Prayer for healing seems to work

February 17th, 2015

Healing the deaf

I have long had an interest in the effectiveness of prayer for healing. My initial reaction to healing claims tends to be mild scepticism (I believe healing can occur but I don’t believe all claims of divine healing are credible), but I try to find cases where there is good evidence.

So I am interested to see how medical science is exploring the value of prayer and faith in providing real help to suffering patients. One researcher is Professor Candy Gunther Brown, a historian in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

How to study the effects of prayer

To reduce the possibility of subjective and “placebo” effects, medical research generally uses “double blind studies”, where a control group doesn’t receive the treatment, to provide a comparison with the group that does receive treatment. Neither participants nor those administering the treatment should know which group anyone is in.

Many studies of prayer take this approach – sometimes called “distant prayer”. However this doesn’t examine prayer as it is usually received – personally, which may include interaction between patient and the person praying, such as touch, discussion and variation in the prayer offered as a result. These factors may be important.

Professor Brown therefore argues that research is needed on “proximal intercessory prayer” (PIP), in which the effects of prayer are examined in a more natural setting. This doesn’t allow a double blind study (how can “sham prayer” be offered?) but she suggests a group of approaches, each of which adds to the overall picture.

Four different approaches

  1. Compare medical records before and after prayer.
  2. Survey how sufferers feel about the effectivenerss of healing prayer.
  3. Conduct clinical trials and measure selected health markers of the patients.
  4. Follow up patients some years later to see if the effects of prayer are lasting.

She has found that each of these approaches has provided evidence of long term healing after prayer.

A small “real life” study

To conduct her own clinical trial, Professor Brown travelled to Mozambique to observe the healing ministry of Heidi Baker of Iris International, a christian healing and relief organisation.

She attended a healing meeting and tested 24 people who sought prayer for renewed eyesight or hearing – these conditions were chosen because they are easily tested in a dynamic “field” situation. All people seeking prayer were tested immediately before and immediately after receiving prayer.

Results

The study found there was a highly significant improvement in hearing across the 18 ears tested, and significant visual improvements for those whose eyes were prayed for.

These statistically significant improvements were much greater than the improvement several other studies found as a result of hypnosis or suggestion.

Vision improvements

Vision improvements – lower values are better.

One subject, Jordan, was presented as deaf and mute since birth and made no responses to sounds at 100 dBHL; after PIP, he responded to 60 dBHL tones, imitating sounds in a hoarse, raspy voice.

Before prayer, Maryam could not count fingers from one foot away; after one minute of PIP, she was reading the 20/125 line on a vision chart.

Interpreting the results

Professor Brown is guarded in her conclusions. She simply reports the results, argues that PIP merits further study, and draws no conclusion about causes (including whether these results are evidence of God).

Against critics of her methodology, she admits the difficulties, but argues that (1) she has to adapt her methods to the situation, and it is difficult to set up a double blind study in this type of case, and (2) this approach is quite adequate for a preliminary study, but further, more extensive, studies would now be beneficial.

Can we test for God?

There are difficulties in interpreting studies of the value of prayer. Medical studies are designed to test for medical results – which means physical or psychological effects which follow from certain objective treatments. But in the case of prayer, is a medical improvement the result of psychological effects or of God’s action?

Further, God is not an objective treatment that will work in a certain percentage of cases, but a being who makes choices. Studies to test for God’s possible action would be even more difficult to set up.

Nevertheless, I think this study adds to the growing medical evidence for the benefits of prayer, and the likelihood that God does indeed answer some prayers, sometimes quite spectacularly.

Further reading

I have examined this study and Professor Brown’s work in more detail in Healing of sight and hearing, and outlined a number of evidences for divine healing in Healing miracles and God.

References to Professor Brown’s work:

Picture: Heidi Baker praying for healing in Mozambique, courtesy of Iris Global.

42 Comments

  1. I never cared much for the scientific testing approach. One of those “for those who believe no proof is necessary, for those who don’t believe no amount of proof is sufficient” things.

  2. Shalom and peace to you!

    Yes, prayer, healing, anointing the sick, laying on of hands; it all works!

    What I am about to tell you is not of me; it is of God. I do not have the power to heal, but God does. Jesus did when He was here, and in John 14:12, Jesus tells us, “You will do greater things than I.” Can you imagine; we can do greater things that Jesus, God in the flesh. So how can we do that – easy! We have the very power of God in us, the power of the Holy Spirit of God when we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. We have to do it believing, though, believing that God can work in and through you to work miracles – yes, I said miracles. What are miracles? Miracles are events that happen that we just can’t explain! I’d like to give you a couple of such events that have happened to me and through me over the past several years.

