The Fatal Flaw in Double Blind Prayer Experiments

16 07 2010

We have all likely seen the reports on these “double blind” prayer experiments. The idea is to test whether prayer “works”. Here is how these experiments work. First, a group of people with longer-term illnesses is identified, usually these people are hospitalized so that results can be tracked. Next, a group of people is identified to pray for these ailing people.

These types of studies, in addition to trying to determine whether prayer works, have been used as evidence for and against the existence of God. The U.K. radio program, Unbelievable?1, recently featured a discussion between U.S. atheist and professor of physics, Victor Stenger and British Christian and statistician, David Bartholomew on the issue of whether double-blind prayer studies prove or disprove the existence of God.

Bartholomew took the same position that C.S. Lewis took during his lifetime, that these studies prove nothing regarding prayer or the existence of God. Gregory and Christopher Fung quote Lewis as saying, “The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions…Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment.”2

One of the most recent of these studies, conducted by the Harvard Medical School, was The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP). The study, conducted over 10 years, with the cost of $2.4 million, produced the kind of results that C.S. Lewis would not have been surprised to see. This study included over 1,800 patients with heart conditions requiring surgery. The patients were divided into three groups: one group knowingly received prayer from a group of Chrisitans; the second and third group were told that they may or may not receive prayer; with one receiving prayer and the other not. The first group for whom prayers were offered to their knowledge, actually did worst of all, followed by the group that didn’t know that they were receiving prayer but actually did. The group that did the best was the one for whom no prayers were offered by the research prayer group.

The researchers were actually not surprised by the results as they suspected that the first group might have felt pressure to get better knowing that prayers were being offered. Evangelicals have offered other reasons for the results, such as that many of those who didn’t receive prayer from the research prayer team probably did receive prayers from family members and friends. However, I would like to add another idea to the mix.

Even though these are double-blind experiments, there are actually three parties involved, and the third party cannot be blinded to the study. Of course, God is that third party and God is fully aware of what is going on in these experiments. Victor Stenger asserted on the radio program that God would want to answer prayers for those who are sincerely seeking him, he would want to make himself known. Stenger argues that a God who hides himself cannot exist. He says that a good God, a moral God would not deliberately hide himself from people who are open to the possibility of his existence. Stenger says that given positive results of this type of prayer study he would immediately return to the church of his youth, the Roman Catholic church.

I have a few things to say about this argument. First, I don’t believe that God hides himself from his creation. The Apostle Paul tells us in the first chapter of the Book of Romans that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (v. 19) Paul explains that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they [we] are without excuse.” (v. 20) This hardly seems to be describing a God who “hides” himself. On the other hand, I do believe that God keeps an epistemic distance from his creation so as not to force us to believe, and this may be to what Stenger is actually referring.

The main issue is that God is not necessarily interested in our believing that he exists. What, you ask, God doesn’t want me to believe that he exists? That is not what I am saying. God could make it very clear to all creation that he exists in any number of ways. But, what would that accomplish? He would have a world of people at a point in history who know he exists; however, would that mean that he would necessarily have more people who trust in him? I don’t think so. In fact, many would come to resent God forcing himself upon his creation.

Suppose that the government came along and decided that they would choose who your spouse was going to be, do you think that the knowledge of your intended spouse’s existence and selection would cause you to love him or her? No, in fact, many would resent being told who to marry and many would resist that union. So why, given the irrefutable knowledge of God’s existence, would it lead Victor Stenger or anyone else to love and trust in him? People, especially Americans like Stenger, don’t like being bullied, and that is just how many would take this kind of imposition of God into the lives of his creation.

I, like the Apostle Paul, think that there is enough evidence for God’s existence for those who are open to honestly considering that evidence. I think that the evidence is quite good for God’s existence and am laying out some of those evidences this Summer in a class that I am teaching. However, this same evidence is rejected by people every day. In other words, God is not going to force the issue, but he is willing to make himself known to those who diligently seek him out.

So, let’s scrap these prayer experiments and remember that God is not a cosmic vending machine. We cannot simply put in our prayer token, push a button and look for that packaged answer to prayer. God is a person who is fully aware of what is going on with these studies and what impact would come from giving positive results. It is interesting that these studies sometimes do produce results that some interpret to show that prayer “works,” yet still, unbelievers make excuses as to why the study was flawed. So, I would beg to differ with Dr. Stenger and say that no matter what the results, it won’t change in what a person puts his or her trust. It may make them more likely to pray, but not more likely to trust in the God who hears those prayers.

1. Unbelievable? 3 Jul 2010 – Is God a failed hypothesis? Pr 2 – Victor Stenger vs. David Bartholomew
2. What Do Prayer Studies Prove? Gregory and Christopher Fung, Christianity Today, May 15, 2009

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31 responses

19 07 2010
Dave Diehl

I agree with you about the double blind prayer studies. However, during class this summer, Dr. Habermas mentioned a couple facts related to these types of studies. One issue with some of the studies is that they used prayers from a variety of faiths.

Did the Harvard study use only prayers by Christians?

Dr. Habermas also mentioned that some studies have shown positive impacts of prayer, but I don’t have a citation for them. Did you find any others in your research?

Blesssings, Dave

20 07 2010
veritasnetwork

Dave,

Good to hear from you. The 2006 Harvard (STEP) study did limit the prayer team to Christians; however, I’m not sure how they defined “Christians”. They could have spanned the whole spectrum of Christendom as far as I know. From what I read, they employed the congregations of three Christian churches to pray for the patients and the prayer teams were allowed to pray in their own manner.

Other studies were conducted in different manners with varying degrees of “blindness” between the prayer teams and the patients. The STEP study was the most rigorous in methodology. In 2005, the MANTRA study was done out of Duke with no noticeable results. In the studies that showed results, researchers questioned the methodology employed.

I still believe that the problem with these studies is that it treats God as a cosmic vending machine and I don’t believe that God would be interested in getting people excited about prayer when many or most would not have a relationship with him. What I mean is that if these studies began to show a correlation between prayer and healing, we would likely see a lot of people praying for healing that had no interest in a relationship with the God to whom they are praying. I think it is the same reason that God maintains an epistemic distance from his creation as he is not as interested in people simply believing that he exists as he is in them trusting in him.

I hope you are doing well.

Paul

20 07 2010
Dave

I agree. God can say yes or no to prayers as He chooses, therefore we shouldn’t expect these studies to work.

I like your point about epistemic distance as well.

Glad to find your blog and looking forward to reading more.

Dave

26 07 2011
John

What do you mean “imposing himself on us” by providing evidence of his existence? What were Jesus’ miracles supposed to be except evidence? Why have there been miracles throughout history that showed his existence until we had the scientific and statistical knowledge to explain them? The very existence of Jesus would be quite a burden to people who did not want to believe back then would it not? If Jesus came back or God showed himself to me I would gladly believe in an instant. There is no evidence for it and tons of evidence against Christianity. Care to explain to me a timeline of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth (hint: even discounting the date -either before 4 BCE or around 6-7CE- it’s impossible)

26 07 2011
Paul Rupple

John, welcome! What I mean by God not imposing himself on us is that he provides evidence of his existence such that those who are open to the evidence and willing to look will find it. However, those who are unwilling to look or unwilling to accept the evidence will not be forced to believe in God’s existence. As I said, God leaves an epistemic distance such that none will be forced to believe he exists. That, after all, is not his foremost desire for us. His desire is that we trust and be in a loving relationship.

You bring up the miracles and even there people have seen them and remained skeptical or unbelieving, even when Jesus performed the ultimate miracle in the resurrection. So, even if Jesus presented a great weight of evidence for God’s existence, people continued to resist in that day and in our day.

In regard to your comment about miracles showing evidence until scientific and statistical knowledge came along, I don’t see your point as valid. It seems that the more we learn scientifically nowadays, the less likely that all of this universe could be the product of natural processes, chance, and time. It seems apparent and agreed upon that the universe itself came into being and, therefore, requires a cause. We can also look to the fine tuning of the universe and see that it cannot be explained by law or chance.

So, if Jesus returned and God showed himself to you, what would you believe? Would you simply believe that he exists or would you take the next step to worship and serve him?

What is the evidence that you believe counts against Christianity? Why do you consider a 5-6 B.C. birth as most scholars suggest to be impossible?

