having faith yields extra positive results relative to those not having faith. In a similar vein, religions thrive on ritual. Do this at such-and-such a time; don’t do that on such-a-such day of the week; observe this; cross yourself thus, eat (or don’t eat) that at this time; adopt this posture in this situation, etc. Even the military isn’t quite as strict in its rules and regulations (rituals)! Anyway, observing all the rituals part and parcel of a particular religion, in terms of effectiveness, a pathway to the good life doesn’t really seem to get you any extra brownie points. It strikes me as another sociological example of ass-kissing because you are told to kiss ass by authority figures who, I gather, in this case derive said authority from a supernatural being for which there is no evidence. Sorry sheep; it’s all a case of the blind leading the blind.
Having dispatched the power of prayer, here’s my take on the related concept of miracles.
I’d better define exactly what I mean by a miracle, since it buzz word has been so overused, especially in marketing, that it has lost all real meaning. I mean there are miracle detergents, miracle drugs, miracle discoveries, miracle anything and everything. I’ve actually read scientists, who should know better, who use the word ‘miracle’ when they really mean unexpected or against all odds. If you get dealt a royal flush, you’d say it’s a miracle. But it isn’t. There are things that are plausible, possible, probable, and improbable. Then there are things that are downright impossible. If something considered impossible happens, then it’s a bona fide miracle. A highly improbable event, like being dealt a royal flush, isn’t a miracle. A bona fide miracle would be for an amputated limb to regenerate. No doubt amputees have prayed for such a miracle – alas, it ain’t ever happened.
So my definition of a miracle is an occurrence that goes totally against the grain of any sort of possibility of such a happening, happening. A miracle is only a miracle if the event defies the impossible, not just improbable odds. So, winning the lottery isn’t a miracle because it’s a plausible event. However, there is no medical science that could explain the regeneration of an amputated limb. If such an event happened; absolutely documented, that would be a miracle and considerable evidence for the existence of a supernatural God. A miracle pizza (and I’ve seen them so advertised) isn’t, since it’s possible to create a great tasting pizza!
Take the sum total of all so-called miracles and subtract those events that are unlikely but possible, from those that are absolutely impossible according to modern science. What’s the bona fide residue – zero, zip, zilch.
So, one of the alleged, albeit in a mysterious way, in which God works, is to answer prayers, and create or oversee miracles. Has there ever been any miracle, anywhere, undisputed and totally accepted by science as factual and unexplainable? If so, science would have bowed to the reality of God long ago. No, I suggest that miracles are either misinterpretations, fabrications, wishful thinking/delusions, sleight-of-hand (magic) or evidence of advanced technology! Dump someone living 4000 years ago into the 21st Century and no doubt such a person would find most of our civilization a totally miraculous one. Dump us into the 31st Century and we’d believe in miracles too!
There’s another issue in that if God were all powerful, He wouldn’t need to perform certain miracles. Some miracles seem to be a band-aid solution to a problem that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, if an all powerful, all knowing God had been on His toes as it were. For example, say you go to the doctor Monday morning, and he informs you that you have incurable cancer. Monday night you pray to God to rid you of the affliction. Tuesday morning you find that your cancer has gone! That’s a miracle – well not really since now and a rare again, cancer goes into remission. That aside, wouldn’t it have been easier if God had ensured that your incurable cancer had never have developed in the first place? As to loaves and fishes, it would have been simpler to have ensured an adequate supply of food in the first place! Miracles in such cases I suggest are God’s correction fluid or whiteout! An all knowing, all powerful God wouldn’t need correction or whiteout fluid!
How come you only get medical miracles that defy the improbable odds, instead of beating impossible odds? For example, have any of those unfortunate thalidomide victims ever all of a sudden, overnight say, awakened to find they now have fully functioning limbs instead of stumps? Surely such a miracle is within God’s power – but it ain’t ever happened.
Then there are the show-off (‘wow, look at me, ain’t I something!’) type of miracles that serve no real purpose or don’t imply any ‘oops, I goofed’ scenario – like walking on water. While some miracles totally shatter the laws of physics, like creating something out of nothing, parting bodies of water like the Red Sea, or just plain walking on water (and therefore are relegated to those impossible things one tends to accept before breakfast when you breakfast in fairy-dairy land), many so-called miracles are just improbable happenings that do happen now and again due to pure statistical probabilities. You’ll hear about the miracle where someone was cured of a supposedly incurable illness due to prayer, or someone was found alive in an earthquake induced collapsed building a fortnight after-the-fact or survived that horrific car crash. You don’t hear about the other 9,999 exactly similar cases where the person snuffed it in the natural, probable way of things. IMHO, miracles are an example of highly selective bookkeeping, like only counting the deposits and never the withdrawals, only in the case of miracles, you tick and publicize the hits and ignore and sweep under the carpet the misses.
In conclusion, prayer doesn’t work on any sort of statistically meaningful level; miracles haven’t been documented beyond reasonable doubt by science.