Prayer is Superstition / The Best Optical Illusion

These two videos have the same basic theme, so I’ve decided to tackle them together. As has been noted elsewhere, God is Imaginary is a very redundant website. I have already answered these objections elsewhere on this site. Proof #1 and Proof #2 contain expanded discussions of this material.

The underlying assumptions to the material presented in this video is that the only way that God can answer prayer is to reach down by His hand and supernaturally intervene. This is ridiculous. The Bible indicates that God uses His sovereignty over man and nature to act (Is 46:11; see also Gen 50:20); He is hidden (Ps 89:46).

Since God, by definition, is outside creation (that is, the observable, material realm), we would not expect scientific experiments to detect Him.

What about promises like Mark 11:24 or John 14:14? Well, Brain isolates those verses from the the remainder of the Bible’s teaching about prayer. First, there is an obedience component. Look at Job 22:27: “You will pray to Him, He will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows.” Or “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4). What about Psalm 66:18? It says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Consider Proverbs 28:9: “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.” Proverbs 15:8 and 15:29 say that “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases Him” and “The Lord is far from the wicked but hears the prayers of the righteous.”

Notice a pattern in the boldfaced words? That’s right: there is no promise of an answer in any of these verses, there is only a promise that God will hear you. Psalm 37:4 seems to be an exception. However, Psalm 37 has a future outlook to it; and therefore is only a promise of eventual fulfillment, not of immediate gratification.

As for the dice example:

Historically, religions have promoted many kinds of prayer. Prayers of praise, thanksgiving and repentance have been highly esteemed, while intercessions of the kind done in the Benson study — appeals to God to take some action — are of lesser importance. They represent a less-respected magical wing of religion.

In fact, many theologians reject out of hand the notion that any person or group can effectively intercede with God in any respect. Paul Tillich and Karl Barth, the two major Christian theologians of the 20th century (and certainly no opponents of prayer) would have scoffed at the idea. The Lord’s Prayer, the central prayer of Christendom, contains no plea for God to influence specific events in people’s lives. (source)

Interceding with dice rolls is just something that God doesn’t do. Why would anyone expect Him to?

As for the example of the cancer patients, we would still not expect anything to happen. We can assume that Brain is not obedient to God (Rom 3:23). We can assume he has the wrong motives (Ps 14:1-3; cf. Ps 89:46). The person knocking is only testing to see if there is someone behind the door. As Proverbs 19:2 points out, paths of ruin are created by men. Death, weather by our bodies failing, cancer, heart attack, stroke, or getting creamed by a bus entered the world through our own doing. God has never promised to deliver us from the consequences of our own sinful actions. Death will not be removed from the world as it is an age-old punishment for our sins. Cancer is, unfortunately, one way that death can take us.

As for the amputated leg example, God created the universe and imposed a certain order upon it. He defined and established rules for how the universe would work. One of these rules is that higher-order animals, such as humans, cannot regrow limbs. We don’t know why, perhaps it has to do with the complexity of the limb itself.

Within the scope of this created universe, under the rules established by God, He won’t heal an amputee anymore than He would make a square circle. God is nothing if not consistent. He will not do anything that is inconsistent with His own nature. This prayer is philosophically absurd.

Finally, in the optical illusion video, Brain gives us the example of praying to a milk jug and asking for its intercession. The biggest beef with that video is that Brain doesn’t quote the Bible for examples of how prayer is supposed to work; he quotes Christianity.com, as though that website represents authoritative Christian belief on prayer.

Prayer has two components: obedience and motivation. We must be obedient to God and ask for only what is within His will. And our motivation must be pure. None of these aspects are even touched on by the Christianity.com quotes, which is not surprising given the tendency to water down theology by popular Christianity and Brain’s desire to prove prayer is nothing but superstition. Whether the article mentions these components or not is immaterial; Brain won’t consider them into his argument since that would hurt his position.

Prayer is communion with God.  It brings us closer to Him.  Nowhere is it promised or implied that God is a magic genie who grants our every wish.

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