The Wickedness of Praying for the Sick

Having recently finished Professor Ehrman's "God's Problem," I was struck by his decision to never say grace over food. His logic was that if there were people in the world dying every five seconds from starvation, it was tantamount to thanking God for giving this food to him, at their expense. He felt he couldn't be thankful that he had been singled out for reasons that had only to do with his birthplace, which made quite a bit of sense to me.

Thus I began to consider analogous behaviors and the first one that I thought of was praying for the sick to recover. If Ehrman's original proposition, that praying to thank the Lord for food that you have, while others are starving is valid, is it not equally valid when it comes to praying for the sick to recover?

There are 8.2 deaths per 1000 people per year in the US. Some countries are better, some are much worse. That means that with 300 million residents, there are roughly 2.5 million deaths in the US per year, or roughly 6700 people per day dying. This is in the US alone. If you assume the death rate globally is higher, say 8.6 per 1000, and you assume 6 billion people, you can see the actual number of dying people God can potentially save per day is around 140,000 (I leave others to detect the irony of this number).

Yet the person praying for the sick to recover believes that her action can affect the transcendent creator of the universe to intervene for the person they know. Imagine if it were so.

Imagine that the only thing that were keeping the death rate up was the lack of prayers for the sick and dying. Think of a statistical analysis that showed rigorously that prayer worked, but only the prayers of members of the (imaginary) Dutch Reformed Church, and only those prayers addressed to "Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom is manifest the will of the Father" that took place in a Dutch Reformed Church. And imagine that such a prayer was shown to extend the life of the dying person by 6 hours per hour of prayer spent.

Would people convert en masse to the (imaginary) Dutch Reformed Church? Would they be willing to travel to the (imaginary) Dutch Reformed Church to pray for the sick personally for one hour to extend their lives another 6 hours? For how long would this continue? Would people quit their jobs and become professional "prayers"?

I am sure some would.

But I doubt the numbers would be very large. And I doubt the number of conversions to Dutch Reformed would be very great. And I also doubt that members of other congregations would consider the analysis valid.

So is it not more reasonable, more humane, and more just to believe that the sick die from their diseases and NOT due to a lack of prayer? Many of my family have prayed for the sick, and on their recovery been thankful to the (imaginary) Lord for speeding the recovery of the patient. Are they then not condemning the person who did not recover for not having had adequate prayer support? Do they believe the (imaginary) deity is keeping a tally sheet and only responding when a given prayer threshold has been met?

I recall well when a very close childhood friend of mine was dying from a progressive neurological disorder. I was at the hospital with him waiting for his brain biopsy. He was still lucid, but aphasic. A very well-meaning woman asked what was going on, and I explained it to her. She assured me she would pray for him and he would get better. I was sure he would not, but didn't disagree openly with her.

Should I hold it against her that he died? Is it her fault that the (imaginary) deity chose not to make an exception for my friend when he contracted this universally fatal neurological disease?

I think not. It is wicked to suggest that all people who die weren't prayed for adequately, and therefore, by the same principle, it is wicked to pray for anyone who is ill, because you suggest that your prayer had efficacy in saving them, and thus condemn as inadequate the futile prayers said for those who died.

In advance I can anticipate the apologetic responses:

1. God is inscrutable.

2. All things work together for good, and God wished these peoples' deaths as part of a divine plan.

3. The suffering and death of these people leads to increased strength of character in the face of adversity of those who survive them.

To number 1, I say if God is so inscrutable, why did he write a book about him coming to earth and healing only some people? Why doesn't he just miraculously cure all suffering people and be done with it?

To number 2, I say if there is a divine plan, why does it involve such incredible suffering, and why should we make that suffering worse by making people feel responsible for it?

To number 3, I say if I could poke a hole through your arm with a sharp stick because it would make you a stronger person to deal with it, should I?

Finally, I would ask what goes through the mind of an ill person in their final minutes when they are sure they are going to die yet they know people have prayed for them? Are they grateful the prayers were sent, even though they are going to die anyway? Or do they worry that the prayers weren't effective due to some character flaw or past "sin" which is their responsibility?

Is not the second possibility unbelievably wicked? Yet it is a certainty that a percentage of believers thus prayed for will think it. And they will think this as they leave the earth for good.

Prayer for the sick should cease. It causes pain and misery in the dying and keeps the living from accepting the nature of life and reality. Is it so hard to simply wish speedy recovery for the sick from a human perspective? Is it so hard to say that you are pulling for someone to recover and leave the cosmic workings of the universe out of it? Need we have each person who has done a bad thing in her life suffering as she expires because she thinks she is being punished?

129 comments:

Tyro said...

Evan,

Just to add some other comments to your three options...

I often hear that some amount of suffering or death is "necessary", which I suppose makes it a variant of (2). I'm told that this is the best possible world, despite the suffering, and so God must still be Love/Loving.

Really? Is every single death from starvation necessary? What if one fewer person died? Ten? A hundred thousand? It seem to me that it's very easy to imagine better worlds and thankfully there are people doing something to bring this world about.


Regarding (3), that this suffering is necessary for others, why are the people who suffer and starve to death so often in far away countries? This strikes me as an extremely ineffective way of teaching us a lesson. Wouldn't it be better if the starving were distributed more evenly? This makes God merely incompetent.

But worse, why are the people who suffer and die so often of different races than the wealthy Americans and Europeans who could presumably do something to prevent the starvation. Is God a racist, killing off black Africans so that white Europeans can grow? Is the price of an African life so cheap?

Harry McCall said...

In 1999 at 14 my daughter was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure. I remember the night she came home crying with her nurse after picking out the dialysis machine she was to be hook to every night for the rest for her life. Although a church prayer chain was formed (my wife is a Christian) to pray for her healing, nothing ever happened.

I remember her telling me: “Daddy, I love my cat and dogs. I take care of them because I love them. If God really loves me, why did God let my kidneys fail? Why will I have to live the rest on my life hooked to a machine?” I just listened and tried to comfort her.

I was told by some Christians trying negatively to prove God: “See what God did to your child because you are an atheist!”

After six months on dialysis from which she was slowly loosing ground (some people just don‘t do well on dialysis), this old godless atheist gave her a kidney and did what all the prayers of the churches and God could not; I saved her life!

Jason said...

Evan,

Did you have any Biblical references a Christian could respond to or address or is this post just an outlet for your frustration?

Evan said...

Jason,

I have no idea why you think the Bible doesn't address suffering and sickness or prayer.

So I hope I don't have to show you where to look.

If you don't know, perhaps that should tell you something.

Steven Bently said...

Wait a minute, didn't at least one of god's favorite people (1 of the 6 million Jews), prayed to save them from being exterminated?

If god chooses not to intervene on the behalf for one of his own chosen people, then why are we supposed to expect the Bible god to intervene for one of his infidel heathen sinner-born again Christians?

I mean, tha Bible god could have just caused Hitler to have a stroke early on (or a heart attack or fell off a cliff) and no one would have even suspected that a god had intervened to save his own chosen people from being horribly and needlessly tormented and murdered.

It's like, it took the Bible god 400 years to send a deliverer (Moses) to lead his people out of bondage, after how many prayed every day and was killed and slaughtered, before Moses arrived?

But to the Christian, we must thank god for everything he does.

Can anyone imagine what life in America would be like if it were not for so many Christians praying for everyones own well being?

It's therefore bound to be the Christians prayers that are holding the moral fabric of this country together.

Just imagine what it would be like if Christians did not pray on a daily basis.

The Christian America daily news:

Multiple murder/suicides
People killed by drunk drivers
Robberies, burgularies, home break-ins
Frauds and decption
Cancer smoking related deaths
Divorce
Corrupt politicians
Corrupt preists and pastors
Meth Labs
Rape
Teacher, pastor and preists child molesters
Alcoholics
Domestic violence
Tresspassing
Indecent exposure

A lot of these people who commit those crimes are confessed Christians.

Oh yeah, I forgot Christians are not perfect, just saved!

Steven Bently said...

Wait a minute, didn't at least one of god's favorite people (1 of the 6 million Jews), prayed to save them from being exterminated?

If god chooses not to intervene on the behalf for one of his own chosen people, then why are we supposed to expect the Bible god to intervene for one of his infidel heathen sinner-born again Christians?

I mean, tha Bible god could have just caused Hitler to have a stroke early on (or a heart attack or fell off a cliff) and no one would have even suspected that a god had intervened to save his own chosen people from being horribly and needlessly tormented and murdered.

It's like, it took the Bible god 400 years to send a deliverer (Moses) to lead his people out of bondage, after how many prayed every day and was killed and slaughtered, before Moses arrived?

But to the Christian, we must thank god for everything he does.

Can anyone imagine what life in America would be like if it were not for so many Christians praying for everyones own well being?

It's therefore bound to be the Christians prayers that are holding the moral fabric of this country together.

Just imagine what it would be like if Christians did not pray on a daily basis.

The Christian America daily news:

Multiple murder/suicides
People killed by drunk drivers
Robberies, burgularies, home break-ins
Frauds and decption
Cancer smoking related deaths
Divorce
Corrupt politicians
Corrupt preists and pastors
Meth Labs
Rape
Teacher, pastor and preists child molesters
Alcoholics
Domestic violence
Tresspassing
Indecent exposure

A lot of these people who commit those crimes are confessed Christians.

Oh yeah, I forgot Christians are not perfect, just saved!

Knitterman said...

Jason:

James 5:14 comes readily to mind. I used it in reference to my blog post about The Promise of the Resurrection (here: http://www.raywhiting.com/MyLife/?p=846) regarding unfulfilled promises. If the promises given to believers for this lifetime, like healing or 'peace that passes understanding', are not fulfilled, why would anyone take seriously a promise regarding something supposed to happen after we die.

As a former Pentecostal minister I can assure you there are plenty of references regarding the promise of divine healing in the Bible. Empty promises. People get sick because it is part of the human condition. This "human condition" can be ameliorated through diet and exercise, medical intervention, and so forth. Prayer has no effect. Christians get sick and die just as often as everyone else, and the newspapers are full of instances when medical help is rejected in reliance only on prayer, and the disastrous results from trusting in empty promises.

goprairie said...

when my dad had cancer, his friends said to me "We are praying for your dad." I wish I had had the nerve then to say "Why don't you just visit him instead?"
Prayer is an easy way out. A way to feel you are doing something good when in actuality you don't give enough of a damn to do something real for the person.

goprairie said...

In the largest prayer study done so far of 1800 people over time, the people who were being prayed for anonymously did no better and no worse than those not being prayed for. Why? Because prayer has no effect. Either there is no God, or any god or gods do not care to respond to prayer for better health outcomes.
In that same study, people who were told they were being prayed for did WORSE than those not being prayed for and those being prayed for anonymously. Why? Because there is no God and people who think someone is going to do it for them don't try as hard on their own? or because there is a God and he/she/it choses to punish those for whom we dare pray specifically?
Prayer does not work. It is a waste of time. It is worse than a waste of time. It creates a false sense of security for those being prayed for and it creates a false sense of do-gooding for those who pray.

Keith Welch said...

When people pull of the old "God works in mysterious ways" argument, my response is, "what if he DOESN'T work in mysterious ways?" What if the world we see is God's direct intention of how things should be? If so, we are well and truly screwed.

Jason said...

Evan,

I'm well aware of the verses that deal with prayer and also the ones that talk about God answering, and not answering, prayer. I just don't happen to see the correlation between these verses and your frustration over Christians praying to a God you don't believe exists.

Jason said...

Knitterman,

I'm not sure what kind of problem James 5:14 poses...?

You say prayer has no effect only because you're no longer a Christian. This is a stock atheist response but it's not proof prayer doesn't work.

An answered prayer doesn't need to be miraculous in nature and unfortunately, as your post alludes to, this is often the demand in how an 'answered prayer' should appear. If I pray for a safe trip to my destination and I arrive safely, as far as I'm concerned my prayer was answered. It's not miraculous, but it was answered nonetheless. No one can prove things would have happened differently had I not prayed but for the common Christian, praying commits the task into God's perfect hands, thereby releasing the individual from much of the burden of attempting to deal with a negative outcome should it end up that way.

In terms of what we should pray for, what our expectations are in terms of God's response, and what God's expectations are of us in terms of making intelligent decisions, we should naturally use Scripture as our guide. Having said that, and back to the topic, one would be hard pressed to prove, using Biblical references, that prayer is inherently wicked.

goprairie said...

ah, jason, so you can guarantee prayer is answered by only praying for things that would happen anyway. to pray for a safe trip, which happens 99.9999 percent of the time anyway, then say god kept you safe MUST ring as hollow to you as it does to me.
got anything you ever prayed for that CAN'T be explained by science or medicine or other people taking action or random chance?
prayer does not work . . . because there is no one to answer the prayer. now stop praying for good things to happen and get out there and volunteer to make something good happen. visit or call a sick friend. help out a neighbor or friend who is struggling. take a lonely coworker to lunch. stop praying and DO.

Stargazer said...

Jason, could you please explain what you mean by the last part of this sentence:

"No one can prove things would have happened differently had I not prayed but for the common Christian, praying commits the task into God's perfect hands, thereby releasing the individual from much of the burden of attempting to deal with a negative outcome should it end up that way."

Do you mean that someone who prays, should they experience a negative outcome, would assume that their experience was simply a result of God's will and they are released from the burden of wondering why such a thing should have happened to them? Or are you speaking of another type of burden? Whatever is meant, this is not persuasive argument for the power of prayer.

Peace, Stargazer

Hamilcar said...

Jason,

In the thread above, Harry McCall tells a moving story about saving the life of his daughter by donating a kidney. He says:

After six months on dialysis from which she was slowly loosing ground (some people just don‘t do well on dialysis), this old godless atheist gave her a kidney and did what all the prayers of the churches and God could not; I saved her life!

Now, I wonder if you'd agree: a Christian response to this might be to say that obviously, obviously, God was working through Harry, answering everyone's prayers for his daughter by having him give up a kidney. Prayer works! Behold, how powerful God is, that He can work his mysterious ways even through an atheist! Harry didn't even realize he was but a tool of the almighty. God's will be done.

Yet, what if there had been no match? What if the operation had gone wrong, or the immunosuppressive drugs hadn't worked? What if Harry's daughter had been taken? Well God, you see, works in mysterious ways. Perhaps the death and suffering of a child serves a greater good. God's will be done.

Jason said...

goprairie said: Ah, jason, so you can guarantee prayer is answered by only praying for things that would happen anyway. to pray for a safe trip, which happens 99.9999 percent of the time anyway, then say god kept you safe MUST ring as hollow to you as it does to me.

I don't believe I said that at all.

got anything you ever prayed for that CAN'T be explained by science or medicine or other people taking action or random chance?

I don't see what this would prove. God answering prayer doesn't need to come in the form of a miraculous, unexplained event. As established in the OT and NT, God answers prayer by working with, and through, mankind. Pharoah is an example, as are the Babylonians and Assyrians.

prayer does not work . . . because there is no one to answer the prayer.

If it doesn't work then it shouldn't bother you if people do it, right?

now stop praying for good things to happen and get out there and volunteer to make something good happen. visit or call a sick friend. help out a neighbor or friend who is struggling. take a lonely coworker to lunch. stop praying and DO.

Do you know me well enough to know if I'm not already doing these things?

Jason said...

Hamilcar,

No, I don't agree. There's no way to prove God used Harry any more then there's proof He didn't. If someone has faith that God answered prayer, that's fine. If someone else doesn't believe it was an answer the prayer, that's fine as well.

Either way, the end result is still the same. A believer sees an act of God, an atheist sees an act of science and life carries on.

Knitterman said...

Jason wrote: "I'm not sure what kind of problem James 5:14 poses...?


The "problem" is that James 5.14 says that if anyone is sick let him call for the elders to come and pray for him, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick. But how many people have been prayed for by the elders and died? There is a promise of healing and the promise is not kept.


Jason wrote: "You say prayer has no effect only because you're no longer a Christian."

You've got it backwards: I'm no longer a Christian because prayer has no effect.

Jason wrote: "An answered prayer doesn't need to be miraculous in nature and unfortunately, as your post alludes to, this is often the demand in how an 'answered prayer' should appear. If I pray for a safe trip to my destination and I arrive safely, as far as I'm concerned my prayer was answered."

I disagree. Divine intervention (i.e., answered prayer) requires evidence to show that it was, in fact, divine intervention and NOT explainable by purely natural conditions. Arriving safely at your destination is not evidence of anything other than safe conditions and good driving habits. You can attribute that to the hand of god(s) if you wish, but there's no proof or valid evidence of anything beyond natural circumstances and no rational reason to interject some supernatural meddling.

If people get sick and take their medicines and also pray and then get better, there is no evidence that prayer did anything at all, because nonbelievers also get the same sicknesses and take the same medicine and get better, too. If prayer actually worked there would be measurable and verifiable evidence. If prayer actually worked as promised, amputees would have their limbs restored.

I wouldn't go so far as to say all prayer is inherently wicked. At best it is utterly benign and quite useless.

If you kept an honest record of every prayer you ever prayed, for yourself or for others, however grand or minor, along with recording every response or lack thereof, you would see that prayer does not do much of anything. An apparent response that can be attributed to natural conditions or circumstances (like safe driving, or taking the right medications) is not evidence of supernatural involvement. Believing it to be so does not make it so. A genuine response to prayer, in order to be validated as PROOF, would have to be in the form of something not explainable by natural means. Lacking evidence of supernatural involvement, one is obligated by the evidence to accept purely natural explanations.

Jason said...

knitterman said: The "problem" is that James 5.14 says that if anyone is sick let him call for the elders to come and pray for him, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick. But how many people have been prayed for by the elders and died? There is a promise of healing and the promise is not kept.

