General Question

niki's avatar

Does prayer to God really work?

Asked by niki (699 points ) June 9th, 2011

Does prayer to God really work?
or is it more of a placebo (suggestion) effect?

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154 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

I have never had a prayer answered and think it is as you describe more of a placebo effect. Setting goals is much more effective for me. Only 2 more years to go for my latest!

Stinley's avatar

I’ve been waiting for this because there is proof that prayer doesn’t work. Someone noticed that in England every Church of England service includes a prayer for the Queen’s health and they then looked at how many sick days the Queen has had. It showed that the Queen is no more healthy or unhealthy than the average person. Ergo: prayers don’t work.

jrpowell's avatar

I haven’t had sex in years. So at least for me it doesn’t work.

Hibernate's avatar

Praying does help.
Most pray for something but do not know that there are 3 answers Yes / no / wait for it

Anyway praying is mostly the way you communicate to God [ the way of talking to Him and building the relationship]

tom_g's avatar

Studies of intercessory prayer seem to show some minor negative effects.

syz's avatar

Depends on what you mean by “work”. Does it make you feel better?

Ron_C's avatar

@tom_g I heard the same study quoted by either Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, I can’t remember which. The conclusion that I would reach is that If I become hospitalized and someone offered to pray for me, I would ask them not to. It seems safest and goes along with my theory that the best course is to keep a low profile with god. If you are good, you are tested, if you’re bad, you are punished. I am not a believer but don’t think there’s anything wrong with hedging my bets.

YoBob's avatar

IMHO, Yep.

However, it is not that some guy in a white robe that vaguely resembles Charlton Heston receives your request, pulls out your file to see of you have been good and righteous, and decides whether or not to grant your plea.

Wise teachers in various wisdom traditions have been telling us in various ways for ages that we are all connected through a higher spiritual energy and science is just now beginning to corroborate this concept in more quantifiable terms. Your thoughts have an effect on (are a part of) this collective spiritual realm, so not only do your prayers have an effect, so do your negative contemplations as well. In short, the mechanisms between ritual magic and prayer circles are one and the same and you play an active role (however infinitesimal) in defining (our perception of) the cosmos.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Hibernate is correct. Prayer does not consist of merely asking for things, but is rather a continuing converstation between the individual and God. Looking back over my life ( I am 68 years old ), I can see time after time when I should rightly have been killed, but circumstances intervened. I choose to believe those circumstances were manipulated by God to prevent my untimely demise. Why? I have NO idea!

gasman's avatar

Old joke for skeptics: “They say it works whether you believe in it or not.”

Blackberry's avatar

No. Just like giving a demand to someone on the other side of the world that you don’t know doesn’t work.

Your_Majesty's avatar

I highly doubt it. People seem to be confused by the reality between the result of praying and coincidence.

I pray for Osiris so that he will take my soul away from Anubis when I’m dead…

john65pennington's avatar

I cannot tell you how many times my wife and I have prayed for help from above.

90% of our prayer requests have come true.

I normally do not discuss religion or politics. It only leads to arguements and frustrations for many people.

kostaweb's avatar

@Hibernate

I totally agree with you.

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley and @Hibernate, which god were you praying to? Do you think prayers to other gods also work, or just your deity?

LostInParadise's avatar

Why should it be necessary to pray? God supposedly knows everything, so he would definitely know beforehand whatever it is that you might pray for. It would be rather petty of God to take the attitude, “I know what you want but in order to get it, you have to get down on your knees, tell me how wonderful I am, and make a good case for why your are deserving”

crisw's avatar

It only “works” in the sense that it makes some people feel a little better because they imagine that they are doing something positive or because they enjoy the illusion that they can actually control things beyond their control.

But it has absolutely no real effect on anything. As others have mentioned, it’s been studied- many, many times- and it simply doesn’t work.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@LostInParadise

We pray as a method of self-discipline, if for no other reason.

@Rarebear

One cannot quantify the unquantifiable.

@crisw

I obviously cannot speak for others, but it works for me. : )

seperate_reality's avatar

Prayer can’t hurt. I also automatically suspect studies and people who try real hard to make nothing out of God, religion and spirituality.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@seperate_reality

As do I, but I tend to trust rigorous scientific experiments. Thing is, God cannot be placed in a beaker! : )

tom_g's avatar

@seperate_reality – I call foul on this. You can’t just disregard a study because you don’t like the outcome. You can criticize the methodology it used, or find a flaw in the study. But please don’t throw out science because it doesn’t support your belief system.

Pandora's avatar

@Stinley LOL, Maybe its because the prayers aren’t really sincere. Or its like that, God save the Queen bit. How many people really feel those words? How many really, truly care about what is going on with the Queen compared to their own lives and their own problems. Then of course is the fact that she is getting old. Its not like God plans for her to live forever. Eventually she has to die from something.
@niki I beleive it works. I don’t believe every prayer answered will come in the way you wish it to come. Think of it in this way. The same way a parent wouldn’t give a child everything it wished for than why would you think God would?
It really doesn’t matter. As I said before God isn’t a genie. You make a wish and poof it comes to be. There are times his answer is going to be no. It never hurts to pray. And the funny thing too is that it seems prayer is misunderstood mostly. People think its just about asking for stuff. Its more about communicating with God spiritually. If your not doing that than your not really praying. You might as well go rub a lamp and see it that will get you what you want.
I’ve had many of my prayers answered. Most interestingly, they were the prayers where I prayed for someone else.
Then there is the belief that God helps those who help themselves. If you can’t land a job because you like to sit at home and watch tv all day instead of going out in the world and really trying, than who’s fault is that?
Could it also be placebo as you suggested. Yes, if your praying for something you want and really believe it will come true and work hard to make it happen. Its call being possitive. If you have a defeatist attitude than you will get in your own way. No amount a prayer will help.
If your a believer. It was God. If you are not a really a believer its always going to be placebo or not at all.

Roby's avatar

A lot of folks have died while some folks were praying to God to heal them…My sister…Rest Her Soul..was a devout Christian. She was diabetic. When she became blind she prayed for her sight back as well as her health so she could enjoy her life. SHE DIED PRAYING to be healed.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Let me give you an example of how prayer can work.

When I travelled on my Harley back to North Carolina last month, I spent lots of time with my grown children, getting reaquainted, checking to see how life was going for them, etc. One night at one of our get-togethers, I noticed that my younger son looked kind of sad, so I prayed for him that night. A few days later, totally unbeknownst to me, he also was praying and got the impression that God was saying to him, “What would you have your father tell you?”

The next day, I sent him a text message to help cheer him up, telling him, “I am very proud of the man you have become, and will always love you.” His response via text was, “Wow! Thank you, Dad!”

We had another of our family get-togethers that night and I took him asside to talk with him. He told me about getting that impression that God was asking him, “What would you have your father tell you?” He said that what I sent him via text was exactly what he needed to hear.

Coincidence? Perhaps… if that’s the way you think. I prefer to think that God wanted me to tell my son that I loved and admired him. And if that’s the way I prefer to believe, who’s to say me nay? : )

Qingu's avatar

@Pandora, please list some of the prayers that you have had “answered.”

squirbel's avatar

Yes. I have many little prayers answered throughout my days.

