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.

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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.

Ask An Atheist

Hello all Theists/Religious people! I have a new blog where I will answer YOUR questions! You can ask whatever you want, check out my page and ask away! I apologize if the answer takes a while, I do indeed have a life besides here and I will research your question if I don’t have an answer off the top of my head. Anyway read my page, it’ll explain everything.

Pulling Things Apart

I have chosen some famous arguments to pull apart. First the Cosmological Argument, then the Ontological Argument, and finally the Fine Tuning Argument.
Lets jump into it with the Cosmological Argument (the Argument form Causation). This was Thomas Aquinas’ argument. It goes:

Premise 1: There is an order of causes (of existence) in nature.
Premise 2: Nothing can be the cause of itself.
Premise 3: Hence, everything that is caused must be caused by something else.
Premise 4: There cannot be an infinite regress of causes.
Conclusion: Therefore, there must be a first, uncaused cause, which is God.

Personally I would agree with the 4 premises, but the conclusion doesn’t follow. Why must there be an uncaused cause? Why must it be God? There is no evidence for God. There is evidence that the Universe (pre-Big Bang) was a tiny dot of energy. This could be the uncaused cause (assuming that there is one). I think that this is due to the lack of knowledge of the Big Bang in Thomas Aquinas’ time. In current Cosmology they have found, what is called by the media the “God particle”. In scientific communities it is called the Higgs Boson Particle. It is the smallest particle that we have ever discovered and it could help us to explain the origins of the Big Bang (saying it is increasingly possible that an uncaused cause is not necessary). However, Bertrand Russell might ask, why doesn’t the first cause need a cause if the Universe needs one? As this argument progressed it was changed into how Dr. Craig presents it today. Which is:

Premise 1: The Universe is not eternal and had an absolute beginning.
Premise 2: Any Universe must have a past space­time boundary.
Premise 3: Even if our universe is part of a multi­verse then that multi­verse must have had an absolute beginning.
Premise 4: There must have been a Transcendent cause for the Universe coming into being.
Premise 5: The Universe began to exist.
Premise 6: If the Universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
Conclusion: The Universe has a transcendent cause.

Where do I start? I would accept premise 1, 2, 3 (although the multiverse has not been proven so I am on the fence on that one), and 5. So that leaves me to object against premise 4, 6, and the conclusion. So lets start at premise 4:

Again, why must there have been a transcendent cause to the Universe? It seems that this little tid-bit just came out of nowhere. For example if I said “There must have been a unicorn that caused the Universe to come into being.” It just seems so random. Lets assume that it is not random, it could still be replaced with the pre-Big Bang Universe. It is not transcendent, but rather IS the Universe we live in. We know that the pre-Big Bang Universe created the ‘stuff’ that we are made of in the Big Bang! So premise 4 should be rewritten as “There must have been a non-transcendent cause for the Universe coming into being.”

This being the case it will change the whole argument! But lets take a look at premise 6 individually, and then how our changing of premise 4 acts on premise 6 (spoiler alert: they are the same).

So with premise 6 the transcendent cause is less random because it popped up in premise 4 (so it follows). But, that doesn’t make it right. As we can see with scientific research (Hubble’s Law and Black Body Radiation to start) there is no identifiable transcendent cause for the Universe to begin to exist. So (as our updated premise 4 would have us believe) premise 6 should be rewritten like this: “If the Universe began to exist, then the universe does not have a transcendent cause.”

Let me mention for a second, that there cannot be an infinite progression of things. The Universe had a finite beginning. So why then does it seem that there must be an infinite being behind this? So that this infinite being could cause the Universe to come into existence? Why does it HAVE to be God? The answer – it doesn’t. David Hume concluded that this argument is not conclusive proof for God. Hume seems to suggest that the universe might have existed for eternity, and this infinite series does not require an additional cause or explanation that is outside of the series.

If we talk about quantum fluctuations we realize that particles can come from nothing. These particles (and anti-particles) can spontaneously appear and destroy each other without violating the laws of energy conservation. It has been proven that this happens all the time, all around us. So then an argument can follow:

Premise 1: If it is possible that quantum fluctuation can produce particles from nothing, then the Universe could have come from nothing (when it was still extremely small).
Premise 2: It has been proven that quantum fluctuation is possible (and is happening all around us).
Conclusion: The Universe could have come from nothing.

The argument above shows how it is really unnecessary for an uncaused first cause, or a first cause at all. I think that it is quite a scary thing to hear, and naturally many people will fight this notion due to fear or cognitive dissonance.

These two changes really alter the conclusion in the opposite direction of God. If you were to keep the changes I made to premises 4 and 6, but keep the transcendent cause conclusion, it wouldn’t follow logically. So the conclusion must be that “The Universe does not have a transcendent cause.” The new argument goes like this:

Premise 1: The Universe is not eternal and had an absolute beginning.
Premise 2: Any Universe must have a past space­time boundary.
Premise 3: Even if our universe is part of a multi­verse then that multi­verse must have had an absolute beginning.
Premise 4: There must have been a non-transcendent cause for the Universe coming into being.
Premise 5: The Universe began to exist.
Premise 6: If the Universe began to exist, then the universe does not have a transcendent cause.
Conclusion: The Universe does not have a transcendent cause.

