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16 Apr, 2006

Scientists Bid to Prove/Disprove the Power of Prayer

Originally Published: 16 April 2006

Religion-watchers were in tizzy last week about a study that revolved around the question: Can prayer actually help another person recover from disease?

A group of prominent scientists recently sought at least part of the answer in the largest study of its kind, and concluded that prayer from strangers had no effect on whether people suffered complications from coronary artery bypass surgery, according to Religion News Service.

“The effect of intercessory prayer was neutral. It showed no sign of any benefit,” Charles Bethea, an Oklahoma cardiologist and researcher who participated in the $2.4 million study by the John Templeton Foundation, was quoted as saying by RNS. The full results are to appear in the next issue of the American Heart Journal.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the study was designed as a randomized and blinded trial, meaning that most patients did not know whether someone was praying for them or not. “Such trials are considered the gold standard for scientific proof,” the paper said. [http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-prayer31mar31,1,3169049.story?coll=la-headlines-nation]

It said that more than 1,800 patients were divided into three groups: those who were told someone was praying for them; those who were told only that someone might pray for them and got prayers; and those who were told someone might pray for them but received no prayers. About 65% of the patients said they strongly believed in the power of prayer.

Two Catholic monasteries and one Protestant group offered the prayers. They were given patients’ first names and the first initial of their last names. The groups started praying the night before surgery and continued for two weeks, the LA Times said.

All members of the prayer groups recited the same intercession, asking for “a successful surgery and a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.”

Researchers said they didn’t ask family members of the sick people to stop praying because it would have been unethical to do so, meaning some people received more prayers than others.

The results of the US$ 2.5 million study showed that prayers had no beneficial effect on patients’ recovery 30 days after surgery. Overall, 59% of patients who knew they were being prayed for had complications, compared to 51% of the patients who did not receive prayers. The difference was not considered statistically significant.

In other words, don’t bother praying, or so they would have us believe.

So all those people who go daily or weekly to temples, mosques, churches and synagogues can now start looking for better things to do. A “gold standard” scientific study has produced “proof” that prayer is of little use.

In fact, a little closer analysis will show the utter idiocy of attempting such studies in the first place.

Scientists appear to have become much too clever for their own good as they strive to unlock the secrets of the heavens and the earth. In spite of being puny mortals, like the rest of us, they appear to be losing sight of the fact that they are only discovering what another omnipotent force has created.

In becoming too full of self-praise over these discoveries, they seek to stretch the boundaries of what they can and cannot “prove”.

The reality is that no matter how many people are studied or how scientific the methodology, there is no way of “proving” whether prayer works or not. However, there is probably not a single individual on the planet who can claim to have prayed and NEVER had a SINGLE prayer granted.

For argument’s sake, if the subject of the study is expanded to include other topics – e.g., can prayer help stock markets go up, students pass examinations, a throw of dice produce the right numbers – the same result could be applied. It will work for some, and not for others.

When two sports-teams are in action and supporters of both sides are praying for their team to win, whose prayers are granted? Why?

The only thing that study confirms is that scientists have recognised that there IS an ultimate decision-maker – He (or She) who does have the power to grant (or not) prayers and the omniscience to know the circumstances of that decision, either way.

That alone says a lot, especially among the scientific community which is always looking for “proof” that such a decision-maker exists in the first place.

The biggest laugh was that one of the websites which reported this news contained an ad for “the most powerful prayer tool on Earth for Financial Blessings…Prayer Power audio technology!”

The ad exhorted viewers: “Have you been searching for a way to think and pray that really works for bringing Financial Blessings into your life? Are you tired of praying only to have your Financial Prayers remained unanswered? Are you ready right now to begin dramatically accelerating your mental ability to connect with God and start living a RICHER life?”

“Backed by proven results for thousands of users – our proprietary Prayer Power audio technology – placed on CD’s with soothing baroque classical music  – will help you get results faster and with less effort than you ever dreamed possible….”

Like with most such ads, it said results were “Guaranteed!” and went on to quote testimonials from “satisfied buyers” about how they were “doing so much better financially!!” Naturally, the price was accompanied by a discount offer and a deadline by which to avail of it.

So, here’s a suggestion for the scientists who studied whether or not prayer can help patients recover from operations: Roundup the “thousands” of buyers of Prayer Power audio technology and do a “gold standard” scientific study on whether they have enjoyed 100% success 100% of the time.

If that is the case, it will be a true discovery. That same group of people can then be put immediately to work praying for more important things – like world peace, an end to global warming, the rich-poor income gap and 100% success for the Millennium Development Goals.

If the results are “guaranteed” for achieving financial success, why shouldn’t the same prayers work to produce a wider, far more noble gain than satiating personal greed?

Ponder this in the next Bible-study class or Theory of Knowledge session.