Qingu's avatar

@squirbel, like what?

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, which god were you praying to?

And do you keep track of all the times you pray that result in nothing happening? That would help to determine if this one case of your prayer “being answered” (lol) was a coincidence.

squirbel's avatar

You want me to list every personal thing so that you may antagonize and analyze without a spiritual bone in your body?

No, I will not accede.

Qingu's avatar

@squirbel, you don’t have to list every thing, just some examples would be nice.

I mean, I could just as easily claim that my prayers to Empress Tiamat, Goddess of the Chaos Ocean were answered every day, and then refuse to offer a shred of evidence or support for this claim when someone called me on it.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Qingu

How many would you like? : )

1. When I start getting fearful of dying, I pray, and God sends someone my way to cheer me up. This has happened innumerable times.

2. I was almost hit by a stupid pickup driver while coming back from North Carolina on my Harley. In my heart, I cried out to God, and the truck missed me by mere inches. ( Once or twice might easily be concidence, but this has happened oveer my life time after time after time. )

3. I prayed most earnestly that I could find someone to love, and met my wife-to-be and best friend online when I had almost given up.

I could go on and on, but you could come up with some rationalization for each and every one. Just allow me to believe that God acts in my life and let it go at that. How would that be hurting you? : )

Qingu's avatar

1. So if I’m sad, and I pray to Tiamat, and then my cute cat comes into my bedroom and cheers me up, that’s an example of “prayer answering”?

2. You regularly pray to God immediately before almost getting hit by cars, and you think God causes the cars not to hit you? Was this some sort of force field? Would you say your experience would have been different at all if you didn’t pray?

3. Why do you think God had anything to do with meeting someone nice on the Internet?

As to why I’m arguing with you, because I think any irrational belief is at least a little harmful.

MissAnthrope's avatar

If you are good, you are tested.. – @Ron_C

So, THAT’S my problem. I guess I should be trying to fly under the radar. ;)

@niki – You are going to get a lot of people saying that it doesn’t work, but that’s because Fluther is full of atheists that think religion is about as silly as going and waiting in your backyard on a clear night for the aliens to come and get you.

Personally, I say whatever works for you. I, myself, have had some success with prayer. There have been a few occasions where I can’t describe it other than I just knew I was heard, so not only did I feel a giant weight lifted, the situation I was praying about improved.

I don’t know if I believe in God or what it is, but on my good days, I think there is more to the world than what we can see and touch. Prayer really is just sending out certain energy and it certainly can’t hurt, even if it ends up being merely superstitious behavior.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Qingu

I submit that you take issue with things you don’t understand because you are fearful that they might actually be true.

Let me ask you again, how many times must something happen before you no longer consider it to be coincidence?

tom_g's avatar

@Qingu – I like what you are intending to do here, but I don’t think this is productive. CaptainHarley believes these things. I don’t think you’ll be able to convince someone who interprets normal events as divine intervention. In a way, as long as they make him happy and don’t hurt anyone else, I don’t see the harm in it. Everyone finds a way to make sense of the world.

tom_g's avatar

We have evolved to be a pattern-seeking species. Science has crashed the party for much of the world, but there are many people who seem to inject patterns and meaning into almost everything.

mazingerz88's avatar

I don’t really know.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t really believe in God myself and I wouldn’t want Him meddling too much in the world even if he did exist, but paradoxically I think a belief in God can create miracles.

phaedryx's avatar

Yes, if by “works” that it changes how I think or feel.

Ron_C's avatar

I am going to quit following this question because I wanted to see if anyone had anything other than coincidental occasions where prayer worked. I forget who said it but “if prayer worked, why aren’t there people who lost a limb and had them grow back through prayer.

That would convince me that prayer worked. Just like a UFO landing in my backyard and taking me for a cruise around the solar system, would convince me that UFO’s exist. Until then I don’t believe either one. Have fun with this question…I’ve had enough.

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, A god who answers prayers through non-events and things that seem like coincidences to people unfamiliar with the idea of confirmation bias isn’t really that scary…

What is scary, to me, is that there are so many people who feel the need to invent magical or divine explanations for ordinary events, especially when there is so much wonderful and mysterious about our world that is actually real.

AdamF's avatar

From memory, something like 26000 children die each day from preventable illnesses worldwide.

But unfortunately right before number 18,465, God was just too busy helping to start some Christian’s car in Yonkers who really desperately pleadingly needed to get to work.

Makes perfect sense.

seperate_reality's avatar

Well, So much for God in the halls of medicine! LOL
Prayer cannot hurt.

Pandora's avatar

@Qingu Wow, some of them would require a long explaination. But I’ll see if I can get a few in that are short. But I’ll start with one that isn’t mine.
1 My dad got a bad blood transfusion when I was 3 months old. He caught Hepatitis. He was told he probably wouldn’t live very long. He prayed he would live long enough till my 18th birthday. He died Feb.3 at 12:01 am. He lived about 11 months after my 18 birthday. A few months later we were looking through some documents and noticed he died on the same date I was baptized, 18 years later and 1 minute into the day. Doctors couldn’t believe he didn’t die sooner. His liver was completely disolved by his bile. They said he should’ve died when it was half gone.
2. I was being mugged when a total stranger stepped in. He was asking me in spanish what was happening and I asked him to please go because the muggers said they had a gun and I didn’t want him to get hurt over money. I prayed he would not get hurt and the muggers just go away. Suddenly out of no where 3 guys showed up (and I mean out of thin air). I don’t know where they suddenly appeared from. They called out to the muggers and they both ran off. The 3 guys claimed to know my brother. Only my brother never heard of them. In a neighborhood where everyone knew just about everyone else. No one knew these guys, or the first guy that appeared.
3. My husbands job was closing in a few months. He was very stressed and tried for a job he really wanted. He didn’t get it because he didn’t have a securtiy clearance. He was really feeling down but he didn’t quite trying. I knew no other job would fit him as well as the one he lost. His current job wanted him for another position somewhere else and offered to get him that security clearance. After that a bunch more positions became available. But none her really wanted. So I prayed that he would get the job of his dreams. If not the one he lost than one that will be even better. At first he got one just to pay the bills but it lead to the job of his dreams. Even better than the one he lost. It took him 1 year to get to that job. He’s still loving it and happy doing it each day.
He really didn’t think he would have a shot at this job.
3. My husband and I were married a few months. We were broke and expecting a child. We were living with friends and it was getting difficult living with them. We were fighting everyday and couldn’t save enough money to move out. Housing was going to take a 2 year wait and the red cross would only give us money to put me on a plane to send me home. We didn’t want to be apart but we didn’t want to live with our friends. I remember crying after speaking with the red cross people and praying for an answer. The red cross (I don’t remember why) called my husbands commander and told him of the situation. I think it was to comfirm if he could repay the looan. My husband was mortified that they spoke to his commanding officer. Anyhow, it turned out the commanding officer was upset at the idea of giving us money to break up a family instead of money for a downpayment. So he spoke to my husband to make sure what we wanted and he went to housing and asked his pal there if they could help us out. Two days later we had our own place.
4. Now our own place but no furniture but a borrowed mattress on the floor and a borrowed dresser and kitchen table and tv set that was the only thing we owned. My back was really giving me trouble on that old mattress. The house was bare. Again I prayed for a solution. I went to a pay phone and told my mom about how much my back was hurting and my brother (who we don’t get along) heard my mom on the phone and asked if I wanted his furniture. He had it in storage and he didn’t pay the rent for a few months and he had just recieved a letter telling him it was going to be thrown out if he didnt’ go get it. So he told me he rather I have it than it get thrown out. He was living at home and paying child support and had no place to put his furniture. He wanted to charge me but my mom reminded him that she brought all that stuff for him and that he wasn’t even paying rent to live at home, so that shut him up fast.
You can claim a lot of this to be coincidence but it always seemed when we would be at our most desperate times, we would get the help we need and sometimes from the people we least expect it.
I’m not expecting you to believe it is more than a coincidence. I believe they are not. Also not all prayers answered are big one. Most are small.

