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"well How Do You Explain That?"


TheMathGuy
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You know that kind of conversation I'm referring to -- A Christian true believer tells you some story about a prayer of his being answered with an attitude of "well how do you explain that?" behind it. Perhaps God impressed upon them to call a certain friend in prayer, and when they did that particular friend was depressed and needed someone to talk to. Or maybe they dialed a wrong number and it turned out to be a payphone that rang and was picked up by a friend they were just thinking about (Google "God's Got Your Number" -- yes, someone's actually claimed to have had this happen!). Maybe they prayed for someone who had cancer and the tumor disappeared and the doctors couldn't explain it. Maybe they prayed for money and got an unexpected check in the mail. Maybe they prayed for God to heal them from a leg length discrepancy, and the shorter leg actually grew and the doctors can't explain why. As a scientifically minded person, how does one respond to such anecdotes?

 

-- Nate

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As far as I know, whenever such claims are investigated the scientific way, it turns out that prayer does not work. Combine with the fact that we tend to remember the extraordinary much better than the standard stuff and you have a pretty good answer to it all. You try sufficiently often, eventually a case will happen where it seems to have worked, and that one is remembered.

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As a scientifically minded person, how does one respond to such anecdotes?

Normally I laugh. Out loud. In the face of the person telling me this shit. Then demand hard evidence and not just "I hear tell that..." Bzzt. Sorry Cletus you've got to pony up a little more than that.

 

mwc

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The answer, from my perspective, is quite obvious: if prayer works, why doesn't it work all the time? I know Christians have all sorts of excused for this (i.e. god always answers yes, no or maybe), but this is not what we see in the Bible. The Bible teaches that god always answers prayer that is according to his will. The Bible shows prayer being answered by god (just read through the book of Acts, for example). However, millions of Christians across the globe offer up prayers daily (and, in some cases, multiple times a day) that never seem to be answered at all. I would guess (and that is all it is) that only a fraction of a percentage point of all prayers offered up around the world by Christians are answered in an affirmative way. This would indicate, to me, that circumstances, not answered prayer, was the culprit behind the answer. Even unbelievers have some pretty strange circumstances that occur in their lives. I will relate two that have occurred since I left the faith a mere seven or eight months ago.

 

Several months back I moved into a small efficiency. This was right after I had deconverted, lost my wife and family as a result, etc. After a few weeks of living there, I finally decided to knock on my neighbor's door to make sure that my TV was not playing too loudly. This knock resulted in a brief conversation. The man next store told me that he did a bit of public speaking. I asked about what. He simply stated, "Cults." As we developed our friendship over time it turns out that this man, who just happened to my next door neighbor, was involved in a Christian cult, had escaped and now is an atheist! We have since become fast friends and have much in common with each other. Both of us were hurt by our experiences and both of us can understand each other because we both have had similar backgrounds. What are the odds of that? Could god have heard this atheist's prayer and encouraged me by placing another atheist next door to me so that we would both continue to wander further from god? ;)

 

Back when I was a Christian, I would have looked at a coincidence like that and attributed it to god working (of course, the story would have had a believer in it and not an atheist).

 

A few months back I was walking in the mall and I stopped in a store that sells things like comic books and games. Being an artist, I was thinking about picking up a graphic novel so that I could expand my art style into comic book style art. I didn't find what I wanted and on the way out the door one of the workers asked if I had found what I was looking for. I said, no, and told the man that I was an artist looking for some work to inspire me. The man's face lit up and he said, "Really? What kind of artist?" I told him that I primarily did pencil and ink. He got excited and told me that he has published a game manual for a role playing game and that he needs a local artist for the next book. We exchanged information and I was on my way.

 

Again, when I was a believer, I would have thought that was an answer to prayer because that was possible work for me and I certainly would have been praying for god to provide work so I could supply for me and my family. However, as an atheist, the same things were still happening in my life.

 

Perhaps it is time for us unbelievers to keep track of the answered prayers in our own lives! ;)

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In the particular example I'm referring to, my brother claims he does have hard evidence, in the form of before and after x-rays, that his leg length discrepancy was healed. He says the doctors can't explain it.

 

But of course, as some of you have replied, this doesn't necessarily prove anything, except that there are still things in the medical world that we don't yet understand. Of course he will probably view me stating this as a form of rationalizing my own biased position. To him, I don't want to believe in miracles and so I will find any way I can to "explain away" any miracle I am presented with. He would say I am presupposing that miracles can't happen, so no matter how good the evidence is, I will never change my mind.

 

Of course, I don't think this. I'd like to think I could change my mind if I ever encountered some truly solid evidence for a miracle. But the evidence would have to be of such a nature that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish (to borrow David Hume's line of reasoning).

 

-- Nate

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Was it length difference? I had a bit of that. My physical therapist healed me. It was a curved spine. A very common problem. It was healed through the magical power of chiropractic adjustment, massage, and pilates.

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Even a blind chipmunk finds an acorn once in a while.

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In the particular example I'm referring to, my brother claims he does have hard evidence, in the form of before and after x-rays, that his leg length discrepancy was healed.

 

Demand to see the X-rays.

 

He says the doctors can't explain it.

 

Demand to talk to those "the doctors".

 

If he refuses... well that tells all the story.

 

Of course he'll probably keep up his claim anyway. Well there's a limit to what's reasonable in trying to debate with a morontheist. Lately I re-read 1984, and more clearly than ever before did it occur to me that morontheists are a perfect example for Orwell's concepts of doublethink and crimestop. How to debate with such a fucked-up mind? You can't. Sad but true. The best you can do is provide a way to unbiased information, but unless thoughtcrime is already sneaking into the morontheist's head from wherever-it-came... you know what I mean. :Hmm:

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Great story, Looking4Answers! I think it nicely shows that the connections we can make with other human beings are easier than we think -- we all have something in common, if we bother to open up a little and talk. Doesn't mean it's miraculous, and it's not like something just fell in your lap either, in both cases it took some time before you and your new friends realized how you could benefit each other.

 

As for miracles, well, human intuition is a powerful thing, we are very good at reading people's facial expressions and body language, some of us more than others, and could easily strike up a conversation with a total stranger who appears troubled and after only a few questions have their need met "miraculously". And physical miracles -- isn't it strange that in 2009, when practically half the world has a camera of some kind, that there are no pictures of the miracles supposedly happening all around us? Like Thurisaz said, ask to see the X-rays, and talk to the doctors.

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