The Power of Prayer

I don’t agree with this study…simply put, because I don’t believe you can scientifically measure prayer…or the effects of prayer. However it would be remiss of me to ignore a discussion on it:

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.

At least 10 studies of the effects of prayer have been carried out in the last six years, with mixed results. The new study was intended to overcome flaws in the earlier investigations. The report was scheduled to appear in The American Heart Journal next week, but the journal’s publisher released it online yesterday.


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  • Anonymous

    Measuring the effect of anything is generally quite simple, as long as you have enough instances where other factors are mitigated.
    The study seems to be quite clear that praying for a good recovery does nothing to aid the recovery.
    What is not clear – and perhaps more to your thinking Whale – is whether praying helps the patient deal with the procedure and recovery. A completely different concept.

  • Pete George

    This post and the study refer to stranger prayer. It’s worth emphasising:

    Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a
    co-author of the report, said the study said nothing about the power of
    personal prayer or about prayers for family members and friends.

    in a large medical center like Mayo, Mr. Marek said, “You hear tons of
    stories about the power of prayer, and I don’t doubt them.”

    There are studies that show personal prayer can help people recover.

    But so can a determination to survive and recover – praying is how some people focus on it.

  • The Baron

    Good points Cobolt.

    Whale – I appreciate your religion is important to you. But in this regard, you can measure the impact of prayer quite effectively. Scientifically speaking, prayer may work in a similar manner to placebo – i.e. can be quite effective due to the patient believing they are effective, rather than any medical benefits at all.

    I expect that my prayers to the flying spaghetti monster will have similar effects if I am ever unlucky enough to be struck down by illness.

  • Michael

    Groan. Where do I begin.


    As a Catholic I have a interest in the Church’s relationship
    with science and the scientific community (though currently perceived as
    strained, the Church was – to a large extent – the nursery in which modern empirical
    investigation was born and raised). However, as Dr. Richard Sloan in the
    article says, this study “makes for bad science and bad religion”.


    I won’t comment on the ability to empirically investigate
    prayer, because it’s pretty obvious, you can’t. As Whale himself notes.


    What I’d add is this, using some simple deduction (which is
    a scientific tool in itself) to show another reason why this enterprise is
    flawed: The Christian God (as described by the Church – I cannot comment on
    other Christian views of empirical science) doesn’t want a whole lot of
    automatons having a relationship with Him just because the ‘science’ says it’s
    a good idea. God desires genuine friendship and faith (it’s a mysterious mix
    indeed – even the great philosophers like Aquinas could never nail it down).
    Even if a study could theoretically somehow measure all the prayers of all the individuals,
    families, churches, chaplains, priests, bishops, monks, soldiers, firemen,
    nurses, the sick, the dying, the penitent, etc, across the whole globe (and
    across time – as the Saints may pray for us!), and if we could theoretically measure
    intensity, frequency, sincerity… would God show up? God may not want us to
    empirically prove that prayer works. Perhaps he could desire it to remain a mystery
    and a thing of the heart and soul. Therefore, it’s quite plausible (from the
    perspective of designing a hypothesis and investigating it) that God might
    choose not to act on these prayers. And thus the whole study (if it were even possible)
    would still be fatally flawed.


    My cynical view is that the American Heart Journal has
    chosen to publish it (with the NY Times cheerleading) because the study showed
    it “didn’t work” for the anonymous cohort, and therefore they can conclude prayer
    doesn’t work, and laugh at dim-witted Christians, for there is no God. For the
    cohort that prayer had a benefit for, this can be written off as psychological,
    not spiritual.


    Either way, this study scientifically proves nothing.


  • Guestosterone

    god just told me this was a bullshit study so consider the matter closed

  • Thorn

    Prayer is a positive and loving act that brings comfort to the supplicant and lifts those who are held up in prayer, if they know they are being prayed for. Its a matter of faith which is going to impossible to measure scientifically, not that science really settles anything this complex.

    The scientific method would require a test group who are prayed for, a control group who are not prayed for, a group who are told they are being prayed for when they are not, the power of prayer by faith group, and so on. 

    Rather  believers do what they know to be their spiritual duty and trust in the power of prayer in and of itself.

    • Joes

      “The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told that they were being prayed for; half were told that they might or might not receive prayers. ”

      They did pretty good with there test groups, but I do admit that lieing to a few of the people and telling them that they were being prayed for, when in fact they were not, would be interesting.

      Mainly because then you’d have less reasons to believe that prayer actually does anything more than a placebo, or the invisible spaghetti monster.

    • The Baron

      EXACTLY that study has been done Thorn, and came to the same conclusion – prayer doesn’t do anything.

      Science can and does settle this conclusively, by empirically testing for things and finding that they don’t exist. I am sorry that that runs counter to your faith and spiritual duty – there are many other reasons for prayer after all – but medical miracles are not one of them.

      I’m sure you and others will continue to deny this. That’s fine – its your faith and your health.

  • thor42

    What *I* find interesting is not the alleged power of prayer, but the power of the “placebo effect”.
    There have been a number of studies done on it, and it really does work. The secret seems to be that the patient believes that they will get better, so they do – even with a “sugar pill”.
    Quite amazing. 

    • Thorn

      Agree. Prayer may be mumbojumbo for all I know but if it helps some people, then there is no need to disrespect those who believe. Our understanding of the universe is a mix of magic, science and religion.