December 10, 2012

Why prayer does not work

Prayer does not work. And why does it not work? Well, because there is no God. So, whether you're hoping for a lottery win, or looking for celestial respite for your Aunt Pru's arthritis, all that kneeling and head-bowing and amen chanting is about as much use as a chocolate shovel. You'd be better off praying to Satan. Satan doesn't exist either, but the parties are more fun.

But because humanity likes nothing better than self-delusion, millions of us labour on in the pretence that an invisible yet all powerful Creator actually gives a handful of monkey droppings whether we get that job we applied for or not. There are two very obvious reasons why prayer doesn't work and wouldn't work even if there was a God.

The first is that you obviously don't get everything that you pray for, from good health to happiness. The religious, always quick to dodge a sharp question, will tell you that this is God's will, and His ineffable wisdom chooses not to grant every request directed to him in the form of prayer. Which renders the whole process quite spectacularly pointless, really.

If you're going to go to all the trouble of praying to a being who's then going to decide whether or not to answer your prayers based on a set of criteria you can't see and wouldn't understand, and if that being is all knowing and is therefore aware of your situation anyway, then what's the point of flagging it up? Is praying the equivalent of sending a high priority email? Why not direct your prayers to Bill Gates in an email instead? He'll probably ignore them too, but at least he won't claim any moral high ground or spurious ineffability to fudge the issue.

We'll skip the usual 'what kind of God could allow the prayers of the suffering to go unheeded' argument because it's just too obvious.

But let's look at common prayers. Praying for a promotion, or praying that you get a job you applied for. Now, any rational person would suggest that the prayer time is probably better spent polishing your CV or hitting a few targets, but even if you assume for a moment that there is a God who is minded to answer prayers, isn't it sort of cheating to ask for divine intervention in a recruitment process? It's not really fair on the other guy applying for the job, if they have more experience and perform better in interview, and then fail to get the job because you did a bit of brown-nosing to God the night before?

And what if the other guy prays for the job as well? You're not theonly praying person out there and it's a bit unfair to ask God to do the whole judgement of Solomon thing about which of you is the worthier, when there's a perfectly competent recruiter whose job it is to do just that.

Sometimes of course, prayer seems to work. Someone does some praying, and of a hundred vague prayers for the health of friends and family, financial windfalls and romantic conquests, something goes right. Your prayers have been answered, God's in his heaven and he's in the mood for micro-managing your requests! This is called confirmation bias, and works according to the same principles as incredibly vague horoscopes - people pick out the one thing that might just apply to them, and assume insight on the part of the astrologer, ignoring all the irrelevant details.

The only sense in which prayer genuinely works is in the sense that it's an opportunity for quiet reflection, as close to meditation as some religions get. Praying can settle the nerves or build confidence not because of miracle beams from a non-existent God, but through the prayee spending a few moments relaxing into their own thoughts and just calming down a bit.

So, prayer. Hurts your knees, wears out the carpet, doesn't work. Have a cup of tea and a good think instead.

October 20, 2012

Believe in Hank

This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first:

"Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

"Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."

"Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"

"If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the shit out of you."

"What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

"Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."

"That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

October 8, 2012

Why Atheists Align with Democrats

By: Adam Brown (Founder of
Yes, this is a long article… but it has good research and is worth your time to read. Sorry, no TLDR – just read it!
The United States of America is hardly united. On virtually every political issue, America will cover the entire sliding scale of opinion from extreme conservative, evangelical Christian right to the extreme liberal, progressive, socialist left. We also have a large chunk of the population that just does not care. These people do not pay attention to the issues, regardless if it directly affects their lives, especially in their local or national elections. In fact, if someone in a conversation doesn’t mention these political issues with him or her, they probably wouldn’t know anything about it. For the purposes of this article, we don’t discuss these people. I will look at the political views of active atheists and non-religious people in America and show that there is a preponderance to be towards the left (Democratic) side of the political spectrum and why this alignment occurs. It will also become clear that the more religiously motivated a political position, the more united and fervent the atheists in America are in opposition to it.

September 22, 2012

I Believe: An Atheist's "World View"

I believe in absolute and unconditional equality amongst all people. We must not make exceptions for women, gays, Asians, left-handers, no-one. Organizations that seek to curtail the rights of any demographic should be disbanded, ridiculed or lose their tax-exemption status.

I believe that the right of people to live in a manner of their choosing, self-evidently excludes any right to prevent others from living how they choose. A person's faith cannot be used to justify hindering the lives of others. This particularly applies to children, who must be protected from harm, including (and especially) harm caused by their own parents.

September 1, 2012

Reasons Atheists Have to Fight for Their Rights

In the U.S., atheists have laws protecting us. But laws aren’t always obeyed, or enforced — and fighting for legal rights can have dire consequences.

“You atheists are just taking on the mantle of victimhood. There are laws protecting you — especially the First Amendment. Therefore, you’re not really discriminated against. And it’s ridiculous for you to claim that you are.”

Atheist activists get this one a lot. When we speak out about ways that anti-atheist bigotry plays out, we’re told that we’re not really oppressed. We’re told that, because we have legal protection, because anti-atheist discrimination is illegal, therefore we don’t really have any problems, and we’re just trying to gain unearned sympathy and win the victim Olympics. (I’d love to hear Bob Costas do the commentary for that!) It’s a classic Catch-22: If we speak out about oppression and point to examples of it, we’re accused of “playing the victim card,” and the oppression becomes invisible. And if we don’t speak out about oppression … then the oppression once again becomes invisible.