I’m hard at work on a book about prayer. I’m trying to establish a reasonable, rational explanation of why we should pray. About what prayer accomplishes. About what effect prayer has on the Divine.
One of the things it seems I have to get over is my very human predilection to understand things by cause-and-effect.
I’m not the first one to tackle this, of course. David Hume thought a lot about cause-and-effect, including this famous billiard ball analogy:
Imagine a billiard ball rolling across a pool table at a goodly pace. What happens when it comes in contact with another ball? The first ball stops rolling and the second ball begins rolling. The energy is transferred from ball one to ball two.
You can see the cause, Hume says, and you can see the effect — but you cannot conclusively link the two.
Hume uses this billiards example to make some points about cause-and-effect:
- Causation can only be inductively predicted, not deductively reasoned.
- Inductive predictions are based on previous experience.
- It is possible to imagine scenarios in which the cause produces a different effect.
- It is also possible to imagine that the effect was caused by something else.
- Therefore, talk of cause-and-effect should necessarily be modest in its claims.
And here’s an interesting note about cause-and-effect: Isaac Newton was careful to repeatedly assert that gravity is not the cause of things falling to Earth. Gravity is simply the best explanation of the effect. The cause of things falling to Earth, Newton said, is anyone’s guess.
So it seems that a significant hurdle for me — as someone trying to figure out why we pray — is that our prayers causing God to do things is probably not a very good reason to pray.