2 Tragedies Produce 2 Very Different Approaches to Prayer

 

“Faith” has two meanings. It can be permission to believe without a good reason, or it can be belief well grounded in evidence. Changing the definition as necessary is a game that many Christians play.

We find a similar have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach with Greg Koukl, a popular Christian apologist from Stand to Reason who responded in contradictory ways to two recent tragedies.

Case 1: critical injury to a staff member

In a podcast on 12/20/17, Greg talked about the health of Melinda, a staff member who was in critical condition after a head injury in early December. His appeal for prayer was what you’d expect.

I don’t know what God’s thinking about things, but I know what Christians are doing and I hope you’re doing with us—you’re praying like crazy. And that’s what we want you to keep doing—praying Melinda out of this….

Lots of people have come out of [medical situations like this without supernatural assistance], but with God’s help, of course, that gives us a massive leg up and that’s why your prayers for Melinda and for the Stand to Reason team are the most important thing right now….

God is holding us up. He’s keeping us on our feet, which I attribute to his grace and to your prayers, so keep it up.

Koukl isn’t downplaying prayer with tepid claims that it’s meditative or therapeutic for the person praying. No, he’s making the familiar Christian claim that prayer is useful. It causes positive change. It delivers in the here and now.

Case 2: Texas church shooting

Six weeks earlier, Koukl responded to another tragedy within the Christian community. A shooter had killed 25 and wounded 20 in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on 11/5/17.

(I think there are important points to observe and critique here, but if I seem insensitive to a tragedy or in other ways offend anyone, let me clarify that I’m trying to illuminate an issue, not mock Christians who are grieving.)

Presumably people in a church in fear for their lives were doing a lot of praying. That obviously didn’t stop the injuries and deaths. Koukl illustrated this with a couple of comments from atheists: “The murdered victims were in a church! If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive” and, “It seems your direct line to God is not working.”

Christian response: be careful critiquing worldviews

Koukl responded that it’s a mistake to critique another worldview from inside your own. He illustrated his point with an exchange during a Christopher Hitchens debate with Jay Richards. Hitchens said, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” When Richards assented, Hitchens responded, “I rest my case.”

Here’s an example of mine that I think illustrates Koukl’s point. Suppose Hitchens was making lasagna and Richards was making barbeque pork. Now imagine Hitchens criticizes Richards by saying, “You can’t use barbeque sauce in Italian cuisine.” That may be true, but the rules of Italian cuisine don’t apply to barbeque recipes. Similarly, “Resurrections are ridiculous” is true within atheism but not Christianity.

The first problem with Koukl’s point is that atheism isn’t technically a worldview. It’s one answer (“No”) to one question (“Do you have a god belief?”). What he wants to respond to instead is a naturalistic worldview (the belief that only natural, not supernatural, forces operate in the universe).

The second problem is that Richards already does pretty much accept that worldview—that evidence is important, that hypotheses should be tested, and so on. I’m sure he uses evidence to cross a street, learn a language, or select medical treatment. (Of course, Richards would reject any claim that only natural forces are in effect.) When followers of Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba claim that he could be in two places at once or when Uri Geller claims to be using the supernatural rather than performing stage magic, I’m sure Richards is as skeptical as the typical atheist.

It’s not like there are two worldviews, Christianity and naturalism, and they’re equally plausible. Naturalism is the default. We all accept that science informs us so well because it takes a naturalistic approach. Christians live in a house of naturalism, but they go into their Christian room from time to time.

The value of prayer

Forgetting his assurance that prayer works in Melinda’s situation, Koukl says,

People from the outside think for some reason (and maybe Christians have given them reason to think this) but that if God really does exist and we pray to him, then we get what we want from God, which includes physical protection.

Koukl doesn’t think it works this way, but Jesus did:

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:23–4).

The story eliminates any second-guessing about caveats when we read a few verses later,

Then Jesus’s disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.”


See also: National Day of Prayer Wasting Time


Koukl continues:

It strikes me as such an absurd thought, why anybody who has even a modest understanding of Christianity and the history of what Christians have endured for thousands of years . . . [would] think that this [shooting] is somehow inconsistent with Christianity.

Uh, because the Bible promised that prayers are answered? Or is this a trick question?

Jesus promised persecution

Koukl next claims that we shouldn’t expect protection from murderers. To underscore this, we get a little persecution porn as Koukl ticks off verses where Jesus promised that Christians will be persecuted.

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13)

[Jesus said:] “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)

Koukl is telling us that prayer works and that we should pray for Melinda, and the Bible agrees (“Ask and you will receive”). But then he laughs at the idiotic atheists who think that God would answer prayers for protection against a murder.

Koukl again:

There is . . . no rationale, no line of thinking that if God does exist that only good things happen to people, particularly people who believe in God, especially Christians.

No one claimed that only good things happen to Christians or that the Bible said this. Let’s return to the issue as Koukl himself raised it. The original atheist objection was: “The murdered victims were in a church! If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” And those objections were correct.

Koukl juggles two Bible claims, that Christians will have hardships and that Jesus promised that prayers are answered. He takes the typical Christian route of encouraging prayer when it suits him, but when slapped with inconvenient evidence that prayer does nothing, he reminds us that Christians will have hardships. This does nothing to fill the awkward silence when Christians pray for something and only chance replies.

Prayer is an act of doubt, not faith.
If you really thought your god was watching over everything
and you genuinely trusted in his “plan,”
you wouldn’t be praying in the first place.
— seen on the internet

Image credit: manhhal, flickr, CC

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  • carbonUnit

    but with God’s help, of course, that gives us a massive leg up
    I’ve yet to hear of actuarial statistics that show believers doing better than non-believers in terms of health outcomes (besides maybe a bit of a boost for living a tamer lifestyle…) I’ve yet to hear of tour buses of Christian groups not getting into as many serious accidents as non-Christian counterparts. I’ve yet to see churches and believer residences having significantly fewer fires or having a much better survival rate in the face of natural disasters than those of non-believers. What is this God effect you speak of ??

