Egnor: We need to pray during this pandemic

Once again the creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor can’t resist scrutinizing my website and trying to find flaws in what I say. I suppose this is because he and his Discovery Institute colleagues, despite their confident assurances of two decades ago, have failed to make progress in getting the scientific community to accept Intelligent Design. So, like a frustrated pigeon pecking at a leaf, he pecks at me.

He’s really surpassed himself this time, though, for in his latest diatribe he claims to show that a.) prayer works during a pandemic, despite my mocking Mike Pence’s coronavirus response team praying together; b). Science’s rejection of gods, or at least its failure to seriously entertain divine actions in science—is circular and wrong; and c.) There’s strong proof that there’s a God.

This article appears in the site Mind Matters, which is run by the creationist Discovery Institute. Its theme appears to be that materialism (what I call “naturalism”) is false and that science can’t explain the material phenomena of the world. The usual guff! Click on the screenshot for a good laugh:

Let’s take Egnor’s three claims in order. Since he’s drunk the Kool-Aid, it’s easy to respond.

1.)  Prayer works in a pandemic. Egnor’s claims are indented.

The wisdom and efficacy of prayer in a crisis depends wholly on one question: is the prayer directed to Someone who is real, or is prayer based on a delusion?

If the Object of supplication is real, then prayer is probably the first thing you want to do in a crisis. A plea to the Boss is a fine preamble to the grunt work of managing a crisis. I’m a neurosurgeon, and I pray before each operation. It really helps.

If there is no real Object of supplication, then prayer is based on a delusion. But it’s interesting to note that, as historian Rodney Stark has pointed out, prayer and Christian faith during ancient epidemics saved lives because faithful Christians stuck around during epidemics. They provided care to afflicted neighbors who would not have survived except that they had kindly courageous friends to nurse them. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital—the world’s leading cancer center for children, was founded because of a prayer. So the focus and compassion evoked by prayer saves lives, whether or not God is there to hear the prayer.

This is Pascal’s Wager applied to prayer.  First of all, what evidence does Egnor have that prayer “really helps” when he operates? And whom does it help? If it helps Egnor operate, fine; a New Ager could also be calmed by rubbing crystals before an operation.

But the true test is whether it helps the patient. I doubt Egnor has any evidence for that, as it would require controlled tests. Do religious neurosurgeons who pray before an operation have better outcomes than nonbelieving surgeons? I doubt it, but the onus is on Egnor to show it. The only really good test of the efficacy of intercessory prayer in healing—the Templeton-funded study of healing in cardiac patients—showed no effect at all of prayer in healing, not even an effect in the right direction. The only significant effect was in the direction opposite to that prediction—intercessory prayer hurt the patients in one measure of healing!

And we don’t need a Christian community now during a pandemic: that’s been replaced by epidemiologists and, most of all, medicine and medical care, all based on materialistic science. 

Finally, has Dr. Egnor asked himself this: if praying to God stops people from dying, so God has the power to cure, why did God allow coronavirus to spread in the first place? It’s not just killing off evil people, you know: it’s taking babies who haven’t even had the chance to do evil, or learn about the salvific effects of accepting Jesus.  In fact, pandemics are one bit of evidence against the existence of any god who is powerful and empathic.

2.) Science’s rejection of God and divine intervention in nature is wrong because it’s circular. This is Egnor’s dumbest argument:

Of course, if God does not exist, Coyne is right to imply that prayer is based on a delusion. But here’s the point: if God does exist, prayer is essential.

So, I ask Coyne, does God exist? Coyne’s answers to the pivotal question have been puerile. His arguments center on an astonishing line of reasoning:

1) [S]cience is about finding material explanations of the world
2) Only materialistic explanations have been found by science
3) Therefore, no non-material explanations for nature are needed.

So Coyne uses science that expunges theism to refute theism. In short, he concludes that atheism is true by using a scientific method that presupposes atheism. Oddly, Coyne finds this logic compelling.

