|Chapter 7 - Why can't you move mountains?|
Many people believe that God reaches down onto earth on a regular basis to answer prayers. People talk about their answered prayers all the time. Inspirational books and magazines document thousands of answered prayers.
In chapter 5, however, we learned that there is a specific group of people whom God never helps through prayer. No matter how much they pray, no matter how many people gather into a prayer group to pray for them, no matter how much they believe, no matter how deserving and holy they are, what we found is that God never reaches down onto earth to regenerate the legs of amputees. And amputees aren't the only group that God completely ignores. For example, God never reaches down onto earth to cure those who suffer from Down syndrome either. There are hundreds of diseases that are impossible to cure with prayer.
In chapter 6, things got even more interesting. What we discovered is that God actually does not answer medical prayers in general. We found that it is easy to create the illusion that prayer works. The way you do it is by reporting only on the successes of prayer. As soon as you start tracking both the successes AND the failures of prayer, and apply some statistical analysis to the data, it is easy to see that prayer has no effect on the outcome of disease.
The amputation experiment in chapter 5 falls into a class of prayers that could be called "impossible prayers." It is impossible, in the natural course of events, for a human leg to regenerate. It is easy to think of hundreds of other impossible prayers, and it turns out that impossible prayers can teach us something about how prayer works. Here are several examples:
It really is strange. We can take Mount Everest as the simplest example. It should be easy to move Mount Everest to Newark. In Matthew 17:20 Jesus talks about mountains directly and says quite clearly:
God is omnipotent, so nothing is impossible for God. However, if you pray for anything that is clearly impossible in the natural course of events, it is not going to happen. You certainly are not going to see the Empire State building fly off to Paris one morning and settle gently next to the Eiffel Tower. Nor are you ever going to see a human being on the evening news stretch out his arms and zoom up to a tenth story window like Superman.
Although God should be able to do the impossible according to the Standard Model of God and Jesus' promises in the Bible, it never actually happens. It is essential that you ask yourself, "Why might that be?" It is a very important question.
Explaining the contradiction
How do we explain the fact that God never answers impossible prayers?
There is the "God must remain hidden" argument. But, as mentioned in chapters 5 and 6, a hidden God would never incarnate himself, or publish a Bible, or part the Red Sea, or put rainbows in the clouds, so obviously God has no need or desire to hide.
There is the "you are misinterpreting Jesus and taking his statements out of context" argument. But, since Jesus is God, and God is omniscient, Jesus would account for that. Jesus would know that when he says, "nothing will be impossible to you," normal human human beings would interpret it to mean, "nothing will be impossible to you." This is not rocket science. If Jesus did not mean that, he would not have said it.
Imagine the following conversation:
Norm: Pray for him to put $10,000 in my pocket right now.
Chris: It does not work that way. I said God answers prayers, not that he is a cosmic genie.
Norm: So, in Mark 11:24, when Jesus says, "Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours," what did he mean? That sounds like you can have whatever you pray for.
Chris: He means that you pray for something, and if it is his will then you can have it.
Norm: If it is his will, aren't I going to get it anyway? Why pray?
Chris: Ask, and you shall receive. You have to ask...
Norm: ...and then you should receive. Jesus does not say, "Ask, and you might receive if it is my will." His statement has no conditions.
Chris: Well, he meant that. It is implied.
Norm: OK, why does he never answer impossible prayers?
Chris: It is not his will.
Chris: It is never his will.
Norm: So in Matthew 17:20, when Jesus says, "nothing will be impossible to you," why isn't flying-like-superman or $10,000-in-my-pocket-right-now part of that?
Chris: What he meant is that nothing that is possible will be impossible for you.
Norm: So when Jesus uses the example of moving a mountain, which is clearly impossible, what did he mean?
Chris: He was speaking metaphorically.
Norm: So when Jesus said "anyone with faith can move a mountain," what he actually meant was, "No one with faith can move a mountain."
Norm: Then, who can move a mountain?
Chris: God can move a mountain.
Norm: But he never does.
Chris: It is not his will.
Norm: Let me make sure I have this straight. Here is what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20:
Chris: You are really splitting hairs here.
Norm: Answer the question. Is that what he meant?
Chris: This is irrelevant to the conversation.
Norm: Here's what I don't understand. What Jesus said in the Bible is quite clearly wrong. If God is inerrant, there is no reason why God would put something that is completely wrong in the Bible. Why do we need human beings like you to interpret and massage and explain what God might have meant in the Bible? Why wouldn't an omnipotent, all-knowing God have written it the way he meant it, in an understandable, clear, unambiguous, truthful, correct way? There isn't anything vague about, "Nothing will be impossible for you" or, "Ask, and you shall receive." Yet, it is completely wrong. Explain that to me.
