A while back, I was reading a “logical” argumentation by Rebecca Goldstein regarding the non-existence of God. The author of this novel takes 36 “proofs” of God existing and shows how each assertion is flawed. I avoid atheism vs. God exists arguments because they are never productive. The God side always gets mad and calls the atheist a heathen, and the atheist calls the believer-in-God nutty. I am convinced, especially after reading the above “refutations” that logic will never prove or disprove God (I’ll explain my reasoning for that later). If you try to do either, you end up looking foolish.
Let me take number 9 on the list mentioned above:
9. The Argument from Answered Prayers
1. Sometimes people pray to God for good fortune, and, against enormous odds, their calls are answered. (For example, a parent prays for the life of her dying child, and the child recovers.)
2. The odds that the beneficial event will happen are enormously slim(from 1).
3. The odds that the prayer would have been followed by recovery out of sheer chance are extremely small (from 2).
4. The prayer could only have been followed by the recovery if God listened to it and made it come true.
5. God exists.
This argument is similar to The Argument from Miracles, #11 below, except that, instead of the official miracles claimed by established religion, it refers to intimate and personal miracles.
flaw 1: Premise 3 is indeed true. However, to use it to infer that a miracle has taken place (and an answered prayer is certainly a miracle) is to subvert it. There is nothing that is less probable than a miracle, since it constitutes a violation of a law of nature (see The Argument from Miracles). Therefore, it is more reasonable to conclude that the conjunction of the prayer and the recovery is a coincidence than that it is a miracle.
flaw 2. The coincidence of a person’s praying for the unlikely to happen and its then happening is, of course, improbable. But the flaws in The Argument from Cosmic Coincidences and The Argument from Personal Coincidences apply here: Given a large enough sample of prayers (the number of times people call out to God to help them and those they love is tragically large), the improbable is bound to happen occasionally. And, given the existence of Confirmation Bias, we will notice these coincidences, yet fail to notice and count up the vastly larger number of unanswered prayers.
flaw 3: There is an inconsistency in the moral reasoning behind this argument. It asks us to believe in a compassionate God who would be moved to pity by the desperate pleas of some among us—but not by the equally desperate pleas of others among us. Together with The Argument from a Wonderful Life, The Argument from Perfect Justice, and The Argument from Suffering, it appears to be supported by a few cherry-picked examples, but in fact is refuted by the much larger number of counter-examples it ignores: the prayers that go unanswered, the people who do not live wonderful lives. When the life is our own, or that of someone we love, we are especially liable to the Projection Fallacy, and spread our personal sense of significance onto the world at large.
flaw 4: Reliable cases of answered prayers always involve medical conditions that we know can spontaneously resolve themselves through the healing powers and immune system of the body, such as recovery from cancer, or a coma, or lameness. Prayers that a person can grow back a limb, or that a child can be resurrected from the dead, always go unanswered. This affirms that supposedly answered prayers are actually just the rarer cases of natural recovery.
I came across this as I was reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller. My father-in-law told me that Miller’s book was the most applicable book on prayer that he had ever read. Okay, sure. I had my opinions on how a book on prayer could be so applicable, so I was a bit skeptical when I began reading. It didn’t take long for my skepticism to fade and for my interest to peak. This is now the best book on prayer that I’ve ever read too, even though I don’t read as much as Andy. Anyways, Miller establishes, as an entire base for prayer, that it should be approached like a child. He tells several stories of children being excited, asking for what they want (often times over and over and over and over again), accepting coaching/instruction, telling things the way they see it, and sharing all of their thoughts without a filter. I think it’s a pretty interesting way of looking at how to approach God.
After explaining that people should pursue praying to God like a child, he explains why cynicism destroys a prayerful heart. He deals with such questions as why God chooses to heal some people and not others, allows some couples to get pregnant and not others, etc. This section was extremely challenging and thought-provoking because of the conclusion Miller draws.
Miller suggests that to live a prayerful life is to live a poet’s life (much like Barnes in the Pastor as Minor Poet). The purpose then in prayer is not to get something from God per se, but to understand the story God is telling through you. Prayer isn’t necessarily about getting what you want, it’s about understanding God. This powerful stance on prayer dismantles Goldstein’s assumed stance regarding prayer.
After reading Miller’s book, it’s seems silly to determine whether God exists based on a misguided assumption about something Goldstein doesn’t clearly understand. Yup, I’m resorting to name calling. But Goldstein comes across as having arrived–as being an intellectual genius that completely understands the universe. I don’t care who you are (atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Mormon, etc.) but when you start believing that you have it all figured out, it’s only a matter of time before life punches you in the face. Which brings me to the second book for this long review, which I will post shortly!