There’s no circularity here. Science is perfectly capable of sussing out supernatural explanations for things, as I discuss in Faith Versus Fact. If prayer worked, that would be one hint of a god or gods, and you can test that (n.b., it doesn’t work). If only CHRISTIAN prayers worked and not those of Jews or Muslims, that would be even more evidence for a god. And I discuss scenarios in my book which would convince many, including me, that there was a god. It’s just too bad for Egnor that none of this evidence has ever come to light.

In fact, there was a time when the supernatural and religion were part of science: when Newton thought God’s twiddling was necessary to keep the planets in their orbits, because Newton thought their orbits were otherwise unstable. Then Laplace showed that a naturalistic explanation explained the stability. There was a time when everyone thought the remarkable adaptations of plants and animals, as well as their origins, required a divine creator. Then Darwin came along and gave the correct naturalistic explanation. Over the history of humanity, one divine explanation after another for things like lightning, diseases, and plagues have been replaced by naturalistic explanation.

So here’s the lesson, which I’ll put in bold.  Science doesn’t reject divine or supernatural explanations because we rule them out in advance. We reject them because they haven’t been shown to work. (Sadly, my Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin once gave an unwise quote that has served repeatedly as ammunition for creationists who claim that scientists are sworn not to accept any evidence for gods, divinity or the supernatural. We’re not! Science investigates supernatural claims all the time.)

3.) Finally, Egnor says that the arguments for God’s existence are convincing. Here’s how he proves God:

It is noteworthy that Coyne’s efforts to refute the actual arguments for God’s existence consist of his insistence that he really isn’t so stupid and he provides a few links. He obviously doesn’t understand the arguments, nor does he wish to learn them.

If God exists, prayer in crisis is warranted and even essential. The arguments for God’s existence are irrefutable. Aquina’s Five Ways are a handy summary:

Aquinas’ First Way and a Stack of Books

Irrefutable, Impeccable, Inescapable: Aquinas’ Second Way

Aquinas’ Third Way: An Analogy to Moonlight

Evidence for the existence of God, as provided by Aquinas, actually consists of the same logical and evidentiary process as science itself, only with much stronger logic and more abundant evidence than any other scientific theory.

And, as Porky said,

And it is all. If there are going to be arguments for god that are convincing, they will have to be empirical ones, not theoretical lucubrations of ancient theologians.


  1. Tom Tetzlaff
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    “God” remains unavailable for comment.

  2. Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    One question Egnor doesn’t answer is why an omniscient and compassionate God needs us to pray for an end to the pandemic. Is it because He is just so busy and doesn’t know about it? Or is it because God wants us to grovel? Prayer makes no sense to me even if there is a Christian God.

    • Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      There is no god, it is just incoherent gibberish.

      Why give it a capital letter???

      Sorry – not ranting at you, just the world – having a bad week!

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        Shut up and go pray!

        • Alexander
          Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          Yes, go into a crowded church where you can breathe in the neck of the person in front of you!

      • Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink


    • Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      God hates gay sex, ergo, virus. I’ve heard this argument before, and yet every tsunami, every earthquake, every tornado, never seems to accomplish it’s mission of getting rid of gay sex.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        As I always used to tell my very baptist administrator, every time you see a rainbow god is having gay sex

        • JezGrove
          Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

          Truly the arc of the covenant!

  3. Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:47 am | Permalink


  4. Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I clicked on the screenshot, and indeed got not just a chuckle, but a hearty laugh. NOT, I hasten to say, from Egnor’s blog, but from the banner at the top of the page advertising the free digital book: The Case for Killer Robots. Years ago on my lunch hour, I was reading a short story by Robert Sheckly, “The Battle” and just as I took a bite of sandwich, got to the end of the story. Darn near choked to death because I was laughing so hard. Indeed, there is a case for ‘killer robots’ and Sheckley made it years ago. Enjoy.

  5. Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I like decent explanations, and so far science has the best ones. About god … learn about human history. Every event unfolds as if there is no god regardless of the definition. Take for example serial killers, childhood disease, viruses, even growing old.

  6. John Donohue
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Aristotle, the Father of Reason, was brought to trial after the death of Alexander. He was found guilty, and for some reason was not executed. He was deported.

