Exploring Ontology

It's all about the deep questions.

Prayers and Causes

So, I just came back from a religious retreat. It was definitely an unforgettable, deeply emotional experience, even if I disagree with a lot that was said. During the retreat, one thing began to especially bother me, prayer. Not surprisingly, many, many prayers were said during the retreat. While they were all going on, I was thinking basically along the lines of: If God existed, he would already know what is the morally best thing to occur in each particular situation. For example, if someone was praying for a successful medical surgery for a relative, it’s not as if God would change his mind about what he would do with respect to the surgery. After all, what he would have done if no prayer would be said would infallibly the most moral thing to do, since God is morally perfect!

So here’s an attempt at a formalization of the argument:

1) In deciding whether to make an event happen or not, God chooses the morally best option.

2) Praying for an event to occur does not affect the moral status of the event occurring or not occurring.

3) Therefore, praying for an event to occur has no affect on whether the event will actually occur or not.

Premise 1: This premise is the less debatable one in my opinion. Most theists would agree (I think) that when deciding what to do, God chooses the most moral option.

Premise 2: In the vast majority of cases, I think this premise is sound. Intuitively, if someone prays for farmers in Africa to have a good harvest to feed themselves (for example), he/she praying for that to occur would in no way affect the moral status of that event to occur. If one gets creative, however, there may exist potential counterexamples. For example, praying for a sign from God to rebuild one’s faith would probably increase the likelihood that a person is more open to that sign. So in that case, praying might affect whether one gets a sign. I still stand behind this premise, however, in the vast majority of cases. At least for the prayers I have heard people saying, they almost always follow this premise.

So the moral of the story for theists: If theism is true, prayers may help one grow closer to God, but they (almost always) do not cause things to occur.


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