Aegroto, dum anima est, spes esse dicitur
March 31, 2006 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Prayer as placebo. Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found. And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.
posted by The Jesse Helms (137 comments total)

 
Where's ya Messiah now? Myah!
posted by grubi at 7:21 AM on March 31, 2006


how about Tai Chi, Qigong, can they heal illness?
posted by matthewchen at 7:26 AM on March 31, 2006


How will this end? Everyone:
posted by Jofus at 7:27 AM on March 31, 2006


World Outside Skull Completely Unaffected By Prayer SHOCK!
posted by Artw at 7:28 AM on March 31, 2006


Stop bashing religion or I'll pray for you!
posted by qvantamon at 7:33 AM on March 31, 2006


Who cares about health? Yesterday we learned that going to church makes you rich! Oh boy! I'm rich! I'm wealthy! I'm independent! I'm socially secure ! I'm rich! I'm rich! I'm rich![/daffy duck]
posted by sourwookie at 7:34 AM on March 31, 2006


God hates heart surgery because it messes up his plans. If you pray about it it just pisses him off.

Because if there's one thing about god you get from reading the Bible, it's that he's an incredibly preening, cruel, bitter, spiteful and arbitrary he is.
posted by delmoi at 7:39 AM on March 31, 2006


delmoi is that sarcasm?

...have you read the bible?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:44 AM on March 31, 2006


From the NYT story: Other experts said the study underscored the question of whether prayer was an appropriate subject for scientific study. "The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion," said Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia and author of a forthcoming book, "Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine."

Scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no more validity than religious claims have in scientific territory, a la intelligent design. Separate church and state. Separate religious teaching from secular education. Separate religion and science.
posted by beagle at 7:47 AM on March 31, 2006


You know, I just realized that most of my confusion on Metafilter is due to confusing the name 'delmoi' with the name 'dios' when I'm not reading carefully.

Heh.
posted by verb at 7:49 AM on March 31, 2006


Well, that just about wraps it up for God!

Me, I pray to the ghost of Douglas Adams and I haven't died on the exercise bike yet. I think it's the arc trainer that'll get me.
posted by Decani at 7:49 AM on March 31, 2006


[nomen paginae bonum est]

Actually, delmoi, I take a very different God from my reading of the Bible, but (like most people) that's because of the education I had in it. I went to a typically squashy CofE school, so we had a God who was fuzzily liberal, believed in evolution and loved us all. Naturally, we were pointed to the bits of the Bible that said that, while the rest was implicitly presented as something of an aberration.

Of course, *intellectually* I know that the Bible is a construct of various historical societies, in the Middle East and elsewhere, but *emotionally*, though not a churchgoer, I've still got that distant, ritualistic, but fundamentally nice God-image somewhere deep in my psyche.
posted by athenian at 7:51 AM on March 31, 2006


If an idea is not amenable to examination through logic or scientific method, then I suggest it has no validity - or value - at all.
posted by ibanda at 7:51 AM on March 31, 2006


Because if there's one thing about god you get from reading the Bible, it's that he's an incredibly preening, cruel, bitter, spiteful and arbitrary he is.

Oh I agree with Delmoi on that. Starting with, "Cain! What is this shit you are giving me? Wheat from your field that you harrowed and sowed and weeded and harvested? Fuck off."

"So, Moses. You lost your temper? No promised land for you, buddy. Wander around until you die."

"Abraham, get over there and cut the throat of your first born...and be quick about it. I demand complete and absolute obedience."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:52 AM on March 31, 2006


but the prayer itself isn't being studied, it's the outcome that's being studied. One might as well study the outcome of a group whose friends baked chocolate chip cookies vs not, it's the same thing. The whole "you can't study prayer with science" is a red herring. You can still study the results scientifically.
posted by gaspode at 7:53 AM on March 31, 2006


This study is clearly a gray area!
posted by rxrfrx at 7:57 AM on March 31, 2006


Gaspode: Until someone raises the point that by studying the results scientifically you are contaminating the process itself.
Matthew 4:7 "Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

ibanda: What about love?
/sings Talkin' bout lo-oo-ooove
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:05 AM on March 31, 2006


PWNED BY SCIENSE!!!1!!1!
posted by rollbiz at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2006


Secret Life of Gravy: "A whole bunch of stuff he remembers from church school where God was mean."

You know - the thing about selective readings of your literal interpretation of the bible is that it tends to generate some pretty wacky stuff. You know, about keeping slaves and stoning daughters who run away and not eating shellfish and stuff.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:07 AM on March 31, 2006


Matthew 4:7 "Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Wasn't Jesus talking to Satan there? And basically saying don't throw yourself off a building and expect God to catch you just because you can proof-text from some Psalm?
posted by MasonDixon at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2006


beagle: Scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no more validity than religious claims have in scientific territory, a la intelligent design.

If prayer actually has any effect in the physical world, then those effects can be studied using science.

bb: Until someone raises the point that by studying the results scientifically you are contaminating the process itself

How convienient. That's just like the character in the movie "Mystery Men" who claimed he could make himself invisible, but only if you didn't look at him.
posted by jsonic at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2006


MasonDixon: Yeah - yeah that's pretty much what he was saying.

Sort of like saying, "Well - if your God is so strong, why don't you pray for this guy here having heart surgery and we'll just see what happens?"
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2006


Scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no more validity than religious claims have in scientific territory, a la intelligent design. Separate church and state. Separate religious teaching from secular education. Separate religion and science.

If the outcome of the study had been positive for the power of prayer, how many religionists would then say that scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no validity?
posted by fleetmouse at 8:11 AM on March 31, 2006


jsonic - I'll show you the electron - you just tell me how fast and in what direction it's moving.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2006


It's fun to watch the BS rationalizations for why this is A Bad Thing that can't possibly be right.

Of course, the answer here is simple. Three groups prayed: 2 Catholic, one Protestant. Obviously, either one of the groups pissed God off enough to negate the possible positive effect, or none of the groups are The One True Way.

What we need to do next is have various different religions pray for critical patients, and see which, if any, recover better. Then we can settle this pesky "which religion is right" debate once and for all.

/sarcasm

I blogged this yesterday.
posted by teece at 8:15 AM on March 31, 2006


A study of the effect of prayer on those who pray would be more interesting than a study of the effect of prayer on those being prayed for.
posted by Prospero at 8:15 AM on March 31, 2006


A study of the effect of prayer on those who pray would be more interesting than a study of the effect of prayer on those being prayed for.

Not really. There's an obvious mechanism (the placebo effect) by which a sick person who prayed (and believed in such nonsesne) might show signs of symptomatic improvement. The wackos believe that prayer actually affects the world whether or not the world knows or cares. There is no known mechanism by which this could work.

This kicks the religious BS to the curb, as have other similar studies. Do me a favor, GodNuts. If I'm sick, don't pray for me. Or pray that I will be damned to hell for all I care. This study is "interesting" only because it reminds us that what seems obvious is in fact true. Inteliigent design, my ass.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:21 AM on March 31, 2006


Who cares about health? Yesterday we learned that going to church makes you rich! Oh boy! I'm rich! I'm wealthy! I'm independent! I'm socially secure ! I'm rich! I'm rich! I'm rich![/daffy duck]

"I'm comfortably well off!"
posted by BobFrapples at 8:21 AM on March 31, 2006


Let's not forget that God also hates amputees.
posted by malaprohibita at 8:24 AM on March 31, 2006


The results of this study, just like evidence for the dinosaurs, is a test to see if Christians truly have faith in God. That God - always thinking up new ways to test your faith! What a kidder.
posted by billysumday at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2006


"The wackos believe..."
"Do me a favor, GodNuts."
"This kicks the religious BS..."
"Inteliigent design, my ass."


