Eleven items about Prayer, God and Evil appear below:

This is the second debate on prayer and started ten months after the Holman et al debate. This second debate contains more scientific data and more philosophical analysis.
 

1 Prayer, Evil and God No. 84  Anonymous
2 God and Evil No. 85 K Straughen
3 Therapeutic Effects of Prayer No. 86 K Straughen
4 God Exits No. 85  J H Williams
5 Prayer, God & Evil: Reply to… No. 86 Anonymous
6 God & Evil – Reply to Anonymous No. 87 K Straughen
7 God & Evil – Reply to Straughen (#87) No. 88 Anonymous
8 God & Evil – Final Reply to Anon No. 89 K Straughen
9 Surely Nothing is Impossible No. 89 H Edwards
10 Surely Some Things Are Impossible No. 90  Anonymous
11 God, Evil and Prayer No. 90 Anonymous
 



PRAYER, EVIL and GOD

Anonymous

(Investigator 84, 2002 May)
 

INTRODUCTION

Millions of people pray and claim God listens. Their testimony by itself does not make it true. People usually affirm whatever is expected within their social network and may distort their thinking in the process of conforming. Most people in ancient times believed in prayers to idols but were wrong.

I will show that prayer is often answered but I cannot prove conclusively that the answers are from God.
 

GOD, THE BIBLE AND PRAYER

Consider three statements:

1 God exists;
2 The Bible is accurate;
3 Sincere prayers often lead to things prayed for.

If we could prove "1" and "2" then statement "3" would be correct too – its truth follows from statement "2" (since the Bible teaches that God responds to prayer).

To try to prove statement "1", God's existence, I'd use the "Anthropic Principle" – the numerous "coincidences" built into the laws of physics, chemistry and astronomy without which the Universe, the world and ourselves could not exist. I've quoted scientist Fred Hoyle before:

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question. (Hoyle, 1981)


To try to prove statement "2", that the Bible is accurate, I would examine testable Bible statements and compare them with discoveries in science. Actually I've been doing this for years and have shown, in Investigator Magazine, that hundreds of Bible statements previously considered false were proved, by subsequent scientific discoveries, to be correct.

This method reveals the long-term trend of more and more Bible claims being proved correct or at least shown to be plausible.

Is this trend "proof" of the Bible? Scientifically it's the best that can be done. The procedure requires waiting upon science and therefore cannot move faster than science.

What if we ignore the truth or falsity of statements "1" and "2" and just investigate evidence relevant to statement "3"?  If we succeed in proving statement "3", that prayer often results in what's prayed for, would that prove "1" and "2"?  No, because skeptics would claim that answered prayer is just a property of the Universe or is coincidence or is a consequence of psychology. If all fails they'll just call it "inexplicable".

If every prayer for things we can't achieve ourselves resulted in what's prayed for, the debate would be over. But that doesn't happen. The Bible says, "The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." (Proverbs 15:29)  The Bible gives many other guidelines such as persistence, and praying "according to His [God's] will", etc.

How obviously and demonstrably prayer is answered – if there is a God to answer it – is also related to the question of evil.

Next I'll give evidence for answered prayer and afterwards I'll explain how the reason for evil prevents more decisive proof.
 

PRAYER ANSWERED

Harris et al (1999) tested the hypothesis that:

…patients who are unknowingly and remotely prayed for by blinded [ie they received no feedback on patient progress] intercessors will experience fewer complications and have a shorter hospital stay than patients not receiving such prayer.

The intercessors (persons praying) did not need to be of any particular denomination, but had to agree with:

I believe in God. I believe that He is personal and is concerned with individual lives. I further believe that he is responsive to prayers for healing made on behalf of the sick.

They received no information on any patient and prayed 28 days for each one irrespective of whether the patient had left the unit.

Of 990 patients 466 were randomly assigned to be prayed for and 524 to the usual care group. Patients and staff were also "blinded" i.e. unaware that an experiment was being conducted. By enrolling ALL patients – believers and unbelievers – and having patients and staff "blinded", psychological influences were eliminated from the result.

The result was:

Remote intercessory prayer was associated with lower CCU [coronary care unit] scores. This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.

An earlier (Byrd, 1988) study of 393 patients also showed a statistically signficant effect of intercessory prayer. The Byrd study differed in that:

Jeanie Davis (2001) cites Mitchell Krucoff, a cardiovascular specialist at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. :
  [Today] we're seeing systematic investigations – clinical research – as well as professional statements from professional societies supporting this research, federal subsidies from NIH [National Institute for Healthcare Research], funding from congress. All these studies…are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.

Reader's Digest (1997) in Is God Listening? gives examples of consequences following prayer and says: "Consider these stories before you underestimate the power of prayer."

Stett (1997) interviewed members of a Pentecostal church and wrote:

Go to any Pentecostal church and you'll get testimonies of healing… Most individuals I asked claimed to have experienced physical or emotional benefits from faith.