Qingu's avatar

1. So you believe God magically granted your father a little bit more survival time from his hepatitis. Is this the same God who gave your dad hepatitis? And was this deity just being cute about the baptism thing?

2. When you say they appeared out of thin air, are you suggesting that they were actually divine beings sent from a god? As opposed to people you didn’t see in a confusing and stressful situations?

3–4. Again, your god seems to work in mysterious ways. I’m assuming you prayed to your god during all the times when he couldn’t find a job, w hen you were fighting, when you couldn’t find housing, etc. It’s weird that you only blame god during the times when these things actually work out, but don’t really give him any responsibility for the times when things don’t work out and your prayers go unanswered.

Actually, that’s not “weird,” that’s just textbook confirmation bias. People tend to only remember the events that confirm their biases and ideologies. You are only remembering the times when praying resulted in positive outcomes and ignoring the presumably many more times when it resulted in absolutely nothing. If you did a statistical analysis of your life you’d find that praying has no effect whatsoever.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Pandora

Oh! But those were all CIRCUMSTANCES, which seem to be some people’s god.

Let’s just face it: either you have faith to believe, or you don’t! Why keep beating a dead horse?

tom_g's avatar

@Pandora – I’m not sure if the above is satire, but I’ll assume it isn’t. I’ll just address #2 – not in an attempt to convince you of anything. Rather to just explain that non-believers tend to see good deeds as good deeds. I would really appreciate that 3 strangers came to help me if I was being mugged. These are people who don’t know me, don’t know what kind of danger they are getting themselves in, and chose to act anyway. That is something to appreciate about humankind, and those 3 in particular.
Pulling the god/pray card seems to me to take away from the heroism of those strangers.

It reminds me of how people survive some awful car accident and claim it was a miracle. Miracle? Really? Are you sure it wasn’t years of modern science that led to the methods and tools used to keep you alive? Was it in any way related to the years of training the doctors and nurses spent learning how to put you back together? Was it in any way related to the firefighters and EMTs that rushed to your side and did everything they could to save you?

tom_g's avatar

@CaptainHarley”..CIRCUMSTANCES, which seem to be some people’s god.”

I think you have the ability to sympathize with the skeptics position here more than you let on. Every day, you walk out into the world, use technology, and trust that the moon won’t decide to just throw itself at the earth at 2pm. When it gets dark at night, you don’t throw yourself into a panic, thinking that some sun god is fed up with humanity and decided to call it quits. You turn on your TV and expect that you will receive audio and video images that will stream into your house.
We share a common understanding to some degree of how to make sense of the world. Just imagine for a second that those exceptional circumstances that you assign divine intervention to appear to me as normal as walking outside and not floating up into the clouds.
To state that the “circumstances” response is “some people’s god” not only doesn’t make any sense, it seems to imply that god is something that doesn’t make any sense. It’s as though you are saying, “sure my imaginary god and all that goes along with it doesn’t make sense. But you also aren’t making any sense.”

If there is no evidence for something, you can’t expect people to buy it.

LostInParadise's avatar

I wonder how many times prayer has not worked. How many of those who are victims of war, crime or natural disaster prayed their hearts out that they and their loved ones be spared?

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, orchestrated 3 statewide days of prayer that Texas get some rain to ease up on the state’s drought. Perry is a vocal climate change denier. Anybody care to place a wager on the effectiveness of all that praying?

tom_g's avatar

<not serious>
Yesterday I was so hungry for apples. I went to the market and they didn’t have any more Fuji apples. So I prayed and then asked the produce guy if he had any more Fuji apples. He said yes and went out back to get them.

If you don’t want to see the power of prayer in this story, you’re delusional.
</not serious>

Pandora's avatar

@tom_g Since you picked number two. I didn’t explain the whole story because it would take too long. The first good samaritan surprised both myself and the muggers because he would’ve physically have to have passed us to be where he was standing. Especially since when I asked him after where did he come from he said he walked past us. Not possible since I was scanning the street for anyone other than the two guys when I noticed they were following me and I was alone on the street.
But I didn’t tell my stories to convince anyone of anything. I was just answering @Qingu question. I believe in the old saying. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. The same way no one can convince me that my prayer wasn’t being answered or even my dad’s prayer to always keep me safe, I know, nor would I try to waste my time convincing a non believer. However, someone asks me a question, I may or may not decide to answer. It just so happens I was in the mood to answer.

tom_g's avatar

@Pandora – there is no belief I hold that I cannot say “no one can convince me…” about. I think that’s where we differ. For every belief that I hold, I can make a statement defining the evidence I would need in order to give up that belief.

Qingu's avatar

@Pandora, here is the more important question that I’d like you to answer.

Do you think it’s more likely that we live in a reality where a Mesopotamian deity, in answer to prayers, dispatches squads of divine beings who magically appear out of thin air to stop a random robbery in progress?

Or is it more likely that you just didn’t notice the guys?

Amazebyu's avatar

I think it’s faith that works, not the prayer itself.. Praying and believing confidently in the higher power.

gasman's avatar

The number of people who watch the Superbowl is on the order of 100 million. If a mere 1% of viewers pray for a desired outcome, and if they split 50–50 on which team is theirs, then half a million people will get their belief in prayer validated; the other half, meanwhile, may be disappointed in the outcome but mostly conclude that “God has more important concerns…” or perhaps “God works in mysterious ways.” Either way, the belief system is not falsifiable. What’s any of this got to do with reality?!

Plucky's avatar

I think prayer works only as much as the believer believes it does.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

Prayer is easy. Actually doing something that will really help someone or a situation is much harder.

mrrich724's avatar

It does help, but not necessarily b/c the powers that be are directly interfering with your life/prayers. I think it’s more of the effect of the powers of reflection and inflection.

Only138's avatar

As I see it…..Yes.

