Dr. James East and Articulet on Prayer, the OTF, and Rejecting Religion

There has been an interesting discussion between Dr. East and our own Articulet which I'd like to highlight. East says he rejected Christianity because of the OTF. It begins with a discussion on prayer where East says:
Hello Derek. I absolutely agree that correlation does not equal causation (I'm a mathematician, so I'm familiar with these concepts).

Regarding prayer, even if it doesn't work every single time (contra various promises of Jesus), it's supposed to have some kind of effect, right? However, the studies actually uncovered a (slight) negative correlation rather than a (clear) positive correlation. Obviously this doesn't prove prayer is bad for you, but it certainly indicates that there is no positive correlation, something you would expect for something that is *supposed to work at least sometimes*. If a drug showed a slight negative correlation with people recovering from a certain disease, this would lead to the scrapping of the drug. I suspect people would claim that God had his reasons for not going along with the experiments - he wanted it to still be based on faith? he didn't want to stoop to our level? These sound like excuses to me. A far more natural hypothesis to explain the data would be that if there is a god, it is not interested in answering prayers.

I think the reason people make a big deal of the fact that the sciences are filled with largely secular/atheist/agnostic scholars is that these are the people who study *what the world is actually like*. Philosophers can think and argue about ideas all day long, but it doesn't mean they are getting closer to reality. (Consider the free will debate for example.) Peering into the subatomic world is of course going to help us get closer to an understanding of reality. As a previous poster mentioned, philosophy would be a very attractive area for a theist to go into if they were interested in researching topics close to their most cherished beliefs, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if there were more theistic philosophers than there are theistic physicists for example.
Articulet replies:
Prayer fails when scientifically tested. Every claim that prayers succeeds is anecdotal where the theist is confusing correlation with causation and then confirming their bias. Theists negate the obvious times prayer fails such as the payers of the passengers on the 9-11 hijacked planes. For everyone claiming to be saved by prayer, we can gather than many more have died-- but their voices aren't available to be counted in the statistics. Prayer appears to work identically to wishing with a horseshoe as you can demonstrate for yourself. To rational people this is strong evidence that prayer is a superstition-- when it seems to work, at the very most what you are seeing is a placebo effect-- not that placebos can't be useful to those who believe they are getting real treatment. But they aren't divine. And there isn't any evidence that anything is.

Theists only seem to understand science and sayings like "correlation is not causation" to the extent that it supports their beliefs. They fail to use it and other methods for getting at the truth (such as double blind studies) if the truth threatens their faith and they tend to denigrate those who do. Of course this isn't just true with Christians-- it's true with every "woo" and probably has been ever since humans have been looking for reasons why things happen. Christians just tend to be the most obnoxious in regards to the subject, however-- the biggest pushers of fallacious reasoning as well as the harmful idea that faith is a virtue. They are also the ones who encourage trusts in liars (like creationists) while maligning those who share evidence and speak the truth (like evolutionary biologists.)

The theist requires little or no evidence to believe all sorts of wild claims associated with his religion-- and no amount of real evidence counts for anything if it threatens the faith he imagines himself "saved" for "believing in". This is especially true with fundies-- whether Muslim or Christian.

If you ever want to know how to unbrainwash someone-- think of what it would take to have you let go of your supernatural beliefs. Can any logic work on someone who fears they might go to hell if they lose faith?
Dr. East:
Articulett, you should be knighted for that eloquent explanation of the thinking behind religious folk.....

I was a Christian for nearly 20 years - starting as a young teenager, after being raised in a "very Christian" family. By the time I was able to think for myself, I basically believed everything already, so it was only natural to accept the salvation that was on offer when it finally clicked. I then spent many years growing into what I would consider to be an intelligent Christian (with a PhD in maths, convenient for proving that "analytical people" can be Christians too). I was good at squaring my beliefs with everything people could throw at me - including the idea you mentioned of twisting the evidence to confirm my pre-existing biases. It wasn't until I accidentally started applying the OTF to my own ideas that I realised it was a sham. When debating an atheist online, I would spend time offline re-reading my apologetics books, trying to find arguments that she couldn't "explain away", so I was inadvertently discovering that *all* the arguments could be "explained away", but also realising that "explaining away" was the wrong term, and that "not falling for them" was more appropriate.

So yes, apart from being a random excerpt from my life story, I guess that just shows how "smart people" can "believe a lie". (It's also obvious that smart people can believe a lie when you think about the existence of Mormon/Muslim/Hindu/whatever scientists - heck, if you think Christianity is true, then you already believe that the majority of physicists believe a lie - the "lie" that Christianity is not true.)

