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Suppose there are two people, one who believes in a god and one who does not. Both suffer from a common cold or some mild sickness. The person who believes in a god prays to ask his god to heal him of his common cold whilst the non-believer does nothing. Both recover after a few days. The person believing in a god will praise his god and proclaim that his god healed him of his common cold.

Suppose that god did exist. Did god heal the believer of his common cold? Since the person who does not believe in god also recovered from his common cold, does that prove God does not intervene in our lives? (i.e. could it be shown that god intervened? Could it be shown that it was meaningful to pray for evidential (non-doctrinal) reasons? )

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    Your question is a bit too presumptuous. Asking "Does God intervene in our lives?" presupposes the existence of God. I gather, however, that you are more interested in how we could prove the intervention of God, so I'll reword it to a more accurate title. – stoicfury Mar 23 '13 at 23:23
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    "...deliver me from this fatigue so that I may better bring glory to your name. Amen." POOF--A radiant silver humanoid figure appears. "I have heard you my child, and you are healed. Incidentally, a 24 GeV gamma ray burst 2.7714 degrees from Cygnus X1 will arrive in seven hundred and forty-eight days, and here are four hundred thousand factored 1024-bit encryption keys--no longer in use--from the list posted by Anonymous. Bless you, my child." POOF. Would we be remiss if we call this entity God? If not, isn't the answer obviously we could if things worked out this way? – Rex Kerr Mar 24 '13 at 1:27
  • Do you believe in god only to recover from sickness? I think your story rests on wrong assumptions. – Lukas Jun 6 '13 at 23:03
  • let me guess, all the downvotes came from extremist atheists, since this question deserves no downvote ! – mil Nov 29 '15 at 20:54
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While the philosophy of religion is a sub-field of philosophy, the issue you are referring probably fits better under psychology. In psychology there is a whole area devoted to religion, spirituality, and health, and even though your question does not necessarily involve health, it's specifically about intervention which is at the heart of much of the research. In particular, there are numerous studies which try to claim that there is scientifically verifiable evidence as to the existence of God's intervention, as instigated through means such as intercessory prayer (this is, incidentally, one of the areas I studied and wrote a thesis on in college).

The crux of the issue is the lack of a plausible causal mechanism if intervention is actually occurring. There is also the issue of a mixed agenda from a number of religious scientists who want to prove the existence of God (I've read both Christian and Islamic scientists who seem to have such an agenda), however from reading their papers it seems that they generally do not realize that even if a significant effect of intercessory prayer on health outcomes was found and could be easily manipulated on a consistent basis, at best this would prove that there is some as of yet unknown mechanism (not even necessarily sentient) that mediates personal wishes for others. In no way would any particular religion or deity be affirmed, much less the content of their respective religious texts. And even if it somehow did prove a deity existed, Andrade & Radhakrishnan (2009) remind us of a sobering fact: if research proves a link between intercessory prayer and health outcomes, doesn't that suggest that Gods ways can be manipulated or his behavior made statistically predictable? I'm not sure that's a claim the religious would want to uphold.

I think the above explanations should sufficiently answer and address the issues in the hypothetical you set up in your question. As for your over-arching (title) question, "Does God intervene in our lives?", ignoring the implicit assumption that God exists, science says "We have no evidence for it so we presume not until proven otherwise," but you can feel free to search through the academic literature for yourself, as some (very few) people seem to be convinced that we do have enough evidence. With regard to intercessory prayer in particular, I can give several paper references as a starting point. You may, however, be interested in looking at other types of intervention as well.

