The Complaint Department Is Closed #2

The next installment of The Complaint Department is similar to the previous in dealing with the subject of prayer.  This proof deals with the answering, or rather, the not answering of prayers to God.

Proof Number 2: Statistically Analyze Prayer

The fact is, God never answers any prayers. The entire idea that “God answers prayers” is an illusion created by human imagination.

How do we know that “answered prayers” are illusions? We simply perform scientific experiments. We ask a group of believers to pray for something and then we watch what happens. What we find, whenever we test the efficacy of prayer scientifically, is that prayer has zero effect:

  • It does not matter who prays.
  • It does not matter if we pray to God, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Ra or any other human god.
  • It does not matter what we pray about.

If we perform scientific, double-blind tests on prayer, and if the prayers involve something concrete and measurable (for example, healing people with cancer), we know that there is zero effect from prayer. Every single “answered prayer” is nothing more than a coincidence. Both scientific experiments and your everyday observations of the world show this to be the case every single time.

It is not hard to see how GII comes to the conclusion it has regarding prayer.  GII has defined positive results of prayers out of viable options out of the discussion.  GII starts by asserting God does not answer prayers and any perceived answer is merely illusory.  How do we know God does not answer prayer, you ask?  Scientific experiments.  By using an investigatory platform which strictly measures the physical universe we will attempt to measure a non-physical process.  To lift an expression from Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason, GII is attempting to weigh a chicken with a yardstick.  Using “science” to perform an experiment on prayer is the wrong process.  Science is only receptive to physical processes, by definition, science cannot measure the supernatural.

Second, lets assume for the sake of the argument that a scientific experiment could be done to measure the effectiveness of prayers offered on behalf of say, a patient with an illness.  Part of the problem is that you can not scientifically measure one’s faith.  What would be the test GII has in mind to ensure those who are praying are truly believers and are doing so for the right reasons, James 4:2-3 “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” tells us prayers might not be answered for lack of proper motivation.  This is at least one variable science cannot test for.

Next, rather than conceding there are incidents of perceived answered prayer, GII tells us that even if you pray, and what you pray for obtains, it is just a coincidence. GII starts with the assumption prayers do not get answered, and has given themselves an escape in the event the prayer does get answered, it’s only a coincidence.  The answering of the prayer has been defined out of the proposition, this is circular reasoning.  It assumes prayers cannot be answered, then sets up a system for testing which by the nature of the system is not capable of performing a proper evaluation.  Then if by chance, a prayer is answered, rather than assigning the incident to a positive result, chalks it up to coincidence.  The game is rigged.

GII links to articles which claim to have performed scientific studies concluding prayer is ineffective.  Unfortunately, the links have since expired save two.  This being the case, I will only address the two articles still available.  The first is from the NY Times, where GII quotes only this portion:

Religious leaders will breathe a sigh of relief at the news that so-called intercessory prayer is medically ineffective. In a large and much touted scientific study, one group of patients was told that strangers would pray for them, a second group was told strangers might or might not pray for them, and a third group was not prayed for at all. The $2.4 million study found that the strangers’ prayers did not help patients’ recovery.

And from this snippet GII concludes:

This is a remarkable example of “positive spin” — religious leaders are “breathing a sigh of relief” because prayer has been shown to be meaningless. The fact that prayer is a total waste of time does not matter to them. It does not matter that all of Jesus’ promises about prayer in the Bible have been proven completely false

The second article, from is dealing with optimism specifically and makes no mention of prayer, so there is no need to chase a rabbit trail on an article which makes no mention of GII’s professed objection, namely, prayer is ineffective.

In context, the “religious leaders are breathing a sigh of relief, because the effects of human nature would likely turn any prayer group into a “Burger King” of sorts, transforming the church into a drive-thru miracle operation.  I do not think that is an unreasonable concern, to have the foresight to know guaranteed answered prayer would be a breeding ground selfishness and gluttony of all sorts, is commendable and hardly a liability, especially in this society of “I want it now” people.  I do not however find myself surprised to find the latter portion of the article quoted by GII.  Take a look at what the article goes on to conclude:

We should note that the impetus for this recent research has come almost entirely from scientists, not from religious leaders. It seems that no credible theologian has been involved in planning, directing or even consulting on such studies. But scientists who conduct research on religious practice should at least consult reputable theologians. Had they done so to begin with a considerable amount of money could have been saved. Scientists who undertake the work of theologians are as reckless as theologians who pretend to be scientists.

Truly, scientists attempting to do the work of theologians are outside their ken.  Scientists tend to make terrible theologians and philosophers.  I just do not think they are in a position to be making theological conclusions based on what they consider to be scientific experimentation.  It does not seem to be obvious to the scientist they are attempting to weigh a chicken with a yardstick.  As for GII, they continue to be short sighted in their analyses.  First by defining the terms of investigation to necessarily exclude a conclusion opposite to their own is intellectually dishonest.  Additionally, GII continues to build upon their understanding of the purpose and function of prayer, that it is to be used as an ailment get-out-of-jail-free-card.  Until GII makes an honest attempt to understand biblical concepts on the Bible’s terms, and not a strawman understanding, GII will continue to produce invalid proofs for God not existing. Even if this proof was valid, and its claims were true, it is still not a proof God does not exist, merely that God does not answer prayer. There is nothing philosophically necessary which requires any God to answer a prayer.


The Cross-Eximaned Blog has written an article regarding Richard Dawkins use of this objection.  It would seem Dawkins and other atheists attempting to use this objection are very selective which is misleading to a point.


  1. Jack Bentley says:

    OK, if god answers prayers, how about you devise a test to prove it?

    • Assuming you are an atheist, I would have to ask, what would you consider proof? For example, countless people have prayed for any number of things: money for bills, jobs, food, etc. and had the object of their prayers fulfilled. As an atheist your rejoinder is either coincidence or deciet. In no way does your worldview allow divine intervention, so in that respect you have essentially rigged the game in your favor, in that no example of an answered prayer counts as answered prayer.

      I also assume by “test” you mean some type of focus group. There are far too many flaws with that type of test for its results to give any accurate information.

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