26 09 2012
Larry Peck

You’re all of questionable intelligence. If you see god in basic physical events, you’re simple. The people in the study who knew they were being prayed for did worse because they felt guilty for not getting better. It’s completely psychosomatic. You can redefine it in your own head you like, but facts are facts. God had no part in this study. He didn’t systematically decide that the people who knew they were being prayed for would get worse while the ones who didn’t would randomly recover or not. That’s absurd. Especially since the group that did the best was the one that had no prayer whatsoever. Would god punish people for whom people prayed for in favor of those for whom people didn’t just to, I don’t know, do a reverse psychology mind **** on his followers? I doubt it. It’s more likely he doesn’t exist at all.

26 09 2012
Paul Rupple

Larry, thank you for your reply. I hope you don’t mind that I edited out the profanity from your post as I don’t approve of such inartful language on my site. I believe that you have misread my post as I read your response. My point was that these types of experiments are generally worthless as they assume that we can manipulate God into acting according to our wishes and whims by offering up prayers and expecting that he must answer according to our will rather than according to his own. As I stated in the post, God is not a cosmic vending machine such that we can drop our prayer token and expect him to produce the results for which we are praying. If God is omniscient and omnipotent as I believe he is, then he is not obliged to act according to our will and has wisdom regarding the future that we do not possess. That is why I believe it is better to pray that his will be done than our own.

You also make some assertions that I would like to challenge. First, you question my intelligence, and I’m not offended by that as it is really irrelevant to the argument at hand. The argument I’m making is either true or false despite what my intelligence may or may not be. Second, you say that if one sees God in basic physical events one is simple. By that, I assume that you mean that anyone who sees any interaction between God and the physical world has intelligence issues. That would come as some surprise to the many intelligent people throughout history who have seen this very effect – God creating and sustaining the world. That would mean that people like Kepler, Boyle, Newton, Lemaître, and many other scientists throughout history who have seen this interaction were just “seeing things.” I don’t believe that it is more likely that God doesn’t exist. In fact, if you read the rest of my posts I give good reason that the reverse is true, it is more likely that God does exist.

17 05 2013
Gbaka Denis

I am not surprised that the higher we go in education the lesser we turn to know especially when it comes to knowing your creator. Human beings have become something else that they will doubt their creator and want to experiment it to convince their faith. Do not EXPERIMENT your GOd because you will never have a satisfactory answer. Experimenting your God is temptation and if you can not be convinced by his existence and will go by scientific methods of conviction and not through natural conviction, then you may just de displaying a total ignorance of your existence. We should avoid putting the lord our God to test by imploring our limited knowledge of life and experience on the almighty. They are many reasons that makes us to believe and trust and in the God of creation. That God is only one and is the maker of Heaven and Earth. Other little rivals go shuttling from left to right to make themselves to be seen or Heard but the one we are reffering here to will never be seen but will be heard. If he has to be seen, some Americans or Japanese will use their wealth to buy him off and possesse him so as to control the world even spiritually. So I am happy that my LORD remains invisible for the sake of the poor in spirit. Riches can not buy our way to heaven and neither wealth will guarantee our entrance to paradise. Sell-off your riches and seek God. I doubt where Michael jackson should be now and Lady Diana (two opposite creation).

God bless you in your research but spare the sick from your evil intentions.

17 05 2013
Paul Rupple

Thank you for your comment. The intention of the post was to show that these types of experiments are not valid due to the fact that God cannot be manipulated into acting a certain way based upon some experiment. He, like us, is a person and has His own will to act or not to act and so His actions cannot be predicted based upon what people request of Him. He knows what is best and we do not, so though we might have good intentions in our prayers, He knows the end result and whether an affirmative answer would be better or worse for us, though we may think it better.

23 05 2013
passing by

Your whole post relies one the fact that a God, possibly adhering to the characteristics your own faith defines him as, exists.

Essentially you are saying “because God exists, these double blind tests arguing for his existence/nonexistence are moot.”

I fail to see how Christians can graduate out of any educational institution with this kind of logic.

23 05 2013
Paul Rupple

Passing By, Thanks for the comment. I don’t believe that I have made the argument that you claim. I won’t dispute the fact that I do indeed believe that God exists and believe I have good reason to do so. However, that notwithstanding, I don’t make the argument that you claim. Rather, I claim that if God exists and has a free will, he is not obliged to act as some prayer vending machine in which you stick the prayer in the appropriate slot and the requisite answer appears below. My actual argument is that prayer experiments prove nothing, really. I am not making an argument for the existence of God and assuming God in the process. However, you claim that my logic is flawed, yet you present a representation of my argument that you claim is flawed, yet I don’t see a logical flaw in what you presented. Please explain where you find the flaw. BTW, I have graduated from both a Big Ten school and also gained a Masters degree, so apparently my logic has proved worthy. I look forward to your prompt reply.