    BTW, how is Melinda doing? Better, I pray hope!
    Edit: Still serious, but doing better. Awake & aware but not talking…

    • Jim Jones

      In careful tests of those getting medical treatment, those who knew they were being prayed for did slightly worse. (Perhaps the prayers made them more worried).

      I have heard that more people die in traffic accidents going to or from Lourdes than receive confirmed miracle cures by attending there.

      • carbonUnit

        And there have been horrific crashes of planes taking pilgrims to/from Mecca.

        • Jim Jones

          And terrible incidents of panic at Mecca,

        • carbonUnit

          hates to make/like posts like that, but we are having a discussion…

        • Jim Jones

          Mecca Stampede. Hajj Stampede. So many hits.

        • carbonUnit

          Yep, if believers had a “leg up”, then this kind of stuff would not happen to them (as much?) It would happen to those evil rock and rollers. Who Stampede, Cincinnati.

      • Kevin K

        That would have to be the case, since the Catholic Church had “certified” a total of 12 miracle healings at Lourdes, out of 20 million visitors. It would more of a miracle if there weren’t traffic wrecks aplenty, including some fatal.

        • Joe

          That’s less than the placebo effect would produce in a scientific study.

        • Kevin K

          I’ve noted this before, but the rate of spontaneous remission of Stage IV brain cancer is about 1 in 500,000 cases. So, if you want a “miracle” cure of Stage IV brain cancer, you’re much better off, statistically speaking, staying at home.

        • Seriously, only 12? That is very unimpressive to me.

        • Kevin K

          It’s been a while since I did that research … but AFAIK, yes, only 12 “certified” miracles out of 20 million visitors to Lourdes.

          I’d say “weak tea”, but that’s positively homeopathic tea.

        • Indeed.

        • Kevin K

          Well, that’s weird. Both of those links came up with 404 – page not found – errors!
          I wonder if the difference between the reports you found and my recollection is they’re reporting multiple locations and not just Lourdes? Guessing, of course, since I couldn’t see the citation. 69 total miracle cures would sound about right for all Catholic healing shrines. Of course, then the denominator would probably be 5 to 10 times higher, resulting in the same or ever worse rate of cure per request.

        • http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26334964

          The problem is that both links have a ) on the end. Whoops.

        • “At Lourdes, you see plenty of [discarded] crutches but no wooden legs.”
          — John Dominic Crossan

      • Annerdr

        So, clearly, the answer to their prayer was a big F and U.

      • Tommy

        I have heard that more people die in traffic accidents going to or from
        Lourdes than receive confirmed miracle cures by attending there.

        If only one person died in a traffic accident going to Lourdes, that statement will still be correct.

    • Herald Newman

      I’ve yet to hear of actuarial statistics that show believers doing better than non-believers in terms of health outcomes

      In fact, many believers regularly pray before they eat their meal, asking God to bless the food, and yet the food that many of these believers eat is actually killing them.Look at the epidemic of obesity in the southern US, and area with some of the most devout people in the entire country.

      If praying before you ate a meal did anything we’d expect to see believers suffering less of the ill effects of their diet, yet this is clearly not the case. What is this God effect indeed!

      • Kodie

        I think they thank god for the bounty, to be fair. That’s not the same as praying to turn cake into kale. You need The Electric Company‘s “Letterman” character to do that.

        • Herald Newman

          No, it’s not quite the same, but it seem odd that a god would give them a bounty that ends up leading to an early grave, no?

        • Kodie

          Gluttony is one of the least confronted deadly sins.

        • Otto

          My wife and I lived together before we got married. She has an older brother 12 years her senior that is a Bible thumper and weighs 300+. He made sure to point out that her and my behavior was sinful, my wife responded “so is gluttony”…we never heard another word about it. I love that woman.

        • Brilliant!

      • With “God bless the king/queen” a popular utterance in the UK, someone did a study of the longevity of the royal family vs. ordinary folk. They found nothing, despite there being vastly more prayers for them than for the rest of us.

        • Herald Newman

          I remember as a kid thinking that the Pope, being the supposed “vicar of Christ”, should have the protection of God on his side. Then I heard about how John Paul II had an assassination attempt, and all Popes started riding around in bulletproof cars. Kinda shattered my opinion that God offers magical protection to anyone.

      • TheMountainHumanist

        When I was a stupid little kid….I misheard whatever the meal prayer was..so when it was my turn I said “God is great God is Good Firetruck Milk Shake..Amen”

    • TheMountainHumanist

      “gives us a massive leg up ”

      Except for amputees.

  • carbonUnit

    Hey Bob, the About link at the top of the page doesn’t seem to work.

  • Prayer may function similarly to meditation but that’s all the practical use I think it has

    • Ctharrot

      Yeah, that’s probably one of the most common approaches (and certainly how I prayed when I was a Christian), although I can imagine other scenarios in which it can provide a mechanism for ordering one’s thoughts to deal with emotions (especially fear or loss). A soldier might pray for courage, a grieving family might pray for comfort, those sorts of situations. And such prayers might actually help, insofar as they provide a ritual for motivated thinking.

      But the miraculous benefits of intercessory prayer in the material world? Exceedingly unlikely, and unsubstantiated by rigorous, testable evidence.

  • Kevin K

    But, in the post about why Yahweh (out of all the other deities) doesn’t heal amputees, we were told that “God isn’t a vending machine”, and that to expect actual-and-real healing of the miraculous sort was “testing God” and therefore forbidden!

    Sometimes, I think that Yahweh character is just messing with their heads.

    • carbonUnit

      Curious, isn’t it? Cases where a true miracle would be required to overcome an impossible situation never get any help. It only happens when there is some chance of a medical recovery, be it rather unlikely or not.

