Does God answer prayers for parking spaces at the Pottery Barn?

Posted on 09/16/11 45 Comments

Right now a prayer is being offered up by a desperate mother somewhere at a camp in Somalia. Her severely malnourished child is suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting. She has been told by one of the men that these are signs of cholera. Her child is dying in her arms and she can do nothing. Her prayer is desperate and anguished.

If God hears any prayer he must hear this one. If any prayer is justified it is surely this one.

At the same time another prayer is being offered by a soccer mom in suburban Dallas. She usually drives the Porsche Cayman, but her husband wanted to drive it to a church conference in Houston. So she is stuck with the Escalade. And if there is one thing she hates, it is parking the Escalade. So even before she arrives at Pottery Barn she prays that she may find a parking space near the entrance. (In case you were wondering, Pottery Barn is a relatively upscale home furnishings chain in the United States, not a barn with pottery.)

Now admittedly juxtaposing the prayer for a parking space outside Pottery Barn with a prayer to save a child dying of cholera doesn’t look good. But let’s be careful about judging the Dallas soccer mom too harshly. For all we know she and her husband may do more to help starving Somalis than you or I. The point of juxtaposing these two scenarios is not to pick on the soccer mom. Rather, the point is to ask whether we ought to pray about trivial things like parking spaces. And if so, how trivial can those things be? Let’s consider arguments both ways.

An argument for prayers for parking spaces

God is God of all things. His providence is meticulous, extending to every detail of creation. Learning to pray about all matters is (among other things) a way of conforming ourselves to his providential action, of recognizing his supreme lordship over all creation. Prayer is not a zero sum game as if praying for small matters takes away concern for big matters. Such concerns do not trivialize prayer. If anything, praying for parking spaces exalts the supreme importance of prayer.

An argument against prayers for parking spaces

Prayers for trivial matters are trivializing of prayer. Prayers for things like parking spaces at Pottery Barn are conducive to the production of a narcissistic personality. It is especially wrong to pray for trivial things when you contrast those prayers with the egregious evil and suffering being experienced in the world today. You should reserve prayer for significant, important dilemmas.

A qualified argument for prayers for parking spaces

Sometimes it is wrong to pray for relatively trivial things like parking spaces. But such prayers are valuable when the relatively trivial thing being prayed for has a traceable link to or association with God’s kingdom purposes. For example, a prayer for a parking space at Walmart when you are seeking to buy supplies for the Food Bank is good, but a prayer for a parking space at the Pottery Barn when you are looking to buy the upteenth designer lamp that you don’t need is bad.

If trivial, how trivial?

Let’s put this in monetary terms to see if we can develop some kind of rough and ready scale of triviality for at least some prayers.

We’ll begin with the assumption that it is unacceptably trivial to pray that the parking meter doesn’t eat your quarter. Perhaps that prayer is so trivial that even “kingdom work” cannot save it. In that case, it is trivial to pray the parking meter doesn’t eat your quarter even if you plugged the meter outside the foodbank while intending to deliver a donation. (The one exception is if it is your very last quarter.)

But let’s say that it isn’t trivial to pray for several hundred thousand dollars you’ve invested in starting up a new company.

If that is the case, how much money can you have at stake before you can rightly pray for your investment? Where is the line between a quarter and several hundred thousand bucks? And how does one find that line?

A virtuous resolution?

It is interesting to see how this discussion maps onto an act-oriented approach to ethical reflection. Deontologists and utilitarians tend to focus on what is the right thing to do in a particular circumstance, much like we’ve been thinking about when is a prayer rightly prayed.

But virtue ethicists propose that this focus on actions puts the cart before the horse. We should first focus on what are the proper kinds of virtues to develop to become a good person. And as we develop those virtues, we will naturally discern what is the best way to act in given situations.

Perhaps we ought to think about prayer more in those virtue-oriented terms, as a matter of seeking wisdom (Proverbs 4) or developing the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5). If that is the way to go then as a person develops in character they will naturally discern when it is appropriate to pray and when it is not.

Here’s a closing thought. Perhaps if the soccer mom arrived at Pottery Barn praying for the Somali child, God would just throw in the parking spot for good measure.

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  • Jerry Rivard

    How exactly would God answer a prayer for a parking space? The way we humans understand reality, individual agents drive their cars into the parking lot and park them in the designated spaces (or at least that’s what they’re supposed to do). As our soccer mom rounds the corner and prays, it would seem that there already either is or isn’t a parking space available.