I see the captain of the high school debate team has decided to join us.
I'm praying for you right now.

"Oh! Eww! No! Stop it! I'll catch teh Jesus!"
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:26 AM on March 31, 2006


Baby_Balrog: "delmoi is that sarcasm?
...have you read the bible?
"


Well, God does come over a little harsh. Sometimes.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2006


bb: I'll show you the electron - you just tell me how fast and in what direction it's moving.

Non sequitur fallacy. Do you not see the con in claiming that prayer works, except when you actually analyze its results?
posted by jsonic at 8:29 AM on March 31, 2006


Arrgh - can't we just block the "Post Comment" button until one preview has been done? It would save me from looking like a dumbass...

Anyway. God. This is the link I intended to post.


And 2 Kings 2:24 says: "And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."

Someone who causes stuff like this to happen to innocent children and innocent figs doesn't appear particularly benevolent; "preening, cruel, bitter, spiteful and arbitrary" fits much better.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:33 AM on March 31, 2006


Secret Life of Gravy: "A whole bunch of stuff he remembers from church school where God was mean."
You know - the thing about selective readings of your literal interpretation of the bible is that it tends to generate some pretty wacky stuff. posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:07 AM EST on March 31

"wacky stuff"? Starting with the story of Adam and Eve and the stuff I quoted above plus:

Lot's wife turning to stone because she looked back
The mass destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
The flooding (and killing off) of the entire world except for Noah and his family
The "scattering" of the builders of the Tower of Babel
Etc, Etc, Etc

makes up the basic plot line of Genesis: God is vengeful, jealous, and demands full obedience.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:37 AM on March 31, 2006


Well, I don't know that this isn't science. The claim that praying for a person -> quicker recovery from illness is just as testable a hypothesis as any other medical claim.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:41 AM on March 31, 2006


".... have you read the bible?"

"....your literal interpretation of the bible is that it tends to generate some pretty wacky stuff"

So...... Which is it? I should go read the Bible? I should read the Bible but not take it literally? I should read the Bible, but then double check what it says with you?

People like Baby_Balrog really piss me off.

I enjoy these religious threads. I usually learn something, we're talking about important stuff, very diverse viewpoints proliferate, etc. But invariably someone like Baby_Balrog will come along and take a piss on me because I haven't read the Bible cover to cover. But then when I quote it back to them they'll point and laugh at me for taking it literally. And if I take the time to do some scholarship and read any of the 100+ different interpretations it will turn out I read the wrong one.

Reading the Bible is certainly an accomplishment, but it has no real value for debates like the one we're having. Because it's never the words in the Bible that seem to matter, but rather everyone's interpretation. And everyone's interpretation is different, but that doesn't prevent them from holding onto the idea that their subjective reading still equals the word of God.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:41 AM on March 31, 2006


PontifexPrimus, I'm not going to get into a debate with a biblical literalist - I can pull up my concordance and give you numerous examples of God being benevolent and wondrous and saving the world etc. You're right! The old testament God was pretty oppressive and could be quite nasty at times - especially if you weren't on 'his side'. Check out the New testament. Yeah - there's some weird stuff in there too, man! Like Jesus cursing a fig tree and pulling money out of fish! Holy cow! But there's also some pretty fantastic stories about how we should treat each other, especially the poor, and there are some great starting points on discovering the true nature and effect of greed.

jsonic - Yes, I see what you're saying, and I don't see the con. In fact, the bible addresses this directly - and actually tells Christians that people will ask them to prove their faith, and if they attempt to prove it it won't work.

What is your fetish with disproving something you don't even believe in? And please demonstrate to me that you understand the term 'non sequitur.' I see the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as a fine example. The very act of studying the effects of prayer changes the momentum of the prayer itself.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:42 AM on March 31, 2006


I don't understand how we can denigrate something as "just" placebo. The effect of mental state on health is one of the most potent medicines we have--yet we ignore it as a matter of policy, rather than using methods to increase it. Prayer is one of the weaker methods available, but it's something.

Because if there's one thing about god you get from reading the Bible, it's that he's an incredibly preening, cruel, bitter, spiteful and arbitrary he is.

I actually found it remarkably consistent, given how it was written. Just not consistent from the framework one would have been led to expect.

Scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no more validity than religious claims have in scientific territory, a la intelligent design. Separate church and state. Separate religious teaching from secular education. Separate religion and science.

Amen!

If an idea is not amenable to examination through logic or scientific method, then I suggest it has no validity - or value - at all.

I suggest that's a very limited view of the world.

If the outcome of the study had been positive for the power of prayer, how many religionists would then say that scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no validity?

Almost none; they, too, are hypocritical.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:43 AM on March 31, 2006


Where is your God now?
posted by Ridx at 8:43 AM on March 31, 2006


I think the worst thing that ever happened to the bible was the smartass who added all those 2:24 thingies so that nutjobs could quote it completely out of context and come across as though each sentence is a commandment in and of itself.
posted by zeoslap at 8:46 AM on March 31, 2006


Jesus wept.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:48 AM on March 31, 2006


y6y6y6: I'm sorry if I piss you off, that's not my intention. The point I'm trying to make is that when people approach Christians and start with the hand-waving and the, "Well - I read the Bible and your God is vicious and nasty! Look what he did! Right in this part right there!" it infuriates me - because they're being biblical literalists! It's ok to read the bible literally when it makes the silly Christians look bad, but if they come up with some buzzkill rule about giving away your stuff to the poor or turning the other cheek - suddenly they get shoved in the "biblical literalist" closet.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:48 AM on March 31, 2006


What are we talking about when we talk about prayer? I don't think that most people who pray regularly do so so that they can get stuff from some divine source. Prayer then becomes simply an exercise of the ego. Prayer more often is an attempt to connect on some level with with "transcendence," what ever that means to a person. I think the study itself is a red herring.

There is no way a scientist could have any control over what is happening in an "experiment" of this nature. Is prayer for them some sort of positive vibe that in and of itself heals? If there were some sort of divine intelligence that did "hear" prayer and respond in some manner, why presume this power would heal a person just because we want it to happen.
posted by kojent at 8:59 AM on March 31, 2006


The poor bastards never had a prayer!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:02 AM on March 31, 2006


I’m sure all those lovely Jewish people who died in the Holocaust were praying to stay alive. I’ll take that as my own personal survey, because I figure with the number who died compared to the number of that group that probably prayed not to die (being religious), one does have a pretty large sample group and gives a pretty reliable behavioral probability. Although this is not a scientific survey, I’ll live with it.
posted by NaomiN at 9:02 AM on March 31, 2006


There is no way a scientist could have any control over what is happening in an "experiment" of this nature.

Bullshit. They asked a bunch of monks to pray for the health and recovery of people. I doubt said monks decided, instead, to pray for something else. And Christian prayer is not some deep mystery -- many, many Christians believe you pray for God's help. The internal, transcendent view of prayer is on top of that, and probably in the minority with most Christians, especially if you don't restrict your Christians to devout, Jesuits and other monks.
posted by teece at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2006


Baby_Balrog - For the record, I don't think I've quoted the Bible to anyone, ever. Mainly because I've read enough of it, and enough on it's historical context and interpretation, not to mention the studies about massive transcription errors and editing over the centuries, that I feel it's pretty worthless as a source religious debates.