That's because James 5 is talking about the spiritually sick, not the physically sick. Note:

1. The word "sick" in verse 14 can be used for both physical and spiritual sickness.
2. The word "sick" (lit. "weary") in verse 15 is never used of physical sickness
3. Verse 15 goes on to speak of the forgiveness of the sins of the spiritually sick.
4. Verse 16 continues the theme of spiritual sickness - confessing our faults.
5. Verses 19-20 complete the context, about spiritual sickness.

You've got it backwards: I'm no longer a Christian because prayer has no effect.

It wasn't a prayer issue then, it was an expectation issue.

I disagree. Divine intervention (i.e., answered prayer) requires evidence to show that it was, in fact, divine intervention and NOT explainable by purely natural conditions.

I can see why you don't think your prayers were answered. Christ instructs his disciples to pray for 'daily bread'. The provision of food can be explained by natural conditions but Christ obviously didn't think this made it unworthy to pray for.

Arriving safely at your destination is not evidence of anything other than safe conditions and good driving habits.

Spoken like a true unbeliever. A believer though would see God in the safe conditions.

You can attribute that to the hand of god(s) if you wish, but there's no proof or valid evidence of anything beyond natural circumstances and no rational reason to interject some supernatural meddling.

Then a Christian praying for a safe journey shouldn't bother you in the least.

If people get sick and take their medicines and also pray and then get better, there is no evidence that prayer did anything at all, because nonbelievers also get the same sicknesses and take the same medicine and get better, too.

I don't disagree. This doesn't make prayer wicked though.

If prayer actually worked there would be measurable and verifiable evidence. If prayer actually worked as promised, amputees would have their limbs restored.

The Bible disagrees.

I wouldn't go so far as to say all prayer is inherently wicked. At best it is utterly benign and quite useless.

You're entitled to your opinion :)

If you kept an honest record of every prayer you ever prayed, for yourself or for others, however grand or minor, along with recording every response or lack thereof, you would see that prayer does not do much of anything.

If you're keeping a record, you're praying for all the wrong reasons and I would suggest God wouldn't answer your prayers for precisely that reason.

A genuine response to prayer, in order to be validated as PROOF, would have to be in the form of something not explainable by natural means.

Again, the Bible disagrees.

Curiosis said...

I was told by some Christians trying negatively to prove God: “See what God did to your child because you are an atheist!”

I'm a normally controlled person, but if someone had said this to me, I would have been sorely tempted to slap them across the face. This is a very hateful thing to say!

Curiosis said...

If you're keeping a record, you're praying for all the wrong reasons and I would suggest God wouldn't answer your prayers for precisely that reason.

I guess this makes god a quantum event. If you try to measure it, you get a different result.

How convenient!

Curiosis said...

Jason,

It wasn't a prayer issue then, it was an expectation issue.

And clearly you have no expectations. I call that gullible.

If an athlete believed that wearing a lucky sock would help him win, and everytime he wore it he did win, would that be enough proof for you that the sock worked?

Knitterman said...

You've got it backwards: I'm no longer a Christian because prayer has no effect.

It wasn't a prayer issue then, it was an expectation issue.

So it's wrong to expect the Bible to actually be true and hold up to scrutiny?

- - -

If you kept an honest record of every prayer you ever prayed, for yourself or for others, however grand or minor, along with recording every response or lack thereof, you would see that prayer does not do much of anything.

If you're keeping a record, you're praying for all the wrong reasons and I would suggest God wouldn't answer your prayers for precisely that reason.

If one doesn't keep records, how will one have any clue at all if a prayer was answered? Without a connection between the request and the response, prayer becomes no more significant than a sneeze, idle words dribbling off the tongue and rising no higher than one's own ceiling. Are Christians supposed to just pray and pray and pray, without some proof their prayer is answered? And even if one out of a hundred prayers "seems" to be answered (like arriving safely), what about the other 99 prayers to which there is apparently no meaningful response? You have to keep records to know if your prayers are having an effect, and to determine if praying is a useful, fruitful expense of energy.

A businessman doesn't send out invoices and then fail to ensure payments are made. Surely god(s) would expect followers to keep track of such things, else why would god(s) bother answering at all if nobody remembers asking for something.

Throughout the Bible promises are made to believers, so there is some reasonable grounds for believers to have high expectations. When those expectations are not met, by even the slightest fraction, it is reasonable to assume the promises and claims weren't valid to begin with.

So again, why pray if there is no reason to think the prayer will be answered?

Then a Christian praying for a safe journey shouldn't bother you in the least.

No, it doesn't bother me in the least. It just means the Christian is rather gullible and superstitious.

Sure, you are free to say "God did it", and believe it all you want. But without evidence that will stand up to critical examination, it's all just in your head, without any reason for someone else to believe "God did it".

Hamilcar said...

Jason,

May I ask you, do you believe that God answers prayers?

And if so, what does this mean? Does it mean, for example, that God "suspends the natural order" of things in the universe, in a miraculous sense, in order to bring about the prayed-for outcome? Or is God perhaps more subtle most of the time, simply "nudging" reality one way or another, with an affect size so small that it could almost always be considered part of chance?

From your comments above, you've indicated that "There's no way to prove God used Harry any more then there's proof He didn't." I propose we shift from "proof" to "evidence", leaving the proofs to the mathematicians. Now, aren't the scientific studies that look into the affect of prayer exactly trying to get to the heart of this issue? If a large, well-constructed, double-blind study showed a significant affect for prayer, this would indeed be evidence for its efficacy, would it not? And the same study, with a negative result, can be taken as evidence against. No single study tells the whole story, but the body of literature begins to build a scientific consensus.

From some of your other comments, you appear to be unconcerned that there is a lack of evidence for prayer's effectiveness. You've suggested (I'm paraphrasing) that an atheist simply sees an expected naturalistic outcome, while a theist sees a prayer answered. This leads me to another question: from this perspective, isn't prayer, in your view, just an emotional exercise? It would seem to me to be something that makes you feel good about the world, feel good about the things that happen in your life, something that "makes sense of" the sometimes strange and compelling coincidences that crop up in the course of living. I wonder, too, if praying, for you, has an aspect of ritualism -- something that you do in order to feel closer to God, and more "in tune" with existence -- a reflexive way of asking the universe (or its creator) for favorable outcomes in the face of risk and jeopardy.

Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

Jason is coming around.

Surely, he must be growing sick (lit. "weary") from trying so desperately to make his beliefs make sense in the face of all that is logical.

I caution you, Jason, that this exposure cannot be good for your "faith" -- you should get out while you're still a theist...

As to the usefulness of prayer, you have clearly and unequivocally shown that prayer does indeed work. I salute you.

Now, if you please, so that all these unconvinced fools will know that your god is true, I have placed in my backyard a charcoal barbecue, replete with charcoal, hickory chips, and succulent steaks. With the power of prayer, will you prove here and now that your god is true, and pray that he lights my barbecue?

No fire?

Pray louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.

--
Stan

(P.S. -- If this post is duplicated, even multiple times, it is due to a failure of the "word" verification process. I apologize if this is the case, and ask that a moderator remove duplicate posts.)

goprairie said...

Jason: "I don't believe I said that at all."
Then what did you say? that prayer does not need to be out of the ordinary and that you can pray for ordinary things - then what is the point and where is the help? if you are claiming you see the hand of god because you pray for ordinary things and they happen, that is pretty lame. they would happen even if you didn't pray so prayer has no effect.

Jason: "God answering prayer doesn't need to come in the form of a miraculous, unexplained event. As established in the OT and NT, God answers prayer by working with, and through, mankind. Pharoah is an example, as are the Babylonians and Assyrians."

so the good humankind does is god at work and the bad humankind does is??? maybe it is all just HUMANKIND BEING HUMAN with no god intervening ever at all. wouldn't THAT be more likely?

Jason: "If it doesn't work then it shouldn't bother you if people do it, right?"

If I am sick and your company would cheer me up and you sit home and pray thinking you are doing some good, then it SHOULD bother me. You should visit me instead. If you sit in your cozy home and pray for world peace and vote for politicians who declare war, you are wasting you time and being a hypocrit. If you pray for an end to starvation and think it is doing any good, you are wasting your time and should be donating money to heifer project or some other aid group instead. It bothers me because it is a total waste of time and allows do-gooders to think they are doing good when they should be getting out there making a difference. that is why i resent it.

Jason: "Do you know me well enough to know if I'm not already doing these things?"
I know your type. You hear of someone sick and you pray for them but never call or write them a note or stop to visit them. You don't want to take time out of your busy day to stop at the hospital or their home but you sure can pray and pray and pray for them. You say your grace over dinner and thank god for your food and pray that all will be fed but how much do you really give to charities that feed the hungry? Do you skip a meal now and then and send the money somewhere?
Do you pray for world peace all the time but have never written a letter to a politician about it or attended a peace rally or signed a petition? Do you pray for the environment but have never been out there picking up litter or planting a park or donating money to a green organization? Most 'Christians' are conservative and regard the organizations that make the most difference to be liberal and therefore not worthy of their time and money. You are absolutely right that I do not know you, but from your words, I think I have a pretty good idea of what sorts of things you devote your time to and what sorts of things you pray for.
Prayer does nothing. Face it. Only people can make any difference for the world or each other by DOING not praying.

goprairie said...

let me see if i have this right so far:
god does not answer prayers for things that can be measured if we are measuring them. isn't that what people who see ghosts in buildings say when people come with cameras and the ghost fails to show? hmmmm.
god wants us to pray for daily normal things that sustain us through the day. things that we have to work and labor for anyway and that people who do NOT pray also work and labor for do also recieve. so that means that whether you pray or don't, you get what you work for. doesn't that mean prayer is useless?
the only usefulness of prayer is as a mental exercise, i would agree. if that mental exercise is to trick yourself that you have done something good, accomplished something, then it is wicked because it is false and it has wasted your time. if that mental exercise is to focus on what your desires and priorities are so that you can then go out and do actions that will acheive them, if it is a prerequisite for DOING, then it is harmless to the world and helpful to you. but a person who calls it meditation or a person who calls it a planning session gets the same results and there need be no god to get the exact same results with less delusion.
jason, if you want yours with delusion, go right ahead.
now, address the prayer studies where the people who knew they were being prayed for had worse medical outcomes. how could a god who know he was being trusted and called upon allow THAT to happen? not listening? or just NOT THERE?

Jason said...

knitterman said: So it's wrong to expect the Bible to actually be true and hold up to scrutiny?

No, it’s wrong to expect that God will answer your prayers in miraculous, incredible, unexplainable fashion since Scripture doesn’t indicate this is how prayers will always answered. This seems to be the major misconception here about in what form answered prayers take.

Keeping a prayer record is also very odd. Don’t you think this defeats the concept of faith? And how would you know if God forgives sins when you prayerfully ask? In what form did you expect this answered prayer to come in?

Suggesting that a record should be kept in the first suggests a much deeper problem then just prayer, specifically expecting that God should act in such a way that’s beneficial to the individual in every instance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t follow with the Bible teachings of the relationship between God and man.

Jason said...

Hamilcar said: May I ask you, do you believe that God answers prayers?

I’m a Christian. So the answer is yes. ☺

And if so, what does this mean? Does it mean, for example, that God "suspends the natural order" of things in the universe, in a miraculous sense, in order to bring about the prayed-for outcome? Or is God perhaps more subtle most of the time, simply "nudging" reality one way or another, with an affect size so small that it could almost always be considered part of chance?

That’s a great question. And I would say that both of your examples are very possible.

From your comments above, you've indicated that "There's no way to prove God used Harry any more then there's proof He didn't." I propose we shift from "proof" to "evidence", leaving the proofs to the mathematicians. Now, aren't the scientific studies that look into the affect of prayer exactly trying to get to the heart of this issue? If a large, well-constructed, double-blind study showed a significant affect for prayer, this would indeed be evidence for its efficacy, would it not? And the same study, with a negative result, can be taken as evidence against. No single study tells the whole story, but the body of literature begins to build a scientific consensus.

I’m not sure what you’re getting at here…?

From some of your other comments, you appear to be unconcerned that there is a lack of evidence for prayer's effectiveness.

I’ve given evidence (safe journeys, food on the table, etc.). However, this ‘evidence’ though doesn’t fit with what you would consider ‘evidence’ so we’re at something of an impasse.

You've suggested (I'm paraphrasing) that an atheist simply sees an expected naturalistic outcome, while a theist sees a prayer answered. This leads me to another question: from this perspective, isn't prayer, in your view, just an emotional exercise?

No, I wouldn’t agree with that.

It would seem to me to be something that makes you feel good about the world, feel good about the things that happen in your life, something that "makes sense of" the sometimes strange and compelling coincidences that crop up in the course of living.

That might be true for some but the Bible doesn’t allude to this as being the point to prayer.

I wonder, too, if praying, for you, has an aspect of ritualism -- something that you do in order to feel closer to God, and more "in tune" with existence -- a reflexive way of asking the universe (or its creator) for favorable outcomes in the face of risk and jeopardy.

Again, speaking for myself, no, I don’t agree with this either.

Jason said...

Goprarrie,

I never said I "guarantee"prayer is answered by only praying for things that would happen anyway. If you're going to quote me, do me the consideration of making sure it's accurate first. If you're interested in what I've said, I urge you to go back and read my posts. I believe I've made it abundantly clear.

so the good humankind does is god at work and the bad humankind does is??? maybe it is all just HUMANKIND BEING HUMAN with no god intervening ever at all. wouldn't THAT be more likely?

Like I said, God answers prayer by working with, and through, mankind. An answered prayer doesn’t need to be miraculous or unexplained.

If I am sick and your company would cheer me up and you sit home and pray thinking you are doing some good, then it SHOULD bother me. You should visit me instead....

Now you’re dealing with another issue completely: non-involvement. The topic though is praying for the sick. Is praying for sick in and of itself wicked? Absolutely not. Is inaction wicked? Absolutely. Any believer who thinks they’re absolved of responsibility to the sick and hungry simply because they can pray is missing the whole point. This sort of behaviour doesn’t agree with Scriptural principals on how a believer is expected to behave and interact with the people around him.

I know your type. You hear of someone sick and you pray for them but never call or write them a note or stop to visit them. You don't want to take time out of your busy day to stop at the hospital or their home but you sure can pray and pray and pray for them. You say your grace over dinner and thank god for your food and pray that all will be fed but how much do you really give to charities that feed the hungry? Do you skip a meal now and then and send the money somewhere?

Ack, not even close. I don't think you know my type at all.

Do you pray for world peace all the time but have never written a letter to a politician about it or attended a peace rally or signed a petition? Do you pray for the environment but have never been out there picking up litter or planting a park or donating money to a green organization? Most 'Christians' are conservative and regard the organizations that make the most difference to be liberal and therefore not worthy of their time and money. You are absolutely right that I do not know you, but from your words, I think I have a pretty good idea of what sorts of things you devote your time to and what sorts of things you pray for.

It’s a real shame you’re not a better judge of character... ;)

Prayer does nothing. Face it. Only people can make any difference for the world or each other by DOING not praying.

Is praying for the sick wicked?

let me see if i have this right so far: god does not answer prayers for things that can be measured if we are measuring them. isn't that what people who see ghosts in buildings say when people come with cameras and the ghost fails to show? hmmmm.

You don’t have this right.

god wants us to pray for daily normal things that sustain us through the day. things that we have to work and labor for anyway and that people who do NOT pray also work and labor for do also recieve. so that means that whether you pray or don't, you get what you work for. doesn't that mean prayer is useless?

You don’t have this right either.

jason, if you want yours with delusion, go right ahead.

Thank you. Now then, is praying for the sick in and of itself wicked?

now, address the prayer studies where the people who knew they were being prayed for had worse medical outcomes. how could a god who know he was being trusted and called upon allow THAT to happen? not listening? or just NOT THERE?

Actually, I suggest you address the topic. Is praying for the sick wicked?

Jamie Steele said...

I wonder how much time and money Bart has given to help stop starvation in the world.

Hopefully he will put some of the money he makes off of God to work.

Don't you think that would be a good idea.
How about you guys are you all helping stop starvation in the world.

Evan said...

Jason the topic is well addressed. It seems you are the one who is avoiding it.

12000 (conservatively) people die every day.

A subset of them are prayed for and still know they are dying.

Knowing she is dying and that prayer for her recovery has not been answered positively by God makes the person dying wonder why the prayer being said by them and others for her recovery is not being answered.

This makes the person search the past for actions they may have taken that might be displeasing to some imaginary deity -- and then BLAME HERSELF for the fact that her and others prayers for recovery are not being answered.

This is a HUGE amount of suffering that could be alleviated tomorrow if people stopped praying for recovery at all.

Again, what is so hard about wishing someone well? What is so hard about hoping they recover? Why involve the creator of all things in inevitable events that then cause the sufferers to feel they are being left desolate in their hour of need?

I asked all these questions in the initial post and you've studiously ignored them.

Jason said...

Evan,

People dying every day doesn't make prayer "wicked". If anything, a sick person knowing people are praying for him would be comforting. I very much doubt he would feel like people are doing him sort of evil.

I personally knew a number of people who have since died from cancer who found solace in the fact people were praying for their recovery. I reject the notion that prayer causes suffering on the scale you're suggesting.

Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

Jason, your comments here are tedious at best, and outright dodges most of the time.

Granted, I've made plenty of flippant comments of my own, but at least I argue a point, rather than dismissing a question with "No, I don't agree with that", or "That's not the interpretation from scripture", or some other such drivel.

You repeatedly ask questions which have been answered already. In this particular instance, the current repeated question is, "Is praying for the sick wicked?"

Yes.

Praying to the Abrahamic god, as a Christian, for a terminally ill (as a particular example) patient, has exactly the same effect as praying to the Abrahamic god as a Muslim, or as a Jew, or even of praying to any other perceived deity.

Is praying to any perceived deity other than yours wicked?

What if an especially devout Christian were to pray that he might sustain a non-life threatening injury in an automobile accident while on a journey, so that he could then give thanks to god for his survival and recovery, brining more glory to god in the process?

If this prayer were to come true, would it be evidence of the usefulness of prayer in general, or would it be evidence of this person's negligent driving, or would it merely be an accident?

