Today I encountered a classical argument against the usefulness of praying. Praying to the christian God, to be exact. The argument stands on a fact, that a prayer is not influencing the physical world around us. No argument there, I agree fully. The rain will not fall because someone prays for it. A person will not get better because someone prays for it. A student will not be given an A because they pray for it.
What am I on about then? I am not here to say that you or anyone else should pray. I want to state the possibility that maybe, a person’s own individual state of mind can get better if the prayer happens. A farmer can do nothing else than pray for rain, when drought comes. If they do not have resources for irrigation, that is. Is it not better for the individual mind to do something, however futile the effort, however improbable the outcome is? It will not help the crops, but it might help the farmer. Similarly in the case of an illness. It only helps people not to be afraid, not to lose hope. It makes people hang onto the smallest chance of improvement in their lives. Is it not all you need? Chance is a wicked thing, deciding most (if not all) things that happen in the world. If a person gives up easy, they are not very viable in the evolutionary cycle.
Another note, in the case of a student and a test, I would argue that there is actually a potential for direct influence on the subject of the prayer. The expectation of odds favoring the student after they pray might calm the student, make them more focused, vigilant, make them perform better. In my earlier studies, while I considered myself a christian, I found that when I forgot even a quick prayer before an exam, the scores were typically worse. Or so it seemed. It might have been that I knew enough and was thus calmer and therefore remembered to pray, but I would say that the opposite way is more probable. This “ritual”, performed before any test had a significant influence on my cognitive skills. Later, after I found myself to have lost my faith, this ritual was obviously ineffective, thus making me eventually replace it by a more “scientific” method of calming down and accepting the odds.
I am not a religious person at this point in life. I neither expect to become one. But I would like for all atheists to consider this argument, before they dismiss praying as useless.