Friday, May 20, 2011


I feel sick with an unbearable pain.

Excruciating, it calls my attention

to dark places ignored, now flooding with suffering.

Lying in the wake of my own shortcomings.

Lying in the ash from my lungs, the blood from my wrists,

in the still, dead morning of May.

I breathe in refusal, refusal to heal,

and despair breathes me out.

But what else can I do?

The years have taken many forms,

but underlying is the same substance.

A substance infinite and terrible,

at the ground of all Being.

A yawning nothingness we are never

to pay heed.

Or rather, we do not pay it,

but it steals from us. Steals every chance,

steals my every chance,

every shot in the dark

at being happy.

And after my morning vertigo,

Horror recedes back into the recesses of my mind.

And I drink my coffee, have my conversations,

with the Shadow lurking near,

waiting for the cover of night.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eros Lost

Lovely abstraction,
I try to find you in the waves but
You were drowned long ago.
I can still feel you struggling for air,
Can still feel the panic in your pulse.
Was it I who held you under?
Unreliable memories make the search
Turn up confused and incomplete.

I force myself to believe that you're still out there
Waiting to be found.
Waiting for me to uncover you
Dig you out of the 'X' over my world's eyes.
But the sand floods back in
The quicker, the more fervent I try.
But I guess it's about destiny.

Destiny versus choice.
To behold the unfolding or
To chart out my own way under the stars.
Like that night we walked on the sky
And looked above us only to find earth.
Do I choose what will keep me grounded?
Or cut my strings and depart
To her deepest regions,
The heart of the world,
Where my love is ensared
Behind self-built bars
Waiting for me to say the words.
But what were they?

Sunday, April 24, 2011


"The second stage is like this: When God has drawn a person so far away from all things, and he is no longer a child and he has been strengthened with the comfort of sweetness. Then indeed one gives him good coarse rye bread. He has become a man and has reached maturity. Solid, strong food is what is good and useful for a grown man. He shouldn't be given milk and soft bread any longer, and such is withheld from him. He is then led onto a terribly wild path, very gloomy and forsaken. And on this path God takes back from him everything that he had ever given him. Then and there the person is left so completely to himself that he loses all notion of God and gets into such a distressful state that he cannot remember whether things had ever gone right for him, whether he has a God or not, and whether he is the same person; and he suffers such incredible pain that this whole wide world is too confining for him. He has neither any feeling for nor knowledge of God, and he has no liking for any other things. It seems to him that he is suspended between two walls with a sword in back of him and a sharp spear in front. What does he do then? He can go neither forward nor back. He can only sit down and say, 'Hail, bitterer bitterness, full of grace!' If there could be hell in this life, this would seem to be more than hell--to be bereft of loving and the good thing loved. Anything that one might then say to such a person would console him about as much as a stone. And he could stand even less hearing about creatures. The more the sense of and feel for God stood formerly in the foreground, the greater and more unendurable are the bitterness and misery of this abandonment." -John Tauler, Sermon 39, 14th century

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Refutation of the Coherence Theory of Truth

Davidson famously made a supposed knock-down argument against the correspondence theory of truth. It came to be known as the sling-shot argument because of its "disarming simplicity". Without getting into the details of that argument, I want to propose a similarly simple, and disarming, argument against the coherence theory of truth. I take it that my argument is more swiftly disarming than Davidson's, so call it the "Golden Gun Argument".

The coherence theory of truth amounts to the claim that some proposition p is true if and only if p coheres (fits with, etc.) the rest of one's beliefs, which themselves also must be mutually coherent. Depending on the theory, each belief must either be entailed by, or more modestly compatible with, the rest of one's beliefs. I want to claim that this theory is itself incoherent, and I employ two distinct arguments to demonstrate this. The first of these arguments concludes that the coherence theory ought not be believed, in an epistemically normative sense. The second argument, however, leads to a much stronger conclusion: That the coherence theory is necessarily false. Because I see the latter argument as the stronger, we will call this one the Golden Gun Argument. Accordingly, we will call the former argument the Target Practice Argument.

1. Target Practice

For this first argument, as I said, I will try to show that the coherence theory ought not be believed. That is, it would not be epistemically virtuous, or responsible, to believe it. The argument will hinge on the following normative claim:

(N) One ought not believe some universally quantified proposition p true if p could trivially fail to obtain.