11 08 2013
NightFlight

… on wishful thinking.

All arguments for faith are circular. Circular arguments have no merit. Therefore faith, or arguments regarding faith have no place in the scientific circles.

I for one find chaos beautiful. Why the need for intelligence? Can’t life be an accident? This makes everything precious. Why this fear surrounding and loathing of this idea. Even as a child I never understood this need for spiritual soothing.

Bad things happen. Good things happen. Entropy evens them out.

13 08 2013
Paul Rupple

Thanks for your comment. Could you explain why you believe that all arguments for faith are circular? I’m not sure if you realize it, but it seems that you have made a circular argument regarding circularity of faith arguments here in that your conclusion is assumed within your first premise.

Do you find all chaos beautiful, or simply some examples of chaos? However, intelligence is not necessarily a counterpart to chaos. There is a great deal of chaos that results from the involvement of intelligent people. Riots are chaotic, but riots are the result of intelligent people desiring to create a chaotic event for the purpose of disruption.

I don’t know whether life can be an accident, nor do I find that information is the result of completely unguided processes. If you think this is possible, maybe you could give some evidence of this occurring. However, why would life coming about from an accidental occurrence make it precious? I’m not sure what idea you claim creates fear and loathing, could you explain? How does entropy affect moral events? Entropy is a physical law, not a moral one. Please explain, if you could.

Thanks.

2 09 2013
Steven Ujvary

I don’t agree with your assertion that God could and would withhold answering prayer in studies like this just because he sees fit. While I understand that you perceive God as omnipotent, infallible, and omniscient, why would God do this? It would be great for skeptics and researchers to find his presence in these results, and it would give rise to hard evidence of his impact in this world. However, if God is just going to ignore the requests of hundreds of followers, then it seems God is being indifferent or even malicious. I would figure God would reward logic and thinking (this amazing brain he would have blessed us with.) A lot of characters of faith in the Bible are witness to miracles and direct effects of God. If God would just reveal himself and display his power and presence and then ask of me worship, I would give it to him. I also disagree that the universe has a purpose that has to be defined by humanity as a higher, intangible power that is God. However I am not convinced by conjecture and story. I was a follower as a youth, but as I got older and never noticed the absence of Jesus and companionship of the church. I left the church, then I stopped believing and dedicated myself to a career science to help the world. I do appreciate how you are very dedicated to your faith and your responses on here are very polite and well thought out. I do appreciate the debate, and I wish that the data would support God, but alas I can’t have biases making me believe things that can’t be proven to be true.

2 09 2013
Paul Rupple

Steven,

Thanks for the comments. I don’t know that I made the exact argument that you have ascribed to me. What I said is that God is not a vending machine into which you insert a prayer and then get the prescribed answer. God is a person and chooses which prayers to answer and when. You cannot measure that scientifically by the set-up of these experiments which look for standard one-for-one correlations. Free agents don’t work that way. If you will reread my post, you will find that I answer the question you ask as to why God does not necessarily respond this way; however, let me reiterate.

First, God is not necessarily interested in people believing in his existence. Yes, belief in God’s existence is necessary for a trusting relationship with him, but is not sufficient for that relationship. Second, God has given plenty of evidence for his existence and yet people continue to reject that evidence. Third, as I mentioned, even if the experiments yielded the results the researchers were looking for, it still wouldn’t guarantee that they would believe God exists. People find all kinds of creative ways to explain phenomena that points to God’s existence. Many of those explanations require more faith than ascribing these phenomena to God’s existence. So, I don’t necessarily agree with your premise that if these experiments provided the expected results that people would suddenly believe in God.

You also say, “if God is just going to ignore the requests of hundreds of followers, then it seems God is being indifferent or even malicious.” Who says that the requests are coming from his followers? Who says that God answering these requests would be the best for the petitioner? You assume both of these ideas and we have no evidence that either is the case, so your conclusion that God is malicious is unfounded. Why would God necessarily reward logic? Should he also punish those who are misuse logic? If so, what would be a suitable punishment? Also, thinking is done using a brain, but not by the brain. You can refer to some of my other posts for more on that.

