The Case for a Creator: Why Cosmologists Are Atheists

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 4

Strobel’s next interview is with Stephen Meyer, a philosopher who’s also one of the cofounders of the Discovery Institute. Strobel and Meyer touch on several topics (fine-tuning, irreducible complexity) that will be discussed in more detail in later chapters, so I’ll defer responding to those arguments for now. Amusingly, Strobel also gives Meyer credit for contributing to Of Pandas and People – the textbook which provided one of the crucial pieces of evidence in a court ruling that intelligent design was religion and not science – so maybe we should give him credit for that!

But I want to begin on a different point. In the introduction to this chapter, Strobel tells the story of Allan Sandage, a respected cosmologist raised as a nonreligious Jew who shocked his colleagues by announcing his conversion to Christianity at the age of fifty. As usual, no one can ever convert to Christianity without it being the most stunning and significant thing that has ever happened, which is why Strobel dutifully hails Sandage as “the greatest observational cosmologist in the world” [p.69]. (I have no doubt that if I ever converted to Christianity, I’d immediately be praised by apologists as “formerly the world’s most influential atheist”. Maybe I ought to stage a conversion – I bet I’d get some nice pull quotes for the back cover of my book!)

I don’t doubt Sandage’s scientific achievements (he was a student of Edwin Hubble, and did some crucial work in helping to precisely determine the age of the universe), but I do question if such a title is appropriate for any scientist. Science is by nature a collaborative field, and it’s almost never the case that a great discovery can be credited solely to one person. Every major scientific achievement is made possible by the research of many people and by building on the findings of those who came before – hence, Newton’s famous comment about “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

As far as I can tell, Strobel accurately relays the story of Sandage’s conversion. What he omits, though, is Sandage’s own reasons for why he converted. Sandage himself explains this, and makes it clear that, unlike Strobel and his creationist interviewees, he does not believe the theme put forward in this book, that science points to the existence of God:

Q. Can the existence of God be proved?

I should say not with the same type of certainty that we ascribe to statements such as “the earth is in orbit about the sun at a mean distance of 93 million miles, making a complete journey in 365.25 days”… Proofs of the existence of God have always been of a different kind – a crucial point to be understood by those scientists who will only accept results that can be obtained via the scientific method.

…The Bible is certainly not a book of science. One does not study it to find the intensities and the wavelengths of the Balmer spectral lines of hydrogen. But neither is science concerned with the ultimate spiritual properties of the world, which are also real.

In this essay, Sandage states that science is extremely effective at answering “how” questions, but not “why” questions (i.e., why is there something rather than nothing?), and he finds that theism answers these questions satisfactorily, although it cannot be proved by the scientific method. This is a completely different view than what creationism avers, and it’s small surprise that Strobel doesn’t delve more deeply into Sandage’s actual views.

But there’s a larger context that Strobel avoids mentioning here. It’s the same creationist fallacy that we’ve seen before: take a few isolated, anecdotal accounts of scientists turning to theism, and use them as a basis to claim that most scientists are turning to theism, when the statistics tell a completely different story.

The last definitive survey on this topic was published in Nature in 1998 by the historian Edward J. Larson. Questioning the several hundred members of the National Academy of Sciences, Larson found

near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists. Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists [including astronomers —Ebonmuse] it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers.

Eighty percent of NAS physicists and astronomers disbelieve in God – and, as Larson’s paper shows, this number has actually risen over the decades. This is a far cry from Strobel’s misleading assertion that “many scientists are now driven to faith by their very work” [p.71]. The Big Bang and other cosmological issues, clearly, are not perceived as evidence for theism by the very people who study them for a living and are most knowledgeable and familiar with them. (This point is argued persuasively by Sean Carroll in his paper Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists.)

As with Sandage, there are always exceptions. But these cases should be viewed as what they are – rare, unusual holdouts – rather than, as Strobel dishonestly portrays them, the vanguard of a new or coming revolution in scientific thinking.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • keddaw

    Everyone believes in God, they just say they don’t so they look cool and rebellious.

    Or maybe they’ve looked at the claims of religions and found them to be vapid, self-contradictory and immoral. They’ve looked at the evidence for the existence God(s) and found it to be lacking. They’ve looked at science and found answers to questions of how, why and when and seen no need to go beyond what can be measured or inferred.

    Incidentally, why do creationists (young earth ones) never go about trying to disprove the age of the sun or the distance between the stars and galaxies but go after evolution instead? Do they not see that astronomy, cosmology and even petrology go against the ridiculous claims they make too?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    In this essay, Sandage states that science is extremely effective at answering “how” questions, but not “why” questions (i.e., why is there something rather than nothing?)

    There isn’t as much distinction between “how” and “why” questions as many people suppose; in many cases, it’s just a question of rephrasing. Also, our increase in naturalistic scientific knowledge has converted many “why” questions into “how” questions. Example: “why does God make people sick?” becomes “How do germs and genes explain the bulk of human illness?

    This still leaves us with a few of the “ultimate why” questions, such as the one Sandage poses. But religion doesn’t really answer those questions. Consider again “Why is there something instead of nothing?” If we grant that God could have created all of the material universe, this still leaves us with a remaining question: “why is there God instead of nothing?” The question is not answered, it is merely pushed back one step further. Religion is not a solution to these questions, it is merely a dodge, a way to confuse people and stop them from asking. It’s like the impatient parent who, tired of answering interminable “why is the sky blue (Rayleigh scattering, by the way)” questions from her child, resorts to “because I said so.”

  • Scotlyn

    So what would you do if you did accept that there are some “ultimate why” questions that are worth answering, and that the scientific method and available evidence were no help to you. How would you decide among the many competing religious theories? Has any religious apologist come up with an equivalent “religious evidential method” for sifting religious, or “ultimate why,” truth from falsehood? (Anything other than “the holy book says so” or “look into your heart”?)

    Curious minds want to know…

  • http://evilburnee.co.uk PaulJ

    Incidentally, why do creationists (young earth ones) never go about trying to disprove the age of the sun or the distance between the stars and galaxies but go after evolution instead?

    Actually they do. My favourite is the argument about the speed of light having decreased from infinity (around 6,000 years ago) to its current value, thus accounting for the seeming billions of years it has taken some starlight to reach Earth. Of course, pretty much the whole of the rest of physics collapses into nonsense if you make this assumption….

  • Ritchie

    scotlyn -

    So what would you do if you did accept that there are some “ultimate why” questions that are worth answering, and that the scientific method and available evidence were no help to you. How would you decide among the many competing religious theories?

    If you did accept there were ‘ultimate why’ questions which science could not answer, then why assume religion could?

  • Scotlyn

    I’m not the one making that assumption. I’m just trying to tease out the implications for those who do.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I’m not the one making that assumption. I’m just trying to tease out the implications for those who do.

    I picked up on that. Nice job, we’re all on the same side. Now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

  • Lord Cataplanga

    “Why is there something instead of nothing?”