The religious life in general, of which prayer is a component, is also beneficial. McCullough et al (2000) analysed 42 previous studies representing 125,826 participants. The Abstract reads in part:

A meta-analysis of data from 42 independent samples examining the association of a measure of religious involvement and all-cause mortality is reported. Religious involvement was significantly associated with lower mortality…indicating that people high in religious involvement were more likely to be alive at follow-up than people lower in religious involvement.  

WHY IS THERE EVIL IF GOD IS GOOD?

The clarity of proof of God's existence and of the Bible and of answered prayer is linked to the question of why there is evil if God exists.

Philosophers argue that the following three propositions are mutually incompatible and therefore at least one must be wrong and therefore rejected

1    God is all-powerful;
2    God is good and loves humans;
3    Evil exists.

We can't reject proposition "3" since that one is self-evident. If we reject either proposition "1" or "2" we deny the existence of the Christian/Biblical God since power and love are two of His qualities.

If we want to retain all three statements we need a reason why an "omnipotent", good God if He exists would tolerate evil.

In the "The Four Skeptics" debate (Investigator 63-72) I gave a simple explanation which can be derived from the Bible and has these elements:

Furthermore, omnipotence does not include being able to do what's "logically impossible" such as drawing a triangular circle. (Mackie, 1982) It's logically impossible to test for the effects of human self-rule if God stopped all effects before they occurred. Hence, evil resulting from human misrule and ignorance must run its course. (How this also accounts for natural disasters like earthquakes is covered in Investigator 63-72)

A valid result to an experiment to determine the consequences of humans deciding right and wrong for themselves requires that God be unobstrusive. If He intervenes during the experiment the intervention must be such that most humans can either ignore it or give it alternative interpretation.

This explanation for evil is consistent with the sort of "proof" I regularly give for the Bible. The proof is of an inductive nature and therefore the skeptic can merely assume that the trend, of the Bible regularly turning out correct when criticized, will break down. Or he can focus on points in the Bible that currently can't be answered and assume that no explanation will be found. His freedom to ignore God therefore remains.

If we argue for God's existence from the "Anthropic Principle" the skeptic can also find a response. He may imagine an infinite number of universes and argue that if there is an infinite number then one universe will be like ours. In other words the skeptic explains our Universe by imagining an ultimate reality so vast that it achieves everything that others attribute to God. The skeptic has, in effect, invented a god without personality.

In this way the skeptic can explain God away and this in turn permits the experiment to determine human ability at self-rule to run its course and give unbiased results.
 

EVIL AND PRAYER

What does my explanation for evil imply for prayer?

Firstly, some people choose not to be in the experiment. They decide God's ways are best and therefore they choose to obey Him. A means of communication is therefore needed which is private – believing individuals can make contact and non-believing individuals can ignore it. If God spoke to believers publicly from the sky the experiment, described above, is ruined since everyone would know that God is watching.

A private communication process is therefore needed and prayer fits this requirement.

Secondly, if answers to prayer occur they have to be such that most people can ignore them or explain them otherwise, perhaps by psychology or coincidence.
 
 

SMALL EVENTS ARE AMPLIFIED

Could God – if there is a God who responds to prayer – influence the physical world without it being obvious He did so?

"Chaos theory" states that tiny events can amplify naturally into gigantic consequences – insignificant inputs can have vast outputs. This was explained in Investigator 77. I quoted physicist Paul Davies:

We know from chaos theory that the tiniest change even among atoms is going to change the way very large phenomena occur. (Hall, 1994)

Chaos applies also to human society. A spectacular example – perhaps an apocryphal one – is when a British trooper had Adolf Hitler in his sights in 1918 but did not pull the trigger. A movement of one finger and history would have been so different that most people alive now wouldn't exist including me since my parents met as a result of World War II!

Here's a personal example of how tiny events at the molecular level can amplify toward bigger effects:

I attended university to get the education to research the Bible. I'm of average IQ but in one semester did 150% of the official study load. The stress rapidly led to exhaustion.

One assignment required students to catch, kill, pin and label, with full scientific name, several dozen insects. I had a moth that confounded me. Every attempt to "key it out" using lists of criteria failed. I wasted a dozen hours. Such waste in a minor assignment of one subject while floundering in other subjects implied defeat – it seemed time to give up.

As a last attempt I tried what science students normally don't try – prayer. "Tell me the name of this moth," I asked.

The creature's abdomen then fell off making it useless for my assignment. I prayed again, "I want a replacement, and I still want the name."

On a warm April, Saturday night I opened my door to admit more air and sat down. A fluttering sound followed and the creature landed on the curtain next to my head. It was a moth of the species I required!

I lacked a jar to catch it with and went and borrowed one from a neighbour.

