Saturday, March 25, 2006

Does Prayer Work?

Prayer, does it actually work?

At one point in my life I believed so strongly that it did that I gave a public lecture at the local library on the evidence for it. Fortunately, hardly anyone showed up. As part of the lecture, I cited Randoph Byrd's original prayer study involving cardiac patients which showed dramatic results of double blind intercessory prayer. I also cited the South Korean fertility clinic prayer study which had dramatic results. Larry Dossey M.D., one of the leading champions of intercessory prayer studies claimed that these particular two studies were the most extraordinarily compelling ones done to date.

Due to the apparent success of some of these studies, many more were performed, only now coming to publication. Read about several of them here .

(ha cool, I figured out how to do it. No more big URL's)

The biggest study to date was performed by Harvard Medical's Herbert Benson and is set to be published soon. No significant benefit was found for prayer in any of these recent studies. But of course, believers are claiming that if you tweak the data just so, there might be something interesting worth further study. Someone said this is like emptying your gun at the wall of a barn and then painting the bull's eye around the pattern.

Oh, and those two studies that I mentioned in the beginning- they were both discredited. Byrd's study was too poorly controlled to be considered good evidence, and the Korean study included a known fraud, rendering it's results useless. It isn't any wonder that when good research casts it's gaze on the issue with an enormous data base, no results are found.

Sometimes I wake up shaking in the middle of the night and wrap my arms around my knees. I'm back at that lecture. I'm cold and shaking. I look for someplace to hide my head, my eyes so nobody can see. I'm thoroughly ashamed.



Teague said...

It must have been hard to give a lecture on such a controversial topic. I have wondered about this some myself. I personaly am a Christian, and belive that humanity having free will to be as stupid as we want causes the problem there. To fix everything, God would have to fix evil as well as things like disease, and also things like exposure to chemicals that cause disease. I think He couldn't let us do this and whatever we want at the same time. I don't like the idea of medicine and prayer. I hope that science and religion will stop trying to cancel eachother out someday. Medicine should be secular because if religions are brought in relgious biases will come with them. We can't have that happening. It would do terrible damage to the intergirty all medical professions.

Aaron said...

Thanks for commenting Teague. I am interested in how you reconcile nature and god- for it seems clear, biologically speaking, that what we call "evil" is not only present at birth in the make up of our neuroanatomy, but actually promoted and selected for via natural processes over vast spans of time. Why would god devise a system of nature which favored such supposedly immoral behavior?

Aaron said...

teague, I didn't realize you were only 13, and a bright 13 you are. I would fully agree with you that middle school is the fulcrum of evil in the human lifespan.

charles said...

Does it matter that it works or not? If you believe you'll find all sorts of reasons why to continue. If you don't, you simply won't do it.

I'm more interested in your ideas on evil.

talktome aaron

Aaron said...

Prayer works if one prays for oneself, probably due to some psychological mechanism. The same mechanism is the force behind almost all "alternative" healthcare. Its worth using. I used to strongly believe that intercessory double blind prayer was real due to the objective data. When I learned that they were not entirely on the up and up I started to doubt. Then I heard that Harvard medical was doing the largest prayer study ever conducted involving multiple locations and many groups of pray-ers. I have been waiting about 4 years for the results of that study. It hasn't been published yet, but there were no findings. That pretty much puts the lid on it for me. Pretty disappointing. In fact, I'm still trying to learn how to live without feeling connected to a higher power. I am still reeling from the blow. I haven't entirely adapted, and wear my unsettledness on my sleeve.

As far as evil- its a word people created to describe antisocial survival mechanism selected for by evolution. Nature bypassed this making primates self-deceivers so it is easier to sell to and deceive others. We all think we're good people. I've known two sociopathic liars very closely and what I can say about them is that they both pretty much thought they were extraordinarily wonderful people that anyone should love being around, honest and trustworthy.