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March 30, 2006

Prayer "Failure" Study Misses The Point

A recently concluded study on the power of prayer supposedly found no evidence that prayer had any effect on the recovery of 1800 heart patients.

In fact, the study found some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for -- though those who did the study said they could not explain why.

The patients in the study at six U.S. hospitals included 604 who were actually prayed for after being told they might or might not be; another 597 patients who were not prayed for after being told they might or might not be; and a group of 601 who were prayed for and told they would be the subject of such prayer.

. . .

Among the first group -- who were prayed for but only told they might be -- 52 percent had post-surgical complications compared to 51 percent in the second group, the ones who were not prayed for though told they might be. In the third group, who knew they were being prayed for, 59 percent had complications.

. . .

"Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on whether complications occurred (and) patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive intercessory prayer," the study said.

I would caution against concluding from this study that prayer is ineffective. Such a conclusion misses a fundamental aspect of our relationship with God.

That is, simply put, God can say "no."

Just because someone does not get what they prayed for, does not mean that the prayer was not answered. It's an obvious point, but one that escapes a surprising number of people ― even many religious people.

Posted by annika, Mar. 30, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Faith


I'll pray for you.

Posted by: Casca on Mar. 30, 2006

Missing the obvious is one thing, designing a study based on missing the obvious is another. Were I a cynical man, I'd suggest that conclusion was "pre-ordained".

Posted by: Pursuit on Mar. 31, 2006

This BS 'study', like evolution studies and "The DaVinci Code" and such are all of the same stripe- attempts to disprove the existence of God. This is what liberals live for. For if you can disprove God's existence, then you can debunk divinely inspired moral codes such as The Ten Commandments and The Beatitudes. And once you've eliminated externally imposed moral codes, well, then there's no limit on human social behavior- pedophilia, bestiality, polyamory, etc.

I talk to people about religion, and once in a while someone will say "I don't believe in God" to which I reply, "He's gonna be pissed when He finds out."

Posted by: Barry on Mar. 31, 2006

Annika, thanks for sharing. I totally agree and it's nice to get some confirmation that we agree on "higher" matters as well as politics.

Barry, I am SO gonna use that line!!

Posted by: Trint on Mar. 31, 2006

I don't believe God says "no." He does say one of three things, I think:

1. Yes
2. Yes, but not now.
3. I've got something better in mind.

Posted by: Hugo on Mar. 31, 2006

4. You talking to me? Get a life pal.

Posted by: strawman on Mar. 31, 2006

Being scientists, I think it's safe to assume they haven't read the part of the Gospels where Satan tempted Jesus. Which means they missed the part about "thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

And, hello, just because they asked people to pray doesn't mean these are necessarily the people God's gonna be inclined to listen to! I know this doesn't "square" with some views of answering prayer, but all I know is, I have a friend who prays to St. Anthony for Really Important Things. And every single time, her prayer is answered "yes." Similarly, when my mom prays for me, life just works out better. I'm just sayin', who does the praying *might* make a difference.

Posted by: The Law Fairy on Mar. 31, 2006

Alternate interpretation:

The 59 percent with complications in the third group were the ones who were certain that they were being prayed for. Perhaps they put too much faith in the power of others' prayers.

The first two groups did better, and they were the ones who weren't certain if they were being prayed for. That uncertainty may have compelled them to add their own prayers to their recovery, which may have made allthe difference.

In other words, as ol' Ben said: "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

Posted by: Tuning Spork on Mar. 31, 2006

You seem like a very nice young lady.

But sometimes reality has a way of making our fantasies just that much harder to hang on to.

You believe what you want to believe, it hurts no one.

Posted by: Gryphen on Mar. 31, 2006

One wonders how much of a "control" study can be done on this issue..as the study notes,

One caveat is that with so many individuals receiving prayer from friends and family, as well as personal prayer, it may be impossible to disentangle the effects of study prayer from background prayer," Manoj Jain of Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, another author of the report

And how many of those outstide the control group prayed for, perhaps, different outcomes..

Posted by: Col Steve on Mar. 31, 2006

I believe in god, I think he gave some instructions to us on morality available to all people through their concious. SOme people have been more receptive to this instruction and so we follow their example, that is the basis of morality.
I do not believe, however, that God does anything to help us in this world. We do our best, and hope for an afterlife. God is not going to cause the rain to fall on some and not on others because they pray for it.

Posted by: Kyle N on Mar. 31, 2006

"At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.


Posted by: strawman on Mar. 31, 2006

Fucking Christian Scientists are at it again. It's not science.

