A decade or so ago, …
A decade or so ago, I recall Paul Harvey talking about a new study. He introduced the story with something like, “And today’s story with the most lasting importance may be this…” The study noted that people in a hospital who were prayed for seemed to do better and heal faster than those who weren’t, even if they didn’t know that they were being prayed for. It might have given me a little lift if not for the fact that it didn’t seem to matter to whom the prayers were spoken. It seemed to me that trying to make God do hamster tricks would be useless at the least and counterproductive at worst. If Satan can do wonders, surely he can heal those who are prayed for in the name of a false god and game the results. Prayer is not an exact science. It’s not a science at all, frankly. It’s part of a relationship, it’s a conversation. It’s not a precise chemical reaction.

Keep that in mind when you hear this.

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.

And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.

It’s not so much that it’s in the supernatural realm. It’s that studying the actions of a person, God in this case, cannot be done statistically. If someone were to study you and see if you acted the same way to the same circumstance over and over, it would be trivial to foul up the outcome, intentionally or otherwise. And prayer is a matter of faith, but how do you measure or control for that? This study and others like it, regardless of the outcome, are pointless from the beginning. Its core assumption–that God or the supernatural world can be experimented on–is faulty. The article notes that other studies on prayer have shown mixed results, which is what I would expect.

In a hurriedly convened news conference, the study’s authors, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said that the findings were not the last word on the effects of so-called intercessory prayer.

Indeed it isn’t. That will come, however. Madeline Murray O’Hare could not be reached for comment. >grin<

As usual, Scott Ott at ScrappleFace puts it all in perspective.

“As it turns out, God was not impressed by our academic credentials, our substantial funding base, and our rigorous study protocols,” said lead researcher Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston. “I get the feeling we just spent 10 years looking through the wrong end of the telescope.”

(Cross-posted at Stones Cry Out and Blogger News Network. Comments welcome.)

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