Understanding the rationalizations|
You can see that the amputee experiment reframes our conversation. No longer are we talking about "religion" or "faith" or "God's existence". What we are talking about here is the basic human ability to process factual information. Jesus makes a number of promises about prayer in the Bible:
If you are a believer, and if this is the first time you have thought about the situation faced by amputees seriously, you may have a set of rationalizations and excuses swirling through your head right now. Let's examine them one by one.
Here is an explanation that you might have heard or used before:
Keep in mind what Jesus promised:
The five quotes in the previous paragraph are all simple, straightforward statements. Doesn't "nothing will be impossible for you" mean "nothing will be impossible for you"? Jesus is God, and as an all-knowing being God knows how humans interpret sentences. If Jesus did not mean "nothing will be impossible for you," it seems like Jesus would have said something else. He also would not repeat that sentiment so many times. And Jesus is supposedly answering millions of prayers each day, so prayer-answering seems to be his intent (See Understanding the gumball machine for a more in-depth discussion).
In a similar vein, many believers will say, "God always answers prayers, but sometimes his answer is 'no.' If your prayer does not fit with God's will, then God will say 'no' to you." This feels odd because God's answer to every amputee is always "no" when it comes to regenerating lost limbs. Jesus says, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." He does not say, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it, unless you are praying about an amputated limb, in which case I will always reject your prayer." Jesus also says, "Nothing will be impossible to you," and regenerating a limb should therefore be possible. The fact that God refuses to answer every prayer to regenerate a lost limb seems strange, doesn't it?
To understand how strange it seems, compare God's treatment of amputees to the concept of God described in this article.
Here is another explanation that you might have heard: "God needs to remain hidden -- restoring an amputated limb would be too obvious." We will discuss this idea in more detail in later chapters, but let's touch on it here. Does God need to remain hidden?
That does not seem to be the case. In general, God seems to have no problem doing things that are obvious. Think about the Bible. Writing the Bible and having billions of copies published all over the world is obvious. So is parting the Red Sea. So is carving the Ten Commandments on stone tables. So is sending your son to earth and having him perform dozens of recorded miracles. And so on. It makes no sense for a God in hiding to incarnate himself, or to do these other obvious things. Why send your son to earth, and then write a book that talks all about his exploits, if you are trying to hide?
In the same way, any medical miracle that God performs today is obvious. The removal of a cancerous tumor is obvious because it is measurable. One month the tumor is visible to everyone on the X-ray, and the next month it is not. If God eliminated the tumor, then it is openly obvious to everyone who sees the X-ray. There is nothing "hidden" about removing a tumor. So, why not regenerate a leg in an equally open way? If God intervenes with cancer patients to remove cancerous tumors in response to prayers, then why wouldn't God also intervene with amputees to regenerate lost limbs?
Why, then, does God ignore the prayers of amputees? (see Chapter 19 for a complete discussion of the "hidden God" theory)
Some people might say, "Everyone's life serves God in different ways. Perhaps God uses amputees to teach us something. God must have a higher purpose for amputees." That may be the case -- God may be trying to send a message. But, again, it seems odd that he would single out this one group of people to handle the delivery. To quote Marilyn Hickey once again:
Some people ascribe the problems that amputees face to free will. They will say, "Well, if you go into a war zone and get your legs blown off, that is your own free will. God gives us free will. You made a free choice to be a soldier. It is not God's fault, and therefore he has no obligation to repair the damage." This logic is fascinating. What about all the people who are born with missing limbs, or the people who lose limbs to diseases through no fault or choice of their own? How are these people any different from cancer victims, who, supposedly, are constantly being healed by God?
We know that God ignores all amputees, regardless of the cause of the missing limb. Why doesn't God heal thalidomide babies, who are by definition completely innocent? Or the innocent children who lose their limbs in mine fields? Why would God heal millions of other diseases, but completely ignore any disease that results in a lost or missing limb?
