Some atheists refer to an experiment performed in the US and funded by the Templeton Foundation with a view to determine the effectiveness of prayer. In controlled conditions, a group of Americans has prayed for some time for a group of sick people. As it turned out “at checkpoint,” the health of that target group had not become fundamentally better in comparison with the other control group of patients who were not subject to anyone’s prayer. According to some atheists, this experiment serves to prove that prayers do not work, God does not exist and so on.
However, from a believer’s point of view this experiment could not have possibly ended with any other result. It may have proven effective if we were to determine some impersonal force, like electricity. But the God in Whom Christians believe is not an impersonal power. God has identity, will and self-awareness. He Himself decides what He does and does not do, as well as who He appears to and how. For a scientific experiment to be successful, it must take place under conditions controlled by the experimenter. This means that if God wanted to take part in such an experiment, then during the experiment He would also become controlled by the experimenter. This is, first of all, absurd, and secondly, it is not clear why God would need such a thing?
For example, I have a rule not to respond to trolls on the Internet. The Templeton Foundation could fund another study, in which, relatively speaking, a hundred trolls would be sent to troll me on social networks. If I do not answer, would that be proof that I do not exist? You might say that comparing prayer with internet trolling is not entirely appropriate, but it is not prayer in general that is being compared here, but this particular experiment, whose participants knew that they were participating in it. In some sense their “prayers” acted as bait, which, according to the organizers’ logic, God should or could have “swallowed”, whereas His inaction they interpret as proof of His nonexistence.
This reminds me of the relatively large group of people on the Internet who do not believe in the existence of Vladimir Putin. They say that the real Putin died a long time ago, and it is his twin that is acting now. They are also trying to somehow prove it by studying his photographs. Predictably, Putin has not come to any of these people trying to prove that he is real. Does that prove these people right? Or does that simply show that Putin has other things to do than proving his realness to these sceptics?
This American experiment and other similar attempts to “clock” God, “alluring” Him with prayer, can hardly be counted worthy of having the Creator of the Universe participate in them.
At the same time, the fact that God does answer prayers can be attested by any or almost any believing Orthodox Christian, leading a more or less continued religious life. The existence of religion itself could not continue for so long if people did not feel the response from where they direct their prayers. If you have a broken phone in your house, which no longer works and makes no calls, you are not going to continue picking it up regularly and pretend that you use it to talk to someone. Even if you really are occupied with such strange ideas, your kids and your grandchildren will hardly pick up the slack of embracing them. Humans are very practical creatures. If prayers were ineffective, believe me, humanity would have abandoned them a long time ago.
Any atheist could personally test the effectiveness of prayer. However, saying something like “send me, Lord, a bottle of beer right now” does not work, because it is a thing unworthy of God. St Silouan once said, “I advise unbelievers to pray with these words: ‘Lord, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me, and I will serve You then with my whole life!'”
Why is that second part of his prayer important (the promise to serve God if He really exists)? Because it vouches for what really makes a person worthy of an answer from God. On the other hand, if a person does not have that willingness to give up sin and devote himself to God, he may be just lying on the couch and saying, “God, go ahead and appear to me.” Such a person is not worthy of the Creator of the Universe to show His presence to him. I personally know several examples of atheists who prayed this prayer, received an answer and became believers. In some cases this change happened fast, taking some of them not more than a week. With others it took longer, but now these are people of very strong faith.
In my opinion, a significant part of people, who call themselves atheists, do so not because they lack evidence of God’s existence, but because they do not want God to exist. They do not want to humble themselves before His law and His commandments. Even if God did appear to them, they would find ways to explain it, such as “a special state of consciousness”, or “daydreaming”, or “natural reasons”, which scientists may not know yet but will soon discover.
In the light of everything said, it is not so surprising that God does not impose Himself on a person, who does not want God to exist.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
This is an excellent article. Of course the whole experiment rests on a conceptual confusion. The power of prayer is not a power of what is said or of those who pray. Prayers are not spells cast in order to compel God to do something. As the theologian Thomas Aquinas noted, we do not pray in order to change the will of God, rather we pray so that those things will come about which God has ordained will come about through prayer! The power of prayer is entirely dependent on God’s will. God grants petitions or disregards them at his own pleasure and he may well chose to ignore them without detriment to his own power when they are part of an impertinent scientific experiment which treats him as a mere object to be manipulated and operated on. God bless you!
The thing is, I’ve been praying for any deity that exists to reveal to me for over a decade with a full willingness to follow that deity if that is the case. In fact, I WANT there to be something greater, but my faith has been shattered so many times by people I should have been able to trust that I can’t make myself believe in anything.
Of course usually when I say this, I get a lot of hate, saying that I’m not willing to change and follow the path. But that’s just is, I already do. I accepted the teachings of Jesus a long time ago, because I believe its a worthwhile philosophy to strive for regardless of if there’s a prize at the end. Morality should be something that is practiced because one believes it is right, not because one believes there’s a prize at the end.
But of course, this makes my life miserable. I feel better when I try to help people around me, when I try to be kind to people around me, but I’m still staring down the barrel of oblivion. I’m simply finding something to do that makes me feel fuzzy inside while I wait to cease to exist; people that have belief cannot even imagine that type of abject terror. You can’t imagine what it feels like to hate yourself because you made a mistake, even a minor one, and now have no way to correct it because there is no one there to comfort or forgive you.
If a deity revealed themselves to me, I would follow them with no hesitation whatsoever, because I desperately want to believe that efforts to do the right thing are meaningful. So why haven’t they? It’s so frustrating.
God bless you! Following the excellent advice of this article, I would humbly suggest: Say Saint Theophan the Recluse’s model prayer for the doubtful. “Lord, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me, and I will serve You then with my whole life!” Put everything in your heart behind these words, and the Lord Jesus Christ will hear and bring you close to Himself.
Be careful! Demons are quick to respond and pretend to love you, but they will only add to the betrayal you have already experienced by them working through men. The reason they don’t reveal themselves is certainly because God is protecting you from being torn apart. You also value morality, whereas they are simply full of hate. Demons will bring you everything you desire so that you trust them, then utterly destroy you, leaving you mentally unstable or even suicidal. I was a foolish, proud, “truth seeking” pagan, and they destroyed my life. Demons only lie, or mix truth with lies. No other diety (which in actuality are all demons) is worth trusting if you care about spiritual Truth like you clearly state you do. Only Christ can save us from demonic malice, and even with Him, we must suffer here, for we worship a God who suffered. Demons give us comforts and distractions, money, wealth, sex, power over others—basically everything pertaining to this brief fleeting life, until we are destroyed spiritually, then die, and then we live in hell for eternity. It’s better to suffer now than for eternity. “Feel good” Christianity doesn’t exist, that is, Christianity without the cross. Whatever you do, do NOT follow a synchronistic polytheistic “anything goes” philosophy, for God might grant you the terrible thorn of experience. Take it from one who has many still in her flesh, of which the Lord seems to deem they remain within me, despite my many prayers for healing. I regret ever opening my heart to demons. If you want to be certain you never trust people again, follow demons, and they will destroy you through men who know not what they do. Please forgive me and pray for me all who read this, the wretched sinful Maria Magdalena