If you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry all through the year. Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked [on New Year’s Day], even though they are mischievous.
Every typical Greek house has a cactus growing near its door – they believe that it saves them from troubles.
If an Italian sees a nun, he will seek to touch a metal, so that the luck doesn’t leave him.
Stepping on the cloth border of a tatami mat brings bad luck.
It is bad luck if a widow, a single Brahman, or a man carrying oil or milk crosses your path.
It is bad luck for a black cat to cross your path.
I have frequently been told the following by conservative Christians in support of their belief in the existence of the supernatural (God, devils, angels, demons, etc..) : “Miracles prove the existence of the supernatural. Millions of people all over the world claim to have experienced miracles, in particular, miracles due to answered prayer. How can so many people be wrong??? At least some of these millions of miracle claims must be true.”
My response: Billions of people all over the world, today and for millennia in the past, believe that they have experienced bad luck due to intentionally or unintentionally violating a particular taboo in their culture. So let’s apply the same logic: “How can so many people be wrong about bad luck taboos?” And, “At least some of these billions of bad luck claims must be true!” Right???
Wrong. The pervasiveness of the belief in bad luck taboos is proof that just because a lot of people believe something does not mean it is true. Crossing paths with a black cat is NOT going to cause you misfortune. And I believe that the evidence is clear that praying to a god is no more effective in affecting future events than crossing your fingers.
So how did cultural taboos come about? I will bet that most of these beliefs began when one person experienced a horrific calamity immediately after having a black cat cross the road, stepping on a tatami mat, or not having a cactus in front of his house like all his neighbors. The person who suffered the calamity made the claim to his neighbors that the one event had caused the other. Soon other people (who had heard of the circumstances of the first person’s misfortune) experienced misfortune under similar circumstances, reinforcing the belief in that village that some causal relationship exists between a black cat crossing in front of you, etc., and bad fortune. And soon, this belief spread to the surrounding villages, then the surrounding districts of the country, until one day this belief was an established belief in the entire country. And voila…a cultural taboo (superstition) was born!
Is that how prayer came to be seen as effective? One person in the culture prayed to Zeus or Ra or Yahweh for it to rain, and when it did, the god in question got the credit for the rain instead of realizing that the short time difference between asking for rain and it actually raining was nothing more than a rare, random coincidence?
If every time a black cat crossed in front of someone a terrible event happened, everyone would believe that black cats cause bad luck. If bad events never happened after crossing paths with a black cat, no one would believe this claim. But that isn’t the case, is it? Bad events do sometimes happen after crossing paths with a black cat. The reality is that bad events happen after crossing paths with black cats just often enough for some people in our culture, particularly in the past, and maybe even now, to believe that there is a causal relationship between black cats and misfortune (bad luck).
I suggest that the same is true with answered prayers and miracles. The desired prayer outcome occurs just often enough after a Christian prays for him (for her) to believe that there is a causal relationship between prayer and good things happening. Even Christians must admit that not all prayers are answered. I would wager to bet that if Christians were honest, they would be forced to admit that most prayers are not answered (unless you insist on including prayers for your food to remain safe for consumption and prayers that all members of your family will still be alive at bedtime tonight). And I will bet that if each Christian would take the time to sit down and write down all their prayer requests for the last month (excluding safe food consumption and family safety), they would find that the success rate of prayer would be no better than random chance.
In conclusion, the fact that millions of people believe that they have experienced a miracle due to prayer is no more proof that miracles are real or that prayer is effective, than the fact that billions of people believe that misfortune (bad luck) has struck them due to their violation of a particular cultural taboo. Both bad luck and miracles can be explained by statistics: They are both random, sometimes very rare, but very natural events.
It’s all about random chance, folks.
There are no invisible superheroes performing magic tricks for you. Praying to these imaginary beings is a waste of your valuable time.