Does God answer prayers? Spectator contributors vote “yes”

Along with 12 others, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has weighed in at the Spectator, giving examples of how their prayers were answered (there are also some Village Atheists who scoff at the idea):

The problem with this whole thing is that there’s no control group: no survey of whose prayers weren’t answered. It’s pure confirmation bias. The one scientific study of the issue, a medical report on the efficacy of intercessory prayers, showed no effect; in fact, heart patients prayed for by others were marginally but nonsignificantly worse at healing. But maybe God only answers prayers for you when you say them, in which case saying “We’re sending prayers for X and his family”, which we see so much on television, is useless.

Welby’s gloating tw**t:

Here are a few examples of answered prayers:

The Most Reverend Justin Welby:

The most recent was when I was going to see some incredible work done by a group of young women helping trafficked sex workers. I prayed that I could find, in my complete bafflement, something hopeful and good to say to the young women with whom they worked. Some words came, and for at least one woman I know much changed. That was the best Christmas gift of that year.

Well, that’s convincing! A trained speaker managed to come up with some words. Glory be to Him!

Cardinal Vincent Nichols:

Prayer comes readily when we are distressed or in danger. Agnosticism falls away. It has been so for me. Many years ago, I prayed intensely at a time of crucial decision-taking. I was puzzled and distressed. Should I really be a priest? Slowly, clarity came. I decided with a sureness and a trust beyond reason. My prayer was certainly answered. Since then, in 47 years as a priest, even in the hardest of sorrows and confusion, never — yet — have I had a sense of being abandoned by the Lord, never losing the deep stability of that decision.

Prayer never came readily to me—I’ve never prayed since I became an atheist, and don’t remember praying before that except for the “Now I lay me down to sleep. . ” which I told my Dad when he tucked me in as a child. In any case, any answer would have been an answered prayer since Nichols was just asking for an answer. If he decided to not become a priest, I doubt that he’d even have pondered the issue—or contributed to this article.

Anthony Seldon (author and headmaster):

I prayed as a young man for a wife I could love all my life and who would make me happy. I never thought anyone would want to share their life with me, so often had I been chucked by girls. In Joanna, my prayers were answered 100 times over.

Of course, there are all those people who utter the same prayers but don’t get the same answer. 50% of marriages in America end in divorce. And those can’t all be atheists!

The same goes for the next one:

Bear Grylls (chief scout [?]):

Every day I pray for my family to be safe and for us to stay close together — the Lord’s hand has been good to us and has steered me safely home through so many trials and tough moments. It isn’t always the big dramatic stuff but it is a prayer often answered and for that I am always so grateful.

Do these people ever w0nder about all the children who get cancer, and whose parents’ prayers aren’t answered? Why does the Lord’s hand smite innocent children?

James Dyson (entrepeneur):

Most of my prayers have been answered; I’ve been very lucky. When I left college, I wanted to make and design my own product and sell it all over the world which is exactly what I’ve been able to do. I’m just enormously grateful.

Some people aren’t so “lucky.”

Libby Purves (journalist):

Raised by nuns, a Catholic mother and a robustly atheist ex-Presbyterian father who said one should ask no favours, certainly not of invisible divinities, I am a bit conflicted. Prayers of thanks and for the dead are fine; but as a theological nerd, I guiltily know that demand-prayers are a debased form, not far from that loopy ‘Cosmic Ordering’ philosophy endorsed by that great thinker Noel Edmonds.

So yes, I have prayed. Usually at sea in small sailing-boats, at night, in Atlantic gales. And we have always been delivered to a safe harbour. So far.

And if she had died at sea we’d never know her story. How many prayers by sailors like that haven’t been answered? We’ll never know. Which brings us to the last one:

Frederick Forsyth (author):

I had scrounged a lift on the third-from-last plane out of the dying enclave of Biafra at the end of the Nigerian civil war. Behind us on the airstrip, the last two aircraft waited in the pitch-black night. My lift was on a clapped-out old DC-4 flown by its owner, an Afrikaner really called Van Der Merwe. The destination was Libreville, Gabon. The fuselage was overloaded with dying Biafran children and Irish nuns.

After takeoff, also in pitch darkness, somewhere over the Niger delta, the port outer coughed and gave up. We struggled on three engines towards the ocean. After turning east towards Gabon, the starboard outer began to cough and splutter. It was clear the old rust-bucket would never fly on two and was sinking towards the sea on three. Van Der Merwe began singing hymns in Afrikaans. I prayed quietly, convinced it was all over. Outside, the moon on the water came closer as we nearly skimmed the ocean.

Fortunately, the French had built Libreville airport close to the shore. The dangling wheels almost clipped the sand dunes, then we were over concrete. At that moment the coughing, spluttering engine gave up the ghost and the crippled aircraft dropped on to the tarmac. The Afrikaner stopped singing and began to thank the Almighty. It would have been churlish not to follow suit.