Some believers say, "God does help amputees - he inspires scientists and engineers to create artificial limbs for them!" This logic is interesting, especially if we look at other examples. Take the case of smallpox. Millions upon millions of people died of smallpox until the vaccine was invented in the twentieth century. If God is the one who inspired the scientists, why did God wait until the twentieth century to do it? Why would God want to be the source of the massive suffering that smallpox caused prior to the twentieth century? And why do we pay the scientists, given that their work is simply God's inspiration? (we will discuss the question of divine inspiration in more detail in Chapter 7)
Someone might say, "Thou shalt not test the Lord. It says so in the Bible." This is hard to swallow because every prayer is a test. Either God answers the prayer or he does not. There is no difference between praying for an amputee and praying for Jeanna Giese and her rabies.
Some people might say something like, "Jesus never says when he will answer your prayers. Maybe your prayer will be answered in the afterlife." But that seems uncomfortable. Jesus is answering millions of prayers for everyone else in the here and now. Clearly that is what he means with all his verses in the Bible. Why single out amputees for treatment in the afterlife when Marilyn and Jeanna get their prayers answered almost instantaneously?
Someone might say, "God will answer your prayers, but not immediately. You must be patient." They will point to a situation like that found in Mark 6:47-51:
Finally, there is this oft-used chestnut: "There is no way to understand the mysteries of our Lord. People have believed in Jesus for 2,000 years, and there must be a very good reason for it." This feels like a sad point in the conversation. On one side of the conversation is a person who is defending the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe. This person's position should be unassailable. Yet, if God exists, and answers prayers as described in the Bible, there is no explanation for what we see in the world around us. The Bible is silent in this case. God is silent. There is not a good, comfortable explanation for the situation faced by amputees except to say, "We cannot understand the mysteries of the Lord. We have no explanation for why God refuses to answer prayers to regenerate lost limbs."
Explaining the case of amputees
Just for a moment, I would ask you to consider the possibility of another explanation. If you believe in God, then this explanation will initially appear to be complete nonsense. However, it is interesting in light of the conversation we will be having in this book.
One explanation for the evidence that we see before us is this:
Now let's look at the situation with amputees from another point of view. This explanation is more straightforward:
Assume that God is imaginary. The beauty of this explanation is that it fits the facts perfectly. In the case of amputees, it is a valid way to explain the reality that we see in our world. The logic goes like this:
The thing that is so appealing about this explanation is that there is no hand waving. There are no contradictions. It is completely fair. There is no paradox. This explanation makes complete sense in light of the evidence we see in our world.
In response to this proposal, a thoughtful person might say, "Just because God never answers the prayers of amputees, it does not mean that he does not answer other prayers. I agree with you that it is unfair to amputees, and I agree with you that it contradicts what Jesus teaches in the Bible, but God has his reasons. For some reason, it is not part of God's plan to help amputees by regenerating their lost limbs. There is no way to understand the mysteries of our Lord, but he does have his reasons and they will become clear to us when we die and go to heaven." That is one possible explanation, but words like "unfair" and "contradicts" feel, somehow, uncomfortable. They do not fit with our mental image of an all-loving and perfect God, nor with the words of Jesus in the Bible. Why would God have such a problem with amputees that he completely ignores their prayers to regenerate lost limbs, while at the same time he is answering all of these other prayers millions of times a day? When it comes to amputees, why would Jesus renege on his promises to answer prayers in the Bible?
You can see that what we have here is a paradox:
The thing about amputees is that the evidence is rock solid. This solidity is what makes this example so compelling.
A cascade of problems
It's not like I am revealing some hidden truth here. The funny thing about amputees is that this evidence is obvious to everyone. We have all seen that God ignores the prayers of amputees. This evidence has been plainly visible for centuries.
Amputees are not the only ones either. For example:
Or what about this. What if we get down on our knees and pray to God in this way:
It is also easy to find corroborating evidence outside the medical arena. At the global level, we see the evidence every day in many different ways. For example, we all see the millions of children who die every year from the tragic effects of poverty. Unicef puts it this way:
Ambiguity and coincidence
The question, "Why won't God heal amputees?" probes into an extremely interesting aspect of prayer and exposes it for observation. This aspect of prayer has to do with ambiguity and coincidence.