Obviously, the claim of N needs some clarifying. What I mean by "trivially fail to obtain" is something like the following: That some not-unexpected circumstantial fact, or occurrence, could render your belief that p false. Because N is largely intuitive, and therefore difficult to give a precise explanation of, I think we should consider an example. Say I believe the universal claim "All citizens of nation X will continue to stand within the borders of nation X". Now, even if I have good reason to believe citizens of X are fervent patriots, have no desire to go elsewhere, and are generally apathetic about moving their bodies, I still should not believe the universal claim. Why? Because a quite trivial, easily actualized occurrence could render it false: One citizen stepping outside the borders of X. So although the evidence may be strong that the citizens generally love their country, hate moving, and etc., the fact that it wouldn't be immensely unexpected for just one citizen to step out, and indeed easy for them to do so, renders my belief irresponsible in some way. I hope the intuition behind N is now sufficiently clear.

Here, then, is the argument:

P1. The coherence theory is a universal claim concerning the nature of truth.
P2. Any universal claim that could trivially fail to obtain should not be believed (by N).
P3. The coherence theory could trivially fail to obtain.
Conclusion: Therefore, the coherence theory should not be believed.

Now we may address the heart of the argument, which is found in (P3). The reason that the coherence theory could trivially fail to obtain is easy to see: If it is true, then the coherence theory itself by definition needs to fit in (cohere, be entailed by, etc.) the rest of our beliefs. But what guarantees that it will? Sure, under some people's system of beliefs the coherence theory may cohere with the rest, but surely not all people's. It seems highly plausible that there could be multiple, and equally "coherent" and "justified", systems of beliefs that themselves conflicted with the coherence theory. But, if such systems of beliefs did conflict with the coherence theory, then the coherence theory would turn out false under those systems. Thus it seems that the coherence theory has the capacity to fail its own criterion for truth. Indeed, a quite trivial and easily actualizable fact could render it false: A coherent, justified system of beliefs being held that itself did not cohere with the coherence theory of truth.

So much for Target Practice.

2. The Golden Gun Argument

This argument will depend heavily upon the modal notions of necessity and possibility. In particular, it depends on the S5 axiom of modal logic: That is, if possibly necessarily p, then necessarily p. I will , however, be using the logically equivalent axiom: If possibly necessarily ~p, then necessarily ~p.

Here's the argument:

P1. The coherence theory is possibly self-refuting.
P2. For any x, if x is self-refuting then x is necessarily false.
P3. Therefore, the coherence theory is possibly necessarily false.
Conclusion: Therefore, the coherence theory is necessarily false.

(P1) is supported by the fact that, as mentioned before, if the coherence theory is correct then under certain systems of beliefs it will be self-refuting. That is, under those systems the following conditional will obtain: 'If the coherence theory of truth is true, then the coherence theory of truth is false'. Thus it is possibly self-refuting. (P2) is self-evident (i.e., not only are statements like "This is not a sentence" self-refuting, but they are also, ipso facto, necessarily false). (P3) follows from (P1) and (P2), and, of course, the conclusion follows by an application of S5.

If this reasoning is correct, then the coherence theory is in big trouble. Not only is it false, but it is impossible that it be true (under suitable assumptions). Thus the Golden Gun Argument achieves a head-shot.

NOTE: It's worth mentioning, I think, that the coherence theory of truth implies the possibility of the correspondence theory of truth being true (if it happened to cohere with a mutually fitted web of belief). Yet, the correspondence theory of truth implies, at most, that the coherence theory of truth be justified, or coherent, thus retaining its own integrity. Correspondence appears to come out on top.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Reconsideration of Teleology

In recent months I've been forming some serious doubts about the idea that teleology is something real in nature. Part of the reason for this has been the consideration that objective teleology seems only to be a feature of designed systems, whereas natural systems have evolved randomly. At a deeper level, however, my issue has been with the idea of essential properties, and it's correlative theory of "natures" (both being at least necessary, if not sufficient, conditions for a teleological system). By nature I mean that thing, or set of things, that demarcates one species or genera from another. As Aristotle put it in the Metaphysics, a thing has a nature insofar as it has a source of change intrinsic to itself (thus, for example, a tree has a nature because it has a natural end-directed growth process that arises from it's own, internal, teleological structure). However, I am beginning to reconsider the idea of natures as a viable philosophical option.