With the moth killed and pinned I returned the jar and took the moth with me to show Wendy what her jar had caught.

She was cleaning the stove as I entered. She glanced up and called out, "Oh, it's a tiger moth." Then, puzzled, she stood up and looked more closely and added, "I don't know why I said that – I know nothing about moths. Maybe because of those stripes on its back."

With a feeling of unreality I checked the indexes of a stack of biology books. One index had "Tiger moth". The relevant page had a picture and full classification.

For years afterwards I opened my door on warm autumn evenings to test the odds of a Tiger Moth flying in. None ever did again. I've never even seen another live specimen anywhere. I also showed my insect collection to visitors but no one ever again called the moth by its name.

Was it an answered prayer? Had that event not happened I would have failed my studies and the skeptics wouldn't now be facing and debating the scientific evidence for the Bible that my university studies equipped me to find. Prayer followed by tiny events in the nervous system of a moth and in Wendy – and in me since my actions had to be precisely timed – have now led skeptics, twenty years later, into debate after debate on the Bible.

If a God who's "omniscient" exists, He could cause world changing events, and do it undetectably, by acting on the tiniest levels and also answer prayer that way.
 

CONCLUSION

John H Williams says: "Naturally, some prayers are 'answered', out of wish-fulfilment, coincidence, and due to circumstances not easily explicable…such as the oft-cited 'miraculous' recovery of a person with 'incurable' cancer." (#83)

"Coincidence" and the "inexplicable" are strong evidence that God answers prayer because they're consistent with my explanation of why a good, omnipotent God would allow evil. The explanation – that humanity by choice is in an experiment to determine its ability to achieve the good life despite rejecting God – requires God's absence and that his intervention be deniable. This explanation also explains why communication with God needs to be private – as prayer.

There's also scientific evidence of answered prayer, plus innumerable testimonies, plus the word of that reliable book – the Bible.

Skeptics therefore have good reason to change sides and pray.
 

References:

Byrd, R. C. Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. Southern Medical Journal. 1988, 81:826-829.
Davis, J. Can Prayer Heal? Emotional Wellness website
http://content.health.msn.com/content/article/1674.51527
Hall, N. Staring into the Mind of God. Focus, February 1994, pp. 74-76.
Harris, W.S.; Kolb, J.W.; Strychacz, C.P.; Vacek, J.L.; Jones, P.G.; Forker, A.; O'Keefe, J.H.; McCallister, B.D. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit, Arch Intern Med. October 25, 1999, 159:2273-2278
Hoyle, F. The Universe: Past and Present Reflections, Engineering & Science, November 1981, p. 12.
Investigator Magazine. Numbers 79 to 83, Prayer–Debate
Investigator Magazine. Numbers 63-72, God and Evil–Debate
McCullough, M.E.; Hoyt, W.T.; Larson, D.B.; Koenig, H.G.; Thoresen, C. Religious Involvement and Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Health Psychology. May 2000, Vol. 19, No. 3, 211-222.
Mackie, J.L.1982. The Miracle of Theism, Clarendon Press, p.151.
Stett, B. Church and Faith Bring Benefits, Investigator Magazine. November 1997, No. 57, pp. 25, 28.
Vanderpool, H.Y. Is Religion Therapeutically Significant? Journal of Religion and Health 1977, Volume 16, No. 4, pp. 255-259
Woodward, K. Is God Listening? Reader's Digest. August 1997, pp. 63-66

 



God & Evil

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 85, 2002 July)


I read Anonymous' article Prayer, Evil & God (# 84), and although I found his ideas interesting, I am unable to agree with them. As the "Prayer Debate" has been taken up by other people, I shall restrict my comments to the section of his article titled Why is there Evil if God is Good?

Here, Anonymous seems to be implying that humans have rejected God. I assume he is referring to the account of Man's fall as recorded in Genesis – that the disobedience of Adam and Eve caused the entire Creation to fall from a state of perfection and thus evil entered the world.

The problem is that no evidence exists indicating human beings ever enjoyed either a physical or moral state of perfection. Rather, the fossil record shows groups of pre-humans evolving towards humanity. The evidence does not support the belief that there ever was a single couple created by supernatural means, or that nature was ever perfect.

Moreover, the idea that Adam and Eve were morally perfect and yet chose to sin is untenable because in order to commit sin they would need to have been sinful in the first place – no morally perfect being would choose to commit sin. And even if Adam and Eve did commit original sin, the people of today can't be held responsible for the primordial couple's actions, nor did they choose to be part of God's experiment (see below). Therefore, the suffering we experience – even if it is the result of original sin – is unjust.

Anonymous further suggests (if I have understood him correctly) that God has withdrawn from the world as part of an experiment so as not to interfere with the course of human self-rule. However, if the Bible is taken literally, then this proposition is untenable. The Old Testament is full of instances where God takes a very active part in human affairs, thus invalidating the experiment. Furthermore, the fact that the majority of people appear to believe in God and believe they are being observed by this being may influence their behaviour and further invalidate the experiment.

