Sunday, 23 August 2009

Prayer vs. god's Will


The Bible claims in a few places that whatever one prays for, god will answer that prayer. For example:
Matthew 21:21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. 22:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

Or maybe this one (although one could argue that it's specifically talking about asking for god to show himself, but that's a bad argument to make since it's demonstrably not true):
Luke 11:9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread[d] from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Or maybe this one does it for you:
Matthew 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

For the Xian, these passages are troublesome for the obvious reason that prayer is rather ineffective. It is obviously not true that whatever one asks for, one receives. So, they have to conjure up reasons for why this is not so. I want to focus on one of those reasons, which is the idea that god only does what is according to his will, so the prayer must be in accord with god's will for it to be carried out.

And, in response to that, I have to say that it's a rather spectacularly bad argument.

First, the text does not give mention that what one prays for must be in accordance with god's will. Secondly, having to pray for things that god is going to do anyway completely negates the idea that prayer does anything at all. If the apologist is right, then prayer is completely ineffective, since one must first ask for something that was going to happen anyway, since it was part of god's will. The prayer has no effect since everything that happens was always a part of god's will or it wasn't. So, in trying to save the efficacy of prayer, the apologist has thrown it out the window and hoped that no one would notice. But, drastic measures must be taken when your beliefs do not agree with reality I suppose.

44 comments:

Compassionate Heathen said...

A lot of times it's far easier to just delude yourself than deal with the harsh facts of reality...I can only imagine that many Christians are subconsciously taking this easy way out because they don't spend a lot of their daily lives really thinking about reality.

Anonymous said...

@GCT or anyone else:

How do you interpret the phrase, "If you have faith"? What is the significance of this phrase in this passage? What would "having faith" constitute?

ethinethin said...

Having faith is believing in something without having evidence that it's real.

Hey, I guess that means christians are as agnostic as me (although they can't claim that they are, or jesus will send them to hell).

GCT said...

Anon,
The "If you have faith" clause is another of the tacts that apologists use to explain the obvious lack of answered prayers. It was not the focus of this post, so I did not address it. That said, it's a rather poor argument in that it allows for post hoc reasoning where any unanswered prayer can be chalked up to the person not having the right amount or type of faith.

Anonymous said...

GCT:

Do you feel that the phrase, "If you have faith", being properly interpreted implies having 'enough' belief? Or do you feel that properly interpreted the author meant that Jesus was saying we needed the right 'type' of faith?

I haven't attempted to formulate an apologetic at all here. Please tell me your interpretation of what the Bible is saying here. What is the significance of the qualifier, "If you have faith" in your interpretation? What would "having faith" constitute to you based upon this passage?

Also, it would be very helpful if you could briefly explain how you arrived at your conclusion on the interpretation of what the author intended in this passage.

Again, no apologetics, what do you believe and why do you believe it means what you have implied? Or was your article to refute what most Christians will say about this passage? IE: Is your gripe with the interpretation of the passage, or with the passage itself or both?

Tyler said...

Anon: I haven't attempted to formulate an apologetic at all here.

Bullshit. That's precisely why you're ignoring the passage that doesn't mention faith.

Anonymous said...

@Tyler:

Please quote the apologetic.

GCT said...

Anon,
What you are doing here is known as a red herring. I've already told you that I was addressing a separate point, yet you are trying to argue something that was not addressed in the OP. And, yes you are trying to apologize for the fact that prayers don't seem to go answered even though the Bible says they will.

Tyler said...

Anon: @Tyler: Please quote the apologetic.

I can't quote it until you've formulated it, you idiot. Regardless, as GCT point out, your line of "thought" will likely end in one of the two apologetic ways mentioned.

The only other potential "out" for you is something along the lines of, "dog works in mysterious ways," which is no more satisfying than the other two options.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think it would be so problematic for you to list your reasons for interpreting the verse in the way you have. Understanding your interpretation might help me to understand your point of view. But if you are unwilling or unable to provide this for me, which seems odd in light of the fact I have to this point made no argument against yours, then I am only left to assume there is a flaw in your reasoning you wish to keep hidden from view.

Tyler said...

Anon: I didn't think it would be so problematic for you to list your reasons for interpreting the verse in the way you have.

To whom are you speaking? What, exactly, do you mean by "interpret"?

GCT said...

Like I said, Anon, red herring. I wasn't talking about the argument over what constitutes "If you have faith." I was talking about the argument that god answers prayers that are in accordance with his will.

If you wish to talk about the other apologetic answer, I can make an open thread to discuss. I have nothing to hide and I'm not worried about debating why the Bible doesn't line up with reality. If you wish to persist in this OT way, just say so and I'll make a thread for it.