      • Kevin K

        Which is why the theists were so upset over the question “why doesn’t Yahweh heal amputees”. Even Stage IV brain cancer can be “cured” (or go into permanent remission) without the help of any deity (or maybe reported to have done so under the aegis of a non-Christian deity, which would be even more problematic). A straightforward “There’s an amputated leg, put it back” leaves little room for doubt. Suddenly, the goalposts shift, and prayer is about “accepting god’s will” or some such drivel.

    • eric

      to expect actual-and-real healing of the miraculous sort was “testing God” and therefore forbidden!

      If God responds to prayers in a straightforward and predictable fashion, He becomes humanity’s dancing circus bear, shuffling to our tune. Theists don’t like this idea, so they claim that’s a reason God doesn’t answer prayers that way.

      The problem is, this solution is no good. God hiding every time a scientist runs a controlled experiment still makes him our dancing circus bear, because we can force him to disappear whenever we want. Don’t want a miracle answered straightforwardly? Easy peasy – pull out your cell phone camera, and you force God’s hand.

      Dance bear, dance.

      • Kevin K

        It makes his being something quite a bit less than “omnipotent”, doesn’t it? If a mere human observation can completely and utterly destroy its superpowers.

    • Joe

      I don’t know why they want to give the impression that their mighty god is seemingly less powerful than a vending machine.

    • Tommy

      But, in the post about why Yahweh (out of all the other deities) doesn’t
      heal amputees, we were told that “God isn’t a vending machine“, and
      that to expect actual-and-real healing of the miraculous sort was
      “testing God” and therefore forbidden!

      To which I would reply, “They didn’t ask for a fucking Gatorade, they asked to be healed!”

  • carbonUnit

    I have a relative, “Samantha”, who adopted a daughter who turned out to have some serious mental deficits and behavioral problems. One day “Jane” came to Sam and told her she had a new friend, a pig. I think there was something else about this pig too, enough to make Sam think it demonic. (Jane was too young at this point to have picked it up from a horror movie, etc.) Then the weird part. God told Sam something to the effect that “Jane is in trouble, pray for her.” Whisky Tango Foxtrot!!?? The big guy sees a problem and instead of doing something about it, asks to be prayed to???!! To this day, I don’t understand this “message from God.” Best I can figure is that Sam was just hearing her own inner voice and ascribed it to God. She prayed up a storm over the years, but it did not help. Jane wrecked havoc on that family.

    • TheMountainHumanist

      Throazine tends to exorcise demons effectively.

  • Michael Neville

    So God answers prayers except when he doesn’t and atheists are big meanies for pointing out the times God doesn’t answer prayers.

    • carbonUnit

      Like yet another instance of statements which just drive me nutty ?

      Father races to his mortally wounded son at Marshall County HS in Kentucky.
      https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/26/us/kentucky-victim-family-speaks/

      “There’s so many obstacles that could have prevented me from getting there,” Brian Cope told The Louisville Courier-Journal.

      “I could’ve been in a wreck. I could’ve had a flat tire, anything. But I’m firm in my faith that God guided us safely through all of that to get us there, so we could speak to our baby and just let him know we loved him.”

      I know the pain of losing a child and empathize with this family, but dammit, think!

      • Michael Neville

        He forgot to mention that a meteorite could have come screaming though the atmosphere and smashed his car and him into vapor. A herd of migrating wildebeest could have been passing around his car for hours, stranding him just a few yards from the hospital. Likewise he didn’t encounter earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes or rampaging godzillas while rushing to see his son. God was really looking out for him.

        • Greg G.

          And where were the migrating wildebeest when shooter was trying to get the school?

      • Kodie

        Just looking on the bright side.

  • Brian Westley

    >When followers of Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba claim that he could be in two places at once

    Him, and Firesign Theatre.

    • carbonUnit

      he could be in two places at once when he’s not anywhere at all…

    • Greg G.

      “REGNAD KCIN”

  • Otto

    I hate playing ‘heads you win tails I lose’.

  • Jim Dailey

    Actually, in the case of the Sutherland Springs shooting, God chose to answer the prayers of atheists. The shooter, Devin Kelley, was one of you New Atheists. He regularly posted anti-religious rants on his FB page, excoriating anyone who believed in God in general and Christians in particular.
    So just consider he may have been sent from God to answer the prayers of this blogger and his cohort of usual apostles when he blew away 29 defenseless people in a church.
    After all it provides a good proof for your assertions. You must be jumping for joy. Congratulations.

    • Doubting Thomas

      You seem seriously fucked up.

    • Max Doubt

      “Actually, in the case of the Sutherland Springs shooting, God chose to answer the prayers of atheists.”

      Atheists reject claims that gods exist. We don’t pray. You’re an idiot.

      “The shooter, Devin Kelley, was one of you New Atheists.”

      People who don’t believe gods exist will sometimes do bad things. To that point, one big difference between god believers and non-believers is this: When atheists do horrible things they generally don’t claim to have some kind of divine or extra-natural encouragement or guidance. God believers, on the other hand, frequently do.

      “He regularly posted anti-religious rants on his FB page, excoriating anyone who believed in God in general and Christians in particular.”

      Christians, in at least one area of their thinking, are unable to objectively differentiate figments of their imaginations from what is real. They are unable to honestly or rationally defend their claims that gods exist, yet they continue to insist they can. Christians earn every bit of ridicule and derision they receive. You don’t like it? Don’t be a Christian.

      “So just consider he may have been sent from God to answer the prayers of this blogger and his cohort of usual apostles when he blew away 29 defenseless people in a church.”

      If there is a god answering prayers, it certainly isn’t answering prayers from people who don’t pray. You’re an idiot.

      “After all it provides a good proof for your assertions. You must be jumping for joy. Congratulations.”

