“And intercessory prayer is so effective it’s effectiveness can’t be tested to have a measurable effect on our world.”
Robert then added an explanatory notation for his statement. That qualification is helpful. But I’m going to focus on this sentence itself because I’ve heard a similar thing many times (alas, often without such an accompanying explanation). So I simply ask this: is it true that prayer has no measurable effect on the world? Can we really do without the divine mind acting in the world?
Well let’s move from the giddy heights of theology to an outdoor prairie hockey game in mid winter. The puck has just gone missing. But rather than call the game off Wes advises his younger brother to go to the corner store and buy a tin of Skoal chewing tobacco. “Tell the shop owner we want to use it for a puck.” Wes says. Ten minutes later Wes’s little brother is back with the chew and the game continues. (Sadly, rumor has it that after a whack or two of a hockey stick there were shards of plastic and fine tobacco sprayed all over the ice. Poor Wes. He forgot that “puck shaped” doesn’t automatically imbue the tin with the structural integrity of a chunk of solid rubber.)
Human petitions. What to make of them? I’m not sure because explaining events with respect to the action of human “minds” has all sorts of implications. I understand brains (more or less, mostly less) . But minds? Do we really want to move from the “pushes and pulls” of neurons to a truly mystical, hokus pokus realm of “sensations”, “intentions”, “propositions” and the rest? Do we really want to bring all that “mind stuff” into our explanation of how the tin of Skoal tobacco got from the shop to the ice?
So a philosopher of mind with an adequately robust constitution for reductive explanations of the world could dismiss mind explanations of the Skoal tin’s journey to the ice by declaring:
“And mind-petitioning is so effective it’s effectiveness can’t be tested to have a measurable effect on our world.”
In other words, all we need is the firing of neurons to explain that plastic puck’s icy fate. The rest is mere window dressing.
I suppose if that is the avenue you want to drive down I can’t stop you. But I’ll continue to find the appeal to mind a more adequate explanation of the Skoal puck’s final moments.
And so it goes with prayer. In countless instances people of faith find appeal to a divine mind part of the most satisfying explanation of key events in their life. Should it bother them that there are skeptics out there who categorically reject such explanations? As I have noted previously in this blog, Michael Shermer declared in an interview that even if a limb spontaneously regrew following a petitionary prayer he still would not believe a divine agent acted to regrow the limb. Prayer, on his view, doesn’t have any measurable effect on the world. Apparently it can’t. And if the limb does happen to regrow? Well in that case you just refuse to measure it.
But if a limb regrows, or a check arrives in the mail just when the rent was due, or a wayward son returns home, why shouldn’t a Christian interpret that as God’s (measurable) action in the world?