Chris: You are completely missing the point.
Unfortunately, the reality is that no one can move mountains, and thousands of things will be impossible for you. Not even Jesus could move a mountain.
There are three problems with this argument. In Matthew 21:21 Jesus says:
The third problem is that, if these human accomplishments are "divinely inspired," then there is no reason why God did not "divinely inspire" them 4,000 years ago. For example, why didn't God "divinely inspire" a smallpox vaccine in 2000 BCE, rather than waiting until 1950? Why would an all-loving God want tens of millions of people to suffer and die from smallpox over the last 4,000 years, and then suddenly decide to "divinely inspire" a cure in the twentieth century? If that explanation is true, then God is clearly a sadist. Only a sadist would cause the suffering of smallpox for thousands of years when he had a "divinely inspired" cure waiting in the wings. Why would we want to worship a sadist?
The reason why we call them human accomplishments is because they are humanaccomplishments. God has nothing to do with them. If God is divinely inspiring them, then the headline in the paper should never be, "Scientist discovers transparent aluminum." It should always be, "God divinely inspires scientist to discover transparent aluminum." In that case, you have to wonder why God is so unfair in his distribution of inspirations. You also have to wonder why we pay the scientist, since quite clearly he didn't do anything. And why did the scientist need to go to college?
The fascinating thing about impossible prayers is that they allow us to see what is actually happening when a person says, "God answered my prayer."
Let's imagine that a person prays for something that is impossible, no matter what it is. For example, a person prays that Mt. Everest fly to New Jersey. Obviously this is not going to happen, despite all of Jesus' promises. So the religious person prays and nothing happens.
How does the religious person rationalize the prayer's failure? The person will rationalize the unanswered prayer by saying, "it is not part of God's plan." Is this rationalization true? No - of course not. The fact is that this event is impossible, Jesus lied and God is imaginary. That is why no impossible prayer will ever be answered.
Now let's look a different situation. A person prays for something that is possible. For example, a person prays to win a church raffle, and he actually does win. What is happening here is nothing more than a coincidence. Here are the steps that led to the coincidence:
If you are a believer, here is the question that you must seriously consider: Is it possible that God is imaginary? Is this the reason why God is not answering all of these different kinds of prayers? The advantage of this explanation is that it perfectly fits the data that we see in our world. No rationalizations, hand waving, explanations or excuses are required. Let's look at another example that will further reinforce this line of reasoning....
Chapter 8 - Why do bad things happen to good people?
"Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" It is an incredibly common question.
This question is so common, in fact, that there is a well known book by that titlewritten by Melvin Tinker. There is another, even better known book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. Even more popular is the book When God Doesn't Make Sense by James Dobson.
For James Dobson to weigh in on this, it must be an important question. And that makes sense -- it is a total paradox for any believer, and rightly so.
In his book, James Dobson opens with the story of Chuck Frye, a gifted student who graduated from college and was accepted to medical school. Frye had decided to work as a medical missionary and Dobson says, "If permitted to live, Chuck could have treated thousands of poor and needy people who would otherwise suffer and die in utter hopelessness. Not only could he have ministered to their physical needs, but his ultimate desire was to share the gospel with those who had never heard this greatest of stories." Unfortunately, despite fervent prayers from his parents, family and friends, Frye contracted and then died of leukemia shortly after starting medical school. As Dobson puts it, "how can we make sense of this incomprehensible act of God?"
We see this kind of thing all the time. For example, we read about a woman who is a devout believer. She is so devout that she goes to church three times a week. She gives her time and money to charity. She is constantly helping others. She wears a crucifix and a WWJD bracelet. She walks with Jesus. Then one day a car jacker forces his way into her car. There is a Bible sitting right there on the front seat next to her, but it does not matter. The car jacker shoots her in the head and dumps her body in a ditch. Her family is left to pick up the pieces in bewilderment.
When we ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" the essence of the question is simple. If God is looking down upon us from heaven and answering our prayers, how could he allow these horrible things to happen to true believers? How could he ignore their prayers? If someone lives a good and faithful life, and if a person is doing God's work, then why would God allow bad things happen to that person? Why doesn't God -- the all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing creator of the universe -- protect a person who is going to church every Sunday, putting plenty of money in the offering plate, following the commandments, praying faithfully and so on? The case of Neva Rogers in Chapter 1 is a perfect example of the problem.