If God exists and permits evil, then it can't be good – many people clearly do not want evil to exist yet God has turned a deaf ear to their pleas. In view of the above, I don't think Anonymous has satisfactorily resolved the dilemma of: Why is there evil if God is good? (In my opinion, evil exists because our Universe is the product of non-conscious amoral natural forces, rather than a supernatural being.)

Finally, Anonymous appears to suggest that the two explanations for the existence of the world – natural and supernatural – could be equally true. If this is so, then how do we choose between them? In my opinion natural explanations are more consistent with reality, and if God has not provided sufficient evidence in favour of supernaturalism then how can people be blamed for choosing the natural alternative?
 

 



 

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS OF PRAYER

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 87, 2002 September)


In his article Prayer, Evil & God (# 84) Anonymous cites studies on the effectiveness of prayer, and I offer the following observations:
 

Personally speaking, I'll reserve my judgement for the moment, as I think further research needs to be done.




 

"GOD" EXITS
Reply to Anonymous #84

John H Williams

(Investigator 85, 2002 July)


A century and a half ago, the 'almighty' was taken as gospel truth. Now an increasingly secular world disbelieves, and decries those who refer to God as if it were unequivocally established that there was such a being, one which is unobtrusive, with excellent hearing (only for righteous prayers), and omniscient/omnipotent (convenient for explaining away anything). Skeptics are stuck on step one, the existence of a supernatural entity, and regard the rest with a wry skeptical smile. (Occasionally, believers who routinely deal with other believers receive a rude shock when cherished 'truths' are exposed to non-wishful scrutiny.)

Anonymous quoted me, "Naturally, some prayers are' answered…" but the inverted commas showed that I believe the opposite. The absence of a cause for a medical 'miracle' – "an event contrary to the laws of nature and attributable to a supernatural cause" – oughtn't to be used as 'evidence'. (Believers would, of course, aver that the rarity of 'miracles' isn't evidence for an entity's non-existence, which leads to the well-worn path of what precisely defines miraculous, and what objective body of evidence is used to support it). Ergo, I disagree with his statement that "coincidence and inexplicability" – omnipresent and familiar to all – "are strong evidence" (my italics) that a much-debated and much-disbelieved entity exists, or once existed.

Mr A's view that a "good, omnipotent" being "allows evil because humanity...is an experiment to determine its ability to achieve the good life despite rejecting God" again confirms him as one of this planet's more creative and speculative rationalisers! Whatever is the "good life" (more semantics!). I'm inclined to the view that a very large percentage of Earthlings had or have what might be regarded as 'good lives' in the sense that they had/have the coincidental 'good luck' to exist, survive to adulthood, then make their genetic contribution to posterity, without reference to any deity.

The same applies to all life, but there are those who view Homo sapiens as 'specially chosen', an absurd idea that requires a Chooser.

The randomness and coincidentality of procreation is nicely illustrated by my two children's existence. I migrated from the UK in 1966 and worked as a teacher at Ingleburn High in outer south-west Sydney, commuting the 30km from my home at Lakemba. On the first day of the 1968 school year, I gave a colleague, (the school's art teacher), a lift home, and she asked if I'd go via Bankstown Square, an unattractive super-mall I usually avoided, so she could buy art supplies.

Off she went, while I found a bookshop, and, having a strong interest in literature, was browsing the novels when a tall, tanned and lovely young woman in an eye-catching yellow dress hove to in the same section, an English (subject) teacher doing a 'first-day-back' hunt for new resources. Her school and her home were a long way from mine and we taught different subjects, so the chances of us meeting were extremely small but we liked each other enough to combine DNA. In 1975 and 1979 we produced Bec and Nicola who are enjoying the good life (utterly non-religious like so many of their generation), and who have yet to share their bit of Welsh/Scottish/Norwegian heritage with some fortunate hominid whose creation is likely to be far less 'chancy' than theirs! (Approximately one third of all relationships begin via work as many spend this proportion of their lives at work.) I used tell them how 'miraculous' was their being, based on a set of chance occurrences, one of which was that their Mum had once played 'ships in the night' with a young Celt who, but for x, y and z, would most likely have been having a good life 16,000km away. The 'what-ifs' impress me, but apparently not them!

Regarding, the delightful and serendipidous tiger moth saga: if Mr A's deity hadn't sent in one of its creatures, he would have failed his course, and a skewer of skeptics wouldn't have had him, like Richard Nixon, to 'kick around' in debate, after 'debate'. Was it, in fact, an answered prayer, or just another coincidence, akin to a car accident on the Eyre Highway when someone leaves the road and hits the only tree, a tenacious mulga, in a hundred Nullarbor kilometres? Or the jilted young woman who threw herself from the Eiffel Tower and suffered only a few bruises while demolishing a brand new Renault? Or the small bird my car collected during a recent drive which, oddly, slid along my bonnet's edge as if glued, its beak having lodged in the small gap between the bonnet and the body. My decision to make an 800km round-trip from Ceduna (resting place) to Coffin Bay cost that avian its tiny god-forsaken life.

