The Guy Who Taught Us “How Stuff Works” is Ready to Explain Why God Doesn’t Work January 6, 2015

The Guy Who Taught Us “How Stuff Works” is Ready to Explain Why God Doesn’t Work

In 1997, the aptly-named Marshall Brain began a website that became a phenomenon: How Stuff Works. For years now, he’s been the guy who explained the inner workings of things we take for granted.

Now, he’s applying that same skill to religion.

His new book is called How “God” Works: A Logical Inquiry on Faith (Sterling Ethos, 2015):


You may not know this, but Brain is the same guy who created the website Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? And in the excerpt below, Brain talks about why God isn’t in the limb-regenerating business and what we should take away from that:

Millions of people pray to God every day to cure their diseases, solve their financial problems, help them win in Las Vegas, and so on. Christians behave in this way for many reasons: Because so many other people talk about answered prayers; because prayer is a big part of the culture; because of the many statements in the Gospels claiming that God will, in fact, do something as a result of prayer.

Imagine a Christian named Ashley who would like to be intellectually honest with herself. Her desire is to understand what’s really happening with prayer — to understand whether God is actually answering her prayers, or whether her “answered prayers” are in reality simple coincidences. For Ashley, there is an easy way to discover the truth: She can pray in a situation where there is no chance for coincidence to occur. Since coincidence has been eliminated, the only way for the prayer to be answered is for God to actually answer it.

Let us imagine that we, as critical thinkers, wish to formulate an extremely simple and extremely benevolent experiment to test the efficacy of prayer for Ashley. We take Christian veterans who are amputees and we start a program to actively and intensely pray for them. Christians gather together to ask God to spontaneously restore the lost limbs of veterans. We do not pray for prosthetics, or for surgeons to graft on donor limbs, or for medical science to develop a revolutionary new stem cell therapy or gene manipulation. We ask God to spontaneously replace amputated limbs today using only the power of prayer.

What happens if Jesus, who is supposed to be God incarnate, who is supposed to be perfect, omniscient, and incapable of lying, says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name” in a book that the majority of adults in America claim to be literally true? In that case, a critical thinker reasonably expects Jesus to do what he says he will do. We expect Jesus to regenerate amputated limbs in the same way that Christians claim Jesus is eliminating cancerous tumors. There really is nothing else to expect in this situation unless one or more of God’s attributes are false.

Yet we know, with certainty, that prayers for the restoration of amputated limbs will never work. Amputated limbs are never restored through prayer. Every thoughtful, intellectually honest person knows this.

It doesn’t matter how many people pray, how sincere they are, how devout they are, how much money they give to the church, or whether a priest is involved. Nothing ever happens when we pray to restore amputated limbs.

So why won’t God help amputees by restoring their lost limbs? Does God hate amputees? Is God discriminating against amputees? Is there something about amputees that locks them out of God’s prayer answering circle?

These are valid questions, but they are not the correct questions. This is the question a critical thinker asks: Does God answer any prayers? The critical thinker then forms a hypothesis: Every answered prayer of intercession is nothing more than a coincidence. The critical thinker then looks for evidence to support this hypothesis:

  • The situation with amputees provides evidence that is clear and unambiguous: Prayers to restore amputated limbs never work. In fact, every prayer fails when the possibility of coincidence has been eliminated like this.
  • Try praying big instead of praying small. Instead of praying to cure one case of rabies, pray to God to completely eliminate the rabies virus worldwide overnight. Note that big prayers like these never work. Again, the chance for coincidence is eliminated.
  • When the answer to a prayer could be a coincidence, and statistical analysis is performed, it becomes clear that every “answered prayer” is in fact a coincidence. Religious people do not win lotteries more often because they pray to win. Religious people do not get cured of
    diseases at better rates because their friends pray for them. And so on. The evidence is concrete, consistent, and unambiguous. There is voluminous evidence indicating that belief in prayer is a superstition, and no valid evidence at all indicating that prayers of intercession work.

You can perform experiments yourself, in your own home today, to prove that prayer doesn’t work as described in the Bible. Critical thinkers use the evidence to understand the truth about how the world works.

So why do billions of people on Earth today believe that prayer works? Why is religious inspirational literature filled with thousands of examples of “answered prayers?” What’s happening is simple: Believers, because they lack or ignore critical thinking skills, do not look at evidence correctly. Or they completely ignore evidence. For example, believers fail to take coincidence into account when evaluating prayer’s efficacy, using confirmation bias to make note of the prayers that “work” while ignoring all of the prayers that do not.

How do Christians typically handle the unambiguous evidence that amputees represent? They might come up with rationalizations to try to explain why statements in the Bible are untrue for amputees. Or they might try to explain why amputees are somehow different from other people. Or they might simply get angry and storm away so they can ignore the evidence completely.

To see the reality of prayer, simply read what the Bible says and listen to what Christians say about prayer. Then pray for anything that cannot happen by coincidence. Pray for amputees to see their lost limbs spontaneously regenerated. Pray for an immediate, worldwide end to all cancers and other illnesses. Pray to fly like Superman. If there is no possibility for coincidence to influence the outcome, the number of answered prayers will always be zero.

How “God” Works is available in bookstores and online beginning today. And don’t forget to listen to our interview with Marshall on the most recent episode of our podcast!

Reprinted with permission from How “God” Works published in 2015 by Sterling Ethos, an imprint of Sterling Publishing. Text © 2014 BYG Publishing, Inc.

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