Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Prayer-adox": The Illogic of Pleading for Divine Intervention

Whenever there's the a typhoon or other natural disaster or even the the threat of such an occurrence here in the Philippines,a country which has the world's highest percentage of theists, the people immediately call upon divine intervention to save them. In fact Church authorities urge the faithful  to "storm heaven" with prayers for God to bring relief from or to ward off impending calamity. Such was the case with the recent typhoon "Hagupit"  (locally known as "Ruby") that struck this country beginning almost two weeks ago and and finally departing around the middle of this past week.

Even those who are highly educated and should therefore have an understanding of  the workings of nature than are not immune from this irrational mindset.   For example Boo Chanco, a highly respected business professional, made the following observation in  his  Dec. 7 "Philippine Star" newspaper column: "Thank God It's Over":

"I don’t care what some atheists say about the power of prayer, but in this case it surely worked. The faith of millions of Filipinos at home and abroad praying had been powerful enough to cause the typhoon to start dissipating and weakening after it hit land. Earlier forecasts warned of Ruby keeping her strength as it hits the metro area." 

Following is an open letter to Mr. Chanco which addresses his assertion about the cause of the typhoon's abatement.

Dear Mr Chanco:

I don't understand how highly intelligent people like yourself can be so insistent  about believing in the power of prayer and in theism.  But let's assume for the sake of argument that God exists and hears these pleas directed to him. Are you claiming that God loves some parts of the Philippines more than others? After all, the God that "spared" Metro Manila is the same deity that caused or allowed the typhoon to happen in the first place and that caused fatalities elsewhere in the country. Yes there certainly were fewer deaths than from "Yolanda", but fatalities are still fatalities, no matter how few.  And unlike in the case of Yolanda, that decline in the death rate was the result of preparedness by the authorities. Still, it must be cold comfort for the  victims' families to know that only THEIR loved ones, unlike the thousands of people who died in Yolanda,  were killed this time.

As for faith and prayers changing God's mind, how can that be if he already has a divine plan for the world?  Being supposedly omniscient, he knows everything that has happenspast, present and future.  Hence he would be aware before hand that Filipinos would pray for deliverance when he created and turned "Ruby" loose in the first place. So if he changed his mind based on those prayers, then he's not omniscient after all. And after all, isn't God pestered with prayers for favors every second from millions of people around the world, pleas that are often at odds with each other?  Moreover, who are these Pinoys or any supplicant for that matter to challenge the wisdom which is manifested in his decisions?

In reality of course, the typhoon weakened not because of some "godly" intervention. According to PAGASA (the government weather agency) it was simply "intrusion of cold air mass from the Northeast Monsoon, or Amihan."  That's all it was: no miracles, simply a weather pattern that prevails in the local climate at this time of the year. And just as there was a rational scientific explanation for the reduction  in the intensity of this storm, so there is for all natural phenomenon everywhere, regardless of their degree of impact on us humans.

In short, there is no evidence for any other kind of explanation, particularly the supernatural.

Very truly yours,
Rick Levy
Eastwood City

5 comments:

Jack Vance said...

Excellent letter! I'm glad you decided to take the time to do this and to share it.

Secular Guy said...

Jack,

Thanks for your much for your kind words.

Martin Barwick said...

It certainly does seem perplexing perspective that people pray for divine help in the face of pre-moral evil or in non-theological terms events we don't like. But at the moment the best philosophers of mind can come up with with is the notion of taking an intensional stance this allows for psychological statements to be mapped onto the very unfinished translative canon of scientifically measurable phenomena.But to the very term Intensional stance is a cognitive ascription itself and so on need of Semantic justification if it is to perform. If a psychological starement ain in the cannon thenit cannot be assigned truth values in terms of science. So how can you talk about prayer or report about prayer if you have no scientific standard for testing what praying is or us not.
If science ever gets as far as accounting for the most basic statement of ordinary language how can it hope to assign truth values to religious predicates. How would an scientific atheist even formulate John Doe prayed to god in scientific theory?

Martin Barwick said...


Prayer what is it that people do wne they 'pray' how do you know that they are praying?

Secular Guy said...

Martin,

Thanks for your response and for sharing some complex ideas.