And yet, the serious religious folk here keep insisting I can't talk about God's wishes and actions unless I've read it.

This is me officially calling bullshit on your "have you even read the Bible?" It's a dumb thing to say.

Further - If we want to find things like giving stuff to the poor or turning the other cheek, we can look anywhere. Other religious texts. Self-help books. Talk shows. Blogs. That kind of thing is everywhere. So it has very little do with Jesus or the Bible specifically. There is no buzzkill. It's just that everyone, including atheists, already agrees with it.

But when we get into the wacky stuff, that's most just from the Bible. So comparing and contrasting the two as a defense is a bit naive.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:07 AM on March 31, 2006


Meh... this is all sort of non-issue anyway. It would have to be a really selective reading of the bible to conclude that praying for anything other than the removal of sins is effective. The book never says anything about prayer improving your finances or helping you get through a difficult surgery.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:08 AM on March 31, 2006


I think the worst thing that ever happened to the bible was the smartass who added all those 2:24 thingies so that nutjobs could quote it completely out of context and come across as though each sentence is a commandment in and of itself.

Robert Estienne was a pig-fucker.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:10 AM on March 31, 2006


y6y6y6: "It's just that everyone, including atheists, already agrees with it."
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:10 AM on March 31, 2006


"This is me officially calling bullshit on your "have you even read the Bible?" It's a dumb thing to say."

Why? Why is it a dumb thing to say? It's only a dumb thing for me to say because you don't want to hear it.
If some 14 year old kid came in here and started spouting off about how communism was nasty because "Karl Marx said that religion is like opium and that's why we need to kill Jewish people" you would call his ass to the line so fast his head would spin! You might even say,
"Have you read Karl Marx's books?"

Hypocrite.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2006


"It's just that everyone, including atheists, already agrees with it."
That's right! That's right! Oh me, call on me!! I'm an atheist! I'm a damned good person! Oh, please call on me! I turn the other cheek! I try not to lie or steal or sleep with my neighbor's wife, really! And I never went to church and nobody read the bible to me when I was little! Really!!
posted by NaomiN at 9:18 AM on March 31, 2006


Baby_Balrog: "PontifexPrimus, I'm not going to get into a debate with a biblical literalist - I can pull up my concordance and give you numerous examples of God being benevolent and wondrous and saving the world etc. You're right! The old testament God was pretty oppressive and could be quite nasty at times - especially if you weren't on 'his side'.

I'm not trying to attack you nor your beliefs; on the contrary, if what you get from the Bible is along the lines of "try to be a good person" I support your efforts wholeheartedly. I was just trying to point out that said Bible does contain passages that paint the God described therein in a very bad light. I'm not arguing that these passages are actually correct or especially relevant; after discussing things with some catholic priests and protestant ministers I came away with the impression that most of the Old Testament is "superceded" by the New Testament and the "new pact" created by Jesus Christ.
The fact nevertheless remains that I'm not aware of any christian sect that categorically distances itself from the OT; therefore you have to concede to people like delmoi that, yes, those passages exist and are a part of the core teachings.
You can't separate Christianity from the Bible - if you ask any devout Christian what guides her behaviour her she'll answer either "the Bible" or "the teachings of Jesus" (which are written down in the Bible).
Arguing that people should overlook the bad stuff and just take home the feelgood messages about love, happiness and sharing is not a valid way to defend the source of the beliefs of a religion.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2006


The Christian religion uses the Bible as a One, Two punch.
Fist we get the angry, vengeful God-- "The Enforcer." Then in the New Testament we get Jesus the Sacrificial Lamb who protects us from The Enforcer, If we give ourselves to Jesus, we get rewarded with Heaven. The angry, vengeful God is very important to Christians because he is the stick while Jesus is the carrot.

When we pray to God and our prayers are not answered, we are not allowed to imagine that prayer doesn't work. We are told that either a) we didn't pray hard enough or with a pure enough heart, or b) God has other plans. So when we are told that prayer really does work we figure either a) we didn't deserve to have our prayer answered or b) God wants us to suffer.* Both of these reactions are hard to swallow.

*There is also the extreme Christian response which goes like this "God decided my baby should die after all. Glory Be. My baby is now in heaven and will never suffer. Therefore it is wrong for me to cry."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:24 AM on March 31, 2006


It would have to be a really selective reading of the bible to conclude that praying for anything other than the removal of sins is effective.

Then you are happy about this study, Baby_Balrog, as it is useful in disabusing Christians of a notion about prayer that many of them have. Including many prominent Christians of the religious-leader type.
posted by teece at 9:24 AM on March 31, 2006


You might even say,
"Have you read Karl Marx's books?"


Have you read Heisenberg? If not, you have no right to talk about the uncertainty principle like you did above.

Hypocrite.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2006


"the fact nevertheless remains that I'm not aware of any christian sect that categorically distances itself from the OT"
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:27 AM on March 31, 2006


The angry, vengeful God is very important to Christians because he is the stick while Jesus is the carrot.

Heh heh ... G-d has multiple personality disorder and likes to play a schizoid version of good cop/bad cop.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:28 AM on March 31, 2006


PinkStainlessTail: Does this count? Granted, it's been four years since I took my last physics lab, but I think I'm justified in my original point.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:31 AM on March 31, 2006


"Hypocrite."

Well, yes. But I don't think that epithet applies here. Let's put your example in a more contextually appropriate form - If some 14 year old comes here says Marx's famous line about religion being the opiate of the masses leads him to think Communism is bad, we can debate that on it's merits.

If the youngster lifts some whoppers from "On the Jewish Question", and uses them to bash Communisim we can either debate the dubious real connection between the two. Or we can just agree with him that much of that book is rather odious and indefensible.

My point is that telling him to "go read Marx" would be a really dumb suggestion. Since he obviously did read Marx. Right? Just as delmoi has obviously read the Bible, he just didn't read it (or interpret it) in the way you wanted him to. For example, maybe he only read small parts of it. But if he's obviously inclined to tease out the wacky stuff, suggesting he just go read more of it is dumb.

Also, I think you're assuming way too much in suggesting I might defend Marx. I think he had lots of interesting ideas, but he was wrong on most of the important parts.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:34 AM on March 31, 2006


teece- obviously prayer didn't "work" in this study. That is a measurable fact. My concern has to do with how those results are interpreted. And I would have the same concern, frankly (really, I mean this) if the results had gone the other way. No major religion that I am aware of equates God with Santa. To think that prayer is just asking for stuff, whether it be money or life, is very simplistic. IF one believes that there is some sort of divine intelligence that responds to prayer, then that intelligence would have its own reasons for how it responds to intercessory prayer. How on earth would we measure that? I don't think this study would have proved much of anything regardless of its results.
posted by kojent at 9:34 AM on March 31, 2006


The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group — 18 percent — suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers.

"Prayer ineffective"? They are soft pedaling the results- Prayer is bad for you!



What is prayer?
"Please God make them Well"
"prayer is stupid and ineffective"
These both could be prayers. Basic science would be to isolate what is being tested from outside input. What are we isolating from? Brain waves? Intentions? The evil eye?
posted by pointilist at 9:35 AM on March 31, 2006


PinkStainlessTail: Does this count?