    There is only one state of nothing, while there are infinite ways of “somethings”, so maybe it’s just statistics.
    Does this make sense?

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Reginald Selkirk “Now let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.”
    No! Thong Song! Thong Song!

  • TommyP

    “Maybe I ought to stage a conversion – I bet I’d get some nice pull quotes for the back cover of my book!)”

    This would be epic, Ebonmuse.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    “Has any religious apologist come up with an equivalent “religious evidential method” for sifting religious”

    This is not a problem for for the religious. They just pick the one they like. Once they’ve dispensed with reason to answer the fundamental questions of existence, dispensing with reason to answer any question is easy.

    That’s the thing they don’t get: once you start answering questions without evidence, it’s hard to stop.

  • Alex Weaver

    My favourite is the argument about the speed of light having decreased from infinity (around 6,000 years ago) to its current value

    What the hell would an infinite speed even mean?

  • Leum

    Alex, that’s how fast people who ask tricky questions will be thrown into Hell.

    Mathematically, the limit of y miles per x hours approaches infinity as x goes to 0, so infinite speed would be teleportation. Of course, it all gets tricky when you throw in relativity because time doesn’t exist at light speed, so from the observational position of the photon you are already traveling at an infinite speed.

  • Tully

    “Proofs of the existence of God have always been of a different kind – a crucial point to be understood by those scientists who will only accept results that can be obtained via the scientific method.”

    That slays me. I should be impressed about a scientist becoming a theist when he states at the outset that he ABANDONS science to become a theist?

    I hate to say this, but I’m quickly reaching the point where I can’t even bring myself to the point where I can even entertain an apologist’s arguments seriously.

  • Alex Weaver

    Teleportation works, in real world terms rather than in the sort of mathematical reasoning that inspired jokes like the one which punchlines in “Consider a spherical cow…”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Has any religious apologist come up with an equivalent “religious evidential method” for sifting religious, or “ultimate why,” truth from falsehood? (Anything other than “the holy book says so” or “look into your heart”?)

    Here’s an odd example over at
    Common Sense Atheism. Christian “Kyle” shows up in the comments and gives this reason for rejecting other, non-Christian, gods:
    The present issue is how I can believe in one God while rejecting the others. It seems perfectly reasonable to respond to that by saying that since the God I believe in is the one God, then other gods cannot exist.

    There seems to be an assumption here that I have to have assessed every religion and come up with arguments against them all in order to be rational. Why think that? If they say things that contradict what I believe, then can’t I reject them for that reason?

    CSA has a pretty decent level of philosophical sophistication, so you can imagine the reception this earns for Kyle.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    “So what would you do if you did accept that there are some “ultimate why” questions that are worth answering, and that the scientific method and available evidence were no help to you. How would you decide among the many competing religious theories?”

    OK, wait. First off, when it comes to the “how/why” distinction, there are two further distinctions to make. “How” and “why” could each be interpreted different ways, viz:

    The causal “how”: Questions of the form, “How did that happen?” Answered with a causal story.
    The quantitative “how”: Questions of the form, “How much?” Answered with a quantity and a unit term.
    The rational “how”: Questions of the form, “How do you figure?” Answered with a chain of reasoning.
    The causal “why”: No different from the causal “how.” Answered with a causal story.
    The purposive “why”: Questions of the form, “Why did he do that?” Answered in relation to some purpose or goal.

    These can get conflated in all sorts of ways. First, notice that both “how” and “why” have overlapping meaning. Second, notice that each word does cover territory that the other does not. Third, notice that it is only the “purposive why” that escapes the purview of all forms of “how” questions. Fourth, notice that the “purposive why” presupposes purpose – it asks a question that can only be answered in relation to a purpose. At any rate, all confusion may be cleared up simply by sorting out what sort of “how” or “why” we’re looking to answer here (and by pinning the questioner down on his/her meaning).

    If “ultimate why” questions are of the causal variety, then the causal “how” can already answer them and “why” need not be invoked. If you are looking for an ultimate purposive “why,” however, you may be barking up the wrong tree – for example, if there is no purpose to the thing after which you are asking. Assuming that there is and asking someone to supply it is begging the question, in which case you lose. And saying that “why” needs to be answered beyond any matter of “how” is equivocation, in which case you also lose.

    OK, now we need to be ruthlessly specific. What is the “ultimate why” you are trying to find out here? If you say, “Science will never answer an ultimate ‘____ why’ question,” then you have to fill in the blank. If you mean “purposive,” then you’re begging the question – you’re presupposing that there is a purpose in the first place, and now you can’t equivocate on “why” to make it seem necessary, The End. You either must demonstrate that the Universe does in fact have purpose to then ask what it is, or you have to ask whether it has purpose, to which anyone may simply answer, “No.” If you mean “causal,” and still want to imply that faith is somehow superior to science in this regard, then that’s patently false, also The End. The reason is that if you’re looking for a first cause, then depending on the situation, either science can answer it, or religion can’t (in other words, there is no situation where religion can answer and science cannot). If appeal to an infinite regress (AtaIR) is considered a legal move, then faith in God no more answers the question than science will be able to, since we can always ask one further “why” (and no, you can’t say that’s against the rules, since we’ve already allowed AtaIR). If an infinite regress is taken out of consideration, then science can posit a first cause just as faith can (but with science, our first cause is as far back as we have good reason to go; with religion, “God did it” is simply taken on faith).

    So if someone asks for an “ultimate why,” just pin them down on their meaning and watch their argument fall to pieces. It works every time. “Ultimate why,” my foot.

  • John Nernoff

    N: All these questions, answers, rationalizations, explanations, purposes, and whys, are sourced from a human brain(s) which weigh about 1300 grams. My take on this, is that a small brain such as we are endowed with, just cannot grasp the explanation of the relatively infinite extent of the Universe. No way, now how (says the Cowardly lLon). Just think. 30 years ago we thought things were pretty well settled with Newtonian physics and Einsteinian correctives. Now we have dark matter and dark energy which really was not in the mix. Hmmm. We have a new problem.

    Not to mention strings and 10 or 11 dimensions below us.

    What’s next? Probably a million or more puzzles and conundrums.

    But trying to figure it all out is fun. But Goddidit?? No.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    There isn’t as much distinction between “how” and “why” questions as many people suppose; in many cases, it’s just a question of rephrasing. Also, our increase in naturalistic scientific knowledge has converted many “why” questions into “how” questions. Example: “why does God make people sick?” becomes “How do germs and genes explain the bulk of human illness?”

    That’s a really excellent point, Reginald. One could almost say that the point of science is to transform “why” questions into “how” questions – something it’s been doing with tremendous success since the scientific revolution began. One might observe that god-of-the-gaps theists, like Francis Collins, are purposely making their remaining “why” questions steadily larger and more vague in the hope of moving the answers beyond all possibility of scientific investigation.

  • Leum

    Why do you think that is, Ebon?

