The Atheist Who Prays Defends the Placebo Effect

Remember Sigfried Gold, the atheist who found solace in prayer even though he didn’t believe in God?

Now, he’s back to respond to his critics. And I don’t think he’s converting many people to his ways in the process…

… My fellow atheists have suggested, not always politely, that I’m not an atheist, that I’m not really praying, and that praying is not acceptable behavior for atheists. As politely as I can manage, I would like to defend myself on all three counts.

Now, I can’t claim to speak for all non-reality-based people, but I don’t need imaginary friends, either. I lived for 45 years without them. I just happened to find that when I started talking to an imaginary friend, certain struggles began to evaporate. It became easier to act according to my conscience.

Whatever works, I guess.

It’s easy to mock Gold, but let’s give him some credit. He admits he’s talking to an imaginary friend. He acknowledges that he’s just succumbing to a powerful placebo effect (while knowing it’s a placebo). That’s more than any religious person has ever done.

I don’t see a need to give it a try myself because I’d feel like an idiot praying to someone I know isn’t listening. But I suppose, as Gold says, it’s just more evidence in the power of belief in belief.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • The Other Weirdo

    So, umm, otherwise known as meditation with extras?

  • Anna

    My fellow atheists have suggested, not always politely, that I’m not an atheist, that I’m not really praying

    Um, if you know you’re talking to something imaginary, then, no, you’re not really praying. Prayer is an attempt to communicate with a deity. If you don’t believe such communication is possible, then how can you call it prayer?

    • Bitter Lizard

      Right, I think it would be better to refer to it as “mock prayer”, especially because that includes the word “mock”.

      • Anna

        I agree. “Mock prayer” is a much better term.

    • C Tran

      I don’t know what he does but if he closes his eyes, gets on his knees and puts his hands together then I think that’s close enough. Afterall, if he prayed to a living, breathing person, we’d call that prayer wouldn’t we? I don’t think who or what he’s praying to matters at all.

      • Anna

        No, I don’t think that counts as prayer at all. It’s pretending to pray. Mimicry isn’t prayer. An actor can get down on his knees, fold his hands, and say the words to a prayer, but as long as he knows it’s just acting, it’s not real.

        If you’re going by the established definition of the word, it’s not possible for an atheist to pray.

        Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, an object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication.

        Prayer requires that you believe such communication is possible.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          The logical conclusion, then, isn’t so much “he’s not really praying” as it is “he’s not an atheist.”

          • Michael W Busch

            Snark tag implied?

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

              Nope. Straight up honesty.

              Atheists, by definition, do not believe in invisible friends, and do not pray to them.

              This guy is praying.

              Ergo, not atheist or not praying.

              He cannot continue to claim atheism if he continues to insist that this thing he is doing is prayer.

              • Michael W Busch

                He is not actually praying. His asserting otherwise makes him wrong. Doesn’t make him not an atheist.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  Yes, and that was one of my two conclusions.

                  So, he needs to EITHER: stop insisting that it’s “prayer”; OR: give up the claim of atheism.

                  See, two logically consistent choices.

                  I maintain that IF he continues to call it “prayer”, THEN he is religious, and therefore not an atheist.

                  Likewise, IF he is an atheist, THEN he cannot call it prayer.

                • Michael W Busch

                  Yes, and that was one of my two conclusions.

                  I understand that now. But your initial statement read to me as though you were saying mainly “he’s not an atheist”. Hence my confusion.

                • mattcable33

                  Your rigid literalism here is ridiculous. The point you’re making is completely abstract. He doesn’t believe that God exists, he’s an atheist. If the English language is too limited to precisely define what he’s doing when he says he prays, then so be it, but your weird buracratic insistance that he be classified as a religious person on a rhetorical technicality when he clearly doesn’t believe in God is nuts. Give it a rest.

          • Jeff See

            Doubtful. He’s aware of the ruse, because he creates it. Since, as it’s been pointed out, prayer requires belief, he’s simply using the wrong terminology for talking to himself. Someone who truly IS praying, is trying to talk to their imaginary friend, because they are a victim of the ruse, not the creator/willing participant.

        • cary_w

          I have to respectfully disagree with you on this, Anna. I don’t see how the definition of prayer necessarily requires that the person praying believes the deity to be real. Once you start saying, this prayer is “real” but that one is not, you start sounding dangerously close to people who say, “Christians who disagree with me aren’t ‘true’ Christians”, or “a gay marriage isn’t a ‘real’ marriage.” If the guy wants to call it a prayer, then it’s a prayer, who are you say it’s not a “real” prayer?

          • Bitter Lizard

            Definitions of words, as you would find in a dictionary, are descriptive based on how words are used–somebody observes how a word is used in a culture and then records it. The best most of us can do with language is to try and utilize it for maximum clarity. Anna was astute in pointing out that Gold is using the word “prayer” in a way that is different from how pretty much everyone else uses it. Thus, for the utility and function of language, it would be expedient for us to revise the terminology.

            • cary_w

              The only difference in the way he’s using the term “prayer” is that he admits his God doesn’t exist, he is still saying his prayers to communicate with a deity, so in my opinion it’s still a prayer. That’s not to say that maybe he should find a better name for what he’s doing, and maybe just enjoy it on his own without trying to “convert” other people, and stop feeling persecuted when others don’t agree with him (just like so many of those damn “persecuted” Christians who think their kids aren’t allowed to pray in school just because the principals can’t lead them.) I mean the guy sounds like a bit of a dick, but I’m still willing to defend his use of the term prayer, if he thinks it’s a prayer, then it’s a prayer. Who gave theist a monopoly on the concept of prayer, anyway? I mean, think about how that word is used today. When someone says, “I’ll be praying for you.” 99% of the time it doesn’t mean they are actually going to sit down, fold their hands together, and say a prayer to God just for you, what they really mean is something more like, “I care about you, I sympathize, and I’ll be thinking of you, but we both know there’s not a damn thing I can do to help you, so I’m going to say something that I hope will make us both feel just a bit better.” I’ve found myself tempted to say,”I’ll pray for you” to people who I know will feel comfort in those word, I haven’t done it because it seemed dishonest, but now I’m thinking, why the hell not? If I can start thinking of prayers as just “thinking of you” or talking to my imaginary friend, then it’s not dishonest to say “I’m praying for you” to someone who will appreciate it, and when someone is in a rough situation, it’s just not the time to start challenging their beliefs.

              Or I could just be bit drunk, I’m not sure any of that made any sense. (But I promise I’m being safe, at home, not driving anywhere or taking care of little kids or anything :-)

          • Goape

            I think you make a good point and correctly point out a fine semantical line. However, in my opinion, what Gold is doing is more accurately described as some sort of beseechment—the word prayer describes, not just an action, but an imploring directed towards an entity of worship. He’s clearly not worshiping anything but the act itself (and possibly the attention he’s getting for being a conundrum).

          • Anna

            Well, I would say it’s not real because it doesn’t fit the meaning of the word. It’s like redefining “god” to mean something non-supernatural. People do it all the time, but it’s so far from the established definition that it’s ultimately just confusing and meaningless.

            It’s like with my actor example. If an actor has a role where he has to act out a prayer, and he performs the role perfectly, was he actually praying? I think most people would say no.

            I just don’t see how it’s possible to really pray (not just say the words, but make the attempt to communicate) if you know without a doubt that there is nothing to communicate with.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Some people talk out loud to themselves when making a tough decision. It’s probably much the same.

