Thursday, 30 March 2017

Not feeling the power: SJ takes on prayer

Objection number 4 is that prayer doesn’t work.

My original: Enough children have died in faith-healing cases to show that prayer only succeeds in mundane cases with a high likelihood of occurring anyway. There is no evidence at the ‘population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer or recover from cancer more frequently.
This is specific to the Christian god because this deity is supposed to be intercessory.  It supposed to intervene when its fan club needs help.  So even accepting that this deity may have good reasons to let someone die from disease, we would still be expect intercessions to be frequent enough to be detectable at some statistical level (and peculiar to Christians). 

If you like, this is a variation of the 'why doesn't god cure amputees' objection. Except it involves children. 

Where's the counter-evidence?

S.J. Thomason responds:

The reason there may be little or no evidence at the population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer, or recover from cancer more frequently is not because God does not answer prayers. In contrast, God always answers prayers, but the answers may not be to improve health or prolong life. 
I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. The claim of Christianity is that prayer obtains what the petitioner asks for, especially in the area of health. See the sample of bible quotes below.  There's not the caveat present that SJ has conjured. 

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14.

Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. -Matthew 21:22

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24

they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. Mark 16:18

Lord my god, I called to you for help, and you healed me. Psalm 30:2

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Mark 8:13

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20

In Acts 3 episodes of faith healed are alleged to have occurred (4:22, 5:12-16; and 20:7-12).
There's a reason why faith healing is practiced in some Christian sects! 

The answers always correspond to developing a relationship with us and advancing the fulfillment of our spiritual purposes or the spiritual purposes of our loved ones. If our spiritual purposes have been fulfilled, then our time on this planet is over and God calls us into heaven.
 This is an example of the ad hoc rescue fallacy- or the Making Stuff Up fallacy.   God answers prayers. This should produce shifts in life expectancy or mortality from diseases like cancer among Christians. SJ has employed an ad hoc trick to rescue the original claim. It's not a good ad hoc device as it demands that I accept there is now a spiritual dimension and afterlife, in addition to there being a god. This isn't resolving the problem, it's multiplying the challenges.

Changing the subject

Sometimes He calls the very best among us into heaven, which is always painful for those left behind,
God answers prayers in a capricious, unpredictable and hurtful way.  That's how we know he loves us and answers our prayers (rolls eyes).  This isn't a rebuttal. This is conceding my objection is correct.
yet His purpose is to grow His relationship with those left behind and He places us in a variety of challenging circumstances to do just that.
This is obscene.Your god is purposely killing people to make the survivors love him.

As George MacDonald said and I’ll paraphrase: Imagine yourself as a house. God helps you to fix its drains, repair its cracks, and refurbish its appliances. You needed this help, so you’re not surprised. But imagine your surprise when God starts knocking down walls, putting in new kitchens and baths, and adding bedrooms and room additions. It hurts abominably and you wonder what on earth he’s up to. You thought you were going to be a decent little cottage. But he had plans for a palace, one in which He plans to live himself. You see, he wants you to be perfect, just as he is perfect, and humble and kind, just as he is humble and kind.
Platitudinous nonsense and a false analogy fallacy.  Lets consider reality.

Dr Asser found that between 1975 and 1995, 172 children died following faith healing in USA (Pediatrics 1998: 10). In one case, a 2-year-old girl choked to death on a banana- over an hour- while her parents and other adults present simply prayed. 

That 2-year old didn't grow up to be a "palace" or humble and kind. She didn't enjoy development, including spiritual- because she diedShe died because her parents believed that there was a god, and it did answer prayer. She died because there are still adults today who think a bunch of ancient slave-owners had a direct line of communication to the alleged creator of the universe.   And if your god exists, it was both present at that crisis and culpable in that death.  

She died because of a fucking banana! Because her parents thought begging their god for help would be more effective than dislodging a piece of fruit.  Because for 2000 years Christians have promoted the lie that there is a god and it does answer prayers.  

And if you want to try the 'she's in heaven now' line, you'd better have a signed, witnessed affidavit from her attesting to the truth of that claim.

Over the past five years, I have lost two good friends to cancer: one never smoked cigarettes, yet one day discovered she had stage four single cell lung cancer; a second discovered one day she had stage four brain cancer stemming from the melanoma she battled over a decade earlier. Both left behind a husband and an adopted child. In the first case, the husband passed a few months later, likely of a broken heart.

Not exactly good evidence that god answers prayer really, is it?
These two young mothers were extraordinarily kind and by anyone’s standards would be considered rather perfect people. No explanation of their deaths can offer their loved ones comfort, save for the explanation that they completed their lives’ missions and are now with God in heaven.
That hardly makes it true. 

Look at my bright, shiny red herring!

Before atheists jump to their feet here with accusations of the argument from ignorance fallacy, let us consider our purpose in life. Why are we here? What purpose do we serve? What does God want us to do?
This is getting a long way off topic.  And it's a set of loaded questions.
According to Rick Warren in his book The Purpose-Driven Life, “God has a purpose behind every problem. He uses circumstances to develop our character. In fact, He depends more on circumstances to make us like Jesus than He depends on our reading the Bible…Jesus warned us that we would have problems in this world. No one is immune to pain or insulated from suffering, and no one gets to skate through life problem-free. Life is a series of problems…God uses problems to draw you closer to Himself (p. 193-194).
 Platitudinous rubbish. Asinine and vacuous rhetoric.The children who die in faith healing cases aren't having their character develop. The only way they're becoming like Jesus is by being dead. 


Apparently God always answers prayers but not in a way we can predict, measure or makes sense to us. As a rebuttal goes, it's another complete fail.  A god that can watch a 2 year old girl choke to death on a banana and ignore the pleas of her parents to help, either doesn't exist or isn't a loving, intercessory moral entity.


  1. There is also evidence that intercessory prayer is associated with worse outcomes, if patients know they're being prayed for. In short, prayer, instead of simply being placebo can be nocebo. The article is here:

    1. It's definitely a puzzle. Perhaps we should be doing studies on finding car keys (rolls eyes)

  2. Where's the counter-evidence?

    S.J. Thomason responds:

    The reason there may be little or no evidence at the population-level that Christians are healthier, live longer, or recover from cancer more frequently is not because God does not answer prayers. In contrast, God always answers prayers, but the answers may not be to improve health or prolong life.

    My response to SJT: isn't this just a version of the problem of how one distinguishes between an invisible god and a nonexistent one?