Early this year I borrowed some New Scientists from my library, one of which had a cover story on a hobby-horse of mine, tobacco. A few nights later I took it into my bedroom, sat on the bed, then, as I leaned over to untie my shoe-laces, I looked down at the cover, which was at my feet. At the top of the page I was astonished by the line, "Do your shoe-laces hold the secrets of the universe?" Long 'tiger moth' odds on this coincidence too, Mr A?

J A Paulos in Beyond Numeracy (www.cuttheknot.com/do_you_know) outlines the statistics on coincidence: in any group of 23, for example, the probability that at least two have the same birthday is higher than 50%. Two strangers on a plane flight have, apparently, a 99 in 100 chance that they'll be linked in some way by two or fewer intermediaries, such as having a cousin who used to work with a teacher who is married to a man who was at school with you. Naturally, most don't run through their 1500 acquaintances, so the hidden connections remain undiscovered.

An attractive warm fuzzy kind of coincidence is Carl Jung's creation, synchronicity. You see a movie whose story is a metaphor of your current dilemmas, or a friend phones at the moment you're thinking of phoning him/her. You're wondering if you should resign from a position when a VIP resigns: it's a marker, a sign, a meaningful message from the cosmos, so pay attention, because "all energy and matter are interconnected and two seemingly disconnected events are actually connected".

Though appealing it's pseudo-science which ignores the reality, that improbable ideas exist, other-wise there'd be no statistical mean" (The Skeptic's Dictionary - http://skepdic.com)

Let's look at the maths of probability: you're at the MCG, one of 50,000. Your birthday is February 29th, so there'll be about 34 people there who share it (135 if it's another date). The chances of a 29/2 sitting next to another 29/2 are somewhat lower, so the MCG might ask all the '29/2-ers' to meet after the game to commiserate or celebrate, like Frederick, the confused pilot in the Pirates of Penzance, about being only a quarter of their actual age!

Spoon-fraudster Uri Geller has made much of the 11/9 disaster, as September 11th is the 254th day of the year, so 2+5+4=11, the Trade Centre Towers looked like 11, New York State was the eleventh state accepted into the Union, and so on. It all looks superficially plausible until one makes a counter-list of all that doesn't fit, eg Manhattan has 9 letters, the World Trade Centre 15, the number of hijackers was 19, and 1+9 = 10…

To paraphrase Anonymous' final line, skeptics have not, as yet, one good reason to cease skepticism. "Innumerable testimonies" is mere mass hear-say, the Good Book is as "reliable" as Basil Fawlty's Irish builder and, like BF's manic psyche, open to (mis) interpretation. The world continues to await objective and incontrovertible evidence on the supposed purveyor of 'answered prayers'. There's a world of difference between what believers believe and what is or was!

"The most incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of coincidences" (Paulos), such as the one which involved Mr A, his neighbour, Wendy, and two defunct members of the Insecta.




Prayer, God and Evil
Reply to Straughen and Williams

Anonymous

(Investigator 86, 2002 September)
 

LOGICAL, NOT EMPIRICAL

In #83 I attempted to answered the claim made by many philosophers that the following three statements are mutually incompatible:

1. God is all-powerful;
2. God is good and loves humans;
3. Evil exists.

If the three statements are logically incompatible – i.e. they constitute an "inconsistent triad" – then at least one must be false. However, all three are central claims of Christianity. Therefore, if at least one is false, then a central belief of Christianity is refuted.

Non-philosophers may express the argument as follows: "I can't believe in God because of places like Auschwitz Concentration Camp. An all-powerful, loving God would not allow such suffering."

To answer this I described an "experiment" in which the original humans decided to reject God's guidance and "go it alone". Almost all subsequent humans concurred with this "experiment" and they showed their agreement every time they rejected God's guidance. For details see Investigator 83 and Investigator 65-69.

Since we're answering a logical point it does not matter whether an original Adam and Eve who rebelled and wanted to manage the world without God, existed. Nor does it matter, at this stage, whether God exists. This is because we're answering the question, "What reason could or would a perfectly-good, almighty God have for doing nothing when we suffer?"

Think of a movie or novel in which character "A" does nothing while character "B" dies and you debate A's motive with a friend. Such a debate does not imply that "A" or "B" exist in real life.

Williams' calling me a "creative…rationaliser" therefore misses the point. So does Straughen's reference to the fossil record. To see this, consider again the debate about the motive of the movie characters. The debate is not decided by going to the registrar for births to find out whether they're listed there.

