A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
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23-09-2014, 09:24 AM
A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
Hey Pastafarians,

I posted this to reddit but didn't get any feedback. This is my first post here but I've been here a long time... listening but never speaking (god joke).

So I'm in a discussion with a christian friend about the efficacy of prayer and he asked me to present an argument in writing. He said he would really consider it and respond. You're all more talented then me so let me know what you think of this tactic and if you've got something better let me know!!!

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James 5:16 - "...pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."

In 2006 a Harvard professor, Herbert Benson performed "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)". It was the largest and most conclusive study done on the effects of intercessory prayer. It used 1,802 coronary artery bypass surgery patients at six hospitals. Using double-blind protocols, patients were randomized and placed into three groups. Group 1 and 2 were told that they "may or may not be prayed for." Group 1 was prayed for while Group 2 was not. Group 3 was told that they were "being prayed for" and were prayed for so as to test the placebo effects of prayer. The congregations of three Christian churches prayed for these patients. They were to pray for these individuals specifically by name and were devoted to this task. Group 1 and 2 had nearly identical mortality rates - ~51% at 30 days. The group that knew they were being prayed for had a 59% mortality rate. Some called the poor mortality rate in Group 3 "performance anxiety".

There are a dozen studies similar to this one. All are conclusive. Prayer has no efficacy. The mortality rates across all religions are near identical when adjusted for non-religious factors (region, economy...). The cancer survival rates are identical. Even though an entire congregation devotes itself to prayer it changes nothing.

A Parable:

You stand at the edge of a precipice being marched along it by an armed soldier. Looking down this steep cliff face you can see that you face a fatal fall. Though you walk along the edge you have a long wait ahead. You are the eighteen hundred and third person in a long line of people. Of people being forced over the edge.

You dwell idly on your predicament. How did you get here? What should you have done differently in your life? Will your loved ones be alright? Interrupting your thoughts is a face you recognize. It's your best friend! Your best friend in the whole world! He'll save you for he is a very unique friend. He's always writing about his impressive power's. You'll never forget the time you flipped a coin needing 'heads' to show and it showed! You'd asked your friend for help and there it was. The help you needed. In the end, you still lost your house but that's alright. You learned from it and you're doing just fine now with a wife, baby on the way, and a new job...well...except for this cliff.

You can see that this friend of yours stands beside the man first in line. The first man waiting to be forced over the edge. Your friend is talking to him and smiling. Smiling? Is there good news? You're too far to hear his words but you see the soldier there beside your friend and he gestures out into empty space. This 'walker' closes his eyes and walks out. He plummets to the rocks below. He doesn't even cry out as he's smashed against the jagged earth. Your oldest friend in the world just stands there. A placid look on his face. Why didn't he use his awesome power to save that man?

The soldier gestures and the next walker steps forward. Again, your oldest friend speaks to this walker. The walker smiles to your friend and hugs herself, exalted. Your friend doesn't react to this. Surely he accepts the praise though. She says a few words, smiles to your friend, and steps out over the edge. Her scream is cut short as she smacks into the ground far below. She couldn't have been out of middle school yet. Poor girl.

Hours pass by. The bodies are tiny figures littering the rocks. The fall is so far that you can barely see the gore staining the ground. Carrion eaters fly over head. You must be 300 people away from the end of your life. Your friend is still there though. Talking to these people. Maybe they'll let me call my wife and say goodbye?

Soon you are close enough to hear their words. The soldier tells the walker that they have to walk out. It's their choice "how" they walk out. And you can hear your friend now. Your loving, powerful friend! He says, "I am all powerful. I can do anything. I am pure truth and can not tell a lie. I stand here waiting to hear from you. Ask anything of me and I will give it to you. I've written these things down for you so you know I speak the truth. I write in my book many times that I speak only truth. Let me encourage you to test my word for I am powerful and worthy to be tested. However, be certain to never test my word. Now you need only ask me to not let you fall. I will allow you to walk out and walk down to the ground below, unharmed." Exaltation covers the walker's face as he asks your friend for a bridge of safety to bring him to the ground. He walks out and you can make out the surprise on his face as he plummets beyond your view. His scream builds like a crescendo and is cut off as his body breaks open on the rocks.

It isn't long before you stand beside your friend. Your oldest friend. You hear him recite the words you've come to know so well. You know them well enough to recite yourself. You think, "why the same words? Am I not special?" You ask him why he hasn't helped those that came before you. You look below at the scattered dead. Your friend doesn't respond. You ask him, "you're my oldest friend. I beg you now. Prove your strength to me! My wife is pregnant and I have to be there for her..." He merely looks at you. Unfocused. Your wife's face swims up in your mind and you look over the edge. You'll never see your baby. Is it a boy or girl? The soldier gestures to you and you know the ground waits. The anger has been building now and the urge to strike your friend rises close behind it. Such power and no power to save? Your hand tingles as you lash out at him and strike... only air. You turn fully to your friend. As you look closely at him he flickers in your vision. Flicker's like an old movie. An old movie? Your oldest friend was always there for you... wasn't he? Your mind flashes back to all those moments with him and you see those moments with new eyes. The games you played together. He was always there beside you because you brought him. You brought him. He's a toy. Just a toy. You turn to the soldier and he's gone. Did that soldier have your friend's face? Was the compulsion ever truly there? You look below and wake up.

