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Thursday, April 8, 2010


Religious Jews and other religious people talk about how they prayed to God and he answered their prayers. They say that because their prayers got answered it must be that God exists.

The first obvious problem with this argument is that it is a logical fallacy. An confirmed prayer does not mean that God exists. It may, of course, be just a coincidence that it happened. Indeed, from the prayer stories that I hear, it has to be coincidence for the following reason. The number of successes and misses of a prayer is something we would expect from just random events. Let us suppose that I pray so that I will win a lot of money on a roulette wheel. So come to Las Vegas, put all my money on black and end up doubling my money. This is not an impressive prayer. It, of course, can just be a coincidence. If I do this every month, take my money and put it on the roulette wheel, I will lose some times and win some times, approximately 50/50. If I think that God confirmed my prayers whenever I won every time then I am a retard for thinking that way. Because what about all the times when my prayers were denied? The religious person would say "well, God answered, he just answered in the negative". That is to say, God choose not to confirm the prayer for whatever reasons God had planned. This is such a ridiculous response, no matter what God does, he always answers prayers. Sometimes he confirms it and other times he denies them. Why is that so impressive? Why is that something that should surprise me and make me think that there is a God who is confirming the prayers that would have not happened by mere chance? Can you answer that?

What religious people do is that they ignore all the times when their prayers were not answered in the affirmative and only focus on the ones that were. This is what a lot of believers in psychics do. They go to a psychic reading. The psychic tells them their fortune, and the person only pays attention (not to mention also pays a lot of money) on the stuff that the psychic gets right while ignoring all the things the psychic got wrong. This is not impressive whatsoever, that is what we expect mere chance to give. When James Randi performed experiments with psychics he tested them for the numbers of correct things they say versus the numbers of incorrect things they say. It turns out that during a reading the psychic fails statistically, that is, the psychic gets only a few things correct from a big collection of statements that she makes. This is not mathematically surprising. But what psychic believers do is only focus on what the psychic gets correct and ignore all of her mistakes. This is why people who go to psychics are so impressed. The same is with prayer. If we only focus on the confirmed prayers and ignore the denied prayers it is really nothing impressive.

It also depends on what we pray for. I divide prayer into three categories. First category I call the "common prayer". Second category I call the "additional prayer". Third category I call the "miraculous prayer". Common prayer is prayer that religious people may say very day. Common prayer consists of common everyday life. An example of common prayer is a man prayer for God so that God would make sure that he will always have a good job in his life. Or a parent asking God to make sure that his children do well at school. Additional prayer is prayer that asks for out of common requests. For example, suppose a person is poor and prays to God to make sure to give him some money. This is something which does not happen from day to day. Or a person praying to God to meet a good friend of his life in person. Miraculous prayer is prayer that would classified as a
miracle if it was to occur. For example, a young teenage girl is depressed that she has tiny breasts so she prays to God to have large breasts. The next day she wakes up her tiny breasts are gone and she has super enormous sized breasts.

Let us examine each one of the prayers rationally and skeptical. Common prayer is not impressive even if it has like a 99% success rate because it is after all "common". Having a steady income is passive. Being healthy is passive. Losing much income is active. Becoming sick is active. A person who prays to be successful in business and always is successful in business is not impressive, this is something that we expect. A person praying to be in healthy condition is not impressive, most people are healthy, being healthy is the norm. If you are open-minded to test common prayer then try this for me. Try not prayer to God. Or pray to someone else instead, like Charles Darwin. In your everyday prayer replace "God" by "Darwin" and see what happens. If you are not comfortable doing that then just try not to pray. Do not worry, nothing will happen. What was the norm for you will stay the norm for you. There is nothing statistically impressive about common prayer. Thus, if people say "God confirms my common prayers" it is not a statement of statistical surprise. Having refuted common prayer let us move on.

