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Christianity Admin on 12 Dec 2006 11:57 pm

The Mt. Hood rescue and the superstition of prayer

If you’ve been following the news today, you know that there are three men (Kelly James, 48, Brian Hall, 37, and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, 36) lost on Mt. Hood in Oregon. The three men are experienced climbers who hoped to complete an ambitious climb up one side of the mountain and down the other in two days. They left on Thursday (November 7), but the weather conspired against them, and they have not been seen since their departure. There was a phone call from one of the climbers on Sunday, but nothing after that. Since Thursday, winds have been as high as 85 MPH, and there has been snow along with very low temperatures.

Today in a televised news conference, Frank James (brother of Kelly), made this statement:

“Today’s the day for courage and for prayers. Courage can help us see through this snowstorm, and our prayers can literally move mountains.” [ref]

This statement is interesting because the part about prayer is, obviously, incorrect. Prayer does not literally move mountains. No person, including Jesus, has ever moved a mountain through prayer. We all know that. If prayer could literally move mountains, people could pray and mountains would move. People could pray and amputated limbs would regrow. People would pray, and every disease on planet earth would be healed tonight. Prayer has never moved mountains, and it never will.

What if we take Frank’s statement figuratively instead of literally? He did use the word “literally”, but what if we ignore him? Then his statement is still untrue. Prayer will have absolutely no impact on the survival of his brother or the other two men. They will either survive, or they will not. Prayer will not affect the outcome because the belief in prayer is pure superstition. Numerous scientific studies, as well as simple observation of the world around you, shows that every “answered prayer” is nothing but a coincidence.

Back in January there was a mining accident in West Virginia [article]. Millions prayed for the 13 miners. Then we heard they had all survived. There was much rejoicing and praising of God for the miracle. But in actuality there was no miracle. It was a miscommunication, and 12 of the miners were dead. That’s because prayer is meaningless. If you study the effects of prayer scientifically, looking at the statistics for both the successes AND failure of prayers, it becomes obvious that prayer has no effect. See this page for details.

We can all sympathize with the families of these three men. We can all appreciate what they are going through. It would be heartbreaking for these men to die. However, tragedy is not a reason to abandon rational thinking. Talking on national TV about prayer — an activity based on pure superstition and a delusional belief in an imaginary god — accomplishes nothing. Let us instead thank the people who are members of the search parties for their continuing work, and wait intelligently and patiently for the outcome, good or bad.

9 Responses to “The Mt. Hood rescue and the superstition of prayer”

  1. on 13 Dec 2006 at 12:29 am 1.Jimson said …

    You are so wrong. Prayer gives us hope at times like this.

  2. on 13 Dec 2006 at 1:30 am 2.Carolyn James said …

    I don’t usually reply to blogs, but in this case, I wanted to. Frank James is my husband, and I only wish you could have this conversation with him. You’ve raised some important issues, and he wouldn’t have a problem talking with you about them. He doesn’t believe that prayer is magical, or that Mt. Hood is suddenly going to end up somewhere else on the planet. He does believe in God, and that God both hears and answers prayers. If you’ve ever read the Psalms and other parts of the Bible, you’ll find that people who believe in God wrestle with what prayer is all about, whether God is listening and what it means when the blizzards continue, rescue workers can’t get to your brother and time is running out. The Bible is actually honest about the questions you raise. The way you describe prayer is often how it looks to the person who is on his or her knees. But if there is a God, and if He created this world, then on our knees is the most rational place for us all to be, whether we understand the outcome or not.

  3. on 14 Dec 2006 at 11:56 am 3.Micheal Huguet said …


    The problem with your declaration that “on our knees is the most rational place for us all to be” is that you did not rationally examine whether or not the presumption was correct, that there is a creator god. Your presumption deserves just as much thought as your conclusion, and obviously you did not give it such credit.

    If the three do not manage to survive their climb, then you will likely credit it to “God’s Plan” or something of the sort. Likely, the reason they did not survive in this case is just that the conditions and odds are against them.

    If they do manage to survive, you will likely attribute prayer. However, the article notes that the three are experienced climbers and that they planned the trip… so why not give them the credit they are due for their feat of survival?

    Anyway, what I’m trying to point out here is that there are two likely conclusions to this event, and that both would be exactly the same and have the same chance of happening with or without prayer.

  4. on 15 Dec 2006 at 1:09 pm 4.Concerned said …

    Your remarks are very well thought out…however………..only when one thinks they know all things in and of themselves is he/she truly lost. If you believe that this life… is all there is …..I feel very sad for you…..no hope for anything better than this life…with all of it’s problems.

    Ask yourself……why don’t you……. want to believe in a Loving God…..has something happened to you that you just cannot forgive…..and…if he(God)revealed himself to you….which he has for many of us who know he’s there…..(Faith)”the evidence of things hoped for….the evidence of things not seen!” would you still not……..want to believe…and why is that?

    I hope that you do search for him…..he is there…and he will always accept you….if you humble your heart.