Anonymous said...

@ GCT:

In the OP you wrote, "The Bible claims in a few places that whatever one prays for, god will answer that prayer. For example:
Matthew 21:21"

It seems this post hinges upon your interpretation of these verses. I am simply asking you to clarify whether or not the phrase "If ye have faith" affects your understanding of the author's intended message when he wrote this verse.

If you still feel this a tangent, then please describe why you feel Matthew 21:21 supports your claim of the Bible claiming whatever one prays for, God will answer that prayer.

And for the record I haven't argued with anything you've said in this post... I've only asked for clarifycation to this point.

You also wrote, "And, yes you are trying to apologize for the fact that prayers don't seem to go answered even though the Bible says they will."

How have I done this so far? By asking you to explain your interpretation or assertion regarding one passage you quote in the OP?

You wrote: "Like I said, Anon, red herring. I wasn't talking about the argument over what constitutes "If you have faith.""

The phrase "If you have faith" occurs in a verse you quote directly in the OP in support of your claim that "The Bible claims in a few places that whatever one prays for, God will answer that prayer.". Now it's a red herring to discuss (actually not even discuss, all I've done so far is question) how you arrived at your conclusion about this verse's proper interpretation?

GCT said...

Anon,
"In the OP you wrote, "The Bible claims in a few places that whatever one prays for, god will answer that prayer. For example:
Matthew 21:21""

It clearly says so, yes.

"It seems this post hinges upon your interpretation of these verses. I am simply asking you to clarify whether or not the phrase "If ye have faith" affects your understanding of the author's intended message when he wrote this verse."

Which is the apologetic response, as I've been explaining to you.

"If you still feel this a tangent, then please describe why you feel Matthew 21:21 supports your claim of the Bible claiming whatever one prays for, God will answer that prayer."

What you are saying here is that if I feel you are off on a tangent, I should indulge you anyway because you say so.

"And for the record I haven't argued with anything you've said in this post... I've only asked for clarifycation to this point."

It doesn't take a genius to note that you are using one of the three (that I know of) apologetic arguments to explain why prayers go unanswered.

"The phrase "If you have faith" occurs in a verse you quote directly in the OP in support of your claim that "The Bible claims in a few places that whatever one prays for, God will answer that prayer.". Now it's a red herring to discuss (actually not even discuss, all I've done so far is question) how you arrived at your conclusion about this verse's proper interpretation?"

Yes, it is. There are three apologetics that I know of to explain away these verses. I specifically mentioned that I was only dealing with one of them in the OP. You are insisting that I deal with a different one. That is a red herring.

I'll write up a post on the one you wish to deal with though, since you've gotten your knickers in such a twist. It may not go up until tomorrow though, as I have some things to take care of today.

Tyler said...

Anon: Now it's a red herring to discuss (actually not even discuss, all I've done so far is question) how you arrived at your conclusion about this verse's proper interpretation?

It's no less a red herring now than it was when you first brought it up. As GCT clearly stated, faith is not the issue.

Analogously, if GCT posted an opinion on, say, the performance of the six speed transmission Ford puts in the new Taurus SHO, your response would be tantamount to telling him his opinion on the transmission "seems to hinge" on what he thinks about the quality of the paint Ford puts on the car. Surely even you understand how ridiculous such a response is.

Or not.

GCT said...

It occurs to me that there are actually more than three apologetics for dealing with these verses. They all suck though.

dan said...

Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal. the book of psalms 69:4

Anonymous said...

@GCT:

Don't bother. You've already assumed you've got me all figured out, and seem incapable of responding to the actual words I write. Instead you seem quite content to attack every word I didn't write, feeling you have somehow acquired a victory... which is odd since to this point no argument or apologetic has been offered at all.

As you have failed in all to formulate how you arrived the conclusion that Matthew 21:21-22 properly understood supports; "The Bible... (claiming) that whatever one prays for, God will answer that prayer."; I feel it only fair you remove this verse from your article.

I said:
"It seems this post hinges upon your interpretation of these verses. I am simply asking you to clarify whether or not the phrase "If ye have faith" affects your understanding of the author's intended message when he wrote this verse."

To which you replied:
"Which is the apologetic response, as I've been explaining to you."

How does my understanding whether or not the phrase "If ye have faith" affects your conclusions about this verse constitute an apologetic argument? Either yes you have considered it and feel it supports your conclusion (if so why? and if you feel it does, why is it off topic for you to tell me why here?) or you have considered it and feel it does not support your conclusion (which is what I think you're implying I'm getting at) or you haven't considered it at all because you've heard arguments which didn't hold up for you in the past based upon consideration of this verse (which seems most likely the case, and would [of course] be sloppy scholarship).