Similarly, my answer (in #83 and previously in #65-69) to a seeming logical conundrum is not refuted by going to the fossil record. Rather, to refute my answer would require showing that I've changed the meaning of "almighty" or "omnipotent".  If I've done that then I've surreptitiously given up Statement 1. The three statements would then be incompatible and the philosophers would be right.

Most people who reject the Bible and Christianity, however, do not rely on the alleged "inconsistent triad". Rather, they believe that much in the Bible is false – the story of Adam and Eve for example.
 

COINCIDENCE

In response to my Tiger moth story (#84), wherein consequences to prayer got me through university, Williams (#85) discussed coincidence.

I did not use the Tiger moth story as proof of a God who intervenes in our lives. Rather, it was a "personal example" where "tiny events at the molecular level amplified toward bigger effects" following prayer. And that's all.

What if I do what I did not do and use such seeming answers to prayers as proof of God answering?

Williams' counter argument is that coincidences occur all the time and sometimes seem like answered prayer.

To see that Williams' "coincidence" argument merely begs the question consider the following illustration:

A person is unable to pay a bill. He finds an envelope with the correct amount of money. Let's suppose that the finder wants to decide whether

a.    Finding the correct money was a coincidence unplanned by anyone;
b.    Someone who knew his situation had observed him walking and had placed the money a little distance ahead to purposefully help him out – hence a planned "coincidence".

How can the finder decide between "a" and "b"? He might consider:

(1)    Did he previously tell someone about his financial problem?
(2)    Does anyone else have an interest in him solving it?
(3)    Did the find occur where it could easily have been staged like on the footpath leading from his home?

    A yes to "1" and a name for "2" and a "yes" to "3" is evidence, but not conclusive, that the "coincidence" was staged. If the "coincidence" is repeated when the next bill comes, it's time for strong suspicion!

    The point of my illustration is that what one person experiences as a surprising "coincidence" may be a planned event from another person's viewpoint – i.e. from the viewpoint of the person who staged it. It's easy to construct scenarios like the above and some of us may have been involved in something like it in real life.

    Since "coincidences" can be arranged, Williams says nothing worthwhile in calling my Tiger moth experience "coincidence". What we need are criteria for distinguishing staged coincidences from non-arranged ones. I doubt that conclusive criteria can be defined.

    When considering whether a coincidence that seems to answer a prayer is arranged or not arranged we might, similar to the above illustration, ask:

    1 Could anyone have known about the prayer?
    2 Does anyone else have an interest in the prayer being answered?
    3 Was it something that had to happen to someone because of built-in rules or laws – like winning a lottery?
    4 Can the odds of the "coincidence" be calculated – like the odds of two people having the same birth date – or was it a "one off"?

    Someone who honestly answers "Only God" to questions "1" and "2", and "No" to "3", and "It was a one off" to "4", has cause to ponder.

    If many people report answered prayer the skeptic's cry of "coincidence" is inadequate – because he has not defined conclusive criteria for ruling out staged "coincidences".
     

    GOOD REASON TO CEASE SKEPTICISM

    Williams says that I've given skeptics not even "one good reason to cease skepticsm" and he seeks "objective and incontrovertible evidence".

    "Good reason" is often an inductive generalisation. I can't today show anyone tomorrow. I can, however, generalize from past experience and predict that tomorrow is only a day away. And when 'tomorrow' arrives and the skeptic then argues the day after won't come I can repeat the process.

    That's the approach I use to research the Bible. I seek out disagreements between the Bible and people who disregard the Bible. Then I wait and see which side science eventually supports. Regularly it's the Bible – and I generalize this finding. If any authority, source or procedure gives correct conclusions, that's "good reason" to accept it.

    No single argument proves there is an Almighty, loving God. We have, rather, a number of pointers to that conclusion:

    1. The Anthropic principle whereby the Universe seems a "put up job" as if designed for life;
    2. A book purportedly of God that turns out correct in ever more statements that humans criticised;
    3. Consequences to prayers such that the prayers appear answered;
    4. Many people decide to pray and report they feel loved, listened to and close to God.

    The first pointer I may elaborate another time. The second is ongoing. The third is tested by interviewing believers. The fourth is an individual decision.

    I can research three of the above pointers. The fourth is private and individual. Compare this to a blind man who says that John H Williams does not exist. I might give the blind man many reasons to think otherwise. But the process is only completed when he has a personal encounter with John H Williams, an encounter that complements the sort of evidence he has previously considered.




     

    God & Evil – Reply To Anonymous

    Kirk Straughen

    (Investigator 87, 2002 November)


    After considering Anonymous' comments on the above topic (# 86, p. 40) I am of the opinion that he has still not resolved the dilemma of why there is evil if God is good.

