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Theodore A. Hoppe

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Is prayer a form of placebo or is there evidence of divine intervention in the answering of prayers?

It was recently suggested to me that I conduct an experiment on whether prayer "works." The suggestion was that I keep a journal , direct my prayers to Jesus, and keep track of whether my prayers get answered. This is hardly qualities as an experiment in a scientific sense, but it does raise interesting questions.
My question, which prompted the suggestion, was "Which god would one pray to since every religion has (or has had) a god(s)." Clearly, people pray to all gods, and they might even claim their prayers get answered.
Considering this question further seems to indicate that there must be a mental aspect to prayer, irrespective of religions.

Therefore, this is not a debate about religion, rather it is a discuss about the brain and the mind, and whether a placebo effect is a part of praying.
Why does prayer "seem" to work?
Hopefully, this debate can explore praying in a scientific way.

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    Jan 17 2013: I was raised in a Catholic home. My parents both believed in purgatory. At the age of eight, I suffered second degree burns on both hands in an accident. It made the issue of purgatory all the more urgent. At the prompting of a nun that advised me to ask God the questions that I was inundating the Sunday school teachers with, I found a quiet place and meditated on God. I wanted God to reveal himself to me so that I could ask questions. I was nine years old at the time.

    What happened to me was the most profound experience I have had to date. I had a revelation of God that was not at all what I was expecting. It was completely in tune with nature and evolution. In fact, it was in tune with quantum physics, but I wouldn't come to know that until eleven years later when I formally studied the subject. It took away all preconceived notions of God and replaced it with a sense for the divine on a universal scale.

    I know that all names for God are manufactured to provide some sense of identity with the higher powers of the cosmos. There is only one God (or higher power) regardless of what name you give it. There are many misconceptions of who or what God is, which creates a dilemma when people are trying to pray. Prayer is meant to provide two way communication. You can tell God your problems all day long, but until you hear the answer, you might as well have prayed to the wall. God does not solve our problems for us. God tells us how to solve them when you are able to hear.

    When my first wife was presenting multiple personalities, I prayed to God for help. The help came in the form of a charismatic christian who was deeply into spiritual matters. She walked me through the whole process up to and including her death. She told me why God had put us together and why God was going to take her. When my wife died, I didn't have to ask God why because I already knew.

    There are few today who have that kind of communication, and our society is stripping away whatever is left.
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      Jan 17 2013: Re: God does not solve our problems for us. God tells us how to solve them when you are able to hear.

      Where is the evidence of the divinity? This is little more than a narrative that doesn't address the question that's posed, a question that directed respondents to be scientific.
      Let's break this down linguistically. What is being related is a narrative about a belief systems, one that was formed at a young, impressionable age. As such, the way the narrative is being related asks the listener to presuppose it is true. While we can accept the biographical parts at face value, the rest is conjecture. The problem is that it removes the qualifier, that which qualifies the statement in the sentence.
      It is not that God does this or that, but rather that, YOU BELIEVE God does such. "I" is the qualifying element in the statement. Another way to explain this is that you are externalizing your internal subjective process.
      Therefore the statement needs to read, "I believe God does not solve our problems for us."
      And even still, that is not this debate.

      The reason I say, " a young, impressionable age" is this. Just like in the cases of near death experiences mentioned in comments below, I've never heard of cases of NDE or people hearing God, or similar such things, without a religious background to provide a preconception that would make such an illusion possible.
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        Jan 17 2013: You are comparing apples to oranges. The evidence of faith comes from experience. If you negate experience as evidence, then there is little evidence. When one prays and experiences positive changes in one's life, that is perceived as evidence. When it keeps happening, it reinforces the notion that there may be a connection. You may call it a placebo effect, but that itself is pure conjecture. You are assuming that it may be nothing more. One cannot validate or measure experience for another as you have said.

        Science deals with the structure of matter. It can evaluate changes in structure. That is how it knows that something has happened. In spiritual transformation, there is a change in perception, but there may be no change in structure. Such a change is not measurable in a laboratory accept maybe in psychological studies. It is measurable to oneself in a sense of well being and increased awareness. But again, no one can validate that for another. One can argue that the individual was simply pretending to be less aware beforehand.