    (To be clear, I don’t mean the immediate, temporal “why” you atheists cling to so stubbornly, I mean the Higher Purpose that such tactics must ultimately lead to in the realization of a new universe beyond our present understanding.)

  • other scott

    I’ve always felt that theists took a wrong turn when they decided to turn their god into a ‘god fo the gaps’. I wonder whether it would have been more or less costly to simply say: “You need faith to believe in our god, only those you are faithful will get into heaven” rather than saying “Science can’t prove everything, everything you don’t understand is god working”.

    As our scientific insight continues to remove the ‘gaps’ from our understanding of the world the questions stop being; why does water fall from the sky? Why does lightning strike? Why do diseases kill us? and transform into; why are we here? what is the purpose of life? How did it all begin?

  • Scotlyn

    Reginald Selkirk, quoting Carl:

    There seems to be an assumption here that I have to have assessed every religion and come up with arguments against them all in order to be rational.

    Funny, I could say the same thing. I’ve never even bothered to work up any argument for rejecting the Buddha, reincarnation, the caste system, Mohammed, the Great Eagle Spirit, or any of the rest. I’ve only ever been able to sustain an interest in the arguments concerning the Christian god and the Bible, which I was intimately acquainted with by virtue of my upbringing… interesting, that!

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    I have no doubt that if I ever converted to Christianity, I’d immediately be praised by apologists as “formerly the world’s most influential atheist”. Maybe I ought to stage a conversion – I bet I’d get some nice pull quotes for the back cover of my book!

    Hold on, let me take my finger out of my throat… okay, that’s better: are you really that self-absorbed?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Funny, I could say the same thing. I’ve never even bothered to work up any argument for rejecting the Buddha, reincarnation, the caste system, Mohammed, the Great Eagle Spirit, or any of the rest.

    When you reject the existence of a God, you thereby reject all the variations specifying what that God is like. If you reject a supernatural “soul” and replace it with a naturalistic mind, then life after death gets rejected, and so does reincarnation.

    BTW, the Buddha never claimed to be a deity nor the representative of any deity. He only claimed to offer assistance in finding enlightenment, which would lead to eventual release from the cycle of reincarnation. So if reincarnation is out, Buddha doesnt’ have much of a role. (This is for the original teachings of the Buddha. I am aware that later version of Buddhism treat the Buddha as moe of a supernatural figure.)

  • Leum

    Reginald: strictly speaking, the Buddha also taught that we could cease to suffer in this life. Enlightenment doesn’t occur after death, it happens in this life. Supposedly, you stop suffering* here and now, and then you aren’t reborn because you lack the attachments that lead to rebirth. However, since you don’t have attachments, you also wouldn’t particularly care if you were reborn, anyway.

    *Or, more accurately, stop experiencing dukha, which may mean something a bit closer to dissatisfaction than suffering.

  • Scotlyn

    Reginald:

    When you reject the existence of a God, you thereby reject all the variations specifying what that God is like. If you reject a supernatural “soul” and replace it with a naturalistic mind, then life after death gets rejected, and so does reincarnation.

    Of course you are right.

    However, what I am remarking on is that here I am on this website, and others like it, and engaging with these arguments. Clearly, the Christian God and Bible are not entirely out of my system as I can still get worked up about them. Having never taken the claims of other religions seriously, I just can’t get worked up about them at all. Ideally, someday, the claims of Christianity will leave me just as indifferent, but I’m not there yet…

  • other scott

    @cl

    I think you missed Ebon’s point:

    “no one can ever convert to Christianity without it being the most stunning and significant thing that has ever happened, which is why Strobel dutifully hails Sandage as “the greatest observational cosmologist in the world” [p.69]. (I have no doubt that if I ever converted to Christianity, I’d immediately be praised by apologists as “formerly the world’s most influential atheist”. Maybe I ought to stage a conversion – I bet I’d get some nice pull quotes for the back cover of my book!)”

    What he is saying, is that anybody who converts to christianity is always hailed as a gient in whatever field they happen to study. Even if a relatively unknown biological scientist suddenly jumped up and said, “godditit”. They would be hailed as a preeminant worker in their chosen field by the faithful.

    When Ebonmuse claims that if he converted he would be hailed as “formerly the world’s most influential athiest”, he is not claiming that is how he sees himself. He is making the point that the theists grasp at whatever they can get and then try to beef it up to something outstanding. Whilst the vast majority of Atheists alive today were deconverted (unconverted? i dont really know the right word…) by their own scientific reasoning, logical understanding of the universe, etc, the church likes to point at the miniscule amount of people who later go back to the church and hold them up as a victory of sorts.

  • Alex

    @cl

    I think you missed Ebon’s point…

    other scott, that’s what cl does best.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @ CL: Other Scott spelled this out well; the basic idea is that Ebonmuse’s comment is speaking to the PR tactics of theists, not to any characteristic of his. He’s not being egotistical, in other words, he’s simply saying that he could make a sleazy PR move in the theistic world by staging a fake paradigm shift.

    @ Carl, Reginald, Scotlyn: Regarding the whole “arguments against them all” quote, I think you guys are taking the wrong approach. For any finite data set, an infinite number of interpretations are possible*; and we will always have a finite data set. Instead of trying to argue against each and every extant (or, stars forbid, possible) metaphysical claim, why not put the burden of proof on them? We have enough data to justify metaphysical naturalism – and if that’s a subjective matter rather than an objective one, then we definitely do – so whenever someone makes a supernatural claim, just ask them, “Why on Earth should I believe that?” IOW, “Evidence or GTFO.”

    * – OK, I can’t find anything online that summarizes the Duhem-Quine thesis quite like that, so I’ll make the connection a little more obvious here: basically, any scientific theory references more subject matter than it covers. For instance, “F=ma” assumes that you know other stuff about force, mass, and acceleration in order to explain their relationship – without that accessory background knowledge, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In the current context, all of that leaves a whole lot of gaps available for theistic shenanigans. For a common-sense proof of why finite data sets yield infinite interpretations, imagine a line and then pick exactly three points on it: now, when we try to figure out what line or curve best fits that data set, we can immediately jump to that line you initially imagined; however, we could also posit an infinite number of slightly varying lines/curves which also pass through those same three points. Parsimony dictates that, ceteris paribus, we should go with the simplest line that fits all the data (though each of the infinite available lines is also a possible explanation, if not a plausible one).

    RE Buddhism: Another tenet of Buddhism is that an idea is like a jacket – if it fits, wear it; if not, discard it. This is part of what makes Buddhism so difficult for me – I “fit” into a few sects of Buddhism, but do not identify with any of them. As far as I can tell, this is a matter of pure preference, and no principled rationale. Still not quite sure what to make of that, and it’s tangential to the matter at hand, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  • Danikajaye

    Scotlyn: How often do you hear people saying “Those damn hateful Buddhists are trying to restrict my right to contraception and safe abortion! Did you see all those fundamentalist Buddhists campaigning against gay marriage and trying to teach creationism is schools?! DAMN BUDDHISTS and their terrorist organisations- look at what they have done to airport security!” ….