    He may argue that evil exists as a consequence of people rejecting God and "going it alone" (his words). However, in my opinion this explanation is inadequate and, as he refers to Auschwitz, I'll use this to illustrate my point by asking my readers to consider the following questions:

    (1) Generally speaking, in what sense did the victims of Nazi atrocities reject God?

    (2) Nazi persecution affected both believer and unbeliever alike. Specifically, in what sense did believers reject God? Indeed, given that the faithful believe is this accusation really tenable?

    (3) Many Christians compare God to a loving father. Now a father who loves his children would, if it were within his power, rescue them from Auschwitz. Considering this, is it unreasonable to think that if God exists and is far better than a human father, then it too, would surely do the same? Can a father who has the ability to save his children but does not be considered good?
     
     



     
God & Evil: Reply to Straughen (#87)

Anonymous

(Investigator 88, 2003, January)


The question of whether prayer is ever answered (#79-#86) has merged into the why-God-allows-evil question, i.e. "Theodicy".

We did that topic in Investigator 65-69. Straughen's synopsis of my approach – "evil exists as a consequence of people rejecting God and going it alone" (#87) – is OK.

However, Straughen now raises the more specific question of evil experienced by good people who seek to obey God and who, therefore, do not "go it alone". The ultimate example is Jesus.

A partial answer was given in #65 to #69 by my presentation of human rejection of God as an "experiment". If Straughen reconsiders the points there made he'll realize that if supernatural intervention selectively rescued every believer from every conceivable evil, then the "experiment" is not only ruined but impossible to conduct.

Further reasons are given in the Bible book of Job (1:6-12; 2:1-6) and in various Psalms such as Psalm 37.

Straughen asks, "Can a father who has the ability to save his children but does not be considered good?"  If the "saving" is merely postponed and there are compelling reasons for this – e.g. if postponement enables multitudes more to become his children and so also be "save" – then yes.

This topic deserves deeper analysis, not just a few points tacked on to a debate about prayer. Perhaps I'll do this another time.




 

God & Evil - Final Reply To Anon.

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 89, 2003 March)


I refer to Anonymous' reply (#88, page 21) on the above topic and, after reconsidering what he has written on the subject, must respectfully continue to disagree with him.

In #84 (pages 45 to 47) Anonymous suggests that the human condition is part of an experiment in human self-rule, and that this supposition resolves the dilemma of why there is evil if God is good. In my opinion, however, it does not, for the experimenter (God) is conducting an unethical experiment, something that a morally perfect being would not do:

1. We, the subjects of the experiment, did not consent to being experimented on. We are born into an imperfect world having the imperfect natures that we do, and suffer as a consequence.

2. If God's intervention is of such a nature that we "can either ignore it or give it [an] alternative interpretation" (#84, page 46) then people who, using their reason, arrive at a natural explanation for the existence of the world should not be condemned by anyone (least of all, God) because God hides the evidence for its existence.

Finally, Anonymous suggests that not every believer is saved from physical danger in order for "multitudes more to become his children and so also be save[d]". (#88, page 21)

Firstly, this kind of argument seems to suggest that the end result justifies the means by which it is obtained – the suffering caused by the Holocaust was acceptable because believers will bask in the glory of heaven. (NOTE: I am not in any way suggesting that Anonymous believes this. What I am saying is that this kind of reasoning is dangerous because it comes across this way).

Secondly, to argue that God permits human suffering because it will ultimately lead to a greater good rests on the unproven assumption that God is good. Indeed, based on the available evidence it is possible to reach an opposite and equally probable conclusion – that God is evil, or at best indifferent to human suffering.

Finally, saving all believers is more likely to increase the numbers who are saved because it would be excellent evidence for the truth of their religion. Indeed, considering the thousand facets of belief – major religions, minor religions, denominations, sects and cults, this would be a great help in winnowing the grain from the chaff.

 



 

SURELY NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

Harry Edwards

(Investigator 89, 2003 March)


In God and Evil (#88 p21) Anonymous argues that "…the 'experiment' is impossible to conduct." Surely nothing is impossible for an omnipresent and omniscient God?  One able, 24 hours a day, between pushing tectonic plates around, to listen to and comprehend the words and thoughts of millions praying in a multitude of tongues all at the same time!




 

SURELY SOME THINGS ARE IMPOSSIBLE

Anonymous

(Investigator 90, 2003 May)


Mr Edwards (#89 p. 4) says, "Surely nothing is impossible for an omnipresent and omniscient God?"

Philosophers debate whether two qualities that God is defined as having – being good and omnipotent (almighty) – are consistent with the existence of human suffering.

Such philosophers generally agree that "omnipotence" excludes the ability to make contradictory statements true. God, could not, for example, draw a square and make it circular. Either the definition for square or the definition for circle will be ignored or qualified in some way. God cannot do something and simultaneously not do it.

Someone with the power to shift continents, and who is also truthful, cannot shift a feather if He has agreed not to shift it.