YARNLADY's avatar

Placebo effect, just like swearing, laying on of hands, and other non medical approaches. Even when the patient does not survive, prayer and/or swearing have been proven to make the relatives feel better.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

starsofeight's avatar

God is not a genie that you can rub and get your wishes granted. God does not exist for the whim of a believer – much less for the whim of a scoffer, but all of us, believers, non-believers, and believers in something else—we all exist for God.

For prayer to work, one must commit oneself to it, practice it with a fervent heart. After a number of years, you might get good at the connection, but still, there is more to it than that.

Solomon prayed for wisdom, and his prayer was answered – but it happened only because Solomon prayed for what God wanted.

As for the bleeding hearts, prayer will never satisfy their longing. Folks will go on getting sick and dying. People will suffer, and prayer will seem not to work. There are many for whom prayer does work – but they can offer no proof that will satisfy the skeptic.

Don’t worry about it. Live your lives the way you choose.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
filmfann's avatar

I strongly believe in the power of Prayer.

Ltryptophan's avatar

If you’re righteous it availeth much.

roundsquare's avatar

@CaptainHarley Okay, this is a bit silly. You jump onto a thread asking if prayer works and then seem to get insulted/mad when people are critical of your view. The whole point of the thread is to be critical of views. Some of us don’t like the whole “either you believe or you don’t” point of view I, for one, think religion can be looked at critically and neutrally.

Anyway, for everyone looking for evidence, you won’t find any. If prayer works, it will probably be in a) inducing small coincidences that butterfly effect their way into doing something good for you and/or b) in fairly rare circumstances that won’t be statistically significant.

However, I think we can just say that logically prayer doesn’t “work” in the sense of a higher power affecting our world unless god is more similar to the gods of greek myths (imperfect super powerful beings) as opposed to the Christian god (since that god set everything in motion knowing exactly what would happen).

blueiiznh's avatar

It has worked for me. But it is not so much as the act of asking for something as it is in becoming humble.

tom_g's avatar

I have saved my thoughts on a related topic until now so I didn’t derail the thread. I just want to add that I find the concept of prayer (to the Judeo-Christian god) extremely offensive and just immoral. The whole transaction.

There is so much suffering going on in the world. For a god to require prayer to intervene, and only intervene in those cases he feels are worthy, to me sounds narcissistic or sociopathic. I suppose this ties in with the whole concept of the xian god, and how the existence of such a god would logically require that the god be a sick fuck.

Anyway, somewhere right now there is a little girl locked in some psycho’s basement lair, being tortured and raped. This will happen for years, and we will only hear about a small percentage of these cases well after the fact, with no evidence that any god was watching or gave a shit. If she had prayed, would that have helped her? If so, the fictional xian god is really the most twisted piece of crap character ever created.

ubersiren's avatar

If prayers worked, the Bible belt in the US would probably be less shitty.

Plucky's avatar

@tom_g I so agree.

dabbler's avatar

There is a lot to be said for intention. And the sorts of behavior most folks call prayer involves focusing some concepts for presentation/communication with the almighty perfection. The last part’s important because it helps us take it seriously. Getting a bead on what you want is a pillar of primal therapy

If this meditative engagement with one’s foremost concerns is done clearly and with a receptive attitude to the possible insight including the brilliant minimal set per @Hibernate :“3 answers Yes / no / wait for it” it can definitely “work”

Pandora's avatar

@Qingu Belief isn’t something you can just put into print. One either believes or they don’t. I know what I beleive to be true. If you wish to belittle me for it go ahead. It doesn’t shake my faith for one second. My intent was simply to answer the OP question.
If I’m wrong and your are looking for proof of a God to believe in. Then you’re going about it the wrong way. Your looking for physical proof. If I could do that then I wouldn’t be sitting behind some computer. I would’ve offered up the proof to the world already.

AdamF's avatar

Take a bunch of hungry pigeons. Place in separate cages. At set intervals, without any relation to the behaviour of the pigeon, allow the food hopper to appear.

75% of pigeons will end up exhibiting specific behaviours linked to an expected reward of food. In other words, the pigeons happen to be exhibiting a behaviour when the food arrives, they then repeat that behaviour on the expectation that food will arrive again. They have mistakenly make a causal link between their specific behaviour (ie characteristic head movements, unidirectional circling of the cage, etc.), and a sought after reward.

A bird may exhibit this response 10,000 times even after the food reward is turned off.

http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Skinner/Pigeon/

“Yes, No, Wait for it” seems to be the human version of a deeper impulse that similarly drives many pigeons to make mistaken causal associations between their own specific behaviours and subsequently getting what they want from the great almighty food hopper in the sky.

Hibernate's avatar

@Qingu I pray to Jehovah… I wouldn’t know what to say or talk about to other gods because I have no relation / don’t have a strong enough relation with them.
It’s like taking the same bus every day with the same people. You get to know them enough so you can talk about things in common and not talk about usual things only. If you take another bus you don’t know anyone there so you can talk to them about recent news / weather etc because they won’t be open enough about other conversations.

I’d like to know better the other gods too but there’s a problem here. If ou start with to many you won’t have enough time to understand them as they should be understood. It’s like your friends. If you got to many you don’t have enough time for them all so you start neglecting some or only socialize 5–6 minutes per day. The less you have the better is for you to understand them and to spend more time with them.
And if you have to many friends after a while you start to pick “I like that one because / I like that one more .. etc” ^^

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, when seen as a form of meditation. Numerous empirical studies have confirmed this. It’s about renewing your strengths. Don’t think of God as a man answering a phone call and pushing some buttons to fulfill your requests.

Qingu's avatar

@Hibernate, fascinating. You pray to Jehovah, but you admit that prayers to other deities might work, too, if you had a better relation with them.

Are you sure you’re thinking of the right Jehovah? The one who says you shall have no other gods before him?

MissAnthrope's avatar

@AdamF – Yes, you can equate a lot about religion to superstitious behavior (i.e. your pigeons). However, when it comes to faith, countering it with science falls short somewhat. I’m a scientist, by the way. It doesn’t have to make sense to you, as long as it makes sense to the person. ‘Does it really work’?—this could mean many things to any individual when it comes to faith. What does ‘work’ mean, exactly?

In my opinion, you cannot quantify prayer in the same manner as you would regarding whether a TV works. The ‘working’ part as a definition varies from person to person. Of course not all prayers are answered, but then again, to me, prayer is not so much about asking for things or for intercession. Prayer is a form of meditation, self-hypnosis, or if you’re a Witch, trance work. Trance work can be powerful, if you do it right.

It would be silly to defend people who refuse medical treatment in favor of prayer. I think most of us agree that that is extreme—after all, ‘God helps those that help themselves’. But in terms of personal satisfaction and improvement of one’s quality of life, then, yes, it ‘works’.

seperate_reality's avatar

Here Jesus has a mention on prayer. I know what it means to me, so maybe it can be of help to you here. I do know, that human’s do not understand spirituality very well and this fact even frustrated Jesus, because he had a spiritual-message.

Mark 11:24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 9:19And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” (a frustrated Jesus realizing man was not fully understanding spirituality)

Qingu's avatar

The word “Spiritual” always just seems like a euphemism for “there is no evidence for what I’m selling you.”