God has already revealed himself on countless occasions, so I wonder why you don’t worship him now (I’m assuming based on your comments that you do not). He created this marvelous universe. He sent his son to earth to display his glory, to die at the hands of his creation on the cross, and to rise again from the dead. He has given us the logic that you believe should be rewarded. He has given us the ability to appreciate beauty, whether it is a music score, a painting, or a mathematical equation. He has given us minds to be able to appreciate all of these. The problem is not lack of revelation, it is a willful lack of acknowledgment. Many combine that with creative avoidance and attempts at alternate explanations.

I’m curious when you say that the universe has no purpose, but that you have engaged in a life pursuit of science to help the world (I applaud the effort). To what end are you trying to help a purposeless world? I thank you for your kind words and appreciate that you too are dedicated to your faith. The data that I’ve examined overwhelmingly supports God’s existence. From the very beginning of the fact that something exists rather than nothing points us to the existence of a creator. The fact that you want to help people points to a moral structure that is either a meaningless joke or evidence that God exists and grounds it. The fact that you have a mind that can grasp scientific concepts and can see order to this world points to one who gave us these minds and created order in the universe.

I read a lot of skeptics who create tremendous stories to attempt to explain each of these phenomena – even today writing about scientists who attempt to explain how something can come from nothing scientifically (a category error) on my other blog (solidreasons.com). Very creative, but very speculative and filled with logical errors. It takes a great deal of faith, blind faith, to hold some of these theories, yet these people do because the alternative is unpalatable to them – to acknowledge God’s existence. I’m not sure where you’re at in regard to God’s existence, yet, I believe that if you pursue the evidence with an open mind, that pursuit will lead you not only to believe in God’s existence, but to have a trusting relationship with him.

22 11 2013
Raul

No offense but I think you’re just rambling, I doubt the God of the bible is an accurate depiction of any real God who created the universe. A god who is so capricious he kills on a whim, who kills his creations for acting in the manner in which he created them. That’s a fairy tale god. Where is eden? Or the tree of life? No I’m sorry but even if I do believe in God I don’t believe in a god of slavery, and eternal damnation.

There is little proof to validate the bible, and what proof there is, is wishful thinking.

22 11 2013
Paul Rupple

Raul,
Thanks for your comment. I have to say that your depiction is not an accurate description of the God of the Bible. Nowhere does it indicate that God “kills on a whim” or he “kills his creations for acting in the manner in which he created them.” God did not create humans as sinful, rather humans were created innocent and morally perfect. It was humans who freely rebelled against God and entered into sin (and continue to do so). I believe you have created a straw-man argument and, yes, your straw-man depiction would be a fairytale God, not the real one.

The fact that we cannot locate Eden today or the tree of life, does not mean that they do not exist. We cannot locate the Higgs boson particle, but that does not mean that it does not exist. We have some reason to believe it exists even if we cannot actually locate it. There are ancient cities that have since been destroyed that we cannot locate, but we have good reason to believe that they existed as well. So, I don’t believe your questions necessarily lead to the conclusion that Eden or the tree of life did not exist.

There is a great deal of proof to validate both the Bible and the God who is described therein. I understand your animosity, but if you would take time to understand yourself and the Bible, I believe you would come to the same conclusion.

I’ve studied myself enough to know that I am a sinner and deserving of judgment in light of a perfect God. I have also spent many years studying the Bible from a literary and historical point of view and have concluded that it is reliable. If you have specific questions regarding the Bible or God, I would be happy to do my best to address them.

Paul

18 02 2014
Paula M Marshall

You’re an idiot. I spent 40 years believing before I gave it all up. If god wanted to prove to me he exists, WHY do you assume he’s shoving himself down my throat? (sorry about the imagery to all you traumatized former Catholics reading this)
It’s not force if he sends an angel into my room right now (no one there, I looked) to talk to me. It’s all in your head.

18 02 2014
Paul Rupple

Paula, thanks for your comment and as a former Catholic myself, I take no offense at the allusion you’re making. I was never molested as a Catholic altar boy, thankfully, but know of people who were and there is no excuse for the Catholic church looking the other way for those years while it went on, while covering it up during that time. However, let’s not equate God with that sinful practice, even though it was done under the auspices of an institution that promoted his name. God will bring ultimate judgment to those cases. Yet, if God doesn’t exist, there will be no justice for many, if not most of those cases of abuse. They have flown under the radar and many of those abusive priests have died, and if God doesn’t exist, they have ceased to exist with no punishment. Not too comforting a thought.

