Written by Jason Petersen
Since the terrorist attacks by ISIS in Paris, social media has been buzzing with varying reactions, but there is one reaction in particular that will be addressed in this article. Some over-zealous atheists have chosen to react on emotion rather than rational thought and have attempted to turn this rather emotional event into an intellectual reason to reject religion. 1 This article will be responding to the rejection of the mantra, “Pray for Paris” from a Christian perspective. This article will cover several common lines of attack.
Is Prayer Ineffective?
Some atheists have attempted to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of prayer by pointing to scientific studies. Some studies suggest that prayer does not work, yet other studies suggest that prayer does work. However, no matter the conclusion, it is woefully ignorant to quantify the effectiveness of prayer via scientific studies.
The first reason why these studies show the ignorance of people who participate in these studies, fund these studies, and use these studies in an attempt to demonstrate either conclusion is the presence of a causal problem. There is simply no way for the scientists to distinguish between what they may call a ‘natural cause’ and a ‘supernatural cause.’ If someone’s wish were to come true, how would we be able to tell that it was a direct act of God on the basis of the scientific method? If someone’s wish were not to come true, how do we know that it wasn’t God’s will that the person’s wish didn’t come true? There are a multitude of reasons why these studies may have experienced these effects in regards to prayer, but there is no way to determine the cause. 2 There is no way to tell either way, and therefore, the studies are pointless.
This leads to our second issue, which is a theological one. The Bible does not teach that prayer is for the purpose of getting whatever we desire. The Bible does not glorify man’s will, it glorifies God and His will. 3 The scriptures concerns God’s will for man, and this proposition clearly reflects both the structures and the terms of each covenant between God and man. God works all things according to his will (Romans 8:28). This includes both good and evil and fulfilling the wishes of some and not the wishes of others. The God of the Bible is sovereign and is in control of all things, for if he were not, how could he promise us salvation or the end of suffering? Therefore, because there is no way for an empirical method to take these theological ideas into account in a way that would allow for a useful study, the studies are flawed no matter their conclusions.
Should We End Religion?
The notion that the Paris attacks show that religion must end involves invoking some rather bizarre and self-contradictory mental gymnastics. Saying that the ISIS attacks on Paris shows that religion should come to an end is like saying that because a person murders another, we should end humanity. The objector may think that this point is bizarre, but the latter generalization has the exact same structure in regards to its generalization as the former. If the first generalization is valid, the second generalization must also be valid, for the structure of the generalization is identical. It should now be asked, “Are generalizations valid?” The answer is no. All generalizations are invalid.
The reader may have noticed that the prior sentence looks like a generalization, but it is not. The sentence, “All generalizations are invalid” does not depend on a generalization, rather, it appeals to the definition of a generalization. Generalizations start with a specific instance and then widens the inference to cover a wider scope of instances. Generalizations can also be applied to a group of people or things. But one may ask, “Why are generalizations invalid?” It is because of the problem of induction. In induction, even if the premises are true, the conclusion can still be false. Just the same, even if the premises of a generalization is true, the conclusion can still be false. This is why people who have relied on generalizations may realize that the generalization they invoked does not apply to specific cases, people, or things. If the generalization contradicts even one case, the generalization is false. Therefore, the generalization that is made by some atheists concerning the connection between the attacks in Paris and the end of religion must be invalid.
God has a Plan
None of us are happy about what happened in Paris. But Christians can be assured that God has a plan. He brings both peace and calamity (Isaiah 44:7). Indeed, when one looks at how God dealt with the nation of Israel, the prophets predicted both prosperous times for Israel, but also terrible times for Israel. We may not always see why God allows tragedies like the terrorist attack in Paris to occur, but this does not give us grounds to assert that the attack is an example of pointless suffering. Our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8). And what grounds would any man have to criticize God for this event? How can the Creator steal from what is already his? Creation belongs to God alone (Psalm 24:1). While an unbeliever may try to appeal to emotion, logic dictates that God can do whatever he wishes with His creation. 4
The two main lines of attack against religion, or specifically, Christianity has been addressed. The effectiveness of prayer cannot be empirically tested and all generalizations are invalid. Some atheists may attempt to use the emotional impact of the Paris event for their own gains, but we as Christians, should be more concerned with approaching the issue in a rational fashion. While we are all angry about what ISIS did in Paris, we also should bear in mind that God is using this tragedy to work his will. For any Christian that truly holds God’s will above his/her own will, this should be comforting.
1. For the purpose of this article, ‘religion’ will be defined as philosophical systems that have something to do with a god.
2. This is because the empirical testing of a hypothesis commits the fallacy of asserting the consequent. This fallacy occurs when it is assumed that only one particular cause could bring forth the observed effect.
3. Hebrews 13:20-25, Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 6:10, Proverbs 16:4.
4. When discussing issues of evil in the world with an unbeliever, it is not uncommon for unbelievers to read their own ideas into Christianity (such as pointless suffering), do not allow them to do this. Stick with what the scriptures says, for how can the unbeliever say they have refuted Christianity if they have to falsely represent Christianity in order to do so?