    • Michael

      I talk to myself when driving, to make sure I’m paying attention. I find it helps. Probably related.

      • Mario Strada

        I tend to talk to the other motorists and it’s a very good thing they cannot hear me.

        • allein

          ditto ;)

      • Quintin van Zuijlen

        I do that too at times. It made things a lot easier for my driving instructor.

    • SeekerLancer

      Maybe, but it would be silly to call that, “prayer.”

      • Pisk_A_Dausen

        There are a lot of different types of prayer, though, and a lot of different definitions. Some are scripted, some are not. Some are repetitions of the same phrase over and over, some are in a language the person praying doesn’t even understand, some are about asking for something, some are about telling about something. I’ve heard from atheists who think all prayers are about asking God for an off-season Christmas present, but if you talk to Christians, you’ll find a lot of them just talk about their day and their plans for the near future.

        • SeekerLancer

          I understand that, I was once a Christian and did very much the same. But I still thought I was talking to a higher power. I wouldn’t define any meditative act or talking to myself as a prayer.

          • Pisk_A_Dausen

            I agree, tbh. I don’t see why Gold wants to call it that. Although “I talk to myself a lot” wouldn’t get him much publicity. Sure, a lot of people do it, but they don’t go out recommending it to others. “Prayer” sounds… deeper?

            Meditation is also a widely-defined term, which probably wouldn’t sell much if advertised as “sitting around thinking about nothing”. :D

  • Bitter Lizard

    I’m a little torn on this. I find the notion of an “atheist who prays” annoying, but when I think about it for a minute I realize it might be a good thing. I’ve heard theists point to apparent psychological benefits of prayer as a defense of theism. If it’s established that religion isn’t even necessary for these alleged benefits, that’s one more defense of it that’s easily thrown in the toilet.

    • baal

      cf Secular meditation

  • Doryen Chin

    I think you’re being a bit of an asshole here, Hemant.

    • severalspeciesof

      Really? How so? *rolls eyes*

      • HQ

        Feelings have been hurt. FEELINGS.

  • Highlander

    This and prayer are both just forms of Positive Self Talk which can lower stress, boost immunity and reduce depression. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/positive-thinking/SR00009

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    Does a placebo effect actually take place if you *know* you’re not talking to a real entity? It’s like taking a sugar pill while knowing it’s a sugar pill, and thinking you can somehow convince yourself it’s an antibiotic. I don’t see how that works, psychologically speaking.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Follow the last link.

    • Nomad

      The placebo effect has been massively oversold. It’s never going to serve the same function as an antibiotic. It mostly only works on subjective factors, primarily pain.

      There was a study that purported to show that even after telling people that they were being given a placebo, they still experienced an effect. But there were some potential problems with it. Such as the potential for their knowledge that medical professionals were giving them the thing to make them more inclined to believe that it should have an effect even if they specifically said it shouldn’t.

    • Rick Heller

      Placebos can work through conditioning, which is an unconscious process. If through prior habit, you associate one thing with another thing, engaging in the first thing evokes the second. Similarly, if you previously were religious, and found prayer to be a comfort, it might still activate comforting emotional memories even if you no longer find it intellectually credible.

  • more compost

    He seems to be using a definition for the word “pray” that is different from the one I use. “Pray” is a word that carries a lot of baggage, and for those of us who are really tired of people using their delusions to influence public policy, it is extremely negative baggage.

    If he really believes that what he is doing helps him, good for him. If he wants to influence atheists to try what he is doing, he needs to think far more carefully about his terminology, and find some different way to frame it.

    Of course, this is just my opinion. It’s not like I am reciting scripture.

  • Rena

    Honestly, I talk to myself a lot. I don’t really have anyone to talk to, so talking to myself before going to sleep calms me down, relieves some of the stress. I wouldn’t say I’m praying or anything, I just need to open up to someone or something or whatever about what I’m going through,

    • Rena

      Also, honestly, I find the Picard-facepalm pic unnecessary (though Picard is a fantastic captain) and frankly rather rude. You are sort of painting Gold as an idiot for what he’s doing, even though you don’t say it outright.

      • Ray

        Agree. I don’t see anything wrong or inconsistent with what he’s doing (although I have some different theories about why it works). As I’ve said many times, the atheist community needs to be more accepting of unbelievers that don’t fit into the usual “Dawkins Jr.” mold.

      • Goape

        You could be right. But you may also be too pessimistic here. I thought the facepalm was highlighting the outright ridiculousness of the “atheistic prayer” concept. I don’t think Gold is an idiot, but I’m inclined to think that prayer is ridiculous for atheists. (In fact, I think prayer is impossible for an atheist, since, in this context, it requires the prayer to worship the target entity.)

        • Kodie

          If he made an effort to describe it in psychological terms, would that make you feel better? As I said elsewhere, it is more of an ordinary coping mechanism, decision-making skill, a psychologically helpful state of thinking, meditating or whatever. Like everything else theists ruin, they attribute the positive effects of this type of thought to a deity at the other end of the line. It’s a normal thing to do, and theists use as an argument that their faith is real, just like euphoric or transcendental experiences, orgasms, and rainbows.

          • Goape

            Nothing here makes me feel bad. But there are more accurate ways to describe Gold’s coping mechanism that are also less overtly religious and loaded.

            I completely agree with everything else that you said, although I’m not entirely sure what they have to do with my comment.

    • ThinkingMom

      I can relate to this very much. Being a Christian for most of my life completely programmed me to pray about almost everything. After my journey to unbelief, it is still one of the things I find myself doing. Even though I’m quite certain nothing out there is listening, it brings me some type of momentary comfort. I’m sure this like other things will slowly begin to fall away as I become more confident in my new god-less journey.

      • ThinkingMom

        I definitely do this the most at night. I also have no one person to talk to, being that my husband is a Christian and is beyond heartbroken about my unexpected unbelief.

  • Bdole

    I find the same solace in sacrificing heifers by fire.

    • The Other Weirdo

      What, just randomly, whichever ones you find eating grass in a field you’re passing on your way to a burger joint?

  • Don

    I think it is more like Gestalt (chair) therapy, where you imagine you are talking to the person you are having an issue with by imagining them in an empty chair in front of you, and helps you vent indirectly. I think prayer lets people put the world in that chair, and try to address the world as an entity causing them issues that is personified in their head and cannot be talked to directly. They may or may not refer to this persona as “God”, and may or may not accompany it with mumbo gumbo tounges jumbo, but for many the result is the same. As an atheist, just imagine you can sit the universe down and vent your frustrations to it, as if it were a person, and how that would make you feel.

  • Ryan Fox

    There is a saying that I have heard that atheists said has worked for them and that is “Let go and let God”. What they should say is don’t worry because worry is a destructive use of imagination. Instead perform a risk assessment and reduce the risk of occurrence where possible and prepare a plan in case it does occur. And now you have done all you can and you have a plan, so, don’t worry.

  • Jasper

    He’s “defending the placebo effect”? Atheism isn’t opposed to the placebo effect.

    I burned by Atheists Against the Placebo Effect (AAPA) card long ago.

  • Steve Pile

    I’m an atheist through and through, but I can’t seem to see this dude’s statements as a face-palmable moment. I think it raises valid points about the potential benefits of talking to yes, an imaginary friend. However you want to say it.
    Apparently, you can be an atheist and benefit from prayer to an “imaginary friend.” This guy is doing just that. Right?
    And so you face-palm.
    Why? To make yourself feel smarter or better, or what?
    I love this blog and it constantly fuels my fire to battle a world of superstition, woo, and destructive religious activity, but posts like this…well they just perpetuate the myth that us atheists are condescending pricks.