    The charge: “Impiety.”
    His crime? He said “Prayer does not work.”

    • Alexander
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Doesn’t work for me either!

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    If prayer is good for the pandemic I am still waiting for the success of this prayer in Italy where they have the professional praying all day long?

    • A C Harper
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      “Prayer works in a pandemic.”

      During the Black Death the number of deaths of monks in monasteries were greater than the general population.

      Some people argue that the gradual loss of religious certainty started with the Black Death when the pandemic couldn’t be explained or mitigated by religious means.

  8. jknath1
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I was reading recently about the plague. The author stated that because the priests were the first and sometimes only people to administer to the afflicted, they were also most likely to die. I suspect they were the ones who were praying most vehemently for both themselves and their congregants. The fact that god wasn’t protecting the most religious amongst them began to change how people perceived religion.

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    What on earth is this man talking about? He sets up his own fallacious arguments and judges others’ arguments by his false reasoning. Everything he says and everything Aquinas says about the existence of god are prime examples of begging the question. A posteriori, indeed, as in Pope’s (Alexander, that is, and maybe Pope Alexander VI, too) “a posterior[i] trumpet” i.e., not just hot air but noisome flatulence: “If the Object of supplication is real, then prayer is probably the first thing you want to do in a crisis.” Since he assumes God is real, speaking about God, that’s begging the question. He capitalizes Object as referring to the Christian deity, or whatever.

    However, this is true: “If there is no real Object of supplication, then prayer is based on a delusion.” Right on, neuroscience dude. I’d love to see what areas of your brain light up in a fMRI when you’re spouting this gibberish. Might find Daffy Duck in there.

    Oh, and since Trump is real, I’m sure you think it’s a good idea for all those fundamentalists to supplicate him by touching the hem of The Chosen One’s business suit as they do in several White House photos. If only he were a delusion, too!

    No prayers are going to save any of us from the catastrophe he has created.

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      “What on earth is this man talking about?”

      Arrogance, perhaps. The arrogance of the believer who think his worldview is the Truth because it is his. Why bother to find good arguments when you are sure to know the Truth?
      To be so knowledgeable, he must at least be born from God’s thigh.

  10. EB
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Science doesn’t reject divine or supernatural explanations because we rule them out in advance. We reject them because they haven’t been shown to work.

    I’d say science doesn’t reject the observation of supernatural phenomena in advance, but does reject the notion of supernatural explanation, judging this to be incoherent. Even if intercessory prayer was discovered to be effective in a rigorous study, no further work could ground this observation in an explanatory schema. Newton’s invocation of the divine was to account for an observed phenomenon, but it didn’t constitute a mechanism, which I take to be a synonym for explanation. The basic issue is that a mechanism needs to consist of simple intelligible rules that account for the complexities of the world and the whims of god ain’t simple.

    • Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Well, yes, there could be further investigation, like who has to pray, whether Jewish or Muslim prayers work, etc. I do think that scientists would start entertaining supernatural explanations were there any evidence for them.

      • Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s got to be true, scientists can’t pre-judge reality. That idea misses the real essence of science. I don’t understand why some scientists make the argument that supernatural explanations are off-limits, unless they are just playing word games wth the definition of “supernatural”.

        For example, there could easily be evidence for a supernatural “quantum god” tapping out Bible versus to us in Morse code via a Geiger counter, for example. That wouldn’t even break any natural laws.

        • Posted March 10, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          “versus” -> “verses”

        • Posted March 12, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

          I would argue that we have *learned* that many classes of supernatural explanation are off limits. (Though conceivably it could have gone otherwise.)

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Turns out hundreds of communicants at Christ Church Georgetown have just been quarantined because the Episcopal priest handing out communion there has been diagnosed with Coronavirus.

    So I’m not so sure I agree 100% with your godly police work there, Lou Michael Egnor.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Heretic Episcopalians!!
      Of course the Lord will smite them! About time He did.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        In the good old days all He needed was the jawbone of an ass.

        • JezGrove
          Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          And the jawbones of asses are kept really busy in churches (and other places of worship, of course).