The reason why this question is so puzzling is because the question makes two assumptions:
As in chapters 5, 6 and 7, once we hypothesize that God is imaginary, the paradox and the mystery evaporate completely. If there actually is no one in heaven answering prayers and keeping score, then one would expect bad things to happen to good people all the time.
When you look at it this way, everything makes sense. Whether you are good or bad is irrelevant. In the real world that we live in, things like cancer, hurricanes and serial killers would have no way to know whether you are good or bad, nor would they care. Therefore, bad things would happen to good people just as often as they happen to everyone else.
Bad things happen to everyone
To get a clearer picture of what is going on here, let's take a simple example. In the real world, what are your chances of getting cancer if you are good? We find that they are the same as your chances of getting cancer if you are bad. That is easy to prove statistically -- believers get cancer just as often as non-believers who have the same risk factors.
Why might that be? It is because any given cell in every human body has some probability of turning cancerous, and that probability is the same regardless of religious background. There are many different paths to cancer, but let's focus on one of them and use it as an example: cosmic rays.
Every hour of every day, your body is bombarded by about half a million cosmic rays. These cosmic rays have some probability of altering the DNA in a cell in your body. If a cell is altered in a certain way, the cell can turn cancerous and a tumor begins to form.
The cosmic rays in nature have no way of knowing whether you are good or bad, nor do they care. Everyone gets hit by the same number of cosmic rays whether they are good or bad. Therefore, everyone has the same probability of getting cancer from cosmic rays. Your goodness or badness has no influence on cosmic rays. Since God is imaginary, he will not protect you from cosmic rays if you are good. Therefore, cancer happens to good people in exactly the same way that it happens to bad people.
You actually can change the probabilities in certain cases. You do have some control over cancer. A person who smokes increases his probability of getting lung cancer. A person who likes to lie on a tanning bed increases her probability of getting skin cancer. A pilot or an astronaut gets hit by more cosmic rays and increases the probability of cancer. So by not smoking, staying on the ground and remaining pale, you reduce your cancer risk. But no one can eliminate the threat of cancer. You cannot stop the half million cosmic rays that will hit your body in the next hour.
If God is imaginary, these cosmic rays do not care whether a person is good or bad. In the same way:
The thing for you to notice is this: If we assume that God exists and that the Standard Model of God is true, then the question "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is a complete mystery. Our world makes no sense. However, if we assume that God is imaginary, there is no mystery at all. Our world makes complete sense.
That lack of mystery is one way we can know, for sure, that God is imaginary. All evidence points toward the fact that God is imaginary. God is not reaching down from heaven and arbitrarily modifying the laws of probability on behalf of believers. We know that, with certainty, by analyzing the statistics. Nor is God sitting in heaven answering the prayers of believers. Statistics show us that as well. Therefore, bad things happen to good people all the time. Hurricanes, volcanoes, forest fires, tornadoes, tsunamis, car crashes, diseases... they do not care whether you have been bad or good. They are equal opportunity disasters. We can prove this both with common sense and statistical rigor.
One of the things running through your head right now may be "God's plan." This is the way that believers traditionally explain things like cancer, hurricanes and car accidents.
For example, when God ignored the prayers of Neva Rogers and allowed the Red Lake gunman to shoot her in the head four times (see chapter 1), she died as part of God's plan. Her death had a purpose. God called her home for a reason. When two-year-old Ranika baked to death in a church van, her death was part of God's plan too (see chapter 4). You know how this works -- even if something bad happens, it is actually good because it is part of God's plan.
You can see how pervasive "God's plan" is by looking in inspirational books and magazines. For example, if we look in the book A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, we find this remarkable paragraph in Chapter 2:
If you think about this simple implication for a few moments, you will begin to realize how impossible "God's plan" is. If the concept of "God's plan" is true, you can first of all see that God wants us to be aborting children. Every single abortion is planned by God, so God must be doing it for a reason. Second, you can see that both the mother who requests the abortion and the doctor who performs it are blameless. Since it is God who planned the abortion of the child (God chose the "exact time" of the death, according to Rick Warren), the mother and doctor are simply puppets who are fulfilling God's plan. You can also see that all the believers who are fighting against abortion are missing the point. They are actually fighting against God's plan, and their fight is completely futile. God is the all-powerful ruler of the universe, and his plan is for more than a million children a year to die in the United States through abortion. [ref] Each one of those abortions was meticulously planned by God, so fighting against abortion is a totally wasted effort.