        In his series, "The Universe With Morgan Freeman", there was a segment entitled "Did We Invent God?". There were studies shown in MRI tests where changes in brain stimulation occurred during meditation. A later segment "Is the Universe Alive?" puts a whole different spin on the notion of a higher power. If the universe is alive, as the segment suggests, is it aware and can one communicate with it? Those experiencing a glimpse into cosmic consciousness say yes. If prayer can induce such an awareness, the only way to scientifically measure it is to see if changes occur in one's brain during the experience. But such a study cannot measure a change in one's perception. It can only validate that the brain is undergoing some sort of change. I doubt that any scientific study of prayer will yield any results that are more than mundane.
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          Jan 17 2013: Allow me to repeat, this discussion is not about religion, specifically your brand of religion.
          Your discussion is about a subjective experience we cannot measure. If your perception is that it "work" it is still just a perception.
          Ancient rituals such as a Native American "rain dance" appeared to work also. So did sacrificing virgins. Things did not become rituals if they did not SEEM to work.

          Allow me to ask, have you read the other comments here?
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          Jan 21 2013: I actually quite disagree with you that scientific observation would yield nothing about the mechanism of prayer, worship, and faith. Quite the contrary! Perhaps you may find something new by perusing Ted talks for talks on the relationships between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
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        Jan 17 2013: You may be correct that people experiencing cosmic consciousness or NDE may all have had a previous notion of a higher power. What you didn't note is that most of these people have had a radical departure from what they were taught after the experience.

        After my experience, I became annoyed at what the church was teaching because I had a sense that much of it was conditioned or twisted. I did not validate my experience on the mere fact that I had it. What validated it in my mind was the fact that it was in agreement with nuclear physics. They weren't teaching nuclear physics in the third grade, so when I started seeing the same concepts eleven years later, it caught my attention.

        How did I know before I was taught? I see two possible answers; either I was preprogrammed with this information before I was born, which stretches the random mutations theory to the point of fantasy, or there is an intelligence in the universe that is above human intelligence, that humans are capable of tapping into. Einstein proposed this theory when he spoke of a cosmic religious feeling. The same is true for savants. How does one know how to compose a symphony without prior instruction? If you know another answer, I'm all ears.
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        Jan 17 2013: Theodore,
        I agree with your statement..."I've never heard of cases of NDE or people hearing God, or similar such things, without a religious background to provide a preconception that would make such an illusion possible".

        Based on my own NDE and research of hundreds of other reported incidents of NDE/OBEs, people often interpret the experience based on their previous accepted beliefs. I was indoctrinated in the catholic religion, abandoned that belief, and 20 years later had a NDE/OBE. I did not meet a god "out there", and still do not believe in a god.

        I do not agree Roy that "most of these people have had a radical departure from what they were taught after the experience". My experience seemed to reinforce the conclusion I had come to....that there is no god. Most of the cases I read about were interpreted by the participants to reinforce their previous established beliefs.

        My perception is that we are energy beings....all connected with energy. When there is a gathering of people, there is a gathering of energy, which may produce more "power". There have been scientific experiments with people meditating in groups, indicating that there is a rise in energy level. It is comparable to what we may call the "mob mentality"....a group of people/energy gathering together with a focus. The focus may be "good", or not so good.

        I believe that what we focus on expands, and "prayer" may be considered a "focus", which draws the energy we need to help make the prayer a reality.
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          Jan 17 2013: I have additional comments regarding NDE & OBE below in response to Ed Schulte.
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          Jan 19 2013: Colleen,
          I believe that the reason my comments seem contradictory is because I shift from right brain to left brain perception. The right brain sees the creative forces of nature as a creator whereas the left brain sees them in mathematical models. I see them as both, and I shift back and forth depending on how my mood was stimulated. Either/or, they are one and the same to me.

          I CAN trust that some of you are informed enough to make your own decisions. I believe that we all need to make our own decisions, but some would rather play follow the leader. So I say what I believe and why I believe it for their benefit knowing that others will read these comments besides the ones they were directed to. I believe that when others are ready, they will learn to follow their own path as well.
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        Jan 17 2013: Yes Theodore, I read those comments:>)
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          Jan 19 2013: Colleen,

          You have it backwards from the way I see it. "I prayed to God..." is my right brain seeing the forces of nature as a creator. The fact that I have had premonitions and visions that guided me, gives the impression that some form of communication is occurring between my mind and the cosmos. In that regard, my right brain sees the cosmos as an entity that I can talk to, quite removed however from how religions present it.

          My science background sees the forces of nature as mathematical models, and to see them collectively is to see the cosmos as a series of equations that pertain to everything. This is the analytical (left) part of my mind trying to align itself with how the forces of nature work.
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          Jan 19 2013: I call these forces of nature "him" only because that is what religious people are used to. I write in my book that God has no sexual gender.
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        Jan 17 2013: Yes, I have read the other comments. They cover a wide scope.