    If there is one, then the prayer was unnecessary (or perhaps it had already been answered by God’s manipulation of the other 1000 agents as to when they arrived and left, leaving room for our soccer mom when she would arrive). If there isn’t one, would God just make a car disappear in order to create one? Then what would He do when that car’s owner comes out of the store and prays that their car wasn’t stolen? ;)

    This isn’t a facetious question, although it may sound like one. I know no one actually believes God would make a car disappear for a soccer mom’s convenience. I’m just pointing out an obvious problem with the belief that God intervenes. I’m not declaring that this problem proves the belief must be wrong, just asking how those who believe in prayer would reconcile such problems.

    • randal

      There are many different models of providential action. But without getting into that at the moment, note that we have the ability to ask our doctor or the tv repair man to do something as well (e.g. fix my heart; fix my tv) without knowing how s/he is going to do it.

      • Jerry Rivard

        Which model do you believe is true? And please note a specific complication of the example you gave. Soccer mom prays at time T for a condition that would need to already be true in order for her prayer to be answered. So the model that is true, if any, must account for God taking action at time T-x to answer a prayer that hasn’t been prayed yet. How do you think that works?

        • randal

          How do I think that works? Foreknowledge. If I foreknew that tomorrow my daughter would ask to go to watch a movie I could purchase the tickets today in anticipation of that request. What’s so hard about that?

  • clamat

    [INSERT OWN JOKE ABOUT THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER HERE]

    • http://www.atheistmissionary.com/ The Atheist Missionary

      clamat: Amen to that.

    • randal

      Opting for jokes instead of reasoned critical analysis, are we? Disappointing, but alas not surprising. :(

      • clamat

        Being a stiff, humorless scold? Disappointing and surprising, considering:

        I think it really is important to inject levity into these conversations whenever possible. It reminds us all not to take ourselves too seriously.

        My non-joke was quite trenchant, and you know it. Hence the “tsk tsk” finger waving, as opposed to silence or a return volley.

        That you can seriously compare the validity of a prayer for a parking space to one for a famine victim is a function of the fact that there is literally no good evidence to support the efficacy of any prayer, and the very idea is worthy of ridicule. I’ll offer some reasoned critical analysis just as soon as you offer some reliable evidence that God has actually answered any prayer at all.

        How’s that?

        • randal

          Ouch, I have been hoist with my own petard.

          • clamat

            I warned you before, don’t mess! [Insert smiley-face dealie here.]

  • Jag Levak

    “Learning to pray about all matters is (among other things) a way of conforming ourselves to his providential action”

    I’ve heard this conformation theory of prayer before, and I don’t understand it. Clearly this is not the theory of prayer people are operating under when they are asking for something. Such prayers are generally made in the belief that the prayer has some chance greater than zero of having a desirable effect on an outcome. A prayer of conformation to the will of God would presumably be more of the form “Dear God, Thy will be done in all things, Amen” But if any such prayer is sincere, then presumably the offering of the prayer was pointless, except that it was scripted into the divine plan of all things–which means it had no function beyond the fulfillment of the lines which were assigned to the prayer-sayer to deliver at that time.

    • randal

      Note first that this isn’t providing an exhaustive account of the purpose, function of prayer. Second, note that we are encouraged to bring our requests to God. Thus, part of conforming to the will of God is conforming to the request that we interact with God in a relational way. And that means that engaging in petitionary prayer we are conforming to God’s will. “Thy will be done” is merely the icing on the cake.

      • Jag Levak

        “part of conforming to the will of God is conforming to the request that we interact with God in a relational way. And that means that [by] engaging in petitionary prayer we are conforming to God’s will.”

        So, this is a ‘request’? Interesting. Is it your view that we have the option of doing something other than what God thinks we will do, or that it is possible to opt out of the role which God has for us in his divine plan of everything?

        If there was a channel of communication which was able to inform us of this request for petitionary prayers, did any explanation regarding why the request was made arrive through the same conduit of information? For example, does God wish to give the impression that petitionary prayer can have an effect on the outcome desired? Did he give any guidelines regarding what sort of petitionary prayers he will never grant? (like re-growing amputated limbs) Or did he want us to ask him for things even when he already knows that he will not be granting them? Was there any indication given that the effect of petitionary prayers would be at all distinguishable from the results one could expect to obtain from, say, casting wishes, or offering prayers to other gods? Does this God’s need for prayer differ from the generic prayer needs of other gods?

