DOES GOD ANSWER PRAYER?

Debate on whether God answers prayer went from July 2001 to May 2003.
J Holman's arguments and replies to him comprising 13 items appear below.
Anonymous' arguments and replies to him comprising 11 items are on a separate page.
 

1    When God Answers Prayers  No. 79 J Holman
2    Comment on "When God Answers Prayers"  No. 80  K Straughen
3    Prayer – Reply to Straughen No. 81 J Holman
4    Prayer – Reply to Holman No. 82 K Straughen
5    Naïve Sophistry…Comforting Myths  No. 82 J H Williams
6    Response to Messrs. Straughen & Williams No. 83 J Holman
7    Final Response to Holman No. 84 K Straughen
8     Saying Prayers to The Man Upstairs  No. 84 J H Williams
9     God Knows What's Best! No. 84 Atheist
10   Holman's Evidence Inadequate No. 84 Atheist
11  Terminal Riposte No. 8 J Holman
12  Too Evasive and Rebuttal Neglected No. 86 Atheist
13  Answer to Atheist's Amoral Assail No. 87 J Holman




WHEN GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS

Josef Holman

(Investigator 79, 2001 July)


Do you sometimes wonder why your or some other people's prayers are not answered?

It's because most people's prayers may not be sincere enough or they don't really know the true God. They imagine God as some sort of vague, distant, indefinable something. They don't know the VERY REAL God who is the assiduous, law-giving RULER of the universe. They seem to forget that God reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible, and that he shows us the kind of God He is – He informs us how we should OBEY Him, and what HE has PROMISED to do for us.

Does God MEAN what He says in His Word? Jesus certainly thought so. He said, "Thy word is TRUTH" (John 17:17). The apostles constantly taught and acted as if God's Word were LITERALLY TRUE.

Who is right? Are you going to follow the differing ideas of MEN, or do you want to obey Jesus and live by EVERY WORD OF GOD? (Matthew 4:4).

To get RESULTS in your prayers, you should believe in the God of the Bible. Believe His Word is TRUTH. And be willing to act on God's Word and His commands.

The Bible reveals some conditions which should be fulfilled when it comes to praying. Study God's Word. To have your prayers answered, TRUST His Word and follow the conditions revealed in the next paragraphs:

In James 4:1-4, the apostle showed that the children of this world fighting and warring as they do – fail to receive HELP because they often neglect to ask God's help. When they do ask, it is for their own selfish ends! To ask SELFISHLY is to "ask amiss." You can expect no answer to such a prayer.

To get an answer, follow Jesus' example when He said, "I seek NOT mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30). But can you know God's will? "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17).

You must pray according to God's will to receive an answer. "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (I John 5:14-15).

Most people do not realise that a lack of faith is simply a disbelief that God will keep His promises or back up His Word. Real FAITH is not an emotional "feeling" that you generate by thinking certain thoughts over and over again. You don't "talk yourself into", or "think yourself into" real, believing faith. Godly faith is simply your willingness through God's help - to quietly, patiently, TRUST God to perform His Word. Abraham had that kind of faith. The apostle Paul wrote of him: "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in FAITH, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform" (Romans 4:20-21).

Abraham relied completely on God to perform His promises. If you lack real FAITH, ask God to give it to you. Faith is one of the gifts of God's Holy Spirit. James was inspired to write that a man must have faith to receive answers to his prayers (James 1:5-7). A man who WAVERS will not receive an answer. "For let not THAT man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" (verse 7).

It is common for parents to teach their children memorised prayers. The father often mumbles a hurried, routine prayer of thanks at the table. The minister of church either reads or recites from memory an eloquent prayer which SOUNDS very impressive.

The "fruits" show that God rarely hears such prayers, for they are usually not answered. This is so because people don't put their HEARTS into their prayers (Hosea 7:14). They don't "cry out" to God with their whole being as the ancient prophets did – and as Christ did when He prayed (Luke 22:44).

In James 5:16, we read, "The effectual FERVENT prayer of a righteous man availeth much". We have to pray fervently, earnestly, zealously, if we expect God to hear. Put your WHOLE HEART into your prayers! The first prerequisite to a knowledge of God is to fear Him and respect His Word. "The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10).

We need to FEAR God, realising that our lives are in His hands. We should be humble, realising that any gifts or talents we may have are ours BECAUSE GOD GAVE THEM TO US! When we can approach our Creator in such attitude - respecting His power and authority over our lives then He will hear our prayers.

Peter wrote, "be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" I Peter 5:5). The attitude of humility and godly fear is vital in prayers, and at all times.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus spoke a parable to teach us that we should always pray, and never give up hope. He showed that even an unrighteous judge would finally hear the pleas of a widow who kept coming to him. So we should keep praying to God, even though He doesn't answer right away.

God has made many promises in His Word. But He has nowhere said that He will perform them at the time, or in the way that we choose. Sometimes it is good for us not to have our prayers answered immediately. God is building patient FAITH into our characters. James was inspired to write, "the trying of our faith worketh patience" (James 1:3).

If God doesn't answer your prayers immediately, exercise patience and keep praying until He does answer. Don't nag at God. He has supreme wisdom to know WHEN and HOW it would be best to answer your prayers. But if you have prayed as you should, He will answer. God always keeps His promises! So be persistent. Keep praying in faith, and God is bound to perform His part.

OBEY Him to the best of your knowledge. True Christians can have a special confidence that God hears all and will answer, for they are OBEDIENT. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I John 3:22).

No doubt, your prayers will be answered thereafter!
 



 

COMMENT ON
"WHEN GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS" (#79)

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 80, 2001 September)


My main concern with Mr Holman's essay arises from the following propositions:
 

*People's prayers are not answered because they "may not be sincere enough or they don't really know the true God." (p. 13).

* "To get results in your prayers, you should believe in the God of the Bible." (Ibid.)

* "True Christians can have special confidence that God hears all and will answer, for they are obedient." (p. 27).