    • Mitch

      It’s not the fact that he does what he does (for me, anyway). I’m just not set on referring to what he does as “prayer.” Talking through what is on your mind (whether someone is listening or not) can be helpful, but I don’t think it’s the same thing as invoking a deity’s name to help with your issues, thoughts, etc.

      • Steve Pile

        I think what he is getting at is that he is able to “suspend his disbelief” as old Billy Shakespeare put it, in order to feel the comforts and peace of mind that some religious folks get from prayer. It’s a very fine line. I’ll admit that. Too far and you may find yourself actually believing in that imaginary friend…But if you can find that sweet spot where you can maintain a “reality based” mindset on all the practical matters in life, but get the benefits of “prayer” via a sort of self imposed placebo effect, I don’t see whats wrong with that.
        And he’s clearly not invoking a deity’s name, as you say. It’s his own hybridized version of “prayer.”

        • Mitch

          A fine line, indeed, and one that (I would assume) takes some effort to walk effectively. If he does as you explained, I have no issue with the method. It’s just the terminology.

          • Steve Pile

            I think that Webster’s falls short sometimes when we want to define something like “prayer.” And, even many of the Christians I know don’t expect their prayers to be answered. It’s a therapeutic thing.
            Definitely a fine line thing. You can see it with people who go through AA, so of them end up believing in God, as one of the steps is to accept the “higher power,” but many see that “higher power” just as this guy does, a useful placebo.

    • JesseS

      I have to agree with you, I find the facepalm meme image uneccssarily condescending. Whether or not his definition of prayer, as this, meets our definition is 1,000,000% irrelevent.

    • Kodie

      This is basically the same kind of prayer that it sounds like Christians are always talking about. They are often accusing atheists of asking for instant solutions or stuff, like god is Santa Claus. And of course, closing your eyes and asking god for a million dollars rarely seems to work. We all get into the go-10-rounds of whether the bible does or doesn’t say you can ask the lord for candy and he gives it to you, because we know that it doesn’t work that way, and they don’t disagree, they just make excuses.

      The prayer they are convinced is effective is effective, it’s the one where you calm yourself and think, or I find “prayer” to be visualizing a shelf, and putting some problems on them because there isn’t anything you can do. It is a thought process, and a helpful one, to set aside a few things crowding and overwhelming you so you don’t fall apart, or to make a decision. Gold considers this shelf a person to talk to. Whatever. I am not seeing a placebo effect, as ordinarily referenced here. It is more of a coping mechanism, and not a silly or dysfunctional one that would need treatment, but is more likely to be the subject of judgment, mocking, etc. The article here mocks it, but really it is just an atheist admitting there is something to the method of a theist, just not quite as much to it that a theist believes there is.

      The difference is actually that theists come to clarity by considering the advice received as irrefutable divine instruction and evidence that prayer (to a deity) works. Even when “god” leads them to an ultimately bad decision, it was part of a grand plan to teach them something.

      Atheists understand it’s their own voice, possibly combined with other voices of people from whom we’ve received advice (good or bad) before, like a parent, friend, or Oprah. We also know that this is not chiseled in stone, we could be wrong, we could challenge, doubt, or change our own plan as new information arises. I like to think we can admit when we’ve made a mistake, and realize we can’t see the future outcomes, and that making choice A over choice B can be good, but having chosen A, unforeseen event C is not a direct result of choice A. It’s just another coincidence. If there is an opportunity to learn from C, we may just go ahead and do that, but it wasn’t put there to confront us with that opportunity.

    • severalspeciesof

      I see the facepalming as a ‘… been through this a million times’ type of thing, not as a derogatory ‘I’m smarter than you’. But I’m not Hemant, so I can’t speak for him…

  • Crystal Bandy Thomas

    Now, This is interesting… I think that talking to myself to obtain clarity is a good habit…never thought about it as prayer! Although sometimes, at moments of extreme angst, I would want to pray, but wouldn’t because I had repudiated the whole concept of a supernatural being listening to me. Now, I can know that my favorite person of all time (me) is the one I’m talking to and the one who is listening! Yea! 8-)

    • M.S.

      “My favorite person of all time (me)”
      Yuck. Narcisstic much?

      • Guest

        You’re my favourite person of all time.

      • Crystal Bandy Thomas

        Levity, hidden invisible commenter, is what the smiley face denotes…

  • M.S.

    “Thats more than any religious person has ever done”. Well no religious person would “admit” to talking to an “imaginary friend”, because they truly believe in a higher power. So, I don’t understand your comaprison there….
    But I tend to agree with his atheist critics here… I think he is just a believer in hiding… or in denial….

  • Free

    Except its all coincidence when the specifics prayers go answered. Like when I bought my company and my then comptroller was defrauding the business. I fired her and then was “suddenly” hit with a state audit. I did not have any files on site as she had them offsite. I had to take my loss as she checked into a mental health program and I could not touch her. I prayed for intervention and specific help for a situation out of my control. The audit was only 1 week away and I resurrected the data best I could. The day came and the auditor began to show me a checklist and procedures for the audit. I noticed I only had 3 items on the list. Yes, you guessed, not knowingly, he only asked me for those 3 items and marked them off in compliance. At that time, he said that he was authorized at that time to complete the audit as having ample compliance or decide to press on with the balance of the checklist. He simply asked me out of nowhere if I was a believer and I said yes. He said he thought that was the case and signed off on the audit just as I had prayed. He then said he would pray for the health of the business and my staff and left. This is one of many regular realities that I have experienced through prayer. Now I am no statistician but the number of this times this has happened times the sheer specificity of the details convinces me that the probability of mere coincidence is a cop out to the facts.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      So you were given special privileges, the same special privileges that have been described to you before, and instead of asking yourself how privilege works, you decided that you were more special than starving people ( a necessary consequence of the belief that God answers prayers for First World peoples when anyone at all is suffering in Third World countries.)

      • Free

        I am not going to seek to answer the Why question here. Science sure has not or can not. What I am revealing is truth about events in my life that are irrefutable and outside of general probability. I have suffered and grew up poor living off the land. I have placed my faith in God who has kept His promises to me. Am I special? Just as you are but I am in Him and you are not. I have been to the Thirds World and have spent time with refugees and their situation is the same as ours. We are all depraved and in need of hope. Some of these people had more joy than any of us who seemed to have everything. Some of them had pity on us because we had everything and lacked simple faith. Others were bitter and unbelieving. What was clear was help found them all and cared for them all. The story of God is that he invites. Many do not RSVP for every reason under the sun. But for those who genuinely shed their skepticism He reveals Himself and the story that I shared earlier become daily realities. You can through science and reason answer What and in some cases How but only faith will answer Why.

        • allein

          But for those who genuinely shed their skepticism He reveals Himself

          This is such a cop-out. God is deliberately hiding from you but if you stop actually using the brain he gave you he’ll show himself. Bullshit.

          • Free

            He is surely not hiding. The heavens declare His glory! There is only 1 King. Either you or the One who created all things. If you want to persist in relying on only finite facts and what you can ascertain and ignore the infinite and transcendent then you will get your wish. You are king or God is King. If you humble yourself and genuinely reach out to know the King He will graciously reveal himself. That is His way not mine. Will you or not? Don’t blame anyone else if not.