Nope, you have to have actually read Heisenberg's papers if you're going to try to talk about the concepts in them, just like you have to read Kapital to discuss Marxism, and the Bible to discuss prayer. It's absolutely impossible to know anything about these subjects otherwise.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:37 AM on March 31, 2006


Fine. I retract my earlier response to delmoi's glib suggestion that God is a horrible, vindictive wizard in the sky.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:42 AM on March 31, 2006


Please resume your slanderous generalizations of Christian and bashing of their sacred traditions.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:43 AM on March 31, 2006


this is a fatally flawed study that doesn't prove anything

The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told that they were being prayed for; half were told that they might or might not receive prayers.

after which god contacted them and verified that the non-prayed for group did not, in fact, recieve any prayers?

do they know for a fact that NO ONE prayed for these people?

no

do they know for a fact that prayers said in a congregation or by a group of monks in a verifiable manner are equivalent to those said in private by single parties?

no

in short, they don't have a verifiable control group here, do they? ... they do not know if other parties, including the patients themselves, fudged the study by doing prayers that were not authorized by the study

60 comments and a bunch of self-styled rational, scientific people haven't caught a hole in the underlying logic of this study that one could drive a mack truck through

i find that rather amusing
posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2006


Bumper sticker I read once:
"When you pray, don't give orders. Report for duty."
posted by brownpau at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2006


kojent: I don't think anyone is saying that this study has much relevance to questions like, "is there a god?"

However, some (not all but some) Christian sects make the claim that praying for a person can provide health benefits for that person. A previous possibly fraudulent but very well publicized study claimed that prayer increased the effectiveness of effectiveness of in vitro fertilization. What this study does address is a subset of religious claims regarding the medical effectiveness of prayer.

pointilist: In many cases, complete control of extraneous variables is impossible you can't do it with drug trials (which frequently have no idea about the mechanism beyond drug->effect).

pyramid termite: in short, they don't have a verifiable control group here, do they?

Not really relevant for defining a control group. You can't control all variables in a treatment/control study. You can only control the treatment of interest and hope that other variables wash out in the variance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:52 AM on March 31, 2006


IF one believes that there is some sort of divine intelligence that responds to prayer, then that intelligence would have its own reasons for how it responds to intercessory prayer. How on earth would we measure that?

I understand the point you're trying to make, kojent, and on a certain level I agree with it (I think prayer, if done correctly, is like meditation, and can have a real and beneficial effect for the practitioner. But that is a tacit admission that prayer has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the biology of the human mind).

But I also think it's a dodge. IF you think prayer can effect this reality (and many Christians do, the folks in this thread saying that is a bad interpretation notwithstanding), then we can measure that effect.

Many Christians will pray for a sick loved one. This study shows that that is fruitless (well, it's actually worse than that -- it shows that praying for a loved one is harmful if you tell them you are praying for them).

That is Christian prayer to many people. So is their notion wrong? Yes. You're either forced to adjust the religion (which is, frankly, a dubious proposition if the supposedly-inviolate word of God that is the religious text supports prayer being helpful in this situation, but I'm not a Christian, so I don't know or care if Christianity says praying for a sick loved one is a good or bad use of prayer), or admit that prayer is pointless and the religious texts are wrong.

The reality is that religious people the world over of all stripes, without fail, all make claims that their God(s) and their religion can and does change this reality. If that is true, then that change can be measured. Pretending that science has no place in trying to measure that change is a complete and total cop out; especially when such a measurement provides a null result.

Or, if you decide to rationalize away all measurable effects that a religion might have on this reality, you've reduced yourself to pure story and taken all of the religion out of the religion, making it into something wholly ephemeral. Which is fine, by me, as an atheist to me religion is just story. But I'd think the average religious person would have a problem with that.
posted by teece at 9:53 AM on March 31, 2006


The reason this study is flawed is because it didn't consider that perhaps there were lots of other people praying that the sick people would die, thus canceling out the prayers for them to get better. (Note this is a joke from a Christian, who strongly agrees with kojent above)
posted by bove at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2006


60 comments and a bunch of self-styled rational, scientific people haven't caught a hole in the underlying logic of this study that one could drive a mack truck through

What I find amusing is that you think that's a hole you can drive a truck through.
posted by teece at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2006


"Please resume your slanderous generalizations of Christian and bashing of their sacred traditions."

People like Baby_Balrog really piss me off.

I enjoy these religious threads. I usually learn something, we're talking about important stuff, very diverse viewpoints proliferate, etc. But invariably someone like Baby_Balrog will come along and say something alone the lines of, "It's impossible to debate you people. You just hate Christians and refuse to even listen. Please resume your slanderous generalizations of Christian and bashing of their sacred traditions."

So here I am being more or less polite, and trying draw out something useful, certainly listening and responding directly, and Baby_Balrog has a hissy fit and stomps off.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2006


You can't control all variables in a treatment/control study. You can only control the treatment of interest

which they didn't manage to control at all, did they?

the only thing they've really proved is that people will piss away money on badly designed studies
posted by pyramid termite at 9:58 AM on March 31, 2006


An interesting question might be - How can one do a valid double blind study on an omniscient subject whose motives are supposedly unknowable?
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:04 AM on March 31, 2006


I think the problem isn't interpretation as much as emphasis. Delmoi is obviously talking about the God of the Old Testament (and that could mean a fair number of collections, starting with the "original" Torah (which for the record I have read, I believe, completely) and not ending with what most Christians call the Old Testament and Jews the Tanakh (which for the record I haven't read completely).

Baby_Balrog, in his defense of "God" (BB's version of God, natch) is really more interested in the Christian ideas of God as related in the New Testament.

As a culture we have grown accustomed to the fallacy that the Jewish permutations of God/Jehovah/Yahweh are the same God as the Christian permutations of God/Jesus Christ/Holy Spirit*, but I would argue that this is not the case.

Although Christianity has Judaism as it's base, Hellenistic Influences and other factors turned it into an almost completely different religion.

It was pretty obvious at the beginning therefore that Delmoi and Baby_Balrog would never agree. They just aren't talking about the same God.

* the 3 way construction on the former example is not meant to infer that Jews have a "trinity" concept like Christianity.

PS: "the fact nevertheless remains that I'm not aware of any christian sect that categorically distances itself from the OT" -- links to http://www.stillspeaking.org/default.htm

Baby_Balrog, what's the significance of linking that url to that quote? Does the UCC "categorically distance itself" from the Old Testament? Obviously they accept homosexuals, but I don't see much other evidence of a categorical distancing.

Indeed, since the New Testament relies on the Old Testament for the prophecies that Jesus fulfills, I don't know how a Christian could theologically make that work.
posted by illovich at 10:04 AM on March 31, 2006


I enjoy these religious threads. I usually learn something, we're talking about important stuff, very diverse viewpoints proliferate, etc

I agree with you, y6y6y6. I have been immersed in religion all my life, I've been born-again Jesus Freak, a good Methodist singing in the choir, an atheist and now a daughter-in-law to fundamentalists. Religion is fascinating. It is complex, personal, and very, very potent.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:10 AM on March 31, 2006


I don't hate Christians, although I have every right to--they think I'm going to burn in hell for eternity. I just think they're kind of silly. The scale there is out of whack, no?