  • other scott

    @Danikajaye

    There is an Australian comedian who did a pretty funny tv show called John Safran vs. God. Basically he road tested a bunch of religions and laughed at how weird they all were. In regards to your comment about Buddhism being basically ‘better than christianity’ as far as freedoms go, John Safran did a bit where he went around on the streets and asked people who said whatever quote, The Pope or the Dalai Lama. The quotes were saying that gays are evil, etc, etc. everybody thought that they were direct quotes from the pope but in actuality it was the Dalai Lama. I’m trying to find a video clip to link but it seems like everything has been taken down due to copyright infringement. Basically the Dalai Lama condemns homosexuality, abortion and having sex while the sun is still in the sky.

  • Leum

    The Dalai Lama is, in fact, just as strict about sex as the Pope; their rules for sexual conduct are basically identical.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    The Dalai Lama is, in fact, just as strict about sex as the Pope; their rules for sexual conduct are basically identical.

    What is it with religious leaders and their obsession with our sex lives? I never considered Buddhists to be that interested in the subject, disappointing really.

  • other scott

    Yeah i’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama is even against masturbation….

  • Danikajaye

    I saw Jonh Safran vs God- the point WAS that Buddhist aren’t seen as the vocal majority so we don’t focus on them

  • Danikajaye

    Last time I drove past an abortion clinic I only saw Catholic protesters. The last news report I heard about terrorism didn’t feature Buddhists. I had a Jehovah’s witness knock on my door the other day- I don’t think I’ve ever had a Buddhist come to my door. Despite the fact that many religions share the same old hateful ideas it is much easier to direct anger at the religions that are most visible.

  • Caiphen Martini

    I’m as guilty of changing the topic on a thread as even the most guilty person. But lets get back to the topic.

    (and he finds that theism answers these questions satisfactorily, although it cannot be proved by the scientific method)

    Alan Sandage is right, the idea that there is a God will never be comprehensively answered using the scientific method. I’m a theist and I admit it.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Alan Sandage is right, the idea that there is a God will never be comprehensively answered using the scientific method.

    That depends, doesn’t it? Sure, your god can hide in ever smaller gaps, always one step removed from the boundaries of our knowledge. Most people, however, don’t believe in such a god. Their god is an interventionist one; one that doesn’t hide in the gaps, but instead performs works in this world. Those works can generally be studied through the scientific method and we can see whether god is doing anything or not. Prayer studies come to mind as an example.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    OMFG “Prayer studies come to mind as an example.”
    Ah, but since prayer is undetectable, there’s no way to filter out prayer from “outside” the test group. That they’re undetectable (and there’s no way to tell which prayers work and which don’t) and the outcome is typically equivalent to placebo (as is generally the case with even the best woo), the null hypothesis is still justified, I believe. Which puts it on par with homeopathy.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    OMGF said,

    Those works can generally be studied through the scientific method and we can see whether god is doing anything or not. Prayer studies come to mind as an example.

    Although it makes an appearance of being falsifiable, this attitude actually betrays the concept of falsifiability. I personally believe prayer studies are a sham, and I would like to ask anyone: How might a reasonable individual be able to discern between a healing that resulted from prayer vs. a healing that resulted from placebo effect, or spontaneous remission, or some other hitherto undiscovered “natural” mechanism? Unless somebody can answer that satisfactorily, OMGF’s argument – along with Dawkins’ “God Hypothesis” and every derivative of it – fails.

    D, other scott,

    I understood Ebon’s point. Apparently you disagreed with mine, and that’s okay.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I understood Ebon’s point. Apparently you disagreed with mine, and that’s okay.

    If you understood his point, that reduces your “point” to sarcastic insult and nothing more. But of course, you “understand” this as well.

  • Ritchie

    cl -

    How might a reasonable individual be able to discern between a healing that resulted from prayer vs. a healing that resulted from placebo effect, or spontaneous remission, or some other hitherto undiscovered “natural” mechanism? Unless somebody can answer that satisfactorily, OMGF’s argument – along with Dawkins’ “God Hypothesis” and every derivative of it – fails.

    You think so? It does say (several times) in the Bible that all prayers will be answered – ask and we shall receive, and all that. So really, unless we are to regard this as a broken promise, prayer’s track record must be 100%. In other words if a single ill person dies despite being prayed for, or if a lost loved-one does not arrive home safely despite fervent prayer, then we may conclude God has not kept this promise.

  • Ritchie

    Damn. Whoops. Well, you know what I meant – the first block’s your quote and the second one is my reply…

    Grumble grumble grumble…

  • Alex, FCD

    I would like to ask anyone: How might a reasonable individual be able to discern between a healing that resulted from prayer vs. a healing that resulted from placebo effect, or spontaneous remission, or some other hitherto undiscovered “natural” mechanism?

    Like this: we get a bunch of people who are suffering from the same illness, as determined by a doctor. We get a computer to put them into these four groups at random:

    Group 1: are being prayed for and know it.
    Group 2: are not being prayed for, but think they are.
    Group 3: are being prayed for and don’t know it.
    Group 4: are not being prayed for and don’t think that they are.

    They praying can be done by any group of religious people you like. We then have a doctor (or a group of them, depending on how large the study is) track the progress of these people’s diseases (without, of course, knowing which group they are in). Using the data obtained from the study doctor(s), we can then see whether the people in groups one and two had significantly better outcomes than the people in groups two and four. This controls for the possibility of the placebo effect being the cause of the better outcomes in the prayer groups. We don’t need to control for spontaneous remission because that’s exactly what we’re looking for: more spontaneous remissions in groups of people who are being prayed for. Hitherto undiscovered natural causes shouldn’t be a problem because a natural cause that can discriminate as to whether or not a group of people entirely unrelated to the patient have mumbled to themselves or not would not be a ‘natural’ cause at all.

    So, yeah, that’s how.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Alex, FCD
    As an experiment that’s about as good a design as you would need. But it is question begging in that it assumes the non-existence of a God who being omniscient is aware of what you are doing (undermining faith) and so chooses to confound the result.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Plus Satan will mess with it! Oooo, damn that Satan and his scheming!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Steve Bowen,

    But it is question begging in that it assumes the non-existence of a God who being omniscient is aware of what you are doing (undermining faith) and so chooses to confound the result.

    Ah, but that would falsify the god under question for most Xians. Plus, most Xians contend that prayer does something, even though god is omniscient.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    OMGF
    If I was God (and who knows I might be)I would make sure that the attrition rate for the non-prayed for was the same as the prayed for. It would appear to the skeptic that we had falsified the effectiveness of prayer but the faithful would “know” that prayer really works. This would however have the effect of raising the cure rate for the non-prayed for, above a long term average which might be noticed.
    Another problem is that you can’t be sure that the people who are’nt being prayed for are’nt praying for themselves.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I would counter that this still falsifies the god that most Xians believe in. This would be a dishonest god, and god can not lie…or so I’m told. It seems a rather hollow victory to defeat a study that is not promising for prayer by rejecting your own god to do it.

