Prayer and Science

By now you may have heard about this study that showed prayer doesn’t work. In fact, it may have hurt, if you believe the findings. Briefly, about 1800 heart bypass patients were divided into 3 groups; those for whom strangers prayed without their knowledge, those who were told strangers were praying for them, and those who weren’t sure if they were being prayed for. (The link may be different from the article I read in the Star Ledger.) Those who were told they were prayed for fared worse than the other two groups, who showed about the same level of complications after surgery.

Even the experts don’t think this proved much one way or another. Most of us are used to the fact that not all prayers are answered, even those of the saints. Still, it’s interesting that the John Templeton Foundation spent 2.4M$ to test the efficacy of prayer. The real question is, did God purposely allow this test to fail because He doesn’t want there to be “proof” of his existence?

DadExperiments04/11/06 4 comments


Patrick • 04/12/06 1:43 AM:

Another curious thing is that they got 1800 heart bypass patients to participate in the experiment. Hypothesizing, without knowing what I’m talking about, I’d imagine that you can’t control the variables too well. I mean, you ask people, Hey, would you like to take part in our experiment to determine whether prayer really helps people survive heart bypass surgery? The religious are going to say “Yes,” and whether you tell them or not, they know that people are praying for them. The anti-religious are going to say “Yes” (you’re offering a small payment to participants, I presume), and know that even if people are praying for them, it won’t make a difference. So, I don’t see how this methodology can really lead to viable conclusions. How about those people who don’t know if they’re being prayed for? Were people praying for them? It’d be kind of cruel to leave one group with no one praying for them. I mean, just in case, you’d have to have pray-ers for everyone, right?

To make things worse, I wonder about the kind of prayers these strangers were saying. “Dear God, please heal those experimental heart bypass patients, even though I don’t know them. But please help them and let’s prove to the scientists that you exist.”? I’m with Dad: God’s not likely to answer that sort of prayer.

Dad • 04/12/06 9:33 PM:

I think the pray-ers were given the first name and last initial of the patients. Also, presumeably nearly everyone had relatives and friends praying for them. So this was just a test of the incremental help of additional strangers.

Patrick • 04/13/06 8:52 AM:

Still, one presumes that they didn’t sign God up to be a part of the experiment, so I think it’s kind of unrealistic to expect scientifically viable results. What they might have been testing, though, is how patients respond to knowing that they’re being prayed for by strangers. Does this buoy their bodies’ natural defenses? Is it a kind of placebo effect?

Dan • 04/15/06 3:11 PM:

What about people who are told others are praying for them, so they don’t “fight” to stay alive because they believe the prayers will save them? Seems that positive thinking on behalf of the patients would have to play a role in this.

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