Sabbatical Blog

...chronicling some of my projects and learnings during this time apart from parish ministry

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Science and Prayers

Yesterday's news was that a well-designed (from the scientific point of view) study has determined that specific prayers (may he go through surgery and have no complications) of strangers for cardiac bypass patients have no effect on outcome, and if the patients are told they are being prayed for, they actually have a slightly higher liklihood of a worse outcome.

This study does not prove that prayers for one's own loved ones are ineffective, but that's a much harder scientific study to design, since it is impossible to know who is being prayed for. It also contradicts some other studies, which show a net positive effect of prayer on patient outcomes...but which established that a general prayer of holding a person in one's heart and praying for a good outcome, or "Thy will be done" is more effective than a prayer for specific outcomes like no complications. It is curious to me that the researchers in this last study were so directive, given previous studies.

No one in touch with reality will claim that a prayer like "may she come through surgery and have no complications," is particularly "effective". After all, everyone dies eventually and many who do die in spite of the prayers of their loved ones, and their own prayers. Obviously biological processes, not to mention the "will of God" regularly trumps prayers. That doesn't mean praying is useless, only that it is not magic. Surprisingly, many people who are thoroughly in touch with reality pray anyway. Their intuitive wisdom is that prayer helps the patient and their experience is that their prayer helps them to wait and hope.

That's why I'm this morning praying for the baby of a UU blogger. "Little Warior" underwent surgery yesterday for kidney cancer. I hold them both in my heart and pray that whatever is best might come to be.

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