  12. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    ‘Because they stuck around’. Sticking around in greater groups is a fine recipe to select for virulence. It is widely thought (albeit not proven) that the ‘Spanish’ Flu got so virulent because of the cramped conditions in the trenches.

  13. Roger
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Is this the same Aquinas who logically demonstrated angels? Basically it makes sense that God would have angels to act as a go-between, QED. Or something stupid along those lines.

    • Posted March 12, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      The idea is the “great chain of being” that A. O. Lovejoy analyzed.

      The idea is that since we can conceive of intermediaries of power and so on, they must exist because god would not create gaps in creation.

      Remember this is the same scale that puts plants before animals, and a linear scale of animals, etc.

  14. Liz
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    “’Of course, there’s nothing wrong with praying in a crisis. Neanderthals no doubt proffered a few entreaties to their Zeus when a sabre-tooth tiger hunt went south.’”

    We know a lot more now, though, than the Neanderthals.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    “A plea to the Boss is a fine preamble to the grunt work of managing a crisis.”

    I recognize Bruce is an inspirational figure to many, but I’m quite certain he’s never laid claim to any particular powers pertaining to pandemics.

    Wasn’t being labelled “the future of Rock’n’Roll” as a 25-year old in 1974 enough of a cross for one man to bear?

    • JezGrove
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      But Bruce is Tougher Than the Rest, so maybe we could learn something from him after all?

  16. Posted March 9, 2020 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “If God exists, prayer in crisis is warranted and even essential.” Michael Egnor

    This doesn’t follow at all. Why would we assume that God is going to do something for us if we ask him that he wouldn’t do if we didn’t ask him. If God indeed has our welfare in mind it would follow that, being God, he also knows what’s best for us. If he doesn’t have our welfare in mind, asking is equally pointless. So even if one believes in God, as I happen to, I see no reason why prayer should be considered warranted or essential. Instinctive perhaps, but not warranted or essential.

    • Roger
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah really. Nice trick, Michael. If he wants to smuggle in conclusions like that hoping nobody notices, he should go be a diamond smuggler and maybe nobody will notice that too.

    • davelenny
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes. I was immediately struck by related thoughts on reading Egnor’s claim that “the wisdom and efficacy of prayer in a crisis depends wholly on one question: is the prayer directed to Someone who is real, or is prayer a delusion”. These are two rather different questions.

      The thrush, whose territory is my front lawn and garden, regularly (especially in the recent near drought) chirrups at my front door in expectation of food, but sometimes I don’t have food, or am busy, or just can’t be bothered.

    • Posted March 12, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Another famous theist (but not a Christian) once said (paraphrased):

      “By all means, pray. But do not pray for anything other than what god would have done anyway.”

  17. Simon Hayward
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    The STEP trial to which you refer never found any positive effects from intercessory prayer, but did demonstrate that patients who knew that they were being prayed for did worse than controls. It was a well contracted and well powered study but the negative data resulted in a journal editorial that among other things criticized the IRB who approved it for not considering negative responses to prayer.

    Krucoff et al American Heart Journal 151, 762-4 (2006)

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      I have no idea why that says “contracted” I meant to type “constructed” although on reflection “designed” would have been better.

      • Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        I can’t remember whether the negative data was statistically significant, but you sent me the paper (thanks) and I’ll have a look.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      I think the explanation is clear, if before the operation the surgeon would pray, or even worse, there was a whole prayer group praying for me, that would suffice to give me a second heart attack on the spot. In heart infarction patients the avoidance of stress is important, the greatest cause of stress is pain, that’s why morphine is a first line medication, but pain is not the only stress. Getting prayers would freak me out, it would mean the surgical team does not think their intervention will heal/help me.
      I’m surprised that investigation got through the Ethical Committee.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        Well now at least there are hard data on the harmful effects of prayer and an editorial saying that IRBs need to consider this. That should come up on a literature search. Puts the intervention into a difficult place for future testing – no positive effects and significant negative downsides, that makes it hard to justify.

        Of course it doesn’t really regulate the behavior of individual surgeons.