Thank God...It was just a dream.
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23-09-2014, 10:29 AM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
I wonder if you had no feedback because of the length of the post. That's a pity, you write very well.

I get the 1,803 reference but I'm not sure that the analogy matches the experiment i.e. having three groups with other people praying (or not) so I was kinda expecting a link back to the prayer-survey in some way.

But as a story about the imaginary nature of prayer... yes, I liked it.

Not the ending... that sucks! "I woke up and it was just a dream" -- or perhaps in this case, a nightmare -- is the biggest cop out ending in literature.

Wouldn't it be a better ending to wake up from a daydream to the reality that the friend was a mental aberration and even that the test of faith was a mirage. You and a small number of others who have woken from the daydream walk back to your homes and you look upon your wife with newly opened eyes and hug her like this day, this life, this existence is the only one that does or will ever matter.

Sadcryface

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23-09-2014, 10:37 AM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
Just ask if thier god is omniscient. Does their god know the future ? If so, she already knows what she's already going to do. Is a human praying going to change what god already knows ?

God has a plan.
Stop screwing it up with your prayers.

Big Grin

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
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23-09-2014, 10:44 AM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
thanks for the feedback! I agree with the cop out I just didn't know how to indicate the imaginary nature of prayer. Maybe a mental disorder is the way to go there.

yeah, I used the god has a plan why mess it up argument before. Very valid argument.

thanks for the feedback.
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23-09-2014, 10:52 AM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
Unanswered prayer was what began my journey to unbelief, it caused me to evaluate the claims of people that say their prayers were answered and realizing that the more you believed, the easier it was to fool yourself into believing you received an answer. This was perception based, not reality based. I watched as people in church around me lived their lives, suffered, won, lost, even died. Not once could I see any objective instance of reality being altered by their useless pleading, but this required being objective and it was something that no one in church was interested in.

Having that attitude being surrounded by believers puts an instant gulf between you and the rest.

Gods derive their power from post-hoc rationalizations. -The Inquisition

Using the supernatural to explain events in your life is a failure of the intellect to comprehend the world around you. -The Inquisition
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23-09-2014, 11:55 AM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
my musings on prayer:

you hear the phrase "power of prayer" often from the faithful...and I was thinking...since there is what....8 billion ppl in the world, and 80%ish purport to believe in a god...so it is probably safe to say that at least 6 billion ppl believe in a god, lets just half that for argument's sake...so the world has 3 billion people that believe in a god, and most likely utter a silent prayer at least once a day..from the mild "please god let me get to work on time", to the frightening "please god dont let him kill me" type prayers. From mild to moderate to fervent, 3 billion people probably utter one prayer a day....just go with it for the moment...so out of those 3 billion daily prayers, how many get answered?

The very few that appear to be answered I posit it is due to the lottery of chance and coincidence. However, if you are the believer who say prayed "oh god let my numbers come in on the lottery pick" (just like every other faithful person who bought a ticket)...and one of those believers wins the lottery...he or she is going to think, Oh my god, he answered my prayer...I am living proof....no, no I say there was 3 billion pulls on the the one armed bandit of prayers game machine and your pull happened to come up with the three lemons.....but the bible says ask and ye shall receive right? for example

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7)

"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 18:19)

"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." (Matthew 21:22)

"Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mark 11:24)

so think about it this way, the handful of prayers that seem to have been answered is not an indication that prayer works, rather we must look at it from the other angle, why didnt the other 2,999,999,992 ish prayers get answered? To me this is an indication that there is no power of prayer, rather it is just the lottery of chance and coincidence.

"Belief is so often the death of reason" - Qyburn, Game of Thrones

"The Christian community continues to exist because the conclusions of the critical study of the Bible are largely withheld from them." -Hans Conzelmann (1915-1989)
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23-09-2014, 01:55 PM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
Couldn't agree more. I did enjoy reading about the scientific studies that have been done. They are all extremely conclusive that praying for someone makes no difference in their lives.any observed change is merely confirmation bias and would have occurred anyways.
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23-09-2014, 01:56 PM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
Unless there's any other feedback on the original post I plan on messaging my friend tonight. I'll let you guys know how it plays out.
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23-09-2014, 02:05 PM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
I think there should have been more groups in the study. Group 4 - tell them they are being prayed for, but no actual prayers. Group 5, tell them they are not being prayed for, but in actuality pray for them.
Edit: Group 6 - tell them they are not being prayed for, and no prayers.

"If there's a single thing that life teaches us, it's that wishing doesn't make it so." - Lev Grossman
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23-09-2014, 02:46 PM
RE: A Parable on the Efficacy of Prayer...
(23-09-2014 02:05 PM)Nurse Wrote:  I think there should have been more groups in the study. Group 4 - tell them they are being prayed for, but no actual prayers. Group 5, tell them they are not being prayed for, but in actuality pray for them.
Edit: Group 6 - tell them they are not being prayed for, and no prayers.

I agree. That was a real study though - not a fiction. It may been difficult to get enough members (including church members). 1,802 is quite a few.
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