My Statement (and Conversation with Sheri K F and Jaime C) on 3/24/12

This one’s a mixed bag, not in terms of content, but in format. It consisted of statements made to a believer with others’ comments included. I’m filing it under Statements to Believers, though, not in Conversations with Theists (especially because one of the conversationists probably isn’t a theist). As per my last Statement to Believers, I’m paraphrasing the believer who did not grant my permission to use his or her words. As for the others, I’m using my tradition of their first name and last initials. My text is in italics. All others’ is in bold. My comments are [in brackets].

via Sheri K F
This is cute and an example (of the power of prayer).

[What followed was a video with this description:]

3-yr-old rejoicing after being healed
Amazing! A three year old girl rejoices and praises God for healing her. Unbelievable praise and worship to God for healing.

Jaime C

Nothing like pseudo science to help us re-assure ourselves that the spaghetti monster will cure everything…i do not honestly think that a 3 year old can be used as an example of faith and factual information.

You’ve gotta be kidding me. There’s not one shred of evidence that prayer affects anything in any way ever. Percent of people healed through prayer alone: 0. Percent of people healed through medical science, their bodies’ natural defenses, or some combination thereof: 100. Don’t teach kids lies about healthcare. It’ll kill them. Just ask the Christian Scientists.

Believer

I respect your opinion, Jaime C and Anton Hill. Different viewpoints = good.

The fact that if I let go of my iPhone, it will fall to the bus floor isn’t my “opinion.” It’s the result of observed, tested, physical laws. So, too, is the fact that prayer is 100% ineffective. There’s been at least one study that’s demonstrated this.

If these are just “opinions”, then we must also say that water’s boiling point of 100 degrees Celsius is also an opinion. And yet we don’t.

Power of prayer flunks an unusual test
www.msnbc.msn.com
In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

Believer

Christians and others could produce scientific articles to support the opposite. (study conducted by Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC with 4,000 people that proved prayer lowered blood pressure) Some think the Holocaust never existed and they can produce evidence. Others know it existed and they can produce it. Some scientist swear that White Dwarf’s are the exit of Black Holes. Others say that’s ridiculous and can present evidence. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

Jaime C

β€Žprayer may reduce blood pressure but it never cured cancer…I am 100 percent sure that should anyone suffer from a deadly disease, they will not be cured by prayer alone…stating that prayer alone can “cure” it’s dangerous and irresponsible. Knowledge is key…

Believer

I’m not sure, Jaime C. This article from msnbc.com seems to indicate otherwise: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/7293237/ns/today/t/did-prayers-god-help-cure-cancer/#.TvERatSvKSo Maybe it was his belief in prayer that worked, maybe it was the prayer itself.

Did prayers to God help cure cancer?
today.msnbc.msn.com
Patient and doctors believe divine intervention helped aggressive brain tumor go into remission.

β€ŽI invite Christians and others to provide objectively verifiable, testable, reproducible evidence of their supernatural claims. They don’t because there is none.

Did the Duke University study conclude that prayer lowered blood pressure, or that the calming effects of the activity–similar to the calming effects of controlled breathing–lowered blood pressure? I ask because there’s an obvious difference & if we’re being honest, we’ll admit that. In addition, even if it could be proved that supplication to a deity lowered blood pressure, I wonder how you’d prove the effects as divine intervention.

Holocaust denial is a different beast. There is abundant evidence to support the events of the Holocaust. All the deniers have are conspiracy theory and indoctrination. They can’t produce evidence that falsifies Holocaust claims.

The question of White Dwarves and Black Holes sounds like it’s still under study and will require future study to determine. The point is that in your first example, those who deny have a specific agenda and no evidence. In the second example, it sounds like the evidence is incomplete or inconclusive. Not the same things as the supernatural claim that prayer has a positive, measurable effect on one’s health. If believing or not believing were truly the issue, we wouldn’t need the scientific method. And yet just about everything in your life that you take for granted was the result of falsified hypothesis, not hope for divine intervention.

Quantum physicists say that your iPhone dropped, or didn’t drop or you didn’t even have a iPhone in the first place — it’s all happening at once.

I read the article and lo and behold, the patient underwent chemotherapy and surgery. Medical science wins out again. But even had he relied on prayer alone, that doesn’t prove prayer to be an effective cure because cancer naturally remits all the time. In the end, there’s not one shred of evidence that proves a direct causal link between prayer and cures of illness. Of course if you know of any that can be conclusively demonstrated, by all means, post away. πŸ™‚

But let’s pretend that there’s any legitimacy to this prayer bs. What does that say about God? That He has no reservations helping folks out with their blood pressure, but when it comes to serious illnesses, He suddenly turns into an arbitrary, petty prick? What, He’s good to help out the guy in the article, but when it comes to thousands of kids who die of cancer every year, let ’em eat cake?

And what does it say of a god who uses prayer like the mafia client system? I don’t pray, so He won’t help me, but some Pentecostal somewhere does, so he’s cured?

Why anyone would choose to believe in such a necessarily arbitrary, petty, favorite-picking asshole, I may never understand. πŸ˜€

[Then there was a brief, completely silly, irrelevant exchange.]

Seriously though, even if we grant the possibility of multi-verses in which my iPhone doesn’t drop (which it would, because there’s not necessarily a bar on the laws of physics in an alternate reality) that doesn’t change the fact that in this reality it will. Every single time. Objectively verifiable, testable, falsifiable, reproducible fact.

Separately, believing in possibilities such as prayer having positive health effects, but how do you feel about the theological implications I pointed out above. If it is true that God intervenes, how can we call any of His intervention or lack thereof just if, in the end, even one person suffers needlessly?

Believer

I don’t think God favors one person over the other. Thousands of people die every year after using chemo-therapy and I don’t think the doctor’s intentionally poisoned them. Sometimes it’s the belief that the prayer will work, the faith in it (not just the hope) that does 90% of the work. The rest is a miracle and some would say luck. From my experiences, I definitely believe in a Creator but based on yours, maybe you don’t and that’s OK.

Clearly we can’t ask God why He does what He does, though I’ve never been clear on why that should be. If the guy is omnipotent and omniscient, surely He’d have come up with a way for us to do so by now.

But anyway, you’re positing contradictory possibilities here.

  1. that God favors no one,
  2. but that thousands of people (children included) die every year who use chemotherapy. You acknowledge the realistic possibility that doctors most likely aren’t poisoning the thousands (of children). What this leaves us with is thousands of (children’s) deaths that we can assume A. God knows about (omniscient) and B. can stop (omnipotent), yet doesn’t. You could cite free will, except it doesn’t apply as a person’s (child’s) reaction to chemotherapy isn’t one of choice. What that leaves us with, then, is that God knows of these thousands of (children’s) deaths, can do something to stop them, but chooses not to.

But wait a minute, you then posit that

3. the belief that prayer will work makes it do 90% of its work. I understand you’re giving a for-argument’s-sake percentage, but let’s extrapolate. This means that there exists a supernatural mechanism by which a measurable amount of healing can occur in someone’s body. If God created and controls the universe, it follows that, like the laws of physics, that which governs the mechanics of prayer falls under God’s purview. Thus, whether prayer works is ultimately up to God. If it doesn’t work, it’s because God isn’t allowing it to work. But wait. I thought He didn’t play favorites. πŸ™‚

Your

4. possibility allows for miracles, which I’m sure we agree means a suspension of natural laws by way of direct divine intervention aka God did it. It’s inescapable, then, that what you posit not only allows for God picking favorites, but that such action is inevitable and entirely contingent on whether someone prays.

In the end, if you’re right, what we’re left with is exactly what I’d proposed. God can, but arbitrarily chooses not to. A fickle, petty jerk. If you have an alternate, viable explanation, I’d love to understand it.

Your statement of personal experience, unfortunately, is irrelevant in the face of evidence. A former colleague’s 8-year-old daughter died of Chron’s Disease. A friend of my family has survived into his late 50s with the same disease. The girl was Catholic and so presumably prayed. The family friend is Jewish and I’ve witnessed him pray. A friend died an hour and a half before her allegedly life-saving liver transplant surgery. Steve Jobs got his, but died about two years later. I don’t know that the friend prayed, but I doubt it. Jobs may have prayed, but as a Buddhist, not to any god. What we’re left with is one believer dies and another lives. One non-believer dies and another lives (for a while). Either no rhyme or reason or a dispassionate, fickle, petty God who had no problem with the girl’s, friend’s and Jobs’ suffering and deaths, but needs the family friend to stick around. Such action makes no sense to me, maybe you can help me understand how it makes sense to you.

Sheri K F

guys, i’ve kept quiet until now… reading your posts from afar… but i would add that the video is about simple child like faith. something science will never understand. something no one understands until they actually take a step in it. but also i would add for jaime the following to think about: science is based on laws. but even the greatest scientists have not ever been able to explain who created the laws – and they all agree that the laws began somewhere by something… so, who created the order of this grand universe and all that is in it. even einstein is quoted as saying that “something” created the laws… – not that i want to debate you, as it would be futile… i just thought i would throw out something for you to research. but of course, to believe that a Creator did indeed create the “laws” of the universe, it would again take a simple child-like step of faith…

i did enjoy your conversation my friends….