            • allein

              If you humble yourself and genuinely reach out to know the King He will graciously reveal himself.

              Again, if you turn off your thinking capabilities and stop trying to actually make sense of the world, then and only then will he see fit to show himself. If he truly wants me to know him, he has the power to do that but he doesn’t because I don’t think the right way. Bullshit.

              And saying, “I don’t believe in God” is not the same as saying, “I think I am King (or Queen) of the world.”

              • Free

                You are King of your world. Thinking is encouraged. However as stated before relying on finite facts and your own understanding, as shifting as it is, will never result in seeing God. Scripture states that “We must first believe that he exists and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Again, He is King. His is a way of faith. Invitation still stands but I can assure you it will not be your way. You can not have your cake and eat it too. Your way or His but you decide. See its not an intellectual dilemma but it is a matter or will. You will not bend yours thus you are King.

                • allein

                  You seem to think everyone is interested in “seeing God” or in what “scripture states.” Sorry if I gave that impression, but I’m not. Arguing from “scripture says” is useless if someone doesn’t believe in your scripture. The bible is a book, nothing more. “We must first believe that he exists” before we can “see” him is saying turn your brain off if the world you see shows no evidence of your god and just believe anyway. I can’t simply choose to believe something that is unbelievable.

                • Free

                  I understand you have no use for scripture. However, it does shed light on the invitation to surrender trust solely in yourself and your intellect alone and not ignore those things that you or anyone else can not explain.

                  You do not need to turn your brain off. This is not as I mentioned a matter of intellect but of will. You will not consider the transcendent because you can not perceive of touch it. You will not use your intellect to seek to explain the transcendent and unexplainable things that happen all around us. Easier to dismiss their reality.

                  Any thought that there just maybe something I do not or can not know is frightening. That is why we work so hard at it and try to explain it. What we can not explain we mark up as “to be determined”, “hopefully”. We press on in secular faith until we seemed to have figured it out. That same secular faith that believes in what it can not 100% prove, is enough for your to believe in God. You will not however. That is your choice. You exercise your will.

                  God is unbelievable because you refuse to see Him. You refuse to seek Him. You know the natural laws that work in our world point to purpose. You know the creativity in nature and in the mind of man points to design. You know that goodness and the love we want to experience and crave point to morality. The whole order of our existence points to a source. A painter paints it is not the painting alone that is to honored but the painter himself. The painting points to a painter.

                  We can ignore the reality of our world, that it seems to have order and purpose and as a child does like its parents so do we as humans create like our Creator etc… but we ignore these obvious reasonable links to reality. Again, science and reason can answer what and sometimes how but it can not answer why. God wants to tell you on the other side of faith.

                • allein

                  God is unbelievable because it makes no sense to me.

                • Kodie

                  God, to me, is the anthropomorphizing of normal, ordinary, or possible things, and at the point where god can no longer manage to keep up with reality, takes on amazingly impossible and untenable qualities for the determined believer. Forgiving me for being born? Gee, thanks, god! Setting himself up to live a preacher and die a martyr so that this forgiveness can occur? Maneuvering the rest of the world so that my life can be “ordered”? These things are figments of the imagination. To me, these are radical compensation techniques for managing in a sometimes chaotic world. Calling everything that happens a deed done by an invisible person is not just “no sense” to me, it’s going too far with one’s imagination.

                • Free

                  And yet the examples I gave that were out of my control and witnessed by those involved were all figments. That would make us both figments and we could not possibly be having an itelligible conversation here.

                • Kodie

                  You seem to have the idea that things out of your control happen from a deity instead of how they would normally occur in a world of many people with many situations moving independently of one another. You also think that if many people witnessed it, and could not name another reason for it to happen, it was really a miracle. Witnesses do not make a coincidence into a miracle, nor do I suggest the coincidence was a figment. Turning a coincidence into a miracle by your mind’s processes would be the figment here.

                  No person has 100% control over everything. I don’t know why you think they would. People have a certain amount of autonomy but are otherwise left to react to whatever else occurs. If the car in front of me stops short to avoid hitting a pedestrian, while I do not brake in time to avoid hitting the rear of that car, I did not have complete control. I had only enough control to stop when I did, based on the new information that the car in front of me had stopped when it otherwise would have kept going. If I think I’m doing a great job at work, and my boss needs to cut people, I do not have control over what my boss must do. I can hope that I’m not the one who is let go, and I can hope that I have shown that I am a keeper, but that is not up to me. I am always at the mercy of other people’s decisions. They may be in my favor or against my favor. Even more than that, I am generally at the mercy of incidents that over-run other people and fall onto me, like an upstairs neighbor with a leaking bathtub. I am generally at the mercy of the weather. I am generally at the mercy of diseases. I have a little control, if the weather forecast is severe, to vacate, and I can try to stay healthy by washing my hands and eating right. But I am an animal, and I live on a planet. Millions of billions of events in motion, and I am bound to be struck by any number of them as I make my own decisions to move around. If I leave now, I might get in an accident and if I leave 5 minutes from now, I might hit heavy traffic on the way – but I don’t know. I might touch a doorknob and catch a cold. I might trip over a piece of trash on the sidewalk and break my ankle. Who knows? Your coincidences seem more fortuitous, but they are basically in the same pattern. You just think if something good happens, it was divine guidance, but to me, it is just accidental.

                  You just take a huge category of things outside your control and, if they work out in your favor, decide that someone is manipulating the world for you. That is conceited and arrogant.

                  You may be right that it is impossible to have an intelligible conversation here.

                • Free

                  Again, that is why I said you are your own King. It’s worship of self and man or its worship of God.

                • allein

                  I do not worship myself or anyone else. Learn what words mean, and try to fathom the concept of people who don’t think like you do. Not everyone has a need to “worship” something.

                  worship:
                  noun:
                  the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.

                  verb:
                  show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.

                  I am done with this conversation.

                • Kodie

                  @Free,

                  You have it made up in your own delusion that atheists want the job of god. The problem is for us is that you believe you are god. The voice you hear in your own head that directs your decisions – you think that is coming from a KING and you obey it and defend it. Meanwhile, it’s just coming from you, and you are just as fallible as anyone, but you don’t have the capacity to acknowledge this.

                  Atheists know we are not god(s). It would be great if you didn’t try to determine what we’re about, since you are relying on your own mind as if it is god to tell you, and not listening to people who tell you otherwise. If you weren’t so biased as to believe your mind is the mind of god himself, you might learn something. Your arrogance is noted, no further discussion required.

                • Free

                  Please understand that I am in now way stating you want the job of god. What I am saying is that what you think and can ascertain with your 5 senses is all that exists. You have rejected the infinite and transcendent because you can not understand how something can exist or be real outside of you comprehending it or proving it though your own devised methods. Arrogance is confidence in oneself. Humility in its truest form is confidence in God. Anything in my life that speaks of His love and care for me and others, belongs to Him and Him alone. It is for His glory that I live. Not mine as you have wrongly assessed. God is not most concerned about morality as He is in our fellowship and relationship with Him. Morality is not enough. Lots of good people running around. What motivates our actions, thoughts, desires etc… is what we live for. If it is us, then we are the prime mover of our lives and thus in a manner of speaking our own gods. I know the choice of language may be offensive though not intended.

                  We set ourselves up as the final authority of our lives. God is not an intellectual problem or dilemma as the world we seek to understand through science is enough to point to Him. Ours is a volitional dilemma and a matter of will. Who will I live my life unto? Me? God? 2 options. If it is me – we then place ourselves as god.