If this prayer were not to come true, what sort of evidence would that be?

One of the biggest problems with these sorts of arguments is that Christians such as yourself refuse to admit that prayer is largely ineffectual (and I am being extremely generous at that). They claim that prayer to their god is somehow different than prayer to another god, or different than meditation on a given subject with no regard to any specific deity. They claim that positive results support prayer, and negative results reveal the inscrutability of god, or otherwise reveal some sinister motive(s) on the part of the one(s) praying.

It's impossible to hit such a target, which is, of course, your goal. You strive to avoid actual debate by constantly changing your position, or by hiding behind (or in, as it were) circular logic.

The Bible quite clearly says that if you have faith, you can move mountains. Strange that no one has yet attempted such an amazing (and ecologically disastrous) feat.

In my own youth, as a Christian of, I might add, profound faith, my father and I were once on a trip to town, for which he needed his briefcase. I forget the details of the meeting in question, but I remember quite vividly the drive to town.

My father remembered, angrily, that he'd forgotten his briefcase, and this effectively meant that the whole trip was now in vain. It would take an hour round-trip to get back home to retrieve the briefcase, and this meeting was apparently scheduled much more tightly than that.

I realized that with the help of god, I could solve this problem. I quickly prayed, asking for guidance as to how my father's briefcase could be "summoned", for lack of a better word.

It came to me pretty easily -- the briefcase would be found in the back of our pickup. This would not require god to tempt either of us with a miraculous spawning of the briefcase in the cab, and indeed, my father would never need to know that god had put it into the back (which had a canopy, so the breifcase was also not subject to the weather).

I told my father not to worry -- the briefcase was in the back. He stared at me incredulously, and asked if I had placed it there. "Don't worry", I said, "it's there."

Well, my father believed me, and I assure you, I had faith it was there. In fact, he pulled over, and we got out and looked.

It wasn't there.

Now, don't tell me I didn't have enough faith -- I did. I had faith enough to brave punishment and embarassment from my father, and then I had to explain myself in the cab once god's mockery had been uncovered.

In fact, this story came a few years after my grandfather's death, at whose funeral I requested and was granted five minutes alone with the body. During this time, I earnestly prayed for god to resurrect my grandfather. I prayed, I wept, I gnashed my teeth. (I did not rent my clothes -- my mother would've killed me). Strange as it may seem to a fellow believer (at the time), the stagnant formaldehyde in his body, and whatever other lethal (to the living) procedures the mortuary had performed, did not miraculously disappear, and he did not miraculously resurrect.

It's too bad -- the featured songs at his funeral were "Allelujah", performed by yours truly on the violin, and "To God Be the Glory", performed by my father and uncles as a brass quartet. Such a wasted opportunity...

It seems pretty clear from the Bible that faith and prayer are combinable in a Power Rangers sort of way into something truly wondrous to behold -- there are a great many examples in the Old Testament, and several more in the New, yet nothing recent comes to mind, other than the mundane bullshit examples you offer regarding praying for a "safe trip", or praying for a meal which has been in the pantry for a month.

Take an unprovisioned trip to a desert for 40 days, and then start praying for that meal, or for a "safe trip" back to civilization. Better yet, save your "prayers", and devote the time to something actually useful. It's painful and a bit distressing to continue to see such rhetoric from you, pretending to engage in useful debate, but actually shying away from any difficult questions, refusing to listen to anything that doesn't come from the Bible, and selectively interpreting different parts of the Bible as literal or figurative.

Come out of your shell, little turtle, and face the reality that your god is not answering prayers. Accept the truth that self-delusion is wicked, and prayer is self-delusion. Quit lying to yourself by calling prayers either "answered" or "unanswered" -- according to your own dogma, all prayers are answered. Some are simply answered in the affirmative, and others in the negative. Recognize that when you pray for a clearly "good" thing (e.g. world peace, an end to starvation, a cure for a diseased relative), and it doesn't happen, it's because god wants those people to suffer and/or die.

Remember, your god is omnipotent. The only things that can happen are those things which he wants to happen. He wants the millions of suffering children worldwide to continue to suffer. He wants the billions of non-Christians in the world to burn in Hell. He wants the vast majority of humankind, since its inception, to rot in eternity away from his presence (whatever that might mean for an omnipresent deity).

To deny any of this is to hear the cock crow.

Oh, and that steak on my barbecue is attracting flies... Pray harder.

--
Stan

goprairie said...

"You don’t have this right."
Um, Jason, did anyone ever tell you that to effectively discuss something you just can't keep saying "no, you don't get what I said" but you have to actually try to EXPLAIN what they got wrong?

As to your question, is praying for the sick wicked? If we define wicked to be causing a bad result, well yes. I still maintain that MOST people who pray think they have done a good thing and stop there. If they knew for certain that there was no god to fix it for them, they would be MORE inclined to write that card or make that visit or offer to shop for the sick person or take comforting food or do some chore for them. But in praying, they are less likely to act and more likely to leave it to god. So prayer does prevent the one praying from doing more real helping. Precisely because they have faith that god will take care of it.
And - the prayer study specifically showed that the people who KNEW THEY WERE BEING PRAYED FOR HAD WORSE MEDICAL OUTCOMES than those who did not know they were being prayed for. So if being prayed for gives a person a false sense of aid and prevents them from helping themselves or trying as hard or whatever effect occurred to show this result, then the prayer CAUSED a worse medical outcome and should then be considered a bad thing. Not just a nuetral thing, but a bad thing. Being prayed for hurts the person who is being prayed for.

goprairie said...

http://www.ahjonline.com/article/PIIS0002870305006496/abstract

the study is in the american heart journal

Knitterman said...

I’ve given evidence (safe journeys, food on the table, etc.). However, this ‘evidence’ though doesn’t fit with what you would consider ‘evidence’ so we’re at something of an impasse.

But what you are calling "evidence" wouldn't stand up as proof of anything more than what can be proven by natural means. NObody can rational conclude just because you arrive at your destination, therefor it WAS DEFINITELY because god(s) had something to do with it. NObody would conclude just because there is food in the table that god(s) provided it.

If you can't rule out safe driving and good conditions, there's no reason to assume or superimpose any divine activity.

In any given situation, you have to rule out all natural causes or factors before even looking for something out of the ordinary or attributing the result as a clear proof of answered prayer.

And yes, keeping records of your prayers is the only way to have a reason to keep praying, i.e., evidence is what supports real faith (reposing one's trust and confidence). Without evidence that can withstand scrutiny, it's just blind gullibility, not genuine faith.

Jason said...

Stan, the topic of the post is "The Wickedness of Praying for the Sick". There's nothing in the original post referencing praying to the Christian God versus the Muslim god so I'm not sure why you're bringing it up.

If you'd like to discuss whether or not it's wicked to pray for the sick, I'm more then happy to do so.

Jason said...

Goprarrie said: As to your question, is praying for the sick wicked? If we define wicked to be causing a bad result, well yes.

And if it causes a good result?

I still maintain that MOST people who pray think they have done a good thing and stop there.

Whether or not that's true doesn't make praying for the sick wicked. It's makes inaction wicked. The Bible is quite clear that believers are to still visit the homeless, the hungry, etc.,

If they knew for certain that there was no god to fix it for them, they would be MORE inclined to write that card or make that visit or offer to shop for the sick person or take comforting food or do some chore for them.

Hardly. An quick reading of the NT clearly shows God still expects believers to work, whether by preaching, helping others, visiting widows, etc. I can't see any justification to ignore these teachings. Paul could have relied on prayer alone to help establish the 1st century ecclesia, but he didn't. He worked. Same goes for Christ, or John the Baptist or Moses. Work is still required.

Precisely because they have faith that god will take care of it.

In terms of praying for the sick though, most of the time the individual is helpless to cure the other person. So praying to God is only natural. It's not wicked by any stretch of the imagination.

And - the prayer study specifically showed that the people who KNEW THEY WERE BEING PRAYED FOR HAD WORSE MEDICAL OUTCOMES than those who did not know they were being prayed for.

Did the prayer study mention who was doing the praying? Or what they were praying for? Or what their level of faith was?

So if being prayed for gives a person a false sense of aid and prevents them from helping themselves or trying as hard or whatever effect occurred to show this result, then the prayer CAUSED a worse medical outcome and should then be considered a bad thing.

And what if prayer comforts others? Is it still wicked?

Not just a nuetral thing, but a bad thing. Being prayed for hurts the person who is being prayed for.

That's an unfair blanket statement. The people I knew who suffered from cancer were comforted. That's good enough for me to keep doing it for their sake.

Stan, the Half-Truth Teller said...

Jason avoided the questions raised with:

"Stan, the topic of the post is 'The Wickedness of Praying for the Sick'. There's nothing in the original post referencing praying to the Christian God versus the Muslim god so I'm not sure why you're bringing it up.

If you'd like to discuss whether or not it's wicked to pray for the sick, I'm more then happy to do so."

Yet you avoid discussing anything for which you have no answer. Don't tell me you're happy to discuss a given topic, but instead engage, and actually discuss the topic.

You're absolutely right -- the topic is "The Wickedness of Praying for the Sick". It's not "The Wickedness of Praying to the Christian God for the Sick", so I should think it pretty clear as to why I brought up the other Abrahamic gods.

Prayer is not something on which Christians hold a monopoly -- in fact, because of this, Christianity deems all forms of prayer to competing deities as "wicked", so I should think that on the whole you agree with the topic's thesis.

Granted, this whole blog is dedicated specifically to the debunking of the Christian Abrahamic god, but this doesn't automatically render irrelevant the consideration of other religions -- especially the other Abrahamic religions -- with regard to the topic.

So unless you're actually going to engage in your promised discussion, quit bandying about your terse and pointless replies.

Now then, in keeping with your own apparent style, and since I have actually addressed your most recent reply to my post, will you now do me the favor of answering my questions? I'll repeat them here, simplified. Scroll up if you're truly interested in engaging on point.

1. Is it wicked to pray to non-Christian deities?

2a. How do you resolve the apparent negative answers to prayer?

2b. How do you resolve conflicting answers to prayer (e.g. one person prays for circumstance A, another for circumstance B [mutually exclusive], and A happens)?

3. Since you clearly believe prayer has value and can produce both purely ordinary results as well as apparently supernatural results, how do you explain the fact that the only prayers that seem to work are the ordinary ones (see my personal anectode for more detail)?

---------------------

Lastly, since you insist that prayer is "comforting", why not admit that its "comforting" power is very nearly exactly the same as if I said I wished you well?

Of course, the difference is, to a believer, the expectation of a result due to the prayer. Wishing someone well has no implications of an expected outcome, whereas prayer is a means to an end. You pray because you believe it will have an effect on the subject at hand. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't pray (although you may just be the blindly pious type who would pray just because you think you're supposed to).

So, because of the implied expectation of effect, prayer is wicked. It is wicked in that it brings about a negative feeling for the person(s) receiving the prayer, when it fails to have the expected effect.

You say that your prayers comforted cancer patients, and I believe you, but the comfort was actually drawn from the knowledge that you cared about their troubles. If they are also Christians, then when your prayer had no effect, they were at least on a small scale distraught at the realization that god apparently wanted them to suffer through cancer, successfully or otherwise.

They were comforted when you said you'd pray for them, but when the positive result never materialized, the comfort was lost, replaced with anguish. The net result is negative, and therefore, prayer is indeed wicked.

Oh, and my barbecue is still waiting to be lit. Maybe god is off running an errand in a different galaxy?

--
Stan

Jason said...

knitterman said: But what you are calling "evidence" wouldn't stand up as proof of anything more than what can be proven by natural means.

Hence "this ‘evidence’ though doesn’t fit with what you would consider ‘evidence’ so we’re at something of an impasse."

NObody can rational conclude just because you arrive at your destination, therefor it WAS DEFINITELY because god(s) had something to do with it. NObody would conclude just because there is food in the table that god(s) provided it.

That's right. And that exact same rationale works the other way as well.

If you can't rule out safe driving and good conditions, there's no reason to assume or superimpose any divine activity.

And vice verse. It's a completely cyclical argument. It's impossible to prove God wasn't involved and it's impossible to prove God was involved. This is why I'm having trouble understanding the problem atheists have with Christians praying.

In any given situation, you have to rule out all natural causes or factors before even looking for something out of the ordinary or attributing the result as a clear proof of answered prayer.

You don't need anything out of the ordinary. God works through natural causes and factors.

And yes, keeping records of your prayers is the only way to have a reason to keep praying, i.e., evidence is what supports real faith (reposing one's trust and confidence). Without evidence that can withstand scrutiny, it's just blind gullibility, not genuine faith.

Faith: Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence (American Heritage Dictionary)

goprairie said...

Jason insists "The people I knew who suffered from cancer were comforted. That's good enough for me to keep doing it for their sake."
The study clearly finds that those who knew they were being prayed for had more medical complications and longer recovery times and poorer ultimate outcomes. It was a study on heart bypass surgery patients. That they knew they were being prayed for caused them to have worse medical results, short term and long term. Presumably because they did not work as hard for their own recovery. One could safely assume that a cancer patient would suffer more complications and die sooner for the same reasons. You say they are comforted by the claims that people are praying for them, but if that 'comfort' means they will die days sooner or that they might have a complication that will kill them months sooner, is that scant comfort worth it? Ask their surviving relatives if the scant comfort of knowing they are being prayed for was worth losing them earlier.
As to prayer being wicked, one thing we have not addressed yet is intent. I don't think that techinically a 'thing' or 'act' can be wicked on its own, but the wickedness comes from intent. Up to this point in your life, you have assumed that prayer was doing good and so your intent in praying was good so even though your prayer, or rather informing people you were praying for them, may have done harm, it was accidental harm. Now since you have been educated to the fact that prayer harms the medical outcome of people, you now know that when you tell a sick person you are praying for them, you may be causeing them a worse medical outcome. Now, if you tell a sick person you are praying for them, you are aware of the harm caused by your action, so your continued praying has harmful intent, and therefore is technically wicked.

Spontaneous Order said...

I am an atheist, Christian in childhood, and don't really have anything to add to the academic tone of this argument. I do however have a personal anecdote about answered prayer.

When I was nine years I became obsessed with seeing a naked woman who was not my mother. Now this may quite honestly be the worst reason to pray ever known to mankind. But pray I did.

Several weeks later I showed up at a neighbors residence to assist my uncle's construction company in moving some materials. I rounded the corner of the house and there was my answer to prayer -- a naked woman sunbathing. All 250 lbs of her and she was not a tall woman.

Now I am not trying to make fun of the chubby, but this was not what this nine year old had in mind. You can be sure I was careful to add more stipulations to my prayers in the future.

Live well

Jason said...

goprairie said: Jason insists "The people I knew who suffered from cancer were comforted. That's good enough for me to keep doing it for their sake." The study clearly finds that those who knew they were being prayed for had more medical complications and longer recovery times and poorer ultimate outcomes.

Let's take a closer look at whether or not the study is suggesting praying is wicked:

1. The question posed is "whether patients should be told that prayers were being offered for them." In other words, if I prayed for someone who was sick and they didn't know about it, it can't be considered wicked.

2."Analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not." The outcomes were the same for both groups, prayer or not.

3. "It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?" If someone is dying of cancer, they know they're sick enough to require prayer. In these instances, prayer isn't wicked. If I go in to have my tonsils removed and the doctor tells me a prayer team will be praying for me, I'm not going to think the praying is wicked, but the doctor sure is for screwing with my head.

4. "But experts said the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying." How can you prove praying is wicked when it happens an unknown number of times a day inside the heads of millions of individuals?

Now since you have been educated to the fact that prayer harms the medical outcome of people, you now know that when you tell a sick person you are praying for them, you may be causeing them a worse medical outcome.

Rarely, if ever, will I tell a sick person I'm praying for them. This is the same for most of the Christians I know. If anything, the sick person usually requests prayers be made on their behalf. Is this person wicked for making such a request?

Now, if you tell a sick person you are praying for them, you are aware of the harm caused by your action, so your continued praying has harmful intent, and therefore is technically wicked.

Therefore, if nothing is said you admit that praying for the sick isn't wicked.

Jason said...

Thanks Stan but again, I’m going to pass. Your constant insults and mocking tone haven’t particularly motivated me to participate in a discussion with you at this time. When you’re ready to treat me with a little more respect, we can chat about anything you’d like.

Evan said...

Jason,

First -- thanks for at least trying to defend the apologist position. It's good that not everyone has given up defending their faith and you deserve credit for hanging on.

Second -- I'm sorry if people are taking a tone with you that you find distasteful. People who don't keep their promises generate the greatest resentment in someone I guess.

To get the the metaphorical center of this issue I want to first back up to the initial point made in the post.

Professor Ehrman's book discusses the fact that he doesn't feel it is ethical to say grace over his food because to thank anyone for his meal, he is tacitly acknowledging the justice of someone else going hungry. This is the first point made in the post.

So in that context I then go on to discuss the idea that prayer might be shown to work, something you've hinted at but never dealt with.

Now what would you do if you found out that prayer worked? What would you do if there were an extremely well-done, multi-center blinded study looking at over 15 million patient years of life study that found that prayer was effective at keeping dying people alive, but it was only prayers offered by the Amish -- or the Taliban -- or the Jains that were effective? Would that make you convert to a given religion? Would you keep praying knowing that your prayers DIDN'T work?

You haven't addressed that point at all and I see you are really eager to keep people on point.

The final point was that to then analogize to Prof. Ehrman's objection to grace, that when you pray for the sick to recover, and they do recover, you are saying that there is JUSTICE in the death of those who do not. You are validating the fact that it is right and good and the wishes of God that people who get sick die.

THIS is the point of the post and it is precisely THIS that I believe is wicked and this is the point I believe you have completely failed to address.

So if you want to keep on point so badly, there's something for you to chew on.

Jim Holman said...

There's so much wrong with this article it's hard to know where to begin.