There have been many sincere and selfless prayers that have never been answered – for example, prayers to save the life of a dying child. In instances such as these, I fear there is a very real danger that the child's parents (if they subscribe to Mr Holman's views) may come to believe that their prayers were not answered because they did not have enough faith, or because they were not true Christians. Such feelings could lead to a profound sense of guilt, and thus exacerbate their suffering.

Then there is the ethical question of why a god requires people to have sufficient faith before it answers their prayers. If a person prays to God, then this indicates they must have some degree of faith. If God has the capacity to save a dying child and has been requested to do so then, irrespective of the degree of faith of the parents, God has a moral duty to act.

Be this as it may, the ineffectiveness of prayer is evident when we examine history. For example, in Medieval times when science-based medicine was unknown, people had no choice but to appeal to God. Despite such entreaties, the Black Death ravaged Europe, infant mortality was appalling and life expectancy for the average person short. For further reading see: Faith Cures? - # 62, p. 10.
 



 

PRAYER – REPLY TO STRAUGHEN

J Holman

(Investigator 81, 2001 November)


Mr. Straughen's article, Investigator No. 80, page 53, seems to challenge the Holy Bible's promises that God hears and will answer true Christians' prayers on which subject I made comments in my essay, titled "When God Answers Prayers". (Investigator No. 79, p. 27)

I cannot but reiterate that prayers of those who have rock-solid, indomitable faith in God and trust in His words WILL BE HEARD although the result may not be exactly what the sincere prayer asked for or expected. "God knows what is best for His faithful". There are many passages in the pages of Holy Bible which clearly show this.

Mr. Straughen suggests that prayers are ineffective. He gives an example of a dying child whom God should save from death because it is His "moral" duty to do so when someone who has faith in Him requests Him through prayers to save the dying child. He gives another example of Medieval times when science-based medicine was unknown, people had no choice but to appeal to God. Despite such entreaties, the Black Death ravaged Europe – infant mortality was appalling and life expectancy was short.

The explanation is fairly simple:

God granted people a complete freedom of choice – to think, do or act as THEY wish. Consequently, THEY must accept responsibility for their own actions and not expect God to quickly come and make favourable changes when things get tough or tragedies strike as a result of their human shortcomings or sins.

If God should have "moral duty" to act on peoples' prayers in which they ask God to save loved ones from death or sickness, poverty, pain and other sufferings, nobody would ever die or be ill, poor, suffer pain, unhappy or have any problems whatsoever. Soon Mother Earth would be so crowded there would not be even a standing room for the population on "terra firma"! This is not in God's plan for His devotees. There are a few references to this in the Bible too.

The Black Death and other plagues, bloody wars and countless other Disasters in and since Medieval times were invited or encouraged by humans, not by God. He has no "moral" or any other of "obligation" to interfere and save people who brought it on themselves through irresponsibility, carelessness, selfishness, stupidity or ignorance of God's Laws.

It is fairly common knowledge that lack of hygiene or proper sanitary facilities will breed harmful bacteria and diseases. Scientists claim today that the Black Death was the direct result of a plague of rats feeding on human excreta in primitive, open sewers in the streets or passageways and invading highly unsanitary dwellings of poor people many of whom suffered various skin and venereal diseases.

Anyone who reads the Good Book with appropriate patience and intelligence will find the answers to "when or ‘how" the prayers of true Christians will be satisfied or why some may seem to be "ineffective". God has always a GOOD reason for whatever He does or does not!

In any case, it appears fairly obvious that Mr. Straughen is not one who believes in the power or benefits of passionate prayer and God's wisdom accepted by dedicated Christians without questioning or doubting. It is therefore quite pointless trying to convince him and other people of similar disbelief or established, inflexible views, that God does hear calls for some help or requests for favours from His "faithful flock". One cannot expect God to answer prayers of non-believers.

"God works in mysterious ways". He invariably answers in the way which ultimately is FOR THE BEST of mankind in general however it may at first appear perhaps unkind or unhelpful!
 




Prayer - Reply to Mr Holman

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 82, 2002 January)


I read Mr Holman's critique (# 81, p. 48) of my analysis of his article in # 79, and make the following observations:

1. Although Mr Holman makes many assertions, nowhere in his reply does he offer any sound evidence for the effectiveness of prayer, or that apparent answers to prayers are anything other than fortuitous coincidences.

2. Mr Holman appears to believe that human beings are largely responsible for their own suffering and, while this is sometimes true, he has failed to adequately justify God's inaction.

Imagine if doctors refused to save a man's life because his condition was self-inflicted, or aid workers in third-world countries refused to alleviate people's suffering because they were irresponsible, careless, selfish, stupid and ignorant.

3. My reference to the Black Death and mortality rates during the Middle Ages remain valid illustrations of the ineffectiveness of prayer. Rational inquiry into the causes of human suffering has proven the most effective method of curing disease.

4. Concerning moral duty: If God exists and is the creator of the world, then it is responsible for the very things that contribute to human suffering – disease causing microorganisms, for example. Consequently, God does have an obligation to act. Would saving dying children necessarily cause overpopulation? I think the answer is a definite no (birth control is an obvious solution). The children who are saved would be given the opportunity to lead full and productive lives, then grow old and die as we all do. At no stage did 1 argue for the total abolition of death.

5. Mr Holman says of me: "It is therefore quite pointless trying to convince him and other people of similar disbelief or established, inflexible views, that God does hear calls for some help..." (p. 49).

The reason why I am sceptical of the effectiveness of prayer is for the same reason that I an sceptical of the existence of unicorns –  namely, lack of convincing proof.

If Mr Holman wishes to convince anyone of the veracity of his beliefs, then the burden of proof rests with him. I am only too willing to change my mind when presented with sound evidence.




 
 

NAIVE SOPHISTRY AND COMFORTING MYTHS

John H Williams

(Investigator 82, 2002 January)



The recent exchange of views between Josef Holman and Kirk Straughen (Investigator 79, 80, 81) nicely illustrates the 'great divide' between those who do and don't believe: only one side is right, but which?

