Last week I wrote about Richard Dawkin’s best idea. For those not familiar with his work Richard Dawkins is an English scientist specializing in evolutionary biology. He is also a committed atheist, one of the most high profile and outspoken atheists in the world.
As someone who is committed to the idea that people are free to pursue those beliefs they feel most deeply called to explore and embrace, I have no desire to try to persuade him or any other atheist that they should change their views.
However, to state my strong conviction that atheists are fully entitled to their beliefs does not mean I feel their beliefs are necessarily correct. More importantly I do not feel their beliefs can be called “good science.” The reason I feel their beliefs should not be considered good science can be seen in the response by some atheists and scientists to the following scientific study.
A study was conducted at Duke University over a three year period to see what effect prayer had on the recovery rates of heart patients.
The data from this study showed there was no discernible improvement to groups of heart patients who were prayed for by devout Christians, Muslims and Buddhists as compared to other groups of heart patients that were not prayed for. This highly competent 3 year study was a real blow for those who believe that God hears the intercessory prayers of the faithful. Please see “God: the Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger, page 99-100 for the details.
While various religious and spiritual people have tried and will continue to try to say the study was flawed, a careful review of the facts will show this study was conducted by sincerely religious people, funded by sincerely religious people, and that the pray-ors were well respected people of a wide variety of faiths. Does God somehow need more than that to respond to the prayers of the faithful? Do pray-ors have to be people with some kind of super-duper faith under only the exact perfect conditions to get God’s attentions and for the study to have had different results?
Understandably, folks like Richard Dawkins, and his fellow sympathizer Victor Stenger, pounce on this information to basically say, “See we told you all talk of God and prayer is a bunch of hooey.”
Quite understandably they assume that since prayers of very devout and sincere people did not help people recover from their heart disease at better rates than did those patients who had no prayers they assume the only possible conclusion is that there is no such thing as God.
Certainly the results of this study are very challenging to traditional Christians and other God centered believers who believe that intercessory prayers are effective. In the interest of “good science” it has to be admitted that the conclusions atheists and scientists draw from this study may prove to be accurate assessments that there is no God and faith in the effects of prayer is a significant delusion.
But the reason I believe their conclusions do not qualify as “good science” is there are other interpretations of this study that indicate other lines of inquiry that need to be considered before the conclusions of atheists can be seen as definitive.
It is possible that all the study by Duke University may reveal is that we just do not know as much about the nature of divine life as many think we do. It may be it is only the old descriptions of how God relates to human life that need to be significantly revised rather than that we need to discard the whole idea that God exists.
In short this study may indicate that rather than jump to the conclusion there is no God, we need to be open to the possibility there are different understandings of what God’s nature is and the relationship between God, prayer, and human suffering. We may need to realize that other more effective ways to work with contemplative prayer need to be found as we seek to draw upon God’s life to support the process of healing the sick.
Certainly, the possibility exists that the way we search for “proof” of divine life can be significantly refined. I do not mean to say, as many religious people do, that the scientific method is useless or irrelevant in this search. What I am saying is that it is possible we can find significant expansions or enhancements in both scientific and faith based ways of searching for proof. We may also need to expand the range of what are perceived to be valid forms of proof. And, we may yet find empirical data which is confirmed by repeated experiments that does illustrate God exists and that prayer for others does reliably diminish their suffering.
Atheists and scientists may rightly scoff at this as some form of wishful thinking that there is a different reference frame that would ultimately prove God does exist and that a personal relationship with God is possible after all.
They may be right.
But it is worth remembering two simple facts. The first is this: the scientific method, as we know it now, was only dimly perceived by a few people as recently as seven hundred years ago. Who knows what other methods of human searching and understanding may be possible seven hundred years from now? Who knows what other forms of “proof” may be found that can justly be deemed as valid?
The second fact is even more compelling. The discovery that there are other galaxies in the universe besides our own Milky Way was not made until 1924. Yes, that is right. The discovery there are at least a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe is less than 100 years old.
Who knows what other realms and forms of being and existence we may yet discover and what processes we may discern that allow us to make contact with these realms and forms of being? Who knows what other spiritual and scientific discoveries are yet to be made to help people prevent or recover from heart disease?
In short the atheists and scientists are coming to their conclusions while there are still too many legitimate questions. That is why their views are not “good science” however compelling and impressive their credentials and education may be. In short they have the same challenge that most priests and ministers have. Just because they have convinced themselves they are right does not mean they are.
Please let me know your thoughts. All constructive comments will be posted.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” Host of MeditationPractice.com .
If God is all knowing and all loving, why would He chose to heal only those who had someone to pray for them.
This is a great question.
One could add if God was loving and all knowing why is there sickness at all?
I believe it is the process of asking very good questions and not finding credible answers from traditional Christians that moves many to decide that God does not exist. I certainly know that big parts of the traditional answers by Christians and others to these kinds of questions never made sense to me.
What I learned, and this is only for me, is that if I clear out the descriptions I hear about God’s nature and simply open my heart and mind to the experience of the divine presence that this process becomes a way to explore this possibility. i feel it is the descriptions of God’s nature as all loving, all powerful, and all knowing that may be what is misleading. I feel ti may be possible to experience the presence of Universal life or energy without getting lost in words or concepts.
Oddly enough, by being open to this communion we may find that there is a way to draw upon this universal life or spirit or energy in ways that greatly facillitate the healing of physical and mental illness. This is at least the path I am exploring which I hope is fruitful.
The experience of millions of people in 12 step programs who turn to a “higher power” ( ie. God) and who find a way to keep their addiction in remission is a form of empirical evidence that warrants further research. Dispassionate, careful, judicious research. The data coming out of UMASS Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is also worthy of more detailed reflection. Although it should be added that many of those teachers are Buddhist or other forms of non-theists.
Thanks for your comment.
In clearing away any descriptions we have of God or a higher power, we might also be aware of thinking in terms of whether this higher power “chooses” to heal us, or to hear our prayers. I’ve been trying to simplify my faith and prayer practice and just tap into my belief that God Is. God is present, does hear, and above all – no matter how things turn out – that God loves. It is frustrating not to understand, but it’s better for me to know I don’t have to understand.