Chapter 10 - Why do battlefield prayers sound so convincing?
The "battlefield effect" is one reason why so many people believe in the power of prayer. By understanding how it works, you can understand a great deal about how prayer works.
Let's say that a general sends 10,000 soldiers into a fierce battle. Although the general does not know it at the time, the 10,000 men end up marching into an ambush. The enemy has 30,000 troops, artillery support plus close air support and is able to decimate the 10,000 soldiers in short order. Once the enemy is finished, they leave 100 survivors out of the original 10,000 to limp and crawl back to base.
You may have heard that there are no atheists in foxholes. Before they died, we can assume that every single one of the 10,000 soldiers who marched into the ambush prayed fervently and deeply for God to spare his life. Despite those prayers, the enemy proceeded to attack with deadly force. 9,900 of those who prayed wasted their breath -- they died.
The 100 who return from the battle, however, feel as though their prayers were answered. They have been through a horrific firefight, and they are deeply grateful to have escaped with their lives. At the time they prayed, they were absolutely and totally terrified and desperate. To have survived seems like a miracle.
The 100 survivors fan out with their personal stories of answered prayers. They tell their soldier buddies how they prayed for their lives and their prayers were answered. When they arrive home they tell their families and friends about their harrowing experiences on the battlefield and how nothing but their prayers saved them. They give testimonials at church, give speeches in the community, write articles for magazines, etc. Millions of people are exposed to the positive, powerful, personal testimonials of the 100 survivors.
This is great advertising for prayer. And it works. People hear the stories of the survivors and they believe. The real power of this approach, however, comes from the fact that the 9,900 dead soldiers never get to tell their side of the story. Ninety nine percent of the soldiers died, and only one percent survived. Far more men prayed and died, but they never get to tell anyone about their disappointment.
So the 100 personal testimonials FOR prayer are strong, loud, frequent and compelling. Meanwhile the 9,900 personal testimonials AGAINST prayer are silent, because the dead soldiers never get a chance to speak. Therefore, to a casual observer, it appears that prayer works. Every story that you hear is positive. The reality is that 99% of the praying people died. It is another perfect example of God's Ratio (see Chapter 2).
Dropping like flies
Let's say that you listen to a person tell this story: "There I was in a horrific firefight on the battlefield. All of my friends around me were dropping like flies. But I prayed to God and he saved me." The question that any normal person would ask is, "Why did God let all the others drop like flies? And why aren't you running away from a God who killed 99% of your friends instead of answering their equally fervent prayers?"
The fact that 9,900 praying people died while only 100 survived should be plenty of evidence to indicate that prayer does not work. A 99% failure rate is significant. But for some reason, believers do not seem to think about the 9,900 who died. They instead celebrate the "answered prayers" of the 100. The 9,900 who died are swept under the carpet.
It should be becoming obvious to you what actually happens on any battlefield. The survivors benefit from random luck and nothing more. Their "answered prayers" are simply coincidences.
Here are several other examples of the same coincidental phenomenon. Imagine that you hear the following stories from four survivors:
However, what I would ask you to consider is both sides of the story. Look at both the successes AND the failures of prayer, and what we see is extremely uncomfortable. All of them display God's ratio as described in Chapter 2. If God let millions of people die in the Holocaust, but then "heard the prayers" of one person and saved him, what sort of God is that? To say that God killed millions and saved one is a terrible ratio. God would have to be a monster. Killing millions of people is an unimaginable atrocity.
Believers seem to be completely comfortable with the sort of schizophrenia shown here. They are happy about the one person saved from the Holocaust by a prayer -- they actually celebrate his story and tell it with glee. They do not seem to care that, if it was God saving the one, then it must also have been God who killed the millions of others by completely ignoring their prayers.
With your common sense you can examine all of these situations and see what actually happened by looking at both sides of the story:
The unconscionable arrogance of the blessed
Let's assume that a tremendous hurricane like Hurricane Katrina hits Louisiana. It does an incredible amount of damage, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes, killing thousands of people and wiping entire towns off the map.
Your sister, a devout believer, happens to live in Louisiana, and a week later when cell phone service is restored she gives you a call. The first words out of her mouth are:
For a beliver to talk about his or her blessings in a huge natural disaster like Katrina is to implicitly ignore the damage and suffering that are plainly visible for all to see. If God "blessed" one, while completely ignoring millions of other believers caught in exactly the same predicament, it says nothing about blessings. It says that God is an insane demon. For anyone to believe that God personally helped her while at the same time wreaking havoc on millions of others is a supreme arrogance. Yet believers seem to be completely comfortable with this arrogance.
The truth of the matter is easy to see if you will take the time to look at both sides of the equation. The hurricane hit, and God neither blessed nor cursed anyone. The hurricane did its damage according to the laws of nature. The fact that one house is undamaged while thousands of others are swept into the sea is not a blessing. It is random luck, nothing more.
When you hear people discussing their personal experiences with the power of prayer, simply listen to the stories they tell and ask to hear both sides. Look for God's Ratio. In every case, the prayer's power can be explained by coincidence, luck, normal probabilities, the laws of physics, human design or some other normal, non-miraculous process. And God's Ratio will be terrible, just as it was on Steve Homel's street.
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