05 March 2010

Redneck Atheism, Part 3: Prayer

by Phil Johnson

his week is Shepherds' Conference so I don't have a lot of time to write detailed blogposts. Incidentally, you can watch the livestream of this morning's session at 9:00 PST here. I'll be preaching from 1 Corinthians 16:13 ("Act like men!").



we're in the process of replying to our Atheist friends' Ten Most (currently) Popular Sneers against Christians. Given my jammed schedule, I've decided to take up just one of their arguments today, and on top of that, I'm picking the easiest one:

  1. You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% failure was simply the will of God.

I can't speak for people who deliberately pray for things that are manifestly opposed to the will of God, but my prayers are all answered. While I don't tabulate the answers statistically, I'm confident that the majority of my prayers are answered with some kind of yes—often far more abundantly than anything I could ask or imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:20).

In any case, your exaggerated (and obviously undocumentable) statistic is pathetic evidence of how desperate you are to discredit the One whom you are clearly obsessed with yet adamantly insist doesn't even exist. I doubt even the most wild-eyed, biblically-illiterate, superstitious, name-it-claim-it charismatic could honestly say only .01% of what they pray for goes unanswered. If they follow Christ even nominally—enough to pray once a day or so for "our daily bread"—I'll guarantee the "success rate" (as you so elegantly put it) is much higher than one hundredth of a percent—one in ten thousand.

Anyway, if a person takes time to learn to pray by studying the Lord's Prayer (and the other prayers in Scripture); and then prays diligently, importunately, and sober-mindedly—not "ask[ing] wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:3)—that person will certainly have no reason to take such a cynical attitude toward prayer.

Phil's signature

24 comments:

John said...

Excellent answer, Phil. We shouldn't discount what we don't understand.

Johnny Dialectic said...

There is much that is irrational about the objection. First, "statistics" plucked out of thin air. And where is it argued that .01% is a "high success rate"? What competent theologian is making that claim?

And where is the definition of "success"? The objector seems to be assuming that prayer is like a juke box. You put your money in and make your selection, and that's what plays.

There is a failure to engage the real, deep, biblical definition of prayer, which is multi-faceted. "Success" in prayer comes in a variety of forms, many of them having nothing to do with the "selected song." Sometimes it's "This song is not right for you." That can be "success" too.

There is a nugget of a real question hidden in the irrationality. If this weren't gamesmanship, if "sneering" weren't part of the game, he could have asked: since you believe everything that happens is the will of God, how can you say prayer does anything?

If someone asks that as a real question, then we can have a talk about Providence, how it works and what it means.

This "sneer" does indeed show, as Phil states, how desperate this strand of atheism is.

DJP said...

Very good, Phil. On-target, as usual.

To develop your excellent point about the great, unnoticed mass of prayers answered "yes," I point to a post that developed precisely that point.

donsands said...

I'd say, it's not so much that my prayer works, but that the Lord works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who were called according to His purpose.

I like this quote:

"if a person takes time to learn to pray by studying the Lord's Prayer (and the other prayers in Scripture); and then prays diligently, importunately, and sober-mindedly not "ask[ing] wrongly, to spend it on your passions..."

Excellent. Thanks.

misty said...

Great post, Phil! Dan, thanks for the additional info! Very enlightening.

Here’s my question for the atheist: What’s with all the sarcasm?

You can’t really take their complaints seriously because they are so flippant and nasty (like the “0.01% success rate” jab). I just don’t understand why there is so much anger coming from them when we Christians are supposedly the poor, brainwashed dopes who worship a God who isn’t there. Shouldn’t there be more concern on their part? Sympathy, even?

Romans 1 is right. They know there is a God…..and they simply detest Him.

DJP said...

Well, there y'go, Misty. You ended up with just what I was going to add, except by way of quoting Douglas Wilson. He says the two fundamentals of an atheist are:

1. There is no God.
2. I hate Him.

Matt Tyler said...

This is a great answer. Thanks, Phil, for doing these. Thanks to all the Pyros for your blog!

Trinian said...

Again though, their main thrust is that an "answered" prayer is one that results in me getting to do whatever I want. This criticism does an excellent job of unveiling the unsaved mindset.

Sir Brass said...

DJP, following the Wilson quote, wasn't Hitchens actually appreciative of Wilson's candor in that regard?

Stefan said...

Phil: Thank you for the post.

Dan: Thank you a hundred times for the post you linked on answered prayer.

