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The Economic Value of Prayer
by Jan Sand
2007-04-29 10:35:41
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Amongst people of faith, and that goes across all religions, there is no question that there must be prayer. I have never had any religious indoctrination and never had the slightest inclination to pray since I would not know whom to pray to so the process has remained a puzzle to me. Beyond the target of prayer, I am also puzzled over how and why it is supposed to work.

Religious people seem to feel that their deity is in absolute control over events that occur at the deity's whim and not as the result of the inexorable chain of cause and effect. Admittedly, some events at the level of sub-atomic particles are subject to quantum effects and seem to be random but macroscopic interactions are the result of the sum of the actions of many particles and become statistically and rigidly conformable to the generally accepted laws of cause and effect.

But religions seem to have an underlying belief in magic – that is that the laws which rational people feel absolutely control the succession of events can be violated by intercession of a super being not subject to the laws of the universe. The Catholic Church regularly creates saints on the presented evidence that some event occurred that violates normal accepted physical laws because a religious person seems to have persuaded their deity to create said violation. In other words, magic. Many of the miracles attributed to Christ – raising the dead, walking on water, multiplying food, - are unquestionably magic since normal cause and effect seems to have been violated.

But other religions also indulge in magical effect. Some societies have all sorts of peculiar ceremonies for causing rain, curing diseases, causing reluctant objects of desire to accede the wishes an applicant, none of which have any relationship to ordinary cause and effect. It's all magic.

One of the assumptions of people who indulge in prayer is that their deity has made a mistake that can be corrected by the pleading of the person praying. If nothing else, it would seem to me to be at least slightly blasphemous in intimating that their deity has faulty judgment that can be corrected by the judgment of the pleader.

Considering the multiple and horrendous miseries that have afflicted the world throughout history and very evident in current events it would seem that a deity in charge either is exceedingly inept or enjoys inflicting horrors on even the most innocent of living beings. The nasty games that God is reputed to play (as reported in the Bible) on Abraham and Job is excused as a test of their faith but God is touted as all-knowing and the concept of God needing to test anything seems an obvious conflict of logic. But, of course, elementary clear thinking in this area seems no obstruction to emotional acceptance of traditional beliefs.

Quite recently there have been cited examples of medical improvements or cures that have attributed to the power of prayer. Since medicine is an area where an overwhelming number of unknown factors are involved it is extremely difficult to say definitely what the influence of prayer may have been on medical situations.

If prayer is to be tested it would be better done in an area where simple arithmetic could demonstrate how prayer can confute rational thinking.

One obvious area is in the stock market where there are plenty of stocks which rational analysis has indicated have very poor predicted futures. A sensible test would be a sizeable investment in the stocks that have the very worst possibilities so that it would require a hefty involvement of a deity to result in a rewarding return. A miracle in this area would obviously result in an avalanche of conversions to the power of prayer. It might also stimulate the finance of outrageous ideas.

A second area would be to take advantage of one of those Nigerian offers that continuously beset my e-mail. Obviously an extremely heavy dose of prayer would be required for a happy outcome but I certainly encourage people of faith to give it a vigorous try.

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