You may be thinking, "God does not intend for us to perform abortions!" But if you believe what Rick is saying, then you are obviously incorrect. If God exists and God has a plan for you, then God is actually the direct cause of every abortion on earth. If you find that notion to be uncomfortable, I would agree with you. Unfortunately, that is the logical outcome of God's plan.
In order to better understand God's plan, let's look at one of the biggest global events that humans have ever witnessed: World War II. According to Encarta:
Consider this statement: "Hitler is part of God's Plan." Think about what Rick said:
Now let's imagine that you say a prayer in this sort of universe. What difference does it make? God has his plan, and that plan is running down its track like a freight train. If God has a plan, then everyone who died in the Holocaust died for a reason. They had to die, and each death had meaning. Therefore, Holocaust victims could pray all day, and they would still die. The idea of a "plan" makes the idea of a "prayer-answering relationship with God" ridiculous. Yet people attach themselves to both ideas, despite the irresolvable contradiction.
Think about what God's plan means for you personally. If the plan happens to say that you will get hit by a bus tomorrow, or that terrorists will blow you up, or that you will be shot in the head four times, then that's what will happen. It would be the same with any disease. If you contract cancer this afternoon and die three months later, that is God's plan for you. Praying to cure the cancer is a waste. God plans for you to die, so you will die. He has pre-programmed the exact time of your death. There is nothing you can do to change the plan -- no amount of prayer will help -- because your death will have meaning and your death will cause side-effects that are also part of the plan.
Who will you marry? You actually have no choice in the matter. God has pre-planned your wedding in minute detail. Rick Warren says, "God knew that those two individuals [your parents] possessed exactly the right genetic makeup to create the custom 'you' that he had in mind. They had the DNA God wanted to make you." Therefore, your spouse was pre-chosen by God for you so that you would create the children who are a part of his plan. You also have no choice in the number of children you will have -- God has pre-planned their births.
In addition, this sort of universe means that Hitler is blameless. Hitler was not "evil," because Hitler had no free will at all. Hitler was simply an actor forced to play his role in God's plan. God planned for millions of people to die in the Holocaust -- he planned their deaths in exact detail according to Rick Warren. Hitler had to kill those people. Hitler was God's puppet in making that those millions of deaths happen right on schedule.
In the same way then, every murderer is blameless. Since God has planned each of our deaths in exact detail, murderers are actually essential to God's plan. Why do we punish them? We should be rewarding them for doing their God-planned duty. What if you get raped tomorrow and get pregnant? God did that because he planned the exact time of that child's birth and death. God actually pre-planned your rape, and the rapist was God's puppet. Rather than hating the rapist, we should celebrate God's plan.
Do you believe that murderers and rapists should be rewarded? Do you believe that Hitler was sent by God to kill millions of people in the Holocaust? Do you believe that God is the direct cause of every abortion on this planet? Do you believe that you have no choice in your spouse or the number of children you have? Probably not. But that is what believers are saying when they say, "it is all part of "God's plan."
You should be able to see reality now. The statement "It is part of God's plan" is meaningless. when you sit down and think it through using your common sense, it makes no sense.
Understanding the illusion of religion
You may have believed in God's plan your whole life. There's a very good chance that you own a copy of Rick's book -- it has sold over 20 million copies.
The problem is, what Rick proposes is impossible. If God has "planned the days of your life in advance, choosing the exact time of your birth and death", what that means is that you have absolutely no free will. Humans have no control over anything. We are simply puppets executing the plan. It also means that prayer is absolutely pointless.
You can understand the illusion simply by using your common sense. Work through the implications of what Rick Warren says. As soon as you think about it, you will begin to see what is actually going on. As you think about it more and more, it becomes obvious that God is imaginary.
Jesus makes an extremely clear statement about prayer in Mark 11:24:
Let's imagine the following situation. Two girls are attending a Catholic high school. Their names are Alicia and Kristin. Both of the girls are good students and devout believers. They obey God's commandments. They attend church twice a week. They pray to God daily. And they are both beautiful, so clearly God has shown them favor.
The prom is coming up, and the most eligible boy at the school is named Mark. Mark is perfect: A great student, a star athlete, good looking, yet humble and friendly. Everyone loves Mark. He too is a devout believer and he knows both Alicia and Kristin well.
With the prom approaching, both Alicia and Kristin pray a simple prayer. They both ask God to be Mark's date for the prom. They do this separately, and neither knows that the other is praying.
Alicia believes with all her heart that God will answer her prayer. Kristin believes with all her heart that God will answer her prayer. As expressions of their belief, both Alicia and Kristin go shopping for their prom dresses, knowing that Mark will invite them.