      Our assertion? We simply acknowledge the fact that you haven’t – and apparently can’t – provide any objective evidence to support any claims that any gods have ever existed or that any miracles or acts of magic have ever occurred. There. That’s it. That is true as far as we know, as far as any of us knows, as far as you know, too. That particular assertion is correct so far. You may be the first person ever to offer up some objective evidence. I’m betting against it.

    • Jack Baynes

      God answered the prayers of atheists to kill his own followers?
      God is a jerk (to say the least)

      • Susan

        God answered the prayers of atheists to kill his own followers?

        Well, a country music concert in Las Vegas….

        I must admit. I prayed to an imaginary being to kill people because I don’t believe in Yahwehcountrymusicvegasjesus.

        Because not believing in magic beans makes me want to plant them in the hope that some wacko with access to assault rifles will slaughter innocent human beings.

        If you check Jim’s commenting history, you will see christians who believe this crap.

        Which is an extra reason why I get annoyed when they feel “insulted and attacked” when we question their unevidenced claims.

        Fuck.

        Don’t believe in Yahwehjesus and you’re just like Stalin. Or a nutbar in a country where the propaganda still screams “Guns = Freedom”.

    • Damien Priestly

      Yes, but the 29 are with Jesus now…so it was all a good thing?

    • Otto

      LOL…What kind of twisted person even writes this? You can’t make this stuff up…oh wait, that is exactly what you did.

    • Joe

      What?

    • Ctharrot

      1. A God we don’t believe in answered prayers we didn’t say to prove our assertions that there’s no evidence intercessory prayer produces material results? Oy vey. Your comment may have failed to meet even the minimum standards necessary to qualify as nonsense.

      2. The claim that we would celebrate the murder of churchgoers is patently dishonest, unfunny, ghoulish libel. You can be the kind of person who writes such depraved comments to score imaginary points in his own head, or you can be someone better. Which will you be?

    • Ctharrot

      • A God we don’t believe in answered prayers we didn’t say to prove our assertions that there’s no evidence intercessory prayer produces material results? Oy vey. Your comment may have failed to meet even the minimum standards necessary to qualify as nonsense.

      • The claim that we would celebrate the murder of churchgoers is patently dishonest, unfunny, grotesque, ghoulish libel. You can be the kind of person who writes such depraved comments to score imaginary points in his own head, or you can be someone better. Which will you be?

      • TheMountainHumanist

        It reminds me of the time I scored a hole in one while not playing golf in a parking lot.

    • Kevin K

      Seek psychiatric help.

    • Halbe

      I have never seen an atheist “jump for joy” after a massacre. Christians however: https://www.advocate.com/crime/2016/6/21/9-truly-terrible-reactions-orlando-shooting

    • Ficino

      “he may have been sent from God”

      lots of unsupported assumptions may include some that may be true. Are you establishing anything as credible here?

      From the fact that you do not refute Bob’s OP I conclude that you concede the validity of his points.

    • Are you saying that the religious beliefs of the criminal should reflect back on the belief system? Christianity doesn’t look too good by that standard.

      God answers atheists’ prayers? That’s weird, since he never seems to answer the reasonable prayers of Christians.

    • Phil

      Atheist prayers? Bit of an oxymoron doncha think?

    • Lark62

      Don’t confuse us with christians. We do not actually rejoice in the sufferings of others. It is christians who have wet dreams over the prospect of people being tortured for eternity, not us.

      There was another school shooting yesterday. But because the perp only had a handgun not an assault rifle, at least 14 families, probably many many more, are not planning funerals today. Two deaths are too many, but every survivor matters.

      Actions are needed to reduce the carnage, not prayer. Assault rifles should be banned – they have no purpose except for high human body counts. Gun locks should be improved to that prevent children and teens from accessing guns. The mentally ill and domestic abusers should be prevented from accessing guns. Gun owners should have to pass a test similar to a driving test. These actions would save lives.

      Your prayers are worthless.

      Which one of us actually cares about preventing more victims?

      • That’s crazy talk! Next you’ll be saying that antibiotics work better than prayer in curing disease.

        • al kimeea

          better than honey too…

    • TheMountainHumanist

      So was it the case god preferred not to stop this deranged atheist or was it the case that god was unable to stop this deranged atheist.

      It is interesting…when it comes to mass shooters..religion and irreligion have no relevance…some shooters are theists..some are atheists….weird init?

  • skl

    I think the bible says Jesus himself passionately prayed three times to get out of his coming suffering/death.

    Didn’t seem to do him any good.

    • Max Doubt

      “I think the bible says Jesus himself passionately prayed three times to get out of his coming suffering/death. […] Didn’t seem to do him any good.”

      And Dorothy clicked the heels of her silver slippers three times and her wish to go home came true. There are myriad examples of invoking magic to cause or alter events and occurrences in mythology and fiction. Sometimes magic works in fairy tales; sometimes it doesn’t.

      • carbonUnit

        Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse !!!

        • Doing that will make a very large red giant star appear. If you want to make that weird guy with the black and white stripes appear, that’s Beetlejuice. Either event sounds ill-advised.

        • carbonUnit

          Ooopsie!

        • Michael Neville

          I’m pretty sure that a particular red giant star has already appeared.

        • carbonUnit

          Yes, but summoning it here would be a Very Bad Thing.

        • Max Doubt

          “I’m pretty sure that a particular red giant star has already appeared.”

          It may have even disappeared by now, but you wouldn’t know it for another 650 years.

        • al kimeea

          Yes, and when it does it will be glorious and visible during the day. BTW, the skinny is that it might pop at any time because what we see now shows that Orion’s right shoulder is on the brink. It is quite deformed and we can’t tell how fast the process is going. Could be a month or, as you said, aboot 650 years if it popped… now.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/211005926730b668aab568e60e4973b07c80ebda783d895ec420688a383f023c.jpg

          Betelgeuse is reddish and there’s a wee Orionid streaking greenly if you look up from his blue shoulder.