Paula, I wonder what has caused you to give up whatever belief in God you had? God will not force himself upon us or force us to believe in him. In fact, ultimately, his desire is not that we would merely believe that he exists, even the demons did that, but that we would trust in him.

God came to earth in human flesh in Jesus. Jesus suffered the insults that many today suffer. He was spat upon, beaten, had his flesh torn from him with whips embedded with bits of metal and bone, and then was hung on a cross to die, all the time being mocked, even by those who hung next to him to die. And all of this was done by those whom he had created! Someone once said, “God humbled himself and yet man remains proud.” This is so true.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out how life could make sense if God didn’t exist, and have not been able to do so. I can’t explain the origin of this world, the order of this world, the moral nature of this world, the human mind, and many other phenomena apart from God’s existence. Yes, there may be some extremely troubling behaviors and events that have been done by people who claim God’s name, but that is because humans have been corrupted by sin and need redemption. God has promised us redemption through the blood shed by his Son at the hands of us, the sinners. Remember too that the ones who called for his crucifixion were themselves the religious leaders of that day. God will make himself known to you in a real way if you will but humbly call out to him. I hope you will.

Paul

17 06 2014
Paula M Marshall

Gee, it’s a good thing “god” shows himself to us all the time. That way we don’t have to wonder if he exists. After all, all through both the OT and the NT, he came in as a pillar of fire, a burning bush, lights, and wind, and he sent angels, talking donkeys, etc. to speak for him. So he quit? No, there just is no physical manifestation of god any more. Meaning the rest are stories.

17 06 2014
Paul Rupple

Paula, Thanks again for your note. God really didn’t show himself like the events you described “all the time.” In fact, many of these events are separated by hundreds of years. There was no permanent presence of God with men during that time, however, that has changed since Jesus lived, died, and rose again. He as sent the Holy Spirit to live within those who trust in him. So, rather than think that God no longer manifests himself to us, he is always with us in the lives of those who follow him.

Paul tells us in the Letter to the Ephesians, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14)

Jesus told his disciples as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

I’m not sure what you mean when you says that there are no physical manifestations of God. If by that you mean bushes that burn, but are not consumed, or pillars of fire and cloud, etc., I’m not so sure that I would agree with you. Now, I’ve not seen these manifestations, however, I’ve seen plenty of others. For example, my relative who was an alcoholic since teenaged years trusts in Christ and never touches alcohol again. My friends whose 3 y/o child had brain cancer and a low chance of survival now running and playing like any other child cancer-free. Other friends whose child was determined to have a very low probability of surviving until birth now enjoying that 7 y/o child. Yes, you may come up with some alternate explanation for all of these, and it’s possible that God used human intervention in some of these cases, but God used humans in the OT and NT as well to manifest himself.

Paula, I believe if you look around you, you can find God’s fingerprints all over. The fact that the universe even exists is evidence of God’s handiwork. Universes don’t just pop into existence uncaused. Since the universe encompasses all matter, space, and time, it certainly couldn’t be the result of some other material process.

Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” God had made himself known in his creation, even in you. Your consciousness and your intricate design attest to God’s work in you. You are evidence of God’s work and presence in this world.

Paul

20 01 2015
Paula M Marshall

The fatal flaw is that God doesn’t want to force himself on us? I see I have the perfect icon for this thread. Please read it. A god who doesn’t want to force himself on is is exactly identical to a god who doesn’t exist. Because he’s willing to let people suffer rather than heal them so they can believe. Riiight. I’m a former Christian.

20 01 2015
Paul Rupple

Paula, thanks for the comment. How does it follow logically that a God who doesn’t want to force himself on us is exactly identical to a God who doesn’t exist. Millions of people have encountered God and are still encountering him to this day. It is too easy to say as does Richard Dawkins, that they are delusional. God gives plenty of evidence of his existence should we choose to look. We see God in the creation of the universe; in the tremendous amount of fine-tuning required for life to exist within this universe and on this planet; in the existence of objective moral values and duties; in the existence of human consciousness; in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and in many other pieces of evidence.