I wonder how many people were praying on the four planes that went down on September 11, 2001? Surely there were many!  Oh. . I forgot: the hijackers were praying for the opposite outcome. Ergo, Islam is the right faith.

Why is the Spectator publishing such piffle? All it shows is how credulous people are.

h/t: Matthew Cobb


  1. Tom
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Just the usual cherry picking of the happier consequence of chance events.
    Self deception is so easy it must have been useful to our evolution, perhaps as a place of emotional refuge.

    • bobkillian
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:01 am | Permalink

      Oh, you scoffers. Shame on you. I had my prayers answered 50 times yesterday. 50 times!

      I only had to flip the coin 100 times.

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        He answered ALL of your prayers. Fifty times he said, “not yet”.

  2. Jacob
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure that self-deception is necessarily the benefit. Couldn’t it be an aversion to type-ii errors? We’re willing to accept and believe intention and agency where there actually is none.

    After all, it is less costly to be wrong thinking there is a lion in the brush when it’s actually the wind than the other way around.

  3. Steve F
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    As the parent of a 10 year old child who died from osteogenic sarcoma, nothing is more insulting to me than the arrogance displayed by these believers who somehow think that their trivial desires were more important to their god than my son’s life.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      I certainly can’t think of anything more insulting.

      I have worked with children with life threatening conditions – my philosophy with them was that everyone should treat every moment as a gift, because it can end any moment for everyone. I read a study (which I can’t find anymore on the internet) which found that people with muscular dystrophy who don’t believe in god cope better than those who do — because they don’t torture themselves with “Why did God do this to me?” and then try and rationalize it somehow.

      Children have such extraordinary resilience at times, and a better grip on reality than adults…

      I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, Steve, but I can almost imagine imagining.

    • ploubere
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      My sympathies for your loss. Yes, it often strikes me that those who don’t suffer loss are uncaringly smug in their belief that god protected them, and heartless in their lack of concern for those that prayer did not protect. The single survivor of a plane crash thanks divine intervention and doesn’t think twice about the rest who died. It’s pure selfishness.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      I’m so sorry, Steve; I can’t imagine there’s any worse situation in the world.

      But I can imagine some of the horrible things the religious may have said to you–with the best of intentions, of course.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      Condolences, and indeed. Such self-centeredness.

    • nicky
      Posted December 13, 2016 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      Yes Steve, that is unmitigated horror. I thought myself unlucky -and pitied myself- to have lost my beloved young wife (27) to breast cancer nearly four months ago, but the pain of losing one’s 10 year old to cancer must be unbearable. Can’t keep it dry now….

      “…who somehow think their trivial desires were more important to their god than my son’s life.” What more can one say? Prayer’s case closed.

  4. GBJames
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    The older I get the more I conclude that people are just stupid.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink


    • alexandra Moffat
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink


    • ploubere
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Humans certainly don’t excel at rational and critical thought. And I count myself at times.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Well, they are. With technology where it is, it takes fewer and fewer smart people to effect advances while more and more can simply reap the benefits while uttering “durrrrrr”.

  5. George
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    My prayers were answered when I was 12 years old. I was in sixth grade (catholic school) when we had our vocation talk. The boys and girls were separated. A nun spoke to the girls, the young hip priest spoke to the boys. He left the priesthood a few years later and got married. Basically, we were told to open our hearts and listen for god’s calling to become a priest or nun.

    Up to the point in my life, I was catholic because I was told I was catholic. My “faith” was pretty mechanical. But if god was the most important thing in my life, maybe I should listen. So I began to pray really hard, tried to talk to god and became an atheist. Hallelujah! My prayers were answered.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:53 am | Permalink


  6. Steve Pollard
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Well, out of the 15 or so contributors, at least 4 are atheists or sceptics (Snow, Holland, McKay and Lamb), Lederer is taking the piss, Seldon and Dyson are evading the question, and Guppy is writing gibberish. Take away the professional god-botherers, and that doesn’t amount to a very convincing litany of belief in today’s UK.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Hmm. You can interpret it that way if you like, but the fact remains that they’re all paying lip service to religion. Which one of them said “uh, no, prayer is bollocks”?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        The ones they didn’t print.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      Tim Rice was definitely taking the piss too.


  7. Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always found it interesting that the religious are happy to pray for victims of natural disasters, but they never pray to avert natural disasters before they happen!

  8. Marilyn
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    My comment to people who tell me how prayer worked for them is “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      My last stopped clock was only right once a day.

      • Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        24 hour clock, no doubt.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          I thought you’d get it. On the other hand, I know one person who’s clock would only have been right every 38.9 days had it broken.
          I’ll give you a hint – he used to drive a rover, but now the same rover is driven mostly by shes.

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

        Most of my clocks are digital, so when they’re stopped, they’re just blank.

  9. Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Prayer works. Except when it doesn’t.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      And when it doesn’t there are jolly good reasons, I can tell you.

  10. Carl
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    These testimonials provoke disgust. In need of a good “mind cleansing,” I found Spinoza’s preface to his Theological-Political Preface perfect for the job.