                • Kodie

                  Your own brain has tricked you.

    • cary_w

      “I’m no statistician but…” I’m going to make wild, unsubstantiated claims about probability anyway.

      Perhaps you should take some classes in statistics? In my experience, as people learn more about math and statistics, they often find that what they previously thought of as “incredible” or “unbelievable” coincidences are actually not that uncommon of occurrences, it is quite amazing what a little education can do for your understanding of the world!

    • Michael W Busch

      Now I am no statistician

      Apparently not.

      Because then you would have understood the problem of confirmation bias, and actually counted up all of the times that you prayed for something and noted which prayers were fulfilled and which were not. And then you would have cross-compared that with the expected number of things prayed for that would be expected to happen without any sort of causal connection whatsoever.

      And then you would have accounted for other biases – such as your auditor, in a culture with a lot of Christian privilege, giving you a pass on the rest of the audit because he decided your being a Christian was enough reason to give you special dispensation.

      In every case where all of that work has been done, it has been shown that prayers have no effect beyond entirely mundane interactions with human brains (e.g. “You’re making signals I associate with being a member of a group I favor. I like you more than I otherwise would.”).

      • cary_w

        I forgot about confirmation bias. *Sigh* I love statistics, and it’s been way too long since I got to do any. Maybe it’s time to go back to school, but I’m afraid it’s too late, I think my brain has already turned to mush :-P

      • Free

        I wish it was that simple. Or like the time I needed a specific amount of income to provide for my family and prayed for the $800.00 monthly supplement needed. That very next morning my phone rings and I am offered a part-time job for $200.00 a week from someone who knew absolutely nothing of the situation. Or, when praying for opportunities to share God’s love I walk into Kinkos and see a customer on a self-service computer. The Lord tells me to tell this man that He loves Him and has not forgotten him. I approach the man a bit timidly and tell the man exactly what I believe the Lord told me. He immediately wept and broke down. He said he was at that moment logging off and had prayed that God would intervene as he was leaving to commit suicide. Or, when I could not make payroll and did not know if my company would survive I prayed that He would give me hope and that He was with me. I woke in the morning to a song about His faithfulness from childhood running through my head. A very obscure song that is quite old and known by few. Throughout the day the circumstances prevailed badly culminating with my car breaking down and no money to fix it. My faith tested, I had to use the Metro. When I arrived there it was very quiet with an unusually few number of people there. All I could hear was a man in a far corner playing a sax. I was broken to tears when out of all the songs in the world ever written, he was playing that same song of hope that I awoke with. Or,…. you get the picture. Daily realities that defy your smug and lame interpretation of the realities. They do little justice like handing a medal of honor winner a paper certificate. Just does not apply. Keep trying to figure out what you can only understand from the other side of faith.

        • Kodie

          Sometimes things work out that way, but they do not always. You choose to see these instances as god revealing himself and giving you exactly what you needed, but how about the times it doesn’t line up? All of the things you say are just things that could happen, and you are inclined to notice them and give them significance. Faith is all about being self-centered.

          • Free

            There have been very few instances where in my desperation that He has not shown Himself this way. Again, it is daily. You ignore the reality of these impossible situations and shrug them off because you do not understand. Always trying to figure out through limited reason what really just happened. Oh, it must be coincidence, surely the specific answer to that prayer, so timely and complete, was just an illusion or something else. I understand your perspective but the volume of instances outweigh my skepticism. Faith is about realizing your need to worship something greater than yourself thus negating your negative assertion. Again, hard to understand if you are not walking by faith.

            I am more than inclined than to simply notice them – they are unexplainable through science. Prayer is no magic mantra and no not all requests go answered but for every time that God does not answer as specifically, I can see the grace in his refusal to answer.

            • Kodie

              You needed money so you applied for a job, and they offered you the job and you got the money. In between all this, you prayed.

              There is nothing you listed that is not a coincidence or impossible. Low odds of something happening are still possible. You are casting yourself as the star in an epic story about you, so all your stories are about you and how things happen to you. You think these events are odd or out of place and would have needed the intervention of a deity to occur. I would say things fall into place more easily than I expect them to in my life, and other times, not so much. It is just life. No deity.

              • Free

                Kodie you did not read. I needed money. I applied for no job. I prayed for help and the help came quick, soon and specifically by someone who did not know the details. I am no star and quite the opposite. But I serve the one who made the Stars. I don’t have things fall into place, my steps are ordered. Though Michael Angelos painting and art were amazing and on display for the world to see all credit goes to the Artist. You look at a painting and think that is it. That is life. Let me figure out in my limited understanding what this is, what does it mean, how did it get here but you will never know the artist and you will never know why he painted it. Prayer is a privilege of those who have met the painter.

                • Kodie

                  You have no idea how frightening this is to an atheist, since you don’t realize your imaginary friend is just you and not the master of anything.

                • Free

                  But I have no ability to control your action or the actions of others who played our the roles in the events I have described as answers to prayer. Very far from my mind or just me. It’s ok to wonder!

                • Kodie

                  I don’t have control over all the events that occur to me and in the world, either. You think I want to be god or think of myself as a god, but I just live here with everyone else and I have to keep eating so I don’t starve to death. We’re a social, cooperative species. You imagine that god is tapping people when it’s time to call you for a job because you told him that you need money. You might have an obsession and see god everywhere, that is how you order your life, and when you briefly wonder how on earth some coincidence occurred, you immediately attribute it to a god who controls everything for your comfort.

                  And you wonder why nobody else sees things like you do, it’s because it’s not really there, not that you see something we are not looking for. This is why having discussions with you is difficult.

                • Free

                  Kodie,

                  Thank you very much for the opportunity to have this conversation. You are a very bright person. In short, I have a hard time with the possibility that all the events of my life are coincidence. They seem to defy probability as they so specifically manifested. Since, I believe in God of course I will draw the conclusion that He was involved.

                  I also live in a community of people who believe the same way and have the same experiences daily. Just hard to brush it all away because it is hard to understand.

                  Prayer is one of those things that the scientific method can not prove or disprove. So we are left with our experiences and opinions. Again, peace to you. I will pray your life is blessed.

                • Kodie

                  They seem to defy probability – you say. If you have a 1% chance of recovering from a fatal illness, and it turns out you do, why would that defy probability? If this illness afflicts 10,000 people, that means 100 people recover from it, and you’re a person. By what divine measures are you “chosen” to be one of 100 who recovers? If 100 people recover, and you are a person, what is probability-defying that you may be one of 100 people who do recover?

                  People are moving and thinking and doing all the time, and we are social creatures, which means we have networks of people who think about us – maybe daily, maybe on a case-by-case basis. The best way, I’ve heard, to find a job is to know someone. When an opportunity comes up, and that person knows you are looking, they will think of you and all the time and effort it will save to place an ad. They will first think, “I will call my friend who has these skills we’re looking for and see if they’re available for the job.” You prayed to god for money and at the same time, coincidentally, your friend had an opening and thought of you, because he already knew you and your skill set. See how that works?

                  Proximity and timing, combined with self-interest are the bases of coincidence. If you are by the road and a car swerves toward you and kills you, that is a coincidence. If the same car swerves 10 feet later and misses you, that is a coincidence. If the same car swerves a mile away, that is a coincidence. If the same car swerves exactly where you were standing an hour ago, that is a coincidence. You are not likely to notice it, because you will see the two instances as two separate incidences. Coincidences are two incidences, that’s all it is. And a car can hit you or miss you by inches or a mile or an hour. You feel more interested in incidences that coincide with your own whereabouts and needs because they pertain directly to your well-being. That still does not defy probability.

