I’ve had two recent events that got me thinking about prayers and answers to them. One of them was a conversation over lunch on my last day at Space Access. I can’t remember all at the table, but at one point someone brought up the concept of prayers and that he felt he had had some of his answered over the years. One of the other gentlemen at the table mentioned that as humans subject to confirmation bias, we tend to remember events which reinforce our beliefs, and forget those that don’t, and that if you pray for help in various situations that you’re more likely to remember the times when the thing you asked for happened, and forget the times when the thing you asked for didn’t happen. More recently, a recent twitter friend of mine, who is a fervent atheist made the claim that 90% of surveyed scientists do not believe that prayers get answered, as though that was an indication that faith was somehow unscientific. He also claimed that faith is belief in something without proof or evidence.
As for me, I have no doubt that I’ve received answers to my prayers–not just when I asked for something I wanted and got it, but literal answers sometimes. Some of the answered prayers were semi-miraculous, where I can’t think of a legitimate scientific explanation for what happened.
Like when we had our garden in Loveland protected from a hailstorm as a child after my mother had us pray for help. The prophet had told us we ought to plant gardens if we could. We had done so, and now a massive hail storm was coming, so my mom gathered us children around, and we said a prayer telling God that we had done what he had asked and that we needed his help to protect those crops. The hailstorm came, and while there was so much hail that it had looked like it snowed in our backyard, and while most of the trees in the neighborhood took severe damage, almost no hailstones fell on our garden plants. The walkways between the raised berms in the garden were deep with pebble-sized hailstones, but the plants weren’t harmed, and in fact we had the best harvest from that year’s garden that we ever had in my childhood memory. I don’t know of a realistic scientific explanation for how hail would fall inch deep in the paths and in the yard, but wouldn’t touch the four raised beds of the garden.
Or on my mission in the Philippines, I had several experiences (at least one in Bolinao and at least one in Binmaley) where we needed to find someone in a part of town I had never been to, and didn’t have a map for. We had prayed for help, and I saw a map in my mind, clearly marked showing where the person was. We’d go to that place, find roads exactly where I had seen them, and find the person there exactly where I had thought. In some cases, when I later found a map of the area, some of these roads weren’t even shown on the maps. How do you scientifically explain seeing a vision in your mind of a map of an area you’ve never been in, that accurately predicts exactly where the person was?
The weird thing though was that of these more tangible answers to prayer, where I can’t think of a legitimate scientific way to explain away the answer, most of these events weren’t actually that spiritually consequential. The 2-3 times I saw the map in my mind’s eye never led to teaching someone who accepted the gospel, in fact in both instances we met with the person and they weren’t interested and we never came back. The only one of these tangible answers to prayer that seemed to have any spiritual significance to me at all was the incident described above with the hailstorm in Loveland, and that’s probably because we were asking God in faith to protect something we felt he had asked us to do through the prophet.
On the other hand, many of the most meaningful answers to prayers that I’ve received have been ones that a scoffer or skeptic could easily brush off as some sort of delusion or wishful thinking–times when I felt that God had literally answered my question I had been trying to get an answer for. I remember my freshman year at BYU praying to know if the Book of Mormon was true. I had been raised in the Church, but had plenty of doubts, and many of my internet friends I had made that year were also agnostic or atheistic. It would’ve been rather convenient at the time had I not received an answer. But if you’re ever with me on BYU campus, I can show you where I got my answer. It wasn’t some glorious vision or tangible miracle–I just felt a voice tell me “You know it’s true. You’ve always known it’s true. Wherefore can you doubt?” This happened in a busy hallway in the Eyring Science Center in between classes. There was no audible voice that anyone else heard, but I knew my prayers had been answered, and I had no excuse for further doubt. And really there’s never been any going back for me. But a skeptic could easily claim that I had dreamed this up or imagined it.
Why is it that my experiences that a skeptic who had experienced them would have the hardest time brushing off weren’t usually that meaningful to me, while the ones that could be easily brushed-off were the most life-changing ones? I don’t know. But I know my prayers have on many occasions been answered. I know it, and I’d be dishonest to myself and the evidences I’ve seen to claim otherwise.