“I’ll pray for you.”
How many times in your life have you heard that comment? Have you ever wondered what, if anything, prayer actually accomplishes? Have you occasionally felt somewhat .. uncomfortable? .. or threatened, perhaps? .. knowing that complete strangers were praying for you? A scientific study will be published next week that examines these questions regarding the so-called power of prayer.
This research studied 1800 heart bypass surgery patients. Heart bypass surgery is a procedure where a clean artery is removed from the patient’s leg and is used to “bypass” an artery in the heart that is blocked by plaque.
These 1800 patients were divided into three groups of 600 patients each. The first group received the prayers of christian volunteers after being told they may or may not get them. The second group of 600 were told the same thing, but were not prayed for. But the third group of patients received prayers and knew about it.
Beginning the night before their surgeries and continuing for two weeks afterwards, each group of patients were prayed for by christian volunteer groups. These prayers were for “a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications.”
If prayer had any effect on patient recovery, one would see the fastest recoveries among those two groups of patients who were prayed for, whether they were aware of it or not, while those 600 patients who did not receive any prayers would recover slowest. However, that is not what researchers found at all.
Instead, they found that prayer had no effect on recoveries among patients in the first two groups of heart patients; those who were informed that it was only a possibility they might receive prayers, whether they actually did. But the most surprising result was seen in the third group of patients; those who knew they were being prayed for;
But among patients who did receive prayers, 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.
So it appears that prayer actually harmed those patients whom it was supposed to benefit, but only when they knew they were being prayed for! Some of the study’s authors offered explanations for the surprising results.
“Did the patient think that, ‘Am I so sick that they had to call in the prayer team?'” proposed physician Charles Bethea of the Oklahoma Heart Institute.
“A single study does not answer the question,” noted co-investigator Jeffrey Dusek, a Harvard Medical School psychologist. “I strongly suggest that that not be the case. I’m hoping that family and friends will continue doing what they have done for years and pray for whomever they want to and [pray for their] loved ones before surgery.”
Paul Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, had a different interpretation regarding the supposed power of prayer.
“Because there is none,” he stated flatly. “That would be one answer.”
Based on these data, it appears that good christians should minimize the harm caused by their prayers by never letting their victims know that they are praying for them. On the other hand, could a person be legally prosecuted if he or she tells someone, “I’ll pray for you,” only to have that person drop dead soon afterwards? (I refer to this as the “voodoo effect”). Hrm.
This study was funded by the Templeton Foundation, which supports research into science and religion, along with one of the participating hospitals. It will be published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal, the American Heart Journal.
Thanks, Sara and Mike!
Included in the Carnival of the Godless
Included in the Christian Carnival
March Madness Gone Mad.
… and also included in the Skeptics Circle, Issue 32.