Petitionary Prayer

I was raised in a culture of petition, inculcated from an early age with a repertoire of formulaic prayers addressed to God, his angels, or his saints. All of the prayers assumed a response: Here I am, Lord, deserving of your attention, favor, heating, forgiveness. Never did it pass my mind that my prayers were not heard. My education was hemmed about with a huge body of stories affirming God's intervention in human affairs. Had not every religious person experienced firsthand the power of prayer—a return to health, a financial difficulty resolved, a lost object found? Were not the shrines full of abandoned crutches? Did not every chapel gleam with votive candles lit in thanks? The evidence of efficacy w^as overwhelming.

Or rather, the evidence of the efficacy of prayer appeared overwhelming to a mind predisposed to belief. Later, I trained as a scientist and also studied the history and philosophy of science. I learned something about controlled experiments, the statistical analysis of data, and the appropriate exercise of educated skepticism. Most important, I learned how belief can influence judgment—even the judgment of scientists—and how scientists strive to minimize the role of belief in the evaluation of evidence. No knowledge system can be entirely free of personal and cultural predispositions, which is why scientists place so much emphasis upon peer review, mathematics, diagrams, photographs, specialized language, and the strict exclusion of personal religious, political, and philosophical affiliations from scientific communication.

In the light of my new scientific skepticism, the evidence for the success of petitionary prayer became a thing of smoke and mirrors, a compilation of mere anecdote. Of course, believers in the power of petitionary prayer will not be dissuaded from their belief by the dearth of respectable scientific support; after all, God in his omniscience may simply refuse to cooperate with any rational analysis of his power. However, many persons, such as myself, who are skeptical of miracles and respectful of experiment, are left with rather a hole in our lives. We were taught that God hears and answers prayers; a careful examination of the evidence reveals no compelling measure of response.


Chet Raymo describes his experiences with prayer and reevaluating it after encountering science later in life.

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 Natural prayers
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Raymo , Chet (1999-07-15), Natural prayers, Ruminator Books, Retrieved on 2012-04-14
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  • Folksonomies: nature