The power of prayer and the liberal war on science

And we thought liberals wanted to keep science and religion separate.

From The NY Times:

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

The “prayer” study is interesting only because of the glaringly unscientific nature of the whole enterprise.

What was really being studied wasn’t the effect of “intercessory” prayer at all, but merely the state of mind of the study’s subjects. All of the reporting on the study we’ve seen ignores this fact, calling it a study of “the effects of prayer.”

From The Washington Post:

Prayer Doesn’t Aid Recovery, Study Finds
Effect on Healing of Strangers at Distance After Heart-Bypass Surgery Examined

Praying for other people to recover from an illness is ineffective, according to the largest, best-designed study to examine the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

The study of more than 1,800 heart-bypass patients found that those who had people praying for them had as many complications as those who did not. In fact, one group of patients who knew they were the subject of prayers fared worse.

But the study didn’t find that. The study didn’t even study that.

Consider, what is the control group? People who no one is praying for at a distance? How does one measure that? How do they know no one is praying for “subject X”? They cannot know that, therefore the control is not “people not receiving intercessory prayer”.

The groups being studied were defined by what they were told at the beginning of the study.

The new $2.4 million study, funded primarily by the John Templeton Foundation, was designed to overcome some of those shortcomings. Dusek and his colleagues divided 1,802 bypass patients at six hospitals into three groups. Two groups were uncertain whether they would be the subject of prayers. The third was told they would definitely be prayed for.

….

Over the next month, the two groups that were uncertain whether they were the subject of prayers fared virtually the same, with about 52 percent of patients experiencing complications regardless of whether they were the subject of prayers.

Surprisingly, 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for experienced complications.

Because the most common complication was an irregular heartbeat, researchers speculated that knowing they were chosen to receive prayers may have inadvertently put the patients under increased stress.

But the variable was not “whether they were the subject of prayers”, the variable was whether they were told they were being prayed for. The slight variation in complication rates (52% vs. 59%) can easily be attributed to patient expectations based on what they were told beforehand.

Another issue – perhaps prayer requires sincerity. Perhaps praying for the purposes of debunking prayer is less effective than praying sincerely and faithfully for healing. Let’s see them design a study to test that. Good luck.

We actually agree with the skeptics on this one:

“I would hope that these results, combined with similar recent findings, would encourage scientists to stick to science and stop dabbling in the supernatural,” said Bruce Flamm of the University of California at Irvine.

Amen.

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