Jesus now has a problem. He has made a promise that he cannot keep. God is perfect and unerring, so the Bible can contain no mistakes. But clearly Jesus has made a mistake here. Both of these girls believe that their prayers will be answered, but one of them is going to lose. Jesus is going to end up lying to either Alicia or Kristin. Or he might end up lying to both of them -- maybe Mark is in love with Buffy, so he invites Buffy instead.
The fact is that Jesus' promise is a false one. Whenever two or more people pray for the same thing and only one person can have it, someone is going to lose. Common sense tells you that. It does not matter if they both believe, and it does not matter how fervently and sincerely they pray. The simple fact is that they cannot both get the same thing in that kind of situation. Therefore, Mark 11:24 is wrong.
In addition, there is nowhere in the belief structure that says that people are God's puppets. God cannot force someone to fall in or out of love because of someone else's prayer. Common sense tells you that. If we were God's puppets, we would all be walking around like zombies, doing whatever God wants.
What if two people pray for two things that are opposites? If they both believe, who is going to win? For example:
Do your own experiment. Take a devout believer to a casino. Have her pray sincerely to win. Have her recite Mark 11:24 one thousand times. Then have her place a $10 bet on number 17 on the roulette wheel.
Since Mark 11:24 is the word of God, Mark 11:24 must be true. Therefore, she will win and receive $350. Right? What other possibility is there? Jesus is perfect, and Jesus clearly says, "Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" and, "if you ask anything in my name, I will do it" and, "Ask, and you shall receive." So she will win.
Have her then bet the $350 on number 17 and pray again. She will win and receive $12,250. According to Mark 11:24, the odds of winning are 100%. This bet is a sure thing.
You will probably have to move to a new table at this point, because you will be over the table's limit. Move to a new table.
Have her bet $12,250 on number 17 again. She will win. That is what God promises. At this point a crowd will have gathered. Perhaps a news crew will be on hand. She will be holding chips worth nearly half a million dollars in her hands.
Have her bet it all again on lucky number 17.
Why should she stop? There is nothing that is impossible for God. Jesus clearly says that nothing is impossible through prayer. In Matthew 17:20 Jesus says:
Now spin the wheel.
How many of these 38 prayerful people will win? One. That is how the world works. It does not matter what Jesus promises in the Bible. It does not matter how much the 38 people believe. It does not matter how big or powerful their prayer circles are. No matter how much they all pray, only one of them can win if the wheel spins one time.
Explaining the reality that we see in our world
A believer might say, "Out of the 38 people, God will pick the one who is most deserving and let him win." An easy way to prove that statement false is to put one devout believer and 37 godless, convicted murders around wheel. If God were to pick the most deserving person, then the devout believer would win every time you spin the wheel. But that is not what happens. The laws of probability will make sure that each of the convicted murderers wins just as often as the believer does. It does not matter how much anyone prays or how much anyone believes.
A believer might say, "God only intervenes in lotteries and casinos occasionally, only when it is his divine will, and only for the most deserving people." That is not what Jesus promises in the Bible. And it is interesting that God only "intervenes" in a way that exactly follows the natural laws of probability.
If we simply look at what is happening in our world in an objective way, the actual truth of this situation is apparent. The fact that the outcome exactly follows the natural laws of probability conclusively and provably tells you that God is not answering prayers. When something exactly follows the laws of probability, what we are seeing is coincidence and nothing more. If God were actually answering prayers, we would be able to see a statistical effect of God's work. The laws of probability would work differently for praying people than they would for other people. We would actually have two "laws of probability" -- one for believers and one for non-believers.
Another person might explain it by saying, "Well of course Jesus does not answer prayers in a casino. Jesus never answers prayers for money. Prayers for money represent greed." That may be true, but in that case Jesus should have said, "nothing will be impossible to you, except if you pray for money." There are also lots of believers who would disagree with the statement, because they believe that God has answered their monetary prayers. The "Prayer of Jabez" is all about money.
Another believer might say, "God can not bend the laws of probability, in the same way that he cannot bend the laws of nature. If God was constantly bending the laws of probability, they would not be laws anymore." That makes sense, but that is not what Jesus said.
Here is what Jesus said in Mark 11:24:
What does your common sense tell you? Based on the experiments we've discussed in the last several chapters, we have discovered all kinds of prayers that God never answers. How do you reconcile what Jesus has to say about prayer in the Bible and the Standard Model of God with the reality that we see in our world?
When you add all of this to the concepts from the previous chapters, you realize that Jesus misspoke rather broadly when he talked about prayer. Instead of saying: