So my name is Aubrey, I have just recently became an atheist. After about 19 years growing up in the church, I have just been feed up with the crap that has been indoctrinated me since i was born. OH and did i mention that this was a Evangelical church too. Not only did we believe in the working of the holy spirit, but we were also known as a live church (The working of the holy spirit thru speaking in "tongues"). I feel into the trap that the church set, which is to fear you out of hell. It has been a mental battle for me these past 6 months, I would have never thought about atheism before. What really changed me was a missions trip I just got back from 2 weeks ago. I realized, pray does not help anyone, and that is all we were going to do on this missions trip, Pray, really there is nothing better we can do to help them. Made me sad to know that we probably did not help the people of Nicaragua. Nevertheless, I could not be happier to say, God damn it I'm proud to be atheist!
welcome to the Atheism world ... what really matters is that u r comfortable now .. take it easy on yourself :)
Welcome Aubrey, My story is very similar to yours. You are starting a wonderful journey.
Welcome to Think Atheist. The sooner you realize the impotence of prayer the better off you will be. You'll save yourself a lot of disappointment.
You can catch a fish for the friend in need, teach him/her how to catch his own, or pray they somehow figure out how to fish. If they have any say so in the matter choice number three will be unpopular as hell.
Welcome back to the states. Suggested reading, look into the history of missinary work and revolutionary groups in South America. It is not all humanitarian 'work'.
The continued belief in prayer can be ascribed to three things-- the selection bias, the 'self-fufilling prophecy', and the 'God works in Mysterious Ways' fallacy.
Selection bias is the tendency to believe things that support our existing beliefs. This has been shown to occur in animals as well as in humans, and the resulting beliefs are given the scientific title 'superstitions' (that's right, it's not just a term used to insult believers). Skinner showed that rats and pidgeons would develop superstitions about how to get food or avoid shocks. I developed superstitions about driving a manual-transmition car because no one explained how they worked when I learned to drive one. Similarly, people develop superstition regarding the efficacy of prayer, based on one simple fact; the occasion on which a prayer seems to be 'answerd' is much more salient in the mind than those instances in which the prayer was not answered. Studies of the efficacy of prayer have shown that they tend to be 'answered' approximately as often as they would if it were pure coincidence (this isn't 50% of the time, since different requests have different natural frequencies of occurence in the real world, such as hoping for a raise at work versus hoping for an incurable disease to go away; both occur naturally, but with wildly different frequency). However, anyone can attest to the fact that believers in prayer are much more likely to tell you a story about when a prayer was answered than when one wasn't (and in the latter case, it's usually as a prelude to the 'Mysterious ways' bit, which I'll come to). If you're praying all the time, hoping for the natural order to be re-arranged in your favor, of course you'll notice when things happen to go your way. Furthermore, prayer keeps the mind away from undesirable outcomes; you're either thinking about what you'd like to happen, or realizing that it has happened. When things aren't going your way, you naturally start thinking/praying about how they could, so less importance is assigned to bad events in memory. It's easier to stay positive when you think you have a way to change things, even when your powerless, and the belief in prayer is one way to maintain that positive attitude, regardless of baseless it is.
The second factor, the self-fufilling prophecy, has also been demonstrated scientifically in a number of ways. One way is in a sub-set of the studies I mentioned above about the efficacy of prayer, the sub-set that believers who want to argue about prayer often take to represent the whole of the research on prayer, drawing the conclusion that prayer has been scientifically proven to be effective. This sub-set of studies includes all those in which the tests were not conducted in the 'blind' setting normally used in determining relationships and causality. In other words, the subjects of these studies knew they were being prayed for, as opposed to blind studies in which the object of a prayer didn't know he/she/it was being prayed for. In these cases, prayer showed a statistically significant effect on outcomes, indicating not that prayer works, but that the belief in prayer can change outcomes. Hospital patients who are told that they're being prayed for can internalize that belief enough for it to positively affect their bodies' recoveries or immune responses, leading to faster recovery. Another way the self-fufilling prophecy works is when the believer makes things happen that lead to a prayer being answered and attribute the motivation, skill, talent or opportunity to do so to divine intervention. Such reasoning is impossible to argue against, but when viewed objectively, it's really proof of human efficacy, not the efficacy of prayer.
The final strip of duct-tape on the believer's airtight seal against logic is the 'Mysterious ways' arguement that I've alluded to. No person who ever turns a critical eye on the practice of prayer can help but notice that not all prayers are answered, no matter what his belief on its efficacy. Thus, people who want to continue believing in prayer but who need to explain this fact to themselves engage in an insidious logical fallacy; 'top-down reasoning', or the act of inventing explanations to fit pre-existing beliefs. For a time, I told myself that all my prayers weren't answered because I was not a perfect person, and thus got just as many prayers answered as I deserved. I immagine this is more common than most churchies would like to admit, but we're talking about a different made-up explanation here, embodied in the phrase 'God works in mysterious ways'. This in itself represents a despicably irrational way of viewing the world, attributing any event to a certain pre-determined cause instead of seeking out the real causal chain. As I mentioned earlier, the potent combination of the 'undeserving' attitude and the 'mysterious ways' idea often results in believers inventing fantastical tales of how their prayers going unanswered was actually a blessing in disguise, a trial specifically tailored to their needs as a person. This again represents a case of explanations being invented to suit the facts (any trial in life will teach a person things; it's easy, then, to say that God wanted to help me grow).
Unfortunately, this all adds up to a pretty impenetrable logical black hole, with fallicious, irrefutable arguements that believers can talk circles with no matter how you come at them. What matters is that you have recognized this pattern and can now take an objective view of such things, and that you then replace the quagmire of wasted resources and good intentions that is prayer with the solid actions that constitute a real, proactive approach to solving your problems.
Regarding the self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Even if prayer works, if it does it has nothing to do with the existence of a god but shows the importance of optimism in outcomes. Optimism can be achieved in ways other than prayer.
Ah that make sense....thanks for you input!