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Whether a god who listens to prayers exists, is not known. But what is known is that the probability of such an existence cannot be proven to be zero.

Hence, if somebody is in a major peril and can in no active way solve their problem, why is it considered irrational to pray?

Is it not completely rational to at least try and pray, in the odd case that such a god does happen to exist? Even if the probability of such an existence is 0.000000000000000005 %, that's still not zero.

So, why is it considered irrational, when it can effectively just be seen as somebody taking advantage of a non-zero probability? It's like a free lottery ticket. Why would it be irrational to take a free lottery ticket?


Another argument is that if God did exist and wanted to answer your prayer, then God wouldn't let it happen in the first place. I think this is an interesting debate, but ultimately one which depends on extra assumptions, such as what the purpose of life is, whether there's a thing such as destiny, whether good is moral, whether god is omniscient but not omnipresent (and thus a prayer would be a way to get God's attention), etc etc.


  • Nobody rationally believes that it's irrational to pray. God, of course, does exist, and He answers prayers. – user3017 Oct 16 '17 at 19:01
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    Whether jumping off a bridge will bring bliss, is not known. But what is known is that the probability of such a bliss cannot be proven to be zero. So is it rational to jump off a bridge? I do not mean to compare prayer to jumping off a bridge, but this should help you see that your "argument" is fallacious. It is a version of a well-known one, Pascal's Wager. – Conifold Oct 16 '17 at 19:47
  • It should also be noted that Pascal's wager is theologically unsound. The nominal faith characteristic of entering into such a wager is not a faith that is pleasing to God. – user3017 Oct 16 '17 at 21:34
  • It would only be irrational if you expected an outcome that affected your situation. In the same way that it would be perfectly rational to click your fingers or hum a little tune. Pointless but perfectly rational. And it's not like being given a lottery ticket. There is plenty of evidence that folk win the lottery. If you meant a ticket to last week's lottery then yes, I agree with you. – Alex Oct 17 '17 at 12:47
  • "Which God?" should always be asked in any discussion about God; if the argument doesn't generalize, it's probably unsound. – Ask About Monica Oct 17 '17 at 18:14
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I'm not sure that this is the best description about what prayer is about; for example, in the collection of Hadith by Al-Bukhari there is the following:

Abu-Baqr As-Siddiq said to the Prophet (pbuh) "O, Allahs Messenger! Teach me an invocation with which I may invoke Allah in my prayers"

The Prophet said, "Say: O Allah! I have wronged myself very much (oppressed myself) and none forgives the sins but You; so please bestow Your Forgiveness upon me. No doubt, you are the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."

narrated by 'Abdullah bin 'Amr

This is not very different from the Lords Prayer in Christianity which I was taught at school; and is close to how Piomicron described the function of prayer in the comment to the other answer - to create change within.

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It is deemed irrational to pray by scientists because we do not believe that God, if existing, would dare to violate the laws of nature. It seems that he never did. This however would be necessary when hearing the prays and acting accordingly. Further history shows that praying is useless, for instance when people are in danger of being killed. On the Titanic probably more people have prayed then have been saved. In particular when two fighting parties pray for victory, it is hardly possible to hear both sides.

However, you are right, that we cannot exclude the existence of one ore more Gods and we cannot finally exclude that they interfere with us. Therefore, when giving lectures about the infinity of a possible God, I always join Blaise Pascal in his advice: It is better to serve God on earth than to refuse it, because serving God (praying, visiting the church) is not much effort. If there is no God, the wasted effort is negligible. If however there is a God, then you gain or lose much in the life after life.

I personally believe too little to act according to Pascal's advice, but everybody who feels like that should do. If you can believe in God this is certainly helpful, at least a psychological advantage, whether or not God(s) really exist(s). You may feel protected and able, like a well-prepared student feels better than an unprepared one when entering the exam. I would not recommend however to wear a spiked belt (with the spikes inside) as Pascal did himself in his later days.

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    There seems to be something insincere about this approach; surely our God, if he existed, would see right through this, no? This would be a calculated belief, it does not seem to be in the Spirit of the Christian scriptures. Well, I am not the first to make this objection. – Gordon Oct 28 '17 at 15:08
  • Why do people serve God or act at all? All action is induced by physical or psychological urge in one or the other way. Of course a God, having created men as they are, would know and accept that. That's why I am not the least fearful. If a God and an afterlife exists (which I doubt) he will accept my sceptical position as the only appropriate one - at least for my person. – Heinrich Oct 28 '17 at 15:27
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    @Heinrich He 'will accept [your] sceptical position as the only appropriate one'? Such confidence, especially given the vast majority of the world's major religions claim otherwise. It comes across as rather arrogant that you think a perfect being would think the same way you do, and consider the way you think to have been the best option in your circumstance. – Piomicron Oct 28 '17 at 17:30
  • @Piomicron: The world's major religions are rubbish in my eyes. No reason to consider anything of their "holy books". This simple nonsense of atavist people and of their modern advocates and interpreters has less than nothing to do with a possible God. – Heinrich Oct 28 '17 at 17:43
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    @Heinrich Physics itself violates the laws of Chemistry. Why are you preoccupied with miracles violating the laws of Physics? Besides which, usually, the point of praying is changing something within yourself than outside yourself. – Piomicron Oct 29 '17 at 9:23
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It is irrational to pray due to the nature of rationality. Ration-ality involes partitioning, rationing or isolating parts from a collective whole (ie. Deductive thinking). Rationality is much the same as arithemetic but using only rational proportions of real numbers as truths. Real numbers are required to directly represent some aspect of observable reality. For example when we tally the results of an election, each vote is counted as 1 real thing that exists. In the same way rationality requires a factual basis for reasoning. There is no observable factual benefit in praying when action is imperative, besides perhaps clearing and focusing the mind to act out intentions more effectivly. Prayer is based on the assumption that god exists. However because god is fundamentally un-observable, god is not subject to rational treatment or proofs. Therefore, to pray when action is imperative is to be irrational (the exact opposite of rationality)

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It would depend on why the praying is actually done. If the praying is done because you hope something good may happen by pure luck then it should not be considered irrational. Take for example someone who prays that his or her blind date tonight will be the one. Praying can put the person in a more positive mood and this may be a very good start for a relationship. Praying may also provide comfort and mental rest to a person. This may also have a positive impact on the physical health of a person. In this way it is much like meditation or yoga. If the praying is done because one expects a god to listen and intervene, then that is irrational, as there is no evidence whatsoever that such a god exists. Any claim of succes by this reason can be explained by the first form of prayer or by pure randomness. So following Laplace, also for this no god is needed. Using Pascal's wager for the latter reason and saying that it is not much effort anyway is incorrect. One would have to pray to so many thousands of possible gods to make sure one addressed the right one (as the vast majority of the religions would not recognise a prayer to another god as valid) that it is more than a full-time occupation.

In short, there is nothing irrational about praying, but it is irrational to expect a god will listen and/or intervene.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • Yes, and a further issue is that the most profound form of prayer is speechless and thoughtless and allows of no divide between God and Man, or Reality and Appearance. I recommend Evagrios on Prayer to anyone wondering about the deeper forms of prayer. . – PeterJ Nov 3 '17 at 13:23

protected by Philip Klöcking Nov 3 '17 at 13:15

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