                  You also have a case of confirmation bias, compounded by regularly observing what you think are miracles with others in your community and labeling them as such, with no sense of actual statistics.

        • cary_w

          Here’s what I just don’t understand, and I’m not trying to put you down, I’m truly just trying to understand.

          If you really believe that God has answered your prayers, how could possibly be so selfish as to ask Him for money? If I felt I had that kind of power, some material thing for my own pleasure would be the last thing I would pray for. I’d be praying for the people of Syiria, children starving in Africa, the people dying of measles because some zealot convinced his church not to get vaccinated.

          Money? I can take care of that myself, I can look for a better job, sell my possessions, do without, or in the worst case quit paying my mortgage and lose my house. Living in the States, (making the assumption here that you do too) you’d pretty much have to turn down help to starve on the streets. It just seems like there’s so much more important stuff to pray for, how come those prayers are never answered?

          If you follow the logical conclusion, you have a God who provides you with $800 yet ignores people being gassed in Syria. I’m sorry, but that God is a scumbag, even if I believed He existed, I wouldn’t praise Him.

      • Free

        The problem is not confirmation bias. The problem is your faith bias. No matter what evidence is placed in front of you, you will use the same bias to wisk it away to support the fact that there can be no truth to what you can not perceive with your 5 senses.

        Truth, things happen that we can not explain. Be comfortable with it. I understand the explanation for these things in the form of confirmation bias etc… but I had no control over these events of the outcome of these events. But, they happened as I tell them. I am willing to give you the names and numbers of these people without contacting them to hear their side of these events and you will find them as I described them. These were in all but 1 case complete strangers and the 1 that was not I had not talked to in 5 years and did now know the specifics of my situation.

        Too easy to dismiss reality that we can’t control. Be comfortable with it. You will, not short of taking your own life, have any say on how you will die just as well as you had no say in how you were born, eye color etc…

        • allein

          Most of us are perfectly comfortable with knowing that there are things we don’t, and possibly can’t, know. We’re not the ones jumping to the conclusion of “God did it” because we need to have some kind of explanation.

          • Free

            Why not?

            • Kodie

              Because that’s not a real answer.

              • Free

                Kodie,

                A real answer will seek to answer the fullness of the question to include why. Science and reason can not. Faith can.

                Hope this helps from Luke barnes:

                Now, why think that neither the stuff, the natural laws or the data or a combination can answer the question of why anything exists?

                1 can’t do it: A statement of the basic constituents of reality, in and of itself, obviously cannot explain why such things exist, any more than the statement “the sky is blue” can explain why the sky is blue. So 1 is out.

                2 can’t do it: Mathematical equations describe properties, and existence is not a property. 5 dollars plus 5 dollars equals 10 dollars, but that fact will not tell you how much money is actually in my account. The same is true for all mathematical equations, even the more sophisticated ones used by modern physics. Write down any equation you like – you will not be able to deduce from that equation that the thing it describes really exists. Mathematical equations are abstract entities, they have no causal powers. They can’t do anything, least of all jump off the blackboard and pull entities into existence. So the answer cannot be found in 2.

                1 and 2 can’t do it: 1 and 2 together give a theoretical description of reality as we know it, so succumb to the same problems as 2 alone.

                3 can’t do it: for the same reason that 1 can’t. The statement “I observed an electron strike a screen” cannot explain why there are electrons at all, and thus (a fortiori) cannot explain why anything exists at all.

                1, 2 and 3 can’t do it: Sitting and staring at 1+2 on one hand, and 3 on the other, will tell you why we think that 1+2 really describes our universe. They account for the data, which is what science does. But once again we see no resources to attack the question of why anything at all exists. We’ve successfully described our universe. But that is all.

                Thus, physics cannot answer the question “why does anything at all exist?”.

                It is important to realise that no amount of progress in physics will change this situation. Imagine the final equation, the law of nature, written on a blackboard to thunderous applause. After the adoration dies down, we will still be faced with the question “why does a universe described by that equation actually exist?”. The answer cannot be found in the equation. Stephen Hawking said it well:

                Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? (from A Brief History of Time

                • allein

                  Why does there have to be a “why”? Maybe things just “are” and there isn’t some overarching reason for it. Not assuming there is some grand plan for the existence of the world doesn’t diminish my appreciation of its beauty.

                • Kodie

                  God doesn’t answer why does anything exist at all. It satisfactorily fills an unnecessary hole you feel the need to dig, prescribed by your religion to make itself essential to gullible people for profit. But it doesn’t actually answer the question.

                • Free

                  Sure it does. But you can no more prove it does not any more than you and Hawkins can not prove why at all. Stale mate. Missing ingredient faith. I can from this side of perspective see how faith, reason and good science all go hand in hand to answer the complexities of life. You will never be able to answer the full questions because you will not consider believing in God. Religion has nothing to do with relationship with God and truth. Religion is mans attempt to figure God out. Kind of like the science does to the natural world. We are all guessing best we can. Great theories but never fully knowing anything. Simple faith and surrender to God will result in a relationship with God that more than satisfies any holes.

                • Kodie

                  It’s a made-up answer to a made-up question. Religion is man’s attempt out of ignorance to invent tales about the character and mood of the natural world as if it were a person.

                  Faith obscures reason and science.

                • allein

                  How does it answer the question of “why”? “The world is the way it is because God wants it that way.”

                  So why does God want it that way and not some other way? Why does God want it at all? What does God need with a starship universe?

                • Free

                  Purpose. Our studies show that we do things primarily for a purpose. It answers purpose. Why we build cities, treat babies with care, study science, it all has a purpose and the why gets to the heart of the purpose of existence. There seems to purpose across the landscape of life of course but not for existence itself. Just intellectual dishonest to brush over it because you can not explain or do not care to.

                • allein

                  We do all those things for our own, human purposes, because we have evolved brains that allow us to think in the kind of abstract terms we need to even have a purpose to do something. (Though ultimately, we take care of our children because if we didn’t our species would die out. Purely evolutionary.) That doesn’t mean there has to be a god with a purpose for the whole universe. And even if there is, just saying god has a reason doesn’t tell us what that reason is.

                • Kodie

                  What are “our studies”?

                  “Purpose” is a human construct, as is religion and god.

                • Bitter Lizard

                  I don’t see how the other commenters are being so patient with you. Your narcissism seems to inform every part of your personality. It’s hard to tell what’s more aggressively deluded: you thinking your personal anecdotes somehow invalidate all scientific study that repeatedly demonstrates that prayer has zero statistical efficacy in influencing external circumstances, or the notion that God is somehow doing all these special favors for you while letting millions of people starve to death. Nobody is as special as you seem to think you are.

                • allein

                  I don’t see how the other commenters are being so patient with you.

                  I had yesterday and today off so I’ve had some time to chill… ;)

                • Free

                  Who’s narcissistic. The one who yields the glory to another? The one who knows that they are helpless in an uncontrollable world and reaches out for help. God just happens to be my help. Is that is narcissism so be it. Labels, accusation etc… will not provide answers. Science can not validate prayer or its nature. It is not intended to. It is the wrong tool for the problem. It can not do so nor would I want it to. The myriad of answered prayers in my life beyond my control, manipulation etc… just begs a good answer. Unfortunately throwing the limits of science at it is hardly a try.