        • randal

          There is no inconsistency between God interacting with human agents as another communicative agent whilst foreknowing how we will freely choose to act in response to his communication.

          • Jag Levak

            I can almost go along with that in a reverse-causality sort of way. Were God a trans-temporal being, for example, standing outside of the ribbon of time, looking at it much like we can look at a long strip of movie film, then such a being could have perfect knowledge of a future event, even if the future event was somehow indeterminate, which means the future event would effectively be the cause of the prior knowledge that it was going to happen.

            The problem comes when the way the ribbon plays out is the result of planning down to the minutest detail. If an omniscient and omnipotent god is capable of planning, then it presumably would be capable of envisioning an unlimited number of possible universes. It could have chosen to create one just like this one up to the point of time T, at which point you would have chosen X instead of Y, but instead, it opted to create the universe where you made the choice of Y at time T. This is surely a different kind of foreknowledge than mere awareness of simple futurity. This sort of foreknowledge would trace straight back to the deliberate choice and infallible execution of an irresistible will. In this view, such a god is not merely the detached observer of the strip of film, it would, in fact, be the absolute author who chose the content of every frame, and created the entire film in perfect fulfillment of that vision.

            So if we suppose God chose for you to follow path Y instead of X at time T, it hard to see how that choice does not preempt your seeming choice. My guess is that you will not object to the planning power of God nor try to diminish his ability to execute to his own plan perfectly, but will nonetheless maintain that your will, in that instance at time T, was yet, somehow, in some way, “free”. But I don’t see what information the “free” qualifier conveys in such a scenario. Presumably this would be in contradistinction to non-free will, but what does that distinction mean? If God had created you with non-free will, and selected which path you would take at time T, how would that be meaningfully different from you being imbued with free-will and following exactly the same script with the exact same unerring precision?

            • randal

              “It could have chosen to create one just like this one up to the point of time T, at which point you would have chosen X instead of Y, but instead, it opted to create the universe where you made the choice of Y at time T. This is surely a different kind of foreknowledge than mere awareness of simple futurity.”

              Correct. It is foreknowledge plus middle knowledge.

              “This sort of foreknowledge would trace straight back to the deliberate choice and infallible execution of an irresistible will. In this view, such a god is not merely the detached observer of the strip of film, it would, in fact, be the absolute author who chose the content of every frame, and created the entire film in perfect fulfillment of that vision.”

              That’s simply incorrect. On a middle knowledge view God knows the various possible worlds and creates one of them. It turns out that God created the possible world in which I freely type this sentence.

              You need to distinguish “Necessarily if God foreknows p then p” from “If God foreknows p then necessarily p.” I accept the former and reject the latter.

              • Jag Levak

                “That’s simply incorrect. On a middle knowledge view God knows the various possible worlds and creates one of them. It turns out that God created the possible world in which I freely type this sentence.”

                Okay, so he knows all possible worlds, he creates one of them, and “it turns out” he created this world. Meaning it just randomly turned out that’s the one he created? Are you suggesting God did not select which exact universe, out of all the possible universes, he would ultimately create? Because it seems like that would kind of defeat the point of having a plan. Are you of the view that it was not within his ability to choose differently, to create one of the possible worlds in which you did not type that sentence?

                Or how about one of the worlds in which you do type that sentence, and do everything else the same as in this world, where the only difference is that he did not imbue any humans with “free will” (whatever that is), but only an illusion of free will. That would be logically possible for your god to do, would it not? So if you have two possible worlds which seem identical, how do you tell which one has the free will?

                • randal

                  “Okay, so he knows all possible worlds, he creates one of them, and “it turns out” he created this world.”

                  It seems like I am failing to communicate. No God intentionally chose to actualize this world.

                  “Are you of the view that it was not within his ability to choose differently, to create one of the possible worlds in which you did not type that sentence?”

                  No.

                  “So if you have two possible worlds which seem identical, how do you tell which one has the free will?”

                  Are you trying to present an argument that if a person is a theist they cannot know if they have free will?!

                  • Jag Levak

                    “No God intentionally chose to actualize this world.”

                    Okay good. And for every detail of the way this world plays out which God could have foreseen and chosen otherwise, could it not be similarly said that he chose to actualize each optional detail of this world? (In case it isn’t clear where this is going, you have allowed for the possibility that God could have chosen to create a world in which you did not write that sentence–so the writing of that sentence would appear to have been one of the optional details within the purview of God’s ability to choose.)