In Investigator 65-69 I gave reasons for evil such that the immediate eradication of evil by God entailed contradictions.




EVIL, GOD and PRAYER

Anonymous

(Investigator 90, 2003 May)


Kirk Straughen (Investigator 89) reduced my explanation of evil to, "the human condition is part of an experiment in human self rule". Straughen gave three objections:

1 The subjects did not consent.

2 If God's intervention is such that "we can either ignore it or give it an alternative explanation" then people who arrive at a natural explanation should not be condemned.

3 An experiment that permits humans to harm themselves is unethical.

Regarding "1" Human consent is proved:
a    If the first subjects initiated the experiment – i.e. if it's God who gave consent.
b    If subsequent humans choose right and wrong independently of God – thereby individually entering the experiment. Their actions and attitudes show their consent.
Regarding "2":
No one is "condemned" solely for arriving at a "natural explanation". The experiment is not a test of one's ability to infer God from scientific facts. What is tested is human ability to distinguish right from wrong in an ethical sense and do the right. Failure in this is what condemns.
Regarding "3":
Unethical aspects of the experiment are the fault of humans because they chose and still choose the experiment.
Straughen (in #88) asked, "Can a father who has the ability to save his children but does not be considered good?" I answered, "If the saving is merely postponed and there are compelling reasons for this – e.g. if postponement enables multitudes more to become his children and so also be saved – then yes."

Straughen rejects this because to him it implied, "The end justifies the means."

However, why shouldn't the end justify the means? Suppose I want to rescue a child from an oncoming car. The "end" would be the rescue. The "means" might be to run out and lift the child out of harm's way. Sometimes the end justifies the means and sometimes it doesn't. Straughen needs to produce an analysis showing when it does and when it doesn't. If God consents to humans choosing and testing their standards of right and wrong, He has to limit his interference since otherwise he reverses his consent. Many good things he could do for us have to be postponed.

Straughen thinks that, "permission of human suffering because it will ultimately lead to greater good rests on the unproven assumption that God is good."

Straughen should supply the criteria of "goodness" that he wants satisfied. Since he hasn't, I'll suggest three criteria:

a)    The experiment of whether humans can decide right from wrong and rule themselves better without God, is occurring in the safest, most benign, era Earth has had – geologically, climatically, biologically and astronomically. And that's rather "good"! For example take climate: "The climate record shows that the whole 8,000-year span of human civilization, from the dawn of cities to space flight, has taken place during a period of extraordinary warmth and stability." (Linden, E. Time, 1997, March 17, pp. 101-105)

b)    The Bible teaches that God has arranged forgiveness and the undoing of all the hurt humans caused each other. If true that too is rather "good"! (John 3:16; Revelation 21:4-5)

c)    Early humans, according to the Bible, tried to ascend to the "heavens", the place of the sun, moon and stars, by building a tower. God predicted, "this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." (Genesis 11:6) Nowadays we actually see that humans can ascend to the "heavens". If God created a Universe with such laws of physics, plus humans with such ability to manipulate those laws, that "nothing will be impossible" – again that's rather "good"!

Straughen thinks that selective and immediate intervention to save every believer from every evil, "would be excellent evidence for the truth of their religion."

True, but it would also nullify the experiment to find out whether humans can create the good life without God's guidance. The findings of the experiment would be invalid. Why? Because intervention as drastic as Straughen proposes would notify everyone they're being monitored and that would alter their behavior. Psychologists find that:

Our own behavior is likely to be affected by knowing we are being watched… researchers may decide to disguise their role as observers if they believe that people being observed will not act as they ordinarily would if they know their activities are being recorded. (Shaughnessy, J H & Zechmeister, E B 1997. Research Methods in Psychology. p. 84)


Furthermore, constant selective intervention by God would constitute bribery – something the Bible condemns. Bribery does not motivate people to permanently choose right conduct. Instead it fosters moral corruption – and that's obvious from history and current events.

Additionally consider: If most people reject the ways of God and act as if they don't need God – and that's why God stays absent – then such rebels would be responsible, at least partly, for consequences to the believers. God would need to refrain from intervening too obviously in the lives of those who already agree with him – in order for unbelievers to shoulder their responsibility and show what they can do.
 

BACK TO PRAYER

The current discussion on why a good God would permit evil flowed on from a debate on whether prayer is ever answered.

The change in topic resulted when I explained why communication between humans and God has to be private i.e. as prayer and not public with God speaking audibly from the sky.

The connection between the two topics is this:

The cause of evil was explained as human failure in an experiment to determine human ability at self-rule. The experiment requires God to stay out of the way and let people act as if He did not exist so as not to bias the findings. However, some people choose to opt out of the experiment. They decide God knows best and they want to obey Him. A means of communication is therefore needed between humans and God which is private – so that believing individuals can make contact and non-believing individuals can ignore it. Prayer fits this requirement.


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