That said, this study made me think of a couple of things. Once, when a relative of mine was dying in the hospital, a random woman on the elevator told me she was praying for the person in question. Never saw that person again. On one level, her prayers meant nothing to me. On another, it was a personal gesture that meant--something I guess? It was kind of her to say that. Which kind of ties into my second point--when someone is terminally ill, it's not selfish to want some comfort or succor for the relatives and friends of that person. Prayer does that for some people. For me, I tend to try and talk to the people who are indirectly suffering, ask if they need help with their kids, some groceries, someone to feed their cat (I realize religious people do these things as well, sometimes). I guess I'm just trying to say there's a social and/or contextual level to all this stuff. Prayer doesn't make tumors go away, but it might ease the transition into life without a loved one. The flipside is that there's nothing more obnoxious than watching a group of relatives try to "out-pious" one another-- (in my case, it was step-relatives, but still demeaning to the person who was sick).
posted by bardic at 10:11 AM on March 31, 2006


I need to repeat this. people who were prayed for did worse. Whether they were told about it or not, they did worse. Five percent is significant.
What is going on here? "Chance" isn't he who they pray to in Vegas?
posted by pointilist at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite: the only thing they've really proved is that people will piss away money on badly designed studies

You don't do a study in science to "prove" things. I find it amazing that someone interested in giving a critique of a study and complaining about rationality would make such an obvious mistake.

If you had bothered to RTFA, this study failed to support the claim that recruiting congregations to pray for patients provides positive medical benefits for those patients. And this is just from what was quoted from the author in the popular press. I suspect the claims made in the actual study are quite a bit more limited.

y6y6y6: How can one do a valid double blind study on an omniscient subject whose motives are supposedly unknowable?

You don't. You can only do a double-blind study on the claim that (some treatment) has an effect on (some outcome). An earlier much-disputed study claimed that (prayer from congregations) had a statistically significant effect on (in vitro fertilization success rates). This study found that (prayer from congegations) had no statistically significant effect on (recovery after heart surgery).

Some usual caveats:

1: You can't really claim no effect. You can only claim no statistically significant effect.
2: Of course this study doesn't "prove" anything beyond prayer in general. But theories in science are not built on single studies.

pointillist: "The study found no appreciable difference between the health of those who did not know they were being prayed for and those who received no prayers."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:22 AM on March 31, 2006


However, some (not all but some) Christian sects make the claim that praying for a person can provide health benefits for that person.

As far as I am aware, all do. But it is for many sects a secondary value to prayer, and intercessory prayer that is "unanswered" is interpreted as a type of answer.

kojent: I don't think anyone is saying that this study has much relevance to questions like, "is there a god?"

I understand what you are saying, though the implications of a study like this certainly would touch on such questions. And though this study is kind of a stab in the dark (lets pray and see what happens, even though there isn't a great deal of clarity as to what prayer is and no ability now to explain at all the connection between prayer and the results) it is certainly worth trying. I just don't see what meaningful data can be culled from this experiment, regardless of the results. Will they do it again, to see if the results can be replicated? How else can anything meaningful be identified?
posted by kojent at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2006


Whoops, that should be, "this study does not 'prove' anything beyond a specific tested intervention."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2006


Whether they were told about it or not, they did worse.

You read it slightly wrong. The ones who were told they might be prayed for did about the same (51% vs 52% complications). It was the ones that were told, categorically, that they were going to be prayed for that did worse (59% complications).

That's definitely significant in the study. So saying prayer had no effect is a cop out -- telling someone they are to be prayed for is harmful.

I just don't see what meaningful data can be culled from this experiment,

It showed that a group of people praying for the health of a heart patient, at best, had no effect on that patient's health.

It's quite easy to come up with untestable hypotheses that fit the religion in question and explain that result, so it won't be "disproving" said religion any time soon. But that's the brilliant thing about a system of belief built on untestable hypothesis: literally everything and nothing can be proved disproved about the system.
posted by teece at 10:31 AM on March 31, 2006


Where's ya Messiah now? Myah!

This made me laugh so hard. Nice rendering!

they think I'm going to burn in hell for eternity.

Christian Universalism throughout history
(although there may be a correlation between Christians who believe in a firey hell and those that believe they can pray away the tumors.)
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:35 AM on March 31, 2006


KirkJobSluder: I did read, "The study found no appreciable difference between the health of those who did not know they were being prayed for and those who received no prayers."

I also read:"The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group — 18 percent — suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers."

This seems appriciable.
posted by pointilist at 10:35 AM on March 31, 2006


If the outcome of the study had been positive for the power of prayer, how many religionists would then say that scientific testing of religious ideas, practices or powers has no validity?

Fleetwood: I would be saying the same thing. Separation. Many of the world's troubles can be traced to the lack thereof.
posted by beagle at 10:39 AM on March 31, 2006


"You don't. You can only do a double-blind study on the claim that (some treatment) has an effect on (some outcome)."

Well, I was thinking you can't even do that. The "some treatment" in this case is an appeal to an all-powerful being with unpredictable motivations. Even if the study resulted in prayer having a 100% positive result, you still learn nothing. And it wouldn't matter how many studies you do that return that outcome.

It could be legitimately argued that your all-powerful actor just wanted those results. And since he'd know if you tried to game the system somehow, he could reverse the results at any time for an unknowable reason.

Studies of this type assume that reproducible results have meaning. But the inclusion of an all-powerful actor would seem to toss that out the window.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite writes "in short, they don't have a verifiable control group here, do they? ... they do not know if other parties, including the patients themselves, fudged the study by doing prayers that were not authorized by the study

60 comments and a bunch of self-styled rational, scientific people haven't caught a hole in the underlying logic of this study that one could drive a mack truck through"


The researchers are of course aware of this, and they consider it the fundamental difficulty in this field of study. I heard one of the authors on the radio this morning, and he estimates that 95% of the patients had someone (friends or family) performing intercessional prayer for them.

All that this study purports to investigate is whether intercessional prayer by a stranger has a clinical effect. The fact that there's such a high "background" of prayer clearly makes this a difficult task. The problem is definitely addressed by the authors, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:44 AM on March 31, 2006


You don't do a study in science to "prove" things. I find it amazing that someone interested in giving a critique of a study and complaining about rationality would make such an obvious mistake.

If you had bothered to RTFA,


if you had bothered to RTFA, you'd have read this

But experts said the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying.

looks like you're the one who's making obvious mistakes here
posted by pyramid termite at 10:45 AM on March 31, 2006


kojent: And though this study is kind of a stab in the dark (lets pray and see what happens, even though there isn't a great deal of clarity as to what prayer is and no ability now to explain at all the connection between prayer and the results) it is certainly worth trying.

Well, there are lots of cases in medicine where a treatment is tested using a similar study with a very thin model about the exact mechanism behind it. Some examples include using asprin to treat heart disease, anti-anxiety and depression drugs, Viagra, and pretty much all of the early antibiotics. In fact, quite a bit of physiology has been discovered by examining why and how drugs work.

Sometimes, you just have to start with a black box model.

pointilist: This seems appriciable.

Sample size? Variance?

As an example, I'm wrapping up a study involving gender differences children's Computer-Mediated Communication. At a first glance, one of the statistics I'm using would suggest that an effect exists, but I can't claim an effect exists because it fails to show up as statistically significant.

The difference between 18% and 13% may or may not be statistically significant, and you can't tell without crunching the numbers.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:47 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite, you're point is completely vapid. It's pretty much a given that anyone believing in the power of prayer is going to pray for the ones they love during a dangerous surgery. It's also pretty much a given that anyone that is a stranger to the patient is not going to include them in their prayers.

