Date: September 25, 2010 08:15AM
There are some very good reasons why people tend to think that prayer and living "righteously" might influence how things turn out that are actually beyond their control.
"Illusion of control is the tendency for human beings to believe they can control, or at least influence, outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over. It has been demonstrated in a succession of different experiments, and is thought to influence gambling behavior and belief in the paranormal.
One kind of demonstration involves a set-up with two lights marked "Score" and "No Score". Subjects have to try to control which one switches on. Jenkins & Ward presented subjects with two buttons to press. Allan & Jenkins had one button, which subjects decided on each trial to press or not press. The connections could be arranged so that each action switches on one light with a given probability, so subjects had zero control over which light is on, or a variable amount of control. Subjects were told that there might be no relation between their actions and the lights.
Subjects were asked to estimate how much control they had over the lights. Their estimates bore no relation to how much control they actually had, but was related to how often the "Score" light lit up. Even when it made no difference what they chose, subjects confidently reported exerting some control over the lights."