Additional prayer is something which is not the norm but it is something which can still be coincidental. An example I gave above is that you want to meet your friend in real life that you did not see for many years and one day you meet him in the street. Is that impressive? Of course, I would certainly be impressed. However, I would put this into consideration. Read my third paragraph where I explain exactly what I mean. When it comes to additional prayer what people do is only focus on the success not on the failure of the prayer. In a vast number of cases additional prayer is not confirmed. Let me give you another example. If I was to get a straight flush in poker, that is certainly impressive, but that does not imply God is helping me in poker. Indeed, it is a one time thing only, something I would expect from probability alone. Try this experiment, if you are open-minded, do not pray, just wish. Anything you want, just wish it. You will notice that wishing and additional prayer has the same statistical rate. Having refuted additional prayer let us move on.

The final kind of prayer is miraculous prayer. Prayer that just cannot happen by coincidence. A girl growing super large breasts in a single day is a miracle. It is something that cannot happen naturally. Or suppose that your friend lost his head after he was in a car accident. You pray to God and a week later your friend comes back to life with a magically grown head. That is a miracle, out of the natural order. The problem with miraculous prayer is that there are no seen miracles and so there are no instances of confirmed miraculous prayer. Miraculous prayer never works. In fact, what is interesting, I think, is that religious people never pray for miraculous things. If their friend loses a head, they are not going to pray for him to come back to life because they realize that cannot happen. All prayer is either common or additional.

I want to remind the reader one more thing. Think back to the Holocaust. Consider all the Jews, gays, blacks, communists, and so forth who prayed (well, maybe I should not put communists on the list because these communists where also atheists) to God while there were in the death camps. Were their prayers confirmed? No. Millions of people dead, none of their prayers confirmed. What is this? Am I supposed to be impressed with this God character? The statistical outcome of all the prayers of these people in the death camps is completely unimpressive. What bothers me even more is when some lucky survivor managed to escape and Jews say "oh look, what a miracle". How am I supposed to respond to that? It is so insulting to say something like that to all the dead people. You say it is a miracle that one unique person managed to escape while all the millions of people were dying? Nothing impressive whatsoever about that to me. Stop looking at the exceptional cases and concentrate on the whole.

If I pray to God not to confirm my prayer, what would God do?


  1. What people either generally do not understand or do not want to understand is that God is independent. He is not in a position where we can force Him to do anything.
    Further, due to His unique perspective on life, the universe and everything, He has an understanding of what is best for us that exceeds our own. A simple example: a diabetic child may want that piece of chocolate cake really, really badly but the responsible parent knows that saying "no" is the best answer even if it leads to a temper tantrum.
    We have an obligation to pray independent of whether or not we expect a positive answer. God, in return, gives us what is best for us even if we don't sometimes understand why.

  2. "We have an obligation to pray independent of whether or not we expect a positive answer. God, in return, gives us what is best for us even if we don't sometimes understand why.": Let us assume that you are correct and that there is a God and that God wants a relationship for us. Let us assume that this is true. Even if you are correct, I am correct also. Because my entire post was about how prayer stories do not indiciate a God. That was my entire argument. My argument summarized in a sentence is that confirmed prayers do not indiciate a God. That is it. Thus, even if you are correct that there is a God, I am correct also. Because I am only saying that arguments from prayer are terrible arguments for God.

  3. I would agree with that. I was trying to add the other dimension - that people who relate to God like a parent who can be bribed with the word "please" repeated enough time don't understand what prayer is in the first place.

  4. "that people who relate to God like a parent who can be bribed with the word 'please' repeated enough time don't understand what prayer is in the first place.": Even though I do not accept the Tanach as the word of God I still nonetheless like to preform scriptural exegesis (not sure why I like to do that). We can bring a demonstration of what you say from the story of how Avraham prayed to God to save the evil city of sinner. Avraham prayed all the way until there were only 10 just people in the entire city, all that time God rejected the prayer of Avraham. The inference from this is that God does not change his plans once they are settled, prayer is therefore futile in changing of the fate.

  5. I just calculated the odds of roulette for ha ha's. In the long run you can expect to lose $.05 a turn. Not quite 50-50. Just sayin.