        • Kodie

          I’d give up too if I was just Orion’s shoulder. Stupid belt, always gloating. You’re a belt. Christ.

        • epeeist

          Recently went to a talk by the guy who produced this picture. A bit more impressive than the one above.

          EDIT: Typo

        • Kodie

          I can’t remember the last time I saw stars.

        • al kimeea

          and the sinister one at that

        • Yet one more sign of the End, my brother.

    • Otto

      Not much of a god is it…

    • Jack Baynes

      Well, He only had Himself to blame for the dumb plan.

      • al kimeea

        It really is dumb for the smartest being ever isn’t it?

    • Doubting Thomas

      Maybe he was praying to the wrong god.

      • Bob Jase

        Next time he’ll try Chemoset – he beat Yahweh in the OT.

  • Herald Newman

    Let’s suppose that we actually found a near one-to-one correspondence between prayer and being healed, even of diseases we thought incurable. We might be able to conclude that there’s a causative link between the two, but without an understanding of the mechanism it’s hard to say what’s actually going on. I don’t know how you’d ever be justified to believe that prayers are actually being answered by an all powerful, all knowing, creator of everything? At the very least, the theist is arguing from ignorance about the mechanism.

    After all, how would we know that something is not natural? How do we even determine the boundaries of nature? I’m pretty convinced that the idea of the natural/supernatural distinction is completely useless because we have no way to put any anything into the supernatural category. We know nature exists, but I don’t know how we could know that the supernatural exists.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about my prayer scenario, because nobody has ever been able to offer any significant correlation between prayer and healing.

    EDIT:
    Mattapult had the following comment on Debunking Christianity: Here’s an exercise for you (or better yet, a challenge to a believer): define supernatural in positive terms…If it cannot be defined in positive terms, then it cannot be rational; and the best a believer can admit to is agnosticism. Yet, they will still call it a proof or an explanation. It is neither. An unknowable explanation is no explanation at all.

    • Kevin K

      I think “positive” might a bit of a tricky word. As in “god is love” could be viewed as a “positive” term. Even going all the way back to the beginning of Christianity with the definition of god/Jesus as “Logos”. Thing is, that doesn’t actually mean anything.

      “Verifiable” is my preferred challenge. Show me what the thing in question is made of, not what it does, in such a way that a disinterested or hostile third party can verify the results of the inquiry. It’s not what you know, but how you came about knowing it that’s the key.

      • Herald Newman

        I could get behind the whole “God is love” thing if they literally meant it, but they don’t. I could see “God is love” as something akin to pantheism, but that’s nothing like the God Christians believe in. I’ve never heard of love raising anybody from the dead, or turning water into wine. It doesn’t matter how much somebody is loved, dead is dead!

        • TheMountainHumanist

          When I hear “god is love” — I hear “god is a mixture of chemicals that can be changed easily by changing the chemical balance.” Love is chemical…period.

      • al kimeea

        It’s not only what you know, but how you came about knowing it that’s the key.

    • al kimeea

      Let’s say the deity of your example answers my prayer for my buddy to wake up in the morning with his glass eye become flesh – not from surgery, but glass when he closed it to sleep and 20/20 when he wakes. To improve my chances in this scenario, I petition someone universally considered of the utmost, sincerest faith. Truly a saint. The Pope or the Albanian Witch, say, to pray with me and they agree.

      And it happens. Kinda hard to fart against thunder like that.

      Given how the BuyBull describes the thing that answered the prayer – a JEALOUS God that created all, including evil – I’ll pass. Other myths are more entertaining.

      • Herald Newman

        Let’s say the deity of your example answers my prayer for my buddy to wake up in the morning with his glass eye become flesh

        And how would we go about determining that a deity was the reason, or that the deity actually heard (and answered) your prayer? How did you discount answers like advanced aliens, which would seem more plausible although still unjustified as an explanation?

        And it happens. Kinda hard to fart against thunder like that.

        Actually, it’s not. Unless you actually understood what happened, you’re simply arguing from ignorance.

  • RichardSRussell

    I think it’s dangerous to grant that there are 2 valid meanings for the word faith. We should continue to insist that the Biblical version — sincere belief despite the utter absence of any good reason for it — is the only correct one. And we should insist that the TBs use their own definition* every time they try to pull the ole switcheroo on us, because most people aren’t attuned to it and will fall for it if we don’t point it out.

    ––––––
    *”… faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”—Hebrews 11:1, Saint Paul’s opinion

    • Herald Newman

      We can insist that what we mean by “faith” is sincere belief despite evidence, but we cannot force other people to define the terms as we want. If somebody is making an argument, they’re free to define the terms in the way that they want, but we need to pin them down to what they actually mean by “faith” and make sure that their usage conforms to that definition.

      Edited for clarity.

      • RichardSRussell

        You’re right, Herald, we can’t force anyone to use our preferred definition, but we can do as I suggested and point out that they should be using their preferred definition.

    • Max Doubt

      “And we should insist that the TBs use their own definition* every time they try to pull the ole switcheroo on us, because most people aren’t attuned to it and will fall for it if we don’t point it out.”

      Yes, we should call people out when they try to equivocate by using a term one way in one part of a conversation then changing its meaning part way through. It’s like the stale old attempt at a gotchya, “Do you believe in evolution/science?” No, we don’t “believe in” pretty much anything the way theists mean when they say they “believe in” gods. That sort of equivocation can be subtle enough that even those who employ it sometimes don’t know they’re doing it, but it’s still dishonest.

    • carbonUnit

      the Biblical version — sincere belief despite the utter absence of any good reason for it
      and despite often strong evidence to the contrary!