  18. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    “If the Object of supplication is real, then prayer is probably the first thing you want to do in a crisis.”

    Will all the dysrhythmic Christians who favor a moment of silent prayer before EMTs apply the defibrillator paddles please raise their hand — I mean, if they’re still able?

    • rickflick
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      You mean wait a full minute, while the patient is turning progressively darker shades of blue, without heartbeat or breath? Well, it would give God time to reconsider his decision to murder the guy on the floor. God sometimes needs some arm twisting.

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      I got the paddles back in 2015…frickin’ a-fib. I was given propofol, the nurse said it was the “Michael Jackson drug”. Looked like milk, and after they injected it, I could taste it; a very strange experience. Then I blacked-out, got (iirc) 200 joules of electric-love and came out ok 5 minutes later (longest 5 minutes of my life…could have been weeks for all I knew). Didn’t pray, but I actually thought about it since I was raised that way. Prayer is for pussies. (just kidding, sort of.)

  19. rickflick
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    “…why did God allow coronavirus to spread in the first place?” Easy. God IS real, but he’s a real dick.

    • revelator60
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      “Oh Lord, thank you for your precious gift of Coronavirus.”

      “You’re welcome! Here’s some for your family too!”

      • rickflick
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        I think the moral argument against the existence of God is a strong one, but it does leave open the quibble that he’s more of a Devil.

        • revelator60
          Posted March 9, 2020 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

          Hence the Evil God Challenge. Or perhaps we live in an inverted Cathar-type scenario where God has turned evil and the Devil is trying to save humankind from his domineering malevolence.

          • rickflick
            Posted March 10, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            Talk about schizophrenia inducing.

        • Marta
          Posted March 10, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          A) If the first two Commandments pertain to God and his big fat ego (when at least one of them could have been “You Shall Wash Your Hands”)

          and B) God wipes out babies, children, and pregnant women, in addition to sinners during Noah’s Flood;

          How is Satan worse than this God, who also ignored prayers and exhortations when 12,000,000 people were being murdered during WW2?

          How much of a fatuous moron do you have to be to worship this monster of a God?

          (asking for a friend)

          • rickflick
            Posted March 10, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

            Exactly. And remember the Hitch’s point – God stood around for 2 million years, with arms folded, watching mankind suffer crueley from lions, or diseases (probably died of your teeth). Suddenly 2000 years ago, he said, wait, that enough of that, I’ll kill my son. That’ll fix everything.

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    First of all, what evidence does Egnor have that prayer “really helps” when he operates?

    A control group he croaked by not praying beforehand?

    • Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Oh, its just that it makes one feel better. Centered. That is pretty much the only benefit of prayer. Sugar pills and lies.

  21. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Egnorance (noun): the state of arrogantly spouting non-sequiturs and begging the question on a regular basis.
    Adjective: Egnorant

    Note, I found on internet that ‘begging the question’ comes from an, well how shall we call it, ideosyncratic (?) translation of petitio principii, it might just as well be called ‘claiming the question’. (Among several other meanings, petere can mean to beg as well as to claim). The latter would go a long way to avoid the irritating use of the expression as ‘raising the question’. Irritating because it blunts a beautiful expression and hence empoverishes language. At second blush. 😁

    • Posted March 9, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Wikipedia writes:

      Nominative determinism is the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names. The term was first used in the magazine New Scientist in 1994, after the magazine’s humorous Feedback column noted several studies carried out by researchers with remarkably fitting surnames. These included a book on polar explorations by Daniel Snowman and an article on urology by researchers named Splatt and Weedon.

      So, when you see a piece by Egnor, just Egnor it.

      • JezGrove
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        Very good! I’ll be taking your advice.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      I hope you know that when I used the term “begging the question,” I did not use it in the debased contemporary sense but rather in its original meaning of a fallacious argument wherein, as you point out, the truth of the conclusion is assumed in the premises, which is precisely what Mr. Egnor and Aquinas do — the old Thomistic trickeroo, upon which Catholic doctrine is founded. Every argument for the existence of god, and everything that flows from those arguments, are examples of begging the question.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted March 10, 2020 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        The scariest current incarnation of the classic Catholic “intellectual” style is William Barr. He positively reeks of “dumb persons idea of what a smart person sounds like”.