First, why would Ehrman even say grace over food? He's not a Christian is he?

Anyway, what the article omits is that there are many kinds of prayer. Here, for example are the prayers before meals from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

1) BLESS, O Father, thy gifts to our use and us to thy service; for Christ’s sake. Amen.

2) GIVE us grateful hearts, our Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So here are these wicked prayers in which the believer reflects on service and the needs of others prior to eating. How terrible..... monstrous, really.

Back when I was a churchgoer, the main ministry to the sick was a visit by the priest to people in the hospital or at home. During that visit, the following prayer was said:

We beseech thee to have mercy upon this thy servant visited with thine hand, and to grant that he may take his sickness patiently, and recover his bodily health, if it be thy gracious will; and that, whensoever his soul shall depart from the body, it may be without spot presented unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Note that only one part of the prayer concerns recovery, and even that is if it is "God's will." There's no presumption that the person will even recover. But somehow this prayer -- said in the context of larger service and personal visit -- is "wicked."

This part of the article is particularly interesting:

Finally, I would ask what goes through the mind of an ill person in their final minutes when they are sure they are going to die yet they know people have prayed for them? Are they grateful the prayers were sent, even though they are going to die anyway? Or do they worry that the prayers weren't effective due to some character flaw or past "sin" which is their responsibility?

Or maybe as Christians they realize that death is part of the natural order of things, and that death is the the gate through which one passes into eternal life, in which there is no sorrow or suffering.

Sorry, but this whole article is just weird. It treats prayer as this abstract entity, totally outside of the larger context of the religion. It presents a view of prayer that could be held only by the most ignorant and unsophisticated of Christians, but in effect tars all Christians with the same brush.

Scott said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jason seems to see prayer as a instruction from God.

Jason prays for people because he thinks that's what God wants him to do. Having his prayers answered is really not important. It's an exercise in obedience. Even though statistics show otherwise, Jason believes that God's hand is present in everyday, mundane actions and events solely because the Bible says God is there.

Jason will never see prayer as wicked because he thinks God is the only true objective source of morality and God instructs Christians to pray for people.

Rational discussion is irrelevant. Factual outcomes are irrelevant.

People who pray for a love one to get better and anguish over what they might have done to offend God when that love one dies is irrelevant. They are misguided because they actually expect God to intervene.

Evan said...

Sorry, but this whole article is just weird. It treats prayer as this abstract entity, totally outside of the larger context of the religion. It presents a view of prayer that could be held only by the most ignorant and unsophisticated of Christians, but in effect tars all Christians with the same brush.

Great response!

So here's what I want to ask you.

When that pastor is saying that prayer to God to do whatever God is gonna do anyway, in what way is it better than the pastor saying to the person, we wish you speedy recovery and hope you do well?

I am curious what you see as the difference, because if your essential argument is that there is no difference. If this is so, what is the purpose of addressing some imaginary almighty deity?

If you believe prayer can effect change in someone's life it is wicked because you are selectively applying it to only those lucky enough to have you know about their illness. There are people suffering from illness that live in different parts of the world who may have much greater needs but can't be prayed for, yet because of the lack of prayer for them, they suffer and this is felt to be God's will.

Really?

On the other hand, if you believe prayer does nothing other than comfort, which seems to be your position, then why pray at all? Why not just comfort?

Prayer is a relic to monotheism. It has no purpose in it. When there were multiple gods or multiple local deities, prayer had the effect of focusing the attention of a local deity and asking her to help you in a project. Your belief was secondary to your actions, and the purpose of the prayer was specific and manifest, and made some philosophical sense, since a local or guild deity might have been able to effect some local change and use his/her local powers.

When religion changed to monotheism, people were unable to give up their prayers, so they assumed arrogantly that the God of the universe cared about whether they could find their keys, or do well on their next recital, or win the Super Bowl, or heal grandma's cancer.

Such a belief is incommensurate with the God they worship and cannot be reconciled with it. Again, if you believe prayer works, it is wicked.

If you think that prayer doesn't work, then I suppose it might merely be amusing -- but it still causes people to believe they are being punished for actions they did in their lives up to the point that they are dying from something. If you can't believe that ever happens, you have never dealt with dying people.

I submit that this is the primary reason why I stand by my contention.

That being said, it's nice to have someone helping out here besides Jason to take the con position, and it's good you have a friendly tone.

Hamilcar said...

Just came across this news article that seems to be startlingly on-topic:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,341574,00.html

Girl Dies After Parents Pray for Healing Instead of Seeking Medical Help

The girl's parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to "apparently they didn't have enough faith," the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing "was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray," he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.


My Dad's a diabetic, and a Christian. He was diagnosed with Type 1 when he was 11 years old. He thanks God that his parents weren't stupid enough to think that praying would cure him -- and took him to a doctor instead.

Are most Christians smart enough to take their diabetic child to a doctor? Sure they are. Would they put their child through the torture of a slow, needless death? Of course not. Perhaps that reveals something about how they really feel about the power of prayer.

Jason said...

Evan said: Now what would you do if you found out that prayer worked? What would you do if there were an extremely well-done, multi-center blinded study looking at over 15 million patient years of life study that found that prayer was effective at keeping dying people alive, but it was only prayers offered by the Amish -- or the Taliban -- or the Jains that were effective? Would that make you convert to a given religion?

Interesting question. Purely hypothetical of course, but still interesting. If it could be proven that a specific religion’s prayers were unquestionably being answered by a higher power, I would undoubtedly look very carefully at this religion, studying it in every way possible to find out where and how I went wrong in my own search for the truth.

Would you keep praying knowing that your prayers DIDN'T work?

I can’t see why I would.

The final point was that to then analogize to Prof. Ehrman's objection to grace, that when you pray for the sick to recover, and they do recover, you are saying that there is JUSTICE in the death of those who do not. You are validating the fact that it is right and good and the wishes of God that people who get sick die.

Sorry, I’m not on the same wavelength. Me praying to God to have a sick friend recover doesn’t prevent anyone else from praying for their sick friend.

Evan said...

Jason you say you praying for a sick friend doesn't change anyone else from praying for their sick friend.

You're completely silent about whether you think prayer works, but you seem to think it doesn't because you would change your faith if someone proved scientifically that only the prayers of the Taliban were being answered.

But you don't see the point I'm making, and maybe it's because you really do think prayer is imaginary.

If there is a God who does not do all things, but only does some things, then that God must therefore have a choice in which cases he will act and which he won't.

If he does all things, prayer is useless. It is only useful if he does some things but not others.

The idea behind prayer is that God will be more likely to do something in a given case when prayed to than when he is not.

Therefore, God, in the mind of the prayerful person, is waiting to be convinced and if he is not convinced to act, he will not act. Thus, people who pray change the actions of God from inaction to doing something. If God has such limitations, than God has designed the world such that without efficacious prayer, some innocent people will suffer and die, solely for the lack of prayer, right?

Please show me the flaw in that logic.

Rachel said...

I've been reading here and just had a couple things to say.

First, a major premise of the article seems to be that the reason prayer for the sick is "wicked" is because when the sick person dies anyway, that sick person will have spent their last breaths feeling guilty for sin, lack of faith, etc. that kept God from healing them. This may be true in the Pentecostal realm, but I don't know of any Christian who has thought that while dying. I do know of many Christians who exhibited great peace when near death. I'm sure that some have indeed had such thoughts. But everyone I know of has simply attributed their death (or that of a loved one) to it being God's time for them/God's will. That's for a different discussion, but the point is that they do NOT see their death as their fault.

Personally, I have lost 2 pregnancies, and my last one turned out fine but he was born 2 months premature (which was significantly improved from when we thought he would be born, when my water broke at 27 weeks). I can promise you that never at any time during any of those situations did I ever think that things would be better if I just had more faith, more prayers, etc. I have never thought that about anything. My mother has been in severe pain for several years, doctor after doctor can't seem to figure out the problem. Never once have I even considered the possibility that God is punishing her for some sin, or that she or us just don't have enough faith. Again, maybe it's a Pentecostal niche to think those things, but as far as I know, most Christians would simply trust that God was working out His plan, which we simply don't see right now (which is what Scripture teaches, when read and understood in context - I mean, even Jesus died, and would they say He didn't have enough faith??). I'm sure you don't like that answer either, but it removes the "wicked" aspect of prayer that you mention in this article. Thus, even if prayer doesn't convince God to do anything differently, it's far from "useless".

Second, I don't think prayer actually changes a part of God's plan. It's possible, of course, but I agree that seems to make God sort of subject to our whims. Others here have pointed out that prayer brings comfort. I agree, and I think there's a bit more to it. I'm not sure how to say this w/o sounding "Christian-y", so pardon the jargon. But I believe that the primary purpose(s) of prayer is to align our hearts and minds with God's, to help us express gratitude, to remember that God is in charge and we are not, to place ourselves under his authority, to keep our focus on Him, to "open the eyes of our hearts" and to "renew our minds", to see things the way He does, to humble ourselves appropriately, to invest in other people. Contrary to the assertions being made here, the more I pray for someone, the MORE likely I am to remember to ask how they're doing, drop them a note, give them a call, bring a meal, etc. I suppose if your idea of "praying for the sick" is to say "please bless so-and-so" while saying grace, then perhaps your point about prayer keeping people from actually helping others is valid.

But I can tell you this. When I was on hospital bedrest for 5 weeks with my last pregnancy, our fellow church members fell all over themselves trying to help us out. I still have all the emails from caring friends. People volunteered to do the laundry, get the groceries, clean the house, watch our 3-year-old, etc. They brought food galore, twice some girlfriends put together a little tea and cookies party for me in my room, they brought meals, and bought us gift cards to fast-food restaurants so we could eat (decent food) together at the hospital. One friend runs a daycare in her home and watched our 3-year-old all day the whole time (and after too, while our newborn was in the NICU) for free.

And by the way, all these people said they were praying for us, and I'm sure they were.

The point with the personal anecdotes is that you can find people doing things badly in Christian AND non-Christian circles. I'm pretty sure that the say-a-prayer-but-that's-it types wouldn't be doing anything more if they were non-Christians... they'd just find a different excuse. The problem isn't the religion, or prayer, it's the person.

Rachel said...

Also, I'm not quite sure about the problem with being thankful for our food or whatever when other people don't have those things.

Does Ehrman protest when his wife (assuming he's married) gives him a birthday gift? Does his thankfulness to her for that gift mean that he thinks there is justice in the fact that others didn't receive birthday gifts, since presumably she didn't buy gifts for everyone? If he thanks her for the gift, does that mean he thinks it's justice that other people don't have someone to give them a gift?

And, as I mentioned in my previous post, being thankful to God for my food helps me remember that others don't have food, so it keeps my awareness up. My gratitude puts me into action. Especially for something as seemingly small and mundane as food, it's something easily taken for granted by many of us.

So I'm really not following the logic of Ehrman on that one.

Evan said...

Rachel, thanks for chiming in and you seem to have a very good set of facts for us to discuss.

First, you've demoted Pentecostals out of Christianity. I'm sure they would disagree, but there you have the no true Scotsman problem again.

Secondly you admit that my argument is true:

I'm sure that some have indeed had such thoughts.

That's all I'm saying. SOME people have suffered deeply because of this. It's wicked even if it only does this to 1 in 20 people. In the US that would mean 335 people dying in that kind of suffering daily. This is unconscionable. If people would just admit prayer does nothing, which seems to be what you believe then they could get on with the business of well-wishing. An inactive God is indistinguishable from an imaginary God and I don't care which one theists want to use to get the idea of the ineffectiveness of prayer across but either is fine with me.

Then you say:

Thus, even if prayer doesn't convince God to do anything differently, it's far from "useless".

You still seem to be equivocating. So I need to know what you think. Is it impossible that prayer is effective in your mind (the only logical outcome of monotheism IMO), or is it simply that you think some prayers can work but most don't?

There is a palpable difference. One is wicked because it is misleading. The other is wicked because it causes the kind of suffering we talk about above. But unless you clearly announce before praying which type of prayer you wish to give, you leave the possibility that the person being prayed for will believe the second type even if you intend the first.

Again -- nobody seems to make clear if they agree with me that prayer CANNOT work. So further comments fleshing that out would be helpful.

If you disagree that prayer cannot work, you are obligated to explain what the prayer does that God could not do without the prayer.

Finally you ask:

Does Ehrman protest when his wife (assuming he's married) gives him a birthday gift? Does his thankfulness to her for that gift mean that he thinks there is justice in the fact that others didn't receive birthday gifts, since presumably she didn't buy gifts for everyone? If he thanks her for the gift, does that mean he thinks it's justice that other people don't have someone to give them a gift?

I'm sure he's a very polite man and happy to receive gifts from friends and family alike.

You see, his friends and family are not the omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator, sustainer, and lawgiver of the universe.

While dating someone with those powers would be awesome, I don't think he's gotten up to that level of sarging yet.

So since his wife can't make hunger go away with the flick of an eyelash, he appreciates her as a finite being and is grateful when she spends her limited resources on him.

If you think God is analogous to Ms. Ehrman in the above example, that is where your thought process is failing you.

Again, I'm sure happy you are choosing to respond and it's nice to have someone to bounce this stuff off of.

Jason said...

Evan said: You're completely silent about whether you think prayer works, but you seem to think it doesn't because you would change your faith if someone proved scientifically that only the prayers of the Taliban were being answered.

Sure I believe prayer works. I kind of thought that was a given…? The example you gave also assumes prayer works so I’m not sure what you’re getting at…

If there is a God who does not do all things, but only does some things, then that God must therefore have a choice in which cases he will act and which he won't.

If God thought in real-time, sure.

If he does all things, prayer is useless. It is only useful if he does some things but not others.

That’s right.

The idea behind prayer is that God will be more likely to do something in a given case when prayed to than when he is not.

Makes sense.

Therefore, God, in the mind of the prayerful person, is waiting to be convinced and if he is not convinced to act, he will not act.

It’s not about convincing – it’s simply about asking. This is a basic Biblical principal when it comes to prayer.

Thus, people who pray change the actions of God from inaction to doing something. If God has such limitations, than God has designed the world such that without efficacious prayer, some innocent people will suffer and die, solely for the lack of prayer, right?

What’s the limitation of going from inaction to action? If we know our child wants a cookie, but we don’t give it to them until they ask, are we somehow “limited”?

As for whether or not innocent people will suffer and die from the lack of prayer, quite possibly, yes. For example, I pray for my sick brother and he lives but I don’t pray for my sick father and he dies. Now all of a sudden it’s the lack of prayer that’s wicked…

Evan said...

Sure I believe prayer works. I kind of thought that was a given…? The example you gave also assumes prayer works so I’m not sure what you’re getting at…

So you believe something for which there is currently no evidence. That's not surprising. We'll talk about your mechanism further down.

To finish a post where you largely agree with me you say:

What’s the limitation of going from inaction to action? If we know our child wants a cookie, but we don’t give it to them until they ask, are we somehow “limited”?

As for whether or not innocent people will suffer and die from the lack of prayer, quite possibly, yes. For example, I pray for my sick brother and he lives but I don’t pray for my sick father and he dies. Now all of a sudden it’s the lack of prayer that’s wicked…


Yet the facts are that your sick brother and sick father have identical odds of being helped by your prayer as they do of being helped by a dog next door barking, or someone playing hacky-sack outside his window, and the prayers are certainly less helpful than spending time talking with them, which is often what prayer is an excuse NOT to do.

I agree with you it would be wicked not to pray if prayer were ever convincingly proven to be effective, and you admit you'd convert to Islam and put women in burkas and join the Taliban if their prayers were shown to be more efficacious than yours.

I think that's nuts.

Finally to the child who wants the cookie. All I need to do is ask you if the child is asking to go to the doctor to get some insulin -- is it wicked to wait until she asks?

Scott said...

Jason: Sure I believe prayer works. I kind of thought that was a given…? The example you gave also assumes prayer works so I’m not sure what you’re getting at…

Jason,

While I can't speak for Evan, it appears that your definition of "works" is quite different than what Evan presented.

Without any statistical preference over those who pray and those who do not, it appears that you simply think prayer works because the Bible says prayer works. That is, God must be active in the world, even if we cannot observe it, because God said he is active in the world.

I simply can't see any other reason why you think that prayer "works". However, please feel free to correct this observation.

Jason: As for whether or not innocent people will suffer and die from the lack of prayer, quite possibly, yes. For example, I pray for my sick brother and he lives but I don’t pray for my sick father and he dies. Now all of a sudden it’s the lack of prayer that’s wicked…

But, statically, we observe an effective equal number of recoveries and deaths, regardless of prayer. If God really is active, then you're simply causing one person to recover instead of someone else in one of the groups. In the final result, the balance of life and death does not change.

Again, the prayer is answered at the expense of someone else.

Jim Holman said...

evan writes: When that pastor is saying that prayer to God to do whatever God is gonna do anyway, in what way is it better than the pastor saying to the person, we wish you speedy recovery and hope you do well?

That's a great question, and it is a question that would be better answered by a Christian. But permit me to have a go at it, even though I'm not really qualified.

First, let's assume that we're talking about prayer from the perspective of a mature Christian with some depth of understanding.

Christians pray because they have to. Or more precisely, because they are driven to. Consider this quotation from St. Isaac of Syria, from the 7th century:

And what is a merciful heart? - It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing; and by the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in his heart in the likeness of God.

In traditional Christianity (not necessarily what you will see on TV or read about in the papers) everything that God does he does out of love. If he cures someone, he cures the person out of love. If he doesn't cure someone, he doesn't cure out of love, sub specie aeternitatis, from the perspective of eternity, a perspective that only God has.

In traditional Christianity, especially in the mystical traditions, largely lost today, the Christian who prays for another person literally takes upon himself the sufferings of the other person. One saint said that when you pray, you only pray sincerely if you are willing to die for the sake of your prayer's intention.

Prayer in the traditional sense goes far beyond "best wishes." Rather, it is an expression of profound love for the other person, a desire for the health of the person, even at the cost of your own life.