AdamF's avatar

@MissAnthrope If we set the bar for prayer “working” at the readily crossed threshold of providing benefits equivalent to that received from other meditative experiences or reflections, then not surprisingly very few would argue. I agree. Prayer “works”.

But that’s not the context of “working” that I believe many people are referring to, as readily indicated by the responses on this very thread.

IN these circumstances prayer “works” when those people who are sufficiently worthy, pray appropriately, and focus on presumably the correct supernatural being, are answered by a supernatural being who will (when in an agreeable mood) alter circumstances in this world which would not otherwise have occurred in the absence of that prayer.

A recent example can be found in the supposed justification for Beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Because some people who believe in such things are arguing for the existence of a direct causal process (ie. if you do this, this will happen), that lends itself directly to scientific testing.

So some arguments for prayer working can and have been tested. I have little doubt how much the scientific process would be warmly (albeit selectively) embraced by the greater religious community, if in fact repeated positive results ever turned up. (which is why the Templeton Foundation funds prayer studies)

In either regard, we live in a world where prayer “works” in a way that is currently indistinguishable from prayer “working” in a world where no gods exist.

Just one other point. “It doesn’t have to make sense to you, as long as it makes sense to the person.”

Well, to be honest, it does make at least some sense to me. It makes sense to me that people want to be able to at least try to have some control over important and otherwise seemingly uncontrolable events in their lives. It makes sense to me that people embrace contemplative moments which take themselves outside of this existence. It also makes sense that people want to believe that someone loving who knows them as they know themselves, is watching over them, and helping when appropriate to do so.

That makes perfect sense…as does confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and other forms of motivated reasoning.

seperate_reality's avatar

Spiritual just means by, about or of the spirit or more exact, spiritual beings. Now, there is the non-physical, immortal, spiritual reality (native to each of us) and of course the material reality which includes mortal human bodies. (non-native to us)

Psalm 90:10The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. (as non-physical, immortal, spiritual beings, we each depart the deceased mortal, physical, human body)

Qingu's avatar

What’s the difference between non-physical “spiritual” beings and nonexistent, imaginary beings?

seperate_reality's avatar

One is real and one is not real. Easy answer.

Qingu's avatar

How do you tell the difference?

mazingerz88's avatar

@seperate_reality Regarding your post [ Mark 9:19And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” (a frustrated Jesus realizing man was not fully understanding spirituality) ]

This has always baffled me. If Jesus was frustrated that man was not fully understanding spirituality, all he needed to do was show himself to everyone when he rose from the dead, not just to his friends. What was the rush of going somewhere else?

Hibernate's avatar

@Qingu it’s all about the part of the world you live in.

Take the Bible for example .. you hear and read only about the countries near Israel and only about those which whom they were in conflict with. Have you ever wondered why there’s no China or Peru mentioned in the Bible ? They couldn’t travel that far in short time so the civilizations did not take notice one of the other [ still they existed at the same time ].
Maybe God revealed Himself to the all but only the jews understood Him the way He wanted to be understood.
Or maybe in time the revelations where misinterpreted.

I know it’s hard to understand but I’m sure that if I was born in another part of the globe I’d have a different religion [ even after reading and hearing the Bible I’d have the same thoughts ]. If we wouldn’t try to understand the others surrounding us we’d be in conflict all the time.

mattbrowne's avatar

Spirituality can also refer to the deepest values and meanings by which people live. Why would this be an euphemism for ‘there is no evidence for what I’m selling you’?

What is the purpose of our universe? Some say it has no purpose. This is a philosophical assessment. Not the result of scientific evidence. Others say it has a purpose. This is a philosophical assessment too or a religious belief. Not the result of scientific evidence. All of this is beyond the realm of science.

Yet it’s still puzzling that so many nonbelievers here when running out of arguments resort to the popular thought-terminating cliché “uh, sorry, superstitions, no empirical evidence” despite the fact that the whole debate isn’t about the scientific realm at all.

Trying to find the deepest values and meanings by which people live isn’t about superstitions at all. Predicting the future based on the number of black cats crossing the road on Friday 13th is.

Both atheism and modern theism rely on at least one assumption violating scientific principles: the ultimate explanation of natural laws. Atheism relies on circular reasoning (super law explaining all natural laws in a multiverse/universe and also explaining itself) while theism relies on divine authorship of natural laws (using metaphors like spirit or non-physical spiritual being).

Atheists correctly point out that the difference between scientific explanation and divine explanation is that divine explanation gives a name to our ignorance and that name is God. Yes, this is true. Yet the “they just are” explanation for the natural laws gives a name to our ignorance too and that name is “we don’t know”. A non-divine Concept of the Gaps, so to speak. I don’t see much of a difference. Both forms of ignorance are acceptable to me. There are some things we can’t know for sure. No need to resort to ridicule.

First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I’m still waiting for the day when the first atheist here on Fluther actually acknowledges some planks. Will it ever happen? The nature of the debates seems to stay the same. And the nonbelievers remain busy removing the specks from us believers.

AdamF's avatar

I’m an atheist.

So by your account my views rely on 1) “…at least one assumption violating scientific principles” and 2) “circular reasoning”.

Would you mind clarifying where I rely on circular reasoning, and which scientific principle my views violate.

Qingu's avatar

But @mattbrowne, you know that I don’t even think of you as a “believer.” :)

I think we believe basically the same things, but you just tend to put more religious-sounding words on your belief-labels.

Qingu's avatar

Oh, and as for the question “does the universe have a purpose?” I think the only honest answer at this point is “we haven’t found one yet.”

Calling contrary answers philosophical is just gilding the ignorance lily.

mattbrowne's avatar

Any ultimate explanation of our natural laws or a superlaw is beyond the realm of science. The attempt of providing a scientific description of a superlaw explaining all other natural laws and also itself is unscientific. Such an attempt does not rely on the scientific method which refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. We cannot use it to investigate the validity of scientific method itself either. A proof by contradiction will show us why.

Science cannot explain everything. Science can explain phenomena of the universe. Science cannot offer an ultimate explanation of the physical world operated by natural laws. It can only explain how it works. For example how nucleosynthesis works. How DNA works. How evolution works. Science cannot make statements about purpose and meaning. We have to rely on beliefs. We haven’t found a purpose yet? Well, how will we find one? By applying scientific method? How will we design experimental studies to test a “purpose hypothesis”? Yes, we believe basically the same things, but it’s here where we differ. I don’t believe in the omnipotency of science. Especially when it comes to purpose and meaning. And the ultimate explanation of our existence.

AdamF's avatar

@mattbrowne Once again, would you mind clarifying where I rely on circular reasoning, and which scientific principle my views violate.

LostInParadise's avatar

There are indeed questions that are beyond science. Questions of morality, aesthetics and justice are beyond its scope. We can classify these questions as philosophical or spiritual. Unfortunately, belief in God and the inerrancy of religious texts stand in the way of properly addressing these issues.

tom_g's avatar

@mattbrowne: “Science cannot make statements about purpose and meaning. We have to rely on beliefs. We haven’t found a purpose yet? Well, how will we find one? By applying scientific method? How will we design experimental studies to test a “purpose hypothesis”?”