Andrade, C., & Radhakrishnan, R. (2009). Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(4), 247-253. 
Benson, H., Dusek, J.,  Sherwood, J., Lam, P., Bethea, C., Carpenter, W., Levitsky, S., Hill, P., Clem, D., Jain, M., Drumel, D., Kopecky, S., Mueller, P., Marek, D., Rollins, S., & Hibberd, P. (2006). Study of the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. American Heart Journal, 151(4), 934-942.
Breslin, M. J., & Lewis, C. A. (2008). Theoretical models of the nature of prayer and health: A review. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 11(1), 9-21.
Byrd, R. (1988). Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. Southern Medical Journal, 81(7), 826-829. 
Dorn, J. M. (2006). Intercessory Prayer. American Heart Journal, 152(3), e25.
Galton, F. (1872). Statistical inquiries into the efficacy of prayer. The Fortnightly Review, 68, 125-135.
Harris, W., Gowda, M., Kolb, J., Strychacz, C., Vacek, J., Jones, P., Forker, A., O'Keefe, J., & McCallister, B. (1999). A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit. Archives of Internal Medicine, 46(1), 1878, 2273-2278.
Hodge, D. R. (2007). A systematic review of the empirical literature on intercessory prayer. Research on Social Work Practice, 17, 174-187.
Howard, G., Hill, T., Maxwell, S, Baptista, T. M., Farias, M., Coelho, C., Coulter-Kern, M., Coulter-Kern, R. (2009). What’s wrong with research literatures? And how to make them right. Review of General Psychology, 13(2), 146-166.
Hunt, D. (2000). Remote, intercessory prayer reduced the frequency of adverse events in patients newly admitted to the coronary care unit. Evidence-based Cardiovascular Medicine, 4, 48.
Ikedo, F., Gangahar, D., Quader, M., & Smith, L. (2007). The effects of prayer, relaxation technique during general anesthesia on recovery outcomes following cardiac surgery. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 13, 85-94. 
Joyce, C., Welldon, R. (1965). The objective efficacy of prayer: A double-blind clinical trial. Journal of Chronic Diseases, 18, 367-377. 
Karis, R., & Karis, D. (2000). Intercessory Prayer. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, 1870.
Krucoff, M., Crater, S., Gallup, D., Blankenship, J., Cuffe, M., Guameri, M., Krieger, R., Kshettry, V., Morris, K., Oz, M., Pichard, A., Sketch, M., Koenig, H., Mark, D., & Lee, K. (2005). Positive music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: The monitoring and actualisation of noetic trainings (MANTRA) II randomized study. The Lancet, 366, 211-217.
Krucoff, M., Crater, S., Green, C., Maas, A., Seskevich, J., Lane, J., Loeffler, K., Morris, K., Bashore, T., & Koenig, H. (2001). Integrative noetic therapies as adjuncts to percutaneous intervention during unstable coronary syndromes: Monitoring and actualization of noetic training (MANTRA) feasibility pilot. American Heart Journal, 142, 760-767. 
Krucoff, M., Crater, S., Lee, K. (2005). From efficacy to safety concerns: A STEP forward or a step back for clinical research and intercessory prayer?: The study of therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer (STEP). American Heart Journal, 151(4), 762-764.
Leibovici, L. (2001). Effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients with bloodstream infection: randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 323, 1450-1451.
Lesniak, K. T. (2006). The effect of intercessory prayer on wound healing in nonhuman primates. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 12(6), 42-48.
Lewis, C. A., Breslin, M. J., & Dein, S. (2008). Prayer and mental health: An introduction to this special issue of mental health, religion & culture. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 11(1), 1-7.
Marks, L. D. (2008). Prayer and marital intervention: Asking for divine help... or professional trouble? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27(7), 678-685.
Masters, K. (2005). Research on the healing power of distant intercessory prayer: Disconnect between science and faith. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 33(4), 268-277.
Masters, K., Spielmans, G., & Goodson, J. (2006). Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 21-26.
McCullough, M. E., & Larson, D. B. (1999). Prayer. In W. R. Miller (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment: Resources for practitioners (pp. 85-110). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Olver, I., & Whitford, H. (2009). Intercessory prayer improves spiritual wellbeing  in a randomised controlled trial in patients with cancer. European Journal of Cancer Supplements, 7(2), 176.
Palmer, R., Katerndahl, D., & Morgan-Kidd, J. (2004). Lifetime a randomized trial of the effects of remote intercessory prayer: Interactions with personal beliefs on problem-specific outcomes and functional status. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10(3), 438-448.
Price, J. (2000). Does prayer really set one apart? Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, 1873.
O'Mathuna, D. P. (2004). Commentary. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 9(4), 315-316.
Sandweiss, D. (2000). P value out of control. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, 1872.
Sicher, F., Targ, E., Moore II, D., Smith, H. (1998). A randomized double-blind study of the effect of distant healing in a population with advanced AIDS: Report of a small study scale. Western Journal of Medicine, 169(6), 356-363.
Sloan, R. P., & Bagiella, E. (2000). Data without a prayer. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, 1870.
Van der Does, W. A randomized, controlled trial of prayer? Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, 1871.
Walker, S., Tonigan, J., Miller, W., Comer, S., & Kahlich, L. (2009). Intercessory prayer in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependence: A pilot investigation. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 3(6), 79-86. 
  • Please check Alvin Plantinga's paper "What is Intervention?" from Theology and Science Vol. 6, No. 4, 2008, which points that scientific investigation of the world hasn't shown that divine intervention is impossible. – Hakim Sep 1 '15 at 16:14
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    WIthout reading that paper, I agree if that is indeed what he is saying (and I imagine virtually all scientists agree as well). Science does not (and cannot) prove that divine intervention is impossible (indeed, the burden of proof is on the person professing the believe), but that doesn't make it true in the meantime. In other words, you cannot claim X is true just because there is no proof that X is false. See Argument from ignorance. – stoicfury Sep 2 '15 at 6:55
  • That wasn't his point. – Hakim Sep 2 '15 at 17:41
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Let us assume that God exists, since you make that assumption. The individual notion of God does not 'require' him to do anything. It does not even have to mean that god is good-- he may be evil. But again, assuming an omnipotent, good God, one could only speculate about whether he is making any divine intervention. Use the word "proof" with regards to religion or god is a bit mistaken, because both require belief and faith. You cannot prove anything about god, even if you assume that he exists.