For some reason you think it sane and logical to consider questions of how a verse quoted in defense of an argument actually support that argument "off topic". If you truly feel this way then any honest discussion or inquiry can never take place.

GCT said...

"...since to this point no argument or apologetic has been offered at all."

Don't be coy.

"As you have failed in all to formulate how you arrived the conclusion that Matthew 21:21-22 properly understood supports; "The Bible... (claiming) that whatever one prays for, God will answer that prayer."; I feel it only fair you remove this verse from your article."

It's a plain reading of the text. If you have a problem with it, too bad. I will not remove it from my post, especially as it does not change the argument. The fact that apologists have been coming up with arguments for why we don't see prayers working is testament to the fact that theists also read the passage the same way.

"How does my understanding whether or not the phrase "If ye have faith" affects your conclusions about this verse constitute an apologetic argument?"

You should work on your reading comprehension. In response to prayer should work for all, you're basically trying to quibble over that phrase. That is one of the apologetic responses. Is it really that hard to grasp such a simple concept?

"For some reason you think it sane and logical to consider questions of how a verse quoted in defense of an argument actually support that argument "off topic"."

Which I've explained to you multiple times.

"If you truly feel this way then any honest discussion or inquiry can never take place."

What doesn't permit honest discussion or inquiry is your obstinate refusal to address the points at hand and instead to try and steer the topic to one of your choosing, while simultaneously ignoring my statements on the matter. You can't very well claim that I'm not permitting honest discussion or inquiry when:
1) I'm the one on topic
2) I've already offered to draw up posts for you to discuss your topic
3) You've abjectly refused to actually read what I've written, instead continuing to complain that I'm not addressing your pet apologetic
4) You continually refuse to acknowledge that you are walking down the path of a different apologetic than that mentioned in the OP, even when it is pointed out to you.

Tyler said...

Anon: You've already assumed you've got me all figured out, and seem incapable of responding to the actual words I write.

This from the person who's thus far demonstrated s/he's incapable of responding to the actual point of the post.

That you're figured out isn't an assumption. It's a fact. There's nowhere for you to go from the premise you set up with your questions BUT an apologetic argument. Pointing out that you're clearly attempting to set a foundation for an apologetic argument regarding your imaginary friend's utter failure to grant anything asked in prayer is "responding to the actual words you wrote."

Me, I'll humor your red herring, again, if only to prove that your number was up before you responded to GCT's post.

Anon: How do you interpret the phrase, "If you have faith"?

If you have faith in god, god will grant you anything you ask in prayer.

Your turn.

Anonymous said...

@Tyler:

Thanks for humoring me.

You wrote: "If you have faith in god, god will grant you anything you ask in prayer."

Is this practical? What I mean is, when we pray, does God give us whatever we want? (obviously not) In light if your answer to this question, is it your opinion that the author was aware of this blatent flaw in his writing? If so, then why would he say something so easily proved wrong? If not, as this seems like a glaring error, then what other clues do we have from this text that the author was a simpleton?

Is it your opinion that the author of this passage meant for it to be viewed as clarifying or contradicting previous scripture? Or do you feel there was a consideration for other scripture at all? If so, then do you feel this scripture, based upon your interpretation, is in clear contradiction to other scriptures? Again, was the author aware of this? If so, why leave such a blatent error?

What is your opinion on the attitude with which the Jews guarded and passed on their sacred teachings? Was it a social convention (as some churches today are) or was it more intergral to their social identity to them?

What are your opinions?

Tyler said...

Anon: Is this practical?

No, it is not practical to expect your imaginary friend to grant you anything you ask for because he said he would as long as you have faith.


Anon: What I mean is, when we pray, does God give us whatever we want? (obviously not)

Obviously. That's the point, idiot.


Anon: In light if your answer to this question, is it your opinion that the author was aware of this blatent flaw in his writing?

No, that's not my opinion.


Anon: Is it your opinion that the author of this passage meant for it to be viewed as clarifying or contradicting previous scripture?

No, that's not my opinion.


Anon: Or do you feel there was a consideration for other scripture at all?

No opinion on that either.


Anon: What is your opinion on the attitude with which the Jews guarded and passed on their sacred teachings?

I don't have one.

I do have one opinion I'll share with you: As apologists go, you really, really suck. Don't feel too bad. That's just the nature of apologetics. The suckiness of the individual apologist is only a matter of degree.

cl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christopher said...

I am agreeing with anon here. This is coming from a militant atheist, and you guys are not even responding to what Anon has said. He is asking for a simple clarification, and the best response I have heard is from Tyler saying, "No," And giving not further explanation. You assume where he is going to go without actually hearing where he is going to go. Humor him and explain yourself... after (if) he is apologetic attack his competence... I like your point GCT, but we have to be real especially as the minority in the world. Atheists have to be tolerant and logical - it is what we rely on - we cannot not immediately disregard other arguments like theists do to us.

GCT said...

Christopher,
First off, his point was not related to the OP. Secondly, I did address it in a subsequent post.

Tyler said...

Christopher: I am agreeing with anon here.

Regarding which statement(s), exactly?



Christopher: This is coming from a militant atheist...

(Not that it matters which side of the theological fence you're standing on, but) Riiight...


Christopher: ... and you guys are not even responding to what Anon has said.

This comment is most amusing considering Anon was the one who bailed on the conversation, after getting the clarification he red herring-ly asked for.


Christopher: He is asking for a simple clarification, and the best response I have heard is from Tyler saying, "No," And giving not further explanation.

Dude, I think your monitor's broken. Srsly.

Leo said...

GCT, I'm glad to see you aren't just a jerk to creationists. You need a personality makeover.

GCT said...

Leo,
I'm glad to see that you equate being a jerk with telling facts. No wonder you believe in god.

Leo said...

"Dude, I think your monitor's broken. Srsly."

Ahhh, those facts. Gotta love 'em.

Tyler said...

Leo: Ahhh, those facts. Gotta love 'em.

Especially when they escape the factually challenged; like yourself, for instance.

Leo said...

Ooooooh, someone pass the burn ointment.

ethinethin said...

Very christian of you, Leo. Way to witness! With your attitude, you'll be driving away anyone who is on the fence about whether or not they should believe in christianity.

I do appreciate that you're giving an accurate representation of most fundamentalists, though.

Leo said...

LOL, a Christian can't be sarcastic?

GCT said...

Leo,
Xians can be sarcastic, but what you are implying through your sarcasm is that no facts have been presented. If you think I am in error, please point out what it is that is in error.

Leo said...

You were claiming not to have been a jerk to that guy, and that you simply told facts. I responded with evidence you did more than that in an attempt to be a jerk.

ethinethin said...

LOL, a Christian can't be sarcastic?

Not if he turns around and calls atheists immoral for being sarcastic. Go tend your sheep, minister. They love your bullshit.

GCT said...

Leo,
"I responded with evidence you did more than that in an attempt to be a jerk."

This is simply false.

Let's take a look at what you wrote:

"GCT, I'm glad to see you aren't just a jerk to creationists. You need a personality makeover."

OK, that's the first comment and you simply called me a jerk...there's no evidence.

"Ahhh, those facts. Gotta love 'em."

A comment that is snarky, but completely devoid of evidence.

"Ooooooh, someone pass the burn ointment."

Another snarky comment sans evidence.

"LOL, a Christian can't be sarcastic?"

Still no evidence. Which leads us to the last comment which I quoted at the top.

If that is what you think constitutes evidence, then I can see why you think belief in god may be rational or that you are doing well in these discussions. Let me disabuse you of the notion however. Snarky comments and your opinions do not count as evidence. In order to provide evidence, you actually have to bring some data or logical argument to the table.

Leo said...

GCT, when I made the "ahhh, those facts" comment, I posted the quote from your previous response that was not a fact, but a snarky comment of your own. Namely:

"Dude, I think your monitor's broken. Srsly."

-----------
ethinallen, "Not if he turns around and calls atheists immoral for being sarcastic" I never did this. Sarcasm is clever, there was nothing clever about calling someone a "twat."

GCT said...

Leo,
"GCT, when I made the "ahhh, those facts" comment, I posted the quote from your previous response that was not a fact, but a snarky comment of your own. Namely:

"Dude, I think your monitor's broken. Srsly.""

Wow, I didn't know that my name had changed to "Tyler." You might want to read more carefully next time. And, even if you weren't reading more carefully, you would still be in error here, as your statement is not substantiated.

"Sarcasm is clever..."

Wait...you think that what you've been saying here is clever? I guess it takes all kinds.

ethinethin said...

Sarcasm is clever

"Sarcasm is not a substitute for wit." -Uncle Martin

Sarcasm is not clever, but a vulgar, insulting form of irony. It is no more clever than calling you a twat (which you are).

Leo said...

Well at least we're apparently on an even playing field according to your own statement. Back to Bob's blog.

ethinethin said...

Indeed, I was expressing exactly that: you're no more clever than the guy who called you a twat. Glad we're in agreement.

Modusoperandi said...

I did come back and try to be more helpful, though. I do that, sometimes. Just when you think I'm gonna wha, I go whoo.

GCT said...

Leo,
"Well at least we're apparently on an even playing field according to your own statement."

I fail to see what's even about you being demonstrably shown to be in error.