Next up is the Ontological Argument as Anselm of Canterbury uses it:

Premise 1: I have an idea of the greatest conceivable being.
Premise 2: That which exists in reality (and not in my mind) is greater than that which exists in my mind.
Premise 3: If the greatest conceivable being existed only in my mind, then it wouldn’t be the greatest conceivable being.
Conclusion: The greatest conceivable being exists in reality.

One funny thing I want to mention about this argument is that Thomas Aquinas (yes the same one that formed the Cosmological Argument) objected to Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Aquinas said that we cannot know the nature of God in the way that Anselm is suggesting. I would tend to agree with that, however I would say that if God exists then how is it possible to know his nature at all other than guess work? Further objection from David Hume says that we can’t prove the existence of something only using a priori (relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience) reasoning. Furthermore, Immanuel Kant said in his Critique of Pure Reason that such necessary propositions are necessarily true only if such a being exists: If a triangle exists, it must have three angles. The necessary proposition, he argued, does not make the existence of a triangle necessary. Thus, he argued that, if the proposition “X exists” is posited, it would follow that, if X exists, it exists necessarily; this does not mean that X exists in reality.

So lets break down this argument piece by piece. I would agree that in premise 1 it is possible to have an idea of a greatest conceivable being, but not premise 2. Premise 2 is not necessarily true. Think about a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Imagine an intricate design of a building, and then try to draw it out. Another example is pottery. Image a perfect bowl in your head then try to make one. It wont be nearly as good as you imagined. So premise 2 should really look like this, “that which exists in reality (and not in my mind) is not always greater than what exists in my mind.”

This change of premise 2 (as we have seen) will change the result of the argument. Looking at premise 3, I would agree that if you could only imagine a greatest conceivable being in your mind then it wouldn’t be the greatest conceivable being. That stays, but if we change premise 2 then the conclusion does not follow. In order to change this into a counter-ontological argument, a premise must be added in between premise 3 and the conclusion. It would look like this, “I can only think of the greatest conceivable in my mind.”

going off of the change that I made, along with the added premise the conclusion would be, “the greatest conceivable being only exists in my mind, and not in reality.” So now we have:

Premise 1: I have an idea of the greatest conceivable being.
Premise 2: That which exists in reality (and not in my mind) is not always greater than that which exists in my mind.
Premise 3: If the greatest conceivable being existed only in my mind, then it wouldn’t be the greatest conceivable being.
Premise 4: I can only think of the greatest conceivable in my mind.
Conclusion: The greatest conceivable being exists in my mind and not in reality.

This would make it seem as though this being is a delusion of sorts. I will not say more on this argument, but will move onto the other one.

The Fine Tuning Argument as Dr. Craig presents it in his debate with Dr. Rosenberg:

Premise 1: The fine tuning of the Universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
Premise 2: It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
Conclusion: it is due to design.

This is a much smaller argument, but lets try to dissect it. I agree with premise 1 in that it is probable that one of those three caused the existence for the Universe. Craig’s defense is that it simply makes more sense that a ‘designer’ created the Universe so it can’t be physical necessity or chance. He also says that we are so complex that the human mind cannot comprehend the initial conditions of the Big Bang. This isn’t bad proof, it is no proof at all and it neglects that there are human minds working on figuring this out (hence the Higgs-boson particle). Human minds CAN figure this out as they have figured out other things that religion says is impossible for us to comprehend (epilepsy, the origin of man, the age of the earth/universe, etc.). I would say that you could substitute physical necessity for design and make a much better argument. For example we have proof of the laws of physics. For example, gravity. We know gravity exists, however it is an imperfection in the Universe. If God is perfect, why then does gravity exist? In the early Universe gravity was an imperfection that caused everything we know to exist (allowed for the formation of stars and planets). So this points more toward physical necessity, so it follows:

Premise 1: The fine tuning of the Universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
Premise 2: It is not due to design or chance.
Conclusion: it is due to physical necessity.

This is good argument, but that doesn’t make it true. Physical necessity is the best possible answer to why the Universe began to exist. Think about design, this designer would have to have made EVERYTHING in the Universe. The problem with intelligent design is the intelligent part. The human anatomy is a good place to go to for an example. We’ll take the appendix for an example. The human body has no purpose for the appendix. It does rupture and cause a lot of pain and a hefty hospital bill. There is no intelligent purpose for the appendix to be in the human body. Surely an intelligent designer wouldn’t put such a useless organ in an intelligent being. Why is there an appendix? It once had a purpose, but EVOLUTION made it so that the appendix is now useless, but still there. If you want to argue that this has no bearing on the actual Universe, ok. Let’s talk about the Universe. This also has flaws that an intelligent designer would not put in it. The Universe, you may be interested to know, is not perfect like one may be led to think. One of those things is the force that we call gravity. After the Big Bang the gasses were spread evenly on the early Universe. It was this imperfection we call gravity that allowed for everything we know to exist. It is the force that held the early earth together, and allows for stars to exist as well. Black holes are also something that an intelligent designer would not put in a decently ran Universe. They are literally rips in the fabric of space and time. They are extremely destructive, not even light can escape a black hole. Why would a creator allow for such things? Answer: a creator wouldn’t.

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!