                • allein

                  “Who’s narcissistic.”

                  The one who thinks he, among all the billions of people in the world, is special in the eyes of an all-knowing, all-powerful being? You can go on an on about how worthless and depraved and helpless you are, but ultimately, you believe you are “saved” because God thinks you’re special.

                • Free

                  I am saved because He saved me. I am saved because He offered an invitation that is open to all and by His grace and through faith I said yes. The accent is and always will be on His intervention into my blind world. He opened my eyes and is not a respecter of persons.

                  You have no need for Him. He however leaves the invitation open.

                • Bitter Lizard

                  This is a good example of what a narcissist you are. You take selected examples that you think lend credibility to what you already want to be true and take it as adequate evidence that prayer works. When actual trained scientists use observation in a disciplined, reliable manner to test this hypothesis and come to a different conclusion, it is because “science is limited”. You take it for granted that your own preconceptions have more credibility than the entirety of science. That is insanely narcissistic. The fact that you allow your massively high opinion of yourself to drown out reality and reason is most likely why you believe in God.

                • Free

                  Bitter,

                  You seem to miss the point altogether. What you will not answer or approach, but rather throw your bag of reason at the reality, is the fact that the events I described were witnessed by others. These events would require me to preordain outcomes, manipulate the wills unknowingly of other people, and do what was clearly in my power to do thus negating the need to pray in the first place. You expect me to believe because it was my desire that banks, employees, state tax workers, strangers, employers etc… etc… just happened to know exactly how to bring my prayers to life without knowing it.

                  You are relying on science to account for this and it can not. You would rather deny this side of reality that admit it may lead to something you can not understand or know through science. You have placed science and reason as your God and are a slave to it.

                  “You take it for granted that your own preconceptions have more credibility than the entirety of science.” What I am saying is science has no answers. Why would I in this case believe in the credibility of science when it can not provide an answer. That would be insane agreed but not narcissistic. See, I am grateful for science and the advancement of knowledge. In the end however, it does not account for the explanation of the full reality of life not can it do so. It takes us so far and then just does not have the “life” to satisfy all.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  Yeah, yeah, you’re a Special Snowflake. We get it.

                • Kodie

                  The one who thinks they know god from listening to the wind whistle between their own ears. The one who submits all statistically possible or probable events in their own life to a designed and ordered course made especially for them. The one who needs there to be a deity who knows and cares what happens to them to justify living.

                  Doesn’t sound humble to me. Maybe you think it is because you are beneath this imaginary being and do whatever he says to do, but the rest of us know that’s just you directing yourself. You record events as they occur in your own life and don’t understand statistics. If your coincidences beg a good answer, that good answer is statistics. Look around and compare your coincidences to everyone else. You are impressed with parlor tricks because I don’t see you looking around yourself unless it confirms your bias. But, to pile on the arrogance, you dismiss subjects because they don’t fit what you wish to be true.

                • Free

                  Kodie,

                  The few stories I shared happen all the time and happen regularly to others that I know who have given themselves to Christ. I know they are all under illusions. The fore-manipulated others to behave in certain ways and controlled the outcome of uncertain situations. The have many witnesses who share the events. They have the amazing ability to see into the future and control people and objects to their own desired end to fulfill their wishes. Please share the statistical probability in that. See, the life of faith can never be explained or experienced by one who is closed off to it.

                  Its like being in a small hut with no light, no windows. Everything is pitch black except for a very small hole in the corner of the roof. A very small ray of light streams in. Anyone in this hut can see the light looking at the stream but stand and look through the stream head on and you can see out into the world that awaits. Faith helps us see no just the light that is there but along the light to see that there is something more. You are blind to what I describe because you will not take a step of faith in your life. The why question I referred to earlier is really the question that should most serve you.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                  I wouldn’t believe a word out of your mouth if you told me water was wet.

            • allein

              Why should we? (Why would we?)

              And what happens when we find an actual explanation for whatever it was we attributed to god? Where does god go then? Your god has just gotten smaller and smaller as science has answered things that once were explained with “God did it.”

    • Kodie

      You owned a business and didn’t have access to your own files?

    • Carmelita Spats

      You resurrected data? You shouldn’t resurrect anything. Ever. It’s goddamn dangerous…kinda like in the movie “Pet Sematery” but only this time it’s Jesus who’s buried in the pet cemetery. Cautionary Tale Number One: My buddy was in the military and on the Fourth of July he invited me to his church. He is a very enthusiastic Christian. He wore his old army uniform to the service. During the sermon, the pastor asked the congregation what we would do if Jesus came back today. “Would you be ready?” he asked. My buddy jumped up, saluted him, and yelled, “SIR, YES SIR! When Jesus comes back, we’ll kill him again SIR!” See, it’s never a good idea to resurrect anything.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Heh, I was thinking “Reanimator”….

  • C

    I’m a relatively new atheist who grew up as a PK in an evangelical church. Prayer is still second-nature to me when anxieties creep up. In some ways, prayer post-Christianity is better since after that instinctual prayer I realize that there is nothing I can do, there is no God listening, and that worrying does nothing. In the past, there was just added anxiety because I really thought God was there listening and judging. Now it’s just easier to let go.

    I *know* prayer does nothing, but anxiety cares little for logic. Religious or not, prayer/meditation/self-talk can be helpful for people, and prayer is just what has been ingrained in me. It might go away over time, but right now it’s been utilized as a coping mechanism, and hey, it seems to work!

    • Jeff See

      You will quit praying so much on instinct, over time, because every time you find yourself doing it, and stop, you actually deprogram it. If you’re like me, it will simply transform into more talking to oneself. Same thing, in the end, I suppose.

  • Nomad

    So, yes, that’s not praying. It’s largely meditation.

    A while ago I was shown the similarities between the two concepts when listening to a religious radio station. Two women were talking about prayer, and going on about how you have to shut out the noise of the outside world to “hear” god. And it hit me. They were describing meditation. But they had to externalize it. Instead of coming to realizations about themselves, coming to terms with how they felt about something, they had to believe it came from an outside source.

    To a point I can sympathize. I talk to myself to focus my thoughts sometimes too. I can see how talking to an imaginary being could serve a similar purpose. But as an atheist I can’t fathom the need to call it praying. Or the need to defend it when called on it. Seriously, what am I to think when someone says “I am TOO praying, it’s just that I don’t think that the entity I’m talking to exists”? It sounds like someone a little too eager to embrace the trappings of religion.

    • Kodie

      The divide occurs when they believe the voices in their own head are actually from god, so they follow their own possibly faulty advice, or defend a bad decision because it’s what they really want to do because god insists it is what they must do. An atheist can make bad decisions too, but we usually know it’s our fault. This is not a magical process that produces only good outcomes, it just clears a mental space we can think in.

  • A3Kr0n

    You may not pray, but I bet you’ve had conversations with yourself, and that’s basically the same thing.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I put placebo pills in my coffee every morning, and I fully know that they’re just placebos. Yet despite that, the effect is amazing. My coffee somehow tastes less bitter, and I feel a more pronounced increase of energy than I would get from coffee without the placebos.

    • C Tran

      Hahahahha

    • Nikita

      So.Much.Win.

  • Me

    I really like what this guy has to say. I have found the same in my life. I think it’s because I was raised religious, my mind goes back to old pathways but in a different way. When under great stress, I find that prayer to an unnamed higher power helps me calm down and get done whatever it is that needs to get done. It helps me a lot. At the same time, I acknowledge there is no rational reason to believe the higher power actually exists. Humans probably evolved having religion, pre-human hominids may even have had supernatural beliefs. That’s probably why prayer and meditation and religious rituals have been shown, in many cases, to improve health.