    It starts:

    If men were able to exercise complete control over all their circumstances, or if continuous good fortune were always their lot, they would never be prey to superstition. But since they are often reduced to such straits as to be without any resource, and their immoderate greed for fortune’s fickle favours often makes them the wretched victims of alternating hopes and fears, the result is that, for the most part, their credulity knows no bounds.

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      I think Spinoza also predicted a significant portion of Trump supporters.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      What a beginning. Yep. We’ve been a this game for a long time.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      Indeed. If you take the world view of Naturalism seriously there is no ‘luck’ or ‘bad luck’ only circumstance.

      Praying to a god makes no more sense than calling on ‘Lady Luck’ over the throw of dice. It might make you feel better temporarily but it might also make you feel worse later. But you will remember the successes and forget the failures.

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget Descartes, who told someone that he should by all means pray, but only for what god would have done anyway.

      (Descartes, as far as I can tell, was really a closet deist.)

      • Posted December 13, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Or as George Carlin put it more bluntly, “Why fuck up the Divine Plan?”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 13, 2016 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

          Because we can? [vbeg]


  11. Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Bear Grylls (chief scout [?]):

    Every day I pray for my family to be safe and for us to stay close together

    For those who have t heard of Grylls he’s a TV presenter who has climbed Everest, crossed the Atlantic in a dinghy, climbed mountains in Antarctica, paramotored across the Himalayas, crossed the Nothwest Passage in an inflatable boat, etc.

    All very impressive – but if his prayers were for his family to stay close together they must be small enough to fit in his backpack.

    • serendipitydawg
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I think the query relates to Chief Scout

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I will refer to John Loftus new book – Unapologetic. They even see evidence where it doesn’t exist because they take the lack of evidence as evidence for their faith. When it comes to prayer they count the hits and discount the misses.

  13. zytigon
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Jesus realized the efficacy of prayer and was speaking satirically when he taught his followers to pray for those who persecuted them.

    In the same way I pray for my enemies and get the desired result many times, though admittedly not reliably

    “Lord please extend the same level of loving care to my enemies as you have bestowed on my nearest and dearest in their hour of need – F’all”

    See Romans 12v20 which is a replay of Proverbs 25v21&22 – the idea of being nice to your enemies in order to somehow make them feel bad ,”heap burning coals on their head”
    Isn’t that a bit negative ? Wouldn’t it be more positive to try to win people over by treating them in a friendly way. I think I read on a post by Prof. Ceiling cat about how churches use pot luck lunches etc to win converts and that atheist out reach could maybe do with trying something similar ? How about a round of golf followed by lunch at the club house on a Sunday ?

    [ For avoidance of doubt I think Jesus could well be a fictional character & I don’t pray for real as I think there is probably no supernatural realm to listen. It makes me feel good to think how much time I have saved by not praying ]

  14. bric
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    In his story ‘Hell is the Absence of God’ Ted Chiang imagines a version of the world where prayer and angels are an actual part of life:
    it’s not a pleasant place –

    It was an unexceptional visitation, smaller in magnitude than most but no different in kind, bringing blessings to some and disaster to others. In this instance the angel was Nathanael, making an appearance in a downtown shopping district. Four miracle cures were effected: the elimination of carcinomas in two individuals, the regeneration of the spinal cord in a paraplegic, and the restoration of sight to a recently blinded person. There were also two miracles that were not cures: a delivery van, whose driver had fainted at the sight of the angel, was halted before it could overrun a busy sidewalk; another man was caught in a shaft of Heaven’s light when the angel departed, erasing his eyes but ensuring his devotion.
    Neil’s wife Sarah Fisk had been one of the eight casualties. She was hit by flying glass when the angel’s billowing curtain of flame shattered the storefront window of the café in which she was eating. She bled to death within minutes, and the other customers in the café— none of whom suffered even superficial injuries— could do nothing but listen to her cries of pain and fear, and eventually witness her soul’s ascension toward Heaven.
    Nathanael hadn’t delivered any specific message; the angel’s parting words, which had boomed out across the entire visitation site, were the typical Behold the power of the Lord. Of the eight casualties that day, three souls were accepted into Heaven and five were not, a closer ratio than the average for deaths by all causes. Sixty-two people received medical treatment for injuries ranging from slight concussions to ruptured eardrums to burns requiring skin grafts. Total property damage was estimated at $8.1 million, all of it excluded by private insurance companies due to the cause. Scores of people became devout worshipers in the wake of the visitation, either out of gratitude or terror.

  15. Bender
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Frederick Forsyth is one of my favorite authors. I’m surprised to see his name in the list, I didn’t take him for religious.

    • Anir
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 12:36 am | Permalink

      He was telling a Van der Merwe joke?

  16. Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Truly winning the genetic lottery contrary to a commonly held view is not having good looks but getting a balanced-functioning-brain: a noggin that can identify, tend, and regulate thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. These answerers are unable to validate their own experiences therefore the looking to an imaginary figure for such closure. Instead of a ghost in the machine, it is more of a ghost within a ghost.

