Some atheists refer to an experiment performed in the US and funded by the Templeton Foundation with a view to determine the effectiveness of prayer. In controlled conditions, a group of Americans has prayed for some time for a group of sick people. As it turned out “at checkpoint,” the health of that target group had not become fundamentally better in comparison with the other control group of patients who were not subject to anyone’s prayer. According to some atheists, this experiment serves to prove that prayers do not work, God does not exist and so on.
However, from a believer’s point of view this experiment could not have possibly ended with any other result. It may have proven effective if we were to determine some impersonal force, like electricity. But the God in Whom Christians believe is not an impersonal power. God has identity, will and self-awareness. He Himself decides what He does and does not do, as well as who He appears to and how. For a scientific experiment to be successful, it must take place under conditions controlled by the experimenter. This means that if God wanted to take part in such an experiment, then during the experiment He would also become controlled by the experimenter. This is, first of all, absurd, and secondly, it is not clear why God would need such a thing?
For example, I have a rule not to respond to trolls on the Internet. The Templeton Foundation could fund another study, in which, relatively speaking, a hundred trolls would be sent to troll me on social networks. If I do not answer, would that be proof that I do not exist? You might say that comparing prayer with internet trolling is not entirely appropriate, but it is not prayer in general that is being compared here, but this particular experiment, whose participants knew that they were participating in it. In some sense their “prayers” acted as bait, which, according to the organizers’ logic, God should or could have “swallowed”, whereas His inaction they interpret as proof of His nonexistence.
This reminds me of the relatively large group of people on the Internet who do not believe in the existence of Vladimir Putin. They say that the real Putin died a long time ago, and it is his twin that is acting now. They are also trying to somehow prove it by studying his photographs. Predictably, Putin has not come to any of these people trying to prove that he is real. Does that prove these people right? Or does that simply show that Putin has other things to do than proving his realness to these sceptics?
This American experiment and other similar attempts to “clock” God, “alluring” Him with prayer, can hardly be counted worthy of having the Creator of the Universe participate in them.
At the same time, the fact that God does answer prayers can be attested by any or almost any believing Orthodox Christian, leading a more or less continued religious life. The existence of religion itself could not continue for so long if people did not feel the response from where they direct their prayers. If you have a broken phone in your house, which no longer works and makes no calls, you are not going to continue picking it up regularly and pretend that you use it to talk to someone. Even if you really are occupied with such strange ideas, your kids and your grandchildren will hardly pick up the slack of embracing them. Humans are very practical creatures. If prayers were ineffective, believe me, humanity would have abandoned them a long time ago.
Any atheist could personally test the effectiveness of prayer. However, saying something like “send me, Lord, a bottle of beer right now” does not work, because it is a thing unworthy of God. St Silouan once said, “I advise unbelievers to pray with these words: ‘Lord, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me, and I will serve You then with my whole life!'”
Why is that second part of his prayer important (the promise to serve God if He really exists)? Because it vouches for what really makes a person worthy of an answer from God. On the other hand, if a person does not have that willingness to give up sin and devote himself to God, he may be just lying on the couch and saying, “God, go ahead and appear to me.” Such a person is not worthy of the Creator of the Universe to show His presence to him. I personally know several examples of atheists who prayed this prayer, received an answer and became believers. In some cases this change happened fast, taking some of them not more than a week. With others it took longer, but now these are people of very strong faith.
In my opinion, a significant part of people, who call themselves atheists, do so not because they lack evidence of God’s existence, but because they do not want God to exist. They do not want to humble themselves before His law and His commandments. Even if God did appear to them, they would find ways to explain it, such as “a special state of consciousness”, or “daydreaming”, or “natural reasons”, which scientists may not know yet but will soon discover.
In the light of everything said, it is not so surprising that God does not impose Himself on a person, who does not want God to exist.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds