Speaking of God vs. Science, this week’s Time magazine had a 20-page feature on the big stories in medicine over that past year. On page 87, there is a quick summary of (apparently) the Harvard/Mayo clinic study on the effects of prayer which was published in April (the STEP trial):
In an attempt to nail down the question of whether prayer really can heal, six hospitals had strangers say prayers for 1,800 coronary-bypass patients and then studied the post-operative complications. Patients who were told they might or might not be prayed for had roughly the same complication rate, whatever their prayer status turned out to be. But those who were told for certain that they were in someone’s prayers actually did worse. The doctors’ tentative conclusion: people who knew they were being prayed for might have thought they were sicker than they realized, which could have made their outcomes worse. But anyone tempted to think this study disproves the power of prayer should think again. The doctors and clergy who ran the study had no control over whether friends and family were also praying for the patients—and they certainly couldn’t have forbidden personal prayers even if they knew about them. Beyond that, the prayers said by strangers were provided by the clergy and were all identical. Maybe that prevented them from being truly heartfelt. In short, the possible confounding factors in this study made it extraordinarily limited.
Isn’t that adorable? “Extraordinary limited”? The largest scientific study of intercessory prayer ever conducted, by the most prestigious medical schools in the country, and funded by the Templeton Foundation itself fails to find any medical effect from prayer at all, and what does our intrepid Time reporter do?—he uses nearly HALF his space reassuring his readers that they need not take it seriously if they really don’t want to! I couldn’t help thinking of all the magazine articles I’ve read about much less ambitious studies that still somehow managed to “prove” how well prayer does work, and I can’t seem to recall any of those articles having anywhere near as comprehensive a disclaimer as this! LOL!
This is my favorite excuse:
...the prayers said by strangers were provided by the clergy and were all identical. Maybe that prevented them from being truly heartfelt…
Do you suppose Catholics will stop doing Hail Marys and Protestants stop teaching their kids the Lord’s Prayer, on the grounds that prayers by rote aren’t “heartfelt” enough to suit God?