Saturday, July 24, 2010

If something isn't going your way, why not pray?

Last week was the first week of semester and I was at the booth for Reason and Science Society helping to entice newcomers over by standing behind the more attractive members of the group and not talking much so they wouldn't be scared off. A conversation sprung up (as they do) about why a certain person, who I shall call Eliza, believed in God. This being Yahweh of course, but any God will suffice during this post. Eliza's reason for believing in God was that God answered his/her prayers. When pushed to give examples we heard this amazing tale, that nearly gave me an aneurysm trying not to laugh.

Apparently Eliza had some teeth problems and was informed that he/she may require extensive dental treatment. Eliza prayed to God asking to not have to have the dental treatment. And lo! Eliza's prayers were answered. No one seemed impressed by this miracle of the modern era (maybe it gets a better reaction at youth group with lots of "Praise his name!" and "Amen" being shouted out), so Eliza shared another testimony of the time he/she was feeling worried about a hockey game and after praying, felt better. Now this sounded weak to even Eliza who then admitted that it may have been psychological. Eliza failed to gain any converts that day AND inspired an Atheist to blog, so -10 Jesus points for Eliza there. He/she's never going to get enough for the hot tub add on in his/her sky mansion at this rate.

Now I don't want you to think that Eliza is stupid or anything. This is just an example of how the human brain is just a bit fail. We tend to remember the hits and forget the misses, so it seems to Eliza that his/her prayers are answered more often than not. This is because of the Confirmation Bias, which is one of the more important cognitive biases we suffer from. If you haven't already, go to wikipedia and read what it is. Go ahead, I'll wait.

So, although it's not unusual for people to think their prayers are answered I still find it bizarre that people do it in the first place. It is the ultimate hubris to think that you can appeal to an omnipotent being and get them to change the universe to suit you. You are essentially saying that you think God got it wrong and you are asking him to change his mind. If God is benevolent and omnipotent he is already doing whatever is best and you yapping to him about it achieves nothing. Unless your God is a petty tyrant who is flattered by the attention or is charged up by prayers like a D&D God, you are wasting your time.

I felt especially annoyed at Eliza, who instead of being happy that he/she lived in a country with dental treatment and could afford to have said treatment, he/she bitched to their deity about not wanting it. If I was Eliza's God I'd be pretty pissed off about the lack of gratitude. Look, if he's not granting the prayers of the children in Africa who just want to not die painfully, what makes you think your pathetic problems are more worthy?

I think I'll allow Mrs Betty Bowers to explain it to us.
Advocatus Diaboli

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