I was impressed by Dr Holman's article, Staying Forever Young (#78), a delightful and inspiring paen to the (for some) less than joyful ageing process. Anyone who, at 71, contemplates making more babies is remarkable indeed! However, his subsequent contributions showed that he is imbued with a powerful set of beliefs which collectively may be described as an overvalued idea (see my review of Goleman's Vital Lies, Simple Truths, # 61, p24), a 'blind spot' daily reinforced by thoughts and action such as prayer, working as a minister, misconstruing cause and effect, perhaps pointing to their own lives as following "God's wonderful plan" (Holman, #78), their success or happiness as evidence or even proof!

Dr Holman's excessive use of bold and upper case was, for me, disconcerting and counter-productive. I've heard this argument before, very sincerely if over-earnestly put, and I'm again struck by the futility of making the merest dent in the mind set. Since I don't subscribe to any platitudes, such as "Thy faith shall make thee whole" – forget the hole, just see the donut – "God giveth and God taketh away" – nastily mendacious when children die due to lack of clean water – and "God moves in mysterious ways..." – this 'mysteriousness' is, in my view, entirely due to 'his' non-existence. My response is the obvious, that because one believes / has faith, mountains will be climbed, out of the strength of that all-encompassing belief.

Whether people like Kirk Straughen and myself are "inflexible" or hold "established" views is debatable, and I don't think that Dr Holman is in any position to assess this, nor can he in any authoritative way assess the efficacy of others' prayers, since any perceptions would be highly anecdotal. His rationale for prayer is that of a conservative theist, some way from the far more liberal views of Bishop Jack Shelby Spong, one of my heroes. (See, for example, "Can one be a Christian without being a theist?" www.dioceseofnewark.org/vox21096.html)

Kirk Straughen's response (# 80) was brief, dispassionate, and made perfect sense, since there's no unequivocal evidence for the entity being prayed to. My (non-) belief is that no prayers are heard, and that no one but the person praying is 'listening'. Dr Holman's argument is a furphy, no matter how "sincere", "faithful", "patient", and "zealous" the prayer/pray-er.

Naturally, some prayers are 'answered', out of wish-fulfilment, coincidence, and due to circumstances not easily explicable (the "mystery" at work!), such as the oft-cited 'miraculous' recovery of a person with 'incurable' cancer. His naive, fanciful and sentimental sophistry left me deeply unconvinced: exhortations to OBEY Him, with one's WHOLE HEART, while FEARING Him, being PATIENT, OBEDIENT and WHOLE-HEARTED will only persuade those who share the same earnestly proselytised ideas.

A senior Pakistani air force officer was once asked about what his pilots believed, since in the Koran it says that the sky is a blue carpet hung over the earth by Allah, and the stars are his light shining through its transparent places. He replied with a smile, "They believe one thing up there and another down here"! For some, argument and reason are irrelevant: they just believe, girded by comforting myths, deflecting doubt(er)s with mendacious and pious platitudes, and supported by a literal interpretation of the Bible.
 



 

RESPONSE TO
MESSRS. STRAUGHEN & WILLIAMS

J Holman

(Investigator 83, 2002 March)


Mr. Straughen and Mr. Williams (No. 82 pages 50-53) criticised my articles on prayer. My contributions were meant to strengthen the beliefs of any "wavering" Christians whose faith may have been undermined by some unforseen or tragic existential conditions and to encourage those whose prayers have not met their expectations.

My articles were not attempting to convert anyone to MY beliefs or to "creationism". I respect any skeptic's or creationist's beliefs, opinions and arbitrary notions. By the same token, I reserve my democratic right to have my own beliefs, convictions or views regarded with similar respect. This is not considered a "favour" but "good manners" among civilised people.

Apart from the practitioners' personal beliefs or divine experiences, it is obvious that no other "sound" or "solid" evidence can be pulled out of a hat to satisfy non-believers or confirmed atheists. However, many a scientist's research work or claims are similarly founded on nothing else than their "belief" or faith in their "hunches" and "logical deduction" before they can produce any "sound" evidence if ever! Yet, they never seem to be publicly questioned or "sneered" at and "belittled" by any skeptic or by the intelligentsia.

I do not wish to be drawn into any implacable argument with Mr. Kirk Straughen or Mr. John H. Williams about the benefits of sincere prayers or that prayers ARE answered although not necessarily in the way one expects them to be. Previous issues of Investigator had my humble attempt to remind "vacillating" believers of God's promises of possible reasons when prayers are not answered immediately or fail to bring expected favourable results.

The answers are revealed in the Bible. Countless Christians around the world faithfully follow and trust the Good Book's words. THEIR prayers are consistently answered. THEY are, surely, THEY MUST BE, the "evidence" sought by non-believers such as Messrs. Straughen & Williams. That's a great lot of evidence, considering the many millions of clergymen or priests of all Christian denominations (but not forgetting the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and others) who believe or claim that heartfelt prayers never remain unanswered.

As much as I enjoy good debates and I appreciate Straughen's & Williams' articles in Investigator, or their fomenting views, I find their criticism is, at times, tactlessly spiked with unfair, if not offensive, sarcasm, or some apparent illusions and perplexing ignorance of which they seem to be blissfully unaware. Or, if they are conscious of it, they probably would not admit their shortcomings. Whenever I observe, rightly or wrongly, such weakness in any criticism or argument I hasten to keep out of it before it develops into some nasty conflict and possible gain of enemies instead of friends...

Because Straughen's & Williams' dissection of my articles on prayers are practically begging for an answer I shall make this one exception and respond to them—simply and with forgiveness.

May I humbly suggest that the above gentlemen direct their views or questionable criticism and request for "evidence" to the countless believers and witnesses to the beneficial powers of unhypocritical prayers. In my previous articles I have simply expressed my unbiased views backed by my own positive experiences with prayers and the promises of' God.

That's good enough for all of us, the countless members of the clergy or non-pagan religions of different denominations. This is not a subject of physical research or study where solid evidence (proof) as such must be obtained and produced before the public is convinced that the results really have any useful benefits, or their previous doubts are fully eradicated.

