March 31st, 2006
As the research on prayer movement continues, it is important to ask whether there is any research, or body of research, that would lead believers to question their beliefs? A new study [Prayer for the ill may do more harm than good] finds little effect of “intercessory prayer” by strangers on recovery from an operation. What evidence the study provides leans in the direction of prayer being harmful, if the person being prayed for knows about it.
In a discussion that demonstrates the futility of such study, the researchers indicate that the findings have little relevance:
“The authors warned it might be impossible to disentangle the effects of study prayer from background prayer, and said a possible limitation was that those doing the special praying had no connection with the subjects.
“Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge this belief,” the report concluded.”
Now all studies have flaws. In the social/psychological fields, no single study ever “proves” anything. But gradually a body of work supports a given conclusion and it becomes increasingly irrational to believe certain things. In Bayesian terms, posterior beliefs are a function of prior beliefs modified by evidence. Can anyone really imagine believers gradually questioning their belief as a result of a series of negative findings about the value of prayer? If not, what’s the point?