LF, ask your mom how much her scale is for praying for me. I like to go with a known winner.

Posted by: Casca on Mar. 31, 2006

I'm with Kyle. I used to be a Christian apologist, but eventually tired of tying myself in knots, appealing to the 'mystery', etc.

Posted by: will on Mar. 31, 2006

Does sharing a blog expose me to the lightning strike?

I disavow these infidels...

Posted by: shelly on Apr. 2, 2006

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he may not answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers
--from "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks

Posted by: The Kosher Hedgehog on Apr. 2, 2006

Yes, and some of the nicest thoughts I've had about anyone were the ones I forgot to have.

What childish drivel Hedge, just another sophism to help the clueless find a way to make the absence of the big guy proof of his existance.

Posted by: strawman on Apr. 3, 2006

There have been a number of studies showing that prayer does have a positive impact on recovery. So, I guess the debate will continue. Regardless, from my own Christian perspective, I believe that each of us has his/her own personal relationship with God that may ultimately affect any outcome associated to one's personal life - regardless of who is praying for us.

Frankly, I am a little uncomfortable trying to combine the physical and the metaphysical. Each has their own place. If I were sick, would want others to pray for me? Of course. But let me assure you that I'd sure as heck be praying for the best freakin' doctor that I could find.

Posted by: Blu on Apr. 3, 2006


Always knew you were a level headed guy.

I, an athiest am willing to believe that prayer may certainly be able to influence the process of recouperation so long as the patient is aware of the efforts and believes in the process. THis is not, of course, an example of devine intervention but rather intentionality; a person's ability to affect the workings of their body through the force of their beliefs. Happy, optimistic forward looked people who are loved and love others, do better in recovery than sad, lonely depressives.

Posted by: strawman on Apr. 3, 2006

I guess that I just don't believe any "study" of prayer can capture whether prayer does or does not work. You can neither know the heart and mind of the sick person nor the people who are praying. Each person, I believe, has his/her own relationship with God. So, I've never been impressed with positive studies just as I'm not impressed with this negative one.

I do believe that God has provided humanity with the capacity to reason and, as a result, we have evolved in our ability to treat disease by learning about it. He has given, I think, some the heart and the intellect to study medicine and become doctors. Do I believe they are perfect? No. But, they are a vast improvement over the medicine-men and witch doctors that used to parade as healers in the past. I'm happy to be prayed for just as I'm happy as hell to live in the 21st century where I don't have to worry about some primitive "bleeding" me in an attempt to heal me.

Posted by: Blu on Apr. 3, 2006

You reminded me of the old SNL skit with Steve Martin called "Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber." Remember that one?

The funniest line was:

"Well, I'll do everything humanly possible. Unfortunately, we barbers aren't gods. You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach"

Posted by: annika on Apr. 3, 2006


Bad news, Pal, leeches are back as are maggots. They are currently being used in many deep wound situations to keep wounds clean and to keep blood from clotting.

Posted by: strawman on Apr. 4, 2006

That's like a bad episode of Fear Factor. I've actually seen the maggots thing recently on Discover (or something like that.) I guess that I'll have to cut our medieval healers some slack.

Posted by: Blu on Apr. 4, 2006

Strawman: You can insult me, but when you call a Garth Brooks lyric drivel, well then you're on the fightin' side of me.

As for the intellectual superiority of atheists over believers, on the belief side we have moral, intellectual and literary giants such as Maimonedes, Sir Thomas More, Augustine, and in modern times, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, C.S. Lewis, JRR Tokien and Annika. On your side, we have Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Madeline Murray O'Hare and the Strawman. I'll take the believers, thank you.

Posted by: The Kosher Hedgehog on Apr. 4, 2006


You silly little ball of hog.

There are, of course, millions of deep thinking, sophisticated, intellectually superior men and women other than myself who find the belief in god superfluous to living good loving, moral, ethical and productive lives. How about Warren Buffet, Richard Dawkins, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Miller, Ayn Rand, Angelina Jolie, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Douglas Hofstadter, Bjork, and the sage Micky Dolenz.


Stupid argument from a low to the ground European animal with a pea sized brain that refuses to eat pork or mussels.

Posted by: strawman on Apr. 5, 2006

Angelin Jolie! bwahaha!

Posted by: annika on Apr. 5, 2006

I must admit that if she would take the job I would let her be my god. What would that mean? If you are god can you still be an atheist?

Posted by: strawman on Apr. 5, 2006