Praying for the sick simply does not work

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

I probably shouldn’t have to make the disclaimer after all this time, but it seems I do: I’m not attacking religion, Christianity or God. I’m challenging our (necessarily, inevitably) limited understanding of those things.

Here’s a big analysis of the research evidence: http://www.springerlink.com/content/ql345l2h434666l5/

It’s pretty conclusive: praying for the sick to be healed simply does not work.

Where it gets interesting is what we do with that. Rather than perhaps thinking again about what prayer means and what it is for, the most typical responses are to either try to impeach the science in some way as a godless plot or else to mutter about the inscrutable will of God.

His will must indeed be inscrutable if it turns out that praying for someone yields *exactly* the same medical outcomes as not praying for them… and if most Christians’ current understanding of the power of prayer is correct.

It’s not simple, and it’s not meant to be simple: but just pretending reality is not as it is doesn’t cut it any more.

5 responses to “Praying for the sick simply does not work”

  1. Mark says:

    Does that research just find that experiments find no effect of prayer? If people are organized for the sake of experiment into praying then there is no difference? Have you read anything of the papers surveyed?

    Not that I’m saying that there should be a measurable effect, but prayer is an intensely personal thing, I pray (fervently) about things that matter to me. But the Bible dies say that you won’t get what you want if it’s just to indulge your own desires.

    But what about people like Roger Morneau? Maybe there are people who have a specific prayer ministry.

    I have no strong opinions on this, but I don’t think the first impression from your title is necessarily correct in all cases.

  2. Bravus says:

    The paper is a meta-analysis of a large number of studies. In some the people were specifically praying as part of the research, but others were studies in more naturalistic settings whether people were simply asked whether they had spontaneously prayed.

    The point is that if even 10% – even 2% – of the time people were praying with everything correct, the right technique, the right motives and so on, then that would show up in the stats as a difference. But there’s no difference.

    (And have you looked into Roger Morneau a bit more closely? ‘Outrageous charlatan’ is about the kindest description…)

  3. Mark says:

    Well, you feel free to claim “no difference”, but it would take more effort to sort that out, for me at least.

    I had a quick google for Morneau, nothing devastating appeared in the first page of google. I’ve read one book by him from the church library.

  4. Bravus says:

    Well, you feel free to claim “no difference”, but it would take more effort to sort that out, for me at least.

    Since I have provided the best available evidence on the question – a large meta-analysis paper from a peer reviewed journal – and that evidence supports my claim, if you doubt my claim it is incumbent upon you to find and provide different evidence (not just an assertion).

  5. Mark says:

    Here’s one paper that I stumbled on after hearing Habermas refer to this sort of thing. I had assumed it didn’t exist after this meta-analysis.


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