β€Ž@Sheri I understand what you’re saying, but I heartily disagree. Childlike faith is still faith. The girl is asserting a cause-effect relationship. She felt bad, prayed to God, now feels better. She believes that those were the necessary chain of events. If that were the end of it, I’d happily grant that it’s just a silly girl asserting a silly thing. No harm done. But notice that her dad encourages it.

  1. She got it from somewhere, most likely a parent and
  2. he’s reinforcing it. Will this have detrimental effects on her life? Who knows? Maybe she’ll grow up and realize that this was a silly moment. Or, maybe she’ll grow up having thousands of these silly moments reinforced and become an adult who neglects proper medical care for prayer.

β€Ž@Sheri To say that science will never understand this is simply not true. We know that children imitate what their parents say and do. We also know that parents are their children’s authority figures. And for good reason. If children were left on their own to survive, they wouldn’t. Children believe whatever their parents tell them until they reach an age of greater maturity. But even though that’s the case, it’s irresponsible for parents to fill their kids’ heads with bullshit, especially bullshit that might one day harm their kids.

β€Ž@Sheri It’s an undemonstrated premise to suggest that “someone” created scientific laws. The elephant in the room is that a god did it, but this idea has just as much evidence to support it as the notion that invisible, pink, scientific-law-creating elves did it. And we all know that no one takes the latter seriously. It’s true that most scientists agree that scientific laws may have had a beginning, but not that they were created. This may seem like nitpicking semantics, but it really isn’t. To say that something exists is an observational statement of fact. To say that something is created involves an undemonstrated external agent–at least until that agent is demonstrated. Again, with the “who” created this universe is a false assertion. As Hawking has said, we now know that there is no need for a “who.” There may have been one, but it would have to be proved.

β€Ž@Sheri It’s problematic to quote famous scientists (as I just did) because even if Einstein said that, and even if he meant an agent with a personality like a god, you’re still relying on his authority as a world-famous scientist as evidence that his claim is true. But remember that he got a few things wrong. My citation of Hawking is a little different because his assertion that the universe doesn’t need an external agent has been objectively verified by others. Remember, theologians and apologists often cite Newton both as the discoverer of Newtonian mechanics and as a theologian. This is true. He was both. But it’s also true that he spent much of his life attempting to discover the secrets of alchemy–the “science” of turning base metals into gold. There are no sincere, serious, academic pursuits of alchemy these days, are there?

I was more than a little irritated that neither Shari nor the believer fully addressed the points that I’d raised. It was this typical approach of shotgun assertions with no evidence to back them up, relying almost entirely on the social-contract notion that all sincerely believed ideas are equally valid. It’s this weird copping out of responsibility over one’s beliefs because one automatically also sort of politely validates the facts. It’s also such a weird thing for believers to assert something with no evidence, acknowledge the lack of evidence, but then say they’re perfectly okay with that, usually hand-in-hand citing personal experiences. And as I’ve expressed numerous times, when I’ve asked believers what their personal experiences are that convinced them of their supernatural claims, even in the face of contrary evidence, no one ever answers me. What are they hiding from? Ridicule? That’s certainly possible, though not guaranteed, but also not unwarranted. For one to commit one’s self to bullshit beliefs, sing a song about open-mindedness, but then be completely unwilling to justify those beliefs reveals a very basic, yet completely tolerated dishonesty that we wouldn’t tolerate under any circumstance of real consequence (except maybe politics). Yet everyone seems to find it completely acceptable in social discourse. Is the social contract so vital to human existence that we must shove aside our honesty and responsibility over our beliefs? I’ve never been convinced that this is so, but time and time again, it seems to be the case.

It also really irritated me Sheri’s (mis)representation of science. This misrepresentation and ignorance of how science works and what it has proved I find to be a greater problem than the relatively trivial issue of whether kids believe in the “power” of prayer. What these behaviors regarding science point to is at least a grand misunderstanding of science, but more possibly a mistrust of science. What bothers me about the latter is that people often vote the way their emotions or pastors tell them with little or no regard to facts. A mistrust of facts can, and often does, lead to gross irresponsibility in issues as large as foreign policy and as personal as your child’s healthcare.

If you’re going to believe in something for no good reason, at least be honest about it. If you’re not so stubborn and dishonest as to believe in something for no good reason, then learn the facts and change your mind.

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