- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: No Need for God

Two studies caught my eye this week.

One, released by the American Physical Society, presented data suggesting that religion is headed for “extinction” in nine Western countries: Canada, Ireland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The scientists’ bold claims were based on a statistical model that tracked, over the past 100 years, the increasing population in hose countries that claimed affiliation with “no religion.” Projecting those numbers forward, they believe “religion will be driven toward extinction,” because people will discover that “the perceived utility of not adhering is greater than the utility of adhering” to a belief in God.

Utility. It’s a sad commentary on modern society that God must prove himself “useful” according to our standards or we’ll box religion up and send it to collect dust in some museum.

Before they proclaim the end of religion, however, perhaps these scientists ought to check in with their peers. The second study released last week shows that prayer — a fundamentally religious activity — produces social benefits by reducing anger and aggression.

Imagine that. It’s useful.

The groundbreaking study — the first to focus on the connection between prayer and anger - showed that prayer reduces anger and calms aggression in the person who prays.

Ohio State professor Brad Bushman, the study’s co-author, said, “We found that prayer really can help people cope with their anger.”

Prayer produced measurable differences in the people who prayed, compared to a similar group who merely thought good thoughts.

Even scientific proof of the power of prayer cannot turn a skeptic into a believer, however.

Because they cannot prove exactly why prayer reduced the anger and aggression of those who prayed, scientists struggle to find an explanation that doesn’t presume the reality of God.

Mr. Bushman suggested that prayer “probably … [helped] them change how they view the events that angered them and [helped] them take it less personally.”

Shouldn’t peaceful “thoughts” be able to do that?

What Mr. Bushman is missing is that prayer is different because it’s a communication with a very real Someone — Someone we need, a person named God, who can do anything.

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