Prayer

I’m pretty sure that you all have heard of this phenomenon called prayer. What is it? Does it have any effect on the physical world? Does it do ANYTHING?
The short answer is no, prayer is useless. It does nothing more than make you feel good. Sometimes, it doesn’t even do that!
There was a study done on prayer called the Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer or STEP. As you can read on the link, the study took almost 2,000 patients about to go into heart surgery. The people were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups:
1. Group receiving prayer, but unsure (604 people)
2. Not receiving prayer, but unsure (597 people)
3. Sure that they are receiving prayer (601)
Group 1 was told that they will get prayed for (they were actually getting prayer). Group 2 was told the same thing (but did not get any prayer). Group 3 was told that they were getting prayed for (they actually did get prayed for). This prayer was conducted for 14 days.
This study had surprising results:
In groups 1 and 2 complications occurred about 50% of the time (Group 1 = 315/604 – 51.655%; Group 2 = 304/597 – 50.92%). The The surprising part comes in the fact that the group certain of receiving prayer had complications about 60% of the time (352/601 – 58.56%).
Now, some Christians believe that this means that prayer does do something. The people conducting the study said otherwise. The conclusion (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16569567) was, “Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.”
So really it was that the people KNEW that they were being prayed for. The results are basically saying that the people who knew that they were being prayed for had worse results for the simple fact that they knew. In other words, if they were to be told that they were receiving prayer but didn’t actually get any prayer the results would be about the same.
This proves that prayer is nothing more than mental masturbation. Now, I have had someone get confused over that saying, confusing it with physical masturbation. When using the term MENTAL masturbation it means that prayer feels good to the person doing it, but does nothing for who they are thinking of.
Sorry if I am repeating myself, but it seems important to do. Prayer does nothing for human beings. It has no place in the minds of rational human beings (or human beings in general). Prayer is useless. It is a waste of time, and ancient ritual that has no effect whatsoever. It makes you feel good for a minute and then it goes away. Dust in the wind. It is an ancient ritual.
How then did this ritual start? To get a better look at rituals and religions at their start there was a case study that I think you will find interesting.
Part 1

Part 2

What this shows is that these rituals are formed from a type of mental programming called Classical Conditioning. Some people think that religious rituals are also a cause of Operant Conditioning. Essentially what this is all saying is that religious practices start when someone sees something (always a natural phenomenon) that they cannot explain (Luna/Solar Eclipse, volcano eruptions, mass disease [like the black plague], earthquake, thunder/lightning, etc.). These are all things we can explain today, but were scary to ancient people because they did not understand it. So they create a God that does these things because it makes sense to an ANCIENT person. Now what about these rituals? Well, once this God has been established, they try to talk to this God to see if he will hear them (prayer). Let’s use an example. In ancient Greece a farmer would pray to Zeus for good weather for farming so they can grow crops. This works a little under 50% of the time (chance). So they develop other rituals (like animal sacrifice). This gets quite complicated. Let’s assume that you take three animals and you sacrifice each one in the same way (chicken, cow, lamb). However, you only get good weather when you sacrifice the chicken. You would cease to sacrifice the other two animals because you have concluded that God wants you to sacrifice chickens. Now you are only sacrificing chickens and back to your chance outcome. Once you realize this you start to scratch your head and wonder what is going wrong. So you try three different methods of sacrifice (decapitation, bludgeoning, burning). You then realize that you get good weather when you burn your chicken for Zeus. This goes on and on until you have some incredibly complicated procedure for sacrificing animals to get good weather. Some people may say that this does not pertain to the Judeo/Christian religion. Obviously these people do not read their own holy book.
Genesis 22:1-13
Leviticus 1
Leviticus 14:2-32
and trust me the list goes on (for quite some time). So why do people still do this? In light of evidence that blatantly says that prayer is useless, people STILL do it. The thing is, these people are not stupid! They are smart, educated (sometimes Ph.D professors and scientists!) people. Why do they subscribe to such useless ancient rituals that have been proven to have no effect on people (actually negative effects on people)? The answer (ironically) could be natural selection and evolution of these rituals. In today’s society people don’t sacrifice animals to the God of their choosing, so obviously these rituals have changed slightly when society does (evolution is a good word to describe this change). People are brought up to believe that prayer has some effect and this carries on into their adult life. Sometimes I wonder if people KNOW that prayer doesn’t do anything, but do it anyway because that’s what their parents did. That is the reason that this silly ritual is still sticking around. The same thing with going to church. Why do this? Why waste a Sunday sitting in some uncomfortable wooden seat listening to a priest yammer on about God and how you should live your life? The easy answer is that you probably shouldn’t be doing these things, but I don’t know what is best for everyone. If it makes you happy, I can’t tell you that it is wrong (unless you are sacrificing animals or people, that is definitely not good). For the simple fact that people have stopped sacrificing animals I think is some recognition that it really didn’t do anything! So if it makes you happy to waste your Sundays and your time going to church and praying, then fine, good for you. I can’t tell you not to do those things, but I can tell you those things have been proven to be useless. If you want to keep doing your rituals, fully knowing (or denying) that it doesn’t doing anything, then that’s fine too.