God is not interested in us just knowing that he exists. That would be too easy. He wants us to trust him and for that reason, he will not force himself upon us. He’s done plenty of good, despite man’s doing plenty of evil for us to know that he is trustworthy. I hope you will reconsider your relationship to him.

2 03 2015
Harstic

Thank you for taking the time to write this blog and keep up with comments.

I especially liked your concise comment that “Also, thinking is done using a brain, but not by the brain. You can refer to some of my other posts for more on that” in regards to a materialist perspective.

The comment that “Since the universe encompasses all matter, space, and time, it certainly couldn’t be the result of some other material process.” Does leave me questions, perhaps you have some ideas that you could share.

I believe that current theory provides for matter just materializing out of a void.. If matter just pops into reality (I don’t think we know the why or how, it just is).. Along that thought, however unlikely, why can’t we be the product of random chance?even the perceived laws that so perfectly fit our universe)

3 03 2015
Paul Rupple

Thanks for the comments and question. When you say, “current theory provides for matter just materializing out of a void”, I believe we must ask, what is the “void” and how is it that matter just materializes out of it. I don’t know of any theory that proposes that matter materializes from an actual void, or as Merriam Webster defines it, “not containing anything.” Yes, there are those who claim that the universe came from nothing (Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow and Lawrence Krauss), however, by “nothing” they don’t mean the same thing as “not anything” or “no thing”. What they are talking about is an equilibrium of positive and negative energy from which the universe springs. The question to them is, “from where did that energy come?” There are logical problems in past infinite physical existence (see the work of David Hilbert). It also begs the question why is there something rather than nothing at all. There is also a lot of scientific debate about this theory which is highly speculative.

We know that our universe had a beginning based upon observational evidence (cosmic microwave background radiation, red shift expansion, etc.) and this has been confirmed by the work of Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin, as well as later work by Vilenkin and Mithani. Their work indicates that any universe that is on average expanding (which is true of our universe) must have a beginning.

The second question that you ask is “why can’t we be the product of random chance?” You also include the laws of the universe in that question. Well, the laws are one reason that would argue against the universe being random. Randomness does not produce laws of order. Randomness produces more randomness, not order. Typically, systems left to themselves (no outside interference) move from states of order to disorder, not the other way around. My car does not, on its own, become more sophisticated and efficient, it becomes rusted and less efficient. In fact, I have to change the oil and service it to slow the entropy (moving from order to disorder) of the car. We see way too much fine tuning in our universe to chalk it up to undirected processes. We also see aspects of ourselves as humans that tell us that we are not just the product of physical events. Our minds are one example of that. Minds stubbornly refuse to be reduced to being the products of physical processes or matter.

I hope that these are helpful insights. Let me know if you have additional questions.

Paul

3 03 2015
Harstic

Hello again and thank you for your thoughts.

My first comment relates to quantum fluctuations.. Where a fluctuation occurs in a universe’s net energy was zero..

Although I don’t like to think the laws of the universe occurred by chance (they appear to be so fine tuned for us to exist); I also can’t seem to rule out 1 in a billion dumb luck… Which seems to make more sense to me that there is some grand design (but I am having trouble being convinced)

Your comments on entropy are interesting. I think in general the universe is breaking down, acceleration and matter is becoming more dispersed, heat energy cooler.. But it is interesting that despite this macro universe on our little planet we are bucking the trend and adding order…

In regards to the double blind studies. I wish the results were different but they aren’t. You also provided a reasonable explanation as to why the results were as they were. It may not make sense to me, but don’t try to comprehend. This reminds me of the story of the good Shepard, he would leave his flock to tend to one lost sheep. This does not seem to make sense, but I can’t possible comprehend the decision making process of the good Shepard.

3 03 2015
Paul Rupple

Yes, I gathered that you were talking about quantum fluctuations, which is why I ask the question, from where did the energy come that existed in the equilibrium? That is a question that neither Hawking & Mladinow nor Lawrence Krauss want to address, but it is a valid question that demands an answer.

In regard to the fine tuning. If it were a one in a billion situation that we were facing, you would be right to think that something like that could possibly occur by chance, however, the parameters are much more finely tuned than that. Let’s look at some of them.