    • TheMountainHumanist

      People tend to use wrongly faith for confidence.

      I’ve had people challenge me…. “Well…don;t you have FAITH your wife loves you?”

      “No, I have 25 years of evidence which gives me confidence that she loves me based on her actions. Now, it could be she is playing some kind of long con and can’t stand me but is pretending…but the evidence informs the higher probability that she loves me FOR NOW. Some factors could change (mental illness, change of tastes, etc..) and she could cease to love me. No faith involved..period.”

  • I think this may be the motte-bailey tactic. He shifts from harder to easier claims when pressed on them.

  • Philip Buczko

    Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer comes to mind.

  • Bob Jase

    You have to admit Koukl knows his way around a cafeteria.

  • al kimeea

    “It’s not like there are two worldviews, Christianity and naturalism, and they’re equally plausible. Naturalism is the default. We all accept that science informs us so well because it takes a naturalistic approach. Christians live in a house of naturalism, but they go into their Christian room from time to time.”

    There are non xians who would vehemently disagree with you defaulting to the version of natural philosophy you describe due to its origins and the irresistible, insurmountable bias those roots introduce.

    • Seems to me that simply crossing the street should be enough to remind the Christian that the evidence-based approach is very important to their worldview, too.

      Of course, should be doesn’t mean is.

      • al kimeea

        I’ve heard an evidence based approach isn’t required to cross the street or for elections apparently. Not just xians, woomeisters deny the value of evidence, indeed malign it’s very worth because that approach was formalized in Europe.

        • XORY

          I know of who you speak: I too was “banned” (silenced) from that forum before it even opened (!). If it is any consolation he does this to many, despite his outrage at “close mindedness”. Suggestion – like many others, just leave him to it and don’t poke the bear.

          I would also add that his ire against science and evidence is based on the misconception that it IS solely a European endeavor even extending to formalized systems of logic. He is completely ignorant of Indian philosophy and schools of thought. SO, if you DO wanna go there again, introduce something of the Hindu/Buddhist strain and he will show HIS true Euro-centrist views 😉

          Theres actually ALOT of bias and Eurocentrism lurking under there. His entire cosmos is Euro-science vs. Euro-woo.

        • al kimeea

          I’ve heard that line of reasoning from a philosophical, theological or quackademic viewpoint many, many times. A xian, born catholic, buddy of mine have had a decades long chat about this very thing.

          He has a sense of humour about it though. And, through persuasive argument using, GASP! evidence, data points, information, reliable knowledge, he changed his mind about homeopathy, tossing any book on it in the garbage…

          Indian thought, Chinese thought,, Muslim thought. I mentioned both Chinese and Muslim “science” which predate the Euro version by quite some time. No comment. Quelle surprise.

          I rail against shite like this because people needlessly suffer and die.

          Homeopathy is just such a thing. A thing made by a German man to cure illness. No comment

          The way I approach science is, trust but verify. Nobel Disease, etc.,
          Isn’t that reasonable? Why does Eurocentrism even figure into that in the context of homeopathy?

          Ya, I hear ya. Not surprised either. I read around before diving into the rabbit hole. Again. You know that meme going around where Nye is on one side and Ham on the other…

        • al kimeea

          Well, I made some progress with some of the things I mentioned earlier. Maybe. Thought I had at least one nail in the jelly, but no. Very sloppy language to say the least and an inability to keep track of anything he said. Lots of contradictions.

          Right now, science will change if it all happened again, is the topic. Now narrowed down to some of it will change.

          Is there a difference – all changing – or just some?

          How could you tell what things would change and what didn’t? – wouldn’t that mean anything, like C3H5OH or atomic theory might be what does change?

          What would another life-form in a galaxy far, far away, discover when it examined water?

          Are these valid questions?

          I might not get a response to my last comment. We’ll see.

        • XORY

          Fool’s errand.

          To quote a popular NPR quiz show: “Ambiguous, misleading or poorly worded questions are par for the course. Listeners who are sticklers for the truth should get their own shows.”

        • al kimeea

          Maybe. We’re chatted for now maybe. Fine with me. It’s taken an interesting turn. Others read the comments. Someone might learn something. I hope. Learned much here and other places.

          Can be fun sometimes. Not the first time I’ve heard the science is “sorta” true argument. Sorta = conditionally. Those conditions being usually what just has been pointed out is an exception.

          Despite all the Euro-centrism, we have the same motivation and use the same means to determine quackery. Weird.

        • XORY

          Fool’s errand.

          To quote a popular NPR quiz show: “Ambiguous, misleading or poorly worded questions are par for the course. Listeners who are sticklers for the truth should get their own shows.”

        • XORY

          Fool’s errand.

          To quote a popular NPR quiz show: “Ambiguous, misleading or poorly worded questions are par for the course. Listeners who are sticklers for the truth should get their own shows.”

        • XORY

          Fool’s errand.

          To quote a popular NPR quiz show: “Ambiguous, misleading or poorly worded questions are par for the course. Listeners who are sticklers for the truth should get their own shows.”

        • XORY

          Fool’s errand.

          To quote a popular NPR quiz show: “Ambiguous, misleading or poorly worded questions are par for the course. Listeners who are sticklers for the truth should get their own shows.”

      • Kodie

        Consider the Orthodox Jew. Where I live, there are plenty of them. (Also consider the crosswalk button, of which you previously posted was useless in many places). Where I live, pressing the crosswalk button would interrupt the busy traffic so pedestrians can cross the street, but Jews on the sabbath cannot press the button. Before a couple years ago, it might be the only way to stop cars at certain parts of the day. They would just hover at the crosswalk and think cars will eventually let them cross the street, sometimes in large families with many small children, and they would. While it would be dangerous to cross the street without looking, or without waiting for traffic to stop, eventually someone will let them all cross the street, even if the light is green, and think this is god intervening. I forget to say, they wear a lot of black at night, and sometimes walk in the street instead of on the sidewalk. The fact that they can engage in dangerous activities and don’t often get killed, they think is god protecting them. Also, the city changed the traffic light pattern to automatically give pedestrians a 45-second turn at every light on the street from where I live down to the synagogue!

