Saturday, August 27, 2016

How problematic is the problem of unanswered prayer?

The so-called problem of unanswered prayer is a familiar issue in Christian apologetics. It's not just a philosophical or theological issue, but a practical issue–inasmuch as many believers find unanswered prayer aggravating. In some cases that leads to loss of faith.

I'd simply point out that the "problem of unanswered prayer" isn't distinctive to prayer. It's not a special problem that's confined to prayer. Rather, it's a subdivision of a general issue regarding the mystery of divine providence. Why is it so often the case that the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? Why does the distribution of weal and woe so often seem to be random? 

Insofar as Christian theodicy has a general explanation for the mystery of providence, that's applicable to the "problem of unanswered prayer" in particular. Put another way, the experience of unanswered prayer isn't surprising. Rather, that's to be expected given the mystery of providence. However frustrating unanswered prayer may be, that's not unique to prayer. If you think about it, there's no specific "problem of unanswered prayer". Unanswered prayer doesn't raise any new issues. Unanswered prayer doesn't create a problem that's not already on the table in reference to the broader question of divine providence. Same pattern on a lower scale.


  1. I've had the same problem with my lucky rabbit's foot. Every time I rub it for good luck, I cannot tell whether the results are random or that I interpret them in light of post hoc ergo proper hoc. It's a big problem for my belief in the power of lucky rabbit's feet, but I can explain it away because of the mystery of the power of the rabbit's feet. I'd rather keep my belief in the causally efficacious agency of the rabbit's foot than re-evaluate that belief in light of evidence.

    1. You might as well not post such snide comments since it's been done many times, better and more thoroughly by other atheists (e.g. here), and because Christians have answered it repeatedly on many occasions (including the Triabloggers). You evidently don't have any sincere desire to know God by having your sincere questions and objections answered so that you can believe in the God of the Bible. You're just looking to justify and/or flaunt your unbelief. Don't waste your precious little time.

      If I were an atheist I wouldn't waste my very limited time to live fighting against a belief system I don't believe in. Especially if it didn't affect me in my day to day life (as is the case in most 1st world countries).

      I read the following somewhere on the internet. I don't know if it's a true story or even if "E.L. Hyde" was/is an orthodox Christian. But the story's point is so insightful.


      "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God"—Psalm 14:1.

      An evangelist, E. L. Hyde, conducted some revival meetings in New Jersey, and in the course of his remarks said that he could prove to the satisfaction of any infidel within ten minutes that he was a fool. The next morning while walking, a gentleman accosted him very abruptly by saying,

      "Aren't you the evangelist preaching up here at the church?"

      "Yes, sir."

      "Well, I suppose you are a gentleman."

      "I claim to be one."

      "Well, I don't think you are one. Didn't you say last night that you could prove to the satisfaction of anyone within ten minutes that all infidels are fools? If you don't prove it to my satisfaction I will publish you in all the city papers as the most consummate liar that ever struck the city."

      Seeing there was no possibility of reasoning with the man, Mr. Hyde said:
      "Where is your infidel?"

      "I claim to be one," was the reply, "and I want you to know I am no fool either."

      "You don't mean to say there is no reality in Christianity?"

      "I do, sir. I have studied all phases of the subject, and have traveled and delivered lectures against Christianity for more than twelve years, and I am prepared to say there is nothing in it."

      "You are certain there is nothing in it?"

      "Yes, sir; there is nothing in it."

      "Will you please tell me," said Mr. Hyde, "if a man who will lecture twelve years against nothing is not a fool, what in your judgment would constitute a fool?"

      He turned away in a rage. Mr. Hyde, drawing out his watch, insisted he still had six minutes, but the infidel would not hear him, nor was Mr. Hyde published in the city papers.—Selected END QUOTE

      If you read the entirety of this comment and think it was a waste of your time, then realize that you have likely wasted MUCH MORE TIME if you combined all the times in your life you've criticized theism and Christianity in the past. I recommend you stop being a fool and either become a Christian or just stop (or seriously curb) your criticisms of theism.

    2. For all I know you are self-consciously tolling in order to get some reaction from Christians to make yourself feel better about yourself and in order to get some pleasure at making Christians look bad. But if Christianity is true, then whenever we respond we are pleasing God and He'll eventually show His appreciation either in this life or the next. If Christianity is false, then at least we have the comforting (unbeknownst to us false) belief that our efforts matter. HOWEVER, for an atheist like yourself, regardless of whether atheism is true or not, you are foolishly wasting your time and your life no matter what. If atheism is true, you could be doing something better with your precious finite time on earth. If Christianity is true, you could be sincerely seeking God instead of mocking God and so piling up guilt which will eventually be righteously punished by God.

      If you were sincere, then you would have taken to heart the comments given to you by Steve HERE on the same topic.

      Even I posted comments to you HERE.

      My best advice to you is to stop being a Loser. A LOSER in every sense of the word. A loser in this world, loser in the next world, a loser in argumentation, a loser in blog etiquette, a loser in time, a loser in eternity, a loser in being a poor representative for atheism, a loser for using stale, simplistic, unsophisticated and unrefined objections to Christianity.

      "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?" - Mark 8:36 NLT

    3. I wrote, "HOWEVER, for an atheist like yourself, regardless of whether atheism is true or not, you are foolishly wasting your time and your life no matter what." I should have also ADDED that as an atheist YOU CAN KNOW IT TOO. You can know that you're wasting your time objecting to Christianity. That's what makes atheistic objections to theism that much more foolish and idiotic! Some atheists think they are making the world a better place if they can diminish the negative effects of theism on the world by their anti-theistic efforts. But atheism can't even account for the concepts of "better" and "worse" or why one should prefer improving the lives of human beings rather than dolphins. Given atheism, there is no basis upon which to say humans have priority or greater dignity than any other species. Everything is ultimately without any ultimate or transcendent meaning or value in atheism. Moreover, given atheism it's likely that all individual creatures and all species will one day die or go extinct. So, there's no real point to an atheist's life. So, in one sense it's consistent with atheism to waste one's time arguing against theism. Since, every meaningless activity is equally as meaningless as every other activity.