In one sense, looking back, I'm quite ashamed that I fell for Christianity, but in another sense, I can see exactly how a smart person could. Ideally, you'd fade into it (like I did), and then be convinced that it is true even if it doesn't look like it (we don't see miracles today etc, but that's because God just wants us to have faith) and even if most smart people don't accept it (they've fallen for the "wisdom of this world" - WTF?!), and most important of all, you'd be convinced that BAD things will happen if you stopped believing (the latter means that it takes an enormous amount of courage to give "the other side" a *real* fair go - something you should be aware of if you're witnessing to people of another faith with their own concept of Hell). That should be enough to get a special religious place in the brain of a smart person to be free of the kinds of skepticism they would have for all other strange claims.
Yes-- boy can I relate! And don't feel ashamed for falling for Christianity-- probably most of your favorite people have-- and most of the smartest people you know. But these are the memes that have survived through time. I remember feeling guilted into believing that Jesus died for me, BECAUSE he supposedly DIED for me. The least I could do was to believe he had died for me seeing as where he'd gone through the trouble to die for me. He died to save those who believe he died to save them. It's so circular.

In retrospect it's just crazy. First of all, If Jesus existed-- he didn't die... he just "acted out" death as part of his own weird salvation plan (if he's god-- and if the story were true.) And he couldn't have done anything for me because I didn't exist. And I wouldn't want anyone to die for me-- even temporarily. I tried to make myself feel grateful, but the whole thing seemed creepy. Who would a god have to blame except himself if things weren't going the way he wanted them to go or people didn't believe what he wanted them to believe? Couldn't an omniscient being have foreseen such disappointments and use his omnipotence to remedy the situation? How was I supposed to make myself believe the right thing with the right fervency and why was god so hung up on what people believed and could he tell if you were faking it? What if I was in one of the wrong religions and thought I was right like those others in the wrong religions who thought they were right? Why would a god be so nebulous and why weren't scientists testing to see which religions were the one we were all supposed to believe? (Could they pit the pope against the Mormon Prophet and the Dalai Lama etc. to see who was the most psychic or had the most god like answers to probing questions?)

I just stopped thinking about it as a Catholic kid. I figured Catholics were probably right because they had the stigmata and Mother Theresa who (everyone knew) was the holiest person on earth. My best friend was Mormon-- and she would tell me that I couldn't go to the highest heaven because she had told me the truth of Mormonism and I rejected it. She told me to read the Book of Mormon and pray to know if it was true and god would let me know it was. (Mormons interpret quirky coincidences, burning in the bosom, transcendent feelings, voices in the head, etc. as confirmation from god telling them "the church is true" and "Joseph Smith is a prophet. If they ever leave they will be reminded that god personally confirmed the truth of the church to them.) My best friend is still Mormon-- but not my best friend anymore.

So I had this idea you should be able to "feel" the truth-- but people seemed to be feeling different truths. New Age beliefs felt true and seemed much less cartoonish and mythological then the major theisms. I'd say they "resonated" with me. It seemed more fair and loving and spiritual. I'm very embarrassed by what I believed and how I was fooled looking back (I don't even like to talk about it)-- but it gave me first hand experience in regards to how smart people can be fooled. (Okay-- I confess I believed in "channeling" amongst other woo.) I have a high I.Q. and score very highly on logic tests-- but I was a true "woo". I thought it was good to have "faith". It took me a while to understand that real things should be amenable to scientific testing... and distinguishable from a delusion. I can look back and see how I confirmed what I wanted to be true. (I did this as a Catholic girl too.) But later I decided that the truth mattered more to me than want I wanted to be true.

The end for me was souls... the more I studied neurology and people with brain damage, the more I saw souls could not be real. If they were real, scientists would be doing tests to find out more-- for their own benefit if nothing else. A soul could step in when a brain was damaged and we could test which afterlife beliefs had the most validity. We could also have ghosts tell us where their bodies were buried or the combinations of safes and such.

It was upsetting at first-- I had lost my husband at a young age and I wanted to believe he was "watching over me"... I would only think about souls being an illusion a little at a time. But ultimately it was a relief to let go of the belief... no more worries about trying to believe the right thing so as not to suffer eternally... no more manipulation by people claiming to know things they could not know. No more worries about an invisible god with some nebulous rubric who wants to be "believed in". No more trying to reason away the lack of evidence.

And now I want to empower others-- I want no part of the lie. I don't think faith is a virtue at all. I think of religion as a mind virus-- a superstition. It makes people arrogant and ignorant while they imagine themselves humble and "in on the secrets of the universe". It made ME that way. It makes people imagine themselves moral because of what they believe rather than how they treat others. And many people have done horrible things because they truly believe their god wanted them too (Inquisition anyone?).

Now I like to be around people who have been on a similar journey... and those thinking about starting such a journey themselves. I love hearing other peoples' stories. I want to be part of a helping the world be less superstitious. I like laughing at and mocking the beliefs that once caused me such angst. I want humanity to grow up and quit being manipulated by this idea that some magical part of us lives after we die. And I also want to eradicate the "faith is good" meme. Faith is just another word for credulity... gullibility. The people who want you to think faith is good just want to manipulate you. The same goes for those who tell you that it's arrogant to question god (or those who claim to speak for him).

Religions spread like a chain letter-- good things will happen if you believe and tell others.... bad things will happen if you don't (eternal bad things!). Oh yes... and "go forth and multiply.... god won't give you more than you can handle."


I think of future generations shaking their heads at the crazy myths of their ancestors. They will have a hard time thinking that anyone really believed it just like I have a hard time believing that people took Greek Myths seriously.
It begins here.