So the uncontrolled variation in this study is if the families of some patients were huge and prayerful and others were small and prayer-less. (And other, totally uncontrollable issues like "God's plan.")

Lacking a "physics of prayers" this is the best we can get. (Do prayers add up? Are they linear? Do they come in charges? Can a negative prayer negate a positive prayer? Do they fall off with the square of the distance between the prayer and the prayee?).

But that's why you pick random samples. In spite of such problems, there is still a statistically significant result.

There is no hole where you think there is a hole.
posted by teece at 10:55 AM on March 31, 2006


y6y6y6: It could be legitimately argued that your all-powerful actor just wanted those results. And since he'd know if you tried to game the system somehow, he could reverse the results at any time for an unknowable reason.

In which case, we might as well throw out all inferrential knowledge out the window.

pyramid termite: But experts said the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying.

Every study done regarding real people in naturalistic settings such has hospitals has a large number of potentially influential variables that can't be controlled for. Every study. The best anyone can do is say, "we were not able to control for X, Y and Z" and let the reader draw his/her own conclusions as to how critical that is.

Since the claims are limited to a specific type of prayer, and a specific type of intervention requested, rather than prayer in general, I don't see that as a big deal. And as teece points out, if the specific type of prayer tested has an effect, it should come out in the analysis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:00 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite, you're point is completely vapid.

and your proof of this is?

It's also pretty much a given that anyone that is a stranger to the patient is not going to include them in their prayers.

"Let us ask the Lord of all health and salvation on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering from bodily illnesses that he alone who is the Dear Physician will help them all. O God, who bids our lives to run fast or slow, accept the prayers of your servants who in their sickness implore your pity. Save them and change their fear and apprehension to joy.
We call on you, Lord, who has formed our bodies and souls and who governs, guides, and saves all of humankind, may our prayers move you to relent and heal all who are sick, remove their suffering from them, raise up those who must convalesce in bed, so that they may glorify your Holy Name, now and forever. Amen."

a catholic prayer for unspecificed brothers and sisters

more prayers for strangers

you have been refuted

seems to me that your "faith" in "the scientists said so" is as big as the faith of those who say "the bible said so" ... i point out the fallacy in the study and you continue to believe what you want to believe ... not what you can prove

the reason you don't see the hole here is because you don't want to

but thank you for proving my point in other threads that many "rationalist, scientific" people's views are based on faith

bye
posted by pyramid termite at 11:10 AM on March 31, 2006


Three groups prayed: 2 Catholic, one Protestant.

exactly. why should Allah have listened to American infidels, again?
posted by matteo at 11:10 AM on March 31, 2006


"In which case, we might as well throw out all inferential knowledge out the window."

Exactly. If the results came back 100% positive, and we could rule out all causes other than divine intervention, we'd have to call all inferential knowledge into question. Thus, all such studies are worthless. Interesting contradiction.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2006


Every study done regarding real people in naturalistic settings such has hospitals has a large number of potentially influential variables that can't be controlled for. Every study. The best anyone can do is say, "we were not able to control for X, Y and Z" and let the reader draw his/her own conclusions as to how critical that is.

and my conclusion from what they failed to control is that the study is worthless ... they weren't trying to study the effects of pills or operative procedures or diet or other things that are more easily definable and controlled for

a study to properly investigate this is probably impossible to do

if you can't prove the assumptions of the study or the controllability of the variables, then it looks to me like you're taking the results on faith
posted by pyramid termite at 11:18 AM on March 31, 2006


I remember hearing of a similar study where they brought in prayer groups from several more religions. And then one of the Christian groups in the US got really annoyed they had to share their prayer efforts with the Muslim (Sufi) group, even from a distance!

This is very interesting:

The reports authors said they had no explanation for the difference beyond a possibility that the prayers made people anxious about their ability to recover.

"Did the patients think, ’I am so sick that they had to call in the prayer team?"’ said Dr Bethea.


I'm wondering if it would have been different if instead of being told they were being prayed to by some prayer team made of strangers, they had been told "we'll be praying for you" by family and friends. Or maybe the simple fact of announcing prayer for someone facing a serious operation has a psychological jinx effect in any case? How about a "don't worry, everything will be fine"?
posted by funambulist at 11:27 AM on March 31, 2006


good catch, funambulist ... if i was seriously ill and saw that a prayer group was organized for me, i'd be wondering, too ...
posted by pyramid termite at 11:30 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite writes "seems to me that your "faith" in "the scientists said so" is as big as the faith of those who say "the bible said so" ... i point out the fallacy in the study and you continue to believe what you want to believe ... not what you can prove

the reason you don't see the hole here is because you don't want to"


Epidemiology isn't as simple as you seem to think it is. Every study has confounding effects, but there are statistical tools to account for these effects, and to try to pick a signal out of noise. Now, as to whether the authors of this study appropriately applied these tools, and even as to whether it is possible to isolate a signal amidst all the noise (which you quite correctly identify), I can't really say, since I'm not an expert on the application of these particular statistical tools. If you are, feel free to read the study and share your analysis with us.

The fact is, scientists deal with problems like the ones you point out all the time. While these problems can be fatal, they aren't necessarily, and a well-designed study can overcome them.

a study to properly investigate this is probably impossible to do

Yeah, this isn't obvious to me. It's difficult, clearly, but there might be a statistical approach that separates out a real effect from all the background. Again, I'm not an expert.

if you can't prove the assumptions of the study or the controllability of the variables...

In epidemiology, variables typically aren't "controlled" except through statistical analysis. The reasons for this are obvious: it would be unethical to withhold treatment from a set of patients just to get a nice control group for your study.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:31 AM on March 31, 2006


a study to properly investigate this is probably impossible to do

if you can't prove the assumptions of the study or the controllability of the variables, then it looks to me like you're taking the results on faith


No. If you make a statement "Prayer helps heal the sick faster/better" or "Prayer works" (i.e. you can petition the Lord with prayer") it should be demonstrable with this sort of experiment.

The variables and conditions were set as well as they ever could be. If "prayer works" then it should have shown itself to be true. The answer that "it only works when you don't look" is the oldest dodge in the book.

If something is true, it's true even when you look.
posted by illovich at 11:32 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite, I've read the bible; perhaps you could return the favor by reading a statistics textbook or two.

A study not controlling all factors isn't the methodological problem; it's only a problem when the uncontrolled for factors are not chosen randomly. For example, if you have a control group that's, say, 95% prayed-for and a non-control group that's 100% prayed for, then, were prayer effective, you'd still see an improvement in the 100% group. After all, the 5% random unprayed-for in the control group would still have done worse and dragged the control group down. Which they didn't see at all by the way.
posted by boaz at 11:36 AM on March 31, 2006


pyramid termite: and your proof of this is?

seems to me that your "faith" in "the scientists said so" is as big as the faith of those who say "the bible said so" ... i point out the fallacy in the study and you continue to believe what you want to believe ... not what you can prove

but thank you for proving my point in other threads that many "rationalist, scientific" people's views are based on faith

Baby Jesus cries every time you wrongly use the word "prove" in relationship to an empirical study.

Science is not about proving this, or proving that. It's about supporting or not supporting a hypothesis. In practical terms, the hypothesis very narrowly defined for the purpose of the study. Your problem is that you are assuming that this study is making broader claims than it really is.

and my conclusion from what they failed to control is that the study is worthless ... they weren't trying to study the effects of pills or operative procedures or diet or other things that are more easily definable and controlled for


In which case, (if you want to be rationally consistent) you have to reject just about every single study measuring patient outcomes in medicine. (Not to mention most studies in the sciences in general.) No study involving drugs, operative procedures, diet, or other things can control all extraneous variables.

