Do we live in a world with a god? It doesn’t look like it (read part 1 of this series here).
Let’s continue our survey with the next clue that we live in a godless world.
Doctrinal statements (faith statements) are contracts that Christian scholars must commit to at many Christian universities and ministries. These statements might, for example, declare that life didn’t evolve but was designed by God, or they might state that Jesus had a virgin birth.
The problem is that they’re not a commitment to follow the evidence but a commitment to a conclusion regardless of the evidence. Suppose a professor has signed a doctrinal statement that includes the virgin birth and then writes a paper arguing that the virgin birth was historical. What good is that paper when we knew beforehand that they were obliged to reach that conclusion? The professor has no reputation for honest scholarship, and readers must critique the argument themselves, which is beyond most readers’ ability.
A university that constrains its professors with a doctrinal statement has created a straightjacketed environment. Even if scholars honestly followed the evidence where it led, readers could only think that they were parroting their doctrinal statement.
More importantly for our purposes, that university has created scholarship with training wheels by prohibiting all that pesky contrary evidence. Their arguments can’t take the critique that historical arguments must face in the real world, so they have created their own parallel kindergarten with a low bar of evidence. (More here and here.)
If we lived in God World, no one would need to discard rigorous standards for scholarship because the evidence for God would meet those standards. Said another way, the low standards for Christian “scholarship” and its inability to compete with other disciplines makes clear that we don’t live in God World.
The Bible makes clear that, when it comes to prayer, God is pretty much a vending machine. In Matthew, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” In Mark, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” In John, Jesus says, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.”
But that’s not the way it works in the real world. Christians often lower expectations of what prayer can deliver so that it doesn’t disappoint. Here’s one Christian example:
Instead of understanding prayer to be conversation with God as with a friend, we generally see prayer referred to as something reminding us of Santa Claus or a vending machine. And that sets us up for disappointment or disillusionment. . . . Let’s enjoy conversation with God as with a friend—without prayer jargon, vague language, or a list of requests for God to break natural law.
Experienced Christians sometimes say that a person’s faith “matures.” One sign of this maturity is an acceptance of how reality shows prayer works over how Jesus claimed it works. Atheist blogger Neil Carter observed, “The mature Christian eventually learns to wait and see where the arrow lands, then they draw a target around that spot, calling God faithful and his word true.”
The 2006 Templeton prayer study is probably the most famous and comprehensive scientific study of prayer. It showed no benefit. The “researchers” who should best know if prayer works are televangelists. If prayer actually worked, they would simply ask for prayers, but of course they don’t. It’s always prayers plus donations.
Not only does prayer not work but Christians themselves admit this when they make it their avenue of last resort. When a Christian actually takes Jesus at his word and relies on prayer for something important, society doesn’t rally around to celebrate their marvelous, powerful faith. Instead, they react with varying degrees of shock. Parents have prayed for their sick children instead of taking them to the hospital, people have sold their worldly goods to make themselves right with God before the end of the world, and one person closed their eyes to pray while driving. These situations did not turn out well.
Continued in part 12.
instead of “doing something”
I often chastise them for not getting it
that prayer is often just what people do
after they’ve done all that they personally could
and wish there was something more.
— Camels with Hammers blog
Image via Dmitry Kalinin, CC license