    I’ll also note that the “attrition rate for the non-prayed for” is the same as the prayed for, seemingly even when not doing these studies. So, if god is intentionally acting to confuse our studies, it’s not noticeable from when he isn’t trying to confuse our studies.

  • Alex, FCD

    Steve:

    But it is question begging in that it assumes the non-existence of a God who being omniscient is aware of what you are doing (undermining faith) and so chooses to confound the result…If I was God (and who knows I might be)I would make sure that the attrition rate for the non-prayed for was the same as the prayed for.

    Suppose I claimed to have mice in my home. I intuitively know these mice exist, but on a thorough search of my house you discover no mice and no evidence of mice. I explain to you that these are very intelligent mice who can tell when they are going to be looked for and carefully conceal all evidence to the contrary. They only leave evidence, I further inform you, when you don’t look for it (and thus don’t find it).

    What you should be asking me at this point is: what is the difference is between my evidence-hiding mice and mice that don’t actually exist?

    Another problem is that you can’t be sure that the people who are’nt being prayed for are’nt praying for themselves.

    Use atheists. Or don’t even do the experiment, just look up the spontaneous remission rate for people from religious v. non-religious families (using adequate matched-pair techniques).

  • Alex, FCD

    In the above, for ‘evidence to the contrary’ read ‘evidence that they exist’.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    what is the difference is between my evidence-hiding mice and mice that don’t actually exist?

    Nice analogy. Reminds me of a joke (stop me if you’ve heard it); So, I’m on a train and the little old lady sitting opposite keeps rolling up little pieces of paper into balls and throwing them out of the window. Eventually, I can’t resist asking what she’s doing. “It keeps the elephants off the tracks” She replies. I protest ” but there aren’t any elephants on the tracks”. She gives me a knowing wink and says “Effective … Isn’t it?”

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Thumpalumpacus,

    If you understood his point, that reduces your “point” to sarcastic insult and nothing more. But of course, you “understand” this as well.

    Actually, I don’t. That I understood Ebon’s point doesn’t render my observation an insult. That I detect self-absorption is an observation, not an insult. If I wanted to insult him, I would have.

    Ritchie,

    You think so? It does say (several times) in the Bible that all prayers will be answered – ask and we shall receive, and all that. So really, unless we are to regard this as a broken promise, prayer’s track record must be 100%. In other words if a single ill person dies despite being prayed for, or if a lost loved-one does not arrive home safely despite fervent prayer, then we may conclude God has not kept this promise.

    I think you’ve oversimplified the verses you have in mind, and not considered verses that challenge your position. The Bible does not teach any sort of emphatic rule that all prayers will get answered at all times under all conditions. Prayer studies only disprove a magic Yes-man in the sky.

    Alex, FCD,

    How do we know people in group 2 and 4 aren’t getting prayed for? All you can guarantee is that they aren’t getting prayed for by the intercessors you selected. Besides, you kinda responded to the question out-of-context. I wasn’t asking how to protect a study against confounders: what I was asking was, in any individual case study – how might we tell the difference?

  • Alex, FCD

    How do we know people in group 2 and 4 aren’t getting prayed for?

    Because we’re using atheists who come from families of atheists, as I’ve mentioned above. It doesn’t quite guarantee it, but it does significantly decrease the likelihood, which is really all we should need to show a significant effect, given a large enough sample size.

    wasn’t asking how to protect a study against confounders: what I was asking was, in any individual case study – how might we tell the difference?

    You could move people from one group to the other throughout the duration of the study (i.e. you aren’t prayed for for six months, and then you are for a further six). You then compare the people in the different groups to see how the illnesses progressed.

    My way is easier, though. Why is it so important to see it in an individual case study?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    cl wrote:

    Ritchie,

    ….I think you’ve oversimplified the verses you have in mind, and not considered verses that challenge your position. The Bible does not teach any sort of emphatic rule that all prayers will get answered at all times under all conditions. Prayer studies only disprove a magic Yes-man in the sky.

    Seems to me that a book so susceptible to imperfect interpretation can hardly be the product of a perfect deity. Do you think god is perfect, or not? Knowing your limitations here, you can email me the answer. And I’m happy to read the last line of your paragraph.

    Alex, FCD,

    How do we know people in group 2 and 4 aren’t getting prayed for? All you can guarantee is that they aren’t getting prayed for by the intercessors you selected. Besides, you kinda responded to the question out-of-context. I wasn’t asking how to protect a study against confounders: what I was asking was, in any individual case study – how might we tell the difference?

    And if we indeed cannot discern any difference in outcome, what might be inferred, in your mind?

  • Alex, FCD

    Thump,

    I didn’t say that, but since you asked I would infer that prayer is of negligible medicinal value.

  • Ritchie

    cl -

    I think you’ve oversimplified the verses you have in mind, and not considered verses that challenge your position. The Bible does not teach any sort of emphatic rule that all prayers will get answered at all times under all conditions. Prayer studies only disprove a magic Yes-man in the sky.

    I’ve oversimplified them? Let’s see… (*dashes over to Ebon’s Nothing Fails Like A Prayer essay for quotes*)

    Matthew 21:21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. 22:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

    Luke 11:9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 11:10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

    Matthew 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

    Strait out of the mouth of Jesus, according to Matthew and Luke. Perhaps you can tell me exactly how I’ve misinterpreted these passages, or exactly where the stipulations for having your prayers granted are to be found?

    I do agree that this paints God as a mindless Yes-man mindlessly granting prayers everywhere like a cosmic cash machine. But in fairness, this is exactly how God is depicted in the Bible! This is exactly what Jesus promised.

  • Ritchie

    Strait? What’s that word doing there? Must have had some odd brain blip. I meant ‘straight’, obviously…

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    But you’re forgetting passages like this:

    Jim4:15-17 And Jesus said to the gathering gathered around Him, “And yea, for my works shall show up as, statistically, barely a freckle among the many on those with heads of red,
    And my power is immense. Truly equal to that of the Great Placebo. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to appear on a tortilla in Mexico City of Mexico.
    And then the Lord was gone. And He was not there. And He was somewhere else.”

    So there!

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Alex, FCD,

    ..we’re using atheists who come from families of atheists, as I’ve mentioned above. It doesn’t quite guarantee it, but it does significantly decrease the likelihood,

    I’m skeptical of that claim, because many individuals and congregations pray specifically for atheists, and many others pray for the ill regardless of their creed or lack thereof.

    Why is it so important to see it in an individual case study?

