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The sky is falling

To the editor:

Chicken Little: The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Concerning prayer, is there any objective evidence that prayers have been answered? There’s only anecdotal statements by people that believe in the efficacy of prayer. Petitionary prayer has evolved from cringing entreaties to spare them from the wrath of God or the gods, to our more sophisticated prayers today.

Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath and statistician. In his 1872 article Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer, Galton seeks a result revealing whether those who pray attain their objects more frequently than those who do not pray, but who live in all other respects under similar conditions.

Galton surveys a number of studies confronting his same inquiry, beginning with a statistical study of the effect of prayer on the longevity of sovereigns; he notes they have the shortest lives of the affluent sample population despite being regularly invoked in prayer. The eminent clergy surveyed displayed no special longevity; their copious prayers too appear to be futile in result. Galton underscores this finding with his own study of Divines bearing indifferent constitutional vigor. Yet another study shows that missionaries too are not supernaturally endowed with health.

Next Galton inquires as to whether seafaring vessels piloted by the pious or embarking on religious missions are safer than the vessels of the non-prayerful, namely, those of traders and of slave-dealers. He lists myriad conditions, from trade routes to navigational skill, and detects no trends of higher success among the prayerful, and certainly no immunity to danger significant enough to be entertained by insurance companies.

Were any prayers of the millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust answered?

Were any prayers of the hundreds of millions of people killed by the plagues answered? Were any prayers of the millions of parents whose children ultimately died of terrible diseases answered? The list goes on and on.

But why would God need the prayer of faith before taking action? Some people make God an accountant by having large numbers of people praying fervently, hoping that God will act if enough people pray.

And every 24 hours more than 15,000 children around the world die from starvation or disease. What makes people think God will answer their particular prayers? Perhaps religion really is the opiate of the people.

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