Ok, so there is a thread on a gaming forum where someone is asking the community to pray for his sick mother.  I was bored at work and ended up taking part in this.  I have a different name there (Rishke) but my icon is the same so you'll know who I am.  Please read this thread (not too long) and help me with some ideas on how to continue discussion with the polite theist on here.  


He uses the "spoiler" button so you have to click that to see what he's saying.

Tags: christians, healing, miracles, prayer

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Oh yes, I don't doubt the placebo effect.

But in any case, the person who ended up debating me was not the OP, and the topic I'm asking about is not about his mother specifically. But in any case, here's what I was trying to draw attention to:

Me:

There are several problems with miracle healing. First we need to define miracle. People use the term very loosely, as I'm sure you noticed. People escaping a burning building could be called a "miracle" by some. In this case, I would accept your miracle recoveries as the term simply means something unlikely or not completely understood (and is positive in nature) has occurred.

Now, others are likely to define a miracle as something that defies the laws of nature. That is to say that without the intervention of a divine entity the result would have been different. If you define miracle in this way then yes, we do know (to the extent that we can know anything) that this does not happen. Cancer going into relapse is a good example. This does happen sometimes, even when doctors believe the patient has not long to live. These events are often trumpeted as evidence of divine intervention. Would it not be more intellectually honest to admit that we do not have a complete understanding of cancer (as well as other diseases). Relapses do happen, and people can recover sometimes and this does not hinge on how many people are praying for the person.

Now, if we depart from areas where our medical knowledge is lacking and move into areas where we have a more complete understanding then you will see miracle stories begin to vanish. An easy and often used example is one of people who are, either due to injury or birth defect, missing limbs. No advanced medical understanding is necessary to know that torn off limbs do not grow back. At least, not in humans. So my question to you regarding miracle healings via divine intervention is this: Why do we only hear people claim divine healing when dealing in areas where our medical knowledge is lacking? Why does the divine entity only heal people of conditions we do not fully understand, but never heals a condition such as a missing leg?

Oh, and thank you for discussing your thoughts calmly. It seems rare these days, especially on the internet.


Him:

It really is tricky to say. Someone being cured of an ailment believed to be incurable/untreatable could really be either divine healing that defies natural law or it could be the result of some currently unknown factor of the disease. But I would argue that even if it was some unknown factor, its no less miraculous or divine at the time of it happening. I mean you could for example say that someone today has terminal cancer and then suddenly its gone, and we might call that a miracle. But in 20 years time, its known that cancer is cured by lime-flavored jello (or something) and such a case would not really be a miracle (unless you were to call the fact that humans have attained any level of medical knowledge and skill a miracle in itself, which some could make a decent case for). But my point is that when our knowledge alone is not sufficient to explain why something apparently miraculous happened, I feel it could still be classified as divine simply because the circumstances for it to accidentally occur are so fragile and remote.

As for why dont more obvious miracles like regenerated limbs occur? Well by the logic of your earlier statement, it wouldnt be anymore proof than say cancer being cured, since it might imply there are some unknown medical factors involving missing limbs.

Hehe and thank you for appreciating civility. People really are almost always too ready to jump at each other's throats when it comes to topics like these. Which is a shame, since when theyre respectful these are the types of discussions that can potentially produce some very interesting and enlightening results.





So how to respond to someone like this?
I skimmed.

Therefore, since we cannot empirically define God we cannot be exactly sure what type of rules and properties he follows. So, any conclusions drawn about the idiocy of praying to milk do not necessarily automatically apply to praying to God.

My problem with this is not that we can't be 'exactly' sure what types of rules and properties this god follows, but that we can't be sure period. We have no model or method to describe or predict such an entity. From a human perspective of such a being, all things are as likely as they are not.

Perhaps we can't definitively prove that prayer has no impact on outcomes, but neither can we definitively prove that it does. Such statements don't get us anywhere. If we go based on our observations, we do not see any correlation between prayer and patient outcomes. Celebel does list issues he has with the methodology of studies demonstrating this, but it's unclear if he's actually read the methodology of the study, of if he's made convenient assumptions to discount the study.

I don't see an issue with prayer as an indulgence; a bit of fantasy that feels good and can be used to show sympathy, for contemplation -- whatever --, but on a personal level I can do all of those things without the religious backing, and I just don't see a compelling reason to make the assumption that some sort of godly magic is at play.

Maybe I don't get it. Maybe I just don't understand some hidden value to prayer over any irreligious parallel. With regard to what Celebel has said, I'd be perfectly content to say 'to each their own' here. Personally, I find the thought of miracle cures a little depressing. I'd rather deal with natural explanations that can be studied and eventually applied to other afflicted individuals rather than have it all be subject to the whims of some incomprehensible being.

I will try praying that FFXIV is better than some reviews have made it out to be. There's a long wait still before I can play, so that will give me plenty of time to try and get in at least one qualifying prayer.

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