Previous Page                      Back to Table of Contents                        Next Page



Debunking PseudoSkeptical Arguments of Paranormal Debunkers

Argument # 21: The Skeptical explanation for answered prayers - Selective memory and coincidence.


Stated as: “Prayer only works because you selectively remember the answered prayers but not the unanswered ones, which are all due to chance and coincidence.”


While this theory may be true in some cases, it does not explain every account of answered prayer.  Again, just because skeptics can’t see how a God could exist or how thought intentions could affect external reality doesn’t mean that any claim of answered prayer is merely the result of chance.  There are several counter-arguments to this and compelling evidence that prayer works as well.  I will also give my own theory on how prayer works.


1)  First of all, we don't even know what a coincidence really is or even if it really exists.  It’s just a term to define something that behaves unpredictably or doesn't behave according to a pattern that we can see.  According to physicist David Bohm, there may be two kinds of order in the universe, implicit and explicit. (See his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order)  Things that appear random may in fact contain a higher degree of order that we can't perceive.


2)  Second, as I heard one preacher said “If answered prayer is coincidence, then there sure are many more coincidences that come up when I pray than when I don't pray.”  For spiritual or religious people, praying results in a higher rate of coincidences that help manifest the desire or wish, often higher than by ordinary chance.  Of course, there are countless anecdotal accounts of prayer answered in miraculous or sometimes humorous ways.  As Theology Professor Greg Boyd of Bethel University told me in an email:


“My wife prayed that God would honor a "deal" with her about who she would marry (this deal included her future husband saying a certain particularly unusual phrase), and despite all my frustration with knowing she had made such a deal, I said what was "included" in her deal with God without ever actually knowing what the phrase was, not only that, it was the last thing I said to her, several times, immediately before I distinctly felt God leading me to propose to her.”


“The phrase was "It's good to be alive." This seems like a fairly unusual thing to say since it is so obvious at one level. Anyway, it is not something that I would be likely to say on an average day. On the day of our "engagement" I said it several times at just the right moment (during a prayer about our relationship) and actually the prayer (we were praying together) immediately followed a longish conversation about why I didn't believe in engagement periods at all. It seems God has quite a sense of humor at times.”


Amazingly, there are those who get almost every prayer answered because their motives come from a pure heart that is in tune with the values of their faith.  What this means is that Christian prayers seem to get answered a lot more when they ask for things that a Christian is supposed to want.  Same with prayers from those of other religions.  This has been the case in my own experience as well. 


When I was a devout Christian at 14, I was the only Christian in my family and had no one else to share my faith with or go to church with.  I felt lonely and incomplete about this.  So one night I prayed and asked God to send me some Christian friends.  Two nights later, I got a call from an old friend that I hadn’t spoken to in over a year.  He’s not the type of person to make phone calls either, so neither of us knew why he just decided to call me.  After talking a few times, we got to the subject of church and religion.  We were surprised to find out that we were both devout Christians!  When I explained to him that I had no Christian friends or church to go to, he invited me to an outing with his Church Youth Group which he attended on a regular basis.  That Friday, we went to his Youth Group for an all night outing.  We went haystack riding, played miniature golf, charades, Pictionary, kick-the-can and had a lot of fun.  I liked the people in his Youth Group. They were sincere and didn’t have attitudes or pre-judgments.  I felt very comfortable around them. 


From that point on, I started attending the Youth Group regularly.  Now a skeptic could argue that the friend called me out of coincidence, but I don’t buy that because it was strange how this friend I hadn’t talked to in over a year suddenly out of nowhere kept calling me a few times.  Not even he knew why he did that.  Yet it led to my prayer for Christian fellowship being answered.


3)  Third, based on conversations with some Christian friends of mine, I have found that God doesn’t just answer prayer through coincidences.  There is a more amazing type of answered prayer.  Often, as in my own case above, a prayer is answered with the help of other people who themselves don’t know why they are doing what they’re doing. (as if they’re hypnotized) 


      Nick, a Christian friend of mine, related to me a fascinating faith-transforming account in his life.  After turning away from his Christian faith for years, one day his fishing boat went down in deep waters and nothing he and professional divers did could get it out.  After months of failed attempts, he and the divers gave up.  Then a friend of his told him “You will get your boat back.  God will see to it.”  Soon after, some stranger called Nick and offered to help raise his boat for free.  This guy said that he heard that Nick needed help and went to great lengths to find Nick’s phone number to contact him.  As we all know, strangers don’t tend to go to great lengths to find you just to help you out for free and for no reason!  That does not seem like an ordinary coincidence.  This stranger even offered to pay all the expenses of lifting the boat out! (I’ve heard of random acts of kindness, but this is phenomenal!)  It turns out that he barely got it out and it almost sank again after it was lifted, but the rescuer saved it just in time. 