  17. Davey
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Maybe God does answer prayers. It’s just that he’s always saying ‘No’.

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      M*A*S*H considered that (in the context of a patient who thinks he’s/has taken on the person of Jesus):

      Dr. Sidney Freedman: Is it true that God answers all prayers?

      Captain Chandler: Yes. Sometimes the answer is “no”.

  18. chris moffatt
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how long it took the french to build that concrete runway at libreville after the afrikaner starting singing hymns? doG sure works fast and so must have the french. Or is it possible that the afrikaner already new about the strip at Libreville and flightplanned it for just such an emergency – as any competent pilot would? no doG needed.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Also Mr Forsyth obviously didn’t think he’d be spotted by someone who is familiar with Libreville airport. The runway is parallel to the shore, with no dunes for several runway lengths at least north (well, NNW) of the runway and th bulk of the city to the east and south of the airport.
      The flight plan described is bloody weird. But I’ll just have to take that as evidence that Forsyth couldn’t navigate his way out of a wet paper bag using C4 and a flame thrower.
      Doesn’t he write spy novels or something? Any other evidence of navigational incompetence? Did he maybe write the script for “Krakatoa East of Java”?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:15 am | Permalink

        Umm, even for someone who’s never been there, Googlemaps satellite view is available.

        From Biafra (southeast Nigeria) to Libreville is almost due south-south-east, no need to ever turn east as Mr F claims. Also, Libreville runway (as Aidan states) is dead parallel with the shore, and an approach from Biafra would be dead in line with the runway – thing is, that route would cross the coast 12 miles before the airport and from there the route appears to be over, first jungle, then built-up areas. Probably just as well, then, that they didn’t land short, but for reasons of inhabitants, not sharks.

        But Mr F is a writer of fiction.


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

          Last time I flew in by daylight there were several large barracks-like areas at the north of the runway which I took to be army areas. No landing space there.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      Minor quibble – Forsythe says the destination was Libreville, so ’emergency flight plan’ doesn’t apply in this context. However, turning east (as per F’s story) makes no sense since any other destination down-coast from Biafra – whether Angola, Namibia or even Cape Town – would result in exactly the same course right over Libreville.

      Put another way, if he had to turn east for Gabon he must have been on a course for Antarctica.

      No divine intervention needed, just geography.


  19. Graham
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Apologies for not having a reference for this anecdote. Back in the day when most respectable people in England went to church on a Sunday it was customary to pray for specific members of the royal family by name. Someone thought to look at the statistics for the age of death of these senior royals compared to those of similar rank who did not merit being prayed for by name. Whilst probably not statistically significant I believe those prayed for by name died on average slightly younger than their non-specifically prayed for peers.

  20. Graham
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    “Prayer comes readily when we are distressed or in danger. Agnosticism falls away.”

    Shut up, shut up, shut up you stupid man. When I sat next to my wife as she was dying prayer did not “come readily”. Indeed it didn’t occur to either of us for one moment to waste our time on anything so daft.

    This pathetic fantasy of the religious; that all we atheists will start praying when we’re in a fox-hole. Most ‘fox hole’ situations only serve as a reminder, if one were needed, of how absent or inadequate this god creature really is.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t actually waste time reading the confirmation bias bullshit. This is a variant of the “no atheists in foxholes” line of bullshit.
      Strangely, with helicopter engines flaming out and the sea coming towards us really really fast, prayer wasn’t on my mind. Getting a hand to my seat harness release, the other hand on the seat frame forwards (to orient me to the door after the crash), and bracing head and neck to try to reduce concussion – they were on my mind. Either the pilots were praying furiously in my stead, or they were carrying out the engine restart drills. One worked.
      Finding one demand valve leaking water into the airstream, the other bubbling gas from an o-ring displaced by a collision with the wall, and some 230-250m to the nearest air surface likewise prompted a paroxysm of fixing the gag, not genuflecting and praying for mythological support.
      No prayer in my foxholes.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Graham: Hug!!

      • Tom
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        No atheists in foxholes?
        Acute fear can make children of us all, it’s sometimes an emotional regress, first seeking aid from friends or comrades etc , then seeking help from a saint or god, then at the absolute end calling for a mothers help.
        Gods, saints, demons etc slot nicely into the middle and really not much to do with prayer.

      • Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Saving your flesh and saving your soul are two different things. Summoning a creator is not the way. Fools are fooling fools, unless you read for yourself, the words you condemn.

  21. E.A. Blair
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    This joke made the rounds when I was in Catholic grade school:

    There was a boy who wanted a new bike for his birthday. For the entire month before the day, he added a request for the bicycle to his bedtime prayers. When the day finally arrived, no bike. That night, he prayed again, saying “God, I really really need that bike.” Again, nothing. That night, he took his mother’s statue of the blessed virgin, wrapped it in newspaper, put it in a box fastened shut with duct tape and put it in the back of his closet. That night, he knelt at his bed and said, “Okay, God, if you ever want to see your mother again, let’s talk about that bike…”

    • GBJames
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink


  22. Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Prayers to Putin work. Just ask Paul Manafort and Rex Tillerson.

