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Rationalizing Prayer

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rationalizing Prayer

During the course of this post I will be showing what people thinks prayer does and a way to rationalize the, sometimes, big amounts of coincidences associated with "answered prayers".

Point 1: What does payer do?

Prayer is used by people of many different religions to either bring about change in a personal setting or on the world's stage. Prayer has been used by people like George Bush *GOD BLESS AMURICA* or more recently by governor Rick Perry. To the religious community prayer means a lot and the belief that it actually does something is wide spread and is a basic tenant of almost all religions. I for one used to think that if I prayed to Yahweh he would answer my prayers (of course I have since moved on). But to the secular community prayer seems to be, and is, a way to feel like you are doing something/are in control when you are actually doing nothing/are not in control. During the course of this article I will give a way to rationalize the somewhat off coincidences associated with answered prayers.

Point 2: An Example.

So a while back a post was written in a group I a member of and the post said this:
"I signed up online to get texts from the news for school day closings and whatever.But I always end up getting extra texts about random news. Yesterday I got a text it said they put out an amber alert for a missing 4 year old boy in Ohio at 12 at night. I prayed and prayed that he wouldnt be harmed, that his parents would be able to have as much peace as they could in the situation, and that he'd return home safely. I prayed for about and hour straight. I fell asleep. About two hours later, I woke up for no reason. I looked at my phone to check the time, it was a text from my news. It read 'an amber alert for a missing pickaway county boy has been lifted. He was found safely in lanecaster, Ohio.' God is sosososo good. ♥"

And I questioned this by asking if they ever thought that this could merely be coincidence. I got an answer. The answer was that in some cases it could be but if one looks at the events that happened on that night it is obviously divine intervention. The same person that wrote the previous quote wrote this:
"1. I could not go to sleep at the usual time.
2. I signed up to get texts to tell me when Westerville city schools have a snowday, or just school closing in general, yet I get other texts such as 'a semi on 270 has a gas leak' and 'Obama says he will not release photos of Osama.' even though I canceled and re applied specifically for school closing texts.
3. Once I got the amber alert text, I prayed for an hour, then I fell dead asleep.
4. I randomly woke up two hours later, looked at my phone to see what time it is, like always. There was a text, from about 10 or 15 minutes before I woke up, saying he had been found safe. 
5. Like I said, I was only about the text saying he was found safe was received only 15 or 10 minutes Before I woke up for no reason.." 
These are all fine and dandy but let's rationalize them!

Point 3: Rationalization.

Of course small things that will already happen but are prayed for a quite easy to explain. One simply says "It would already happen." and that is that. It's the things with lots of oddities that make prayer seem to work. Before I go in depth into this we will analyze the 5 points laid out above. Point number 1 is just saying that the person could not sleep at the usual time which is not all that odd because their mind was either engaged, they had eaten something that kept them awake etc. This is really not special in the least.

Point number 2 says that even though the person applied only for school closing texts, they got others as well. Since the site was not given I cannot do research into it but I do not find it surprising at all that this would happen. Most likely the texts had an advertisement at the bottom (much like ChaCha) which is a way for them to make money so the more they send you the more they make which would explain lack huge numbers of texts that were received. Of course that could not be the reason and the person merely signed up incorrectly or did not successfully stop the first set of texts. There are countless ways to explain this that it is not special at all. I feel that I needn't waste more of anyone's time debunking 2.

Point number 3 is just saying what happened. Nothing needs to be said here.

Point number 4 says that the person randomly woke up and looked at her phone only to find a text that said the kid was safe! Amazing right? Not per se. Randomly waking up is not mysterious at all seeing as body functions could easily be beckoning or a dream woke her up. (Remember, if one wakes up within a REM cycle or within 5 minutes after one you will not remember your dream) This is not magical at all. As to the kid being found, according to FBI statistics 99% of all the kids that go missing each year are found thus is not surprising at all that the kid was recovered.[1] Of course the child could have been part of the 1% that are not found but that is improbable.