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God is supposed to be allknowing and almighty.

You have a situation where A is ill, B is ill, A prays, B doesn't pray, A gets well, B gets well, and you think you can draw conclusions from this.

First, god doesn't owe you any explanations. He or she can intervene or not intervene in any way they like. It's none of your business to complain about it.

Second, you don't know whether and how god intervened. Either A or B or both might have been in a state where they would naturally get well without any godly intervention.

Third, god is allknowing, you are not. You saw that one prayed and one didn't. There's your first mistake: You saw one person moving their lips and speak and the other didn't move their lips. The first could have uttered words without any actual meaning to them, which you took for prayer. The other might have prayed most seriously without speaking. You don't know that. God knows.

But anyway, god wouldn't base his or her decision on a prayer. Remember, god is all-knowing, and would take everything into account. B might be a fire fighter who comes out of hospital, and the next day he saves fifty children that would have died in a fire otherwise if he hadn't got well. So god would have ignored his little fault of not praying. Or A might be a person who beats his wife, then prays for forgiveness, then beats her again. And B, while never praying, looks lovingly after his family. God is allknowing, you are not.

And last, "what is the point of praying in god if the non-believer gets well as well"? That kind of thinking puts you straight to the top of god's naughty list. God isn't your servant. You pray to god because you want to talk to god. Perhaps because praying to god gives you strength. But mostly because your religion tells you to talk to god if you are in trouble. You do not talk to god and expect favours. And you most certainly do not talk to god and then get annoyed if someone else seemingly gets the same favour.

Now I'm not religious at all, but I still have some idea how religions work. Maybe you should talk to a priest quite seriously about what the relationship between you and god should be.

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Erich Fromm defines 3 categories of religious level: God as Mother, God as Father, God as logos or as a principle. The religious level of the poeple and teached by our church is level two, god as a father who loves the good ones and punishs the bad ones; As we can obviously see this is not reality. That picture of god as a father implicites that men can ask, speak and beg for things like with other humans.

Maybe a question might be: Why the church teaches the people a low-level picture of god which leads to strange views like god can heal?

  • Probably because "the church" whichever church that is doesn't share the doctrinal framework of Erich Fromm? – virmaior Nov 30 '15 at 0:03
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I am dissecting your question into 2 parts...1: how can we know God intervened? 2. Why did God help the non-believer as well

If a father has 2 childs at...one which is 100% obedient and another which is 0% obedient...Does he not nurture his 2nd child? Does he not take him to school? Does he not give enroll him in a class? Does he kick him out of his house? Maybe he would even try harder to make him better!

I personally don't think any father would do that to his 2-16 year old child... So believing in God isn't a requirement for God to shower us with his mercy.

God is a giver to those who ask him, those who don't ask him and even those who don't recognize him in any way! Is God killing the atheists!? Does he choke them the second they stop believing in him?

In Islam when are instructed to begin almost everything with ّبسم الله الرحمن الرحیم especially our prayers. It means 'in the name of God, the merciful merciful'.

Both الرحمن & الرحیم mean merciful. But الرحمن means merciful to all in existence even atheists and الرحیم means merciful to the believers(whoever who believes in God, Muslim or non-Muslim) only.

To answer your question of intervene: I would have to say from such an incident since God can help both kinds, it would be extremely difficult to extract an intervention. Considering God is GOD, an omnipotent being which everything and anything that happens, is happening by his will, It could have 1000 different reasons for the each of them. It could be that they did something good before and God decided to heal them, or it could be that he prayed and God wanted to heal him or for the nonbeliever he didn't pray and God just wanted to continue into keeping him in his denial by healing him...

To answer your question of "What is the point of praying to god if the non-believer also recovered from his common cold?"

God is just, but he likes to test his servants for a lifetime i.e. he could give sustenance 10X more to a non-believer just to make the test on the believer harder and also because he is somewhat done with the non-believer...

  • I don't think this answers the question at hand, which is not a doctrinal question but rather a question of what proof of intervention would look like. – virmaior Nov 30 '15 at 1:58
  • I addressed your comments in the edit, but I think you missed the part where he asked "What is the point of praying to god if the non-believer also recovered from his common cold?" as my initial answer addressed that... and I was kind of saying that because God is nurture believers and non believers spotting the intervention is kind of impossible – Honey Nov 30 '15 at 2:13
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There's two ways to answer this; the literal question you ask, and then the example you give and what I interpret you mean to ask.