    1. When I lived in Phoenix, I ruptured four discs in my back. My back spasmed so bad that I could not get up off the floor. I had people pray for me and lay hands on me. My back got better very quickly! The doctor could not explain it. I never needed surgery. I still rollerblade, and I am 67 years old now.

    2. I met a man out here in North Carolina about a year and a half ago. He should have been dead by now. He came down with brain cancer shortly after he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. We prayed for him, laid hands on him, and anointed him with oil, just as the Bible says to. They have him six months to live. His headaches kept getting better and better. He went in for a three month checkup and they said that the cancer was shrinking. A couple of months later, he went in for a checkup and it was all gone – Praise the Lord!

    2. My neighbor was in the hospital, and he had a massive tumor in his abdominal region. We laid hands on him and prayed, and the tumor miraculously disappeared, and the cancer was gone. He is now doing very well, and he accepted the Lord and was baptized this past year.

    Yes, God still does miracles, and the coolest part about it is that He uses us!

    God uses what can hurt us to his glory. Through the power of healing, we can show others that God is real and that prayer works! Thank You Lord, Jesus!

    If you have any miracles that you would like to share, please write back and share! More people have to know about Jesus and his saving and healing power! Be blessed. היה ברוך

  3. Keep up the good work.Love your excellent site.Was talking about the issue of God with a atheist the other week.And even he finally reasoned he didnt have all the answers.The crux of it for me is before the big bang there was nothing and then came the big bang from which all things came from.And that for me is where God came into the equation a force/energy I dont know what but I believe certainly in something.Be interested though to hear your view of what God is?

  4. Thanks Ricky. My view of God s fairly straightforward – I believe he is the creator of the universe and the God of Jesus.

  5. Hi Eric, writing again, but not really, to tell you I will now officially stop reading your blog, a few weeks only after stopping the writing. This article is the straw that broke the back of the proverbial camel. You will really believe whatever you want, and it’s fine, but you even quote the critique of the study without addressing any of the point, which goes to show that you really just want to follow pieces of evidence that agree with your worldview, not what is demonstrable. Just like everything else you post here. It’s kind of sad but you sound happy in general and appear to be genuinely nice, so that matters much more! Good luck, it’s never too late… cheers.

  6. Hi Hugo, I think that may be best, though I’m sorry it has turned out that way.

    Yes I did post a reference to the critique of the study, and I also posted a reference to Professor Brown’s response to such criticisms (did you not see that?), and I summarised some of the main points in the space I had.

    I wonder if you have ever thought whether your criticisms (“you really just want to follow pieces of evidence that agree with your worldview, not what is demonstrable”) and other comments (“It’s kind of sad but you sound happy in general and appear to be genuinely nice, so that matters much more! Good luck, it’s never too late”) might equally made in return?

    Best wishes to you.

  7. (did you not see that?)
    No, because it’s not there 🙂
    You linked to the article and mentioned that there were ‘some’ critiques, but not a single point from these critiques were raised. Why? Well, probably because the points presented by the critique you linked to should lead you to 1, and only 1, thing: dismiss the study. Instead, you concluded that “I think this study adds to the growing medical evidence for the benefits of prayer “. Right, because we all know that bogus studies conducted by “historian in the Department of Religious Studies” adds a lot to the medical evidence pool 😉 ! And to be clear, one should not conclude the opposite either; the failure of such studies do not probe that prayer does not work, remotely, and we actually know that it does work for individuals praying for themselves. Positive thinking, self-reinforcement are proven methods, mostly due to placebo effects and other badly understood physical, purely natural, phenomena.

    I wonder if you have ever thought whether your criticisms […] might equally made in return?
    Of course! But you should know the answer to that already, since we had some discussions on that topic. When it comes to souls/gods/prayer etc… there is nothing that I ‘wish’ were true and believe is true, and vice versa. Because it would be so much more interesting if I was wrong! I really really hope I am. Why would I not want to have a life after death? Why would I not want to have a tool like prayer to help things get better? Why would I not want a God to be watching over us and punish those evil rapists/murderers/con-artists who destroy the lives of so many without any earthly consequences?