Thus in traditional Christianity prayer for the sick involves a spiritual union between the afflicted person and the person praying for him or her. It involves both someone who suffers and someone who is moved to tears by that suffering, even as both understand that whatever happens is in accordance with the immeasurable love of God.

Certainly that is more than "best wishes."

Again, I can't do justice to the topic, but perhaps this will give you another perspective on the topic. But thanks for your original article, that has raised some interesting issues. Upon reflection, I feel that I was a bit harsh in my criticism of it. So apologies for that.

Rachel said...

Evan,

Thanks for the welcome.

In response, first, I wasn't saying that Pentecostals aren't Christians. I was simply saying that they would be most likely to think "it's my fault" when something bad happens. That doesn't mean they aren't Christians, just that they've fallen prey to a wrong interpretation of some of Scripture. My point was that while some of them may have such response, generalizing from some of them to most/all Christians is inaccurate.

Next, you said,

SOME people have suffered deeply because of this. It's wicked even if it only does this to 1 in 20 people. In the US that would mean 335 people dying in that kind of suffering daily. This is unconscionable.

2 points here. First, this would mean only that some people have suffered deeply as a result of bad interpretation/exploitative "preachers"/people looking for excuses and scapegoats, but it is not a reflection on prayer itself.

Second, some people blame themselves for bad things that happen to them, Christian or not. It's natural to wonder how or why a bad thing is happening to us, and in that wondering it's also natural to consider that maybe it was our own fault somehow. I just don't think that it is unique to Christianity, or that prayer causes a greater percentage of people to think this about themselves than would have ordinarily. People that are inclined to that kind of thinking would very likely have thought it in time of death even w/o Christianity, and they are also the ones most likely to be sucked into the Pentecostal-type thinking of "you didn't have enough faith". So my point is again here that the people that think their death is their fault do not think that because of Christianity. Their Christianity is just an excuse for thinking something they would very likely have thought of anyway.

You then said,

Is it impossible that prayer is effective in your mind (the only logical outcome of monotheism IMO), or is it simply that you think some prayers can work but most don't? There is a palpable difference. One is wicked because it is misleading. The other is wicked because it causes the kind of suffering we talk about above.

I guess I'm not quite willing to say that it's impossible that my prayer changes God's mind and convinces Him to do something differently than He would have otherwise, but it seems highly unlikely and inconsistent with God's sovereignty. However, considering the many other purposes of prayer that I mentioned earlier, how is this prayer "misleading", and what makes it "wicked"?

You said,

If you disagree that prayer cannot work, you are obligated to explain what the prayer does that God could not do without the prayer.

I assume that when you say "prayer works" you mean "prayer changes the natural outcome of something such that w/o prayer that natural outcome would definitely have happened". However, when I say "prayer works", I am including the multitude of purposes I mentioned earlier. And those purposes God has conditioned upon human response. God does not generally automatically give people all those things I listed, He requires human response, e.g. faith, humility, trust, etc. So could God give people those things w/o prayer? Sure. But He has told us that He won't give us those things w/o prayer, thus we must pray.

Lastly, you responded,

So since his wife can't make hunger go away with the flick of an eyelash, he appreciates her as a finite being and is grateful when she spends her limited resources on him.

Her powers may not be as far-reaching as God's, but surely she could do more with her limited powers. Take the birthday gift for example. Why should he be thankful for yet another trinket when the money could have been used to feed a hungry child, or for that matter simply given to someone who's never received a birthday gift because no one cares about them? Her gift to him is given at the expense of someone else.

Ehrman (and you, apparently) is claiming that if God isn't doing everything in His power to provide for everyone in the world, then the ones that do receive His provision shouldn't be thankful. Yet you seem to think it's okay for Ehrman to be thankful to his wife for a birthday gift, when she clearly is NOT doing everything in her power to provide for as many as she can. How is that any different?

And again, my gratitude to God for my food doesn't mean I think it's justice that others don't have it (which seems to me to be much more the fault of corrupt human beings anyway than the lack of God's provision). Thankfulness is a virtue, a good quality to have and express, and it prompts me to remember those in need and to do my part to help them out, because I realize that it easily could have been me.

But let me reiterate my main counterpoints to this article. You seem to have 2 main proofs that prayer for the sick is wicked (please add to these if there are more): 1) it causes people to blame themselves for their sickness/death, and this is a miserable way to end your days; and 2) prayer keeps people from actually doing anything tangible to help the sick.

1) is invalid because many nonChristians also blame themselves for their sickness/death, and you cannot prove that a Christian who does this would not have done so even if they weren't a Christian.

2) is invalid for the same reason as 1). Many nonChristians don't lift a finger to help others, and you cannot prove that the Christians who "pray" but never actually help anyone would have done differently if they weren't Christians. In addition, I have given several examples of people who prayed but ALSO did much to help.

So at this point, I do not see any verification of your premise that it is "wicked" to pray for the sick.

Evan said...

Rachel,

Thanks for the pleasant reply. First let me say that your acceptance of Pentecostals back into the family of believers pretty much cinches my point, since there are charismatic evangelicals of just about every stripe, and even some charismatic Catholics these days. If you believe this to be a stain on the body of Christ, I await your "Debunking Pentecostalism" or similarly titled work.

Secondly you hedge a bit on the efficacy of prayer in individual cases with the following:

I guess I'm not quite willing to say that it's impossible that my prayer changes God's mind and convinces Him to do something differently than He would have otherwise, but it seems highly unlikely and inconsistent with God's sovereignty.

God's sovereignty, as you correctly deduce, cannot rest on the presence or absence of your penitent supplication.

However, considering the many other purposes of prayer that I mentioned earlier, how is this prayer "misleading", and what makes it "wicked"?

Imagine a hypothetical. Imagine a couple who have a child that is born with phenylketonuria. The child will live a full life if certain dietary restrictions are followed. If they aren't followed, the child will become progressively more ill and eventually die a terrible neurological death.

Now imagine that the couple decide after long prayer for their child that God has healed him. Imagine that this prayer was done with their body and soul, and that they both have genuine personal enlightenment experiences that they truly believe are from the Lord telling them their child no longer has the illness.

Their denomination is immaterial here, you can imagine any believer who even has the door open to the possibility of miracles and the reliability of personal experience as a way to know the divine will as believing the above truly. One must believe that a man was raised from the dead to be a christian, to imagine that God could add a gene to a child in need is trivial compared to this.

Would you consider it wicked to act on their answered prayer?

Change the situation and imagine that it is a 78 year old parent with inoperable lung cancer who needs radiation. Everything else is the same. Would it be wicked to not give radiation?

Now imagine that in each case, the worst case happens and the person believed cured was not cured.

The penitents to the Lord did what is asked of them in their model of the universe. Yet the outcome is atrocious. Therefore, it is the act itself of prayer that is wicked. This is not argumentum ad absurdum. Each person praying imagines exactly the same thing (even you I gather): That this prayer can effect changes in the structure of the universe by the eternal God-Creator. That the being who 14.5 billion years ago started it all off, who has watched 600 million years of animal evolution guiding it to the development of man while countless billions of people and trillions of vertebrates suffered in agony and died -- will drop whatever it his God is doing to pay attention to this one ill mammal, simply because he was asked.

And Christians call atheists arrogant.

Then you say:

I assume that when you say "prayer works" you mean "prayer changes the natural outcome of something such that w/o prayer that natural outcome would definitely have happened". However, when I say "prayer works", I am including the multitude of purposes I mentioned earlier. And those purposes God has conditioned upon human response. God does not generally automatically give people all those things I listed, He requires human response, e.g. faith, humility, trust, etc. So could God give people those things w/o prayer? Sure. But He has told us that He won't give us those things w/o prayer, thus we must pray.

Sorry I didn't know God talked to you. I am guessing you read it in the Bible, but if he talks to you you are ahead of the game. I had a patient God talked to a lot once but he got better with some mellaril.

If you're talking about something you read in the Bible, you simply accept authority that has in no way earned it. Homer has Agaememnon sacrificing his daughter to assure safe passage of his boats, do you follow this ancient belief system? If you don't -- how do you know which ancient belief system was right?

Finally with regard to Prof. Ehrman's wife's birthday presents you say:

Her powers may not be as far-reaching as God's, but surely she could do more with her limited powers. Take the birthday gift for example. Why should he be thankful for yet another trinket when the money could have been used to feed a hungry child, or for that matter simply given to someone who's never received a birthday gift because no one cares about them? Her gift to him is given at the expense of someone else.

First we should probably stop discussing people who neither of us know. From reading the book I gather Mrs. Ehrman is a Christian. If she is one, is her gift to her husband any different? Finite humans must place their own values on their own lives because all decisions to act are decisions not to act.

Few of us are such paragons of virtue that we can afford the luxury of criticizing others for not doing enough to help people. Yet I feel no shame in criticizing believers for engaging in behavior that helps nobody (certainly as you admit above) only because they are ordered to by a book cobbled together out of Palestine from the 5th century BCE to the 2nd century CE.

You continue:

Ehrman (and you, apparently) is claiming that if God isn't doing everything in His power to provide for everyone in the world, then the ones that do receive His provision shouldn't be thankful. Yet you seem to think it's okay for Ehrman to be thankful to his wife for a birthday gift, when she clearly is NOT doing everything in her power to provide for as many as she can. How is that any different?

Not quite clear on the difference between omnipotence and finitude yet, huh? One person out of six billion (with a few exceptions for position that allows the control of large numbers of other people or large amounts of resources which is really the same thing in most cases) has mini-potence. The ability of that person to effect meaningful global change, or even save the life of one other person is quite limited. I have no doubt after reading the book that charity is among the first things that the Ehrmans do, and this is the last I will speak of them -- preferring to discuss myself rather than someone I have never met. But charity is just that, a limited effect brought about by one person. I can and do donate to many charitable endeavors. But if I am the only one my efforts are undetectable statistically.

God on the other hand, by the definition given to him, can end all suffering immediately with no effort.

If you fail to see a distinction there, I will continue, out of human charity, to try to help you see it. In addition, while I agree thankfulness is a virtue, you should be thanking real people who do real things for you. Your food was prepared by a person. How many times while I was growing up we would have a meal where a huge amount of gratitude was poured on Jesus for giving us the fine meal, while the women who had made all the food were completely ignored.

Finally you break down my 2 points to 1. People blaming themselves for their suffering and 2. Inaction due to prayer use as a substitute for real help:

1) is invalid because many nonChristians also blame themselves for their sickness/death, and you cannot prove that a Christian who does this would not have done so even if they weren't a Christian.

I can't prove it because I know of no good way to do such a study, although social scientists might be able to devise one. Let us assume that 30 people die in existential angst daily because of their guilt over a past act and blame this action for the failure of prayer to avert their death. I can remove that problem tomorrow by {a} removing the belief that illness is retribution for sins (a concept that the Bible supports sometimes and does not support at other times), {b} that sin is a concept based on an outmoded worldview, and {c} that there is a God who heals people.

Would it be just NOT to relieve the suffering of 30 dying people per day?

Then you say:

2) is invalid for the same reason as 1). Many nonChristians don't lift a finger to help others, and you cannot prove that the Christians who "pray" but never actually help anyone would have done differently if they weren't Christians. In addition, I have given several examples of people who prayed but ALSO did much to help.

Your objection to 2 is probably better but again in no way redounds to the glory of the Christian religion. I imagine a billboard for the Rachel Christians -- "FIND CHRIST -- YOU'LL BE JUST AS GOOD AS YOU ARE NOW AFTERWARDS".

And if people are praying AND doing much to help, do you not admit, on principles brought forward above, that in a finite day, the time spent praying would be better spent doing MORE to help?

Rachel you're fun to talk to anyway, and I obviously don't scold my family and friends when they pray for the sick -- but you're making me think I ought to start.

Jason said...

Evan said: "So you believe something for which there is currently no evidence. That's not surprising. We'll talk about your mechanism further down."

I believe there’s ample evidence of which I've mentioned previously.

Yet the facts are that your sick brother and sick father have identical odds of being helped by your prayer as they do of being helped by a dog next door barking, or someone playing hacky-sack outside his window, and the prayers are certainly less helpful than spending time talking with them, which is often what prayer is an excuse NOT to do.

There are no facts proving as such. And this is the difference between the atheist view of prayer and the Christian view. You can’t prove people have identical odds of getting better without prayer any more then I can prove a person did get better because of prayer. A Christian’s faith though doesn’t require constant evidence, while you’re skepticism does.

I agree with you it would be wicked not to pray if prayer were ever convincingly proven to be effective, and you admit you'd convert to Islam and put women in burkas and join the Taliban if their prayers were shown to be more efficacious than yours.

Naturally. If science proved the prayers from a specific religion could heal people, I would expect millions of people to convert, including atheists. It’s proof of a higher power – isn’t that what all the skeptics have been waiting for?

Finally to the child who wants the cookie. All I need to do is ask you if the child is asking to go to the doctor to get some insulin -- is it wicked to wait until she asks?

Of course it is. But we’re talking about God being limited because He goes from inaction to action – hence my cookie analogy. Like I said, I fail to see how this makes Him “limited”.

Jason said...

Scott said: Without any statistical preference over those who pray and those who do not, it appears that you simply think prayer works because the Bible says prayer works. That is, God must be active in the world, even if we cannot observe it, because God said he is active in the world.

You should know by now that Christians don’t view statistical evidence as justification for their faith. Everyone has stories of how their prayers were answered. You can’t prove them wrong so as far as the individual is concerned, a single prayer being answered is proof prayers can be, and are, answered. Why would you have a problem with this?

But, statically, we observe an effective equal number of recoveries and deaths, regardless of prayer. If God really is active, then you're simply causing one person to recover instead of someone else in one of the groups. In the final result, the balance of life and death does not change.

If God is inactive and didn’t answer any of the prayers, can you prove someone in one of the prayer groups wouldn’t have died? Of course not. The only way we can ever know if prayer works is by rewinding the clock and doing everything over again without praying. But this is impossible. So is reaching a conclusion on whether or not prayer works. Which, again, is why I’m not sure what the big deal is about people praying. ☺ If a believer wants to think their prayer was answered, so be it. It’s impossible to prove the opposite.

Again, the prayer is answered at the expense of someone else.

How do you figure?

Hamilcar said...

Jason, you say:

You can’t prove people have identical odds of getting better without prayer any more then I can prove a person did get better because of prayer.

This is precisely the issue, and I think you're wrong, here. This is what the studies DO show. Prayer studies show no evidence that prayed-for people get well more quickly, or more often, than the not-prayed-for. If the prayed-for and the not-prayed-for recover from sickness in the same way, and at the same rate, then it is indeed the case that you have "identical odds of getting better without prayer." That's what it means.

Hamilcar said...

Jason,

We're not saying that you can't have faith that prayer works. You can have faith in anything you like. What we're saying is that it doesn't really work, in the real world and that believing that it really works can lead to bad, sometimes horrible, consequences (both physical and mental).

You say: You should know by now that Christians don’t view statistical evidence as justification for their faith. Everyone has stories of how their prayers were answered. You can’t prove them wrong so as far as the individual is concerned, a single prayer being answered is proof prayers can be, and are, answered.

Again, you can justify your faith however you wish. Perhaps you'd rather not justify it -- which would presumably be an even greater and more glorious faith.

But in your examples here you seem to be committing a fallacy: holding up one example of a prayer being answered and challenging, "oh yeah? damn your statistics, prove that this anecdote wasn't divine intervention!" How do we know that one particular incident wasn't divine intervention? We don't. But that's not saying anything, because that's not how it(science, evidence, induction) works. Of course we can't know in any particular instance. That's why we do studies. That's the whole point.

Anecdotes are unreliable. People have biases, both conscious and subconscious. When we want to know if something really works, we don't gather up a few stories, or ask people what they know by faith. We do double or triple-blind scientific studies with good random samples, control groups, placebos, etc. It's the gold standard.

One person's faith that their prayer was answered is of no value to anyone else. One good study showing that prayer worked would be of immense value to all human kind.

And a good study showing that prayer doesn't work is also valuable. It teaches us something about our psychology, about the power (or lack thereof) of belief, and about what works in dealing with the real world.

Evan said...

Jason I can't figure you out. One second you're claiming you'd start praying to Mecca if statistics showed that that was the thing to do to heal the sick.

The next you say:

You should know by now that Christians don’t view statistical evidence as justification for their faith.

So which comes first, statistical evidence, or your faith?

Would you change your faith on the basis of statistical evidence or not?

Jason said...

Hamilcar said: This is precisely the issue, and I think you're wrong, here. This is what the studies DO show. Prayer studies show no evidence that prayed-for people get well more quickly, or more often, than the not-prayed-for. If the prayed-for and the not-prayed-for recover from sickness in the same way, and at the same rate, then it is indeed the case that you have "identical odds of getting better without prayer." That's what it means.

What studies? I’ve seen a reference to one study and there are any number of problems in it, such as the doctors explaining why the results might appear skewed. Then you’ve got the issues of whether or not this kind of study, where doctors tell churches to pray, constitutes “tempting God”, which I believe it does. In order for a prayer study to be truly effective, it needs to be done without anyone’s knowledge and for no purpose other then the individual genuinely wanting the said event to occur – but then how exactly would such a study be carried out?

You can have faith in anything you like. What we're saying is that it doesn't really work, in the real world and that believing that it really works can lead to bad, sometimes horrible, consequences (both physical and mental).

You've already said you can't know if it doesn't work. Which is it?

But in your examples here you seem to be committing a fallacy: holding up one example of a prayer being answered and challenging, "oh yeah? damn your statistics, prove that this anecdote wasn't divine intervention!" How do we know that one particular incident wasn't divine intervention? We don't. But that's not saying anything, because that's not how it(science, evidence, induction) works. Of course we can't know in any particular instance. That's why we do studies. That's the whole point.

By your own admittance you can’t know if an event had divine intervention. So what're we discussing?