Is it possible that the question is nonsensical? I have yet to see any evidence that there is purpose or meaning to be explained. Applying the scientific method (or a non-scientific method?) to finding something that there is no evidence exists in the first place seems absurd.

@LostInParadise – What does it even mean to say that some questions are beyond science? What other method of do we have? I also think Sam Harris is making some valid comments right now about science and morality.

LostInParadise's avatar

I think Sam Harris is mistaken. How could science ever determine when a fetus becomes human, what makes a work of art beautiful or the optimal rules for taxation? These involve value judgments and science does not answer questions on values. It can tell the optimal way of achieving a particular goal, but cannot determine what goal should be chosen.

mattbrowne's avatar

@AdamF – How do we explain biology? We use chemistry. How do we explain chemistry? We use physics. How do we explain physics? We use elementary forces? How do we explain elementary forces? We use the ToE. How do we explain the ToE? We use the ToE.

This is when things start to get circular.

mattbrowne's avatar

My point was, we can’t come up with a purpose hypothesis using a scientific framework, @tom_g. Some people still like to know why they are here being a part of a universe. What is the purpose of all this? One answer is that there is no purpose. There’s just blind, meaningless, purposeless nature. This answer seems to work for some people. That’s fine with me.

mattbrowne's avatar

@LostInParadise – There’s good science and bad science. The existence of bad science doesn’t turn good science into something ridiculous. There’s good religion and bad religion. To me a belief in the inerrancy of religious texts is bad religion. The existence of bad religion doesn’t turn good religion into something ridiculous.

Thinking of God as a man answering a phone call and pushing some buttons to fulfill our prayer requests is bad religion to me. Another way is thinking of prayer as a form of meditation renewing our strengths. Let’s look at another example. Why can we see Jesus as our savior? There are many answers. To me a really good one is this: He reminded us that we make ourselves very unhappy when we hate other people. This reminder might save us from living a miserable life. This is something valuable. This is something worth thinking about. Yet all the debates on Fluther seem to narrow religion down to people thinking that the world was created in seven days and that a snake really talked to Eve. Therefore religion must be bullshit.

seperate_reality's avatar

mazingerz88, It’s real easy to freak out a human and Jesus didn’t want to do that. He had a purpose and fulfilled it and then said goodbye to a few close friends who joined him in that purpose. Can you picture Jesus presenting himself to the Romans and saying naa-naa you can’t kill me! lol
Deceased loved ones often visit their family and friends, but usually while they are asleep. Jesus had the ability to show himself to his friends at any given time. He simply did his thing, said goodbye, get my message out, and moved on.

AdamF's avatar

@mattbrowne What choice do I have but to conclude that you do not have any basis for arguing that atheism relies on circular reasoning, and/or violates scientific principles.

The fact that some theoretical physicists are chasing a theory of everything, or superlaws, or your highlighting that science has limits (gee….who would have guessed), provides zero support for your contention.

I’m an atheist because the evidence and arguments provided for the existence of god(s) are not the least bit convincing to me.

No scientific principles violated.
No circular reasoning.

AdamF's avatar

@mattbrowne With regards to your ‘biology is built on chemistry, etc..etc. etc.’. You might be interested to read the following arguments regarding what is at the base of scientific objectivity.

Sam Harris cuts to the chase in the Moral Landscape.

“Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, scientific validity is not the result of scientists abstaining from making value judgments; rather, scientific validity is the result of scientists making their best effort to value principles of reasoning that link their beliefs to reality.”

“The very idea of “objective” knowledge (i.e., knowledge acquired through honest observation and reasoning) has values built into it, as every effort we make to discuss facts depends upon principles that we must first value (e.g., logical consistency, reliance on evidence, parsimony, etc.).”

But all this does is point out that there are boundaries to the extent to which we can anchor our reasoning. Within those boundaries that limit all of us, we can still identify logical fallacies and distinguish between evidence-based and non-evidence based claims.

It also serves to highlight that not only are many atheists aware of these issues, but leading atheists publish best selling books that hinge on them.

@LostInParadise Have you read The Moral Landscape? All of the questions you raise are addressed. Regardless of whether you agree with him, it’s well worth a read, as are his responses to critics which are found on his webpage.

ivkezoka's avatar

Only scientific theory that I know of about your question is linked to quantum theory. It’s basically says that our thoughts work as some kind of waves (something like radio waves, but much more complex). It’s really hard to explain, but it can help you with your question…

mrrich724's avatar

The problem with science is that science was created by people. People are flawed. Just because an idea has been accepted by the scientific community does not mean that it is absolutely right.

There have been MANY scientific “findings” that have been disproven as science has “advanced” through the ages. Just one example

Science is what humans have defined over time to explain things that they do not know about positively.

And I am a lover of science, a believer in science. And very very many times in my life do I find myself doubting my faith. And constantly do I find myself seeing the hypocrisy and absurdity of organized religion. But I have a problem with using science to justify or disprove anything spiritual.

I don’t think either disproves the other, and I believe they can work hand in hand.

dabbler's avatar

Science isn’t flawed, it just does what it does. And with X amount of certainty, where X is less than 100%. Science does not pretend otherwise.
In fact I’d suggest scientific methodologies have a higher perfection than most human inventions.

Expecting science to explain “prayer” or “God” is…
Some people are disappointed that their cars do not fly, what can I say?

Qingu's avatar

@mrrich724, spiritual things and ideas, like “praying” or holy books, were also created by people. The difference is that science actually works.

LostInParadise's avatar

We are in danger of turning science into a type of religion. There are matters that are outside the scope of science. As Galileo said, “It is the purpose of religion to tell how to go to heaven and the purpose of science to tell how the heavens go.” Morality, aesthetics and politics are not scientific matters. There are hard choices to be made on the basis of values. Since I believe that the traditional religious framework is outdated, what we need is a secular spiritual equivalent.

AdamF's avatar

“Since I believe that the traditional religious framework is outdated, what we need is a secular spiritual equivalent.”

Okay. I agree. Religion is unreliable as a source of guidance with respect to values.

Let’s replace it with a secular equivalent (in the most distant terms..) which contributes to societal discussions regarding what should or should not be valued.

If not reason and evidence, then what is it going to base those decisions on?

LostInParadise's avatar

Reason, evidence and values. We have to talk about those things we most value.. There will not be a definitive answer, but we can work toward a consensus.

AdamF's avatar

If you haven’t seen it, you might find this interesting….but I still think the book is worth reading.

http://www.ted.com/talks/sam_harris_science_can_show_what_s_right.html

Qingu's avatar

Science can, and should, inform our views of morality.

For example, science has shown that homosexuality is not a “disease” and does not pose social dangers. So, morally, we should tolerate homosexuality.

Science has also shown that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain: no brain, no consciousness, or “soul.” This should inform our views about abortion and euthanasia.