However, control of all, or even most extraneous variables is not necessary. Random assignment goes a long way for making certain that the effects of extraneous variables are randomly distributed between groups. If a strong effect exists, it should rise out of the variance.

Of course it could be the case that prayer is effective, and patients in all groups are benefitting from prayer outside of the study. It could be the case that prayer is not effective, and patients in all groups are not benefitting from prayer outside of the study.

This study can't, and doesn't make conclusions about prayer in general. It just says that a specific intervention didn't have a statistically positive effect, and a variant intervention had a statistically negative effect.

y6y6y6: Exactly. If the results came back 100% positive, and we could rule out all causes other than divine intervention, we'd have to call all inferential knowledge into question. Thus, all such studies are worthless. Interesting contradiction.

Why limit it to all studies about the medical effectiveness of prayer? If god can and will do anything, we can't say anything about astronomy, biology or physics either. I would argue that an alternative view expressed by Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo is more reasonable. God may be omnipotent, but such omnipotence is expressed in an orderly and predictable universe that we can understand.

posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:53 AM on March 31, 2006


No. If you make a statement "Prayer helps heal the sick faster/better" or "Prayer works" (i.e. you can petition the Lord with prayer") it should be demonstrable with this sort of experiment.

I seriously doubt that that is a claim those who were praying would make (Prayer helps the sick heal faster/better). I imagine they have a belief that prayer helps, it never hurts to do it, that it does effect things. Regardless of the specificity of their prayer (heal this person in this way), I don't see people who spend their life in prayer believing that they have any control over how their prayer is answered. Prayer isn't like taking an aspirin or flipping a switch. It is not mechanistic. These individuals, through prayer, believe that they are entering into a relationship.
posted by kojent at 11:59 AM on March 31, 2006


Some possible reasons why this study found no significant effect for one treatment, and a negative significant effect for another treatment:

* An effect exists, but this study was not powerful enough to find it (sample size).
* The benefits of this specific treatment are trivial compared to the benefits of other types of prayer.
* This specific implementation of the treatment was poor.
* Prayer has no effects.
* Invisible pink unicorns mudged the treatment results.

All of the above are consistent with the claimed results of the study.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:12 PM on March 31, 2006


Exactly, KirkJobSluder. This is the challenge with a study of this type. The results are interpreted according to the presumptions one brings to the discussion. If I believe in prayer, I can explain how virtually any results supports my belief. If I do not believe, the same is true. At least, that is the case with this study. Maybe an experiment will be devised that can really, objectively study the power of prayer (or its lack of value), but this one accomplishes little. Its a start, maybe. A black box model, as you said.
posted by kojent at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2006


baby-ballrag: I see the captain of the high school debate team has decided to join us. I'm praying for you right now .

Pray for yourself, sucker. I'll debate anything factual with you any day. The existence of "God" is not debatable, because it cannot be proved. And pardon the invective, but when someone believes that I am going to hell because I don't kiss the ass of sweet baby bejeebus when I wake up in the morning, and says as much in far more execrable terms, I am tempted to respond in kind.

There is nothing to debate. A clear, factual test was applied to a common claim of the Godistas, and it turned out to be bunk. Again. Science should be done already kicking religion's ass. That it needs to keep doing so is indicative of the grip of mindlessness rather than the power of religious ideas to do good in the world.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:45 PM on March 31, 2006


And while I'm at it, can someone explain to me what kind of "God" answers prayers for SUVs and real estate profits (or for that matter, better outcomes in heart surgery cases) while letting prayers to save the lives of children in, say, Darfur, go unanswered? Ah, the old theodical saw. It's still the best argument there is.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2006


Classy.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2006


If KirkJobSluder's 5 potential problems, only 4 are testable. Yet it will be the 5th that is clung to by those that don't like the result (Although honestly, it's not worth pursuing any more. There is no obvious benefit to praying for a sick person -- even your priest will tell you this).

A sample size of 1800 patients is fairly sizable. I doubt the sample size is an issue. If it were to be an issue, it would be the case that prayer works, but rarely. The odds of prayer working but it not showing up in a sample of 1800 are pretty slim (but non-zero, of course).

pyramid termite: you don't understand the significance of a random sample, it seems. Your lack of said understanding is interfering with your analysis here. You're basically saying that the entire statistical endeavor is invalid. And I don't think you want to be saying that.
posted by teece at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2006


Teece- Really? A priest told you that?
posted by kojent at 12:58 PM on March 31, 2006


Hey, fourcheesemac, welcome to the site!

We really needed an incoherent millitant atheist here; you're filling an important, underserved niche!
posted by mr_roboto at 12:59 PM on March 31, 2006


Fourcheesemac:
You are going to enjoy eternal life after you die.

That's why Jesus died for you.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:13 PM on March 31, 2006


lol
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:14 PM on March 31, 2006


A priest told you that?

Not in those words, of course, kojent. But smart "power of prayer people" will make sure to tell you about God's plan and how he works in mysterious ways, etc. I mean, nobody tells Christians that praying == your desired outcome. Even the most devout of Christian (that's not insane) knows that they can't get guaranteed results from prayer.

The very cerebral Christians will even tell you that prayer has little chance to ever offer you any tangible results in changing the world. Rather, they'll tell you it's about a dialogue with God and inner peace and what not.

All of which is a tacit admission that prayer does not "work" in the sense of changing reality. The only Christians I know that really say prayer can cure sickness are the hucksters like Benny Hann (sp?) that are obvious frauds. For the rest of the Christians, praying for a good outcome is more like hope and meditation than it is a real belief in the ability to alter the outcome of events through prayer. Even if it's on a subconscious level; the Christians that really expect to be changing day-to-day reality with their prayers are a minority to me. I mean, it's pretty damn obvious that prayer doesn't work. Good people die all the time. Nice little girls get kidnapped and raped. Religious leaders steal money and rape boys. Kids starve in Africa, and so on and so forth.
posted by teece at 1:20 PM on March 31, 2006


When Jesus prayed, "let this cup be lifted from me," it wasn't.

So there you go.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:24 PM on March 31, 2006


He should have prayed for a free aerobics class in his area.



(Sorry, couldn't help it. That wonderful 'prayer works' story is still so vivid in my mind!)
posted by funambulist at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2006


For the rest of the Christians, praying for a good outcome is more like hope and meditation than it is a real belief in the ability to alter the outcome of events through prayer. Even if it's on a subconscious level; the Christians that really expect to be changing day-to-day reality with their prayers are a minority to me. I mean, it's pretty damn obvious that prayer doesn't work.

Fair enough. However, would those who pray object to the claim that prayer doesn't work when they don't necessarily expect their prayers to be answered in any obvious way (pray for an end to violence in Africa and all of the genocidal maniacs drop dead). Prayer understood as a means to impose my will on the world does not work, whether it be for good or evil. But I am not sure that people who pray often would define prayer in that manner. As I understand it, real prayer is about relationship and a loss of self-will. I think that if we are going to talk about whether or not prayer works, we should find out what people who pray expect from the activity and how they define "success".
posted by kojent at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2006


If something is true, it's true even when you look.