Point 5 basically says the same thing as 4 and thus all my arguments can be applied here.

But let me put it another way, what would one say if the child had not been found? "Oh, well, god didn't answer it."? Or, more likely, she would have forgotten about the child. These things only seem extraordinary because they happen. If the kid was not found she would not have given it another thought. This is a form of anthropic principle to be used with prayer. The simplest way I can put it is: If the child were not found there would be nothing to attribute prayer to. Prayer necessitates something to happen thus if nothing does there is no use in thinking about prayer at all.

Point 4: Scientific data.

Is there any scientific data on the effectiveness of prayer? Well yes actually, there is!

Galton, who loved to quantify everything from intelligence to female beauty, collected mortality data on groups of people who were the objects of much prayer—kings, clergy, missionaries—and found that they lived no longer than others. Moreover the proportion of stillbirths suffered by praying and nonpraying expectant parents appeared similar.[2]
There are many cases where prayer has been tested in double-blind studies and has shown to be ineffective in hospital stays/mortality rates etc.. Of course there are some examples where prayed for patients do better but that is nothing compared to the amount of sameness between two groups. But also let's look at one of the most famous prayer experiments, the Harvard Prayer Experiment (HPE)! The HPE was set up in the following way: There were 3 groups of Cardiac Bypass Patients who were assigned to 3 conditions. Group 1 was told that they may or may not be prayed for when in actuality they were not. Group 2 was told the same thing but they were actually prayed for. Group 3 was told that they would be prayed for and they were. The results are as follows:
"Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer: complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus 51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in 59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus 52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1). Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups. Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups. (13 in group 1, 16 in Group 2, and 14 in Group 3)
Not only did prayer not help the patients, those that were told they were being prayed for experienced more complications." [3]
Point 5: Conclusion. 

Numerous scientific experiments as well as all the unanswered prayers in the world prove that prayer is NOT effective in the least and in some cases actually is counterproductive! So remember, not only is there no god but the myth of prayer is just that, a myth.



1: "Missing Children Myths | SparkAction." SparkAction | For children. For youth. For change.. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2011. <>
2: "Prayer." N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2011. <>
3: ""FreeThoughtPedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2011.  <>

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At October 30, 2011 at 8:15 PM , Blogger Ally said...

Interesting post. I stumbled across this.
I wonder if those studies took into account whether or not the people praying, or even being prayed for, were Christian, and prayed in faith that God was listening and/or could actually answer. And perhaps another reason for prayers not being answered wasn't that God doesn't exist, but that the things they were praying for weren't what God wanted most for them. There are examples in the bible where people prayed for healing (e.g. Paul's "thorn in his flesh" in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and God didn't answer for other reasons (for Paul, that he would continue to rely on God alone). And examples of prayer are more about increasing love and knowledge of God, that Christians would grow in maturity, that they would persevere through trial, that they would grow in love for each other and others, that the gospel would be proclaimed, etc.
I appreciate scientific evidence, but science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. And those studies in particular seem to go in with assumptions that are inconsistent with what prayer is about and miss important variables. Most scientific studies are not as objective as they make themselves out to be.

At November 1, 2011 at 8:16 PM , Blogger Peter said...

Good question Ally, I do not know for certain but I am sure doing some reading into the experiments would yield the answers you seek. As to you comment that there might be an alternate explanation, of course there might be but one must think which is more probable. Is it more probable that god doesn't exist or that the chose to let people suffer while helping other people with their petty problems?

I dare say you are mistaken in your second paragraph, while it is true that science cannot disprove an unknowable, deistic god, science (and reason) can disprove the aspects that you claim are associated with the Christian god. I suggest you do some reading into the logical arguments against god. While they are not scientific per se they are philosophically valid.

But also, if science proves that there is no need for a god, why continue to believe? It is illogical.