The Problem With Belief

Watching a discussion between Dawkins and Krauss (please watch the video on my Fun Media page) and in the Q and A section they talked about how to ‘spread the message’ so to speak (message of science and rationality as opposed to irrationality). However, there is a problem. A true believer cannot be convinced that their belief is wrong OR that science is right. They talked about a lack of scientific knowledge in schools across America, which is a great tragedy. The United States has the most citizens that DENY Evolution and Natural Selection in favor of Religion and put that in science class! If anyone else is as shocked and appalled about this as me you’ll understand my feeling on the topic.
Let me be clear about one thing, personal belief is not my issue. In the US it is a constitutional right to believe in whatever you want. I would not try to take away someone’s personal beliefs BUT when that belief is asserted as true instead of scientific evidence and that is taught to children we as a society are less better off. What do we do about this?

String Theory

I have been thinking about something called String Theory. In my opinion it is a very loose theory that will need a lot of work (it should be noted I am NOT a physicist, so please if there are physicists reading this comment and tell me why I am wrong and why this theory should work). I was listening to Michio Kaku (you can find his video in my Fun Media page) about the theory of everything, which he said encompasses what String Theory is trying to explain. If String Theory is to be proven, it will be the most remarkable discovery in the history of the human race. My problem comes in at the theory of a Multiverse. It says that there could be more than one universe and we are in one that makes up a Multiverse. We have observed galaxies (much like ours) that have collided with one another and formed a larger galaxy. Why is this important to the Multiverse theory? Well the physicists who are working on this say that one universe can collide with another one. However, this collision would cause a Big Bang. This shook up everything that I have been taught about the Big Bang because Stephen Hawking said that there can be nothing before the Big Bang. So where did this other universe come from? It is possible that my knowledge of the Big Bang is outdated and I need to do more reading and research. If I find that to be the case this post will either be updated, or I will write another post. Back to the theory of the Multiverse. So where are these Universes coming from? If the Multiverse is correct how can we know which is the original Universe? Where did the original Universe come from? If the Big Bang was a result of two universes colliding, what spawned the first Universe? I understand modern science cannot answer some of these questions yet (or my hypothesis that I need to do more research is correct) but are working on it. String Theory has not yet been proven so I am eagerly waiting to figure out the results (hopefully in my life time). Another theory I heard is the theory of wormholes. The idea of a wormhole makes a lot of sense. Take two dots on opposite ends of a sheet of paper. If someone challenged you to put a pin through both holes, what would you do? The answer would be to fold the paper so one dot is on top on the other.

20130323-053550.jpg

Theoretically this would be a way to travel in between Universes (given the Multiverse is correct). Michio Kaku gives us an equation to explain String Theory. This equation also questions the possibility of surviving a trip through a wormhole. We cannot yet experiment with wormholes so we really have no idea if wormholes are possible, or if we can travel through them. It is a very interesting thing to think about. It is also exciting to think about.

I do have one worry about this. The Universe we live in now is heading toward a freeze out. That’s right, eventually the Universe will expand (as Hubble discovered the Big Bang is still happening and the universe is expanding) so much that it will freeze everything. Stars will be blown out and all life will die. Assuming that we escape the fate of Earth (that is being swallowed by the sun once hydrogen fusion ceases in the core, the core will collapse, and the sun will begin to fuse hydrogen outside of the core, then the sun will expand into a red giant that will basically swallow the earth) and find another planet to live on until this freeze out. Let us assume this is true, our only escape from inevitable death will be to travel through a wormhole into a younger Universe and to start over (assuming we can find a suitable planet). My worry here is that, in the interest of self-preservation, people will have a need to prove this. They will have a need to prove String Theory so much that they might fabricate details. It is a terrifying thing to think about. Everything in the Universe will die. We cannot escape it if we stay in this Universe. I can’t even pretend to know everything about String Theory because I only know a little (a very small amount about this theory).

I really want someone who knows more to comment on this and help me understand something that I may be missing above. Please let me know!

God’s Will and Human Freedom

I am sure that most of you, weather you be Atheists of Theists have heard a whole lot about God’s Will. This is thrown out like verbal diarrhea every time that someone dies or a natural disaster occurs. I have often questioned why people are so quick to say that a kid that gets caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting received a “gift” and that it was God’s Will that she get shot and killed in a park. How is that a gift? What proof is there that she is in a better place? Who are you to make such claims? It may sound nice and comforting at the time, but it is not all that it is cracked up to be. As the title of this post implies, I am going to be talking about God’s will and our own freedom. Does God’s Will take away our freedom?
To start let us look at the Frankfurt Cases. This is a thought experiment that involves two cases that are identical, except for one part.

Case 1
There are two men: Smith and Jones. Smith is pointing a gun at Jones and is deciding whether or not to shoot him. There is also an evil demon that COULD control the outcome. In this case Jones decides not to shoot Jones, however the evil demon forces Smith to pull the trigger and kill Jones.

Case 2
There are two men: Smith and Jones. Smith is pointing a gun at Jones and is deciding whether or not to shoot him. There is also an evil demon that COULD control the outcome. In this case Smith decides to shoot Jones with his own free will, and the evil demon does nothing.