    Regarding prayer studies, there are the methodological questions, and the epistemological ones. While certainly important, I didn’t mean to get into the methodological question, but the epistemological one, which is relevant whether we discuss one case or many. Continuing in that vein, let’s say an atheist experiences a spontaneous remission. Wouldn’t the conclusion that the remission was “natural” and “not divine” amount to pure presupposition? Why or why not?

    Thumpalumpacus,

    Knowing your limitations here, you can email me the answer.

    Such assumes I know your email address. Feel free to share, or comment at my soapbox, but to answer the question we’d have to get on the same page as to what you mean when you say perfect. For example, some people opine that perfection entails the ability to perform the logically impossible. I disagree.

    Ritchie,

    (*dashes over to Ebon’s Nothing Fails Like A Prayer essay for quotes*)

    Well, there’s at least part of the problem right there — you’re relying on biblical exegesis from a skilled adept in cherry-picking the Bible to support his arguments! A regular here once commented that Ebon is “at his worst” when doing exegesis. Though he’s certainly a much better writer than the ICR’s entire staff, learning the Bible from Ebonmuse is tantamount to learning evolution from the Discovery Institute. Nonetheless, even the first verse cited challenges your claim as originally worded.

    ..this paints God as a mindless Yes-man mindlessly granting prayers everywhere like a cosmic cash machine… this is exactly how God is depicted in the Bible!

    That just shows how little you’ve critically considered the book you’re criticizing. Should your own research not avail, we can cross that bridge when we get there.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Such assumes I know your email address. Feel free to share, or comment at my soapbox, but to answer the question we’d have to get on the same page as to what you mean when you say perfect. For example, some people opine that perfection entails the ability to perform the logically impossible. I disagree.

    I did email you, a couple of weeks back, regarding the very issue of lenghty responses and interchanges, and invited you to write me if the need arose. I’ll do so again.

    When I say “perfect”, I mean “without failure in any of the qualities a believer ascribes to his deity.” In Christianity, this is typically understood to be Omnimax. Not knowing your view of this deity, I am loath to erect strawmen, and so I’d rather hear your conceptions of the deity in question.

  • Ritchie

    cl -

    Well, there’s at least part of the problem right there — you’re relying on biblical exegesis from a skilled adept in cherry-picking the Bible to support his arguments! A regular here once commented that Ebon is “at his worst” when doing exegesis. Though he’s certainly a much better writer than the ICR’s entire staff, learning the Bible from Ebonmuse is tantamount to learning evolution from the Discovery Institute.

    Well that’s a nice evasion of the issue, but I’m afraid that’s all it really is. Let me assure you that I have in fact read the Bible myself, and am not taking Ebon’s word as gospel (literally). I used these quotes as a reference point simply for the sake of speed and convenience, but I checked them myself before I posted them, and I did not think they were taken out of context. I’ll take the criticism of academic laziness on the chin, but that’s really not the point. These quotes really do seem to portray Jesus promising that anything is achievable through prayer – unconditionally. It is now up to you to show they do not mean what they seem to mean, or to provide counter examples to support your claim that prayer is indeed conditional.

    Nonetheless, even the first verse cited challenges your claim as originally worded.

    I don’t see how. Please elaborate.

    That just shows how little you’ve critically considered the book you’re criticizing. Should your own research not avail, we can cross that bridge when we get there.

    Consider us there right now. If, as you seem, you are accusing me of ignorance of the Bible, then that is a claim you need to back up, not merely assert.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Thumpalumpacus,

    I did email you, a couple of weeks back, regarding the very issue of lenghty responses and interchanges, and invited you to write me if the need arose. I’ll do so again.

    My apologies. If the address you used was the one on the “email” link underneath my blog’s header, I had to ditch that address. I’ve updated the link with the new address, so try again if you’re still interested, and I will certainly reply.

    ..I mean “without failure in any of the qualities a believer ascribes to his deity.”

    So, what if a believer ascribes the ability to do the logically impossible to their God? See the problem?

    Not knowing your view of this deity, I am loath to erect strawmen, and so I’d rather hear your conceptions of the deity in question.

    Absolutely reasonable, and here would be a good place to start if understanding my position more clearly is the goal.

    Ritchie,

    If, as you seem, you are accusing me of ignorance of the Bible, then that is a claim you need to back up, not merely assert.

    I did not accuse you of ignorance of the Bible, specifically because I did not know how much of the Bible you’ve read, and I was aware of the possibility that you may have already read the entire Bible one or more times. Proffering that one hasn’t critically considered the Bible is not the same as accusing one of ignorance of the Bible, but I believe I can back up my assertion nonetheless:

    It is now up to you to show they do not mean what they seem to mean, or to provide counter examples to support your claim that prayer is indeed conditional.

    Your claim as originally worded began thusly: “It does say (several times) in the Bible that all prayers will be answered..” Yet, doesn’t Matthew 21:21 – the first verse you cited – contain a conditional that prayers offered in doubt will not be answered? Similarly, doesn’t James remind us in verse 1:7 that the “double-minded” person should not think their prayers will be answered? Further, didn’t Jesus offer prayer that went unanswered in Luke 22:42?

    I can certainly continue if you wish, but have I provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Bible does not state that “all prayers will be answered,” IYO?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    This is one of atheism’s biggest objections to the christian Bible; it can cited to argue both sides of almost any issue one wishes to pursue. That in itself irreparably impeaches it’s usefulness, and indeed it’s credibility.

  • Ritchie

    cl -

    I did not accuse you of ignorance of the Bible, specifically because I did not know how much of the Bible you’ve read, and I was aware of the possibility that you may have already read the entire Bible one or more times. Proffering that one hasn’t critically considered the Bible is not the same as accusing one of ignorance of the Bible

    Fair enough. I’ll give you that one. However, I would question how close your definition of ‘critically consider’ comes to ‘interpret in the same way that I do…’

    doesn’t Matthew 21:21 – the first verse you cited – contain a conditional that prayers offered in doubt will not be answered? Similarly, doesn’t James remind us in verse 1:7 that the “double-minded” person should not think their prayers will be answered?

    Well kindof. Yes, both verses do say that you have to pray in faith and not in doubt. So in that sense, yes, prayer IS conditional. But notice this means that someone who has absolute faith should indeed be able to pray for anything at all. For spectacular miracles to happen on command.

    Now I suppose the obvious reply would be to say that there is no such person who has absolute faith. But if that were the case, surely NO prayers would ever be answered?

    Also notice which way round this works – believe first, THEN the prayer will work. Firstly, surely if prayer worked, that would inspire the belief? I know that if I could pray for absolutely anything at all and it was instantly granted then that would get me believing! So why must belief come first? Secondly, this is vague enough to give a get-out clause to any prayer which fails – ‘Oh, you simply didn’t have enough faith.’ This is not only unquantifiable enough to be totally unfalsifiable, but it is also a terrible thing for a distressed mother praying for the recovery of a sick child to believe – that the death of her child is HER fault for not having enough faith. Indeed, there have been several news articles about children dying of completely treatable illnesses because their parents would not take them to the doctor. Then chose instead to pray. And the prayers failed. Are you really implying it was their fault because they didn’t have enough faith?