All that we have—our lives; our health; food on the table; a roof over our heads; a family; a job—is a gift from God in His providential care for us.

And yes, I've pleaded with God in prayer, too (quite often these days), bringing in remembrance before Him the promises He has made in His Word, knowing that His word is sure, yet not knowing "how long."

Frank Turk said...

waitaminit --

DJP has a blog?

stratagem said...

Yeah, I adamantly agree with the observation that atheists are obsessed with the God they claim doesn't exist. There are no actual atheists, only ones who claim to be.

Eric said...

When God answers "no" or "not yet" or "not in the way you envision" He is still answering prayers.

When Jesus prayed in the garden, He asked "if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me". God answered "no" to this request. Yet, at the same time God answered "yes", because Jesus prayed that not His will, but the will of His Father be done. Another beautiful model for prayer.

DJP said...

Yep. Phil says "my prayers are all answered." Exactly.

Phil Johnson said...

For the record, the Lord answered my prayer request from last night that He would stave off the onset of total laryngitis until at least 10:15 this morning. I preached with sufficient vocal chords this morning. Then afterwards (around 11:20) my voice failed.

Citizen Grim said...

I'd be willing to bet that even atheists exceed the .01% affirmative-prayer-response rate.

donsands said...

"I preached with sufficient vocal chords this morning." -Phil

God is gracious and good to us. Praise His name.

Thanks for sharing that testimony.

Have a joyous Lord's Day.

~Mark said...

"I can't speak for people who deliberately pray for things that are manifestly opposed to the will of God, but my prayers are all answered. While I don't tabulate the answers statistically, I'm confident that the majority of my prayers are answered with some kind of yes—often far more abundantly than anything I could ask or imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:20)."


~AMEN! That was what came to my mind upon reading that as well. God always answers, even when the answer is no. One of the biggest misunderstandings about prayer that I personally encounter among unbelievers AND believers, is that a prayer not immediately answered in the affirmative is a prayer that went unanswered.

CR said...

PJ:For the record, the Lord answered my prayer request from last night that He would stave off the onset of total laryngitis until at least 10:15 this morning. I preached with sufficient vocal chords this morning. Then afterwards (around 11:20) my voice failed.

Probably happened because you had a Mercedes faith.

CR said...

Frank: waitaminit --

DJP has a blog?


Yes, he does. You should get one of your own blogs too so you can be more understanding.

truth mission said...

Some say answered prayer is just a coincidence: amazing how many coincidences happen when you pray

SamWise said...

The two areas being mixed here by the atheist:

First that there is a Creator. The atheistic mind states there is no Creator (i.e., God) as a tenet of his faith. He has no way of "proving" his tenet so he resorts to "Ad Hominem" attacks:

"Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of "argument" has the following form:

Person A makes claim X.
Person B makes an attack on person A.
Therefore A's claim is false.
from: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem.html

The second area is that God is sustainer. This is the old Deism...God made the World but He doesn't care about it and He can't intervene. Here the atheists gives in to our first premise (i.e., God is Creator) only to make Him a toothless lion or even likened to the Baal that Elijah so greatly mocked

"And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, 'Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.'" (1 Kings 18:25)

"God doesn't hear your prayers!" is a denial of God's care, providence, and even common grace.

Unfortunate for us,the problem is that many so-called "Christians" are pragmatic Deists...they live as if God doesn't care about us or His creation. The other is that so many so-called "Christians" have bought into evolutionary naturalism and take away God's status as rightful Maker and Owner.

The answer then is to clearly maintain both truths that God is both Creator and Sustainer.

Say something like "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth..."

SamWise said...

A wonderful site for a more complete list of fallacies can be found at: http://www.fallacydetective.com/articles/read/short-list-of-fallacies/

There are many that this silly list makes!

Kurt said...

Apologies for the really late post. Way too late at this point, especially for a post like this.

I also owe everyone an apology for my previous post, role-played or not, it was over the top.

As an ex-atheist, I would say you guys just made the Chanticleer argument, and from an atheist's point of view, proved their point nicely.

Try not praying for your daily bread and you will see what I mean.

I believe that atheists (as I did) define answers to prayer this way:

"Direct demonstrable supernatural intervention from God".

The .01% value isn't meant as a hard number. It is meant as both a mockery and an admission that coincidental correctness happens.

FYI, providential reign sounds like a cop out to an atheist. It isn't demonstrable, and therefore doesn't prove anything.