One of my main objections to the idea of essential properties has been, roughly, this: There is no non-arbitrary way to differentiate between essential, and non-essential (or "accidential"), properties. And that, because of this, the idea of the "essence" of a thing is a human idea with no objective reality. The arbitrariness of the distinction can be seen by way of the following line of reasoning: If there are essential properties, then any object x that lacked any one of its essential properties would cease to be x. This, however, has the absurd consequence that it is only adequately functioning members of a species that actually are members of that species. For example, if it is essential to a human being that he be a rational animal, then if he ceases to be rational (say, is born with major brain defects, or has an ailment such as schizophrenia), then he has, by definition, ceased to be a human being. This, though, is an unwanted conclusion, and thus the essentialist must give up the idea of essential properties.

However, an obvious reply is quick at hand. It is not those properties that an object x actually manifests that constitute its essence, but rather it is those properties that x would manifest if x were functioning properly. So, in the case of our irrational human being, the property "rational" is essential to him in the sense that if he had not been born with such a brain defect, then he would, under normal circumstances, behave in such a way that we would normatively call "rational" (he would avoid walking off cliffs, make plans for the future, and the like). This, however, seems prima facie unsatisfactory. For if the essence of a thing were a set of potential properties (made potential by, say, the thing's genetic structure), then how could you demarcate one potential property as "essential" from any other? To make this thought more clear, consider the fact that not only does my genetic structure give me the potential to manifest, say, sight (call this an essential property), but it also gives me the potential to manifest arbitrary, what the essentialist wants to call "accidental", properties such as "enjoying roast beef". So looking to the set of potential properties given in my genetic structure seems not be a useful criterion for demarcation either.

It is because of these and related issues that I began to doubt the idea of essences, or natures, in the natural world. The idea seemed incoherent at worst, and pragmatically useless at best. Of course, it doesn't follow from any of the aforementioned lines of reasoning that there are no essential properties, but rather just that, if there were, we would seem to have an epistemic barrier in knowing which were essential and which accidential, indicating that the idea was more of a useful human construct than an objective reality (as William James said in his Principles of Psychology, while I am writing on a piece of paper it is essential that I concieve it as a "surface for writing", but if my fire is getting low it is essential that I concieve it as "fuel for a fire"). My views are however being reconsidered for some of the proceeding reasons.

The first thing I began to think about was the fact that I liked to say "I don't believe in essential properties in terms of an abstract essence, but I do believe in 'essential properties' in the sense that there are probability distributions among species". What I meant was that, while it was incoherent to view essential properties in their real, metaphysical sense, it nonetheless was obviously the case that different species tended to actualize certain properties taken as a whole, and that these properties could be conveniently classified as "essential". I thought I could leave it at that, but I was wrong. The reason is that the fact that species, as a whole, tend to manifest certain unique behavioral and biological properties is itself in need of explanation. It would be silly to take facts about the near universal actualization of particular properties by certain organisms to be a trivial fact that had no source in some deeper reality. When one asks the question, "Why does species x tend to manifest certain regularities; tend to regularly behave, reproduce, and interact with the world in certain ways?", the simplest and most obvious answer is because it is in their nature to do so. Sure, not every member of a species fully actualizes their nature, but they are nonetheless part of a wider population, and ancestry, that almost uniformly does manifest such a nature, and thuse can be reasonably said to belong to that species, though in a disfunctional way.

To further clarify this point about probability distributions, we should look at an everyday example of a probability explanandum and its explanans. Take the example of coin-flipping. Say you're flipping a coin that repeatedly comes up heads (say the ratio of heads-to-tails is 20:1). The fact that heads comes up 20:1, an odd and repeated tendency in favor of heads, cries out for explanation. We reasonably infer that the coin has been rigged to land on heads. Put another way, we have infered that despite the fact that it sometimes lands on tails, it has been made to be of such a nature as to land on heads. And most probability-based inferences share this general structure: That the probability distribution D implies something about the nature of the object giving rise to D. Put still another way, there is always an explanans logically prior to facts about probability distributions.

Once I realized that such probability distributions were best explained by something like a nature, I began to think about the epistemic problem again: How do we decide what specifically belongs to that nature and what doesn't? Of course, we could never know all that a thing's nature enompassed (because, as James said, we are a "wellspring" of properties), but it seems to be that there are what you might call "essence-indicators" in things that point us in the right direction.