This is a matter of FAITH, spirituality, or unshatterable BELIEF which does not require concrete "evidence" to prove that it works or is of divine benefit to the true believers! Straughen & Williams should try to understand and appreciate that the believers don't need any more "proof" than the words and steel convictions of people who believe or have had personal experiences which freed them of any doubt they may have had that prayers ARE answered in one way or another!

Surely, such mighty evidence does not deserve to be questioned, or sneered at?

I cannot stress enough that these are not JUST MY views or findings but also the views or experiences of many millions of sensible people around the world who trust the words of God implicitly. We know of esteemed scientists who have all sorts of theories or beliefs in the course of their diligent researches but no material evidence. Yet, they do believe that their hypothesis inevitably must, sooner or later, become a reality to be seen, felt or touched and used for the benefit of mankind.

One example: there is no proof that antimatter exists. But, many scientists are firmly convinced that it does exist. Their theory is that if matter exists, so must antimatter! Apparently, they don't need any material proof of it – "they just know it is there!" Similarly, there is no solid evidence that God exists (as Straughen & Williams will no doubt happily agree), but billions of earthlings are of the ironclad belief that God does exist in one form or another, or that there is an "intelligent power" which governs the universe and consequently governs our (human) lives (souls and bodies).

It is fairly well known that even some of the most intelligent, down-to-earth or scientifically minded people don't always insist on solid evidence to convince them that something ethereal, or seemingly not possible, does exist or can happen. They freely admit that their convictions, however untested, do not require any material proof of tangibility; hypothesis is sufficient enough not to detract them from their firm beliefs or faith. Then, we have some esteemed psychologists and psychologists who, like the above group of intelligent people, have similar firm notions and often subtly encourage patients not to give up their beliefs "in good things" – no matter how imaginative or "unreal" they may seem as part of the remedial therapy. It seems that these professionals believe in the power or benefits of mere "beliefs" too, with only "non-solid" evidence that such an anomaly works when patients get better.

I sincerely thank both gentlemen for their apparent attempt to "belittle" the importance of my "belief" which proved to be most helpful to me and many others. It has strengthened even more my faith and conviction that true believers don't need "solid" evidence in support of their persuasions or to prove anything to the much smaller number of "pre-programmed" sceptics, cynics, habitual sneerers and incorrigible non-believers who seem to have difficulty believing in anything even when rock solid evidence should be placed right in front of their suspicious noses. Amen.
 




Final Reply to Mr Holman

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 84, 2002 May)


Mr Holman, in his reply to my criticisms of his articles on prayer, has made a number of errors that I would like to address.

1. He appears to believe that questioning his beliefs amounts to insult. Let me say that I respect Mr Holman's views even though I do not agree with them, and if he has been offended by anything that I have said, then I offer my sincere apologies. None of my articles have ever been written with the intention of sneering at, belittling or suppressing anyone's beliefs.

2. Although I respect Mr Holman's right to his opinions, I do not think that this renders them immune to or exempt from criticism. Indeed, it is critical analysis that has advanced our understanding of the world. Furthermore, Mr Holman should realise that if he has articles published in a magazine such as Investigator, then his views stand a good chance of being challenged, and that he may not like this when it happens.

3. If I have understood Mr Holman correctly, he appears to consider people's faith as evidence that what they believe in is an extant reality. However, many millions of people can be mistaken—for example, the idea of the geocentric universe was once the majority view, and an erroneous one at that. Consequently sincerity with which a belief is held and the number of people who subscribe to it offers no guarantee of its veracity.

4. Mr Holman is wrong with respect to his antimatter analogy. Antimatter in the form of antiprotons is regularly produced at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Although some scientists may hold beliefs that are unproven or unprovable, these beliefs must be separated from the process of science itself. Scientific theories are evidence based, and make predictions that can be tested. If there is no evidence for a theory, then it is eventually abandoned. The geocentric universe that I mentioned earlier is an example of this fact.

5. Finally, if Mr Holman's faith has been strengthened by our discussion, then I am pleased that he considers he has derived some benefit from it. None of my articles have been written in an attempt to convince people to abandon their beliefs; they are instead my attempt to provide a naturalistic point of view, and I make no apologies for this. If people choose to agree with me, then they do so of their own accord. On the other hand, if they think that my views are not worth considering, then that is fine by me.





 
 

SAYING PRAYERS TO THE MAN UPSTAIRS

John H William.

(Investigator 84, 2002 May)


Regarding Josef Holman's response (Investigator #83) to a critical article of mine in #82. I take issue with his views.

It seems that he has taken things personally, and he appears stung by contrary opinion, strongly expressed. My skeptical views (not "cynical", "sneering" or "pre-programmed", whatever the latter means) remain antiplatitudinous, non-literal and, given our planet's happenings, reality based. Take care how you stereotype those who, quite reasonably, question even the most sincerely held beliefs, Dr Holman.

It's pointless fulminating about being on the receiving end. If he chooses to address "waverers" in the Investigator he must anticipate some robust debate from decidedly unwavering readers. Personally, I'm interested in any research or insights on the psychology of prayer if anyone has 'the good oil'.

I appreciate a sense of humour and I enjoyed Dr Holman's final barb, that "they would have difficulty believing in anything, even when rock solid evidence should be placed right in front of their suspicious noses." I think I'm capable of distinguishing 'rock solid' evidence from speculation and belief, so I remain "incorrigibly" unconvinced due to a clear dearth of the rock solid. Let's say that he and I have quite different versions of the key concept of what constitutes evidence!In labelling someone like me as incorrigible, doesn't a sizeable 'beam' exist in the beholder's eye?

Dr Holman suggests that I direct my views to the "countless believers and witnesses". I can't do that since I don't know them, but I assume that they have a similar 'groupthink' mindset to him and would offer stories and 'miracles' attesting their beliefs. He 'represents' the countless, and has risked expressing issues requiring faith, and, as a 'defender of the faith', is understandably hypersensitive and defensive in that role. He is clearly passionately convinced in the rightness of his cause, and I'm not discounting him or his long career as a Christian, which I respect. All I've done is give my opinion on that which he wrote, as one who's as convinced of the futility of communicating with 'The Man Upstairs' as he is in prayer.