Furthermore, it is absurd to suggest that “religion” has any special value whatsoever when discussing morality. Most “religion” is the product of bronze-age savages who thought women were the property of men and that slavery should be legal.

LostInParadise's avatar

@AdamF , And I have something you might find of interest. Michael Sandel is a philosophy professor at Harvard. He has written the book Justice, which I highly enjoyed. Here is an example of his philosophy relevant to what I said.

AdamF's avatar

Thanks for the article. I’ve had a quick read and much of it I agree with.

But I think where we perhaps diverge is what we conclude from it.

Basically two key issues drive technological advances, science and exponentially increasing information storage, processing and retrieval capacity. This stuff allows for humanity to advance well beyond our capacity as individuals…That’s power, and with power comes responsibility and a constant onslaught of previously never considered ethical dilemmas that will face us.

All I argue is that the only way we can solve those ethical dilemmas is via reason, evidence, collective debate, etc. Although I enjoyed the article, I don’t see anything in there that challenges that premise….all it does is emphasize the importance of discussing the implications of these advances, and regulate where need be.

LostInParadise's avatar

I am all in favor of collective debate. My point is that the final decision will be based on collective values and is not amenable to being derived by laboratory science.

AdamF's avatar

Okay…I think we’ve said what can be said. But just to clarify, I never restricted science to that which can be done in a laboratory..it’s far broader than that.

mattbrowne's avatar

Science works for stuff it can work on. Spiritual things and humanistic ideas were created by people. The difference is that spiritual things and humanistic ideas actually offer insights in stuff science can’t work on, such as an ultimate explanation, purpose, morality, harmony and beauty.

There’s an intellectual world beyond empirical evidence. Some people are interested in it while others are not. We should respect this.

mattbrowne's avatar

@AdamF – Alright, if your answer to ‘What explains the ultimate explanation?’ is ‘We don’t know’ there’s no circular reasoning. But many atheists think of an ultimate physical superlaw as being able to explain all natural laws and also itself. The itself part is circular.

Qingu's avatar

Science has a lot to say about ultimate explanations, morality, harmony, and beauty. And unlike “spiritual” explanations that are made up ad-hoc by human, what science has to say is generally backed up by evidence.

LostInParadise's avatar

Matt, I have never seen any scientist say that there is a superlaw that can explain itself. Do you have a reference for this?

mattbrowne's avatar

@LostInParadise – Two scientists that come to mind are David Deutsch and Richard Dawkins. However, there are many scientists who point out the impasse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_everything_(philosophy)#Impasse

“The impasse is then that the two critical aspects of a Theory of Everything, comprehensiveness and finality, conflict with the fundamental principle of noncircularity. A comprehensive theory which explains everything must explain itself, and a final theory which has no deeper explanation must, by the principle of sufficient reason, have some explanation; consequently it too must be self-explanatory.

Rescher notes that it is obviously problematic to deploy a theory for its own explanation; at the heart of the traditional conception of explanatory adequacy, he says, is a principle of noncircularity stating that no fact can explain itself.”

@Qingu – How can science back up comprehensiveness and finality as the integral part of an ultimate explanation with evidence? And in some earlier debates you mentioned Goedel’s theorems yourself. And the implications:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_everything#G.C3.B6del.27s_incompleteness_theorem

But we’re getting off track. The question was about prayer.

Qingu's avatar

Whether or not science can explain totality with a TOE has jack-all to do with the validity of so-called “spiritual” explanations.

It’s like arguing that, because mathematicians might not be able to prove the P vs NP problem,, noted spiritualist Madonna might have some useful insight into the question.

LostInParadise's avatar

Matt, This is a game of semantics that Rescher, a philosopher not a scientist, is playing.. As near as I can tell, by Theory of Everything is meant by scientists a final level of explanation beyond which it is not possible to go. There are only two possibilities. There is either such an ultimate theory or there is an infinite stack of explanations. I favor the former. We have found that the Uncertainty Principle places a limit to what we can know. I see no reason why there can’t be a similar limit to what we can explain. Maybe when particles get below a certain size, the UP makes it impossible to verify any theory of their behavior.

Qingu's avatar

The Uncertainty Principle doesn’t place a limit on what we can know. It states that there is no answer to that particular question; an electron, fundamentally, does not have both a position and a momentum. It’s not that we can’t know what these are at the same time; it’s that there is no answer; the question is based on a false premise that it has both at once. Like asking how many sides does a square triangle have.

LostInParadise's avatar

I do not claim to be an expert in this, but I know the Uncertainty Principle makes it impossible to predict the future position of a particle except probabilistically. I consider that a limitation on our knowledge.

Qingu's avatar

Think of it this way: it’s a feature, not a bug.

The uncertainty principle is not about us. It’s about the nature of the particle itself. The principle says that the particle does not have both a position and a momentum, thus any attempt to answer that question is nonsensical.

Maybe a better analogy is this: Electrons do not have a color. It’s not that “we don’t know what color electrons are.” It’s that, at the level in which electrons exist, the concept of color does not exist. Color only exists at the macro-level. Likewise for position+momentum.

LostInParadise's avatar

I can speak of the particle as just having a position. It has to be somewhere, but I cannot predict where it will be at some future moment. Given the butterfly effect and assuming the particle is not bound to anything, at some suitably long period of time the range of possible positions for that particle will be very large.

Qingu's avatar

@LostInParadise, no, you really can’t. The particle does not have a position and a momentum at the same time. Full stop.

It doesn’t “have to be somewhere.” It just doesn’t exist in that way.

The way we predict particle positions is by averaging their wavefunctions probabilities. For any single particle, it only has the probability of being at a certain place with a certain momentum. This probability is derived from the basic nature of the particle, a quantum wavefunction. If you square the wavefunction, you get the probability amplitude of the particle.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – I never talk of validity outside of the realm of science. I always talk about insights and beliefs. And earlier in this thread I wrote:

The difference is that spiritual things and humanistic ideas actually offer insights in stuff science can’t work on.

Qingu's avatar

I just think that “spiritual” is a false category. It’s a canard, a veil that people place around a specific set of ideas that they don’t want to be critically examined.

Humanistic ideas are fine. But those ideas can be torn apart easily (and should be—all ideas should be criticized). On the other hand, if I have a humanistic idea and I say it’s “spiritual,” suddenly people asking for evidence or criticizing it look mean.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have no problem with people debating spiritual ideas. I would encourage it. We are in strong need of a dialog on what things we value and how to prioritize them, without the protective cloak of religion. My problem with the term humanism is that it sounds too mundane. I want something secular that evokes the emotional response of religion, but without the dogma.

mattbrowne's avatar

Sorry, @Qingu, but that’s nonsense. Only stupid people don’t want their ideas to be critically examined. Christianity even developed a method called higher criticism. Scholars built on the tradition of enlightenment and rationalist thinkers. Theologians criticize each others’ views all the time. Christian and other religious spiritual ideas and views can be torn apart easily as well. I think this is about something else. Maybe some atheists have a problem with the term spiritual, because to them there’s a connotation of houses haunted by ghosts and people abducted by aliens. It’s interesting, though, that a Google search for the phrase “spiritual atheism” shows more than 30,000 results. And I’m sure those atheists are not chasing ghosts or aliens. They are rather looking for inner paths enabling them to discover the essence of their being while looking for deeper values and meanings by which people live.

