Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

PZ Myers, despite being at a large Midwestern state school, has decided to pick on my current academic home, the University of Michigan. Why, you ask? Well, yes, a few students are doing something rather silly.

Engineering senior Israel Vicars didn’t think it was a coincidence when he walked by a drunken girl who had fallen over in a parking lot and desperately needed help. Vicars attributes his ability to safely return the girl to her residence hall to the power of united prayer. Fostering that united prayer is what the campus program 40 Days of Prayer is all about.

Apparently a lot of accumulated coincidences (and a healthy dose of confirmation bias!) adds up to the positive power of prayer. I wonder how much more positive change might occur if they were volunteering at the Delonis Center in downtown Ann Arbor for 40 days instead.

But anyway, if you want to say a few prayers for PZ, a University of Minnesota-Morris Christian organization has an online prayer submission form at the ready.


  1. #1 Ron Chusid
    January 15, 2008

    Rubbish. If there was really any remarkable power of united prayer in Ann Arbor other prayers would have worked. For example, if prayer worked in Ann Arbor, Hart and Henne would have stayed healthy all season.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    January 15, 2008

    Ron – So, you’re saying that it wasn’t a miracle when U of M beat Northwestern at hoops last week?

  3. #3 Cuttlefish
    January 15, 2008

    They bowed their heads for forty days
    Beseeching God in prayer;
    They asked for help in many ways
    But nobody was there
    Nobody helped the homeless out
    Or cleaned a neighbor’s yard
    I guess they thought they had more clout
    By praying really hard.
    For forty days these students did
    The least that they could do
    (What, volunteer? No! God forbid!)
    That’s just amazin’, Blue!

  4. #4 T. Bruce McNeely
    January 15, 2008

    Engineering senior Israel Vicars didn’t think it was a coincidence when he walked by a drunken girl who had fallen over in a parking lot and desperately needed help.

    No it’s not a coincidence at all, encountering a drunk student in a University parking lot. More like encountering, oh I don’t know, a car in a University parking lot? (Speaking from sad experience)

  5. #5 SpotWeld
    January 15, 2008

    If I was still in Ann Arbor I suspect I’d end up just hanging out over the Vault of Midnight. I think I heard they’re running demos of a board game called “Blasphemy” downstairs.

  6. #6 Ron Chusid
    January 15, 2008


    I guess I stand corrected.

    An omnipotent, omniscient being which created the entire universe clearly also spends his time intervening in college sporting events. I guess Notre Dame fans could have told us this all along. I wonder what Notre Dame did to piss him off so much this football season.

  7. #7 Ron Chusid
    January 15, 2008

    I added a post on this blog war over Michigan at Liberal Values and noted the defense of Michigan from one Michigan Neuroscience PhD candidate. The spell checker in Firefox doesn’t accept Neuroscience, and the first suggestion to replace it is Pseudosciences. (I hope this computerized commentary on her field isn’t enough to drive Shelley to being found drunk in an Ann Arbor parking lot.)

  8. #8 Calli Arcale
    January 15, 2008

    I would say that in this case, prayer probably did have an affect. At least, if I’m interpreting the story correctly. Vicars knows about the “united prayer” and that knowledge probably helped motivate him to help instead of shuffling hastily on by. Call it peer pressure, or simply the fact that the corporate prayer sessions made him think seriously about the importance of helping others.

    Prayer is very effective, in my opinion. Just not in the way that Vicars and this prayer group think. (Note: I am a Christian, and I do believe that God listens to our prayers. However, I am of the opinion that He doesn’t generally intercede in the world.)

  9. #9 Karen
    January 15, 2008

    Call it peer pressure, or simply the fact that the corporate prayer sessions made him think seriously about the importance of helping others.

    If that was their goal, wouldn’t their time be better spent at a homeless shelter or volunteering somewhere? Atheists help drunk girls in the parking lot too, and we don’t pray.

  10. #10 Garabaldi's Underpants
    January 15, 2008

    I’m am flabbergasted and astounded Miss Arcale at your presumptuous attitude toward the effect of prayer. This Vicars character clearly wished to abscond with the drunk girls pantaloons after he deposited the young lady at her domicile. I also believe that religion has nothing to do with how nice or not people are. You Miss Arcale should be ashamed.

  11. #11 alexa-blue
    January 15, 2008

    So, this guy finds a drunken female undergrad face down in a parking lot and concludes it is the answer to his prayers? Creepy.

  12. #12 Ron Chusid
    January 15, 2008


    Note he is a senior in engineering. This might be the only chance he has to meet a female student. 🙂

    (My apologies to anyone in engineering who might be reading. That one was just too irresistible.)