        You ask if prayer has a placebo effect or is there evidence of divine intervention, and then you imply in your comments that you don't believe that divine intervention is a reality. My idea of divine intervention may not be what you envision. I don't see a supreme being as a person who makes decisions, I see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively. They are everywhere and they are invisible. I also feel that I can communicate with it to an extent that allows me to make the right decisions in my life.

        I believe that prayer allows my mind to tune in (or align) to the workings of the cosmos so that I understand better why things happen.
        The Cosmos has an order to it. The less we are in harmony with that order, the more confounded our actions will be. I believe that prayer affects our ability to understand the workings of the cosmos, thus it has a calming effect in that it gives us a sense that we are a part of the greater whole. That is how it works in my life. If you call that a placebo effect, there may be some truth to it. But I believe that there is a lot more to it than that based on the experiences that I have had.

        I will review the other material you sent.
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          Jan 18 2013: Fair enough.
          But I still want to point out how language matters in these discussions.
          It is not a question of divine intervention being a reality as much as it is about what is evidence.

          I do not question your subjective experience.
          And thank you for participating in the discussion. I do accept your comments as sincere
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          Jan 18 2013: Roy,
          I respect your idea of divine intervention as YOUR idea, and I also agree more with your explanation in the above comment.

          You say you..."see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively". You also state..."that prayer allows my mind to tune in (or align) to the workings of the cosmos so that I understand better why things happen."

          That concept seems very different to me than your previous statement..."I prayed to God for help." "I wanted God to reveal himself to me so that I could ask questions."

          Whichever concept you embrace is ok, it's just that it seems contradictory to me.

          I totally agree that when we are in balance/harmony, things tend to be different in our life experience, and I agree that calming the mind and aligning with nature, helps facilitate balance and harmony in our lives. The idea of prayer may help to facilitate balance.

          If you need to believe that there is a god who is directing all this, that's ok. Many of us experience balance and harmony simply with the perception that we are part of the "nature collectively", as you insightfully say. Personally, I do not need the image of a god "helping" me, or "revealing himself" to me. I do believe that we are part of the whole....collective nature. I do not believe in a man/god directing the process.

          You write as if your perception and belief is the one and only....this is how it is....and that is NOT how it is for all of us. Your perception and beliefs are YOUR subjective perception and beliefs, I understand that you would like to teach your ideas to everyone, and some of us have done extensive exploration, research and had experiences which give us different information than you are preaching. Can you trust that some of us are intelligent and informed enough to make our own decisions?
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          Jan 19 2013: Hi Roy,
          This is a response to your comment which begins...

          "Colleen,
          I believe that the reason my comments seem contradictory is because I shift from right brain to left brain perception. The right brain sees the creative forces of nature as a creator whereas the left brain sees them in mathematical models"

          You write..."see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively". You also state..."that prayer allows my mind to tune in (or align) to the workings of the cosmos so that I understand better why things happen."

          I assume this is the right brain seeing the creative forces of nature? I agree with this.

          You also write..."I prayed to God for help." "I wanted God to reveal himself to me so that I could ask questions."

          Is this the information you perceive to be based on "mathematical models. "?

          I also LOVE using both the right brain AND left brain, and usually, they are working together with consistant information.
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          Jan 19 2013: Roy,
          Response to your comment beginning with...

          "You have it backwards from the way I see it. "I prayed to God..." is my right brain seeing the forces of nature as a creator"..."my right brain sees the cosmos as an entity that I can talk to..."

          Ok...your right brain sees the forces of nature as a creator, which you call god... communication is occurring between your mind and the cosmos. In that regard, your right brain sees the cosmos as an entity that you can talk to....you perceive these forces of nature as mathematical models. Why do you call these "forces of nature and mathematical models "him"?
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        Jan 20 2013: Roy,
        Response to your comment...
        "I call these forces of nature "him" only because that is what religious people are used to. I write in my book that God has no sexual gender."

        And there lies the contradiction for me. You present the idea of "underlying forces of nature collectively", following a "mathematical model". You say..."I don't see a supreme being as a person who makes decisions, I see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively. They are everywhere and they are invisible."

        And you also reinforce the idea of a "supreme being" and connect it to religion..." because that is what religious people are used to".

        You are constantly preaching religion, and that is perhaps why Theodore has reminded you that this thread is not about religion.

        "Theodore A. Hoppe
        2 days ago: Allow me to repeat, this discussion is not about religion..."
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      Jan 17 2013: "Framing" This is important to grasp when considering religion

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_CWBjyIERY

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