Controversy surrounding weather management for the recent British Royal Wedding has reignited debate about the effect of petitionary prayer on global weather systems.
London's weather forecast for the Royal Wedding day had been poor. Unofficial Palace sources report that John Hirst, Chief Executive of the Met Office, was therefore summoned to Buckingham Palace on the evening before the wedding. It is alleged the Queen intimated that a CBE could be awarded to him if the weather was favourable on the day.
To the extreme displeasure of Her Majesty, Mr Hirst reportedly explained that the Met Office attempted to predict weather, but was unable to control it. Unconfirmed reports claim that he was subsequently ejected, head first, from a tradesmen's entrance at the rear of the Palace.
The same sources indicate that, later that evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury was summoned for a Royal Audience. It is alleged that, as a result of his deliberations with Her Majesty, petitionary prayers were offered for good weather on the day of the Royal Wedding.
It is a matter of public record that conditions were consequently perfect for the royal occasion, contrary to prior forecasts.
As Head of the Church of England, it is traditionally considered "bad form" for Her Majesty to exploit her close association with God to elicit personal climatic favours. Indeed, the current Pope prides himself on never having similarly abused his analogous position. 'The Catholic Church may have protected paedophiles,' Pope Benedict XVI is famously quoted as saying, 'but I have never tried to influence the weather.' In fact, there is some evidence that individual priests may have attempted to do so, but that these were quietly moved to other parishes.
Given the significance of the Royal Wedding, few would blame Her Majesty for not leaving the weather to chance. Her alleged actions, however, have once more brought to public attention the wider implications of petitionary prayer for the global climate.
'The key difficulty for meteorologists is the manner in which petitionary prayer affects weather systems,' explained Gael Force, a spokesperson for the European Climate Monitoring Agency. 'At any given time, an unknown number of individuals and religious groups are invoking supernatural influences to modify the weather, often for different outcomes. It has therefore proven impossible to conduct controlled scientific experiments to evaluate the effect of any one approach. We can only speculate upon the complex effects on global weather systems caused by large numbers of uncoordinated and contradictory petitions.'
'An additional complication in determining cause and effect,' Ms Force admitted, 'is the, so called, "butterfly effect". This states that weather systems, in accordance with chaos theory, are highly sensitive to initial conditions. The movement of a butterfly's wing on one side of the world could lead to a storm system on the other. Fortunately, international programmes to control butterfly numbers appear to have gone some way to limit this unpredictability.'
In relation to petitionary prayer, anecdotal evidence suggests that certain individuals or groups may inexplicably exert a greater influence than others on God's meteorological plans, although they themselves may be unaware of that effect.
The prayers offered on 11th March 2011 by the Fukushima surfing club in Japan for magnificent surfing waves, and the prayers offered on 27th April 2011 by Maria Gonzales of Alabama, USA for a good breeze to dry her washing have been cited as examples. It is, of course, possible that the subsequent tsunami and tornadoes were coincidental. In the absence of certainty, however, international climate monitoring organisations advise that very great caution be exercised by all believers in their use of meteorological supplications.
In a recent briefing to a US congressional hearing, Professor Grace Benediction of NASA's Prayer Research Facility at Caltech expanded on the difficulties God, Himself, must experience when receiving weather-related petitions. 'A major problem for the Deity,' Professor Benediction explained, 'is the imprecision of most requests. Favourable or good conditions are often sought with no clear indication for God of precisely what is required. Most petitionary prayers,' added Professor Benediction, 'have traditionally been weak in defining SMART objectives.'
She noted that modern Pagans and Druids had been the first to adopt clear guidelines for weather-related petitionary prayers. 'Such intercessions must now include the specific geographical location, required periods of sunshine, desired temperatures, wind speeds, wind directions, and estimated levels of precipitation,' she confirmed.
Professor Benediction cautioned, however, that adoption of such precision could bring problems of its own. 'If every member of a faith congregation prayed for a 5 mph breeze, for example,' she speculated, 'it isn't clear whether this would increase the likelihood of a 5 mph breeze, or whether the requested wind-speed would be multiplied by the number in the congregation. In the latter scenario,' she postulated, 'a large congregation, each praying for a 5 mph breeze, could produce a cumulative wind-speed comparable to those on Jupiter.'
'Many scientists now believe,' confirmed Professor Benediction, concluding her evidence to the congressional hearing, 'that all the effects currently attributed to global warming could be caused by imprecise and uncoordinated weather-related petitionary prayers. It is certainly true that the most catastrophic climate-related disasters occur in areas of the world where faith communities are strongest.'
In the light of the above uncertainties, the US government's advice to all religious individuals and communities is not to petition God to provide specific weather conditions until the effects are much more clearly understood and safety protocols can be devised.
Buckingham Palace has declined to officially comment on any influence brought to bear upon London's weather on the day of the Royal Wedding.