      The next day, a short story about his boat (the boat’s name was mentioned in the headline) being “resurrected” from the sea appeared at the top of the front page headline, even above the story of Pope John Paul’s arrival in town!  Astonished, Nick called the newspaper to find out how his trivial story appeared on the front page headline since it was not a significant event to the public.  However, no one there seemed to know why it was there or how it got there. (Very strange!) 


      This served was such a powerful sign from God and testament of faith to Nick, that from then on he led a faith-based life in God.  Many other Christians have personal accounts of answered prayer similar to this of course.  It would seem that God somehow hypnotizes people (for lack of a better word) into answering someone else’s prayer, since these people don’t know themselves why they’re doing something that results in another’s answered prayer.  But this happens nevertheless, and my own example in the above paragraph attests to this as well.  


4)  Fourth, recent studies on prayer done by Duke University and others have revealed the effect that the power of prayer has on those who are critically ill.  Double-blind tests done have shown that those who were prayed for recovered much more quickly and at a higher success rate than those not prayed for.  As one of Duke’s own articles summarized:


“In a feasibility study conducted by the Duke University and Durham Veterans Affairs medical centers, angioplasty patients with acute coronary syndromes who were simultaneously prayed for by seven different religious sects around the world did 50 percent to 100 percent better during their hospital stay than patients who were not prayed for by these groups.”


While we don’t know for sure whether God himself is answering these prayers, or if they are being answered by the psychic abilities of those praying, the bottom line is that prayer does seem to work in ways that ordinary coincidences can’t explain.


5)  Fifth, In my experience with prayers, it seems that prayers from a selfish nature tend to get answered less than when they come from a desire for what is right and best for all.  One metaphysical explanation for this that I’ve heard is that when desires come from an altruistic motive, they reach the energy from higher astral planes or levels of consciousness.  These higher planes are supposedly where more advanced spiritual beings reside, including Gods, Jesus, Buddha, etc.  Perhaps prayers of a selfish nature cause a separation from you and your higher self that is attuned to the higher planes.  This inner separation leads you to down the path of ego and illusion rather than unification and wholeness.  After all, a divided kingdom falls, even if it’s an inner kingdom.  This theory is subjective and can't be proven scientifically at this point, but it's one possibility to consider which would explain why purer altruistic motives for prayer tend to result in a higher rate of success.


My own theory on how and why prayer works


Now, you may be wondering how prayers and miracles could be real supernatural phenomena, yet the religions behind them not be true.  How could you harmonize that?  Well there are other explanations that theoretically harmonize them. 


I have a theory which I call metaphysical societies.  A Canadian colleague I had in Taiwan helped me formulate it.  We were talking about religion and answered prayer, and how and why they worked.  I mentioned that I had some amazing stories of answered prayer that I knew weren't just coincidence, when I was a Christian.  Yet, the beliefs and doctrines of Christian fundamentalism have obviously been proven false for me in the literal sense, so I was trying to make sense of how prayers could still be answered.  Aaron, the colleague I had these discussions with, then started explaining to me about "metaphysical societies."  It made a lot of sense to me and provided a unified theory. 


Here is how it goes.  As we all know, in New Age quantum theory, "thought creates reality" in a universal sense, even though in our dimension, this principle is reflected much more weakly and slowly than in other dimensions.  Therefore, when a group of people gather for a single purpose, they create a certain energy field between them that makes their power stronger.  And that's especially true with organized religion.  And in Christianity's case, with a billion followers, that energy field would be very powerful indeed.  Therefore, when one is indoctrinated into Christianity, he/she also becomes part of this massive group energy field, and is governed by its principles, values and beliefs.  As a result, when that person lives according to the values of this energy field, that energy field works to help that person in many ways, including answering its prayers.  That is why, when I was a Christian, I found that when I prayed for things that I was supposed to pray for, that a good Christian should want and desire, it had a very high probability of manifesting and coming true, smoothly and easily.  However, when I prayed and asked for things of a purely selfish nature, it had a very low probability of manifesting.  I noticed this pattern.  And when prayers came true, whether for me or others, it would obviously not be ordinary day to day coincidences or selective perception and memory, because the answered prayers would come about by seemingly improbable odds, all synchronized to manifest the result.  Sometimes, in manifesting the prayer, people would be involved who did odd things and later claimed that they had no idea why they even did it, but what they did brought about the answered prayer.  These kind of things tell anyone that it was a real answered prayer, and not coincidence or selective memory.


This same "metaphysical society" effect happens in other religions as well, since people in other religions get prayers answered as well, as long as they are in accordance with the values of their metaphysical society.  I have even heard that with Wiccans, when they make a pledge to a goddess and then break it without asking permission of that goddess, they often reap bad or disastrous consequences, until they go back and ask permission of the goddess to leave.  Perhaps, these goddess that Wiccans pledge to are also metaphysically created, either in some other dimension or the mind of the believers, so that they do exist in a metaphysical sense, having power and influence in our lives, physical world and dimension.

Previous Page                      Back to Table of Contents                        Next Page

Sign my Guestbook or Comment in my Forum