    4. Annoyed,

      Ah yes. The classic theist argument that without CAPITALIZED ULTIMATE DIVINE COSMIC PURPOSE AND MEANING that life has no meaning at all. This is similar to the toddler in the toy store throwing down the toy he is allowed to get because he can’t have ALL THE TOYS.

    5. The more you object the more you show yourself foolish. I don't know if you realize that and just don't care, or don't realize it at all. To use your analogy, you're the one who's complaining about the toy maker instead of playing with the toys. Why continue wasting your time?

    6. I should say, the NON-Existent toy maker from your perspective. Which makes it even more foolish for you to be doing what you're doing.

    7. Annoyed,

      You are confusing ontology with epistemology. Ask Steve for a few lessons in philosophy. As much as I disagree with him, he at least has a modicum of knowledge in that area.

    8. Lewis,

      You keep rehashing the same objections, even though I've repeatedly rebutted your objections. If you can't bring yourself to argue in good faith, you will be banned. You need to learn how to be intellectually honest. If someone responds to your objection, it's incumbent on you to acknowledge the response and provide a counterargument if you can. And if you can't show what's wrong with their rebuttal, then it's incumbent on you to withdraw your objection. This is your final warning.

    9. BTW, the rabbit's foot comparison is dumb. An inanimate object isn't comparable to a personal omnipotent agent. Even for the sake of argument, it's necessary for you to use valid analogies.

    10. Perfect analogies are not explanatory at all hence the non-overlap between agent and inanimate object. The overlap, of course, and why the analogy works, is in that the interaction with and evidence of causation with both the rabbit's foot and an imagined omnipotent being are squarely exact. The point of the deviation in the analogy is to call attention away from the psychological salience that an agent engenders and move it toward the evidence of the causation, which, again, is identical. If you are having trouble grasping this, merely imagine that the rabbit's foot believer also believes the rabbit's foot possesses a mind and the analogy still perfectly holds.

      Furthermore, your previous "rebuttals" were insubstantial and merely the rationalizations of the prioritization of the belief in prayer and post hoc ergo propter hoc. Your threat of banning me seems to rest on my having to acknowledge that your arguments have merit. They do not. Given that arbitrary reasoning, however, I suppose you must ban me.

    11. Uh, no, the threat of banning you is because I don't waste time repeating myself when a commenter refuses to acknowledge and engage counterarguments.

      A rabbit's foot with a mind is nonsensical. In addition, a rabbit's foot with a mind is hardly analogous to the God of classical theism and/or Reformed theism. It doesn't begin to have the same explanatory power.

      And, no, the argument isn't a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy–unless, by your logic, gamblers never cheat. If they consistently beat the odds, that's just sheer coincidence. To accuse them of cheating commits post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

      And we could just as well, or better, say that your claims are merely the rationalizations of the prioritization of dogmatic atheism over evidence to the contrary.

    12. T.A. Lewis

      "Ah yes. The classic theist argument that without CAPITALIZED ULTIMATE DIVINE COSMIC PURPOSE AND MEANING that life has no meaning at all."

      1. Many atheists have no problem admitting this very point. Some even argue atheism leads to nihilism. For example:

      a. That's what atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg has argued in his book The Atheist's Guide to Reality: "Is there a God? No. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I here? Just dumb luck. Does history have any meaning or purpose? It's full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing."

      b. Likewise Richard Dawkins: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

      c. As well as William Provine: "Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear - and these are basically Darwin's views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either."

      2. Given modern evolutionary theory, however, whatever "meaning" you think you have is at bottom illusory. You may be programmed to think there's "meaning" for the benefit of your genes, the human species, etc., but it's fundamentally delusive.

      3. At best, I suppose you could say "meaning" in life is whatever you make of it. That could be living sacrificially for others. Or it could be murdering and cannabilizing others. Neither is in the grand scheme of things morally better or worse than the other. It comes down to whatever makes the person "happy".

      "This is similar to the toddler in the toy store throwing down the toy he is allowed to get because he can't have ALL THE TOYS."

      "Toys" isn't the point. Given atheism, who cares about toys? You can have whatever "toys" make you happy, whether that's a few or a lot, whether that's mansions and motorboats or the simple cozy comfort of close friends and family, but in the end not only will your "toys" be gone but so will you. And it ultimately won't really have mattered that you existed or didn't exist.

      Perhaps your life will have affected some people, perhaps your friends and family may care, perhaps some strangers, perhaps some will care about you for a few generations after you're gone, but eventually you'll be forgotten, and accounted no more significant to the universe than a speck of dust. Few if any will remember or care about T.A. Lewis a hundred years from now.

      The same or similar could be said for practically every human being who has ever existed, certainly when the entire human race becomes extinct, when all life on our planet or galaxy ceases to exist.

      You were here for a little while, then gone, just like the plethora of organisms in nature throughout evolutionary history have come and gone. From bacteria to fish to dinosaurs to mammals to robot chicken or whatever the future holds. Here today, gone tomorrow.

      Finally, when the universe itself comes to an end (whether with a whimper or a bang), when all life has died across the stars, then no one will even be around to ask whether life has any meaning. It's not as if the universe cares.

  2. T.A. Lewis, where have I confused ontology with epistemology?