    Consider it from another prespective – that prayers do NOT work, but people who do believe in them and do seem to have their prayers answered (which statistically will happen at least some of the time) will interpret their prayer as having worked. This explains not only prayer’s erratic success rate, but also the reason why faith has to come first. It is a classic tactic of tricksters and conmen – get people to believe in you first, and then they will be susceptable to accepting your explaination (amazing though it may seem at first) if they get a desired result, but leaves a get-out clause if they do not.

    Further, didn’t Jesus offer prayer that went unanswered in Luke 22:42?

    A very interesting passage indeed! In fact, I’d really like to hear your reasoning behind this one. It seems you are right, Jesus did indeed pray to be saved from having to be crucified – and not just in Luke, but in Mark 14:36 and Matthew 26:42 too. What rationale can you offer here? Why didn’t Jesus’ prayer work? Did Jesus have doubt? Surely was WAS God? How could he doubt God if he was God? If he was the omnicogniscent God, didn’t he know the future? Didn’t he already know the sacrifice he would have to make? Didn’t he know it would be necessary? If he was the omnipotent God, didn’t he have the power to change things if he so wished?

    The one explaination which seems to make the LEAST sense is that Jesus was indeed the living incarnation of the omnicogniscent, omnipotent God, who said a prayer, doubting the very God he knew he was the living incarnation of, and that the prayer went unanswered. Yet this is the very explaination Christian doctrine teaches, isn’t it?

  • Alex, FCD

    I’m skeptical of that claim, because many individuals and congregations pray specifically for atheists, and many others pray for the ill regardless of their creed or lack thereof.

    And at this point, we have to ask ourselves what the difference would be between a god who helps all the sick equally and a god who helps none at all (and a god who doesn’t exist).

    Regarding prayer studies, there are the methodological questions, and the epistemological ones. While certainly important, I didn’t mean to get into the methodological question, but the epistemological one, which is relevant whether we discuss one case or many. Continuing in that vein, let’s say an atheist experiences a spontaneous remission. Wouldn’t the conclusion that the remission was “natural” and “not divine” amount to pure presupposition? Why or why not?

    Perhaps I’m being thick, but that didn’t answer my question at all (which, you may recall, was “why do we need to see divine intervention in a single case rather than in an experiment?”). To answer your question, I don’t draw that conclusion about the individual atheist at all. Rather, I look at some sort of quantification of the progress of the disease in one group vs. another and apply the methods of statistics to discover whether or not the evidence of the study is such that I can conclude that prayer is of significant medicinal value.

    If somebody asks me whether or not Bob Johnson got better because of prayer, I answer that I neither know nor care; it’s the result of the study that matters.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Thumpalumpacus,

    Let me know if/when you resend that email..

    ..[the Bible] can [be] cited to argue both sides of almost any issue one wishes to pursue.

    Superficially, sure, but so can lots of things. To me, such says more about the nature of the person arguing than their source.

    Ritchie,

    ..I would question how close your definition of ‘critically consider’ comes to ‘interpret in the same way that I do…’

    By critically consider, I meant come to a reasoned conclusion, not interpret the Bible the same way I do.

    ..someone who has absolute faith should indeed be able to pray for anything at all.

    If we assume that doubt is the sole reason a prayer might go unanswered, yes, but I don’t share that assumption, and I don’t believe the Bible does, either.

    Indeed, there have been several news articles about children dying of completely treatable illnesses because their parents would not take them to the doctor.

    I agree that such is a tragedy, but the Bible does not tell believers to refuse medical treatment, so we must put the blame where it belongs – on the parents.

    The one explaination which seems to make the LEAST sense is that Jesus was indeed the living incarnation of the omnicogniscent, omnipotent God, who said a prayer, doubting the very God he knew he was the living incarnation of, and that the prayer went unanswered.

    I agree that such an explanation seems problematic.

    Yet this is the very explaination Christian doctrine teaches, isn’t it?

    While I’d rather not speak for “Christian doctrine” which changes according to who one asks, I don’t think that explanation is sustainable from scripture at all.

    Alex, FCD,

    ..we have to ask ourselves what the difference would be between a god who helps all the sick equally and a god who helps none at all (and a god who doesn’t exist).

    I’m unsure how that connects to my previous statement: how does that relate to the difficulties in eliminating confounders from prayer studies?

    Why is it so important to see it in an individual case study?

    Well, I did answer, but apparently I failed to make the connection clear. I’m not trying to say it’s important to “see it” in a single case study, whatever that means. Rather, I was trying to make the point that whether we discuss one case study or many, a severe epistemological challenge awaits us. Whether Bob Johnson recovers anomalously or hundreds of people, we still retain the epistemological problem. Does that make sense, and/or seem relevant?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    cl:

    To me, such says more about the nature of the person arguing than their source.

    Certainly, if it were one person arguing two contradictory passages. It just strikes me as odd that a perfect deity cannot seem to attain perfect clarity.

    And I have re-sent.

  • Ritchie

    cl -

    If we assume that doubt is the sole reason a prayer might go unanswered, yes, but I don’t share that assumption, and I don’t believe the Bible does, either.

    What other reasons do you think there are for a prayer going unanswered, and what Bible verses support your answer?

    I agree that such is a tragedy, but the Bible does not tell believers to refuse medical treatment, so we must put the blame where it belongs – on the parents.

    I agree that the Bible does not tell us to refuse medical assistance. But your problem here is to explain why it is a bad idea to pray for a sick child rather than take them to a doctor. Doesn’t prayer work? If it does, then what is wrong with simply praying for a recovery rather than seeking medical assistance? It may sound like a silly question, but consider it seriously. If prayer actually DOES work, why not rely on it?

    While I’d rather not speak for “Christian doctrine” which changes according to who one asks, I don’t think that explanation is sustainable from scripture at all.

    Really? What part? The part that Jesus was God incarnated? The part that God is omnicogniscent and omnipotent? The part where Jesus prayed to be saved from having to be crucified? Or the part where the prayer went unanswered? Please point out where I have gone wrong. And what explaination DO you think the scriptures give?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Thumpalumpacus,

    Got it.

    It just strikes me as odd that a perfect deity cannot seem to attain perfect clarity.

    I’ve thought about that too, and I attribute the lack of clarity I see to less than perfect people.

    Certainly, if it were one person arguing two contradictory passages.

    Well yeah, but that’s substantially different than the claim that “[the Bible] can [be] cited to argue both sides of almost any issue one wishes to pursue,” which was the claim I agreed to. I’ve heard many people argue both sides of many Bible contradiction issues, and I honestly wouldn’t have the first idea which particular one(s) you’re alluding to.

    Ritchie,

    ..what Bible verses support your answer?

    You actually addressed three of them in your closing paragraphs August 18, 2009, 5:33 pm, not necessarily the exact verses but the correct paragraphs in which the answers are found..