                    “Are you trying to present an argument that if a person is a theist they cannot know if they have free will?!”

                    I don’t really know what free will is, much less what sort of epistemological implications it might have. What I’m trying to do is use logical forks to reduce the size of the problem set. First fork: it either is or is not logically possible for hypothetical God to create a world which looks identical to this one, except where one of the worlds has actual free will, and the other has only an illusion of free will. If it is not possible, then the line of inquiry focuses on why that would be impossible for God, and how we can know that. If it is possible, then the next question would be how it could be known which of the two seemingly-identical worlds we live in? And would the only effective difference between the two be that in the free will world you would be blameworthy for choosing bad-X, whereas in non-free will world, you would not be blameworthy for making the exact same choice?

                    • randal

                      If you’re a theist it is logically possible that our world has no free will.

                      Of course whether or not you’re a theist it is logically possible that our world has no free will.

                      It is also logically possible that we’re all brains in vats.

                      It is also logically possible that I am the only mind.

                      Shrug.

  • MGT2

    Randal,

    I will distill your post into the thought that the rightness or wrongness of a prayer, such as for a parking space, comes down to motive.

    If the motive is right, then I do not see any reason why God would not lead the soccer mom to come to the desired space that will become available at the exact moment she gets there. That would not be a trivial prayer.

    • randal

      That’s a very helpful suggestion. It also faces an immediate difficulty since motives are almost always mixed.

  • drwayman

    For me, it brings up the idea that God is always there waiting to grant my very wish. For God to grant my every request would make Him my puppet; hence, I would be God.

    On the other hand, I wonder if there is a developmental process in play here. My observation is that Christian growth seems to be somewhat developmental: Magic>Law>Faith

    For example, using Samson.

    Magic – Samson’s strength came from his hair
    Law – Samson’s strength came from following the Nazarite vow
    Faith – Samson’s strength came from realizing that God was his source of strength.

    So, in this case, would a person who prays for such things be in a “magical” stage of development?

    That’s my $0.02

    • randal

      I agree that a particular prayer can have all sorts of questionable assumptions. It is worthwhile for every Christian to take a look at those assumptions once in a while.

  • clamat

    That you can seriously compare the validity of a prayer for a parking space to one for a famine victim is a function of the fact that there is literally no good evidence to support the efficacy of any prayer[.]

    I realize I may be the victim of a runaway ego here, but I think this is a really good point.

    How is it possible that we — or, at least, you believers, who presumably have been paying closer attention to these things – don’t know the answer to this question?

    Thousands of years, a bajillion prayers. After so many informal experiments, wouldn’t we expect somebody to be able to say “well, thousands of years of data confirm that God is far more likely to answer a prayer for [x], as opposed to [y], depending on the extent to which [this variable] or [that variable] [are/are not] present, assuming you [stand up/sit down/kneel] and say [these particular words]”? In short, wouldn’t we expect some fairly recognizable pattern to emerge?

    How is it possible that no pattern emerges? How is it possible that we cannot definitively answer the should-be-totally-ridiculous-question “Does God answer prayers for parking spaces at the Pottery Barn?”

    I think you can guess my answer.

    • clamat

      This is somewhat a tangent, but the core of this idea is largely why I don’t believe in ghosts, ESP, etc. If ESP were so common, after thousands of years and bajillions of informal experiments, wouldn’t we all just know that some people have ESP, the same way we all know plants need sunlight? (I probably don’t have to say this, but want to be clear that I’m not talking about “just knowing” here the same way as in the other thread, i.e., intuitively. Separate discussions, separate concepts.) If ghosts were so damn common, wouldn’t any argument about the most basic question about them, namely their very existence, have been settled loooooooooong ago?

      (Before anyone rushes to cite opinion polls, the ones I’ve seen don’t ask people whether they “know” ESP is true. They ask whether they “believe in” ESP. Big difference.)

    • pete

      “How is it possible that no pattern ermerges?”

      I’ll guess your answer is because you think there is no God

      My best educated hypothesis is because God chooses not to be seen as a slot-machine who human gambler types think will be more likely to pay out at some times over others.

      Your little formula flies in the face of revelation (which I am aware that you don’t believe) that God is sovereign and will not be manipulated. (for the tragic consequences of such understandings, read Judges 10-12 – Jephthah….. or the whole Book of Judges for Israel’s pattern of attempted manipulation against God)

      • clamat

        Putting aside God’s reasons for a moment:

        Isn’t saying “there’s no pattern to answered prayers,” just another way of saying “it’s random”?