Inextricable from the idea of a nature is the idea of behaving, or more broadly functioning in a certain way. To say that a thing has a nature, or an essence, is to say that it has parts which function in a unique way to produce certain normative behaviors and properties. So, then, if there is a part of that functional system which only makes sense as a part of the integrated whole, then we may reasonably say that it constitues an aspect of the thing's nature. To work this idea out, let's take the example of an organism having the properties of both (a) having a birthmark, and (b) having a leg (let's say it's a human being for argument's sake). If you didn't know anything about human beings, and you happened upon a newborn child, you would observe its many characteristics, including (a) and (b). Upon examining (a), it would not be apparent to you that it served any unique or functional purpose as part of the organismal whole. (a) is merely some sort of mark, with no apparent relation to any other part of the body to make sense of it. (b) on the other hand can be seen to function cooperatively with many other parts of the body such that the other parts make sense of what it is. So, for example, you see that the infant has not only this one leg, but two! And that these both appear to work together as the infant first crawls, and then walks in the world. The difference between (a) and (b) is further highlighted if you consider a case in which the child was born with only one leg. If the child were born with only one leg, then it would appear obvious, even to those not familiar with human beings, that the remaining leg would make more sense if the other were present; make more sense in such a way as to define each individual leg as "a thing that walks", although this property is only manifest when functioning in cooperation with another leg. These privations I will call "functional traces".

The presence of functional traces, then, serve as essence-indicators. To take another example, think of a child being born with only one eye, and where the other eye should have been there is an eye-socket with nerves hanging from the visual cortex down in it. The fact that you can see the other eye filling the socket with nerves hooked into the back of it is a functional trace relative to seeing how the other eye properly functions.

So now we have a general picture emerging that makes the existence of discrete natures appear more plausible. The ontological reality of natures is suggested by and in the regularities of the behaviors and properties that species exhibit. The epistemic problem of how we may reliably demarcate the essential from the accidential properties is resolved by the knowability, through empirical investigation, of functions and functional traces. I think, however, that we can make this account clearer still by utilizing a set-theoretic framework.

I want to propose that we think of the essence (or nature) of a thing as a set of properties. Call this set S. Additionally, call any species member K, so that S will be a set had by K. S will be formally defined as the set that contains all and only those properties which (a) are normatively actualized by the species to which K belongs, (b) are, in principle, empirically discoverable as functional traces in a state of disfunction, and (c) are a set of properties such that, if some member of another species K* possessed S as a proper subset, K* would share a nature with K (this last property being S's self-membership). Lastly, I should clarify that a species possessing a property-set that overlaps with S is not sufficient for a nature to be shared, but the species must possess S as a proper subset. I may have more to say about this in future entries, but it suffices for now to a give a rough idea of how essences may be formally defined.
Thus it is that, while not fully endorsing a view of natures, I now view it as a more formidable philosophical view than I had before. But, of course, there are many other issues which need to be addressed in deciding whether things have natures; issues concerning the coherence of a bare substratum, teleonomy vs. teleology, and the like. I may explore such problems in future writings, but I hope the present outline has been initially enlightening.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dualism, Materialism, and Religion as a Language

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the language used by the average western religious person to describe material reality. Typically, if you're around (say) a Christian, and you tell them you are a naturalist, they respond with something like "Wait, so you believe nature is all there is?", or "That sounds pretty depressing, that we're just matter in motion", or, most poignantly, "So we're just atoms in the void?". As I thought about such responses, I began to realize just how important the sort of language we use is in describing a world-view. What follows is a series of unorganized, sometimes disconnected thoughts on this subject, but I hope it will provide a general sketch of an a idea that will serve as an impetus for further thought and research on this topic.


As many have pointed out, the West in its thinking, whether consciously or unconsciously, has inherited a generally dualistic picture of the world. The influences on this are most likely multifarious, but one has always been singled out: Plato. The West in a way is built upon two great traditions: Christianity and Greek Thought. Plato, generally thought to be the most important Greek thinker in history, as well as having influenced Christian thought from the very beginning, stands as a vital source for both of these traditions. Plato posited a world of eternal Forms, a world of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in contrast to the fleeting shadowlands of the sensible world (though the thrust of this idea was not wholly unique to Plato, it had its roots in such 5th century schools as the Eleatics and Pythagoreans). It was only the Forms, Plato said, that could be known. The truly virtuous life was thus constituted by contemplation of these eternal Ideas, and Plato's Socrates gloried at the prospect of returning to this Ideal Realm as he spoke to his students before his execution.