        • Ken Phelps
          Posted March 10, 2020 at 9:06 pm | Permalink


  22. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Prayer is asking god to change his mind. That would mean the person praying knows more than god.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Yes, God got it all wrong, so we pray to him to change His erroneous ways. I like that. The Greek gods would have had no patience with that. They considered hubris, human hubris, the worst of all sins (or so I was told).

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        But there’s a heck of a lot of divine hubris in Greek mythology; in fact, much of Greek mythology is predicated on divine hubris. We all make our gods in our own image.

        • JezGrove
          Posted March 9, 2020 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          Yep – wouldn’t the world be a better place if the (non-divine) author of Genesis had got that the right way round!

    • Posted March 12, 2020 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      See above. Descartes (the theist of my earlier remark) seems to have thought that a prayer for intervention amounts to something like blasphemy.

  23. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Prayer, shmayer. If only the Donald could come up with a mocking nickname for this virus, I know he could lick it!

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Crooked corona!

    • rickflick
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Donald’s “nightmare”, e.g. “If only the Chinese hadn’t sent us, my nightmare, I’d still be the best candidate”.

  24. Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    If the Object of supplication is real, then prayer is probably the first thing you want to do in a crisis.

    An oak tree in a garden is real because two people can point at at the tree and agree that this object is now called “an oak tree”. They can have productive conversations about the tree by observing it, and comparing their notes. Now everything else they find is also in principle stuff to “point at”. They may use completely different languages and they may even communicate decades apart, when an author leaves notes written decades ago to a modern observer (must be an old oak tree then).

    This is not the case with religious “objects of supplication”. If Egnor is honest, he has to admit that there are countless “versions” of the biblical god alone. There may be as many biblicial gods as their are believers, or rather more (because a believer’s god may also change over time). Untethered from reality, an idea about god can take about any shape over a lifetime.

    Egnor has a serious problem, because it turns out that the referent of “God” is not an object that exist (in the conventional sense) which can be used to synchronise all those individual beliefs. There is no synchronisation between individuals, thus no reality. We know this because we can simply look at history, religous conflict or ask Christians to see if their idea of god converges on something real. To some he’s personal, to some he’s impersonal. To some he’s distinctly father-like, others see him as a cosmic entity beyond genders. Some ascribe detailed opinions to him, like what he thinks about fornication outside marriage, and yet others disagree on what god thinks on such matters.

    Ask two people if they know one “Bob”. Sure they do! They answer. Bob is my neighbour says one. He must have two houses then, because he also lives in my street! Bob sings in the church choir adds one, and in the 1970s, he was a construction worker says the other. He’s still married to his childhood crush Jane, but also divorced from Betty. He has two kids but also three. At no point do they wonder whether they are really talking about the same guy. They have in fact no curiousity about this at all. When they sit together they will exclaim, of course it’s just Bob! You know Bob, head on his shoulders and breathing air. It’s the same guy! And when the difference become apparent, as it did a few times in history, the conflicts over the correct version exploded.

    It turns out, Christian religious beliefs emanate out of scripture, i.e. story. Christians can agree on some aspects in the same way as readers of Sherlock Holmes can agree on established features of the famous detective. The referent of god is a text, not a real “object of supplication” that exists and can be experienced independently by observers (that’s why christians can have theological arguments about what the Bible or Bible scholars say about god, but cannot produce their own notes from their own observations and compare them with another).

    But Egnor is where he is, and is not open to reason. He believes in a story, which he mistakes for reality.

  25. Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Right now I am beginning to amp up my precautions agains this $#%&) virus.

    But I wonder what if Trump or Joe Biden get it, since they have to wade into the masses and shake hands all the time.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      It’s not clear to me what happens once a nominee on either side is decided should that person peg out before the election. I assume that if a running mate has been picked then we end up with Pence (if he hasn’t been ditched) vs whomever. Does each party have its own rules on this?