        There’s no evidence for god, but this crossing the street business is no evidence there isn’t a god. Before, it would be waiting for a driver to stop and let them cross, that makes their faith for them, and now, it’s the lights change to force drivers to stop even if no one is there.

        • God must’ve made the city engineers change the stoplight pattern. So there you go–God. (Or “G-d” in this case.)

        • Kodie

          I had to take the bus one time, and these two Jewish teen girls were waiting to cross the street. It turned out to be a Saturday that time, and I wasn’t thinking, but it has always bothered me when people don’t press the button. See, they work here. Cars keep coming and the light doesn’t turn red at all unless someone presses the button to cross at the crosswalk, or if a car at the cross street triggers it in the surrounding streets of my neighborhood (this has changed in the past two years or so, and now they are all timed whether someone is waiting for the light to change or not – I think the crosswalk button still works on demand but the side street triggers don’t).

          Anyway, because people like you keep saying those buttons don’t work, I think people don’t use them, and they can wait forever and the crosswalk would never give them the walk sign. So I told these young ladies to press the button, and they tell me they can’t. I have to admit this backfires sometimes, someone will press the button, look both ways and cross, then the cars have to wait for the walk sign that wouldn’t have otherwise cycled (still in some parts), while the pedestrian is long gone. And that’s beside the people who just start walking as soon as the light turns green because they know they have the right-of-way, but I digress. Anyway, I didn’t press the button for them. I imagine someone campaigned to get this changed, and there are also some elderly/disabled housing situations around here, so the lights take about 45 seconds (instead of 10 or 15) for the crosswalks. Long lights make drivers more likely to get sucked into their phones and not go when the light turns green. It’s a nightmare. I once drove up around a blind turn to find a car stopped about 4 cars behind the (green) light with everyone ahead of them gone.

          Is there anywhere I can go that’s not insane?

        • In WA state, we have a no-cell-phones-while-driving law. Just a few days ago, phase 2 started. Now, the focus is distracted driving in a broader sense. You can’t use your phone or similar device at a red light, and (the big one for me) you can’t eat in your car. These are all secondary offenses, and a cop can only charge you if they pulled you over for some other, more important reason, but it does give one pause. Hopefully it’ll reduce people who won’t go when the light changes.

        • Kodie

          In MA, texting while driving is allegedly illegal, while it is still legal to talk on the phone while holding it while driving. WTF, you can’t eat in your car? I don’t love to eat while driving, but you can’t sneak a McD french fry on the drive home? I have never seen someone pulled over for texting while driving, and I have gotten in a big fight with someone about texting at the light. She thought it was not a big deal cops should even worry about vs something else, while it is just the most very fucking annoying thing to me. When I got a smart phone, I set so that I only get notifications for calls, texts, and emails, nothing that is so urgent (nothing I think that can’t wait until I get to my destination). I never got into the habit of texting like a fiend. I don’t check facebook on my phone or any other app. I manage to do many things without looking at my phone the entire time, one of which is driving, two of which is grocery shopping. If I am looking at my phone at the grocery store, I must have made a list or taken a picture of a recipe. I have a grievance, and I wonder why people who get engrossed in their phones never seem to notice anyone else getting engrossed in their phones. People on sidewalks, people in grocery stores, people crossing the street*, people getting off the subway**.

          *Sometimes, a person has the right of way, but then they still taking their damn time looking at their phone.
          **For some reason, as soon as people get out the door somewhere, they stop short and take a look at their phone. KEEP MOVING ASSHOLE.

          I do love to check out my phone, but people who are constantly distracted by whatever people in their phone are saying… I just don’t understand why they think they’re not in the wrong. They hold up traffic, they walk slower and not in a straight line, they have no sense of people waiting behind them. This is not a minor problem. If they are texting while driving, they slow down to 5mph to avoid having an accident. This is not a minor problem. Any of you fuckers who think you’re my friend who do this or excuse this or think I’m making too much of this are not my friend.

          That’s what I think!

        • I remember a meme of sorts. It was a picture of a crumpled car with something along the lines of, “He crashed while texting, ‘Love it! LOL!!'” There may have been a series of them, with the person’s final text being something very unimportant.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know how people do it. I can’t even turn off waze while I’m driving. I wonder how many people will die looking at such a meme their friend shared because they can’t think of anything else when they get a notification while driving. People tend to overestimate how slow they are while walking or stopping suddenly to finish a text, but they also think they’re not doing anything dangerous and they can handle it. While I realize it’s dangerous, I also don’t know how these people don’t notice how annoying it is when someone else is in their way, not paying attention. Mainly I drive places, and I hate that I’d be held responsible for hitting a pedestrian who walks across the street suddenly, you know how they are looking at their phone, give a glance up but don’t actually stop walking, and then you stop, and they still don’t stop walking, plus they’re taking their damn time because they don’t notice how slow they’re wallking. It doesn’t occur to people that that could have cost them their life, it doesn’t shake them up one bit.

        • carbonUnit

          I would object mightily to the second one. I have a few lights which are almost two minutes long. Perfect time to see if any calls, or just generally fiddle with things I can’t do while in motion. Stupid GPS will not allow changes by the passenger if the car is moving.

        • Kodie

          I would object to your objecting. I sit at lights that are pretty long, and yeah! sometimes, I set my phone up so I can time the light. Then I just wait. But there are people who approach a red light as if it just turned, but it turns green right away and they are already engrossed. There are people who slow down so they can purposely wait at a red light so they can look at their phone. There are people who don’t realize the light has been green for over 5 seconds already, and then drive like they have to punish someone for honking them out of their stupor. 5 seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, so when you have to honk at people so they, um, actually drive their car, they really don’t understand what the hold up is. The hold up is that, say, 15 cars could get through the light, but thanks to asshole, 5 are prisoner at the next red light, and start all over again. That’s not 5 seconds, that’s an extra 2 minutes.