Take a good look at these cases. What do you notice? First off, they are identical except for one part, which is where the evil demon comes in. The other thing is that the outcome was the same, but the method of getting to that outcome was different. If it was Smith’s choice to shoot Jones or if the evil demon commanded him to, the result was the exact same. So, my question is, if “God’s Will be done” then the end result will always be the same. So are we really free to make our own decision? If we are, what is the point of making them if it is just going to achieve God’s Will in the end?

Another thing that I question is how a person would know what God’s Will is. I really don’t have a concrete answer for how one would definitively know what God’s Will is, but I can speculate as to why it would be appealing to chalk up the bad things in life it “it was God’s Will”.
The same sort of thing happens (in someone’s mind) when there is a conspiracy about something like 9/11. Sometimes when something horrible happens it scares people, which is normal. However, being humans it is in our nature to want an explanation of why something happened. In the case of conspiracy theories Jodi Dean says,

People hate thinking about, in the flash on an eye terrorist bombers can crash a plane into the World Trade Center. They would rather see that there was always a system some overriding explanation that can let us make sense of the world. (12:13 – 13:00)

I think that the same thing happens in the minds of Theists when a natural disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, occurs. It is much more comforting to think that there is a plan in place. People don’t like to think that bad things can just happen, they would rather be optimistic about some plan that would take them to a better place (heaven supposedly, but I’ll save that for another post). Michael Martin said it best in his book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification

If pessimism is justified by the evidence, then we must be pessimistic. If we are optimistic when pessimism is justified, we are irrational.

If you are a Theist or an Atheist, please leave your comments and opinions, I would love to know more about the topic from all perspectives. Bear in mind, however, I will research what you say if I think that you haven’t done your research.

Was Jesus “The One”?

One thing that has perplexed me is how Jesus came to be regarded as the one true God. When I was young I just accepted that as fact because I did not possess the intellectual capabilities to question things I was told by people who were supposed to lead me. Now I am a student of ancient history and after some research I found out that Jesus was not the only person during the first century to be claiming they were the Messiah. In the words of Michael Shermer “There was a plague of Messiahs.” This only raised more questions: why don’t we know about any of these other people? How did Jesus rise to the top of the charts? Did Jesus appeal to ancient people more than these other prophets? What if Jesus was the wrong choice? I have a few more questions, but I’ll leave it with the ones I already have. I have some thoughts about these questions but the reason that I throw them out to the public is I really want to hear what others think about it because I could be wrong.
Lets look at the first question (we’ll call (1)): I don’t think we know about these other prophets because they were prophets to a dead religion, or just didn’t have as many followers. I think that the fact that these people must not have had as many followers answers (2). Let us not forget that Jesus was a Jew, and Judaism is not only an ancient religion, but one that has survived and became a predominant religion today. To answer (3) I think we would have to look at the popularity of the Jewish religion during the first century. Then we would have to see how many Jews recognized Jesus as the son of God. I think in this case there was a small following of Jesus, however his message of love and kindness appealed to people more. George Carlin said that someone’s popularity skyrockets after they die, and I think this is true. The thing that happened with Jesus is not what he did, but what his followers did. They were essentially transcontinental Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, the Romans who were putting Jesus to death (a few of them) were influenced by Jesus’ teachings and converted. A little way down the road (during the Middle Ages) more specifically, the 1300s when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries went to Japan to try and convert the Japanese. The Middle Eastern Jews and Christians also passed on their beliefs down the Silk Roads (which if anyone is interested in learning about the spread of ideas should read all they can. The Silk Roads are extremely important and interesting) to India, China, and Korea. Hopefully you are still following me, it looks like I got off topic a little, but in a good way I think 🙂 Moving on to (4) which I think is the most difficult question to answer. What if Jesus was the wrong choice? It sounds a little ridiculous, but I think it is important. Lets look at a prophet who was known for: preaching to his followers, healing the sick, walking through walls/buildings, being tried and crucified by the Roman court, resurrected where his followers saw him again. Sound like Jesus? Well it’s not, these are all things attributed to Apollonius of Tyana. This is probably the first you have heard of this man, but don’t be surprised not many people have. To be honest, knowing how many people were claiming to be the Messiah fills me with doubt about the choice of Jesus as the one true messiah.
Please leave your comments, concerns, questions, anything you want to say really 🙂

Atheism

Many people are inclined to think that atheists are somehow bad human being, immoral, and full of irrational doubt. However, I don’t find this to be true. I am an atheist, a magician, a student, and many other things. Upon first meeting me I doubt that you would have any indication as to my personal beliefs or lack thereof. The point is that I am a human being just like anyone else on this majestic blue spec in the suburb of the Milky Way. I am not here to tell religious people that their beliefs are good for nothing, wrong, silly, or anything like that. I am however, trying to foster some sort of debate about the topic of religion, morality, and the existence of god in whatever form you may believe him (or her or them) to take. I am generally interested in this topic and I will be posting things by many authors and posing questions to whoever wants to take it on and try to answer it. I really hope that this is a positive and overall beneficial discussion!