      If it happens before a convention then I suppose (but don’t know) that we are in brokered/open voting territory.

    • JezGrove
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      It would certainly be unfortunate if, as a germophobe, “president” tRump turns out to have had an advantage after all.

  26. Roger Lambert
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Surely, God made both the coronavirus as well as our susceptibility to it.

    Why would praying against God’s will not be blasphemy?

  27. Posted March 9, 2020 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    My theory, which is mine, on the prevalence of prayer is that we talk to ourselves in our heads all the time. I do it constantly, and some times I wake up to what I am doing and ask myself “Who the hell am I talking to in there?” For many, their answer is God, hence prayer.

  28. Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    We, like Ignor have got it wrong… god has answered our prayers and it goes like this:
    Fuck off!

  29. Mark R.
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    As I continue to say about religious folks- perpetual children.

  30. JohnE
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    As Professor Coyne noted, The most comprehensive study on intercessionary prayer to date (funded by the pro-religion Templeton Foundation) found that cardiac patients who were the subject of prayers recovered no more successfully than those for whom prayers were said and, in fact, cardiac patients who knew they were being prayed for actually fared somewhat worse (See the 2005 “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients – A Multi-Center Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer,” at Note also that in May of 2010 the “Clergy Health Initiative” (a seven-year begun by Duke University in 2007) published the first results of a continuing survey of 1,726 Methodist ministers in North Carolina which showed that, when compared with the health status of the general population, these ministers reported higher rates of obesity and significantly higher rates of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma (see Similarly, a 2013 study by the Clergy Health Initiative published in the Journal of Primary Prevention found that the rate of depression in the clergy was 1.6 times the rate found in the general population (abstract at That was consistent with the findings of a 2006 survey of 1,050 church pastors by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development that 71% regularly battled depression (, And lastly, how much more convincing than any study is the fact that children regularly die because their parents choose to pray for them rather than seek medical health? [See, for example, (reporting on how a 15-month old girl died of complications from an untreated baseball-sized cyst in her neck, an 11-year old girl died of complications from untreated diabetes, and a 16-year-old boy died from an untreated urinary tract blockage). Could there be anything more demonstrative of the sincerity and depth of someone’s faith than the decision to forego medical treatment for your critically ill child because of your complete and unwavering trust that god will help your child? Correspondingly, could there be anything more demonstrative of the inefficacy of prayer and the non-existence of god than the fact that these innocent children die? If there were any circumstance where a loving and compassionate god would be expected to intervene, wouldn’t this be it?

    • rickflick
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      It strikes me that Egnor may not be particularly interested in data.

      • JohnE
        Posted March 10, 2020 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        I’m sure it’s absolutely true that he’s not interested in data — or in reality in general.

        • rickflick
          Posted March 10, 2020 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          He’s a consciousness dropout.

  31. Taz
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Egnor actually claims there’s more abundant evidence for the existence of god than any other scientific theory?

    The man is delusional.

  32. rgbowman
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Tommy A heavily relied on Aristotle’s philosophy (which was, of course, pretty much all wrong: scala naturae, geocentricism – with its 55 spheres and movers), one of those pagan people. Likewise, Thomas believed in studying nature to find God; God reveals himself through nature, so to study nature is to study God. That’s what scientists do, is study nature. They just haven’t found a god(s), or a devil, demons, angels, or garden fairies. Furthermore, science does not test to prove a hypothesis, theory, law, etc. to be true, like religion does, it tests to prove if it’s false.

    • JohnE
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      God gave us science so that we could discover that he doesn’t exist.

    • JezGrove
      Posted March 9, 2020 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Does religion really “test a theory, hypothesis, law etc.” to be true? Or just make an assumption, and curse those who don’t make the exact same one?

      As an aside, isn’t it odd how the fiercest religious wars are often between believers in the same deity? You would think the creator of the entire universe would be above such petty internecine human squabbles, but apparently not!

  33. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    First, the usual observation, despite claiming to be non-religious the Discovery Institute can’t help but show its religion.

