Friday, June 6, 2014

Health and Prayer II - Why God still can't lose

I had a reply posted to a blog I wrote some time ago that I didn't feel I could do justice to in just the comments, so here's the full on reply.

The original post was one I made about the myth that prayer heals, and how patently ridiculous such an assertion is in the face of our need for modern evidence based medicine, you can find that here. The comment came here. I'll call the commenter littleinions in reference to the pseudonym they entered there.

The comment is, I think, a perfect example of what I was referring to in the original post - the "God can't lose" concept. That is to say, the seemingly miraculous is attributed to God and he gets all the credit for it, even in the face of the suffering that may have occurred. For example, God gets credit for saving one person in a plane crash and is praised for his miracle, but doesn't take the blame for the 250 other people who died in the same crash. If saving one is to God's credit, what is letting the others die? God can't lose because the majority of believers will then say they weren't meant to be saved, didn't pray hard enough or it wasn't part of the plan etc - God can't lose because only the good stuff is attributed to him - the bad stuff is rationalized away, but whatever the rationalization is, it is not God.

Carry this into health care though, and we often have people attribute someone's recovery from ill health to God and prayer or miracles - not to medical treatment and care, misdiagnosis or spontaneous remission. Yet, as I point out in the original post, if prayer really worked in the way that the religious claim we wouldn't have need of hospitals or evidence based medical care for two main reasons:

  1. Nobody prays to become sick. People pray for good health and a long life - they don't pray to have a serious accident or incurable disease. If prayer worked no one would ever be sick - except I suppose the non-religious or non-devout, who either don't pray at all or don't pray enough (whatever that limit is).
  2. If people were sick or injured then if prayer worked those illnesses or injuries would be immediately rectified or cured upon those people praying - nobody prays to continue to be sick or injured, they pray to be cured or to recover. If prayer worked they would not therefore need medical treatment and in countries where the religious are present in great numbers hospitals need not exist. This is demonstrably not true.
Further to these two points is the obvious one that the website Why Won't God Heal Amputees? makes. People who lose limbs, or who are born without them, never have those limbs come back despite praying for exactly that to happen. If prayer works, then why won't God heal amputees?