One person's faith that their prayer was answered is of no value to anyone else. One good study showing that prayer worked would be of immense value to all human kind.

Study away, my friend.

Jason said...

Evan said: Jason I can't figure you out. One second you're claiming you'd start praying to Mecca if statistics showed that that was the thing to do to heal the sick.

Evan, I answered your hypothetical question. If this is how you're going to treat answers to these kinds of questions, please let me know now.

So which comes first, statistical evidence, or your faith?

Since no statistical evidence exists for justification in belonging to any one religion, the answer, naturally, is faith.

Would you change your faith on the basis of statistical evidence or not?

Assuming the evidence was undeniable, sure I would. Wouldn’t anyone? I don’t have blind faith. I’ve worked hard at coming to the religious and spiritual conclusions I’ve come to – if it can be proven that I’m wrong, it’s not an issue of hanging onto faith, it’s an issue of following the evidence.

But then, this topic isn't about me, it's about praying for sick. Back on topic shall we?

Hamilcar said...

Jason,

To be clear, one of the studies we're talking about here is this one, conducted by Harvard University Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson and published in The American Heart Journal. Michael Shermer analyzes it here:

Prayer & Healing: The Verdict is in and the Results are Null
http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05.html

You say: Then you’ve got the issues of whether or not this kind of study, where doctors tell churches to pray, constitutes “tempting God”, which I believe it does.

Now, this just sounds like Special Pleading. It's like when a psychic falls flat when being tested under controlled conditions: "Your sterile skeptical energies negated my psychic power!" There are an infinite number of moves a prayer apologist can make in this direction. Let's take your example:

n order for a prayer study to be truly effective, it needs to be done without anyone’s knowledge and for no purpose other then the individual genuinely wanting the said event to occur

Even if we were to somehow conduct such a special study, what then? Let's say we still have a negative result. The prayer apologist can simply move the goal posts again, "Well, even though nobody in the study knew it was being scrutinized at the time, God in his infinite wisdom knew that you skeptical scientists would come along later to analyze the data, so He chose not to tip His hand."

I'm not sure you understand me when you say: You've already said you can't know if it doesn't work. Which is it?

I'm saying that the scientific evidence shows that prayer doesn't work. Attempting to "prove" or "disprove" that any specific anecdote represents a real prayer result is silly and pointless. Anecdotes are vulnerable to all kinds of biases, and can't be considered credible evidence. The only way to really get a sense of the effect (or lack of effect) is to do big, controlled studies.

Jim Holman said...

hamilcar writes: I'm saying that the scientific evidence shows that prayer doesn't work.

A divine healing as a result of prayer would be a miracle. It would be a non-naturalistic event that could not be detected by science. Scientific studies can only detect naturalistic phenomena. Thus a miracle could not be detected by scientific, naturalistic studies.

The thesis "does prayer work?" is rather like saying "does prayer function as a naturalistic phenomenon?" Obviously it doesn't. But that doesn't rule out the possibility of particular miracles occurring. It's just that no scientific test would be able to detect them.

Let me give you an example. I know a woman who was a heavy drug user and dealer, and she was actually up on felony drug charges. She became a Christian, at which point two things happened: she lost all desire for drugs, and the entire case file dealing with the felony case disappeared. That happened when she was living in a different state, and it came to her as a complete, though welcome surprise.

Was that a miracle? To find out I guess we could do a statistical study determining whether felony case files were more likely to be lost after a person converted to Christianity. I suspect that the evidence would should no such relationship.

But does that mean that it wasn't a miracle in her case? All such a study would show is that there is no naturalistic, causal relationship between conversion and lost felony case files.

Thus to ask whether prayer "works" -- whether it functions as a naturalistic process -- is in effect to ask whether the miraculous is a naturalistic process. But by definition, it isn't.

Frankly, even if a study showed that prayer "worked," it would not mean that any divine miracles occurred. It would just mean that there was some other naturalistic process at work -- the power of positive thinking, or ESP, or some other process of which we might not be aware.

Jason said...

Hamilcar said: To be clear, one of the studies we're talking about here is this one, conducted by Harvard University Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson and published in The American Heart Journal.

The authors of the study say "Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge this belief," the authors wrote. "Our study focused only on intercessory prayer as provided in this trial and was never intended to and cannot address a large number of religious questions, such as whether God exists, whether God answers intercessory prayers, or whether prayers from one religious group work in the same way as prayers from other groups."

Now, this just sounds like Special Pleading.

Actually, it sounds a lot like Scripture where we know nothing good ever came out of anyone tempting God.

Even if we were to somehow conduct such a special study, what then? Let's say we still have a negative result. The prayer apologist can simply move the goal posts again...

Until such a study exists, all you're doing is playing around with hypothetical scenarios.

I'm saying that the scientific evidence shows that prayer doesn't work.

Really? "Our study focused only on intercessory prayer as provided in this trial and was never intended to and cannot address a large number of religious questions such as...whether God answers intercessory prayers..."

The only way to really get a sense of the effect (or lack of effect) is to do big, controlled studies.

I agree 100%. So do the study. Until then, don't bother Christians who want to pray for the sick.

Evan said...

Actually, it sounds a lot like Scripture where we know nothing good ever came out of anyone tempting God.

So what about this scientific test?

25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
.27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.


For further measure:

26And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.


Nothing good came of testing God there?

I could go on.

Jason said...

Evan,

1. What's the relevance of Elijah versus the prophets of Baal?

2. What's the relevance of Thomas and the wounds of Christ?

3. Are you Trinitarian? ;)

Evan said...

Jason you are so deliberately obtuse you boggle the mind.

If you are really clueless I will clue you in.

Elijah conducted a test of whether Jehovah was real and Baal was fake. He tempted God.

Thomas tested God (if you believe Jesus was God which the writer of John obviously did) by putting his hand into his open wound to see if it was real -- only God could avoid flinching and cussing I guess.

If you don't see how that is germane to what you wrote, I will say good day to you and move on. If you do, then you can see it invalidates your claim.

Knitterman said...

I am beginning to suspect there will never be a meeting of the minds in this thread. Those who believe prayer works, without any hard evidence, will likely not rise from their position. Those who recognize prayer doesn't work, based on lack of evidence, will likely not give up the standards of reason and evidence.

People who want to believe in things without evidence are free to do so. If they can live with themselves making claims they cannot support, that's their business. They just can't be upset with people who rightfully expect evidence.

Jason said...

Evan said: Jason you are so deliberately obtuse you boggle the mind. If you are really clueless I will clue you in.

Sorry, I really am I that clueless :)

Elijah conducted a test of whether Jehovah was real and Baal was fake. He tempted God.

If you read the account, Elijah was encouraging the prophets of Baal to tempt their own god. Elijah had no need to test if his own God was real - God had just finished speaking to him. This is why I asked about the relevance.

Thomas tested God (if you believe Jesus was God which the writer of John obviously did) by putting his hand into his open wound to see if it was real -- only God could avoid flinching and cussing I guess.

Jesus isn't God so no, this isn't relevant either.

If you do, then you can see it invalidates your claim.

Remember a while ago when we were trying to figure out if praying for the sick was wicked? Those sure were the days...

Evan said...

Yes, Jason. Most of us saw the story about the 11 year old girl who died because she was prayed for and figured the whole thing out.

You on the other hand ...

Jason said...

Knitterman,

This has never been about whether prayer works, this has been about the Wickedness of Praying for the Sick.

Since you don't believe prayer works, the logical answer is no, it can't be wicked. For those that do believe it works, there's a basic understanding of how the whole prayer thing works and the answer is still no, it's not wicked.

Evan said...

Jason,

To return to the topic at hand, I suggest you read this post and see what you think.

Knitterman said...

Since you don't believe prayer works, the logical answer is no, it can't be wicked.

You're joking, right? Doing something that definitely does not work, and knowing by the evidence that it doesn't work, and doing it on behalf of a sick person who definitely needs something to be done, is wicked and cruel to the sick person. Prayer for the sick is no less wicked than prayer for the hungry or homeless; praying for them doesn't change their situation any more than it changes the condition of the sick. Feeding the hungry, or providing shelter for the homeless is what changes their situations, and providing adequate health care for the sick is what changes things for the sick person.

James 2:15-16: "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?"

If it is the feeding, sheltering, or healthcare that makes the difference, prayer is superfluous and not needed or helpful. Doing what is not helpful, when someone is sick and in need, is just cruel and wicked.

For those that do believe it works, there's a basic understanding of how the whole prayer thing works and the answer is still no, it's not wicked.

But you've not explained how it works and have offered no proof that it does work, other than your "belief". Actually you've not even defined what "works" means to you. To me, if something works, there is measurable results that cannot be explained by other means. In order to think prayer "works" (i.e., that there was some supernatural intervention), it has to produce results unexplainable by natural/non-supernatural means. If it can be explained by natural means, Occam's Razor would indicate there's no need to assume some supernatural layer on top of it all.

Jason said...

Knitterman said: You're joking, right? Doing something that definitely does not work, and knowing by the evidence that it doesn't work, and doing it on behalf of a sick person who definitely needs something to be done, is wicked and cruel to the sick person.

It’s most certainly not! If I pray for a sick personal friend in England without his knowledge, please explain to me how this is ‘wicked and cruel’. If I tell a sick person I’ll be praying for them and they tell me not to but I do it anyway away from them and silently, how is this ‘wicked and cruel’?

Whether prayer works or not, there’s no possible way it can be considered wicked and cruel if the only person who knows they’re praying for someone else is the person doing the praying!

Prayer for the sick is no less wicked than prayer for the hungry or homeless; praying for them doesn't change their situation any more than it changes the condition of the sick.

Oh come on. Is wishing on a shooting star wicked? Is making a wish and blowing out candles wicked? Do we tell our children not to hope that tomorrow children in Africa will have food to eat because hoping is wicked? Be realistic. None of these will ever change anyone’s situation but desiring change or intervention, whether it’s done through prayer or crossing your fingers or wishing, isn’t evil. It's hoping.

Feeding the hungry, or providing shelter for the homeless is what changes their situations, and providing adequate health care for the sick is what changes things for the sick person.

I agree – but this doesn’t have anything to do with prayer. Believe it or not but people can pray AND send flowers. People can pray AND visit their friend in hospital. People can pray AND donate to the orphanage.

If it is the feeding, sheltering, or healthcare that makes the difference, prayer is superfluous and not needed or helpful. Doing what is not helpful, when someone is sick and in need, is just cruel and wicked.

And Christians think prayer is helpful. So until someone comes up with that incredible scientific study that proves it one way or another, we’re going to keep disagreeing. It seems however that you think prayer is evil because it assumes inaction. I’m not sure why this is but in all fairness, you can’t assume people pray and then sit on their duff waiting for something to happen. People pray AND do good works all the time. Don’t ignore this fact.

But you've not explained how it works and have offered no proof that it does work, other than your "belief".

Irrelevant. My beliefs and how prayer works isn’t the topic here, as much as most of you seem to want to spin it that way. My point, quite simply, was that for those who do believe it works, there's a basic understanding of how the whole prayer thing works and the answer is still no, it's not wicked.

Actually you've not even defined what "works" means to you. To me, if something works, there is measurable results that cannot be explained by other means. In order to think prayer "works" (i.e., that there was some supernatural intervention), it has to produce results unexplainable by natural/non-supernatural means.

Nope, it doesn’t and it’s already been discussed previously.

If it can be explained by natural means, Occam's Razor would indicate there's no need to assume some supernatural layer on top of it all.

Already discussed. And off topic.

Jim Holman said...

knitterman writes: Those who recognize prayer doesn't work, based on lack of evidence, will likely not give up the standards of reason and evidence.

By "prayer doesn't work," I think you mean that it doesn't function in a causal, naturalistic way. But why would you think it might?

Or if a prayer were answered, that would be a miracle. But how would science or statistics detect the miracle?

Example: you get cancer. A Christian prays for you. The cancer goes into unexpected remission. The Christian believes it was a miracle in response to prayer. You believe that it was just a rare, but welcome positive outcome, completely unrelated to prayer. But how would one "prove" either explanation?

Hamilcar said...

Jim:

Counter Example: your arm is torn off in an accident, and cannot be reattached. A Christian prays for you. You awaken one morning to find the arm restored, living, and fully functional. The Christian believes it was a miracle in response to prayer. You, on the other hand... you, well... yeah, you'd pretty much have to agree.

(Unless you want to hypothesize that leprechauns did it, or that aliens came down from space and used advanced technology to regrow the arm, etc.)

My point is that we don't see "real" miracles happening in the world -- suspensions of the natural order that we would all immediately recognize as miraculous. What we see are normal outcomes, or coincidences, or statistical rarities that people ascribe to the miraculous, or to answered prayer.

It's very telling that the examples given by modern Christians of "answered prayers" are very safe: they're examples of things that DO happen all the time, naturally. Cancers do go into spontaneous remission, and the remissive cancers don't seem to care if they're in a Christian body or not.

If this is the case, what's the point of prayer? If many things that are prayed for don't actually happen, and the things that supposedly do happen fall within the normal distribution of random events, why do it?

Rachel said...

Evan,

First let me say that your acceptance of Pentecostals back into the family of believers pretty much cinches my point, since there are charismatic evangelicals of just about every stripe, and even some charismatic Catholics these days.

I don't see how. People can be wrong about parts of Scripture and still be Christians. I don't see how this is a factor in determining if prayer in general for the sick is wicked or not.

Would you consider it wicked to act on their answered prayer?

I'm not sure what you're point is here. What do you mean by "act"? If someone has been diagnosed with an illness, then through prayer they think they've been healed, there's an easy way to check that. If they go to the dr. and sure enough, they're healed, then it's at least possible God did it. At a minimum, they could then live their lives as if they were healed, because they were. But if the dr. says no, nothing's changed, you're still sick, then no matter what they thought, they clearly did not get healed by any means, and should continue treatements or whatever. I don't see how any of this makes it wicked for me to pray for a friend with cancer. The problem with the person refusing treatment b/c they think they've been healed and won't test that is NOT that someone prayed for them. The problem, as I said in my last post, is that they are misinterpreting Scripture as well as allowing the subjective to rule rather than the objective. The latter is done by nonChristians all the time, in fact I would say that the percentage of Christians giving priority to the subjective over the objective isn't any greater than that of nonChristians. You are portraying this as if it is only Christians who allow their feelings to override evidence. In fact, many Christians do NOT do that, and many nonChristians DO. It is not religion/Christianity that causes people to do this. Again, people are simply using their Christianity as an excuse to give in to their feelings, something they would very likely do even w/o Christianity.

That the being who 14.5 billion years ago started it all off, who has watched 600 million years of animal evolution guiding it to the development of man while countless billions of people and trillions of vertebrates suffered in agony and died -- will drop whatever it his God is doing to pay attention to this one ill mammal, simply because he was asked. And Christians call atheists arrogant.

None of this affects your point that it's wicked to pray for the sick. But anyway, God is omniscient and omnipresent, so he doesn't have to "drop" anything to do something else - he can "pay attention" to everyone at the same time. One of the benefits of being God.

Back on topic:

If you're talking about something you read in the Bible, you simply accept authority that has in no way earned it. Homer has Agaememnon sacrificing his daughter to assure safe passage of his boats, do you follow this ancient belief system? If you don't -- how do you know which ancient belief system was right?

So much for "back on topic". We're talking about whether or not praying for a sick friend is wicked, not whether or not Christianity as a whole is the correct belief system.

Let's try again.

I said:

1) is invalid because many nonChristians also blame themselves for their sickness/death, and you cannot prove that a Christian who does this would not have done so even if they weren't a Christian.

You said:

I can't prove it because I know of no good way to do such a study, although social scientists might be able to devise one. Let us assume that 30 people die in existential angst daily because of their guilt over a past act and blame this action for the failure of prayer to avert their death. I can remove that problem tomorrow by {a} removing the belief that illness is retribution for sins (a concept that the Bible supports sometimes and does not support at other times), {b} that sin is a concept based on an outmoded worldview, and {c} that there is a God who heals people.

My point was that it is natural for all people, Christian or not, to wonder if an illness is their fault somehow. You can remove all those three things and I don't think you'll change much. People naturally wonder if there is something different they could have done that would have kept them from being in the situation they're in. Movies carry this theme all the time. It's not unique to Christianity in any way. You're trying to say that people think this only because of Christianity. But you have no proof of that, and in fact I say that people obviously think these same things even w/o Christianity, thus your point is invalid. I'm saying that even w/o Christianity, those 30 people would have very likely found some other reason to blame themselves for their siutation. I really think it is rare for a Christian to think that God would have spared them from death if only they hadn't done that one sin years ago. Most Christians believe that if they die, it must be God's will. You can dispute that, but it's not dying in angst or guilt or whatever.

Your objection to 2 is probably better but again in no way redounds to the glory of the Christian religion. I imagine a billboard for the Rachel Christians -- "FIND CHRIST -- YOU'LL BE JUST AS GOOD AS YOU ARE NOW AFTERWARDS".

I didn't say that people wouldn't be better as Christians, I said that not praying doesn't mean you're helping people. But obviously being a "good person" certainly isn't automatic to becoming a Christian. Clearly much depends on the person's response, as I've been saying. But again, this doesn't affect my answer to your second point. Whether or not people are better for becoming Christians isn't the issue. You are saying that one reason prayer for the sick is wicked is because it keeps the praying ones from doing anything tangible to help. I have shown this is not necessarily true, in fact many people who pray ALSO help tangibly, and conversely many people who don't pray don't do anything else to help tangibly. So this point is invalid, prayer is not generally what keeps people from helping tangibly.

On the issue of thankfulness for a gift. The point is being made (by whoever) that it is bad to be thankful to someone for a gift if that someone has the potential to give to others who are more needy but didn't do so. The amount of help that could be given is irrelevant. It is rather evident that we can be thankful for a gift w/o thinking that it's just that not everyone got the same gift. This seems to be a silly argument made just to spite Christians. It is a good thing to be grateful for what we have, and strive to help those who don't have the same. To be opposed to that notion is nonsensical.