1) Literal: In the case of the question, if god exists, can he intervene in human lives? would depend on what you mean by God. If by God you mean the Creator of the Universe, then some problems arise. One in particular is that God would then have exist outside of time, as time began when the universe began. In other words, it would be silly to speak of a time before time, or a time before the universe. Time and space came into existence together. Now this isn't to say God couldn't still enter Time and intervene, so to speak, but this gives rise to issues of free will and the 3 Omni's and the Problem of Evil ,presuming we are speaking of the traditional monotheistic God. For starters you have the issue of why not eliminate all evil, if the response is because it limits our free will and a world with agents expressing free will is better than one without it, intervention even in the smallest sense and for that matter even just ONCE in human activity would limit our free will and so he couldn't then intervene. This also gives rise for issues with his Omniscience and Omnipotence, because if God intervenes in such a way as not to change someone's will but instead perhaps change the circumstances that may have created that will ( ill will or mal-intent towards someone) and prevents an action by that means, or by changing a state of nature at a particular moment, like the path of a bullet off it's course by changing gravity slightly at some point or wind, to alter the outcome and thereby intervening in human activity without affecting free will, you have the issue of did God know or not know what was going to happen (aside of course from then also why not do that ALL of the time)? Because why create a scenario in which you KNOW beforehand that there is something going to happen that you don't want to happen, which puts into question his omnipotence, could he fail to prevent it for some reason at any time before the incident being prevented happens, or is it an issue of omniscience where perhaps he doesn't know beforehand and he may have to intervene unexpectedly? Also it places into question why at this point and not another? Why alter the bullet, and instead not go further back in time and perhaps prevent the incident that creating anger or animosity towards the other person, or further why not just not have that person ever exist. Say, for example, never create Hitler? Why not do that? Is it a matter of Omnipotence, or Omniscience, or perhaps Omnibenevolence? I didn't touch on this, but basically why some people and not others, and further for those who do the bad action and are presumably sinning (again assuming we are speaking about the traditional monotheistic God) and so are condemned unless they repent or what have you, why does he allow them to be condemned in such a place if he is Omnibenevolent, or does it place into question his Omniscience because he didn't know what you would or wouldn't do and so couldn't prevent it, but if he does know then why even create a "soul" only to condemn it? Again if it's because you have free will and can choose otherwise then does that limit his Omniscience, if it doesn't and so he knows every decision then are you really free? Can you chose to do otherwise than what he knows you will do , and again placing his Omnibenevolence into question in regards to those who go to hell. Keep in mind these are just some of the many issues that arise with him intervening in human lives. So you end up with issues for free will and for the 3 omni's. So to be safest you would say no he could not intervene. Unless you can come up with some way to reconcile all the issues that arise. 2.) The other way in which I interpret your question is why bother with prayer it doesn't really have an effect? Which sort of casts light on some questions of if prayer doesn't work is there anyone really listening and further even if there were but no action on their part, then yeah why bother with it? I personally find that we often conveniently have answers to if a prayer is answered or if it isn't. In an example such as yours given say the person who prays attributes the recovery to prayer, and yours to chance or maybe even by God, but that you didn't require prayer- he just loves you that much more ;). You being cured does not mean their prayer was NOT heard. But what you often find is that had they not recovered and died, all those who would have prayed for him/her, would say that it was their time and that God works in mysterious ways etc. There is always a convenient answer for when an outcome prayed for does or doesn't occur. When it does, prayer answered, when it doesn't, God's will and not for us to question or understand. In either case God exists. I find this convenient for God.

But to answer the question if is there is a way to prove God can intervene in human lives, it would depend on your claims about time and the universe and God. If by God an alien species or an alien entity could be God, then sure it could intervene all of the time because they didn't create time and space but perhaps are just very very very extremely powerful. But I assume you mean God a creator of ALL, and so time and space included and so God's existence is outside of time, and what we traditionally call a necessary being and not contingent. This again is for reasons involving either Gods perfection, and/or the 3 Omni's. I will allow you to do some research on the topic itself and a great course to take if you ever have the chance is Philosophy of Religion. In regards to the answer somebody posted about psychology, that is something that you might want to look into as well, as to why humans , assuming God is something man-made, created God and further the topic which I believe they are speaking about, the phenomena of feeling like prayer works, and like he/she points out those scientists who do conduct such research having their own personal bias on the topic (some for and some against). So those who might study a group who prays versus a group that doesn't or another one where a group of people prays for another group, but then opposing that there are two other groups in which neither one is praying for the other and then calculating the results, and in the case of bias, perhaps doing so in their favor. But Philosophy of Religion would be a better area I think.

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    This would be a nicer read if you'd add line breaks. – user2953 May 7 '13 at 14:56

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