Saturday, September 8, 2012

What does it take for God to answer our prayer?

Hands in prayer
Back when I was critiquing a website that gave six "reasons" to believe in a God, I noted that this site has other content. In fact, it's a bit of a treasure trove of case studies. I noticed one such topic was about prayer, which basically discusses how one should pray, etc.

In the light of my more recent topic about how prayer can appear to work even if it's not, I thought it would be interesting to analyze this website's ideas. I'll probably break this up into multiple posts again, since it has nice sub-topics to parse through.

Today's topic is "How to Pray: Prayers That Get Answered".

Have you ever known someone who really trusts God?
I sure have! I have no idea why, considering we can't even demonstrate it exists.
When I was an atheist, I had a good friend who prayed often. 
When I was a Christian, I prayed a lot. Nothing happened. Maybe I just forgot to tune my prayer frequencies to 27.5MHz and hop on one foot?
She would tell me every week about something she was trusting God to take care of. And every week I would see God do something unusual to answer her prayer.
Immediately, this becomes curious. What do you mean, "do something unusual"? Sounds to me like the prayer wasn't answered directly, but instead, the results had to be heavily interpreted. I could use some examples here, but, as usual, these claims are quite vague.

Sounds like a heaping pile of confirmation bias to me, which, may sound odd since she "was an atheist" (I've already concluded from the previous webpage I analyzed that if she was an atheist, she wasn't particularly rational).
Do you know how difficult it is for an atheist to observe this week after week? After a while, "coincidence" begins to sound like a very weak argument.
I agree. It's difficult to observe non-existent things.

That's not what she means, though. She means emotionally difficult. Well, I covered 6 different ways prayer can appear to be answered without it being answered. Coincidence is #1. The rest are the more common ones, and have a higher likeliness of occurring.

Again, I'd have to have some specific examples to work with, otherwise, this just comes across as someone making unevidenced claims on the interwebs, and as we know, no one lies or exaggerates on the internet.

Is she testing prayer? I thought we couldn't do that. I'd love to see her data that's been co-signed by neutral parties. I want to see what prayers were made, and what was considered answers to those prayers, as well as the time delay. I guarantee it's not going to be as impressive as she's depicting it.
So why would God answer my friend's prayers?
This is begging the question. Did we establish that it did?
The biggest reason is that she had a relationship with God. She wanted to follow God. And she actually listened to what he said.
She did? I suppose I had a relationship with my imaginary best friend when I was a kid, but I understood it was only my imagination.

The "actually listened to what he said" is one of those equivocation things. Assuming we're not talking about an actual audible voice that could be recorded, she most likely means her own consciousness. Our brains keep rattling on with thoughts whether we like it or not. Meditation is typically about trying to calm that down. What if, for some reason, you decided that your own auto-piloted thoughts were coming from somewhere else? Well, if you weren't aware that you were doing that, it would appear to be God, especially if you've been primed to believe that.

Curiously again, this "listening to God" is indistinguishable from not "listening to God". It's odd how all their "evidence" comes down to unverifiable unfalsifiable data points that are indistinguishable from their assertions being false.

A critical thinker would ask his or her self, "How can I tell this isn't just in my head?" A non-critical thinker would answer, "Because the voice in my head said so."
 In her mind, God had the right to direct her in life, and she welcomed him doing just that! 
Yay! Tyrannical dictator! I want to be a slave!

Oy - this is what brains on religion looks like.
When she prayed for things, it was a natural part of her relationship with God. She felt very comfortable coming to God with her needs, her concerns, and whatever issues were current in her life. Furthermore, she was convinced, from what she read in the Bible, that God wanted her to rely on him like that.
That doesn't sound like a healthy relationship. If her boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/wife/alien spouse had manipulated her into becoming dependent on him/her/it for all things, her friends would worry, would they not?
She pretty much exhibited what this statement from the Bible says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us."1 "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer..."2
Alright.

Well, that's the first section - "How to Pray: Prayers That Get Answered". I'm not sure I got a whole lot out of that. Taking into account the self induced intense relationship with a figment of one's imagination, that could account for a lot of the liberal interpretations of everyday events into answered prayer.

That seems to be the point of this section - that you're supposed to really get into it, to the point that you lose perspective. So far, it's falling right in line with setting up a self-reinforcing delusion.

You're being dismissive

Chipmunk gnawing on a seed
Probably. I get accused of that.

That's not my point, though. When I bring up the question of coincidence or listening to one's own thoughts, thinking it's God, I'm not trying to come up with an excuse as to why I can dismiss what this person is saying.

There's a phenomenon that supposedly is witnessed, and the author asserts an explanation, and my response is essentially, "That's the best explanation you can come up with?", of course, all the while, being devoid of any actual supporting evidence.

What do I know of the events the author speaks? She claims to have witnessed "unusual" answers to prayers on an almost daily basis. Can she be more vague? I can't derive a whole lot from that.

What if we were to assume that she's correct on her observations of answered prayer? What if her friend prayed to win at a scratch lottery ticket, and she won every day, and the friend could show this winning ticket to her each time?

We have a phenomenon. What is the explanation? According to this author, a universe creating, laws of physics and logic violating, laws of physics and logic creating, infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely good, infinitely present disembodied mind entity, who is OCD obsessed with foreskins, is responsible.

Do you know how else it could have happened? What if the friend's church members each decided to buy a scratch ticket every day, and whoever had the highest winner would give it to the friend to present to this author? They'd do that because they're trying to convert the atheist. It's a bit of a conspiracy, I admit, but do you know what?


It's still more likely than her explanation. Aliens manipulating this friend's life behind the scenes is still more likely than the God explanation - and so on...

We're highly susceptible to availability bias. If the author, in the example with the church members buying tickets, was unaware that they were doing that, this phenomenon of prayer leading to winning tickets would appear to be quite compelling. If she found out later what had happened, she'd be banging her head against the wall for falling for a trick.

That's why we actually have to test hypotheses, with control groups, with objective exclusive evidence that's peer reviewed by others. It's so very easy to be tricked orbe mistaken about causal sequences. Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies are very common.

Arguments from personal incredulity aren't rational either. What if she had sat around and thought real hard about what the possibilities were to explain the scratch tickets, and she didn't think of the church member possibility? Would she be right in asserting God did it if she couldn't think of any other way?

Whenever we bring up these alternative possibilities, it's not an excuse to dismiss what she's saying. It's to point out that she's inexplicably ignored the more likely, less bizarre possibilities, and went directly for lunacy - head on, full steam ahead.

That's the point they don't seem to grasp. That's why I don't find appeals to answered prayer compelling.

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