Sorry for any typos, no time to preview right now.

Jason said...

My point is that we don't see "real" miracles happening in the world -- suspensions of the natural order that we would all immediately recognize as miraculous. What we see are normal outcomes, or coincidences, or statistical rarities that people ascribe to the miraculous, or to answered prayer.

What's interesting about this is that Christ healed many, many people during his ministry. Not the 'normal outcome' kind of thing, but proper miracle work: healing blindness, epilepsy, etc.

For many people though, they came to Christ only to be healed - nothing more. This means, according to the Bible anyhow, that 'blow your mind' miracle work or 'incredible examples of answered prayer' doesn't in any way guarantee people will suddenly start believing in a higher power, especially in this day and age of spiritual skepticism.

Even today, people who claim to work miracles are mobbed by the sick, not because these people have faith in God, but because they desperately want to be healed.

Off topic. But food for thought. :)

Knitterman said...

Jason wrote: "What's interesting about this is that Christ healed many, many people during his ministry. Not the 'normal outcome' kind of thing, but proper miracle work: healing blindness, epilepsy, etc."

Anecdotal, hearsay, lacking evidence. It didn't happen, or there would have been loads of historical evidence (independent documentation) that it did, same as all those dead people supposedly raised from the dead after the crucifixion. If such non-natural events actually happened, they would have been widely documented by historians.

Again, you're welcome to believe whatever you want, but using your belief as an argument to convince someone else just isn't going to work.

Jason said...

Knitterman, relax. My comment was "food for thought", not an argument.

Scott said...

Scott:That is, God must be active in the world, even if we cannot observe it, because God said he is active in the world.

Jason:You should know by now that Christians don’t view statistical evidence as justification for their faith.

Right. I'm simply noting that, without any kind of statistical advantages, that's all you have to go on.

Jason: Everyone has stories of how their prayers were answered. You can’t prove them wrong so as far as the individual is concerned, a single prayer being answered is proof prayers can be, and are, answered.

From an individual perspective, If I pray to the FSM that I arrive at my destination safely, and actually do arrive safely, is that an answered prayer? Since I actually received what I prayed for, technically, I would say yes. But was the FSM really responsible for ensuring I arrived safely?

JasonWhy would you have a problem with this?

Jason, I'm trying to figure out what you mean when you say "prayer works", because we seem to have radically different definitions.

For example, if the Christian God really is omnipotent and omniscient, Christians would have access to an incredible resource. The Bible "advertises" God's power and his offer to answer prayer several times. As such, it paints a picture of a God has certainly has the means and the desire to answer prayers.

Despite this, you seem content with an omnipotent God that invisibly works though nature and is indistinguishable from random outcomes.

Scott:If God really is active, then you're simply causing one person to recover instead of someone else in one of the groups.

Jason:If God is inactive and didn’t answer any of the prayers, can you prove someone in one of the prayer groups wouldn’t have died?

Let's break this down...

P1: You claim that God answers prayers

P2: We observe the number of deaths and recoveries are effectively the same for those who are prayed for and those who are not prayed for.

Assuming that P1 is true for the sake of argument, then what are we left with?

C: God's answers someone's prayer by causing someone who was going to die to recover *and* causing someone who was going to recover to die.

This is the only way I can see how prayer could "work" since the number of deaths and recoveries are effectively the same in both groups.

Scott:Again, the prayer is answered at the expense of someone else.

Jason:How do you figure?

If God only caused those who were prayed for to recover, then you'd see a statistical advantage for those who were prayed for. Yet we do not observe this. Instead we see effectively the same results as those who are not prayed for.

Therefore, if God is active, he must be not only cause someone to recover who would have otherwise died, but cause someone to die who would have otherwise recovered.

Hamilcar said...

Scott,

Therefore, if God is active, he must be not only cause someone to recover who would have otherwise died, but cause someone to die who would have otherwise recovered.

Wow. Hadn't thought of that angle. Well done, good sir, well done.

Jim Holman said...

hamilcar writes: My point is that we don't see "real" miracles happening in the world -- suspensions of the natural order that we would all immediately recognize as miraculous. What we see are normal outcomes, or coincidences, or statistical rarities that people ascribe to the miraculous, or to answered prayer.

But really, if you consider most Christian prayers, these are prayers for rather modest things -- strength, faith, love, hope, and so on.

The Christians I know aren't praying for extraordinary miracles. They pray for the man whose wife just died, that he may be comforted. They pray for forgiveness. They ask that their enemies and those who have harmed them may be forgiven. And so on.

This is why in several posts in this thread I have said that Christian prayer cannot be "analyzed" as an abstract entity outside of the total context of the faith.

I don't mean to direct this at you in any way. But it is extremely easy to portray someone's religious faith so that it appears to be ridiculous. What I want to do is not to criticize that faith but to understand it.

Some years ago my wife was pregnant with twins. Everything looked good. Then one day she had an ultrasound, and the little heartbeats that should have been there weren't there any more.

A compassionate Christian friend said to me "I will pray for you and your wife," even though we weren't believers. But I was moved by his statement -- that he would ask the divine person he believed to be the creator of the universe to give us comfort.

I'm not a believer, but I have come to understand over the years that much of religion has to be viewed through the heart, not the mind. I suppose this makes me a bad "debunker."

Hamilcar said...

Jim,

I think I understand what you're saying, and where you're coming from. Perhaps, by way of response, I could try to re-frame the example with some questions.

Is it not the case that what touched you about your Christian friend was his compassion, his human compassion? Wasn't he expressing empathy, sympathy, and a hope for a better future in the language that was familiar to him, "We'll pray for you"?

In his mind, he has "access" to a powerful deity, and he's saying he's willing to take time and make a special effort to beseech that deity on your behalf -- something which he undertakes as a serious endeavor.

If you're saying we can't lose sight of the human dimension in these situations, that we must value our relationships and our bonding with friends and family, that we should take them at their word and honor their honest efforts -- I'm right with you.

Knitterman said...

If you're saying we can't lose sight of the human dimension in these situations, that we must value our relationships and our bonding with friends and family, that we should take them at their word and honor their honest efforts -- I'm right with you.

This wasn't addressed to me, but I'll chime in as well. Yes, I totally agree that human/humane compassion, empathy, sympathy is definitely a benefit, especially in time of need (I saw a bunch of humanity-in-action during and after Katrina as I waited to be taken out of that city 12 days later). There is no doubt the positive effect of humans touching humans in a genuine way to alleviate suffering and/or promote health/healing or advancement in life.

It's only when outcomes are attributed to specific causes ("God did it") that bring out the sniper in me.

Jason said...

Scott said: Right. I'm simply noting that, without any kind of statistical advantages, that's all you have to go on.

Oh there’s more to it then just that. Prophecy and archaeology readily come to mind. But these are two topics for another time.

From an individual perspective, If I pray to the FSM that I arrive at my destination safely, and actually do arrive safely, is that an answered prayer?

That’s something only you can answer. If you have faith the FSM got you there safely, so be it. Since I don’t believe in the FSM, I wouldn’t care if you pray to him or not and I wouldn’t care if you think he answered your prayer. It’s all very non-threatening to me.

Since I actually received what I prayed for, technically, I would say yes. But was the FSM really responsible for ensuring I arrived safely?

That all depends if you have faith the FSM answered your prayer.

Jason, I'm trying to figure out what you mean when you say "prayer works", because we seem to have radically different definitions.

And I’m trying to figure out why someone thinks praying for the sick is wicked.

For example, if the Christian God really is omnipotent and omniscient, Christians would have access to an incredible resource. The Bible "advertises" God's power and his offer to answer prayer several times. As such, it paints a picture of a God has certainly has the means and the desire to answer prayers.

Agreed.

Despite this, you seem content with an omnipotent God that invisibly works though nature and is indistinguishable from random outcomes.

I do. For someone to have faith that God will first hear their prayer and second, answer their prayer, what form the answer comes in is irrelevant. Faith has already been established. If faith is dependent on the outcome, there was no faith to begin with and the prayer wouldn’t be answered.

This is why the prayer Christ instructed his disciples to make is so ‘plain’. Thy kingdom come, give us our daily food, forgive us of our sins, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil. Faith the prayer will be answered is the lesson, not how it’ll be answered.

C: God's answers someone's prayer by causing someone who was going to die to recover *and* causing someone who was going to recover to die.

Come on Scott, play fair. How do you logically conclude from P1 and P2 that God forces someone to die because He answered a prayer to have someone else live? If I prayer for a sick friend in Russia to live, and he lives, I believe my prayer has been answered. From basic absence of evidence, I don’t believe that my friend’s life has been traded for someone else’s. There’s no logical reason why God would need to work this way.

This is the only way I can see how prayer could "work" since the number of deaths and recoveries are effectively the same in both groups.

Scott, there were no deaths in the group. Only complications. Ask a hospital patient and they’ll tell you they’re quite different.

If God only caused those who were prayed for to recover, then you'd see a statistical advantage for those who were prayed for.

Already discussed with Hamilcar. By way of reminder, the authors of the study say "Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge this belief," the authors wrote. "Our study focused only on intercessory prayer as provided in this trial and was never intended to and cannot address a large number of religious questions, such as whether God exists, whether God answers intercessory prayers, or whether prayers from one religious group work in the same way as prayers from other groups."

Yet we do not observe this. Instead we see effectively the same results as those who are not prayed for.

Actually what we see are the authors admitting their study doesn’t address whether or not God answers intercessory prayers.

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

Scott: Scott said: Right. I'm simply noting that, without any kind of statistical advantages, that's all you have to go on.

Jason: Oh there’s more to it then just that. Prophecy and archaeology readily come to mind. But these are two topics for another time.

I'm talking about the practice of prayer in the current day, including yours. We do not see the prayers answered as was historically or prophetically claimed. Instead you must rely on the Bible's teaching that prayers are actually answered by God today.

Scott: Since I actually received what I prayed for, technically, I would say yes. But was the FSM really responsible for ensuring I arrived safely?

Jason: That all depends if you have faith the FSM answered your prayer.

So, if I understand you correctly, prayers are only answered if happen to I believe they were answered. Would this not imply that the reality of a prayer having actually being answered is modified by your belief? That is, you're belief is defining reality?

Jason: And I’m trying to figure out why someone thinks praying for the sick is wicked.

If you merely view prayer as simply a way to say "I hope things work out for you", this is an act of compassion spoken through the language of religion. But if you think or imply that God really does intervene, then you're making claims about reality that have implied consequences.

Scott: Despite this, you seem content with an omnipotent God that invisibly works though nature and is indistinguishable from random outcomes.

Jason: I do. For someone to have faith that God will first hear their prayer and second, answer their prayer, what form the answer comes in is irrelevant. Faith has already been established. If faith is dependent on the outcome, there was no faith to begin with and the prayer wouldn’t be answered.

Again, it appears that prayer is merely an exercise in obedience. The results are irrelevant. Yet, at the same time, Christians present God as an omnipotent being that really influences our world.

Jason This is why the prayer Christ instructed his disciples to make is so ‘plain’. Thy kingdom come, give us our daily food, forgive us of our sins, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil. Faith the prayer will be answered is the lesson, not how it’ll be answered.

So you are content with God's limited involvement because Jesus once instructed his disciples to pray a 'plain' prayer?

I don't see Jesus saying anything about the method in which this prayer would be answered. Nor is this the only time the Bible talks about prayer. In addition, Jesus did not use natural means to feel the multitudes or perform other miracles. Clearly, an omniscient God could have pre-arranged for a bountiful harvest of wheat and grapes to feed the multitudes, yet he did not.

As such, it appears that you're attempting to harmonize God's nature with what we observe in reality.

If I prayer for a sick friend in Russia to live, and he lives, I believe my prayer has been answered. From basic absence of evidence, I don’t believe that my friend’s life has been traded for someone else’s.

First, you believe that your friend in Russia recoveries, despite the lack of evidence. Second, you don't believe that your friends life has been traded for someone else's due to lack of evidence? Again, it seems that prayer actually has an effect only if you believe it has an effect. You appear to be the deciding factor, even though the outcome does not change.

There’s no logical reason why God would need to work this way.

Are you saying that it's logically impossible, improbable or that you simply don't believe that's what happens? How else can you explain the lack of statistical advantage for those who were prayer?

Scott, there were no deaths in the group. Only complications. Ask a hospital patient and they’ll tell you they’re quite different.

Perhaps you'd like to ask my aunt and my cousins about complications. My uncle had a stroke after a similar procedure, which left him brain dead. Heart attacks were also listed as complications in the article. He died despite the prayers of my mother, aunt, my entire sisters family, my grandmother and her entire church.

Actually what we see are the authors admitting their study doesn’t address whether or not God answers intercessory prayers.

It doesn't take a scientific study to see that disease, death and accidents occur essentially in relatively equal numbers to people of all religions and non-theists.

If there was one true God, we would either see one of the following...

- One religion would see a notable advantage over another or non-theists
- God would only answers prayers in extremely rare numbers to equate with random outcomes.
- God answers prayers often, but does so by causing worse results in other cases to prevent a noticeable advantage.

Evan said...

Scott I would make one minor addition to your statement, I would say:

It doesn't take a scientific study to see that disease, death and accidents occur essentially in relatively equal numbers to people of all religions and non-theists, when natural explanations for variation have been accounted for.

Jason said...

Scott, whether or not prayer works is irrelevant. The question is: Why is praying for the sick wicked?

If prayer doesn’t work, which is what you’re claiming, why would it be defined as “wicked”?

If it does work, which is what I’m claiming, a sick person gets better. Why would my prayer be defined as “wicked”?

Evan said...

Jason,

Imagine there were people in abject poverty and you told them that there was a bank they could go to get unlimited funds, but the only way they could get there was to really believe it existed.

Now imagine it didn't exist.

Is that wicked?

Scott said...

Jason: If prayer doesn’t work, which is what you’re claiming, why would it be defined as “wicked”?

Because the Bible doesn't say that God only works through nature or only has an effect on everyday 'plain' events. This is your attempt to justify the Bible's "false advertising" on answering prayer. Not everyone shares your expectations.

Jason: If it does work, which is what I’m claiming, a sick person gets better. Why would my prayer be defined as “wicked”?

Do you really think it's that "simple"?

If God answers prayers with any regularity, then people would noticeably get better. Yet you seem to imply that individual prayers would somehow not tip the scales. What do you base this belief on?

Are you claiming that your faith somehow causes people not to notice the results of answered prayers just as it causes prayers to be answered? Because, at some point, this ceases to be rational thought and becomes mere wishful thinking.

And God doesn't answer prayers as a means of withholding evidence of his existence, is this not wicked? If God answers prayers often, but changes other results to withhold evidence of his existence, is this not also wicked?

Are we not merely expendable units in God's game of chess?

Knitterman said...

Jason asked: If prayer doesn’t work, which is what you’re claiming, why would it be defined as “wicked”?

Prayer for the sick is presumed by believers to be helpful and kind.

You find a parched and thirsty person. You say "I'm going to give you a glass of water; it will help." And you hand him an empty glass.

Nobody with a heart would accept this as anything but cruel and wicked.

Why would offering prayer to the sick (offering an "empty glass") be any less cruel and wicked?

Because sick people do not get well as a result of prayer, it is wrong to offer it with the implication that it helps. It's an empty hope.

Jason said...

Evan,

Your scenario isn't about prayer - you're arguing something that's irrelevant and unassociated to the topic. No one's talking about travelling to poor parts of the world and telling people to pray.

We're talking about individuals praying for the sick. If I pray for my sick mother, is this wicked?

Evan said...

Jason.

Yes it is. She needs you to spend your time doing other things than begging an imaginary God to do whatever he's going to do anyway. You do agree you have a finite number of seconds to live on earth and that the time your attention is turned to your mother is also finite, correct?

Jason said...

Scott said: Because the Bible doesn't say that God only works through nature or only has an effect on everyday 'plain' events. This is your attempt to justify the Bible's "false advertising" on answering prayer. Not everyone shares your expectations.

If you go back and read what I’ve written, you’ll see that I’ve never claimed God only works through nature. What I’m saying is that answers to prayers don’t need to come in the form of miraculous, incredible events, which is what you’re maintaining must happen in order for it to be considered an ‘answer’.

Do you really think it's that "simple"?

Absolutely. There's no need for it to be any more complicated. If you say a prayer to the FSM, I don't think it's wicked, just silly. If I say a prayer to my God, you think it's silly - there's no logical reason why you would consider it to be wicked.

If God answers prayers with any regularity, then people would noticeably get better. Yet you seem to imply that individual prayers would somehow not tip the scales. What do you base this belief on?

Again, you're trying to argue something different then what the topic demands. What my belief is based on is irrelevant. Is praying for the sick wicked? If I knew prayer doesn’t work yet I still pray for my sick mother to get better, my prayer isn’t any more ‘wicked’ then if I knew it did work. If prayer doesn’t work, it’s not wicked, it’s just useless.

Are you claiming that your faith somehow causes people not to notice the results of answered prayers just as it causes prayers to be answered? Because, at some point, this ceases to be rational thought and becomes mere wishful thinking.

Is praying for the sick wicked?

And God doesn't answer prayers as a means of withholding evidence of his existence, is this not wicked? If God answers prayers often, but changes other results to withhold evidence of his existence, is this not also wicked?

What does this have to do with praying for the sick?

Are we not merely expendable units in God's game of chess?

Again, what does this have to do with praying for the sick?

Jason said...

Evan,

How long do you think a prayer actually takes...? A prayer can be said in bed at night or at the gas pump or in the grocery store. It can be said in private or out loud. Incredibly, prayer doesn't suddenly stop someone's life. If I'm on my way to the hospital to visit my mother, I'm meeting one of your requirements of helping the sick. So if I happen to give a prayer on the way, is it wicked?