What important variables do the studies miss?


At December 8, 2011 at 9:03 PM , Anonymous Davide said...

:) I was Googling for a picture and I stumbled into this blog.
I find always interesting these kind of things.
But, in the end, I think that the point is always the same: faith. And I'm not saying that religious people has faith and others don't. I think the point is in what you put your faith in.

A Christian has faith in God, an atheist has faith in science and human logic.

Both of them, in this way, are religions.
And none of them can be fully understood.

Science...scientists said many things that were considered completely true, but then changed after many years. Science is continuously changing, evolving, looking for the truth. But also science is based on our human logic... and this is why is continuously evolving. Our logic is limited, our knowledge too. so hard to understand sometimes. The things he talks about are so outside of our way to think and sometimes also of our logic. And prayer is one of these things. Freedom and suffering on the earth another. Creation and his death for his creation another one. The point here is that he's not limited to our human comprehension, logic, scientific method.

You can choose to have faith in yourself, in your logic, in your analysis and scientific studies about God.
Someone else can choose to have faith in someone higher than us, that has a higher knowledge, higher logic and more perfect science.

You can't do both, though.

I always love a sentence of Rich Mullins during a live concert:
‎", I given up trying to find answers in the Bible and I'm learning to look in there for the weirdest character of all of them. And that would be God almighty himself.
Who is uh... bizarre from our whole point of view. That someone could be so totally other and so completely by himself, yet that he wants us badly enough that he would become like us in order to help us become like him!
If you want a religion that makes sense, I suggest something other than Christianity.
But if you want a religion that makes LIFE, than I think that this is the one."

Using logic there are many ways to find huge errors in science, from creation, to life, to many other things. And also using logic there are many ways to deny God's existence.

I think that logic is amazing and important, but also that doesn't bring to a solution here.
So what else does? Rich Mullins says a good one there.


At January 13, 2012 at 8:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to be "stumbling" onto your post... interesting. I found it looking for an image of prayer and saw yours with a big red circle over it. Here is a thought for you; prayer changes you. It changes you and give you an opportunity to glorify God.

God is not a pop machine. You don't put in your request and wait for the answer to pop out. Could an answer to prayer be a coincidence, sure. If it is, that it is irrelevant because it really has no bearing on why someone should pray.

Great post and thanks for your thoughts. I pray you find what you are looking for :-)

At January 13, 2012 at 6:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, like most other people here, I too stumbled on the blog; searching for a picture about prayer ;)

Peter, I appreciate that, while you are against prayer, you are open to discuss your views and are looking for more information. Just make sure you are reading in both points of view :D

As for my opinion, well I can't really agree that the effectiveness of prayer can be measured by studying tangible results only. If one is to study prayer, then they have to follow the definition of prayer! And prayer is NOT supposed to be some sort of magic wand by which requests (such as health, material success, etc.) are granted! On the contrary, prayer is a way of building a personal relationship between God and man. And just because you know the boss doesn't mean your life is free of trouble! It does mean, though, that you get to appreciate the boss's opinions, know him/her as a real person, and even accept his/her harsh decisions ... because you UNDERSTAND this person! Same goes with prayer. It is a process by which one gets closer to God. Doesn't mean all requests are granted!

It does mean, though, a more peaceful heart, a more joyful life and the knowledge of a Loving Companion throughout life. This may not be proven by experiments, but it is my life experience. Your choice of belief of course. But you are missing out on a lot!

I pray you find what you are looking for :D

At April 11, 2012 at 7:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post :D

Just wanted to say that I have been following God for myself for about 8 years now and have a few problems with this post.

I noticed that to validate your argument you have made several assumptions which weren't stated and cannot be proven e.g. "their mind was either engaged, they had eaten something that kept them awake etc" and "body functions could easily be beckoning or a dream woke her up" plus a few others which, if these hadn't actually happened as you assume, your argument falls apart.