    Best Regards,


  5. on 17 Dec 2006 at 9:23 pm 5.Jonathan Moulin said …

    I grew up as a christian. Today I do not believe in God. I has nothing to do with being angry at god because I don’t believe god exist. Most humans experience pain and suffering ,but the part of the population that experiences pain and suffering and don’t believe in god are not disbelievers because they are angy at god who they don’t believe in.
    I know from my experience in the baptist church that this is one of the explanations that is given about why people do not accept what you folks have decided is absolutely ,beyond a shadow of a doupt true .
    You base your belief on what you “feel” to be god revealing himself to you. Feelings are ment to be felt they are not indications of reality. Feelings tell you how you feel. You feel that someone hates you ,but in fact the person may just think your great ,but is incapable of expressing the positive feelings for you.
    You may feel bad one day and everything looks bleak , the next day you feel great and your up beat about the furture. It is all just feeling. so it is with the christian experience. Never have we seen any concret proof of a god. What you and your christian friends feel to be the presence of god could be anything.
    It would be great if there was a paradise and we’d all go up there when we die , but I am sorry to tell you there is no proof that there is . Even if there was a god or some kind of force in the universe if the christian concept of it is true ie heave and hell I sure wouldn’t want to hag out with a vicious god that made hell. He worse than Hitler and Stalin combined. It is sick to believe in this FINAL SOLUTION(hell) thing.

  6. on 19 Dec 2006 at 7:23 am 6.Joseph said …

    Hey Dennis,

    You were close, but there is another definition for “faith” from Mark Twain that is closer to the truth…

    “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

    It isn’t a case of wanting to believe something that makes it true. I might want to believe that I can fly but that doesn’t make it so (and some would call me delusional if I did).

    I think you are the one that we need to feel sorry for since you seem to be so unhappy with the life you have now that you find you need something more. I think it is amazing enough that we are even here at all, that we have life and self-awareness, and are able to contemplate the universe we live in. If your parents had not had sex when they did, or if that particular sperm hadn’t made it to that egg, you wouldn’t have even been here. Just think, you are here! You made it! You aren’t a plant or a frog! You have self-awareness and the ability to think and experience life!

    But that isn’t enough for you. You have such a negative view of life that you feel sorry for people that have no expectations (delusions) for anything more.

    You talk about being humble, yet you think you are so important that you will have eternal life. What a sad, arrogant, and delusional person you are. It is too bad you can’t accept reality for what it is and enjoy it to its fullest without having to suppose some fantasy afterlife where an imaginary Supreme Creator of the Universe has an intimate interest in your personal life.

    Even if it were true, something tells me that if you aren’t happy with this, you probably wouldn’t be happy there either.

  7. on 19 Dec 2006 at 9:42 pm 7.Bob said …

    At one time in my life, I had all the answers. I knew what was right for me and by golly, nobody was going to tell me otherwise. During that time in my life, I made a lot of mistakes, even though I knew everything. I suffered a lot personally and caused a lot of pain to those close to me. Even though I grew up in a strict Catholic home, religion was sort of a joke to me.

    I started to see the power of faith in the lives of other people around me. These were people I admired and hoped to emulate. They didn’t try to control situations, and yet somehow they were in control of their lives.

    I explored what it truly meant to be Catholic. I bought the Catechism of the Church and read it, and I came to the inescapable conclusion that if I chose to live my life consistent with the Creator’s plan for me (which is spelled out in the Catechism, the Holy Bible and other books such as Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life) that the problems and challenges of life would be easier to handle.

    What I didn’t expect was that as I moved towards that way of life that the problems would go away completely. They have.

    Some of you have stated pretty clearly that you think it’s a fantasy. If so, I’m delusional because quite by accident it has become the most real, most significant part of my life. I don’t believe in my government, the corporations who sell me products or the people who preach tolerance and then treat their fellow man like dirt. What I do believe in is my faith, because I have learned through experience that it is the only thing in my life that is real and that I own. My belongings can be stolen, my wealth can be taxed away, my friends and family will pass. My faith is all I have, literally. It has become very dear to me and it provides me comfort in a very hostile world.

    I’m not trying to convince anyone otherwise, but I’ve learned not to discount the power of prayer. I know that it will carry Ms. James through a very difficult time. I hope that it will help her and her family to know that others are praying for her well being. I suspect that it will, and for that I am thankful.

    I wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season with those who are dear to you.

  8. on 23 Dec 2006 at 8:02 pm 8.Terry said …

    Millions of people prayed for the men on Mt. Hood. Tragically, they died anyway.

    Prayer doesn’t work, and hope is highly overrated when divorced from action.


    “Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.”

  9. on 24 Dec 2006 at 2:28 pm 9.Anonymous said …

    “Tragically, they died anyway.”
    Oh no, they died! That’s so sad :(! I’m not shocked (I’m an Atheist and don’t believe in prayer) but I am saddened. :*(

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