Petitionary Prayer

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info.gif Prayer: "Communication with God or (for some traditions) other supernatural beings and departed spirits. There are many forms of prayer, including propitiation, adoration and thanksgiving, but most philosophical discussions of prayer have focused on the problems posed by petitionary prayer, in which a person makes a request to God for some specific good. These problems include such questions as the following: Do such prayers require special divine actions (sometimes called "interventions," though the term is misleading) in the world? Can a God who is 'omniscient and perfectly 'good be affected by human prayers? The solutions to such questions require thought as to why a good God would wish to employ the free actions of humans in the pursuit of his goals."

Evans, C. (2002) Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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    Alston, William P.

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    Divine-Human Dialogue and the Nature of God

    "Prayer comes in all shapes and sizes. Commonly recognized forms include meditation, contemplation, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition. It is petitionary and intercessory prayer that has provoked the most perplexity. If God orders all things for the best, how could this ordering be influenced by our requests? Why would God do something He wasn't going to do anyway just because some human being asked Him to? A number of thinkers have made impressive contributions to this discussion, and I do not propose to add yet one more suggestion to that list. Instead I shall shift the focus to a set of issues concerning a more general feature of prayer of which divine compliance with requests is only one form."
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    Murray, Michael J.

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    Does Prayer Change Things?

    "The practice of petitionary prayer and the belief in its efficacy is deeply rooted in the major Western theistic traditions. A number of philosophical arguments have been raised against such a practice, the most powerful of which I have discussed here. While it may seem that there are no reasons that God would make provision depend on petition,...in fact there are a number of outweighing goods that can be secured through God’s establishing such a dependence. Further,...most serious potential problems that can arise from establishing such a dependence can be mitigated if we assume that God has middle knowledge."
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    Swinburne, Richard

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    Response to a Statistical Study of the Effect of Petitionary Prayer

    "Humans pray to God for many and various outcomes, good and bad; but among the most frequent petitionary prayers are surely prayers for the recovery of someone else from illness. But, as everyone knows, most illnesses follow a (statistically) largely predictable course, apparently independently of this stream of prayer...[I]t is a Christian doctrine that God hears our prayers, and answers them (if it is good for us) in a way best for us. Yet when we pray for another person, God knows far better than we do whether it will be best for that person and others affected by him, that he should recover immediately or later or not at all."
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    Timpe, Kevin

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    Prayers for the Past

    "All three of the world’s major monotheistic religions traditionally affirm that petitionary prayers can be causally efficacious in bringing about certain states of affairs. Most of these prayers are offered before the state of affairs that they are aimed at helping bring about. In the present paper, I explore the possibility of whether petitionary prayers for the past can also be causally efficacious. Assuming an incompatibilist account of free will, I examine four views in philosophical theology (simple foreknowledge, eternalism, Molinism, and openism) and argue that the first three have the resources to account for the efficacy of past-directed prayers, while the latter does not. I further suggest that on those views which affirm the possible efficacy of past-directed petitionary prayers, such prayers can be ‘impetratory’ even if the agent already knows that the desired state of affairs has obtained."