Also prayer, as stated above, cannot be measured by studying tangible results. I have prayed on several occasions where nothing has happened (such as sustaining the life of a dying loved one) but I later find that his answering my prayer with a no has been more beneficial for me than if he had answered yes.

I have also prayed for providence to which he has answered with a most gracious yes. A recent example of this is when he told me I needed to go to Easter Camp last weekend. The moment he told me, I fell into despair because it was $155 of which I had about $3.27 and only 2 weeks to find the rest. Being a student without a job there was no way I was going to find that money by myself and so I prayed constantly. Two days later, my best friend's father came to me and asked if I would be able to go if they sponsored me for the full amount! I was overjoyed and so much happened for me in all aspects of my life over that weekend.

I would love to tell of all the ways in which God has made everything fall into place as a result of prayer both in my life and in the lives of loved ones (healing, providence, guidance) but I really must get back to work.

Oh and you can tell me all you like that its just a coincidence, and sure, maybe it is! But the more I pray, the more fantastic coincidences I see happening in my life and the life of others. And I like it that way :)

At July 30, 2012 at 10:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how you've quite clearly stated your opinion, and yet analyzed prayer as fairly as possible.

However, I think you've missed a vital point: people that believe in Christianity/God/prayer don't need physical proof of it. For most, I think, the feeling of communicating with a higher being is enough. Prayer is more about emotional reassurance than fulfilled requests. In other words, it doesn't HAVE to work.

I think some people are Christians because they want to feel looked out for. It doesn't make sense, but there are worse things to believe. Some, like you, don't feel that way and that's fine.

All that said, I respect what you're doing here. You're presenting a logical argument against something you see as purposeless and unhelpful. Keep going Peter! :)

At September 13, 2012 at 9:12 PM , Blogger Peter said...

I don't totally agree with you Davide. You say that atheism and theism are both forms of religion because they both require faith but I don't think that's true. The way I look at faith, and this is probably different from when I wrote the post considering it was over a year ago, is you believe that something is true even though you may not be able to "prove" it per se. The difference with science is that it is /only/ accepted as true if it can be proven. Although I hate her I think a quotation by Ayn Rand semi-sums up my thoughts.
“You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

Please continue reading and I would love to hear from you!


At September 13, 2012 at 9:13 PM , Blogger Peter said...

Thank you Richard! I'm glad you liked the post even though our views differ. I understand what you're saying with the pop machine analogy but I think scientific data is very important and if it doesn't point towards prayer than so be it.


At September 13, 2012 at 9:16 PM , Blogger Peter said...

I'm glad people are stumbling upon this xD

AS to your comment though, you're totally entitled to your opinion, I just think that data are the best way to measure supposed real world outcomes. If people claim that praying for something can make it happen, as (if I recall correctly) the Bible says, then there should be some statistics to back it up. Since I do not see those at all I have rejected prayer.


At September 13, 2012 at 9:26 PM , Blogger Peter said...

Thank you!

You say I make several assumptions and this is true. However, one must look at them in context. The assumptions I made were very specific to the quoted conversation and they are not far fetched. Yes, if those assumptions aren't true then that specific rationalization falls but that it no way undermines the total argument against prayer.

You then say that a "no" answer is more beneficial, I believe that but I still would argue that something that has an actually affect on the world should be measurable. If it is not then there is no reason to believe it since it cannot be verified.

You then give an anecdote. You are totally entitled to your belief, I just think that that example could easily happen by coincidence and it doesn't mean that God did it per se.

Thank you for reading!


At September 13, 2012 at 9:30 PM , Blogger Peter said...

I totally agree with you. I would think that a lot of theists like the idea of God, hell, some atheists I know wish there was a god! That being said, there are scientifically oriented theists, namely Dr. William Lane Craig, who will look at statistics and scientific studies and those are the people I write these types of posts for.

Thank you so much for your kind words and I hope you check back here sometime! :)



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