        • pete

          No pattern doesn’t necessarily = random.

          You could have random chance, or you could have deliberate intention.

          I take it you recognize the difference.

          • Jag Levak

            “You could have random chance, or you could have deliberate intention.
            I take it you recognize the difference.”

            I’m not sure I do. How would we be able to recognize the difference between randomness and an intentionally perfect emulation of randomness?

            • pete

              Jag:

              I’m not giving weight to the form, but the meaning.

              The issue of how we recognize it is of secondary importance (at least in my mind)

              Example:

              Police officers conduct speeding enforcement operations. They have a level of discretion.

              Over the course of the operation (lets say 3 days) they write 30 tickets the first day; 93 tickets the second day; and finally 4 tickets the third day.

              How do you detect a pattern in this? Is it just random, or do other factors come into it?

              How many people are on the road?; How many people are speeding; How much excess are the speeders speeding?; Do the police offiers decide to abandon their operation, because a hostage taking is currently in progress?

              My point is, that there are alot of factors beneath the surface, which although may give the appearance of randomness, are factors in intentionality.

              The police officer who has a range of discretion on matters…… or God who has ultimate discretion on matters, are actually applying their mandates, based upon discretion/sovereign choice, towards their ultimate purposes in a very deliberate and non-random manner.

              • Jag Levak

                “I’m not giving weight to the form, but the meaning.”

                I see. So the recognizing the difference you referred to wasn’t about recognizing the difference per se, but just acknowledging that there could, in theory, be a difference behind the scenes, even if it is undetectable to us.

                “The issue of how we recognize it is of secondary importance (at least in my mind)”

                Most curious. So does it matter at all to you whether a given event is really an act of God, or just an ordinary instance of randomness?

                “How do you detect a pattern in this? Is it just random, or do other factors come into it?…My point is, that there are alot of factors beneath the surface, which although may give the appearance of randomness, are factors in intentionality.”

                Or at least, they *could* be intentional, yes. But I don’t see how it can be determined that they *are* intentional if they can’t be distinguished from random.

                I’ve seen lottery winners thanking God, and I would venture there are millions more prayers offered up in Las Vegas than in Pottery Barn parking lots, but the gaming industries run on, and depend heavily on, the laws of probability. They’ve made quite a science of it, and many gaming machines can even be set to average payout percentages with more than five decimals precision. Even very slight deviations from random can be detected, and routinely are detected, but the explanations always turn out to be mundane physical or human factors. If there is any intentionality at work behind the distribution of prayers answered (or not) in Vegas, it operates in a way that is, so far, a perfect emulation of a complete lack of intentionality. So if we assume there is an intentionality at work answering prayers in Vegas, the implication seems inescapable that there must likewise be an intentionality at work, meticulously hiding or erasing all fingerprints and traces of any intentionality having intervened at all. It’s hard to see how a logical implication like that could avoid having significant theological implications.

                • pete

                  and hence the problem of divine hiddenness

                  Jag, you are 800% correct in asserting the theological issues at play.

                  I don’t think any theist worth their salt would say that when a prayer is answered, God hands the requester of said prayer a receipt or a bill itemizing what he did.

                  My best attempt to illustrate how we can even slightly know something is an answered prayer, apart from a supernatural miracle, may rest, in part, in the likeliness of it being accomplished through non-divine means.

                  The recent case of the 3-year old boy abducted from British Columbia, Canada may be an example.

                  Cases where young children are lured out of their homes/away from their parents by a determined pedophile, in which they then go missing for over 3 days do not usually have the happiest endings.

                  However, this boy was found unharmed, returned to the family home, for the family to discover him upon their return.

                  Is this a answered prayer in the direct sense? I think so. Lots of people were praying for this outcome despite all the odds being stacked against it.

                  I can’t prove it though. And where I can’t prove it, since I have a high view of God’s sovereignty in all actions, I personally fill the void with faith.

  • http://theisticnotebook.wordpress.com David Parker

    Bart Ehrman said in an interview that at some point during his deconversion, he couldn’t say grace anymore because he didn’t feel right thanking God for his food while so many others starved. (Or something like that…I’m probably not transmitting a good historical record here)

    • afpierce

      An interesting remark but I’m not sure what he’s trying to say? Undoubtedly certain Somali Christians will genuinely thank God for what they do not have. Would they not think me extremely ungrateful for not thanking God for what I do have no matter how undeserved it is?

  • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com PM

    “That you can seriously compare the validity of a prayer for a parking space to one for a famine victim is a function of the fact that there is literally no good evidence to support the efficacy of any prayer[.]

    I realize I may be the victim of a runaway ego here, but I think this is a really good point.

    How is it possible that we — or, at least, you believers, who presumably have been paying closer attention to these things – don’t know the answer to this question?”

    Okay, I’m game. First, define the “efficacy” of prayer. What would I need to point to, in your mind, to show that a prayer is efficacious? (In case you can’t see it coming, the problem with your knock-down argument is the assumptions it houses. But if you want to walk into my overhand right, be my guest.)

    • clamat

      PM – I just noticed that my response below was not an actual “Reply” to your post. On the chance you did not see it, I wanted to point it out. To repeat: Please identify any unwarranted assumptions you think I’ve made.

  • clamat

    @ PM

    In case you don’t see it coming, the problem with your knock-down argument is in the assumptions it houses. But if you want to walk into my straight right, be my guest.

    Ooooh, I love boxing metaphors! And you fancy yourself a heavyweight, no doubt.

    Don’t play coy little games. If you think I’ve made unwarranted assumptions, identify them.

    • http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/ PM

      Of course, I issued the challenge which, when explicated, should help you see that. So, Buster Douglas, go ahead and answer the question. No more ducking and dodging.

      • clamat

        I keep forgetting to hit “reply.” See my response below.

  • Jag Levak

    (ran out of “reply” buttons, so I’ll jump this back to root)

    [RR]“whether or not you’re a theist it is logically possible that our world has no free will.”

    So… any thoughts on how we can check whether ours is a free will world or not? Is there any way to identify it, test for it, to see where it is located, to determine how it interacts with the physical world? Does it simplify any of our models or theories?

    “It is also logically possible that we’re all brains in vats.”

    This is where considerations of economy come into play. When I seemingly touch another person, and we both experience the contact, it is far simpler to assume the perception of contact simply corresponds to a contact, than that the synchronized perceptions of contact were generated by some vast system which monitors every mind program and integrates each of the zillion perceptions we experience every day with each other and our fictional surroundings. Even if logically possible, there is no apparent advantage to supposing this is the case.

    “It is also logically possible that I am the only mind.”

    If I am only a simulation of a mind in your domain of experience, then whatever is generating me seems to be able to tell what needs to go into a good simulation of a mind. Hard to come up with a definition of mind which includes you, but excludes what I’m doing, or what the program generating me is doing.

    But perhaps we are both facets of the same mind. Which brings up an obvious question. If God was able to imagine every detail of this universe before he created it, if his preconception model of this universe already included your every thought, every sensation, every emotion, every flicker of mental activity you would ever experience, then what was accomplished by hitting the “create” button? How are the feelings and perceptions experienced by the preconception you any less real than the ones experienced by the physical you? Wouldn’t it basically be the same universe program, just run on a different substrate? (assuming the physical substrate is itself somehow distinct or separate from the God mind)

  • clamat

    @PM

    Of course, I issued the challenge which, when explicated, should help you see that. So, Buster Douglas, go ahead and answer the question. No more ducking and dodging

    Translated: “I can’t.”

    But fine, to the extent this is intelligible (“I issued the challenge which, when explicated, should help you see that”? Um, yes, I see you issued the challenge. And I asked you explicate, i.e., “make clear,” which you refuse to do.):

    Rigorously define a certain “prayer.” Rigorously define what constitutes a positive result for this prayer. Conduct a properly-controlled, double-blind test of the prayer, using a statistically meaningful sample size, that achieves positive results beyond what would be expected by chance and sufficient to reject the null hypothesis.

    Your turn, Iron Mike. (Hmm, I think Douglas and Tyson actually fought once upon a time. Do you happen to recall the outcome?)

    • clamat

      Anticipating a Biblical objection, here’s a specific example that doesn’t require “testing” God: Christopher Hitchens once pointed out that at one time Anglicans were called upon to pray regularly for the health of the sovereign. If prayer worked, certainly one would expect kings and queens to live longer than other nobles and rich commoners (i.e., others with access to similar food, clothing, shelter, and medicine)? Nope.

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  • syme

    it doesn’t matter what you pray about. no one will hear it