Oct 7, 2012

How much belief before it counts as “prayer?”

Is it possible for skeptics to pray?  Regardless of whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, this is not a simple question. 

From the skeptical perspective (perskeptive?), there may or may not be anyone there to receive the message.  Must communication take place (i.e., a sender and a receiver) for it to count as prayer? If there is a receiver, does it make a difference to them how fervently the praying person believes someone is listening?

My sense is that most believers think prayer doesn’t count unless one has faith (believes) that there’s a god up there listening.  By this definition f someone prays who is 100% sure that there are no gods,  it would be impossible for that person’s action to be counted as “prayer.”

To what degree is belief necessary, therefore, before it can count as prayer?

To my knowledge, no human being thinks that the act of believing occurs with the flip of a switch.  We don’t immediately accept or reject every new idea that comes along.  New ideas that fit our expectations are easier to accept, but when a new idea creates dissonance, it will take time to sort out.

An example of this might be a time that a trusted friend tells a story we probably wouldn’t normally believe.  Cognitive dissonance ensues.  We may “take it on faith” pending further information that the friend is telling the truth, but we will still have  questions that demand answers, if only in our subconscious.  Is the story true?  Did the friend have some sort of psychic break?  Do they have reason to lie? Was the friend never as trustworthy as we once thought?

It goes without saying that the act of prayer creates cognitive dissonance for a skeptic.  He might say in his mind, “I’m doing something that has no purpose and no meaning. This is silly.”  Is there a slight chance that the prayer “microphone” into which we speak is active and broadcasting to a listening audience capable of respondining?  If so, what percentage of likelihood must we believe in order for our prayer to be a prayer?

From the believer’s perspective, the question is just as valid, but for different reasons.   Believers often behave as if unbelief is both a choice and a sin.  A believer whose doubt overcomes his or her belief has not just changed his mind, he has failed.  Even in the Bible, we have the man who beseeches Jesus, “I believe Lord. Help my unbelief!”   Clearly, disbelief is something to be avoided, being in and of itself a bad thing.

To such a believer, one must not just pray, but they must “pray believing” that the prayer will be heard and answered.  The same question applies: what percentage of likelihood must we believe in order for our prayer to be a prayer?

1 comment:

  1. First I gotta say I love the "Belief-o-meter" -- yeah I am a Christian and think its hilarious. I also think Craig goes a bit far when he suggests that his arguments are definitive. To me they suggest merely that there is a possibility.

    Look at the scale of the universe, our sun puts out more energy in one second than man has generated in his existence on the earth, and there are trillions of suns. How much energy do they put out, and how much energy would be required to create a universe that could expend that kind of power? It just happened on it's own?

    How about life? How did amino acids sort themselves into proteins, then into living cells, and it has to do this in one huge step as both amino acids and proteins are water soluble. What are the odds of a cell forming on it's own, what are the odds that cell would survive the creation process, and what are the odds that cell could replicate? Evolutionary process, small changes over long periods of time would suggest that first a cell that wouldn't survive the creation process would be first, then after thousands of years, they'd start to survive, then thousands of years they'd start replicating. Just the creation of one cell according to Dawkins is highly unlikely, yet according to evolutionary principal it would have to have happened trillions of times before a cell could self-replicate.

    What about the Cambrian explosion? Fossil records go from simple one celled organisms to the trilobite, fully formed with complete muscular, circulatory, nervous, respiratory systems. Now like the universe -- look at the scale, how many different forms of life are there on this planet?

    Who was Jesus if there is no God? What would this man born to a peasant family he have to offer the sick and the needy? His message, wasn't that what the religious leaders killed him for? You can read more about this on my own blog: http://rmasci.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/without-god-who-was-jesus/ A Jesus that didn't do miracles, that wasn't the son of God ... oh and add that to the fact that Jews didn't believe that anyone would rise from the dead until the end of the world, so Jesus rising from the dead wouldn't have been a part of their belief system. If the things in the new testament didn't happen because there is no God, I can't see the scale in which Christianity grew, especially when at first a Christian was excommunicated from Jewish society, then it was persecuted as a Roman crime to be christian until 312AD. Plus you still have today folks that testify that Jesus is active in their life, that he's as real to them as you are.

    Does this prove that there is a God -- no, but does it suggest a possibility?