  23. keith Cook ¿
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    If it worked every f**King king and queen would still be on the welfare gravy train, technically not a prayer but close enough by force of numbers and repartition… God save the peasants!

  24. Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Why do we have to beseech God anyway? Is God some sort of egotistical sadist making us beg for favors?

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      That description sounds awfully familiar.

    • Mike
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Got it !

    • chris moffatt
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      It isn’t the non-existent doG making us beg for favours; it’s the all too present priests, imams, rebbes and whatever other free-loaders who figured out millenia ago that being the channel to magic was a whole lot better than working for a living like the peasants and slaves have to. Power, status, first dibs on everything and a never-ending supply of the gullible? what’s not for them to like? No performance guarantee needed – answers to prayers can be either yes or no and besides doG moves in mysterious ways doncha know!

      • Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        The Bible points those people out specifically. Have you read the Bible? Do not lie. If you say you have not, then your words carry no weight and you can only be a fool.

        • GBJames
          Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          “you can only be a fool”

          We’ve got a live one here, folks.

          • bobkillian
            Posted December 15, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            Foolish me, weighing evidence.
            If only I had known to read The One Book (what was it again, the Quran? The Book of Mormon? Dianetics?) … anyway, something dictated by an angel.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

              Beat me to it.

              I’ll add myself to the list of fools (though I did read, under protest, enough of the bible to convince myself it was crap). I haven’t read: the Book of Mormon; the Talmud; the Koran; the Bhagavad Gita; the whatever-it-is-L Ron Hubbard cooked-up; or anyone else’s Holy Book. Therefore I am by definition a complete fucking idiot.

              Unfortunately, Travis (I’m guessing) probably hasn’t read any of those either except so by his logic he is also four-fifths of …


              • bobkillian
                Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

                Read one, you’re indoctrinated.
                Read three, you’re inoculated.

              • Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

                “Complete fucking idiot”

                You are of course referring to idiots who fuck, right? We’ve got a pandemic going on with that over here in the U.S. if the events of 2016 are any indication.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 16, 2016 at 12:50 am | Permalink


                Sadly at my age the adjective is more hyperbolic than descriptive. 😦


          • Posted December 15, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

            Plus some meta ad hominem attacks. Ad hominem alluding to a book with one of the earliest recorded versions of the said fallacy. Impressively well done and doubly wrong to boot!

  25. jeffery
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve said for years that prayers are like lottery tickets: you only hear about the ones that are winners. I like to tell people, too, “When you pray, you’re basically gambling that what you want to happen lines up with God’s will as to what will happen. Problem is, if what you want to happen IS in God’s will, there is no way it can NOT happen; if what you want isn’t in God’s will, there is no way it WILL happen. So- why pray? Is an all-knowing God not aware of these needs until you tell Him?”

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      And as if on cue, a church roof has just killed dozens at the inauguration of a bishop in Nigeria.

      • Wilbur Right
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        And remember a while back when the earthquake hit Tibet on a Sunday morning and killed the worshipers in church?

        That Sunday afternoon I read a FB post by someone in Kentucky who was thanking God for answering her prayers to have nice weather for their church picnic.

  26. Sastra
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I refuse to entertain believers’ stories of “answered prayers” until they clarify what it would potentially look like if an honest, sincere prayer is NOT answered. How do you know if God’s ignoring you?

    They can’t do that. Even death and destruction are somehow spun into God knowing what’s best for the honest, sincere petitioner. Or, perhaps, prayer is not for God, it’s so that we align ourselves peacefully with the will of God. That one only fails when you do.

    If every possible outcome is positive, then there’s no reason to rejoice over a positive outcome as if it were a miracle.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      Yes – there is no possible argument you can put to these people that would satisfy them as evidence that prayer is a pointless waste of time.
      If the desired outcome comes to pass it’s ‘hallelujah prayer works’! If it doesn’t it’s because God works in mysterious ways and we cannot know his purpose and not to be construed as a failure of prayer.
      If you or I were to pray experimentally for a set of outcomes and find that the prayed for ones happen no more often than predicted by chance alone then it is not because prayer doesn’t work but because we were not doing it sincerely.
      There is always a get out of jail free card for the effectiveness of prayer when it comes to such people.

  27. Posted December 10, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s obviously confirmation bias in action, but since by its nature none of us perceive our own confirmation bias it’s nigh on impossible to convince a believer they’re mistaken in their answered prayer conclusion. By the same token it’s conceivable that atheists are wandering around wishing for things that then come true and attributing it to blind good luck, when in fact God is sorting shit out for them! (Might make a good movie.) Seems less likely though, but I think I would have to think about this a bit to figure out why that is.

