The Personalist Project

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Accessed on September 19, 2017 - 11:42:10

The Power of Prayer?

Devra Torres, Feb 22, 2017

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.