    ..why it is a bad idea to pray for a sick child rather than take them to a doctor.

    Who says it has to be either/or? When you say “doesn’t prayer work” it still seems as though you’re thinking in terms of the Yes-man we discussed earlier, whereas I’m not, and that might be part of the confusion. I really don’t see a reasonable-minded adult praying or meditating to alleviate some condition as wrong, of course with the caveat that as with occidental medicine, each case is going to be unique and merit its own unique treatment. That’s totally different than denying a child medical treatment, and to do so on biblical grounds seems shaky at best to me. Lastly, people often do rely on prayer, and find that it works, other times, seemingly not as much so, which brings us back to your question of another reason a prayer might go unanswered; Jesus’ prayer went unanswered not for doubt, but because it was God’s will that Jesus give up life (I know you’ll laugh but I’m just giving you the Bible’s reason), which Jesus had to ultimately observe as a prerequisite of humanity.**

    Really? What part?

    Earlier, you said,

    The one explaination which seems to make the LEAST sense is that Jesus was indeed the living incarnation of the omnicogniscent, omnipotent God, who said a prayer, doubting the very God he knew he was the living incarnation of, and that the prayer went unanswered. Yet this is the very explaination Christian doctrine teaches, isn’t it?

    I agree that such an explanation seemed problematic, and that while I hesitate on speaking for “Christian doctrine” because it can be quite the slippery target, I personally don’t believe the Bible attributes this prayer’s going unanswered to Jesus doubting so much as the willful laying down of life. Then again, it’s a been while since I’ve last read the NT critically, so I could be overlooking something, too, but to make just one comment about “Christian doctrine” – most who identify as Christians are familiar with the saying, “Not my will but thy will” and its pertinence to the prayer we’re talking about. IOW, willful submission is not synonymous with doubt.

    **italiced words in answer to your following questions August 18, 2009, 5:33 pm: “What rationale can you offer here? Why didn’t Jesus’ prayer work? Did Jesus have doubt? Surely was WAS God? How could he doubt God if he was God? If he was the omnicogniscent God, didn’t he know the future? Didn’t he already know the sacrifice he would have to make? Didn’t he know it would be necessary? If he was the omnipotent God, didn’t he have the power to change things if he so wished?”

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    cl “I’ve thought about that too, and I attribute the lack of clarity I see to less than perfect people.”
    And was the God that, I’m told, made these people also less than perfect?

  • Ritchie

    cl -

    You actually addressed three of them in your closing paragraphs August 18, 2009, 5:33 pm, not necessarily the exact verses but the correct paragraphs in which the answers are found..

    You are referring to the three passages in Mark, Matthew and Luke that recount Jesus’s prayer to God before he was arrested? This is just an example (though a baffling one) of a prayer which went unanswered. It does not say why. Though your interpretation may be as valid as any, the scriptures simply do not explain it. They leave us to guess. So the Bible promises us that our prayers will be answered (citing, I grant, sufficient faith as a condition), and then gives us an example of a prayer which breaks that promise, leaving us to guess why?

    Jesus’ prayer went unanswered not for doubt, but because it was God’s will that Jesus give up life (I know you’ll laugh but I’m just giving you the Bible’s reason), which Jesus had to ultimately observe as a prerequisite of humanity.

    I am not laughing, I assure you. This explaination implies that God’s will and Jesus’ will were not one and the same. Yet Jesus WAS God incarnate? This hinges on the problem of the Trinity (how can one being be three) – how can the same entity be three seperate entities WITH DIFFERENT WILLS?

    I really don’t see a reasonable-minded adult praying or meditating to alleviate some condition as wrong, of course with the caveat that as with occidental medicine, each case is going to be unique and merit its own unique treatment. That’s totally different than denying a child medical treatment, and to do so on biblical grounds seems shaky at best to me.

    I suspect the point of refusing medical attention to a child is clouding the issue, so let me remove it. Would YOU go to a doctor if you were ill, or would you just pray? Again, I know the question seems facetious, but if prayer really worked, surely it would be just as sensible to rely on prayer as to rely on doctors – more so perhaps, since doctors are merely human and infinitely fallible compared to God? I accept that there is no reason for it to be an either/or choice, but if prayer really did work, what need would there be for doctors anyway? How many prayers were uttered, I wonder, through the time of the Black Death in highly pious Medieval Europe when a third of the human population fell dead?

    Lastly, people often do rely on prayer, and find that it works, other times, seemingly not as much so

    You must already know what a difficult assertion that one is to support. There are millions of prayer uttered every day, I imagine, and guessing that many of them are asking for things, statistically, some of those prayers will happen to come to pass anyway. And surely those people, who were religious enough to pray in the first place, will interpret this as their prayer being ‘answered’? While those who do not will simply dismiss or reason away their prayer. I love the analogy of the fruit machine versus the vending machine. The vending machine gives you what you select every time. It WORKS. You put in your coin, you get what you selected, and think nothing more of it. If you put in a coin and it fails to deliever, you will not trust it again. The fruit machine however, keeps promising to pay out, yet hardly ever does. The rare occassions that it does pay out are enough to keep people standing at them feeding in coin after coin. Prayer works like the fruit machine – you so rarely and randomly get a pay out. Yet the endless catalogue of failed attempts doesn’t seem to deter people from believing in it anyweay.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Hi cl!

    Who says it has to be either/or? When you say “doesn’t prayer work” it still seems as though you’re thinking in terms of the Yes-man we discussed earlier, whereas I’m not, and that might be part of the confusion. I really don’t see a reasonable-minded adult praying or meditating to alleviate some condition as wrong, of course with the caveat that as with occidental medicine, each case is going to be unique and merit its own unique treatment. That’s totally different than denying a child medical treatment, and to do so on biblical grounds seems shaky at best to me. Lastly, people often do rely on prayer, and find that it works, other times, seemingly not as much so, which brings us back to your question of another reason a prayer might go unanswered

    Have you ever read Loise Hay’s How to heal your life? Basically what she says is if you think positively (read pray for the purpose of this discussion) you will find the right solution. i.e if you need a job, go to interviews, if you’re sick go and see a fucking DOCTOR!! How is this any different?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I remember a while back a very popular country song: “Sometimes God’s Greatest Favors are Unanswered Prayers.” It exactly, if unintentionally, outlines the logical fallacy Ritchie highlights in the last paragraph of his post #72.

  • Nes

    Quite a while back there, Thump, all the way back to 1990. You’re thinking of Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers”, specifically the line “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”. I love the tune, though some the lyrics have started to grate. It still has a fairly decent story if you can think of it in secular terms. (Man and wife run in to man’s old high school flame, discover that they don’t have much in common any more. Man is glad that he met and got married to his wife instead of the old flame, even though he had really wanted to be with her back in the day.)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    MMhmm. Point being that pretzel logic is the handmaiden of theism.