    As others have pointed out, coincidences and fortunate turns occur all the time, so *even if* God were answering prayers, it is inevitable that sometimes a prayer will be followed by a happy coincidence that ‘answers’ the prayer that is not God’s work.

    So how do believers tell the difference between a ‘genuine’ answered prayer and a happy coincidence?

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I wondered when I saw this article’s headline whether or not there’s something about how prayer is done that makes one especially susceptible to confirmation bias.

  28. loren russell
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    My last brush with organized religion was around age 12, my grandmother congregation of Southern Baptists [who were really misfit Frisian Calvinists]. The pastor was fond of saying that all prayers are answered, but God likes to say no.. The ex-Calvinists all seems to think that was quite witty and quite right.

  29. Frank Bath
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    I have prayed – hardline atheist that I am – simply because at bedtime I had no-one else to talk to.

  30. john mckeating
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    What about the prayers to Jesus made by Millions of child victims (sexual,phyical and mental). I would say pretty much 100% unanswered. The Bishops know all this, which is why they are not worried about Judgement Day. Only about their comfort in this life, as they know its the only one they get.

  31. Peter Vander Straete
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    To believe in the efficacy of prayer is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

  32. Christopher Bonds
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    There is absolutely NO difference between prayer and consulting the I Ching. All that is happening is that one is coming up with a “reason” for what happens. Randomness is anathema.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the value of the I Ching (or any similar divination system) is more than it seems, because partway through the divination process, you realize what you want the outcome to be, making the actual process superfluous. As Piet Hein wrote:Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
      and you’re hampered by not having any,
      the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
      is simply by spinning a penny.
      No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
      while you’re passively standing there moping;
      but the moment the penny is up in the air,
      you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

        I love that! 🙂

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted December 11, 2016 at 12:20 am | Permalink

          Besides all that, the I Ching (in the Baynes translation, at least) is a good vehicle for meditation.

      • Christopher Bonds
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Piet Hein’s “Grooks” helped get me through college.

        I can see that they are not always the same, now. There is prayer that asks for something specific, like healing a loved one; I was thinking more of a prayer for guidance in making some decision. Even with that, the two aren’t the same. With prayer, the belief that you got an answer depends on whether or not you still feel indecisive. With the I Ching, you get a set of texts that are often cryptic, and you have to interpret them in such a way as they are applicable to your question. That’s a different process.

        Years ago, when I used the I Ching to help me decide something, I got an answer that I didn’t like, so I did it again. That time I got the hexagram called (in the Baynes-Willhelm translation) “Youthful folly.” Part of the text said “It is not I who seeks the young fool; the young fool seeks me. At the first oracle I inform him. If he asks a second time, it is importunity, and I give him no information.” Or something like that. I was impressed, of course.

  33. Posted December 10, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    If those are the best evidence of prayers answered, it’s pretty clear that if a god exists he/she/it pays no attention to prayers and depends on the faithful to interpret random events as answers.

  34. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    In defence of Libby Purves, that final ‘so far’ says it all.

    I’m reminded of a priest in NZ South Island who was reported to be leading his flock in praying for rain. A reporter asked him if God answered such prayers and he said ‘Yes, always. Eventually’.

    I still don’t know if he realised how ironic that last word was. In New Zealand, quite possibly.

    As for Frederic Forsyth, though, one might as well curse God for trying to kill everybody on board and nearly succeeding…


    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      One also has to wonder why God should put itself out for a few people on the ‘plane whilst being apparently indifferent to the fate of all those left behind in Biafra.

  35. Posted December 10, 2016 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Wow! So many prayers for things that stood a decent chance of happening anyway were realized! Praise the Lard!

  36. Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    I pray for the day when no one on the planet believes in imaginary super-beings.

  37. eedwardgrey69
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    If something bad happens to you despite praying, it’s your own fault for not praying hard enough!

  38. Kevin
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 7:38 am | Permalink


  39. Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    As good scientists, we must consider the matter empirically. In one year, Cleveland won the NBA Championship, the Cubs won the World Series, Trump was elected President, and Army beat Navy. Under the circumstances, how can one seriously deny the power of prayer?

  40. Bob
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Lord who made the lion and the lamb,
    You decreed I should be what I am.
    Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?
    If I were a wealthy man.

  41. Posted December 11, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Again, why does god hate amputees? Never ever answering their prayers?

  42. Curt Nelson
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    It was a particular failure of prayer when Dylann Roof went into a church and shot nine people to death who’d spent the previous hour praying for him.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      I was going to say, I can quite understand his motives. It must be extremely annoying to be prayed for and demands retribution.

      However, sadly, it seems you meant ‘praying for him’ in a non-specific and metaphorical way, in which case shooting the perpetrators of prayer does seem to be a slight over-reaction.