Qingu's avatar

So what on earth does “spiritual” mean to you, @mattbrowne? “Introspective”? “Being concerned with morality”?

I propose that any definition of spiritual would be better served by using less confusing, less loaded words.

tom_g's avatar

I don’t understand the term “spiritual”.

We would need to reconsider the word “chair” if when discussing furniture, “chair” could mean…
– a seat typically having four legs and a back for one person
– a small block of wood used for sitting
– a pile of dirty laundry piled and used for sitting
– a tub of water, used to clean the body
– an electric appliance used to wash dishes

mattbrowne's avatar

I think the first paragraph of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality is quite well written.

“Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being; or the deepest values and meanings by which people live. Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual’s inner life; spiritual experience includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.”

I would add that spirituality also relates to a personal search trying to find greater meaning and purpose in our existence. Prayer can be seen as a means to support this search.

Of course naturalists only see chairs. They hold the philosophical belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world. But this can still mean that naturalists accept parts of the meaning of spirituality, such as the discovery of the essence of our being.

tom_g's avatar

I’m an atheist who meditates daily (insight/vipassana). Is this “spiritual”? Can it be called “contemplative” or something that drops the “spirit” part? Maybe that’s where I’m hung up. The same word is used to describe insight meditation and belief in the supernatural?

Qingu's avatar

Okay, I’ll attempt to address your spiritual business point by point.

Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality
—Unless this is the quantum wavefunction, science has shown this to be a nonsensical idea.

an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being
—This just sounds like a highfallootin’ way of putting the term “introspective.”

or the deepest values and meanings by which people live
—That would be “morality.

None of these three things have much of anythingto do with each other, by the way. Moving on:

Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual’s inner life
—Okay, but science has a lot to say about meditation.

spiritual experience includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self
—Science studies ecosystems. Thermodynamics, at a fundamental level, is the study of how parts of systems relate to systems as a whole.

• _Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life._
—No wonder—since it’s defined so vaguely and variously to include any possible inspiration or orientation!

LostInParadise's avatar

Spirituality is about values, and values fall outside the realm of science. For example, in the discussion of gay marriage, there is the undiscussed question of what the purpose of marriage is. If we are talking about abortion, we need to talk about the criteria that we use to determine when a fetus becomes human. If we are talking about environmental preservation, we need to talk about what we wish to achieve and what we are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. Science figures into this because science tells us what can be accomplished and at what cost. It provides the options. It cannot tell us which to choose.

mattbrowne's avatar

@tom_g – Come on, many English words have two, three or more meanings. Here’s a pleased football coach example: Hey, guys. You did great. That’s the spirit. Quarterback: Oh, sorry, I only see chairs.

tom_g's avatar

@mattbrowne“Come on”

“Come on”? Are you serious? Of course I know that. But at some point a word ceases to do its job. What use is a word that can mean so many things that it fails to indicate what you’re talking about? I’m questioning whether “spiritual” in this context is better than a simple pronoun.

dabbler's avatar

Science definitely would support not basing any scientific conclusions on irrational information. But science makes No Conclusion about the stuff it can’t deal with, it does not support dismissing everything else, if for no other reason than further information may emerge and suddenly science might get some traction on the subject.

Some folks seem to be stuck in a rationality box, where anything that can’t be explained is to be dismissed. @LostInParadise puts it succinctly “Spirituality is about values, and values fall outside the realm of science.” Trying to shove a square peg into a round hole and declaring it has no place anywhere because it doesn’t fit there is um, er, irrational, and unscientific. All you can say is you don’t know.

Qingu's avatar

@dabbler, I disagree. I think spirituality is simply inventing a “hole” when your peg doesn’t fit into the ones that are actually useful.

If I believe I have a magic rock, and there’s no evidence whatsoever to show that this rock is magic or has any special properties whatsoever, I could just say my belief in my magic rock is “spiritual” and thus any attempt to rationally examine it is putting a square peg in a round hole. And this would be bullshit.

mattbrowne's avatar

@tom_g – The word spiritual can have a superstitious connotation and a non-superstitious one. Your chair example led me to believe you went with the former connotation. But correct me if I’m wrong. Deists and enlightened theists are not superstitious. They don’t believe in magic rocks, @Qingu. They don’t believe in anything that contradicts science. This is why enlightened theists discovered the first gravity laws, the inheritance principles and first proposed the big bang of our universe.

I also support @LostInParadise‘s statements above.

Qingu's avatar

Newton wasn’t an enlightened theist. He was a rather crazy person who was obsessed with a Biblical code. He was very superstitious in some respects.

He was also probably the smartest person to ever live, but still.

mattbrowne's avatar

I see your point. Well, Newton lived during the earlier periods of the Age of Enlightenment and yes, he did some crazy things too. Herschel, Mendel, Lemaître and Eddington were no longer superstitious to my knowledge. And neither is Kenneth R. Miller who defended evolution in the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case.

adrianeraldo's avatar

Prayers are a proof of your devotion and faith.
It doesn’t matter what you are asking in your prayers; you might and might not get what was asked.
I agree prayers make you feel better, they keep you away from despair.

firebirdta's avatar

The question is nonsensical. It presumes the existence of God; which is either ridiculous or based on superstition. (The same thing, just semantics here.) The problem with someone acting like they understand something about metaphysics (or ‘God’ as some people like to call it) is that it is, by its very definition, impossible to understand, or define, by physics, the guiding influence of the universe we are capable of perceiving, and the limits of human understanding. Anyone who claims to know anything about the metaphysical either does not understand the definition of the word, is deluded, conning you or some combination thereof. Unfortunately, as brilliant as Newton and Einstein were as mathematicians, it gives them no better an understanding of the metaphysical than a circle of people who work themselves up emotionally and ‘raise power’ or a prayer group that ‘feels the power of the Spirit’, etc.

To that end, I think Qingu hits the nail squarely on the head with their comments on the concept of spirituality. As to the concept of Deists and enlightened Theists, it appears, in my opinion, they are superstitious when they use metaphysics as a fall back explanation, but they use ‘wobble words’ so they do not have to commit; much the same as those who call themselves Agnostics.

As to those who say that they have had prayers answered, I have to wonder how many prayers they had with an outcome with which they were disappointed. Yes, it was just coincidence, or what is otherwise known as ‘your lucky day’. Remember, we live in immensely vast universe, infinitely vast for the purposes of our discussion. ( I will leave to mathematicians to understand and explain infinity.) To put that into context, remember the analogy of the billion monkeys, banging on the billion typewriters for eternity. In a universe of random probability where any event with more than one possible outcome is an independent random event, eventually, they will pound out the works of Shakespeare.

Captain Harley, I would suggest that the ‘answered prayer’ you spoke of speaks more to your sensitivity as a person and parent than to any ‘divine intervention’. Give yourself some credit.

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