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April 15th, 2010


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05:54 pm - Praying to God
So the editorial in the March Scientific American quoted a tweet from Sarah Palin:
Copenhgen=arrogance of man2think we can change nature's ways.MUST b
good stewards of God's earth,but arrogant&naive2say man overpwers
nature
Leaving aside the various media enjoyment over possible contradictions with her other statements, etc... Let's take a look at this.

I think I interpreted this maybe not exactly the way it was intended, but let's pursue it anyway.  So the implication here is that we mustn't think that humanity is responsible for any climate change, since it's all out of our hands.  Or perhaps (and this may be where I'm going off on a tangent), we mustn't panic and go nuts changing our habits to try to fend off climate change since it's all out of our hands.  Either way, it obviously leads to some pretty dangerous fatalism, of course.  If it's all out of our hands, then what does it matter if we do good or bad, are careful or careless?  Nothing more or less than what God wants will happen.  And of course that is a simplistic way of looking at it, and I doubt anyone seriously would take that view this far.

Still, let's take God's guiding hand as a given, rather than trying to fight the basic premise.  There are those that take comfort in that, contending that God would never let his world be damaged in the way global warming threatens.  But wouldn't he?  Maybe God does promise never to destroy the whole world again (just after the Flood), but he never said anything about massive drought, heat waves, rising oceans that don't flood everything but do take out most major coastlines, etc.  After all, things like plagues wiping out a large fraction of humanity have happened in the past (Black Plague, Smallpox, etc).  So there's little comfort to be gained from that.  What God wants to happen could very well be quite nasty.

So, again staying with God's guiding hand, we are often told that we can help influence God's decision by praying.  But there are other things God seems to care about much more.  When doctors started washing their hands between autopsies and deliveries, God very conspicuously started sentencing a lot fewer mothers to death in childbirth, and a lot fewer babies to death in infancy.  It seems that certain practices, like health and safety protocols and such, have a profound effect on God's decision-making process.

I wonder why it might not be looked at this way.  Rather than the somewhat uncomfortable, almost adversarial view of "the scientists/doctors do what they can on earth, but we will pray to God" (with the implication that prayers are what really matter), why not think of earthly procedures simply as some really ultra-effective forms of prayer.  Rituals, if you like.  If you perform the handwashing ritual, God will protect you from infection.  If you have the appendectomy ritual performed, God will cure you of your stomachache.

This is actually pretty cool.  Might be especially inspiring to deeply religious doctors.  If prayer is a way of communing our needs to God with the intent/hope that this will influence God's decision about them, and if the ultimate decisions are made by God, then there isn't much room to escape the conclusion that for whatever reason, God likes it when your prayers for health are accompanied by hygiene, medicine, etc.  God likes it when prayers for healthy children and lives are accompanied by vaccines, seat belts, building codes, and other safety protocols.

This sort of opens up a whole new avenue of empirical theology.  Study what God likes by what he has (very clearly) demonstrated to us that he likes.  There are some obvious conclusions to be drawn, like those above.  God seems, on the whole, to like science: when we use it, he makes decisions that favor what we want.  So why does religion feel so threatened by science?


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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:pne
Date:October 22nd, 2010 06:53 am (UTC)
(Link)
I like this entry; it's an interesting thought that I haven't seen presented like that before.
From:johnwcowan
Date:May 5th, 2011 11:05 pm (UTC)

This is like Raymond Smullyan's "advanced" Christian Science ...

(Link)
... where it's okay to go to doctors, provided you believe that going to a doctor and taking treatment will strengthen your faith sufficiently that it will heal you. Read about it in _This Book Needs No Title_, pp. 66-73.

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