Why is the question "Why won't God heal amputees?" so important?

"Why won't God heal amputees?" may seem like an odd name for a Web site. The reason for choosing it is simple: this is one of the most important questions that we can ask about God.

The question, "Why won't God heal amputees?" probes into a fundamental aspect of prayer and exposes it for observation. This aspect of prayer has to do with ambiguity and coincidence.

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To help you understand why this question is so important, let's look at an example. Let's imagine that you visit your doctor one day, and he tells you that you have cancer. Your doctor is optimistic, and he schedules surgery and chemotherapy to treat your disease. Meanwhile, you are terrified. You don't want to die, so you pray to God day and night for a cure. The surgery is successful, and when your doctor examines you again six months later the cancer is gone. You praise God for answering your prayers. You totally believe with all your heart that God has worked a miracle in your life.

The obvious question to ask is: What cured you? Was it the surgery/chemotherapy, or was it God? Is there any way to know whether God is playing a role or not when we pray?

Unless you take the time to intelligently analyze this situation, it looks ambiguous. God might have miraculously cured your disease, as many Christians believe. But God might also be imaginary, and the chemotherapy drugs and surgery are the things that cured you. Or your body's immune system might have cured the cancer itself.

When your tumor disappeared, in other words, it might simply have been a complete coincidence that you happened to pray. Your prayer may have had zero effect.

How can we determine whether it is God or coincidence that worked the cure? One way is to eliminate the ambiguity. In a non-ambiguous situation, there is no potential for coincidence. Because there is no ambiguity, we can actually know whether God is answering the prayer or not.

That is what we are doing when we look at amputees.

Think about it this way. The Bible clearly promises that God answers prayers. For example, in Mark 11:24 Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." And billions of Christians believe these promises. You can find thousands of books, magazine articles and Web sites talking about the power of prayer. According to believers, God is answering millions of their prayers every day.

So what should happen if we pray to God to restore amputated limbs? Clearly, if God is real, limbs should regenerate through prayer. In reality, they do not.

Why not? Because God is imaginary. Notice that there is zero ambiguity in this situation. There is only one way for a limb to regenerate through prayer: God must exist and God must answer prayers. What we find is that whenever we create a unambiguous situation like this and look at the results of prayer, prayer never works. God never "answers prayers" if there is no possibility of coincidence. We will approach this issue from several different angles in this book, but Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 are particularly important:

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The fact that prayers are never answered when the possibility of coincidence is eliminated meshes with another fact. If we analyze God's responses to ambiguous prayers using statistical tools, what we find is that there is never any statistical evidence for prayer. In other words, when we statisically compare prayer to coincidence for explaining any situation, they are identical. For example, this article points out:
    One of the most scientifically rigorous studies yet, published earlier this month, found that the prayers of a distant congregation did not reduce the major complications or death rate in patients hospitalized for heart treatments. [ref]
It also says:
    A review of 17 past studies of ''distant healing," published in 2003 by a British researcher, found no significant effect for prayer or other healing methods.
No valid scientific study has ever found any evidence that prayer works. See this page for details.

You can see the same effect in the following prayer. Let's assume that you are a true believer and you do believe that God cures cancer. What would happen if we get down on our knees and pray to God in this way:

    Dear God, almighty, all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe, we pray to you to cure every case of cancer on this planet tonight. We pray in faith, knowing you will bless us as you describe in Matthew 7:7, Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12-14, Matthew 18:19 and James 5:15-16. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
We pray sincerely, knowing that when God answers this completely heartfelt, unselfish, non-materialistic prayer, it will glorify God and help millions of people in remarkable ways. If God cures cancer, then this is an easy prayer for an omnipotent, all-loving God to answer.

The fact is, what this prayer does is remove ambiguity. As soon as we do that, we see the true nature of "God." There is no way that a coincidence can answer this prayer, and, sure enough, the prayer goes unanswered.

If you look at the data, you can see exactly what is happening here:

  • When we pray to God about any non-ambigous situation, God never answers the prayer.

  • When we analyse any ambiguous prayer using statistical tools, we find zero effect from prayer.
In other words, every "answered prayer" truly is a coincidence, nothing more. "God" doesn't "answer prayers" at all. The belief in prayer is pure superstition. Non-ambiguous prayers (like those of amputees) show us, conclusively, that the whole idea that "God answers prayers" is an illusion created by human imagination.

Would you like to learn more? In Section 1 we demonstrate that prayer does not work in dozens of different ways. Start with the Table of Contents or jump immediately to Section 1.

by Marshall Brain

New York Times Coverage
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."

Table of contents

Executive Summary


Section 1 - prayer Section 2 - The Bible Section 3 - Jesus What it means


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