Dr Holman, of course, has a democratic right to his beliefs, but he surely can't expect to remain immune from critical comment. It's much less risky to present his beliefs to believers who, one supposes, comprise a minority of this magazine's readership. For example, of the 14 regular contributors listed on the last page of #81, only three (Bergman, Anonymous and Holman) are 'believers'. He tells us that his articles' intent was to buoy "wavering Christians": perhaps, 'sermonising' in Investigator was an unwise choice. It's ironic and interesting (see below) that an external 'attack' is likely to be more effective in 'summoning-up believers' sinew' than a pious sermon!

In #82 I chided Dr Holman for his disconcerting overuse of bold and caps: his piece in #83 has 12 uses of caps plus four underlinings, in two cases caps plus underlining were combined! This comes over as overzealously earnest and sincere special pleading, a kind of typographical fire and brimstone lecture, fine for the evangelical pulpit, 'pour encourager les autres', but not appropriate for arguing ideas with those who question much that he demonstrates he'd prefer remain undoubted and unquestioned.

On the subject of the efficacy of prayer, the jury is still out. Skeptics realise that it's beyond the realm of 'proof', but simply point out the obvious, that:

(a) it's far from agreed that there's a being who's listening, despite the billions who apparently believe in one, or many in the case of Hindus.
given the nature of humans, when faced with adversity, there'll be a call for 'divine' help, and, when it doesn't come, it's 'rationalised away' via faith.

(b) 'unanswered' prayers are likely to outnumber the 'answered'. The line that, yes, people will die, because if they didn't Earth wouldn't cope, is deeply unconvincing. Consider the countless unanswered prayers to save terminally ill children, for example, without, please, recourse to the standard - and in my opinion, horribly mendacious - platitudes.

(c) no matter how many 'answered' prayers a person experiences, or how many friends and family are convinced of the success of their prayers, this doesn't constitute evidence, particularly "rock solid" evidence. I used the word "anecdotal" in #82, and I'm sure that Dr Holman is aware of its meaning and its implication in our dispute about prayer. One can apply some sophistry to history, in response to the likelihood of much 'unanswered' prayer in, for example, the Holocaust, and say that the victims' prayers were answered but not in the way they wanted or expected, perhaps pointing out the nasty end of the perpetrators (but not nearly as nasty as being slowly gassed by zyklon-B) and the war's 'successful' termination in 1945, or the establishment of Israel in 1948.

As a life-long competitive sportsman I'm frequently annoyed when winners ascribe their wins to a supposed deity. A recent example is the Australian golfer Aaron Baddeley who, as a teenager, defeated some of the world's best in the Australian Championships two years in succession. One asks why him and why not the other Christians? Why would God help someone who obviously has extraordinary skills and, in Aaron's case, an impeccable genetic background, including two doting golf-playing grandmothers who regularly took him golfing soon after he could walk? Would Aaron's god continue to offer divine help so that he'd win some, most, or all subsequent tournaments? Would his lack of wins over the last eighteen months cause him to question his faith, wondering why others who won tournaments (some might be non-believers) received divine help and not he?

The rational answer is that it's all very much in Aaron's mind – one day he will win again and, as before, without any supernatural help. It's perfectly reasonable to argue that his wins came partly because he believed his god was helping, making him unusually confident, or certain of winning, but this argument falls down if it's presumed that he operated similarly in all the non-winning events he later played. I think that he won because he was in brilliant form, he prepared and trained impeccably, knew the course intimately and knew that it suited his game, while all his nearest rivals, for whatever reasons, played below their best. However, after his second highly unlikely win, few questioned Aaron's belief that he'd had some extra help! (As I write (8/3) Aaron is 11 over par in Adelaide, about to miss the cut).

Dr Holman doesn't have a scientific background and it shows. He compares belief in prayer with scientific hypothesis, when they are totally different. One is subjective/anecdotal, the other's evidence-based requiring a disciplined objectivity. Dr Holman shouldn't compare apples with oranges and I refer him, as an example, to the penicillium (Fleming/Florey/Chain) story, 'A fairytale of science' in The Adelaide Review, March '02. This also reminds us how careful we need to be about myths we were taught when young. For most believers, their beliefs are constantly reinforced (to ward off the devil of doubt), intensely private and thus unchallengeable, and self-sustaining. It would be unimaginable to live without them. They help give purpose and meaning and, in facing death, the comfort of 'going to a better place' and meeting with loved ones. Believers believe because they want to and, because they believe, it is so. They don't take kindly to those who suggest otherwise, who'd be 'Doubting Thomas' or 'Satan' or 'Anti-Christ'.

Naturally, it may well be beneficial for a patient with a physical or mental illness to sustain their beliefs, since it could well help recovery and the placebo effect is well known. There's plenty of evidence that one's state of mind affects the state of one's immune system and that negative emotions are a predisposing factor in many diseases. However, this is no argument for the process of a supernatural agent providing direct help, which is, in my opinion, delusional.

It's unsurprising that Dr Holman's faith has been strengthened by my critique, a pattern with a long historical precedent. When a belief is attacked believers become defensive and put down those who have questioned as "sneerers, cynics and the pre-programmed" (the pot calling the kettle black"). I take the jibe 'pre-programmed' to mean that we've been conditioned to think as we do (?). I'm one of the many who once 'belonged' (as an Anglican) and who, via a good education, resisted all the 'programming' directed my way including the scary (to a child) nonsense about Satan, Hell etc that is still part of the indoctrination of some children before they have the knowledge, interest or capability to think independently about cosmology. I am not the 'automaton' hinted at by Dr Holman, and value all those who seek truth with a non-literal eye, free of dogma and unimprisoned by their 'certainties'.

There's nothing like an external attack for engendering a reinforcement of that culture's groupthink: 'we're right, they're wrong' and they're godless, morally inferior, or communist or socially offensive/undesirable, eg sneerers, and thus not worthy of being right or debating their views in a civilised manner. Charles Darwin had, for decades, anticipated the collective howl of self-righteous rage which greeted his Origin in 1859, one reason why he'd delayed publication (also, he would have been highly unpopular with his devout wife and local community!). Yet Dr Holman tells us that scientists with "hunches" and "beliefs" are never sneered at/belittled – Darwin is still the number one target of creationists!

