Prisoners of ISIS in their own city of Mosul for the last two years, civilian Iraqis now in permanent danger of death from the constant bombing by the Iraqi army, as well as from ISIS’ car-bombs and IEDs, can count only on white flags and prayer as weapons of defence. There is little chance that the flags will help. There is none at all that prayer will.
“No atheists in fox-holes” ? A myth, no doubt. But it is understandable that desperation can lead some people to grasp for straws, and even straw-gods. Prayer, especially when practised in the company of others in harm’s way like oneself, can bolster hope and even create the courage to resist. But of itself it is pointless. Nobody is listening. Divine protection is simply not going to happen.
In critical situations, logic and reason have little weight. And if, by luck, the pray-ers survive, they will probably see in their salvation cause and effect. Belief, by definition, is irrational.