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God Answers Prayers
In his book, Why There Is No God, author Armin Navabi attempts to answer the challenge that answers to prayer constitute an argument for God's existence. He states, "Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support the efficacy of prayer, many people continue to insist that prayer has affected their own lives."
Sadly, Navabi either ignores or is unaware of the many studies that would seem to say the opposite. He claims, "To date, there have been no reputable scientific studies showing any clear link between prayer and healing."
Beyond the falseness of this statement, one wonders what Navabi defines as "reputable." According to WebMD, "Traditional religious beliefs have a variety of effects on personal health, says Koenig, senior author of the Handbook of Religion and Health, a new release that documents nearly 1,200 studies done on the effects of prayer on health."(1) Certainly there must be many reputable studies in a group of 1,200.
Navabi is focused on healing as a prayer proof. But the challenge in the original statement is not about healing, it's about answers to praying for anything—dedication, sickness, depression, trouble, understanding, wisdom, growth, knowing God better, salvation, etc.
This is actually a very clever diversion from the real issue at hand. Perhaps Navabi knows this, or perhaps it escapes him, I cannot say. The reality is that the result of answers to prayer are not really falsifiable. They can be explained away as coincidence, or perhaps as self-fulfilling in some circumstances, but that surely can't apply to all answers to prayer. If someone prays for courage in a horrible trial, how do you falsify the answer? If someone prays for special wisdom for a difficult decision and does well, how do you falsify that? I once prayed on a Miami beach for God to help me find my biological father. I turned around to begin knocking on the first of hundreds of apartments on the beach and found him—behind the first door I knocked on. How do you falsify that? It's one thing to say, "Luck," or "Coincidence," or that something is "Inevitable," but it's another thing to prove it. As long as answers to prayer happen and can't be objectively falsified then God must remain as one option that might explain the answer.
Navabi argues that answers to prayer are like praying to a bar of soap. Notice, "According to some believers, God answers prayers in one of three ways: “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” This sounds reasonable and even wise before you realize that this explanation is inherently meaningless. In fact, those three answers cover every possible outcome of any event. Either it will happen now, it will happen later or it won't happen at all. This is true whether you pray to a deity or to a bar of soap; it does nothing to prove the existence of a deity."
Forgetting for a moment that, contrary to Navabi's claim, "yes," "no," and "wait" have never been advanced as proofs of God's existence, why are these meaningless? If a boy asks a cookie jar for a cookie there can be no answer. But if he asks his mom for a cookie, the answer will be "yes," "no," or "wait." This doesn't prove mom exists anymore than praying to the cookie jar proves mom doesn't exist (which is the logical conclusion to Navabi's argument). But it does argue for her sovereignty over her son. God isn't obligated by anything to answer one way or another. While this isn't an argument to prove God's existence it is an argument for God's sovereignty. Once again, Navabi applies the wrong proof to the wrong argument.
Reading closely, Navabi's argument against prayer is not really an argument against God's existence. Rather, it is an argument against God's justice. Most notably, Navabi makes a very interesting point when he argues, "Consider that many prayers are inherently selfish. While you pray for your niece to get a much-needed heart transplant, someone else is praying for his organ-donor son's life to be spared. Whether you're praying to win a war or a football game, you're also praying for the people on the opposing side to lose. To assume that God is not only personally invested in the minutiae of your life but that your problems are ultimately more important than other problems he may be asked to solve is both selfish and absurd considering the incredible amount of individual problems and concerns of every human on this planet."
Navabi has a legitimate point. Many times the things that we pray for are selfish and would require someone else to lose in order to achieve gain for our cause.
But, so what?
God has the authority to do whatever he will with his creation and for the benefit of his people. What kind of God would he be if he didn't act in benefit for his people? In order for Israel to have a homeland, God dispossessed it from many other peoples. He had the right to do that. In order for David to win wars to build his kingdom, other kings had to fall. God had the right to do that. In order for Hezekiah's prayer of protection to be fulfilled, the attacking army had to die. God had the right to do that. And on the list goes. This is not an argument against God's existence. It is an argument against God's justice and sovereignty. And arguing against God's sovereignty does nothing to change it.
I do think that answers to prayer is a legitimate proof for God's existence. But not all prayers by all people necessitate a positive response. God is not a magic force that is enacted when you close your eyes and fold your hands. He keeps his own counsel and does whatever he pleases. And if we don't like that, then tough. But our objections won't really get us anywhere.
(1) Can Prayer Heal? Jeanie Lerche Davis, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal