For the moment, let’s set aside the problem of why God doesn’t do what is right regardless of whether people pray. And let’s set aside the problem of what god, if any, is answering prayers. Finally, let’s also set aside the problem of why God doesn’t answer important prayers—like those to alleviate world hunger, those from victims of war-ravaged places like Darfur, and those who suffer because of hurricanes and devastating illnesses. While these questions need to be answered before launching a definitive test of the power of petitionary prayer, in this essay I’d like to offer an intermediate proposal tailored for believers only. Why not objectively test your own prayers, at least provisionally? (I assume that many of you will succumb to human nature and place at least one thumb on the weight scales.) If you can’t measure the effect of your own prayers, it’s unlikely you’ll have much luck measuring the effectiveness of the prayers of others.
Believers around the world claim that their particular god answers (favorably grants) petitionary prayers. From my experience, what’s going on here is something called “selective observation”: counting the hits and discounting the misses. All we hear about are those rare cases of “answered” prayers. Given the billions of prayers that are prayed every day, surely some highly unusual ones will get “granted,” if only because of the odds. After all, lightning does strike here and there.