UPDATE: Adam Rutherford reminded me that it was the now-demonized Francis Galton who did statistical tests on the efficacy of prayer. His most famous is finding out that British Royals, who are prayed for constantly, didn’t live any longer than non-royals at a similar level of well being. Galton did related studies of the success of sea voyages accompanied by prayer versus those with no prayer. Again, no effect. And, more recently, I’ve written about the Templeton-funded study of intercessory prayer that found no effect of such prayer on the rate of recovery from cardiac surgery (in fact, those who were prayed for did marginally but not significantly worse). This constitutes direct evidence against Brown’s implicit thesis. (But read the last paragraph of the NYT story I’ve linked to so you can see how the faith try to rescue God.)
Of course not! The ubiquity of a belief doesn’t tell us anything about the truth of that belief. Several hundred years ago the whole world believed that infectious diseases were caused by things like God’s will, or miasmas, or the Jews.
They were wrong.
Our species has grown up since then, because science, and science alone, has told us why those earlier beliefs were wrong. The problem is that science can’t disprove an equally unfounded belief in a deity. God is slippery, and smart theologians are paid to make him slippery, because they’d be out of a job if everyone was an atheist.
But that’s what the evidence says, so far as it exists, for we can make plenty of arguments against certain conceptions of God. The Abrahamic omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving deity, for instance, is disproven by the many innocent people who die of physical factors like earthquakes or cancer. (Theologians have a number of magic tricks to get out of that argument.) As the late Victor Stenger said, “The absence of evidence is evidence for absence—if the evidence should be there.” And certainly any god worthy of its name, who wanted people to obey and worship him, would make his presence unequivocally known. The evidence should be there.
It isn’t. Using Bayesian analysis, the priors for an Abrahamic god are low.
But forget that. This article, from the conservative site WND, tries to argue that because most people pray (even atheists, they say!), it’s evidence for God’s existence, and atheists are out of luck. Click to read:
Michael Brown uses injured football player Damar Hamlin, who is recovering (though I doubt he’ll play ball again) as an example of the ubiquity of prayer. I saw this many times on television, even with news anchors on local news who send out “thoughts and prayers”:
Around the nation, in response to the life-threatening injury to Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin, people prayed. Hamlin’s teammates and coaches prayed. Millions of fans joined in prayer, tweeting their support. Even on live TV, sports commentators stopped in the middle of their broadcast to pray.
But this is only natural. During times of crisis, especially life and death crisis, people turn to God.
We know the situation is grave, we know we cannot change things ourselves, and we know that only God – an all-powerful being who cares – can turn the tide.
That’s why, at such times, people do not turn to atheism. They turn to God.
Even non-religious people pray. In fact, many agnostics and soft atheists even turn to prayer.
It continues, showing that the God they are talking about is, of course, the God of Christianity:
As expressed by Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, “It is interesting to me as a person of faith that we tend to go to that core place [at moments of tragedy], that we start talking to God and talking about talking to God.”
He added, “I just find that rather refreshing in an affluent culture that has so much that we tend to ignore God that something like this happens and it reminds us of our own mortality, and we begin to talk about praying and talking about God. … It speaks to the yearning deep inside of us.”
But to ask again, what about Orlovsky’s sports and media colleagues? Were they also happy with him praying on live sports TV?
Yes, many of them were positive on this as well. As one headline announced, “Dan Orlovsky Praised After ‘Beautiful’ Prayer for Damar Hamlin Live on Air.”
Among those quoted in the article were ESPN presenter Ashley Brewer and Super Bowl champion Ryan Clark.
In Brewer’s words, “This is amazing, I teared up watching this in my living room today. Proud to call you my teammate & brother in Christ.”
This is what happens when, as a nation, we are drawn into a life-and-death crisis.
This is what happens when, suddenly and unexpectedly, in front of our eyes on TV, the health and well-being of a relative stranger now becomes our personal concern.
This is what happens when we realize that we need help outside of ourselves.
People pray, and prayer is welcomed rather than ridiculed.
It’s not all that welcome on this website, because, being an atheist, I think prayer is useless. If it makes you feel better, or helps you meditate, go for it. But don’t think that anybody up there is listening and will help you. For if he was and did, there wouldn’t be kids dying of cancer all the time.
Now I don’t think author Brown is trying to convince himself of anything; he’s already lost to the delusion. Nor is he trying to convince his fellow religionists, who have also drunk the Kool-Aid. I think he’s making fun of atheists by showing that we’re trumped by the ubiquity of prayer. And that wouldn’t bother us, he thinks, unless he thought that prayer’s ubiquity was evidence for God. People wouldn’t be praying all the time if they didn’t think there was really a god to pray to! Checkmate, you heathens!:
The reality is that we always need God. It’s just that, when all is well, we often forget about Him, putting our trust in ourselves and leaving Him out of our thoughts entirely. Many of us even become hostile to faith, doing our best to keep it excluded from public life. And then a crisis wakes us up as we recognize our own frailty and remember that death could be near at any time.
May we not forget these realities as life gets back to normal and, we hope and pray, Damar Hamlin makes a full and even miraculous recovery.
And may those who ignore or even scorn the idea of God think again. Eternity is always just one step away. Then what?
If the Bible is true – which I am 100% sure it is, personally – one day we will actually give account of our lives to God.
That is a sobering thought.
The sobering thought is that people who can actually think can be so deluded that they give their lives up to a belief that is totally lacking in evidence. (Brown even has a Ph.D.!) Another sobering thought is that people like Brown think that somehow the fact that lots of people pray means that God is up there listening. A third sobering thought is that Brown has not a scintilla of evidence that the God he’s so sure we’ll meet is the God of the Bible rather than the God of the Qur’an—or any other god. As for the possibility that there are no gods, well, fuggedaboutit!