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 ( 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.

Out Of The Randomness

One argument that I tackled in an earlier post was the fine tuning argument. I thought about it for a while, and I thought of one of my interests: Astronomy. I realized that there are thousands of galaxies and millions of stars and planets out there. So are we really “fine tuned”? Why us and not any one of the other millions of planets? Why haven’t we found life on other planets? For those of you who do not know much about cosmology or astronomy there is a certain Goldilocks zone that a planet must be in to sustain liquid water. It is called the Goldilocks zone because the planet must have an eccentricity (orbit) of about .2. Kepler came up with a scale for measuring a planet’s orbit (his first law: The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci) from a perfect circle to more of an oval (from 0 to 1). A 0 is a perfect circle while you get closer to 1 it becomes more of an oval. So is it by chance that the earth has an eccentricity of .2? Yes. This may be a disturbing and difficult concept for us to grasp, but it is true. Let me demonstrate with an example. Think of your birthday. Let’s say that it is today’s date April 1st. Imagine you are in a room with one other person, what is the chance that they will have the same birthday as you? Probably very low. As you add more people to the room the chance that someone will have the same birthday as you increases. When there are 34 people in a room with you there is a 4 to 1 chance that someone else will have the same birthday as you. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. With only 34 people in a room (35 including you) pass around a piece of paper and tell everyone to write down their birthday. You will get at least one other person in the room with the same birthday as you. So what does this prove? This shows us, that if there are millions of planets orbiting suns all over the Universe it is extremely likely that a few of them will be able to sustain intelligent life on them. So now I must ask, where is the fine tuning? This seems more like laws acting around us rather than some supernatural being fine tuning this planet to have intelligent life. With the small amount of space that we have explored, we can conclude that there are more than 4 trillion planets orbiting other suns. With a number like that there must be hundreds of planets that have intelligent life on them. Probably extremely far away from us, father than our telescopes of space ships can take us. However, statistically it is highly probable that we are not alone in this gigantic Universe, and so the fine tuning argument is dead.

Prayer As An Answer

For hundreds of years it has been thought that this world is a result of God. God made everything we see, hear, touch, etc. but is this really the case? In science, once a theory has been proposed it is tested in a way to try to disprove it. If it cannot be disproved, then it works. Does God work?
In an earlier post i took some religious claims and how science has refuted them. In a way I am simply continuing that post. However, I want to look at something different: human nature. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we pray? Why do we have these rituals? The answer is easy, yet complex. The easy answer is conditioning. Conditioning is an extremely powerful tool that has been used ever since human beings have existed. There are many psychological studies done on conditioning. I will use an example to explain further. Imagine a baby sitting in a square. Babies are predisposed by nature (like all human beings) to examine their surroundings. If, every time they move to a corner of the square they are given food, they will move toward a corner, rather than a side of the square when they are hungry. So, the baby concludes that the will not get food at. The sides of the square. However, as a parent you can choose to give the baby food when it moves to a side rather than a corner, so the babies conclusion is false. The easy way to explain this is a hot stove (I’m sure that you know where I’m going with this). You feel pain when you touch it and learn not to. This can be applied to groups quite easily and worked more effectively on ancient people. Lets look at prayer. What does prayer do? I always say that prayer is a form of mental masturbation (not to be confused with physical masturbation). Prayer feels great to the person doing it, but does nothing to the person you’re thinking of. So why do we pray? There are actually more answers than simply conditioning (although conditioning is a large part of it). If, every time you pray you stubbed your toe, at some point you would associate prayer with stubbing your toe, and you would not do it. Inversely, if every time you pray, you find a dollar on the ground you would pray more and associate prayer with getting money. However, the primary flaw of this kind of reasoning is that correlation does not equal causation. Just like with the baby in the square they found a correlation with corners and food and to them going into a corner causes food to come, but that is incorrect. Just like prayer being the cause of finding a dollar or stubbing your toe is incorrect. Obviously, in the real world, you would not get those results EVERY TIME you pray, but more likely less than half the time. It does not make prayer any less effective to the human mind if it doesn’t “work” every time. In fact, it only really has to work once you someone to equate correlation and causation.
I did say there are more reasons that people pray, and they can actually add to the conditioning process FOR prayer being effective and lead people to find conditioning against prayer less effective. One example is nurture. If you are brought up to believe that prayer is true and actually does something, you will be harder to condition out of that frame of mind. Lets take the above example of stubbing your toe when you pray. If you stub your toe 9 or of 10 times you pray, BUT find 10 dollars 1 or of 10 times (and were conditioned by nurture to believe in prayer) then prayer would have worked in your mind. This principle is seen when someone goes to see a psychic. First let me say, there are no real psychics. They use a technique called cold reading. They make vague general statements that apply to almost every human being on the planet (Ex. You are introverted for the most part, but sometimes feel the need to be extroverted — well duh!). If you do go to get a psychic reading i highly suggest you record the whole thing. Listen to it and count the times that the psychic gets something wrong. I guarantee it will outweigh the times they get something right. So how do they stay in business? When someone goes to a psychic they will often times only remember the things that the psychic gets RIGHT. We will often forget the things they get wrong and focus on what they got right. Why do we do this? We do this for an intrinsic reason, that is we want to believe, we want some greater meaning in our lives. This idea is something that really drives religion. A grater meaning, a greater cause. Convince someone they are more important than they are, and that person will really like you. The same thing with God. If a belief in God makes you feel as though your like means more, or that there is more out there it will fill you with a sense of wonder and awe and will be more inclined to believe it.
There is an overarching problem here. That is all the wonder and awe in the world won’t make a falsehood any more real. If feeling good could cure cancer, bring world peace, and feed everyone in the world then we wouldn’t have any more wars after the 70’s. The facts are that prayer does nothing more than make you feel like you are contributing to a solution to some problem and take up your time. Similar religious rituals are the same way. None of them do anything other than make you feel good, and that does not make it correct. The facts may not fit into the way you see the world, but they are what is true and nothing will change that.

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?