        • carbonUnit

          Then the idiots should be cited for delay of game or something, but I don’t appreciate silly laws that prevent useful acts while the vehicle is not in motion. (I sometimes loose my place listening to a podcast. Lights delight in staying green for me so I can’t reposition…)

        • MR

          How funny. This morning a co-worker and I had this whole conversation, as we were waiting for the light to turn, about if we should have punched the button, but we expected that the person who was standing there when we got there had already pressed the button and besides there were people on all the other corners (it was one of those four-way crosswalks) who probably already pressed the button and what if everyone was standing there thinking everyone else must have pressed the button and no one really did press the button and then it was taking a long time for the light to turn and when it did it was for the cars going the other way and then she started to get annoyed at me because I hadn’t pressed the button and I said don’t be ridiculous it’s just going through its normal cycle and some homeless guy walked up and asked what day it was and then proceeded to hold court while we were trying to ignore him and then we were both annoyed now that neither of us had pressed the button and finally the light turned and we got away from him because he was kind of gimpy.

          It think it’s probably some sort of miracle sign that this topic came up so coincidentally.

        • Kodie

          Press the fucking button. It’s not like it will go twice if more than one person presses it. It’s not like an elevator where it’s entirely likely that the person who got there before you pressed the button… I think elevator buttons light up when pressed, so if you’re going down, you can press it if the first person had already pressed up. It’s actually, now that I think about it, ODD. You can see if someone pressed the elevator button, but every new person who shows up will also press it.

          I think in most intersections in urban areas, the light will turn red and you can cross, except for people turning right will hate you. The popular thinking is that the button doesn’t work, but if there is no pedestrian phase in the light cycle, I think pressing it will stop traffic in all directions. Another complaint I have is people who don’t press the button but assert themselves across the intersection instead, so you have to stop at a green light. I’m more than happy to stop at a red light. Press the fucking button so I have to wait for my turn. Don’t fucking take my turn. Get all you pedestrians cross at the same time, and then wait when cars are coming.

        • I’m a guy. I’ll be damned if I’m going to get an elevator or make a crosswalk light change on someone else’s push.

        • MR

          It’s flu season, people!

        • Michael Neville

          Some of us have had the vaccination.

          <pats self on back, sprains shoulder doing so>

        • MR

          Only 30% effective this year.

        • Greg G.

          I hope it has run its course before I get back.

        • Greg G.

          The hotel where I stayed in Sydney had three elevators lifts. One for the lower floors, one for lower and mid-range floors,and one for the upper floors which I think were apartments. They required a swipe of the fob for the RFID chip to access your floor.

          I got on the middle lift with a young woman who was obviously in a hurry. I waved the badge but the buttons were in a different order. A second before i hit my button, she waved her badge and hit her button. My button lit in response to being pushed but i noticed it didn’t hold. Being a guy, I had to wave my badge and hit my button before we missed my floor.

        • TheMountainHumanist

          I DON’T ROLL ON SHABBOS! — Walter Sobcheck….

      • carbonUnit
  • TheMountainHumanist

    I think prayer is basically just self talk therapy. It makes people feel like they can kind of cast a spell on reality and affect the outcome.

    I kind of get why people would be so motivated. If you are on a plane taking a nose dive..there is literally nothing you can do — you can’t get out and push or stick your feet out a la Flintstones.

    We are a species that thrived by taking action against adversity….when we can’t the mode is to “try anything” no matter how futile. Thats’ what prayer is.

    • Kodie

      It might not even be that complicated as trying, but I don’t think humans can really get away from wishing for something else to be true sometimes. That inspires our innovation, collectively, because something else can be true if we make it happen, but we have to want it first. A lot of people are satisfied, but dissatisfaction is how inventions are made. That said, I also think most humans are rather useless in the sense they don’t invent anything new. They may create something that didn’t exist before, or engineer some solution to a problem once in a while, even if it has been thought of before. Being able to look around and forge makeshift tools out of necessity…. doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in a proper hammer, but sometimes, a shoe will work. But mostly, I think most of human imagination is runoff. We’re almost incapable of not thinking, doesn’t matter what it is, crossword puzzle, celebrity gossip, oh god I just noticed how ugly my curtains are check out wayfair. When you’re in danger, obviously, you wish the danger would end, or never happened, or thinking back, if only I had not stopped off at the grocery store after work, I would have not had that accident. The “if only” things weren’t as they are right now, that’s a wish too. Imagining things had gone differently or were different now, that’s prayer. And because we have more capability than we often realize, the solution may come about from the prayer. As long as you don’t get wound up in frantic racing unproductive panic…. and maybe even sometimes panic can help. People who run towards an accident that just happened recognize disaster but do not think hey maybe I shouldn’t run over there. Sometimes they shouldn’t have, but freaking out can sometimes make good things happen. And just sometimes, things turn out better than we imagined they would anyway, just that time passed. Worrying what results the doctor is going to call you with, there’s nothing you can do about it, but maybe it’s ok. If it’s not ok, worrying the whole time you waited didn’t do anything to help, but worrying about it and it was ok didn’t help either. It’s just that we can’t be distracted or stop thinking, or that’s why people do recommend doing something else to stop thinking about the things we can’t do anything about.

      • TheMountainHumanist

        “I don’t think humans can really get away from wishing for something else to be true sometimes.”

        Indeed….that’s what made us thrive..the ability to look beyond what was and imagine a different outcome. “OK….this tiger can kill me…but…what if I sharpen this stone and tie it to a stick?”