How does all this relate to the sort of language used to describe a world-view? It relates because, I believe, the West has inherited along with Plato's conceptual scheme a specific way of talking about the world. A way of talking that degrades "crude matter", and glorifies the "spiritual world". Of course, this is not meant to be an across-the-board description of contemporary western thought. It is meant to specifically describe the language still used in the more religious elements of our society.

Now, the first thing I want to touch on is the use of certain words meant to draw out particular emotions and senses in the hearer (what speech-act theorists call the "perlocutionary force" of a statement). Consider the statement "So we're just matter in motion?". The term "just" here functions, albeit subtly, to load the statement with a value-judgement. Why is it used? Upon examination, it can be seen that the word "just" is used to convey a sense of meaninglessness, lowliness, and unimportance. The fact that statements such as these are used with such force, however, is seldom questioned or examined. I put the question to you: Instead of "just matter", why not "glorious, wondrous, mysterious matter"? The point here is that the language used to describe material reality, from the traditional western-religious perspective, is intensely value-laden from the outset. Such language needs to be justified before discussions over materialism versus immaterialism can begin to make sense or be fruitful.

So how might what I'll now just refer to as the "immaterialist" justify such language? Presumably, the reason it's used is to convey the fact that matter is just the sort of things that is meaningless, lowly, and unimportant (at least unto itself). Spirit, by contrast, just is the sort of thing that can be meaningful, glorious, and important unto itself. But why is this assumed? I think it's because throughout most of western history, for various reasons, it was assumed that brute matter just wasn't the sort of thing capable of functioning to produce the "higher" elements of human experience (love, beauty, glory, moral sense, etc.). It seemed that those things, if they were to have any reality at all, must be grounded in some other realm (in the soul, the realm of the forms, or "heaven"). And this leads to my first conclusion: There is nothing intrinsic to either matter, or spirit, qua substance that makes it more or less meaningful. Rather, it is what each substance is thought to be capable of producing that makes the difference. Thus, we see the question is not so much about matter versus spirit per se, but rather it is a question about function, and which substance can function in such a way as to produce such things as meaning, morality, or love.


Because of the aforementioned assumptions concerning the apparent meaninglessness and etc. of matter, materialism is typically thought to be a sort of depressing world-view, full of despair and pointlessness. This is only partially true, however. Another reason for the apparent despair associated with a materialistic world-view has less to do with matter itself, and has more to do with the loss of God. When you cease to believe that an all-good God is looking out for you and has eternity waiting for you on the other side, it is understandably a despair-inducing situation. So I'm not claiming that the association of materialism with a certain level of despair is completely unwarranted, but I am claiming that any despair resulting from the world-view is only relative to the loss of a benevolent care-taker, rather than having to do with matter itself. The emphasis, however, does tend to be on the unimportance of the material world itself, hence why a Christian will typically assign the property of "being more hopeful" to other spirit-adhering religions even if they lack the idea of an all-good God (such as certain forms of Buddhism).

Let's turn again, then, to the question of function. If the issue really, in part, pertains to what sort of substance could function to produce "higher things", then I think the assumption that only spirit can has been taking on water for several centuries. Ever since the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, both philosophy and science have made great strides in explaining just how such things as morality, beauty, love, and meaning can be firmly grounded in the physical world. Put another way, we have for the most part discovered that material reality is capable of functioning to produce what we call "meaning", "morality", and all the rest. The vast majority of ethicists now see how morality can exist without God (including many Christians, such as Oxford's Richard Swinburne). Similarly, we have seen how such things as consciousness, love, complex ideas like "glory" and etc., can all be grounded in, if not made to be identical with, physical reality. If this is true, and I think it is (not that the issue's settled, but that we've made great strides), then the assumption that only the spirit-world could "matter" (no pun intended) appears bankrupt at worst, and in need of serious questioning at best. Language such as "just matter" and "just atoms" needs to be rigorously analyzed and turned against the users of such phrases. We can use our own value-laden language to say "What, do you mean the glorious matter that produces all the exuberant and beautiful species of Earth? That 'crude' matter out of which the Roman Colosseum was constructed? The 'atoms in the void' that got us to the moon in the spirit of exploration?".

