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.

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 Universe

The next time you find yourself outside on a warm summer’s night, look up at the sky. If you are lucky you will be able to see it lit up with tiny dots called stars. Realize that these stars are probably million of light years away, and the light you are seeing is quite ancient. Some of the stars that you are seeing may be dead by now. Allow me to explain: we can see stars that are million of light years away, but we are seeing light that the star emitted the same amount of time ago as the distance from us. For example: if we are seeing light from a star 100,000,000 light years away, the light we are seeing is 100,000,000 light years old. This may be a difficult concept to grasp, but it is beautiful and amazing that the human mind can grasp such ideas. I find this to be far more beautiful than anything religion has given us (one man’s opinion). However, lets look at history. The old teachings of the Church, in relation to the universe, said that we were living in a geocentric (Earth is the center of the universe) universe, the earth was “created” in 6 days, and all objects in the heavens (universe that we could see from looking to the sky) were perfect objects (for example they said that the moon and the sun and all the stars are perfect spheres. So lets break these down one at a time:

1. The geocentric view of the universe.
Aristarchus of Samos – 310 BCE – 230 BCE. This man figured out what causes lunar eclipses. He reasoned that the shadow of the earth caused the lunar eclipse. Why is this important? Because of his model of how it was actually the earth that moves around the sun, not the other way around. However, his works were ignored and never really came to light. However, as you cans see in the Stephen Hawking video, the inquisitive nature of human being prevailed when Galileo discovered that Venus had gibbous phases. He took from Aristarchus’ works and realized that if Venus traveled around the earth then it would not have phases. This is a very simplistic explanation, for a better one read this. Galileo, made another surprising discovery. He discovered that Jupiter has 4 moons that orbit it (for more information watch the Stephen Hawking video on my Fun Media page. This was such a revolutionary discovery that the Church ordered him to denounce his findings and they put him under house arrest. I am often quite skeptical when Church officials say that science and religion are compatible.

3. Ah yes, the age old story in Genesis, that God created the earth in six days and God rested on the seventh. This has been disproved time and time again. So in order that the bible doesn’t contradict itself the Vatican put a whole lot of spin on it. They said that the Genesis account of creation has to be interpreted allegorically. In other words, instead of saying that the story is wrong (which it is) they decided to put a whole lot of spin on the story, showing they are too proud to admit fault or that they were just plain wrong. Why are they wrong? Let’s take a look at it scientifically. We now know that the Universe was started with what we call the Big Bang. As it turn out the entire universe started out in a single point, smaller than an atom. It was made of pure energy that expanded into the universe (for a more in depth explanation click the “big bang” link for Stephen Hawking’s explanation). What evidence do we have of the Big Bang? As I said before, the Big Bang started as pure energy, that is reflected in the temperature of the universe. It is called the Black Body Radiation and it proves two things: 1.) the universe was once smaller and hotter, and 2.) the universe is around 14 (13.7) billion years old. What evidence corroborates this? In the 1920s and 30s a man named Edwin Hubble discovered that the Universe is still expanding. This is shown through Hubble’s Law. Hubble’s Law says that (1) all objects observed in deep space (intergalactic space) are found to have a Doppler shift observable relative velocity to Earth, and to each other; and (2) that this Doppler­shift­measured velocity, of various galaxies receding from the Earth, is proportional to their distance from the Earth and all other interstellar bodies. To better understand this think of a cup filled with water that has been turned upside down on a table (so as the contents doesn’t leave the cup). Now imagine that cup tipping over and the water spilling out on the table and the water spill becomes much more wide spread than it was in the cup. I would suggest reading on Hubble’s theory of expansion. Stephen Hawking says that before the Big Bang time did not exist, nothing existed, therefore there was no room for a creator to exist. This certainly gave me something to think about.

4. The objects of the heavens (stars and planets) are perfect spheres.
– Galileo also made quite an exciting discovery (which probably contributed to him
becoming blind). The sun actually has sunspots. This proved that the sun was NOT a perfect object AND actually rotates once every 27 (to 31 days depending on where you are on the earth). We have discovered craters on the moon from millions of years of meteor impacts. All of this thoroughly debunks the claim that the early church made that all heavenly bodies are perfect spheres.