First, changes in either gravitational force or weak energy force of just 10^100 would have prevented life from existing. The cosmological constant is tuned to 10^120. The odds of the low entropy condition of the early universe arising by chance is 10^10^123, so even the slightest change would have prevented the universe from existing. These are but a few of the many parameters that are intricately tuned for the existence of the universe and life to exist. To put it into perspective, there are only 10^80 particles in the universe, so anything beyond that number is considered to be mathematically unfeasible. Each of those parameters exceeds that number, meaning that it is unfeasible for the universe and life within it to arise merely by chance.

Our planet adds order by design, because we have intelligent life adding that design. So, that still points us to design as the only source available to counter entropy, albeit temporarily. Even our designed objects are subject to entropy.

What I was simply trying to show in this article is that God is not some sort of cosmic vending machine into which we can put our prayer token and thereby receive our desired response. God is an intelligent being who knows better than us what we need. If he believes that the object of our prayer would be detrimental to us, it would be unloving of him to give it to us anyway just because we wanted it. Yet, Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” He gives good gifts, but not necessarily what we think we want.

8 07 2016
fuzzysdoll

Funny how Jesus said that God was a cosmic vending machine.
John 14:13
Of course he should prove he exists.
Burden of proof.

8 07 2016
Paul Rupple

There’s a great rule of thumb that another apologist speaks about in his book and in his talks, it is “never read a Bible verse.” Now, he doesn’t mean not to read the Bible. What he means is that you should never read just one Bible verse. In other words, don’t take the Bible verse out of its context.

So, what we have here is an example of that. If one reads John 14:13, it looks like Jesus may be telling us that he’s a cosmic vending machine. In fact, if you read just vss. 13-14, you might still get that impression. In context, however, Jesus is speaking to the disciples (Apostles, mainly) and speaking to them about his deity, his work on earth, and their work to follow. He says that the words and works that he does reflect the Father and that they will do greater works than he, which sets up the context, that whatever they (the disciples/Apostles) ask in his name, he will do for them. He then says that if they love him they will obey him. The prayers he speaks of are in his name and in accord with his name, thus these prayers and the answering of them will glorify the Father.

You say that he should prove that he exists, but then, he is speaking to the directly, so I’m not sure why that should be in question. If you mean that he should prove he exists to you, why does he bear that burden of proof? There’s plenty of evidence and no one but the most ardent skeptic doubts his existence. I think that those skeptics bear the burden of proving that their skepticism is justified.

15 01 2017
David M Paggi

Thank you for your very well-considered analysis of this rather faulty study.

Jesus Himself could not work many miracles in Nazareth in consequence of their lack of faith Mk 6:5-6. Apparently, this vital factor was completely ignored in the design of the experiment. Did they have prescribed prayers? If so, did they include that important caveat “if it be Your will”?

The only thing that should surprise anyone is that the researchers were actually able to get funding for this project the way it was conceived.

15 01 2017
David M Paggi

Here is a comment I wrote in response to a fellow who was using the results of this same study to assert that prayer “does not work.” I responded in a general way as at the time I did not have any details about the study. It mentions some of the same points you expressed so well but adds other considerations you may have simply left out for want of space.

God is not a vending machine or even the slots in Las Vegas. There is no guarantee the right number of “prayer coins” is going to come up a winner.

When playing the slots, the outcome is determined entirely by the way the machine is programmed to work. God is not a machine, and one of the things He requires for prayer to be efficacious is faith.

We simply cannot duplicate how God evaluates the genuineness of anyone’s faith, nor can we evaluate whether the asked-for favor is consonant with God’s Will, which is one of the conditions of a genuine prayer in any event.

Simply put, it the prayer in the tests to which you refer did not include a phrase like “If it be according to your will …”, then the test was invalid from the start. But who can know even within themselves whether they really have released their attachment to the desired end and truly left it in the hands of God?

I can think of nothing more susceptible to self-deception than that.

While I must first admit that I have no particular expertise in the field, I really can’t imagine how a survey instrument or experimental protocol could measure these factors adequately enough to yield meaningful results.

Consequently, unless and until you can see that such a high threshold of difficulty has been crossed, I don’t see how you can consider the results to experiments you have been referring to can be considered valid or conclusive.

Similarly, if you merely are positing that such experiments could and should be undertaken, I think you are assuming too much – both in the ability to even conduct such experimentation as well as the results you apparently expect.

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