    Second, based on observation there are no working magic mechanisms of intercessory prayers, “souls” or “afterlife”, or “gods”. The quantum vacuum is an interaction closed system that our biochemical machinery bodies work in, and since we saw no room for magic “souls” they are rejected – this happened 3 years ago. The inflationary universe is a space and time but above all energy and work closed system of everything that is or could be, and since we saw no room for “gods” they are rejected – this happened 2 years ago.

    None of that is based on Bronze Age philosophical concepts of “circularity” or – worse – Egnor’s theology.

    • EB
      Posted March 10, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      What is the bit about something having happened 2 and 3 years ago? I’m assuming this is a reference to some landmark publications. Could you drop a couple links, maybe of the pop sci variety?

  34. eric
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    AFAIK, there’s pretty much no philosopher who thinks Aquinas’ five ways are sound arguments. A very brief summary of them:

    Way 1, 2, 5 are all variations on the prime mover argument. I.e. all things must have a cause, which is itself uncaused. Aquinas never even attempts to show why this has to be the Christian god, instead, he assumes his conclusion. IIRC, he literally ends these arguments with (the Latin equivalent of) “…which everyone understands to be God.”

    Way 3 is an argument that there must be at least one necessary being. Again, Aquinas just assumes his theological conclusion rather than give an argument for it, by stating “…which everyone understands to be God.”

    Way 4 is an argument that there must be a ‘best’ of pretty much everything (sort of like a Platonic form). Aquinas then states that this ‘best of’ must be the creator of the less perfect versions of itself. He then argues that the most-good being is God, and thus according to his argument, God must’ve created everything less good then God.

    It’s baffling why Egnor or any other Christian could think these arguments are convincing. Aquinas over and over again merely assumes the key thing he’s trying to prove (i.e. that the Christian God, and no some other thing, is the causa causans). And way 4’s argument is just a howler. No wonder Aquinas’ causa causans arguments survived in one form or another, while his #4 did not. It’s remarkably bad. The platonic ideal ‘Argument for God’ really created a bad one here.

    • Posted March 12, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      To be slightly fair, he does argue for the Incarnation, later, IIRC. (Badly, of course.)

  35. Rod
    Posted March 9, 2020 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    This is unbelievable!
    In Canada the media is very busy with Medical Officers of Health (Provincial head doctors) explaining the latest info and offering suggestions and sensible precautions….
    In the US you have some of the same and also a whole lot of nutbars claiming that prayer is the only option, that this is gods punishment for assorted perceived transgressions…..
    Why are those people given soapboxes in these situations?
    I’ll take the Canadian option, thanks.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted March 10, 2020 at 1:44 am | Permalink

      In the bible, blood shed screams out to him. Cain gets told off by his so called creator for killing. Apparently, the same creator remained silent over all killings past that point.

  36. KD
    Posted March 10, 2020 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    Not sure on this one.

    Let’s say Aquinas’s God exists.

    Aquinas’s God has the quality of aseity: God is not causally dependent on creatures.

    God also has the quality of impassibility: God has no affective attitudes or emotions towards creatures.

    The idea of a prayer or petition is to petition the sovereign, such that the sovereign feels pity or mercy or injustice at the condition of the petitioner, and intervenes. It requires both emotion as well as the ability of the petitioner to cause the sovereign to change his or her course of conduct.

    On the other hand, what do you do when you have a problem and you have exhausted all the possible useful activities you could do about the problem, and yet the problem vexes you anyways.

    What kind of gesture expresses the sense of angst and futility about that problem better than a useless gesture?

    And what could be more useless than petitioning a nonexistent and/or impassable being which by its nature cannot care about you in the slightest?

    Prayer is a performative act that symbolizes “giving the problem away”. It doesn’t matter if anything is actually there to take it. If anything, the nonexistence and/or indifference of God only enhances the absurdity of human existence.

  37. Posted March 10, 2020 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Prayer? Completely useless unless accompanied by sacrifices of goats. Everyone knows this.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 10, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      In some cases you can substitute a son or daughter. Or, so I’m told.

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