The question of meaning, however, appears more complex. When people use the term "meaningless" to describe the universe, it's hard to see exactly what they mean (again, no pun intended). In what sense is a universe without a God less meaningful than a universe with one? Simple answers to the question don't seem as obvious when looked at closely. For example, one quick response might be "Because if God exists, then he has a plan for the universe". That may be true, but in a way it begs the question. Why should God's plan for the universe constitute it's "meaning"? Is meaning really just identical to a meta-narrative? Is it not possible that there be a meaningless meta-narrative? As a brief thought-experiment, assume that my consciousness has now become disembodied. Further, let's assume that I have attained a perfect knowledge of the universe, that I have attained perfect-power, and that I have nothing but good intentions for the world. Now consider: Does whatever I conceive in my mind as the universe's "goal", it's "purpose", become it's objective meaning? The question is important because in this thought-experiment I have become nearly identical with God. So then, why is it that God's purpose constitutes the universe's meaning and not mine? Someone may say, reasonably, that it's because God created the universe that he has the sole right to determine it's true meaning. That may be true as far as it goes, but it only leaves us with deeper questions: What is it about an act of creation that makes my intention for that entity it's objective meaning? After-all, human artifacts are constantly used for purposes other than those for which they were created, are those not legitimate "meanings", or uses, for the objects? These are not easy questions, and they take us to the most profound question in all of philosophy: What is meaning?

Religion as a Language

What follows, I think, from the preceding discussion is that part of religion's importance and vitality is as a language for talking about the world. Immaterialists can refer, in "high language", to the spiritual realm (or the spirit-imbued universe) as "glorious, wondrous, mysterious". I, with equal right and validity, can refer to a Godless universe as "glorious, wondrous, mysterious". Part of what gives our world meaning is the way in which we choose to talk about it, and hence the way in which we choose to think about it. Using words like love, wonder, and majesty more fully capture, in a beautiful way, some of the very complex aspects of human experience. Religion is vital because it has it's own narrative with it's own language to tell the shared story of the reality of homo homo sapiens, somewhere on a rock lost in the universe. It has its own rituals and rites, which themselves are a kind of language, in order to more fully tell that story. I myself am not religious, but to lose religion would not be to lose some "archaic mythology", but to lose part of what it means to be human: Telling stories in a language all our own, conceiving of things in a space that transcends our historical context, and giving our lives a direction that it may lack without such narratives. All of these issues require further thought, further analysis and exploration, and I hope what I have said serves to stimulate some of that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Some Thoughts on Prayer and Falsifiability

Lately, for various reasons, I've been thinking about the idea of prayer. As a Christian-turned-agnostic, prayer is of particular interest to me because part of what I'd usually consider the "evidence" for my former beliefs are instances of apparent prayer-answering. The more I've thought about this issue, however, the more I've come to seriously doubt whether prayer could ever serve to confirm/disconfirm religious belief.

My primary reason for thinking this is that prayer is unfalsifiable in a very strong sense. Religious believers all the time talk of this or that prayer being answered, but they seldom mention all the countless prayers made that have gone unanswered. The problem is an epistemic one: How could one know, in practice, the difference between an answered prayer and a happy coincidence? There are as many "unanswered" prayers as there are "answered" prayers. Religious believers will commonly try and explain away all the unanswered prayers by saying "well, God chose not to act in this instance, but he is still listening". That may be true as far as it goes, but the point is (again) an epistemic one: How could know when a prayer is answered and when some event in the world just happened to coincidie with what you prayed for?

Now, my claim is not that prayer is somehow an inherently irrational idea. It makes perfect sense within a Judeo-Christian theistic framework. My claim is strictly evidential: That instances of prayer-answering could never serve as confirmation or disconfirmation for specific or general religious claims. As an agnostic looking at various world-views from a largely neutral (if there is such a thing) perspective, no one could ever say to me "you should consider answered prayer in considering religious claims" as if it could confirm theism. The fact is that the distribution of observations meant to show "answered" and "unanswered" prayer would look exactly the same if God didn't exist. It is in this sense that the hypothesis "prayer is genuine interaction with God" or "Prayer works" appears to be, at least prima facie, unfalsifiable. And it is, all else being equal, ad hoc.

But, nonetheless, I again want to emphasize that ad hoc explanations are only explanatorily "unvirtuous" given certain epistemic backgrounds. So, to take a famous example from Kuhn, the discovery of Neptune in 1781 represented an had hoc explanation (the postulation of an extra planet in order to account for Uranus's irregularities). Yet, it was not explanatorily unvirtuous, because Newtonian theories of gravity had such great explanatory power across the board, and that was the paradigm Herschel was working within. Similarly, if there is evidence that generally supports Judeo-Christian theism, then the hypothesis of prayer finds itself ad hoc, but not in any irrational sense.