Unlikely, Lucky, or Providential?

Yes, he did a lot of things a long time ago, but less and less as time went by, until now he does nothing, apparently. Odd that his activity is in inverse proportion to our ability to observe it. This is also a problem for “God hides” theology, since he once did everything that theology claims would be a bad idea.


Islam sort of deals with this by declaring Muhammad to be “the seal of the prophets.” (And, no, not this kind of seal:)

My guess is this was a simple way to have people disregard anyone else who might come along and claim to also be receiving messages from God.


Then why are there so many hadiths that involve him balancing a ball on his nose and playing a set of bicycle horns?

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I am again reminded of my favourite XKCD comic. We can add “miracles” to the list:


That drives me nuts. It’s not uncommon, when I suggest that evidence for the gods is rather thin on the ground, for someone to get all filly-soffical and tell me that gods wouldn’t diminish themselves in that sort of way by, you know, showing up and doing things. I always have to point out that their religion wouldn’t exist if it were not claimed that their god DOES do exactly that.

But “God hides” theology does work if what one believes is that all religions are hideous and evil distortions of the works of the monotheistic god. The history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in that case, goes like this:

YHWH: So, I noticed these critters on this planet. They’re not very nice, so I went down and told them some things about how to be good to one another.

Stan (his faithful companion, whose name is often mispronounced): Hey, what are they doing with those goats and pigeons?

YHWH: Oh, me damn it! Okay, I’ll deal with this tomorrow or, in their terms, a thousand years.

Next day:

YHWH: Okay, this time I’ve got them straightened out. Sent a guy down to make sure they understand this stuff – how to behave, and all that – and now they’re going to straighten up and fly right.

Stan: Um…is that your guy? Looks like they’ve come to a negative opinion about him, judging from the carpentry at least.

YHWH: Oh, me DAMN it! Okay. Not today. I’ll fix this tomorrow.

Next day:

YHWH: Okay, I’ve sent ANOTHER guy, and this time it is going to be plain as day. Those people are going to get it right, and it’s all going to be smooth sailing from here on out.

Stan: (Looks down at earth) Um…you know that problem with the goats from before?

YHWH: Oh, me DAMN it! Okay, I’m giving up. Clearly it just gets worse when I get involved. No more going down there, no more emissaries with messages. Let them sort their own shit out.

Stan: Do you mind if I go down there? I’ve got this idea for something I call “heavy metal” and would like to give it a try tomorrow.

YHWH: Sure, knock yourself out.

Stan: I’m planning on disguising myself as a sort of goat-man.

YHWH: You’re just making fun of me now, aren’t you?


This is a fair description of what many Christians promulgate. But not all.

Here, for example, is the YouTube channel of a ministry that proclaims “God is not a theory.” The founder of the ministry states that he lets qualified medical professionals decide whether, after prayer, a healing has occurred. I appreciate this approach, as many other ministries seem to operate primarily on the basis of enthusiasm.

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And how many healings have occurred?

Moreover, how many healings have ocurred before prayer?

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But, of course, that has nothing at all to do with whether any miracles were involved. People heal naturally all the time and there is never any reason to think that prayer is a cause. I think Harshman’s comment is right. We live in an age when the only people who think they see divine action in the here-and-now are simply very bad judges of the facts, and so theology retreats to this absence-of-god state which is where it probably would have begun, if only people had been better judges of facts long ago (or had recorded the facts more accurately).


Do the subjects know they’re being prayed over? Placebo effect and all that.

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That’s nice, but there is an accepted standard by which possibly therapeutic interventions can be evaluated, and that is the randomized controlled trial. Confirmation that someone’s condition has improved is only one aspect of that, and even that usually involves something more than just “A doctor said they got better.”

Also: How many amputated limbs have regrown?


Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review

Kevin S Masters 1, Glen I Spielmans, Jason T Goodson

Affiliations expand


Background: The use of alternative treatments for illness is common in the United States. Practitioners of these interventions find them compatible with personal philosophies. Consequently, distant intercessory prayer (IP) for healing is one of the most commonly practiced alternative interventions and has recently become the topic of scientific scrutiny.

Purpose: This study was designed to provide a current meta-analytic review of the effects of IP and to assess the impact of potential moderator variables.

Methods: A random effects model was adopted. Outcomes across dependent measures within each study were pooled to arrive at one omnibus effect size. These were combined to generate the overall effect size. A test of homogeneity and examination of several potential moderator variables was conducted.

Results: Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis yielding an overall effect size of g = .100 that did not differ from zero. When one controversial study was removed, the effect size reduced to g = .012. No moderator variables significantly influenced results.

Conclusions: There is no scientifically discernable effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.


Apart entirely from the fact that, demonstrably, “nothing fails like prayer,” I’ve always found this notion of intercessory prayer actually working a tad offensive. I can’t help but think that there were a lot of Holocaust victims who prayed and found no miracles on offer. I have a Mormon nephew, however, who credits the return of the credit card he left in a department store restroom to the miraculous intervention of Heavenly Father himself. The mind boggles at the system of priorities these gods must maintain, in order to respond in the way they do.


That might be what the authors of the study are alluding to when they say claims of efficacy of intercessory prayer “lack a theological base”.


Yeah, but, you know, everything else in theology generally seems to lack a theological base, too. The whole thing is kind of suspending itself on its own bootstraps – no base, anywhere, of any kind.


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