  13. #13 Ninja-bot
    January 16, 2008

    I’m a skeptic through and through, but it still disturbs me when I see people unabashedly BASH people’s belief in faith and prayer, particularly those replying on the original post linked from this entry. If you want the faithful to at least acknowledge the possibility that their faith in an omnipotent god might be misguided, you’d be well served to treat them with a modicum of respect. Wannabe-scientists can sound pretty god damn (lawl) stupid when they speak as if they’re 14 years old and mocking some ugly kids during recess.


  14. #14 Calli Arcale
    January 16, 2008

    *grin to Garibaldi’s Underpants*
    On a serious note, I agree: religion is absolutely no indicator of a person’s niceness. Indeed, some quite horrendous things have been done in the name of religion. And atheism too. Nastiness seems to be a pretty universal trait of humans. Fortunately, niceness is too. I’m optimistic; I think the niceness will generally win out in the long run. (Either that or we’ll go extinct by killing ourselves.)

    To Karen, yes, that time would be well-spent volunteering at a homeless shelter. Personally, I’ve never been into that sort of marathon corporate prayer schtick. It usually strikes me as a lot like the hollow protests of PETA (they spend their money mostly on telling people how awful they are for hurting animals rather than actually doing much to directly help animals), or like the sort of think Jesus spoke against in the Gospels. The last is pretty ironic. Basically, there’s a passage encouraging people to do most of their prayer in silence, where no one can see them, lest they start praying purely to be seen praying so that people will know how pious they are. Jesus called such people hypocrites.

    I won’t pass judgement on whether or not these people are hypocrites for their marathon prayer session, or on whether or not they might possibly be endangering their salvation or whatever. That would be presumptuous. But I do think it’s kinda silly. After all, since the main effect of prayer is to reinforce one’s convictions, or to provide an avenue for introspection, doing it in a group for 40 hours straight probably isn’t any more effective than more modest quantities of prayer. A waste of effort, in other words. Which is how I feel about a lot of protest efforts too, actually. Some are effective at expressing a point, but most just strike me as a bunch of people wanting others to notice how thoughtful they are to have wanted to protest something.

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    January 16, 2008

    Ah, found the reference. To any atheists out there, if you get annoyed at an obnoxious Christian praying in public (or asking for public prayer in schools) you might want to use this as ammunition. This is from the King James translation, simply because I’m a cheapskate and that one’s freely available on the web:

    Matthew 6:5-7
    And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

  16. #16 Shelley Batts
    January 16, 2008

    Heh, nice find Calli. Btw this post was meant to poke at PZ mostly. Although I do think that organized public praying isn’t going to accomplish much and is a bit silly, at the most its just a waste of time on the part of those involved. There’s plenty of worse things they could be doing. (And I used to be one of them.)

  17. #17 Engineer-Poet
    January 16, 2008

    I have trouble imagining Shelly drunk and lying in a snowbank.  She seems too much like the sober type.

    However, if I did happen to discover her in one, I think it would be a great opportunity to help her to some convenient coffee shop and feed her massive amounts of caffeine while she sobered up.  I bet she has a sense of humor and might appreciate the situation later.

    (Disclaimer:  I’m an engineer and a graduate of U of M Ann Arbor.)

  18. #18 Calli Arcale
    January 17, 2008

    Glad you liked, Shelley. It’s actually one of my favorites; I just always have to use a search engine to remember where it appears in the Bible. 😉

    Someone thinks it’s really, really, really important to have a public prayer over the loudspeaker at a ballgame? Truly, they have received their reward. There definitely is a tendency in humans to want their righteousness (whether religious or otherwise) to be known. It’s pride, basically, and it shows up all over the place. In Egypt, it’s apparently become fashionable for men to have a callous in the middle of the forehead to show how diligent they are at praying. That’s pride at work. That’s religion for the wrong reason. It’s being pious not because it’s a good thing but so that other people think highly of you. Alas, all too many Christians fall into that category as well.

  19. #19 Tony Jeremiah
    January 19, 2008

    George Carlin has a pretty funny take on prayer and sports. Paraphrasing, he said I don’t understand why athletes pray before a competition. Because if they lose, they say it’s God will. But if it’s God’s will, why would you pray in the first place?

    On a science note, evidence exists connecting prayer and healing. One of the more interesting reports I’ve seen is a significant change in the CD4 count of AIDS patients prayed for (at a remote distance and without their knowledge) relative to a control condition of patients not prayed for.


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