This post is actually in response to something that a teacher of mine said. He told the that Richard Dawkins said that he has faith in science that it will answer all of our questions about the natural world. My teacher said that this was the same as having faith in religion, but I disagreed without really having an answer as to why I disagree. I specialize in studying history (although much of the information above is from an astronomy class that I took, I highly recommend taking one yourself if you have the opportunity) so I looked through history. As you can see science has proved again and again that the biblical accounts and religious views of the universe are wrong, so the conclusion that the facts point to is that Dawkins is being rational by saying that he has faith that science will eventually explain the natural world. Although, if I could talk to Dawkins I would suggest that he say that he is not faithful (because faith is believing in something without evidence) because he has historic and scientific evidence that science will explain the many quirks of the natural world. Faith really has nothing to do with it.

The other purpose of this post is to restore wonder to the Universe. The Universe is a curious place filled with mysteries that human beings have only scratched the surface of. When I contemplate the many wonders of the natural world I am filled with awe and inspiration. It is truly a wonderful feeling that I wish I could share with everyone. I think that science discovering these many intricate laws and workings of the Universe further adds to the grandeur that is life. I will leave you with this quote

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependant on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” ~ Charles Darwin

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.

Augustine and His Confessions

I enjoy looking at a variety of views on both theism and atheism. One argument that has intrigued me is the problem of evil which goes something like this:
Premise 1.) If God exists, then there would be no evil (immoral actions) in the world.
Premise 2.) There is (are) evil (immoral actions) in the world.
Conclusion: God does not exist.

This is a strong argument in favor of Atheism, however many would try to attack the first premise which we shall call (1). I have been thinking about how to defend (1) and have come up with a few things.
A.) Many claim god to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. However, if this were true then clearly such a powerful being would not allow evil to exist. If a theist were to claim that evil does exist AND God exists, then they would be going against the idea that god is all powerful, all knowing, and all good.
B.) Another claim against the problem of evil is that god created free beings that can make their own moral choices. This may be the case, but from a biblical account when god created the world he said that all things were good, therefore not evil; leaving evil to be unexplained. The existence of free beings would also contradict God’s will. For example if I were to break my leg, upon asking a theist why this happened they would reply “it was God’s will”. That leads to the following argument:
I.) If we are free beings, then God would not impose his will on us, so as to control us.
II.) God imposes his will on us.
III.) Therefore, we are controlled beings.
Conclusion: We are not free beings.
If God was controlling us, surely it follows that we would act in moral ways at all times, but we don’t.
C.) Evil is merely the absence of good. How can this be the case if everything God made was good? If we are not free beings, but controlled by a being that is only good there would not be the capacity to lack good.
These seem to be the best arguments I could think of at the time. I know there are many more arguments out there for and against the problem of evil, so please post them and I will do my best to address these issues!

A Philosophical View

I enjoy looking at a variety of views on both theism and atheism. One argument that has intrigued me is the problem of evil which goes something like this:
Premise 1.) If God exists, then there would be no evil (immoral actions) in the world.
Premise 2.) There is (are) evil (immoral actions) in the world.
Conclusion: God does not exist.

This is a strong argument in favor of Atheism, however many would try to attack the first premise which we shall call (1). I have been thinking about how to defend (1) and have come up with a few things.
A.) Many claim god to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. However, if this were true then clearly such a powerful being would not allow evil to exist. If a theist were to claim that evil does exist AND God exists, then they would be going against the idea that god is all powerful, all knowing, and all good.
B.) Another claim against the problem of evil is that god created free beings that can make their own moral choices. This may be the case, but from a biblical account when god created the world he said that all things were good, therefore not evil; leaving evil to be unexplained. The existence of free beings would also contradict God’s will. For example if I were to break my leg, upon asking a theist why this happened they would reply “it was God’s will”. That leads to the following argument:
I.) If we are free beings, then God would not impose his will on us, so as to control us.
II.) God imposes his will on us.
III.) Therefore, we are controlled beings.
Conclusion: We are not free beings.
If God was controlling us, surely it follows that we would act in moral ways at all times, but we don’t.
C.) Evil is merely the absence of good. How can this be the case if everything God made was good? If we are not free beings, but controlled by a being that is only good there would not be the capacity to lack good.
These seem to be the best arguments I could think of at the time. I know there are many more arguments out there for and against the problem of evil, so please post them and I will do my best to address these issues!