As is abundantly clear with only a cursory global glance the answers to important issues are not revealed in the Bible, nor are "THEIR" prayers consistently answered, nor can "THEY MUST BE" be anywhere near the quality of the evidence sought.

Dr Holman and his fellow believers may find consolation and conviction in being part of a multitudinous brother/sisterhood, but majority opinions have often been shown to be errant, while those with "suspicious noses" are quite likely to 'sniff out' the secular reality.
 




God knows what's best!

Atheist

(Investigator 84, 2002 May)


The Reverend Holman's response to Kirk Straughen on the efficacy of prayer (Investigator No: 81:48-49) has more holes in it than a hunk of Swiss cheese. He refers to 'true Christians' prayers', the 'Good Book' and the 'Bible' (obviously referring to the Christian Bible but which version?) thus eliminating Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christians (80% of the world's population) from any discussion.

Remarkably, the Rev. Holman, D.Lit., M.A., an ordained minister, refers to passages in the Bible without identifying them with biblical references – which is probably just as well. Among them he will find some unflattering references to God such as immoral, unjust, cruel, sadistic, vengeful, covetous, jealous, unforgiving, discriminatory, vain, autocratic, overbearing, egotistical and sexist, (Josh. 14:19-20. Ex. 20:5. Deut. 4:24. Gen. 3:14-19.)

Profanities are not lacking either, "Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces." (Mal. 2:3). "And thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight." (Ezek. 4:12). Exhibitionism? How about God flashing his butt? – "And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts." (Ex. 33:23). We could also add incompetent and inconsiderate for endowing mankind, "His" creation, with the same reprehensible characteristics!

The morals of his faithful don't seem to rate high on the list of His priorities either. Abraham married his father's daughter. (Gen. 20:12) Lot offered his daughters to a mob of Sodomites. (Gen. 19:1-8). God caused wives to be ravished. (2 Sam. 12:11). God sanctions polygamy, (Deut. 21:15). A cowardly priest thrust forth his concubine to a lustful mob. (Judges 19:22-30). David committed adultery. (2 Sam. 11:2-27). An old saint was revived with a young virgin. (1 Kings 1, 2). Solomon had a great harem. (1 Kings 11:1, 3).

More bloody wars have been fought in God's name than any other, untold atrocities have been committed and heinous injustices have been inflicted in His name by those following 'God's laws'. A perusal of the following references will reveal some. (Gen. 6:7. Deut. 32:13-25. Deut. 14:15. Deut. 26:12. Deut. 28:15-35. Josh. 9:25-26, 29. Josh. 10:11. Josh. 11:26, 39. Sam. 2: 10. Ps. 7:11-16. Ps. 21:8, 9. Ezek. 22:20-22. Matt. 24:50, 51. Rev. 14:10, 11. Rev. 21:8. Is. 1:4. Is. 13:6-13. Amos 9:1-4).

To save time looking them all up I'll quote a few more of the choicest. People burnt to death for complaining (Num. 11:1). People killed for wanting to change their diet (Num.11:4-6, 31-34). Priests burnt alive (Lev. 10:1, 2). The wholesale massacre of helpless women and children (Num. 31:1-18) The massacre of a whole nation (Deut.3:6).

The indiscriminate massacre of innocent babies, women and men (Josh. 10:40). The massacre at Jericho (Josh. 6:17, 2 1). The slaughter of peaceful citizens (Judges. 18:6, 27). The murder of 50,070 men for looking inside a box (I Sam. 6:19), and an angel sent by God to kill 70,000 men (I Chron. 21:1-15).

And this is the guy to whom the Reverend would have us pray for favours!

Does Holman know that among "God's laws" he decrees the death penalty for breaking the sabbath (Ex. 31:14, 15). Kindling a fire on the seventh day (Ex. 35:2, 3). Picking up sticks on Saturday (Num. 15:32-36). For eating leavened bread (Ex. 12:15). For eating fat (Lev. 7:22-25). For uncircumcised children (Gen. 17:14). For making perfume (Ex. 30:34-38). For touching a holy thing (Num. 4:15). For approaching a holy candlestick (Num. 18:3). For entering a holy place without wearing the correct trousers (Ex. 28:42, 43) and having sexual intercourse during menstruation (Lev. 20:18)?

Kirk Straughen contends that prayers are ineffective and that God has a moral obligation to intercede and help when requested. He gave as examples – a sick or dying child and disasters such as the plague. In his response Holman states that the reason for non-intervention is simple – God has granted people the freedom of choice and that they must accept responsibility for their actions. How can a child born with physical or mental defect be held responsible for being born in that condition and/or for its subsequent actions? How can humans 'invite' or 'encourage', to use Holman's words, earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, famine, pestilence, tidal waves, lightning strikes or any other natural disaster? They are not the result of human shortcomings or sins and certainly not because as Holman says, people are 'irresponsible', 'careless', 'selfish' or 'stupid'.

How can Holman justify his claim that the Bubonic plague was the fault of the estimated 25 million innocents who died in Europe (75 million world wide) when God himself created the world and all in it – including the rats, their fleas and the bacteria that caused the disease? (Gen. 1:28)

"God knows what is best for His faithful" says the reverend. What about the hundreds of saints and martyrs whose entire lives were devoted to prayer and whose unquestionable faith and devotion was ignored as they suffered ignominious deaths (Sebastian – shot to death with arrows). (Peter crucified upsidedown). (James – beheaded). (Paul – beheaded). (Philip – crucified). (Thomas – speared to death). Was it best for them? I'd hate to think what the Good Lord's got in store for the unfaithful!

