To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.
I’ve recently been reading the Devil’s Dictionary. On the face of it how sad to be reading a dictionary you might think. This one though is a wonderful cynical assault on life, which you must acknowledge in part to be true. It may be dated, but the venom is as potent today as it must have been at the beginning of the 20th century.
I’ve been thinking about the definition he offered of prayer for a little while now. I suppose you’re not meant to take a cynical dictionary written for amusement to heart, but you can’t help dwell on the interesting turns of phrase of a writer like Bierce.
As the eternal cynic, I can certainly appreciate the virulent pen a truly bitter man can wield, and Bierce is that par excellence.
My brother offers the interesting thought that this is a testament to the power of prayer. The laws of the universe, so apparently rigid and unyielding, might be bent for even a short time to sate one who puts his address to the proper Power with the requisite formalities is after all the defining cornerstone of all religion, is at the heart of every miracle and the proof of every Prophet.
We add to that the intriguing evidence that it has an effect. This article for example suggests that it might have a statistically significant effect. On the other hand there is the science that points the other way.
At best scientifically we’re left without a conclusion. Not surprising when the effect you’re trying to prove or disprove doesn’t exist in any scientific model of the world, which predicts that all causes are rational and natural. If prayer were proved to do something, we would have to radically redraw the philosophy of science.
To this balance finely tuned ignorance, your stir in the personal. Every religious person, regardless of denomination or religion will tell you of the power wielded by prayer, the miracles of priests and saints and the ample historical record that many a mendicant holds posthumously that many a living doctors would die for. They will tell you of all those things that they prayed for and were given, and how often they work. And this applies to me as well, not that I plan to tell you any of the above things.
In many ways then I’m back where I started. No concrete answers, no knowables. unknowns: maybe but not likely. I feel this question deserves an answer more concrete. Maybe it would help if I actually framed a question.