According to a recent article at CNN.com, Louisiana lawmakers are proposing a day of prayer to stop the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. State Senator Robert Adley had this to say:
"Thus far efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail. It is clearly time for a miracle for us."
It is a testament to our great infancy as an intelligent species that in the era of modern science, the age of reason and enlightenment, state senators and even President Obama (for crying out loud) actually consider speaking to an invisible deity a reasonable solution for this horrendous calamity. Perhaps these politicians are simply appealing to the American majority of evangelical Christians and do not, in fact, consider prayer a reasonable course of action. No matter. The fact that they have to appeal to such nonsense to secure their offices by a majority democratic vote is enough reason to be alarmed.
In my essay Prayer, Science and Haiti I made a strong case, using observed evidence, for the ineffectiveness of prayer. I won't elaborate any further on that as it is scientifically uncontested.
This is what bothers me about praying for the oil spill: While the pious are kneeling before an unverifiable god wishing for a miracle, someone is working around the clock to actually solve the problem. When they do solve the problem it will be because of the ingenuity of that person (or team of people) and it will be implemented using tools and methods derived solely from science. But what will the religious community say? They will shout to the heavens about how GOD answered their prayers! They'll talk about the futile efforts of man and how good GOD is to have heard their fledgling petitions. They will completely ignore the fact that GOD could have easily prevented the oil spill in the first place or plugged the hole with a divine horde of angels, thereby saving the lives of countless animals and protecting America from another devastating economic blow.
And here is the truly remarkable thing. What will the religious community say if the day of prayer does not have any effect on the oil spill whatsoever (as observable reality suggests)? Well, of course they will say that GOD's will is mysterious and that it is probably for the good of our national character, even though our minds are too puny to comprehend it. They might say it's the work of the devil in the eternal battle for good and evil. More likely, they will blame it on the gays, abortionists, democrats or really any demographic they do not belong to. One thing it seems they will certainly not do is reflect on whether or not it was a complete waste of time. They certainly will not wonder if GOD really exists or not.
Why should they? After all everyone has at least one story of baffling circumstantial coincidence. Maybe you were about to file bankruptcy and a relative died leaving you an inheritance. Maybe you struck out every time you were up to bat except for the one time the bases were loaded. Maybe you survived a car crash without a scratch. Maybe your relative's cancer went into remission. And so on and so forth. I've had moments like these. We all have.
But if we're really honest we've had A LOT more moments when these things did not pan out. We've prayed for LOTS of things that never happened. After all, every basketball game ends confirming the prayers of one side and ignoring the prayers of the other, right? The progressive believer may say that God does not care about sporting events. Fair enough. But what about when children die of cancer? What about when families are torn apart by substance abuse? No, the perceived answer to prayers are commonly things that would have happened naturally either way (thus compatible with laws of probability) or are results of scientific innovation (antibiotics, surgery, genetic engineering, etc.).
This is called confirmation bias or, counting the hits and ignoring the misses. Consider the incredibly ironic story of a recent lightning bolt destroying the Touchdown Jesus statue in Monroe, Ohio. Now if a lightning bolt had struck the Hustler adult store across the street from Touchdown Jesus these people would have no doubt considered that an act of GOD. A fiery judgment on fornication. But since the lighting hit Jesus square in the face they are appealing to science, blaming the sporadic nature of lightning and the metal frame that Touchdown Jesus housed under his buttery exterior. Interestingly none of them consider the lightning a judgment from Zeus, the once widely worshiped thunder god.
It may be clear to Senator Adley that we need a prayer miracle in the gulf. But it's clear to me and any reasonable person that sitting around and talking to yourself is exactly what we DO NOT need. We need real people devising real solutions to a real problem. People think I'm angry? Well, when it comes to this issue, if you're not angry then you're not paying attention.