As you could probably tell I have been stringing out these final closing responses to Marshall Brain’s website “God is imaginary. I’ve been doing this for several reasons, one of which is simply because it’s been fun picking his arguments, which are generally fallacious, apart. Proof 48, “Compare prayer to a lucky horseshoe” is really no different.
The dictionary defines the word “superstition” in this way:
An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome. [ref]
Okay, the point?
We have all seen plenty of superstitions. There are the superstitions that a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover bring good luck. There are the superstitions that breaking a mirror or seeing a black cat bring bad luck. And we all know that these superstitions are silly. A rabbit’s foot or a broken mirror has no good or bad influence on the course of events. This is obvious to any intelligent person.
So let’s imagine the following situation. Let’s say that you have cancer. You are lying in the hospital after a round of chemo and you feel terrible. A person pops into your room with a bright smile on his face and a horseshoe in his hand. He says to you, “This is an amazing and lucky horseshoe. If you touch this horseshoe, it will cure your cancer. But I need to charge you $100 to touch it.”
What?! I’m still confused.
Just a little more,
Now let us imagine another situation. You have cancer, you have just finished a round of chemo and you feel terrible. This time, a person pops into your room with a bright smile on his face and a bible in his hand. He says to you, “There is a being named God who is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe. I am his representative on earth. If you will allow me to pray to God on your behalf, God will cure your cancer.”
Well, let’s address the slight category error that he’s made: “God” is not a name, it is a title, like “human being” is a title. People often act like it’s a name, by saying things like, “in the name of God”, but that is begging the question that anyone who pays close attention to words can ask, “which one?” Now the Christian asserts that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, triune God who has revealed himself in the Old Testament as Yahweh, who has fully revealed himself in the person of his Son, Christ Jesus, the Incarnate One, and those who believe in him “represent” him as his disciples. So, on that basis, I have to call this presentation a straw man, and the accusation is supported by his next statement,
You agree to the prayer, and the man prays over you for 10 minutes. He invokes all the healing powers of God, beseeching him, reciting verses of scripture and so forth. Afterwards, as he is getting ready to leave, the man says, “Oh, and by the way, God says that you should tithe 10% of your income to the church. Would you consider making a tax-deductible donation today?”
“10% of what” Marshall? Christians, as a rule, don’t extort money for praying for someone because that falls under the category of “tempting God” (Deuteronomy 6:16), which generally has bad results for the one who does it. Furthermore, while a Christian may pray for someone’s physical health, however they generally focus on the part that really needs attention: their soul and their relationship to God.
After spinning his wheels on the concordance rate of lucky horseshoes and cure rates for cancer, he makes this statement,
In other words, we can prove that the belief in prayer is pure superstition. The belief in the power of prayer is no different from the belief in the power of lucky horseshoes.
Straw men that big shouldn’t be placed near open flames. Christians do not believe in the power of prayer as much as the God to whom we are commanded to pray with “supplication and thanksgiving (Philipians 4:6)” to God.
He then links to a study where believers were asked to pray for strangers in a Harvard study. While the study is interesting, it really proves nothing (that “tempting God” thing), and raises some questions about how they measured effectiveness and the beliefs of the people in the study, but that’s something something I’ve talked about earlier, here.
The straw man argument at the base of this “proof” undermines it.