Not according to quantum physics, I hear.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2006


jefgodesky we've already been over that.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:44 PM on March 31, 2006



When Jesus prayed, "let this cup be lifted from me," it wasn't.

You have to finish the statement. That is at the heart of real prayer, I imagine.
posted by kojent at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2006


I agree 100%. Without getting into the whole incarnation thing, he point is that Jesus submitted wholly to the will of God, nevermind what he might personally wish.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:50 PM on March 31, 2006


Because of where I work for my day job, it is almost inevitable that I will be asked to write a refutation of this study. Sigh.

Anyway. Prayer is actually a rather pagan concept, don't you think? Kind of makes no sense in light of the whole "omnipotent and omniscient" turn religion has taken in the West in the last couple of thousand years, don't you think?

I think people like to feel like they have some ability to influence events, whether or not it makes sense in terms of reality or even their own supposed belief system.
posted by kyrademon at 1:50 PM on March 31, 2006


me: If something is true, it's true even when you look.

jefgodesky : Not according to quantum physics, I hear.

You're pulling the Robert Estienne trick again, and only quoting Illovich 1264275:3 when quoting the entire verse would make it clear that my statement is only valid in response to the assertion "it's only true if you don't look" which I pretty sure is not made by quantum mechanics... not that I've read any of that mystical horseshit.

Wouldn't they say it's more that one thing is not true if you look, but you get to decide which?
posted by illovich at 2:02 PM on March 31, 2006


Anyway. Prayer is actually a rather pagan concept, don't you think? Kind of makes no sense in light of the whole "omnipotent and omniscient" turn religion has taken in the West in the last couple of thousand years, don't you think?

I never thought of prayer as pagan, but at the very least, it is paradoxical.
posted by kojent at 2:05 PM on March 31, 2006


jefgodesky we've already been over that.

You did? My bad ... my eyes glazed over a good fifty comments ago, at least.

You're pulling the Robert Estienne trick again, and only quoting Illovich 1264275:3 when quoting the entire verse would make it clear that my statement is only valid in response to the assertion "it's only true if you don't look" which I pretty sure is not made by quantum mechanics... not that I've read any of that mystical horseshit.

I don't think it's out of context at all. According to some theories of quantum physics, observation changes the object, so for any object, looking at it changes it--so, any number of statements are true only if you don't look.

I'm not saying I necessarily buy that, but it is an idea that's out there. In other words, that argument doesn't really work, since there are (ostensibly) scientific counter-examples.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:08 PM on March 31, 2006


I meant pagan in the sense of ... prayer seems pointless given the concept of a diety who already knows what's up, how you feel about it, and whether or not it's a good idea to do anything about it. It makes all kinds of sense given gods who don't know everything and might not be paying attention unless you give them a heads up.

Both ideas seem silly to me anyway, so *shrug* none of my business, really, I guess.
posted by kyrademon at 2:38 PM on March 31, 2006


In a nutshell
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 3:28 PM on March 31, 2006


mr_roboto: Hey, fourcheesemac, welcome to the site!
We really needed an incoherent millitant atheist here; you're filling an important, underserved niche!


Why thanks buddy. Glad I could enrich your day. I'd rather be filling important, underserved canoli, of course. Now, about that God stuff . . . whattaya got?

baby_ballrag: You are going to enjoy eternal life after you die. That's why Jesus died for you.

Reaction 1: Umm, prove it.

Reaction 2: I'll catch you on the other side then, and you can say I told ya so. Until then, I don't care who mister jeebus died for. But there better be a lot of happy children there who are getting some reward for how much they suffered on their stroll through this mortal coil. If they're not, right after you say I told ya so I am heading off for hotter climes.

I repeat the score reported in the FPP: observable facts and causes 1; superstition 0. Your move. Make jeebus save someone. Double blind, placebo controlled, please.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:13 PM on March 31, 2006


I love you, The Jesse Helms. If I were a woman, I would have your babies.
posted by nlindstrom at 5:23 PM on March 31, 2006


The very premise of this study is idiotic.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:25 PM on March 31, 2006


The very premise of this study is idiotic.

i agree ... as is the dancing around the simple fact that they can't possibly prove that the control group wasn't prayed for by somebody

it's asinine ... and all the suggestions to read a statistical textbook or to "learn" that experiments aren't meant to prove anything is just fancy footwork by people who don't want to admit that there is no possible way one could ever measure the amount of prayer a certain subject receives ... or do statistical studies of such undefinable variables as "how deserving", "how sinful", "what is god's will?", "were they concentrating?", "were they in touch enough with the divine?" in regards to the patients and the prayers

I repeat the score reported in the PP: observable facts and causes 1; superstition 0.

nope ... the score's 0-0 ... and will continue to be, no matter what anyone says

if you really want to be contemptuous of someone, try scientists who believe they can measure an unmeasurable quantity of something like prayer, or test what is, as many skeptics point out, an untestable hypothesis

yeah, how many "rosaries" of prayer did each patient get? ... you could tell me how many cc's or grams of a pill a patient is getting ... or how many amps or volts or watts a certain electrical device has

can you tell me how many "rosaries" each patient got? ... or what the average output per prayer maker was? ... or what the efficiency of transmission through god was?

yeah, yeah, yeah, i don't know statistics, or advanced lab procedures, or epistemology ...

i do know shit from shinola though

my advice? ... some of you should never polish your own shoes

for the record ... if the study had concluded that prayer did have a statistical effect, i'd STILL be calling it a piece of crap

it's bad theology ... and bad science

i'm done with it ... keep believing in that empirical wardrobe you've gotten your emperor's clothes from, i don't care
posted by pyramid termite at 8:54 PM on March 31, 2006


i thought trying to understand and quantify the "unquantifiable" has been handled pretty well with utility functions and the like. I've only studied them in relation to concepts of "personal value attachement" and other such things in terms of why people perfer certain commerical products over another, but the attempt exists and seems to do an okay job sometimes. An attempt at quanitifying and studying prayer is just as valid as trying to quanitfy and study why someone likes the color red over blue.
posted by Stynxno at 9:58 PM on March 31, 2006


Sorry, pyramid termite, the score's not 0-0. Science and facts don't bend to your will.

Also, even Baby_Balrog can cite scripture for his own purpose.
posted by oaf at 10:43 PM on March 31, 2006


Baby_Balrog: Meh... this is all sort of non-issue anyway. It would have to be a really selective reading of the bible to conclude that praying for anything other than the removal of sins is effective. The book never says anything about prayer improving your finances or helping you get through a difficult surgery.

I guess these quotes are flat-out fabrications, then:

* If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. [Matthew 21:21]

* If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. [John 14:14]

* Ask, and it will be given you. [Matthew 7:7]

* Nothing will be impossible to you. [Matthew 17:20]

* Believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. [Mark 11:24]


But don't worry, unlike the other querulants in this thread I know what date it is and that you don't really believe that tripe ;)
posted by spazzm at 12:30 AM on April 1, 2006


can't possibly prove that the control group wasn't prayed for by somebody

I love someone that wears their ignorance proudly, as a badge of honor. The study had no need nor desire to prove that the group was not prayed for by somebody.

It was not prayed for by the monks, which is what they were interested in.
posted by teece at 9:52 AM on April 1, 2006


Interesting.... I'd forgotten about the "prayer studies"
posted by troutfishing at 11:08 AM on April 1, 2006


OK, OK, maybe it's no good praying for people. But what about praying to water, like this guy?
posted by LeLiLo at 6:20 PM on April 30, 2006


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