Imagine that you pray for something -- It does not really matter what it is. Let's imagine that you have cancer, you pray to God to cure the cancer, and the cancer actually does go away. The interesting thing to recognize is that there is ambiguity in your cure. God might have miraculously cured the disease, as many people believe. But God might also be imaginary, and the chemotherapy drugs and surgery are the things that cured your cancer. Or your body might have cured the cancer itself. The human body does have a powerful immune system, and this immune system has the ability to eliminate cancer in many cases. When your tumor dissappeared, it might be a coincidence that you happened to pray. Drugs, an immune response or a combination of the two might have been the thing the cured you.
How can we determine whether it is God or coincidence that worked the cure? One way is to eliminate the ambiguity. In a non-ambiguous situation, there is no potential for coincidence. Because there is no ambiguity, we can actually know whether God is answering the prayer or not.
That is what we are doing when we look at amputees.
When we pray to God to restore an amputated limb, there is only one way for the limb to regenerate. God must exist and God must answer prayers. What we find is that whenever we create a non-ambiguous situation like this and look at the results of prayer, prayer never works. God never answers prayers if there is no possibility of coincidence. We will approach this issue from several different angles in this book, but Chapters 6 and 7 are particularly important.
The fact that prayers are never answered when the possibility of coincidence is eliminated meshes with another fact. If we analyse God's responses to prayers using statistical tools, what we find is that there is never any statistical evidence for prayer. In other words, when we statisically compare prayer to coincidence for explaining any situation, they are identical. For example, this article points out:
There are two possible conclusions to draw from these statistical studies and the situation with amputees:
In other words, we reach the same conclusion: God is imaginary.
Whether you are religious or not, you have to admit that what we see here is incredibly interesting. Despite the fact that billions of people around the world believe in God, in this chapter we have seen a credible piece of evidence that indicates that God is imaginary.
We also have many other pieces of evidence that indicate the same thing. Let's step back and look at several of them.
First of all, we have this fact: there is no scientific evidence indicating that God exists. We all know that. For example, God has never left behind any physical evidence that shows that he is real. None of Jesus' miracles left behind any physical evidence either. God has never taken over all the TV and radio stations and broadcast a message to mankind. There is the Bible, but as we will see in Section 2 the Bible has problems of its own. And so on. So let's agree that there is no empirical evidence showing that God exists:
Second, we have the fact that there is no statistical evidence that God answers prayers. No non-fradulent scientific study has found any evidence that prayer works. For example, if we have a prayer group pray for certain people in a hospital but not for others, the people who were prayed for don't get better any faster or live any longer. The prayers have zero statistical effect. We will discuss this in much more detail in Chapters 6 and 7.
Simply think about the world around you. First, if there were conclusive statistical evidence that God answers prayers, that would provide scientific evidence that God exists. Second, we can see that there are not two laws of probability -- one for Chistians who pray and one for everyone else. There is a single law of probability that applies equally to everyone. Prayers have zero effect in any statistical study.
Fourth, we have the fact that all of the gods of the past truly were imaginary. We all know with certainty that the Egyptian gods, the Roman gods and the Aztec gods were completely fictitious. Otherwise we would not have started to worship Jesus. We would be worshiping Ra or Zeus rather than Jesus if Ra or Zeus were real.
Now we can start adding pieces of new evidence showing us that God does not exist. For example, we have the case of amputees as described in this chapter. If God is real, it is apparent that there is something very odd about amputees. God is supposedly answering millions of prayers on earth every day, but he completely ignores amputated limbs and refuses to restore them. That makes no sense according to the Standard Model of God and Jesus' statements in the Bible. God's treatment of amputees is inexplicable if God exists, but makes a lot of sense if God is imaginary.
We have all of this evidence to show that God is imaginary. If we were in a court of law looking at this question, the judge would quickly rule that God is imaginary. There is no concrete evidence that God is real and lots of evidence that he is imaginary.
If you are a thoughtful, curious person, the case of amputees really makes you wonder: Is God real or is he imaginary? Let's try looking at another example and see if it sheds any light on this situation...
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