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Friday, August 6, 2010

Debunked! The Theory That Prayer Does Not Work


Here you go science fetishists. It was in Discovery Magazine so it HAS to be scientific!

"A study released today claims to have found evidence that, if specifically requested, God might heal those with impaired hearing and vision.

Candy Gunther Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington, led the study of "proximal intercessory prayer.” The study, published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal and titled "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique," measured improvements in vision and hearing in a rural area of the Southern African country.

The team used an audiometer and vision charts to evaluate 14 patients who reported impaired hearing and 11 who reported impaired vision, both before and after members of a local church prayed for their healing. Subjects reported a small but statistically significant improvement in hearing and vision following the prayers." Link to full article


Let me first state that I was only being facetious when I stated that the prayer doesn't work theory was in fact "debunked". Admittedly the sample size was small and more in-depth investigation into the matter is thus warranted.

But what if such studies were able to show that prayer does indeed work? My question to you is, (if you are a skeptic) would you even want it to be true? Such evidence might cause you to reexamine a lifetime of commitment to your worldview and I would imagine that by now, many of you are quite comfortable in your biases such as they are.

14 comments:

Froggie said...

Listen up, Grasshopper.

"But what if such studies were able to show that prayer does indeed work?"

What if pigs could fly?

"My question to you is, (if you are a skeptic) would you even want it to be true?"

I want the truth, whatever it may be. That is what drives a realist (skeptic.)

"Such evidence might cause you to reexamine a lifetime of commitment to your worldview and I would imagine that by now, many of you are quite comfortable in your biases such as they are."

I am moderately comfortable with the discovery process that I have persued my entire life, but never comfortable enough to become complacent about it.

I had a situation yesterday when a very conservative college explained a matter to me in such a way that after some close inspection, I found myself heartily agreeing with him.

You said,
"reexamine a lifetime of commitment to your worldview...."

I don't have beliefs or a wordview. I have a committment to finding the truth, as far as I can.
Obviously there are many socio/economic subjects that lend themselves more to subjective opinions rather than objective truths. Some things we decide for ourselves, but blind allegiance is moronic.

As my late Father was accustomed to opine, "where there is doubt, there is freedom."

zilch said...

I'd be very surprised if this were true. But if it turned out, for a large sample size with proper controls, that intercessory prayer really did work, I would indeed be forced to rework my worldview.

But as you say, the sample size was small: and if you read the article, it was not even a double-blind experiment; and the placebo effect is well-known. This, in combination with the fact that much larger double-blind experiments have shown no effect whatsoever for intercessory prayer, means that I'm still skeptical.

JD Curtis said...

I had a situation yesterday when a very conservative college explained a matter to me in such a way that after some close inspection, I found myself heartily agreeing with him

So you are generally of the Liberal mindset?

"where there is doubt, there is freedom."

I don't disagree with your father's saying at all.

I find that a healthy dose of skepticism is just that. Healthy insofar as forming our opinions. It's just that when we become to set in our ways to consider other options that skepticism can become cynicism and that is not a very helpful thing.

Thank you for your honesty Zilch!

Froggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froggie said...

JD,

"So you are generally of the Liberal mindset?"

No, I am a sect in and unto myself. I am an equal opportunity iconoclast. :>

I find it very curious that so many people have never learned to think for themselves. They march single file behind their demigods like ducklings following their mother. Sad, that.

Jquip said...

zilch: and if you read the article, it was not even a double-blind experiment; and the placebo effect is well-known

It's an interesting problem given the proximal, versus distal, nature of the setup. Even choosing an antagonistic subject would not suffice in that regard. All the double-blinds were distal however, so there is a strong argument for placebo or related effects.

One could, seeking solace, state that this is no different than reductions in scar tissue for having a recovery room that looks on a tree. Even still, and despite the sample size, it seems sufficient to say that it does have a practical and measurable effect regardless the cause.

Hard to argue outcome in medical benefits so long as you're not harvesting tissue under questionable circumstances.

JD Curtis said...

JQP, your input is always welcome here in that I must admit that I am rather uninformed concerning the finer terminology of studies involving statistical information.

Froggie, I don't doubt for a moment that there are Christians out there who are leading lives unexamined and who are merely following in the steps of their forefathers.

But one can have a "reasonable faith", to steal a term from William Lane Craig, and there are answers to many (dare I say, most?) of the questions that are commonly raised by skeptics.

That's partly why I have this forum. That and it's much cheaper than professional therapy ;-)

ATVLC said...

Huge methodological problems with this "experiment".
I'll just leave this link here.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/templeton_prayer_study_meets_e.php

Jquip said...

JD: That was the most pleasant manner I've seen in which to call someone a nerd. :P

zilch said...

Hard to argue outcome in medical benefits so long as you're not harvesting tissue under questionable circumstances.

True, Jquip. But this does nothing towards demonstrating the benefits of intercessory prayer, which is what they claimed.

You might want to read the link ATVLC put up.

cheers from soggy Vienna, zilch

JD Curtis said...

this does nothing towards demonstrating the benefits of intercessory prayer, which is what they claimed

Do you mean "the article" doesnt demonstrate the benefits of prayer? If that's the case, then I would say that it does.

You could argue though that it's not enough evidence to sway you and I've already mentioned the small sample size. But it does support the idea that intercessory prayer works.

zilch said...

JD- did you read the link that ATVLC put up? There's a detailed explanation of what the study does and does not do. Suffice it to say that a "study" with no controls is not really a study, in the pesky strict sense of being "science".

So no, it does not support the idea that intercessory prayer works. Please read the link and then we can discuss it further.

The Catholic Apologist said...

Even I have to get suspicious about this.

Prayer involves the spiritual, not the physical-thus by definition Science does not have the tools to study it. Science deals with the physical, not the spiritual.

Dan said...

In a quantum experience, cause and effect can be impossible to determine. One is never an observer either , but always a participant and therefore, affects the outcome. You opinions should be guarded because you may cheat yourself. I think we're moving to the mass understanding that the universe may be demand driven.