You do agree you have a finite number of seconds to live on earth and that the time your attention is turned to your mother is also finite, correct?

Correct. But you'll have to convince me that a prayer that's given while flowers are being bought, or a card is being mailed, or while bed sheets are being cleaned is somehow still wicked.

Jason said...

Knitterman said: Prayer for the sick is presumed by believers to be helpful and kind.

Agreed.

You find a parched and thirsty person. You say "I'm going to give you a glass of water; it will help." And you hand him an empty glass.

Okay.

Nobody with a heart would accept this as anything but cruel and wicked.

Agreed.

Why would offering prayer to the sick (offering an "empty glass") be any less cruel and wicked?

Because you’re not offering a prayer to the sick. You’re offering the prayer to God. The sick individual isn’t required to be involved in any way.

Because sick people do not get well as a result of prayer, it is wrong to offer it with the implication that it helps. It's an empty hope.

Agreed but you're still using a specific situation and trying to apply it to the argument as a whole. In this 'empty hope' case, it's still not the prayer that's wicked, it's how you're handling the situation. For example, let's say the sick person never finds out you're praying for them to get better. How is my prayer wicked?

Or if I pray for my sick Christian pro-prayer mother. By your standard, my prayer isn't wicked.

Or if I pray for my sick atheist mother without telling her I'm praying for her, by your standard, my prayer still isn't wicked.

Or if my sick agnostic mother requests I pray to my Christian God for her, and I do, by your standard my prayer isn't wicked.

For prayer to actually be wicked, you'll need to prove that an individual communicating with God is somehow inherently evil if the topic is a sick person getting better.

Scott said...

If you go back and read what I’ve written, you’ll see that I’ve never claimed God only works through nature. What I’m saying is that answers to prayers don’t need to come in the form of miraculous, incredible events, which is what you’re maintaining must happen in order for it to be considered an ‘answer’.

You've essentially said that there is no criteria which defines an answered prayer, other than the act of someone praying for something. Then you cited a 'plain' prayer to justify this lack of criteria. As such, I still don't know what you mean by prayer "works".

Scott: Do you really think it's that "simple"?

Jason: Absolutely. There's no need for it to be any more complicated.

There's no need or you simply don't want to conceder the impact of God actually answering prayer?

If I knew prayer doesn’t work yet I still pray for my sick mother to get better, my prayer isn’t any more ‘wicked’ then if I knew it did work. If prayer doesn’t work, it’s not wicked, it’s just useless.

Again, does God actually change reality or are you simply saying "I hope things work out for you"? Because latter makes claims and promises about God's ability to intercede in matters of illness and death.

If a drug company sold a product which has no proven effect on a serious illness, would a doctor be justified in proscribing it to sick people? Do people not make psychic and monetarily 'investments' into the idea that prayer changes outcomes? Imagine how funds for the 100 million dollar prayer center could have been otherwise put to use.

What my belief is based on is irrelevant. Is praying for the sick wicked?

You want to have your cake and eat it too. God really answers prayer, but he does so in some kind of faith based vacuum that has no effect on the world we actually live in. Yet, if God really does have an impact, calling on God to tip the scales despite the implied impact doesn't seem very moral or intellectually honest.

Scott said...

Jason: For prayer to actually be wicked, you'll need to prove that an individual communicating with God is somehow inherently evil if the topic is a sick person getting better.

Because, you're asking for God to change reality when such changes must have an impact on others if they really do occur.

Again, we do not observe the balance changing due to God's actions. As such, God must be compensating in some way to prevent statistical advantages. Simply having faith that this compensation does not occur doesn't mean it would not occur if God really does effect reality.

It is in this context that prayer appears to be morally evil.

Jason said...

Scott said: You've essentially said that there is no criteria which defines an answered prayer, other than the act of someone praying for something. Then you cited a 'plain' prayer to justify this lack of criteria. As such, I still don't know what you mean by prayer "works".

Scott, the topic isn’t whether or not prayer works. We're discussing whether or not praying for the sick is wicked.

There's no need or you simply don't want to conceder the impact of God actually answering prayer?

The former.

Again, does God actually change reality or are you simply saying "I hope things work out for you"? Because latter makes claims and promises about God's ability to intercede in matters of illness and death.

Again, irrelevant. We’re not discussing God changing reality, we’re discussing prayer. So, like I said, if prayer doesn’t work, which is what you believe, it’s not wicked, it’s just useless.

If a drug company sold a product which has no proven effect on a serious illness, would a doctor be justified in proscribing it to sick people? Do people not make psychic and monetarily 'investments' into the idea that prayer changes outcomes? Imagine how funds for the 100 million dollar prayer center could have been otherwise put to use.

Not sure what this has to do with someone praying for a sick friend.

You want to have your cake and eat it too.

What I want is for you to stay on topic. Is praying for the sick wicked?

Because, you're asking for God to change reality when such changes must have an impact on others if they really do occur.

But since you don’t believe prayer works, then there is no change of reality and thus, prayer isn’t wicked.

Again, we do not observe the balance changing due to God's actions. As such, God must be compensating in some way to prevent statistical advantages. Simply having faith that this compensation does not occur doesn't mean it would not occur if God really does effect reality. It is in this context that prayer appears to be morally evil.

No, you’re arguing the compensation is evil, not the prayer.

Evan said...

Jason:

Almond Pound Cake Recipe

3 cups Granulated sugar
1/2 pound Butter
1/2 cup Shortening
5 Eggs
1/4 tsp Salt
3 cups Flour
3/4 cup Evaporated milk
1/4 cup Water
2 tsp Almond extract
Oven Temp ~ 320°
Baking Time ~ 1 Hour & 30 Min.
Pan Type ~ 12-cup Bundt pan
Lightly grease your pan. Do Not Preheat Oven!

Cream sugar, butter and shortening. Add eggs and salt. Cream well.
Add remaining ingredients.
Pour into a prepared pan.
Put into cold oven.
Set temperature and bake.
Cool 15 minutes and remove from pan

Scott said...

Scott, the topic isn’t whether or not prayer works. We're discussing whether or not praying for the sick is wicked.

I don't see how you can separate the cost from the outcome.

Scott: There's no need or you simply don't want to conceder the impact of God actually answering prayer?

Jason: The former.

Simply saying there is no need is merely an attempt to avoid the issue.

Prayer works because God says it works. Prayer has no impact on others because God doesn't say it has an impact. The problem of statistical advantage isn't a problem because God doesn't say it is. What we observe is irrelevant.

But since you don’t believe prayer works, then there is no change of reality and thus, prayer isn’t wicked.

If I put a substance in someone's drink thinking it will kill them, but it doesn't, was the act not attempted murder?

People who pray for the sick are asking God change reality. But if God does have an effect, at what expense would this effect come about?

No, you’re arguing the compensation is evil, not the prayer.

Then I guess you think the end justifies the means. Because I can't see any other way that God could really have an effect without upsetting the balance we observe. Again, I'm open to other ways around the problem, but you don't seem to feel it requires justification.

You see prayer as a directive from God. Therefore, you'll never see prayer as wicked because God is your source of morality.

Jason said...

Scott said: I don't see how you can separate the cost from the outcome.

Saying a 30-second prayer to God for sick person to get better doesn’t cost anything other then 30 seconds.

Simply saying there is no need is merely an attempt to avoid the issue.

Simply saying there is no need is simply answering the question.

If I put a substance in someone's drink thinking it will kill them, but it doesn't, was the act not attempted murder?

Huh? If your child hopes Santa will bring gifts to orphan girls in Africa, do you think your child's request is wicked? Of course not. You know Santa doesn't exist so such a request is harmless. Likewise, if you know prayer doesn't work and God doesn't exist, then if I pray to my God for a friend in Russia to get better, this also is harmless.

People who pray for the sick are asking God change reality. But if God does have an effect, at what expense would this effect come about?

Your issue is with God then, not with communication with God (e.g. prayer).

Then I guess you think the end justifies the means. Because I can't see any other way that God could really have an effect without upsetting the balance we observe. Again, I'm open to other ways around the problem, but you don't seem to feel it requires justification.

The topic is praying for the sick, Scott. I’m not sure how many more times we need to go through this. If you’re upset that God is potentially trading someone else’s life for someone who is healed, fine. But that still doesn’t make prayer wicked. All I’m doing is asking God to heal my sick friend. He can say yes or He can say no. Asking isn’t evil.

You see prayer as a directive from God. Therefore, you'll never see prayer as wicked because God is your source of morality.

Read the initial post again. There’s nothing there about keeping balance or how God answers prayer. The whole issue seems to be about causing someone else pain and misery because the individual knew people are praying for them. So, if the sick person didn’t know anyone was praying for him then the issue has been solved: prayer isn’t wicked when the subject of prayer is ignorant to prayers being made on his behalf.

Jason said...

Almond Pound Cake anyone? It's delicious.

Scott said...

The topic is praying for the sick, Scott. I’m not sure how many more times we need to go through this. If you’re upset that God is potentially trading someone else’s life for someone who is healed, fine. But that still doesn’t make prayer wicked. All I’m doing is asking God to heal my sick friend. He can say yes or He can say no. Asking isn’t evil.

So what's your position on buying stolen merchandise?

Since buying things isn't wrong, I guess you wouldn't think buying items that were stolen from someone else was wrong either.

Jason said...

Scott said:So what's your position on buying stolen merchandise? Since buying things isn't wrong, I guess you wouldn't think buying items that were stolen from someone else was wrong either.

Buying stolen merchandise is against the law. Is praying?

Scott said...

Jason: Buying stolen merchandise is against the law. Is praying?

How is this any different? God says it's OK, so it's not wrong?

Again, there is no statistical advantage for Christian's. If God answers prayer, then how can you account for those who would not have recovered otherwise? It just doesn't' add up.

You offer no answer. Just assertions based on dogma.

Jason said...

Scott said: How is this any different? God says it's OK, so it's not wrong?

You say it's wrong so it's not right? I'll side with God on this one.

Again, there is no statistical advantage for Christian's.

Then what's the issue?

If God answers prayer, then how can you account for those who would not have recovered otherwise? It just doesn't' add up.

By the admittance of many here, there's been no study that has been able to definitely measure the effectiveness of prayer. Until there is, all of this talk about statistical advantage is nothing more then conjecture.

You offer no answer. Just assertions based on dogma.

Yes...?

Scott said...

I still don't know what you mean when you say prayer "works". If we can't define something then how can we say it's "Good"?

Please pick one the following that most closely matches your view of how prayer "works".

A. Prayer is merely a way to express concern spoken in the language of religion. It works because it effectively expresses concern.

B. A prayer "works" anytime you pray for something and it occurs. How it came about or whether it was going to occur or not is irrelevant. The only requirement is that what I asked for ends up occurring.

C. A prayer is answered anytime you ask for something, it occurs and you believe that God caused it to occur. If you prayed for something, it occurs, but you did not believe, then the prayer wasn't really answered.

D. Prayer works when God actually intercedes to change the course of events and cause what you prayed for to occur. If what you prayed for was going to occur anyway, your prayer was not 'answered'.

If none of these fit, then please explain what you mean when you say prayer "works". Simply saying none of the above, is a non-answer.

Jason said...

Prayer is communication with God (or any other deity for that matter). Prayer 'works' as much as speaking 'works'.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

Without praying for the sick, one isn't requesting the assistance of God. In praying for the sick, one is requesting the assistance of God.

Is a request for assistance wicked?

Scott said...

Jason: Without praying for the sick, one isn't requesting the assistance of God. In praying for the sick, one is requesting the assistance of God.

So prayer "works" when you successfully request assistance from God?

This sounds like B, except you don't even need to get what you prayed for.

However, earlier, you said...

Hamilcar : May I ask you, do you believe that God answers prayers?

Jason: I’m a Christian. So the answer is yes. ☺

So, you also seem to believe that praying for the sick causes God to intercede and cause changes realty, which corresponds to D.

I'm still confused.

Jason: Is a request for assistance wicked?

What kind of assistance are you requesting? How is your request being fulfilled?

Examples...

What if I ask God to give me a promotion even though there are others who are better suited for the position and/or needed the additional income more than I would (they have a large family, etc.)?

What if I ask God to smite or kill someone because I simply do not like them?

What if I ask a doctor to give a friend or family member an organ transplant, knowing he will use an organ obtained the black market? (organs, such as kidneys, livers and corneas are taken from executed prisoners in China or illegally bought and sold by expensive, private hospitals in Brazil and Iraq)

These are cases where, simply asking for assistance appears to be wrong or even wicked - which is why I'm trying to clarify what occurs if praying for the sick "works".

Scott said...

the deleted post above was inadvertently submitted while I was logged in under an third-party account for another Google service. I've re-posted it here under my account.

- - - - - - - - -

Jason:Prayer is communication with God (or any other deity for that matter). Prayer 'works' as much as speaking 'works'.



I guess I need to spell this out, even though the topic of the thread seems to be clear. 

How does prayer "work" in the context of praying for the sick?

Jason said...

Scott: So prayer "works" when you successfully request assistance from God?

Nope. And already answered previously.

What kind of assistance are you requesting? How is your request being fulfilled?

In case you missed the context, here it is again. Without praying for the sick, one isn't requesting the assistance of God. In praying for the sick, one is requesting the assistance of God. Is a request for assistance wicked?

These are cases where, simply asking for assistance appears to be wrong or even wicked - which is why I'm trying to clarify what occurs if praying for the sick "works".

Wonderful avoidance. Please note the topic. Is it wicked to communicate with God, asking Him to heal a sick person? What’s evil with saying, “God, please heal my sick mother”?

How does prayer "work" in the context of praying for the sick?

Praying for the sick or praying for anything ‘works’ every time God hears the prayer. Pray ‘works’ as much as speaking ‘works’. If you’d like to know in what instances God will not listen to a prayer, the answers can be found in Scripture.

Knitterman said...

"Praying for the sick or praying for anything ‘works’ every time God hears the prayer."

I would say prayer "works" when there are results.

Jason said...

Knitterman,

David prayed to God many times, often to simply tell God how happy he was. No request was made. How would this kind of prayer 'work' through 'results'?

Scott said...

Scott: So prayer "works" when you successfully request assistance from God?

Jason: Nope. And already answered previously.

But then you said...

Jason: Praying for the sick or praying for anything ‘works’ every time God hears the prayer.

How are these different? If you fail at requesting assistance from God it did not "work" because God did not hear your request.

Both of which are the same and essentially B without the requirement for receiving what you requested.

Adjusting B to your requirement...

B. A prayer "works" anytime you pray for something. Regardless if it comes about or whether it was going to occur or not, it "works". The only requirement is that you ask.

But this still seems incomplete as you indicated that, at least on some occasions, you think that God intercedes and heals sick people who are prayed for which points to D.

Wonderful avoidance. Please note the topic. Is it wicked to communicate with God, asking Him to heal a sick person?

What do you hope will occur when you pray this prayer? God will merely listen and stop there? Or is the hope that God to actually take action in the physical world and heal the sick person?

Jason: What’s evil with saying, “God, please heal my sick mother”?

Despite the fact that Christians are subject to illness, accidents and death in equal numbers to other religions and non-theists, you claim that God actually does have a concrete impact on reality.

You say...

If God is inactive and didn’t answer any of the prayers, can you prove someone in one of the prayer groups wouldn’t have died? Of course not. The only way we can ever know if prayer works is by rewinding the clock and doing everything over again without praying.

You're correct in that, by retreating to this position, we can't know the outcome of not praying for a single person in the group. Therefore prayer for the sick can "work" if you conceder only the individual prayed for.

But you've painted yourself into a corner.

If prayer works at the individual level, yet Christians do not benefit at the group level, the individual benefit received must come at the cost of someone else. The laws of mathematics demands it.

The other only option is to retreat again, by claiming that the frequency in which God decides to make an impact is so rare, it's indistinguishable from the random outcomes of nature. Or, you could make the naked assertion that it's really not a problem because God doesn't say it's a problem. However, In doing so, you might as well say God has his own version of math that prevents us from from noticing the impact he has on the world.

Again, if God does have an impact...

A. An omnipotent God, who offers and is claimed to have the power to heal the sick does not do so 99.99% of the time. How "good" must you be to win God's favor? Did those who's prayers were answered simply pray a few minutes longer than the others?

If only a select few are healed, there must be some concrete criteria that God uses to decide. If there was such a criteria don't you think God would let us know what it is? And, if there is no criteria, is God purposely not answering prayer to withhold evidence of his existence?

B. If the Christian (or any other) God interceded in any significant way, we'd notice. Follows of said God would be touting it as proof that their God was the only true God. Saying that we need to perform studies to come to this conclusion is disingenuous at best.

Since we do not observe this impact, the only way this could occur is if God fulfills prayers for the sick by trading outcomes with someone else.

Knitterman said...

Jason: "David prayed to God many times, often to simply tell God how happy he was. No request was made. How would this kind of prayer 'work' through 'results'?"

Jason, we are discussing (as you yourself are fond of reminding everyone else) prayer for the sick. Prayer for the sick can only be said to "work" when there are demonstrable results not attributable to normal (i.e., not supernatural) means. At best I believe prayer for the sick is an exercise in self-hypnosis (for the one praying), at worst it's as wicked as offering an empty cup to one who is thirsty (for the sick person).

Jason said...

Knitterman: Jason, we are discussing (as you yourself are fond of reminding everyone else) prayer for the sick.

And I was responding to a incorrect conclusion you posted.

Prayer for the sick can only be said to "work" when there are demonstrable results not attributable to normal (i.e., not supernatural) means.

This is a requirement you're placing on prayer, not one that's based on Scripture.

Knitterman said...

Knitterman: Jason, we are discussing (as you yourself are fond of reminding everyone else) prayer for the sick.

And I was responding to a incorrect conclusion you posted.


Obviously we disagree. Without results, prayer is pointless, especially if you are asking for something.


This is a requirement you're placing on prayer, not one that's based on Scripture.

Yes, and I believe it is a rational and reasonable requirement.