  43. Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I am pretty sure it is not a request line, but an opportunity to learn and grow from your Father. There are almost always 2 kinds in every family. Imagine 1 kind who request works from their Father, and the 2nd kind who ask for clarity from their Father so they might be able to know him. That is basically the difference between a true Christian vs a false Christian who is deceived by works and seeks to order and summon their creator based on their own assumptions before seeking understanding and truth from him. Part of the assumption is that you are speaking to somebody who sacrificed his only son for you, which was himself in the flesh. They are not willing to make a sacrifice in order to attain truth, so they turn to the author of confusion, and that is why your worldly world is spinning faster and faster now and how the heck so many people could believe their father is a monkey or a serpent. The ultimate factor is to have a Father who would sacrifice himself to make sure you could know him. I am aware of my rite of passage, so why would you want to crucify me for that? You do not have to answer because I already know.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Well, that’s some of the finest word salad I’ve seen all day!

      • Posted December 11, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Salad is good for you! I am glad you are not vulgar yet. I was waiting for it.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          Now that sounds pretty troll-ish.

          I think I’ll depart from my usual commenting style, resist the temptation and keep you in suspense. 🙂


          • Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            My 2nd comment is a gesture of peace to let you know I do not behave in vulgar ways. But you see trolling. What did you see in my 1st comment? I am trying to be sincere with you. I am an Iraq Vet and now I am a fully booked 3D Animator and VR Artist. I am not some strange freak troll. I was raised in the Bible belt and I was always turned off by fake Christians so I can relate to how you feel. I have recently read the Bible for myself and it has been a very different and surprising experience. That is all I really want to say. I apologize if I offended your group.

            • GBJames
              Posted December 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

              You haven’t offended “our group”. You have offended reason.

              More to the point, you seem to be new here, so I would suggest you check Da Roolz, particularly Rool #5.

              You can find them at the top left of the page.

              • Posted December 11, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                I like your rules! I follow the teachings of Jesus and believe he died on the cross so we could know for sure it was him (because no serpent would do that), but I do not practice rituals or do repetitive actions like religious heathens do.
                My best evidence is the war that is going on in every man’s heart. But that is not easy to convey, so I will try to speak to your living room with something from your living room. Patterns are found everywhere in life, right? It is what makes life able to build itself. Functioning patterns communicate with other patterns through agitation with desire and intent and will. We observe and learn how to interact with these patterns which are coded with more information than we have been able to open. The codes can even be manipulated. Like I said before, I am a VR artist and the new challenge is creating an experience with free will (unlike traditional movies on a screen), but still convey a desired experience. This perspective had me questioning my former agnostic views. I finally studied the KJV Bible for myself and I was reassured that my rejection of the popular Christians and other religions was actually proper according to the Book. They are described as false and wish to fill their own desires rather than seeking truth. You are right to be turned away from them. You are right to study for yourself. You are right to honor your guests in your living room. You have many things which Jesus teaches, and this may be a question of; do you relate to him? Rather than; can you prove his existence?
                While all of this evidence is easy to reject, it has been a way for me to perceive how it might not be so crazy and offensive to reason. Thanks for hearing me out!

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 12, 2016 at 2:17 am | Permalink

              Specifically, I saw “I was waiting for it”. It sounded like an invitation to vulgarity, to me.

              But I’ll accept your statement that you didn’t mean it that way.


              • Posted December 12, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                I will confess, I probably did sound a little stand offish, and it is rude for me to assume that you would be vulgar. I would rather not provoke people to reveal anything other than their best side to me. So do you guys consider the simulation theory or is it solely the big bang theory? Did you know that inducing suspended belief in a human requires no substances, which means it can be done on a mass scale at nearly no cost. People advancing the VR industry are starting to look at techniques used by people such as Derren Brown to achieve results that simulate what we know as real life. This is not proof of anything, but definitely interesting to ponder! Do you think it still offends reason?

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

                Hey it’s not rude to assume that I personally might be vulgar, since I often am. [g] But others on this list aren’t. Anyway, PCC (Jerry) polices this list to ensure that vulgarity does not descent into acrimony.

                As to what theories ‘we’ might consider, I’m pretty sure there’s no one approved theory (or set of theories) that is espoused by everybody on here. I suppose most will, almost by definition, accept evolution, else why are they here, but I’m sure you’re aware it’s more of a broad framework than a precisely specified theory. We also, mostly, tend to be atheistic and sceptical.

                As to your statements, they seem to be the result of personal reflection, I’m not sure I would come to the same conclusions, in fact I probably wouldn’t. But it was GBJames who said they ‘offend reason’, I’ll leave it to him to elucidate.


              • GBJames
                Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                Vulgarity and offense… meh.

                What annoys me is word salad. Blithering on about “your Father”, etc., is standard Xtian obfuscatory claptrap.

                Our host’s rule states that if you are going to wander in and testify to “your lord”, then you must first explain why your idea of god is correct and all the other ones are wrong. How do you know what you claim to know?

                Following up with apologies for “vulgar ways” and apologies for offense don’t do it. Word salad is an offense to reason.

      • bobkillian
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        Translated from the original Gibberish.

        • Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          The point I want to focus on is the nature of man’s logic and immaturity when asking if there is a creator. We are still stuck on the idea that if you can’t request or summon something greater than yourself, then it must not exist. This is the prime difference between a faithful Christian vs a religious Satanist or Pagan heathen. The post here is displaying people who are upset that something greater than them did not fulfill their request. They assumed that they knew what would be best for this world wholly. As if asking for the Sword of Righteousness would be the way to receive it. That child would not be looked favorably upon in comparison to the child who was patient and learned why his Father chose what he did. I feel like you guys are better than the heathens who try to summon God. You do not want to be fake like the people you have seen. I am not fake. Can you tell? This is based on my personal experience, and I thank you for listening. I do not wish to offend, but to only say I think you are way more righteous than the fake Christians I have seen. I would rather confide with you, and tell you what my experience has been, rather than to tell somebody who would just say; yea me too I got my ticket to heaven too. You demand something real and that is righteous. I pray that if our Father wills it to reveal himself to you, and to bless you, that you will be able to receive. If it is not his will, I should pray to understand why. Imagine how a Father would view his children. If you can’t know for sure either way, then the way you lean reveals the truth of yourself. That is a great way for a creator to get you to reveal exactly who you are and what you would do in your heart before deciding if you could protect a more pure and divided kingdom from the known filth that has always been, and is kept for reasons of our growth. Very much like gardening or raising children. Not so far fetched I think. Especially considering how long our theories of existence and this world remain theories to this day.

          • Posted December 15, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

            No, this post is not full of people who are upset that something greater did not fulfill a request. Most of us wouldn’t “make a request” in the first place as we don’t think there’s a request-fulfiller.

            When we bring up unfortunate events like children dying from terminal illness its not to fume at a request-fulfiller we don’t even think is there, it’s to point out that if god answers prayers about what job offer to take (as I’ve heard many theists claim), why is he ignoring dying children? A wealthy businessman gets an answer about whether to take the promotion in California or the one in Texas, but Timmy is going to die from leukemia. Multiply this scenario by many millions and it doesn’t look like there’s a benevolent god at work, it looks like there’s no god, and sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad things happen.

            But most of us here aren’t even making that point. We’re pointing out other logical inconsistencies and the all too human, all too natural psychology behind belief in prayer.

            • Posted December 16, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

              If there is a creator, would we be able to judge or understand his choices? I admit, I can’t prove it to you. I am just saying, as a VR experience designer, I am facing different questions than the usual secular approach to understanding the form of the world. I am now having to look at the expressions which manipulate the form. The form being anything with a mesh, volume, or texture (such as a living creature or a house or a road etc.) is dependent on some type of expression to give it…. well behavior or life. That is how I create an experience for users that they will be able to interact with and exercise free will, but still get to the same ending no matter what path they take. The users might have clues about me, but they do not know me. I could make a VR simulation for my son, and it could be designed to teach him many things and it could reveal to me what he would be inclined to do if he thought I could not see. If I were really into it, I could even use subtle techniques to induce suspended belief (Such as hypnosis or any other of the endless techniques to do so). I would not do that, because I do not feel capable of executing something like that without running into too many variables that I have too little experience with. But, if science says Aliens must be real, and that we most likely evolved from Apes, and that existence is really from “nothing”, I still think I should hold those as theories no higher than a simulation theory. Because if it is a simulation, and it is coded like it looks, then you can bet the bank that there is a designer. I can reproduce this effect already, and people are moving fast to make it even more real. But have any scientists ever made something explode from nothing? Have they ever found the missing link? Why do you think they would choose to believe in Alien life which we would most likely be dominated by, rather than a creator who wanted you to grow like a Father should? These are choices of belief still. Many people can and are reproducing the creator theory in a lab, and many people are lining up for the chance to transfer their life / perception / conscious or whatever you want to call it, into a computer system. Imagine living inside a windows operating system. Sound like Hell to me. That would be like Inception.

              • bobkillian
                Posted December 16, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                Seriously, Travis. You’ve come here to argue for creationism and against evolution, without knowing anything about evolution. Your questions are elementary and easily answered if you’d educate yourself.

                So try this. Buy a copy of Why Evolution is True, read it cover to cover, and return here to ask better questions.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 17, 2016 at 12:34 am | Permalink

                “Imagine living inside a windows operating system. Sound like Hell to me.”

                First thing ya got right all day.

                That’s why I run Linux. [vbeg]


              • Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

                My wife and I use Linux for our personal use, but we still have to use Mac and PC for work. Too bad there is not a movie where somebody attempts to live in the latest Windows OS. I would definitely watch that!

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 18, 2016 at 2:01 am | Permalink

                I will admit that was a blatant side-track. Sometimes** I can’t resist such temptation.

                A movie along those lines sounds like an intriguing idea. Windows specifically, or any modern operating system?

                (**Pretty frequently, to be honest)

  44. Posted December 12, 2016 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    I prayed that if God were not real, he’d demonstrate it. And he did.

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