Power of Prayer

hands praying

I just listened to some of a How Stuff Works podcast discussing an article called Can Prayer Heal People?

Apparently, people who pray experience some health benefits over people who don’t. This may be true, and can be explained without resorting to God or religion.

The more contentious question is whether a group of people praying for a third party can help that person.

There have been studies about this, mostly showing not much difference between being prayed for and not. And there was one famous study showing that people who knew they were being prayed for did worse than those who didn’t know that they were being prayed for.

But the guys on the podcast (and maybe the article – I didn’t read it) point out the big issue:

How can we measure prayer? For example, let’s say that some researcher got a group of people to pray for the recovery of patient X, but not for patient Y. The idea is to see how they recover, but how can they be sure that other people, outside of the study, aren’t praying for patient Y?

In fact, there could be people praying that patient X does NOT recover. How would that affect the study?

3 Responses to Power of Prayer

  1. Kevin October 31, 2008 at 9:15 am #

    “How can we measure prayer?”
    We can’t, and the only reason we try is to reinforce existing beliefs. As religious or anti-religious propaganda these efforts are useful. Otherwise, they’re meaningless for the reasons you point out as well as several other questions that you can easily pile on. How do we know what qualifies a prayer for God’s attention? Does it have to be Christian prayer? Does the person need to be pious? Do they even need to believe? Too many variables to produce reliable results, especially when the “significant” results they’re talking about are still very small.

    There’s a reason that religion requires faith: Reason alone will not lead you to religion. Even Pascal’s Wager, which I’ve always thought as a great reason-based argument for belief in God, can’t relieve you of the need for faith, as it still can’t direct you to the right way to believe in God, and apparently choosing the wrong way is just as bad as not believing at all.

  2. weeklyrob October 31, 2008 at 2:27 pm #

    Pascal’s wager. I personally don’t believe that a person can choose what he believes. But he can ACT as though he believes something.

    But the God that most Christians believe in would know whether you really BELIEVE or are just acting as though you do in order to make it to heaven. Can’t fool him.

    You’re right, of course, that belief in God requires faith. At some point, every discussion of the question has to come back to that.

    And reason is out. No matter how crazy the world is, the believer’s answer is that we can’t understand the mind of God.

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