    • Me

      And really when under this stress, whether or not the thing is real doesn’t matter. All I care about is the endorphins or serotonin released in my brain.

  • cary_w

    There’s a big difference between talking to an imaginary friend that you believe is real and talking to an imaginary friend that you know is not real.

    The first case is a sign of craziness, or at least being somewhat delusional, the second is simply another way of talking to yourself and sorting out your own thoughts, and is really quite common. Some of us may disagree with whether or nor what the guy is doing should be called “prayer”, but he’s not crazy, he just has a different way of talking to himself than some of us.

    In my opinion, if he wants to call it “praying”, then it is praying. There is no one set way to pray, it varies greatly from one religion to the next and even within each religion, so if someone wants to call talking to an imaginary friend, “praying”, then, why not? Sure, it’s praying. I see it as the same as the wide variety of different belief systems that all call themselves “Christian”, or the different definitions of “marriage”. No one has the definitive definition of these words, or the right to decide who is a true Christian, what makes a real marriage, or what a real prayer is.

    • Goape

      I agree that this guy is probably not crazy.

      I must respectfully disagree, however, with the notion that “if he wants to call it ‘praying’, then it is praying”. But I don’t like the word disagree (which also has several subtlety different meanings), so I’m going to respectfully flowers with you. Flowers just makes it sound so much better.

      Seriously, the word pray (in this context) specifically requires an appeal to an entity that you worship. All forms of prayer do this just like all forms of christianity worship Jesus. In my opinion, talking to something you believe isn’t there is insufficient to qualify as prayer, it’s absolutely sufficient to qualify as ridiculous.

  • benanov

    I cite something quite similar known to Computer Scientists for years: Rubber Ducking.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging

    • Kodie

      I like how one of the “similar terms” is called “thinking out loud”.

  • anniewhoo

    This really made me think of Daniel Pierce in the show Perception.

    I talk to myself all the time, as I find hearing my thoughts out loud helps me solidify my stance or develop greater support for my own argument. As a teacher, I often practice important points I need to make on my commute to work (I’m so grateful for the invention of hands-free phones, as now fellow motorists probably just think I’m chatting with a friend). But the fact that Goldis calling what he does ‘prayer,’ it really makes me scratch my head. I wish there was elaboration on what he actually says during his prayers.

  • Michael Harrison

    I can’t really say anything, because I once tried praying to the goddesses of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in an experiment.

    • cary_w

      Two questions:

      1. Were your prayers answered?

      2. Are you, by any chance, my son, using a pseudonym? Because I’m pretty sure he’s done that too!

      • Michael Harrison

        Nope, that’s my name (and my face). I was troubled by the use of religion to justify killing. I was trying to see what it would be like to follow a religion one couldn’t take seriously enough to feel inspired to kill for.

  • Anon

    It isn’t fair to judge him on this. I will admit that in times of great struggle I called out to the unknown, the universe maybe, to stop what was happening. I knew nothing would change. I knew death would not stop. But I couldn’t help myself. In times when we can truly do nothing, we hope that something else can. It’s human nature, which is why I forgive many religious folk their beliefs.
    This man knows there’s no god and it’s all in his head. It’s how he copes. If it works, let him do it, it’s not making him religious in any way.

  • LesterBallard

    I expected his name to be Cupp; or maybe de Botton.

  • Derrik Pates

    If it works for him, I guess it’s his life. It’s not my style, though. He’s not trying to push it on other people, at least.

  • SeekerLancer

    I can’t deny the placebo effect but I don’t think it would work for me if I actually knew in advance that something was a placebo.

    • James Buchy

      I agree. I always though that a placebo, by its very definition, required full and complete belief. If you are REALLY REALLY convinced that a sugar pill is a powerful pain killer, it just might kill your migraine. If you really know it’s only sugar, I can’t see it doing anything.

  • Brian Pansky

    this is actually important. i point out to believers all the time how this kind of thing can work.

    Also: artists and writers often consider their fictional characters almost like imaginary friends. imagining a conversation can help you reason out counter arguments. imagining a comforting conversation can bring comfort. and most people already know that imagination can be useful while masturbating.

    similar to glossolalia being ridiculous when attributed to god, but actually fun when done in improvisational singing (do-whop, jazz style scat, etc) the only problem is being wrong about what is real. as long as you know your imaginary friend is imaginary, all good as far as i’m concerned.

    it’s not that startling of a discovery to me, but i think it should be used to *strengthen* the atheist case, not divide it. (though the definition of “prayer” seems like an obvious place to disagree with this Gold guy.)

  • MNb

    “He admits he’s talking to an imaginary friend.”
    Oh, I do the same on a regular base. I just find it easier not to call him god and not to call it praying, but day dreaming.

  • ZenDruid

    Maybe Gold thinks he has a daemon like Socrates supposedly did.

  • kielc

    I suppose it could have the same effect as writing — keeping a journal, say — where the process allows one to reflect and come to insights that might not otherwise be apparent. Cognitively, recent educational psychology research suggests that 5 minutes of free writing about one’s fears and hopes related to an impending test can lead to improved performance. The hypothesis is that the writing “downloads” information from one’s working memory, and thus frees up cognitive resources that can be recruited to take the test. I suppose the same could be hypothesized for “prayer.” Would be an interesting topic for research.

  • Mike435

    Stepping outside yourself can help one gain perspective. In school (long ago) when I got stuck on a calculus problem I would image going to the teacher and asking, Then I’d image his answer. This worked fairly often.

  • James Buchy

    Talking out loud to myself was how I quit smoking 24 years ago and it worked where thinking to myself was ineffective. I simply opened my last pack of cigarettes, turned one over and verbally declared that one to be my last one every time I opened that pack. 24 years smoke free. I used the same method to help with my new job as a construction equipment mechanic at a rental company. I had to do a function test on aerial work platforms [boom lifts]. 80 feet up in a little cage on a stick was a little nerve wracking so I decided to loudly tell myself that this was easy and not scary at all. The diesel engine covered my voice so nobody thought I was a lunatic operating a 37,000 pound machine. I was actually shocked at how well it worked. I believe your brain handles your own audible words differently than your own silent thoughts.

    This might be how people “pray for strength” and actually get results. You are your own highest authority so your brain pays attention to your voice. YMMV ;-)

  • Jason

    The placebo effect is powerful and it works. Even if you’re aware it’s a placebo. Which is strange but true. I think Sigried is clever to realise that. No need to give him grief, because he’s fully aware of the contradiction. It’s actually more intelligent to accept the benefits of prayer than fulminate against it. As an atheist, I can’t quite believe I’m agreeing with him!

  • The Spiritual Materialist

    I also ‘pray’ in the same hope of a placebo effect, sometimes going as far as to invoke the name of a god I don’t believe. I find it useful in getting my mind off a point of anxiety. Whether this should be called prayer is semantics, and I’m surprised how much of the conversation below is centred on semantics, I think it’s clear what is meant by placebo prayer. If you’re going to criticise Gold use some evidence; brain scans show that prayer doesn’t produce the same effect in atheists as it does believers. I think materialists shouldn’t dismiss the benefits of behaviours like this, as long as we apply the same level of criticism as we do anything else.
    I discuss this more on my blog.


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