The Personalist Project

Daddy has been really sick, and it has been hard for him to breathe, and I was praying that he would get better again. Yesterday Daddy went to the doctor. We were all praying a rosary, and he came home and was still sick. He took the meds that the doctor said to, and a little bit later he felt a lot better! The prayers worked! 

Wait, what?

I groaned he first time I read this entry in my daughter's journal. Time to brush up on elementary logic, quick, before anybody finds out we're raising a bunch of religious fundamentalists! The most hardcore kind, too, blissfully impervious to reason! 

On the other hand...

As a matter of formal logic, I'm the first to acknowledge we have a problem here. Even the proposition "Daddy took medicine, and then he felt better" could be a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. (In fact, a lot of useless medicines get popular that way!) But what to say about "we prayed, and nothing happened, and then Daddy took medicine, and he felt better; therefore prayer works"?

Still, it's also unwarranted to set things up as a simple either-or proposition. Either the chemical interactions between material substances cured Daddy, or it was intercessory prayer that did the trick. God could have used the grace gained by our daughter's prayers to get Daddy to the point where he was willing to go to the doctor. He could have used the prayers to enlighten the doctor's mind concerning which kind of medicine was suitable. Being eternal, He could have arranged things such that my daughter's prayers, though chronologically after the fact, constituted some part of the reason the man decided to take up medicine in the first place, and to take a job at the Washington Hospital Center.

You can recognize all these possibilities without denying a chemical substance's physical efficacy. Likewise, you can recognize the efficacy of the matter without denying the role of the Creator.

More broadly, we're mistaken if we imagine we have to choose between a world of chemical substances or a world of personal interactions. Ancient cultures might err on the side of the personal, believing that storms were caused by the wrath of the wind god. Ignorant of meteorology, they put everything down to personal interactions. An atheist meteorologist could err on the side of the material, believing that matter is sufficient to account even for its own existence. Ignorant of spirit, he might put everything down to chemicals.

So thank you, Jopa, for the insight. If it rises to the level of one. But we're still going to work on logic next semester.

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Comments (2)

Rhett Segall

#1, Feb 24, 2017 7:23pm

Thanks for the lovely, everyday example of Faith in action. I'm reminded of the maxim:"For those with out faith no explanation is possible. For those with faith no explanation is necessary."

Still, I'm reminded of one of my students telling our high school theology class how he and his brother were fun wrestling with their dad when suddenly his dad had a heart attack. 

"We prayed and prayed and prayed for my Dad and still he dies."

So there is still mystery here regarding petitionary prayer. One of the most helpful explanations for me (for my student at that time an explanation could only be a possible invitation to him for faith and trust but certainly not a logical clincher) is that prayer nurtures peripheral vision, i.e. the ability to broaden our perspective. Frequently we see our needs simply with tunnel vision, that is only the immediate perspective and not the wider field  If we broaden our perspective we begin  to realize our wants are not necessarily our needs.Prayer helps us to acknowledge that God has that broader perspective and to put our trust in Him.

Devra Torres

#2, Mar 1, 2017 2:41pm

"Prayer nurtures peripheral vision." I like that. I run into a similar frustration (though in a less dramatic situation) with my daughter who has diabetes. She has plenty of faith that God could cure her in a minute if He chose to, so she struggles with why He doesn't choose to. But you're right, looking for a logical clincher isn't the right response!

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