Holman simplistically and asininely opines that if God saved everyone the world would become overpopulated. Where are his biblical references to God limiting the world's population? If we accept that God lets people die simply to prevent overpopulation why does He advocate going forth and multiplying? (Gen. 1:28)

We could also ask why God's mouthpiece in Rome, the spiritual leader of some 850,000,000 Catholics, is anti-birth control – thus encouraging population growth contrary to God's wishes? Furthermore, why pick us off one at a time when he could slaughter us by the tens of thousands like he did in the good old days? There is also a contradiction here, doesn't He promise everlasting life? (Matt. 19:29. Dan. 12:2. John 5:13) Given the expediential increase in the world's population from a single pair to over 5 billion in 6000 years God's plan to curtail overpopulation doesn't appear to have met with much success!

If the writer is sincere in his belief that it's God's plan to be insensitive to death and suffering simply to save the world from overpopulation he must be consistent in his reasoning. He should declare an antipathy towards those devoted to prolonging and saving life – doctors, nurses, carers, hospitals and medical research institutes. In any case such a 'policy', for the want of a better word, would be doomed to failure from the beginning for several reasons.
(1) The non-Christian population of the world far exceeds that of the Christian and is not subject to "God's plan."
(2) Improving hygiene and medicine progressively reduces infant mortality and contributes to longevity.
(3) Current and future advances in genetic technology will enhance the prospects of extended life and will increase the world's population even further.

"God works in mysterious ways and answers in a way for the best of mankind" avers Holman. Tell that to the survivors and relatives of the 6,000,000 who died in the holocaust; the 40 million starving children around the world; the thousands who died on September 11 in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center; the young victims of landmines in Laos and the millions of refugees in Afghanistan. In November alone, 350 people lost their lives in violent storms in Algeria, 400 drowned in the Philippines and an aircraft crash in New York took the lives of another 266. You may find a few among the above who disagree with the reverend that their fate was "for the best of mankind."

Reverend Holman may well say that the death and suffering inflicted on some of those mentioned above was the result of man's irresponsibility, but it doesn't alter the fact that it's the innocent that suffered and in no way did they bring it on themselves through (to quote the writer) 'carelessness', 'stupidity', 'selfishness', or 'ignorance' of God's laws.

In summary, methinks the Reverend would be well advised to read the Bible more thoroughly before concluding that "God knows what's best for His faithful." His response to Kirk Straughen was a rhetorical reiteration of the writer's conviction, devoid of any substantiation and based on irrational conjecture.

His penultimate paragraph speaks volumes where he says, "It is quite pointless trying to convince him (Kirk Straughen)..." In other words, if you don't agree with me you're against me – so shut up!
 

Note: All references are from the authorised King James version of the Holy Bible.





 

HOLMAN'S EVIDENCE INADEQUATE

Atheist

(Investigator 84, 2001 May)


Holman's response to Straughen and Williams (No 83) evidences dysfunctional reasoning and a lack of research. For example: He says, "Many a scientist's research work or claims are similarly founded on nothing else than their 'belief' or faith in their 'hunches' and 'logical deduction' before they can produce any 'sound' evidence if ever. Yet they never seem to be publicly questioned or 'sneered' at and 'belittled' by any skeptic or by the intelligentsia."

The list of scientists of all disciplines who have been publicly questioned and, I might add, in some instances crucified, is so long I hesitate to take up the space. Even Albert Einstein's new version of the unified field published in 1950 was immediately criticised by most physicists as untenable.

After claiming that the speakers for the negative had mounted an ad hominen attack, a very sensitive reverend condescendingly forgave them and proceeded with an exercise in repetitive dogma using extraordinary syntax for a Doctor of Literature.

Holman's claim that prayers are answered rests solely on the knowledge that millions of people believe this to be the case. He ignores the fundamental fact that believing in something doesn't necessarily make it true. Millions once believed the world to be flat; that the sun revolved around the earth; that natural phenomena were the work of gods and that the sky is a canopy supported on pillars.

The principal difference between a believer and a sceptic is that the latter thinks before accepting something at face value.

Faith is blind—you take something on trust. In the case under consideration where trust results in someone seemingly answering your prayers Holman is both right and wrong. Right in so far as it works in the minds of some, wrong as far as reasoning is concerned. In my opinion however, there is no acceptable evidence to support the claim and positive results can only be coincidence.
 



 

TERMINAL RIPOSTE TO
Messrs. Straughen, Williams & Atheist

Josef Holman

(Investigator 85, 2002 July)


As I indicated previously, I do not wish to enter any prolonged debates about the effectiveness of prayers, whether or not prayers are answered, and why God allows all sorts of tragedies to happen. I also suggested previously that all the answers are in the Holy Bible for the inquisitive skeptics, atheists, qualified or unqualified scientists and "disbelieving Thomases" who hunger for enlightenment on the subject.

This should offer them new material which would enable them to continue indefinitely "digging into" the subject, causing high blood pressure to many a Christian (or also many a Muslim, Hindi, Budhist and anyone who believes in the power of prayers).

With all the law suits now taking place in Australia against anyone or anything that causes injury, or some harm in some way to someone, Kirk Straughen, John Williams, Atheist, etc., should perhaps be more cautious about what they say or how they criticise anything or anyone! Any careless "inferences" may be "unlawful" or could lead to a claim for compensation by some parties (including readers of Investigator!).

I noticed with bewilderment that "Atheist" directed two broadside shots at me – one in Letters (page 4) and one on page 37. (Investigator No. 84) It seems to me that he gets some kind of masochistic pleasure either from being sarcastic or from trying to be "funny" which is rather unfunny – at least to me.  He refers to me as "Reverend", then "Rev. Holman, D.Lit., M.A., an ordained minister" and then he reverts back to plain "Holman". He/she cannot convince me that this wasn't some kind of unkind "dig" into my qualifications or a show of peasantry disrespect which any legally ordained minister of a church would undoubtedly resent. I humbly believe I don't deserve or invited such insensitive reaction. I don't mind any kind of civilised criticism but not if it has an odour of unnecessary insolence about it.

