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Religious Tolerance logo

Healing by prayer

Effectiveness of "distant healing" prayer:

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Quotes:

bullet "During the past two decades, a spate of intercessory prayer studies has shown only a small or statistically insignificant effect. The findings have been highly controversial, with skeptics charging that the methodology is flawed." Stacey Chase, Science & Theology News. 1

bullet

"It must be emphasized that, in the entire history of modern science, no claim of any type of supernatural phenomena has ever been replicated under strictly controlled conditions." Bruce Flamm, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology. 2

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Controversy about the use of distant healing prayer:

Prayer at a distance is also called: intercessory prayer, remote healing, anonymous prayer, etc..

It involves a person or a team praying on behalf of an individual who might be some distance away, and a stranger. Its effectiveness is controversial:

bullet

Dr. Gary Posner, a skeptic says that most remote prayer studies to date have been sloppy and untrustworthy. He said:

"I suspect that 50 years from now people looking back at this genre of prayer research will kind of shake their heads and call it junk science."

Chance alone, he says, might account for the effect that they thought was due to the prayer.


bullet

Popular spirituality author Dr. Deepak Chopra, says that prayer experiments are supporting what he's been saying all along: There are healing forces in nature that science is only beginning to understand. He said:

"At the moment, I would agree that some of these studies are tentative, that we should be cautious in the way we interpret the results. But the studies are encouraging enough that we should pursue them, because if we don't, we may have missed one of the most amazing phenomena in nature." 3

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Summary of the results of prayer studies in the U.S.:

One measure of the effectiveness of intercessory prayer is whether the patient studied either lived or died. During the interval 1982 to 2006, five studies were made. A total of 4,094 patients were tracked: 3

Investigator Location Date Died while
Prayed for

Died while
NOT Prayed
For

Byrd
San Francisco
1982
6.77%
8.46%
Harris
St. Luke's Hospital
1999
9.01
8.78
Aviles
Mayo Clinic
2001
8.09
8.97
Krucoff
Duke University
2005
3.77
3.45
Benson
Beth Israel Deacon.
2006
2.65
2.35
Average
-
-
5.75%
5.97%

As of late 2018, no additional studies of this type have been performed.

The results were divided:

  • Three of the studies showed a lower death rate among those NOT prayed for; two studies showed the opposite. None of the ten results were statistically significant.

  • Overall, the death rate among those who were prayed for during all five tests was lower, by a miniscule amount: 0.22%. Again, this result is not statistically significant.

Descriptions of all five studies appear in the Free Inquiry magazine, Page 25. 3

Brian Bolton, writing for Free Inquiry magazine, said:

"Believers are quick to cite cases where prayer is associated with positive results, while they steadfastly disregard those circumstance where prayer is followed by unfavorable outcomes. It is this selective attention to everyday events that helps sustain faith in the power of prayer." 3

Bolton also comments on the "undiminished Christian belief in the value of prayer ... [as indicated by] the huge volume of books on the subject published over the past decade at a rate exceeding one thousand titles per year."

He concludes his article with Mark Twain's aphorism:

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

The results of the studies show that Jesus' promise in John 14:13-14 may be inaccurate, or perhaps may not apply in this case:

"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (NIV)

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Topics covered in this section:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Stacey Chase, "Does prayer research have a prayer?," Science & Theology News, 2005-SEP-07, at: http://www.stnews.org/
  2. B.L. Flamm, "The Columbia University 'Miracle' Study: Flawed and Fraud," Skeptical Inquirer, 2004-SEP.
  3. Brian Bolton, "Have Christians accepted the scientific conclusion that God does not answer intercessory prayer? Free Inquiry magazine, 2018-DEC-18, Page 20 to 25.

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Copyright © 1996 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996-JAN-14
Latest update: 2018-NOV-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

 

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