I should like to stress to "Atheist" (and this goes for Messrs. Straughen & Williams, too) that the titles I have are quite legal and, I dare say, I earned them. Nevertheless, I prefer to be addressed plainly by my name Josef or Holman or both as most other qualified correspondents usually are. Titles mean very little to me ego-wise. Jesus Christ had no academic backgrounds or titles and yet he did alright in his vocation.

To answer some more "digs" from Mr. Straughen and Mr. John Williams (pages 30-36) – this goes for "Atheist" too (pages 37-42) – I am more than happy to suggest that they carefully read the excellent article by "Anonymous" pages 42-49, Investigator No. 84. The well written article is somewhat similar to the answers I would offer Messrs. Straughen & Williams had I thought it necessary after my previously-given good enough reasons why I believe sincere prayers are answered. I am very grateful to "Anonymous" for having enlarged on the subject so patiently and eloquently. I couldn't have done it better.

There is another point or two I would like to clarify. "Atheist" seems to be concerned about some of the passages in the Bible which I did not identify with biblical references. I would like to suggest that those unidentified passages are well known to any true Christian or believer. THEY certainly don't need any references! And non-believers shouldn't need them either! I dearly hope "Atheist" noticed that I used references with some other, less used or known passages or the ones I wished to emphasise and which I considered more relevant.

To John H. Williams, who so uncharitably or undiplomatically wrote that I "don't have a scientific background and it shows" (page 34, Investigator No. 84) I admit that I am not a scientist as such and maybe it does show (if that's what he felt). However, to be fair, to be a teacher with an Honours B.Sc. (Geology) and Diploma in Education, does not make one a "scientist" either, or an ordained minister, or an expert on religious matters and a special authority on prayers – whether they are answered or not!

Having said that, I say again I enjoy reading contributions from Messrs. Straughen & Williams and I pray they'll continue entertaining the readers for a long time to come with their views. I offer only one humble advice as a more senior contributor – please do avoid sarcasm or "undertones" which appear to consist of insolence or quite unnecessary criticism of other writers' backgrounds, characteristics or lack of "scientific know-how". It's rather unscientific! Also, do provide less of your own philosophising in your writings (if you don't have a successful career as a professional philosopher) and get down to the point as briefly as possible.
 




TOO EVASIVE AND REBUTTAL NEGLECTED

Atheist

(Investigator 86, 2002 September)


I refer to Josef Holman's one thousand word retort (No: 85) in which he concludes with "contributors should get down to the point as briefly as possible!" Verbum sap.

The writer appears to be more concerned with the way he is addressed rather than rebutting a single point raised by his opponents.

Mere mention of his credentials appears to touch a raw nerve. Any doubt can easily be removed by simply stating the name of his university and the date of his graduation. His religious denomination and where he ministered would also be of interest.

He claims that his "previously given answers were good enough." Unconvincing to say the least, and that he is grateful to 'Anonymous' for enlarging on them "as I couldn't have done better myself." Certainly no argument there!

Having berated his critics he goes one step further with a thinly veiled threat to sue should they be too critical. Since when has it been "unlawful" to proffer a contrary opinion? To criticise another's point of view? To ask for substantive evidence?

Paragraph 7 on page 39 is typical of one who resorts to evasiveness by using generalities such as "it's well known."

Well I for one don't know of any passage in the Holy Bible where God advocates limiting the world's population. Perhaps as Mr Holman has argued that this is the case he would be kind enough to tell me exactly where I can find it.
 



 

ANSWER TO ATHEIST'S AMORAL ASSAIL

J Holman

(Investigator 87, 2002 November)


I am perturbed by Atheist's assail (No. 86 p.5) on my "Terminal Riposte" (No. 85 pages 38-39) or, as the writer says, "one thousand word retort" in which I offered the advice: "contributors should get down to the point as briefly as possible". Atheist followed with the quote, "verbum sap". I gave a good example of my own advice in No. 85, pages 38-39 where I responded to three correspondents (No. 84 pages 4, 30-41) – a total of 13 pages against my two!

Atheist wrongly suggests that I am more concerned with the way I am addressed rather than rebutting a single point raised by opponents. It appears the correspondent is a careless reader. On page 39 (No. 85) I clearly stated that "titles mean very little to me ego-wise". However, I do object to unnecessary references with insolent undertones toward opposing correspondents.

Atheist also seems to doubt my credentials and suggests (again wrongly) that "mere mention of his credentials touches a raw nerve". I repeat how I feel about titles I respect them but rarely use mine. In the "autumn of my life" I have other interests than trying to prove to every "Tom, Dick and Harry" that there is nothing wrong with my credentials. "Cadit quaestio – gaudeamus igitur"!

Does Atheist question OTHER contributors' titles, their universities and dates of graduation? In the list of 13 writers on page 50, No. 86, there are only two whose universities are named but no mention of dates!

Also when I said "I couldn't have done better myself" in regards to Anonymous enlarging on my previously given answers which I considered "good enough" (page 39 No. 85), knowing they would satisfy any true believer (but not atheists) – it did not mean that I would be unable to improve or enlarge on them myself! It seems that Atheist misinterpreted.

It also appears that he/she is unable to make a distinction between light-hearted "kidding" and being serious. He seems to suggest that I would sue anyone too critical of my writings. I merely, jokingly submitted that critics must be more careful nowadays or they may be sued for defamation and emotional trauma. We live in a crazy era where anybody can sue anyone for any little thing. No joke, it is happening here too, not just in the USA. I am all for proffering contrary opinions and criticism of another's point of view. But, let's do it in a civilised manner without insolence, derogatory remarks or sarcasm intended to hurt.

Atheist also criticises me for using "evasive" generalities such as "it's well known". This is bordering absurdity. I don't need to be evasive in my writings. I use the above expression when I know something is a FACT or common knowledge. I believe that readers of Investigator are knowledgeable and didn't require prolonged comments on the subject at hand.

Let me give an example: "it is well known" that atheists will hardly ever be converted to non-atheists or to belief in the Holy Bible its teachings and great wisdom. Should I perhaps apologise for here being "evasive" again? I recommend Atheist to request any "substantive evidence" from the contributor who has a university degree in philosophy & science – which I don't have.


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