    Here’s a short story to illustrate the point better. Yesterday at dinner, my wife mentioned how it sucks that we never had a ‘real’ housewarming for our house. We did have a party with friends but what she was referring to is the Hindu tradition that a new house should be blessed by a priest before moving in. She then pointed out that she cannot help but think about all the small things that went wrong, as if they were reminders that we never got the house blessed. And now she insists that once we get our new car in a few weeks, we’ll have to go straight to the temple to have it blessed! 🙂

    Now, the question is this: who ‘wants’ this blessing thing to be true? Well both of us of course! Why would I not want blessings to help my house/car work better and prevent accidents/injuries and so forth? I really wish it worked… But which one of us also believe that it does work? Neither! Because when I asked her: ‘you don’t really believe this work, right?’, she replied ‘of course not, but you know, I would really like it to work and it makes me feel better to do the ceremony and have that piece of mind’. There. That’s how rational people can combine their innate religious beliefs with the real world we live in. And I love that my wife is like that, instead of pretending that she has good reasons to believe it’s literally going to work, instead of pointing out to the thousands and thousands of Hindus for whom it did work… supposedly.

    Cheers

  8. Hi Hugo, I am happy to discuss, but I remember how our last conversation ended. I won’t dredge up the details now, but you accused me of a number of not very nice things, and all because we disagree. I am happy to put that behind us, but may I ask that the conversation doesn’t descend to those depths again please? Thanks.

    “No, because it’s not there”

    Well, unless we are talking about different things, it is there. You accuse me of dishonesty by not addressing contrary views (a pretty strong charge in itself!). In my defence:

    1. I searched and found a critical view. Unlike many (including many atheists who comment here), I didn’t just look for the view that pleased me (as you accuse). I found several critical comments, but they all referred back to this one article.

    2. I didn’t ignore the critical view, but I referenced it for all readers to see. I also referenced where Professor Brown addresses some of those criticisms.

    3. In the full page on this topic, which the post just summarises (Healing of sight and hearing, I have 4 paragraphs summarising the criticisms and Prof Brown’s response, leaving interested readers to follow the references.

    So it IS there, and it appears you have wrongly accused me.

    I’ll respond to the rest of your comment after I see your response to what I have written here.

  9. Hi,

    No worries, I will be as gentle as a feather, or at least try to 🙂

    1. I searched and found a critical view. […] I didn’t just look for the view that pleased me (as you accuse).
    I did not accuse you of not ‘looking’. I mentioned that you are linking to the article, so this implies that you looked for it, obviously…

    2. I didn’t ignore the critical view, but I referenced it for all readers to see. I also referenced where Professor Brown addresses some of those criticisms.
    There is a difference between literally, completely, ignoring the opposite view and ignoring its arguments. You did the later by concluding that the study is informative, when it’s not, for very clear and very simple reasons.

    3. In the full page on this topic, which the post just summarises […]
    My bad, well kind of, as I was just addressing that single post here, not the other one you linked to. And it does not really matter since my ‘actual’ point remains:

    So it IS there, and it appears you have wrongly accused me.
    I have not wrongly accused you of what you think I was accusing you of. I am “accusing” you (though that’s an unnecessary strong word; I am merely pointing out a reasoning error) of dismissing the flaws in the study as benign, when they render the study literally useless. In other words, I am telling you the truth: you see meaning in a study that’s meaningless because it aligns with your belief that prayer works. We are all guilty of doing that at times, of course, but here, in that example, you are the one committing that reasoning error I am afraid.

    Cheers!

  10. Thanks Hugo, I will try to match your feather-like gentleness! 🙂

    Ok, we each understand the basic facts. The only questions is the value of the study. You state quite confidently that flaws “render the study literally useless. In other words, I am telling you the truth: you see meaning in a study that’s meaningless because it aligns with your belief that prayer works.”

    So, a professor conducts a study, has professional statisticians do the statistics, gets the paper published in a medical journal that is presumably peer-reviewed, doesn’t claim too much for the study, but says:

    “The Mozambique (and Brazil) studies used a widely accepted within-subjects design as the most efficient way for a preliminary study to test whether any effects exist — before attempting to isolate mechanisms, placebo or otherwise. The study did control for potential confounds in other relevant factors. Within-subject designs (as opposed to between-subjects designs) do not use a separate control group. There is a long tradition of using within-subjects designs for psychophysical studies including vision and hearing, even with relatively small numbers of subjects. The results of these studies have been (and continue to be) published in well-respected journals, for example the flagship Science magazine. If the STEPP results are invalid for using a within-subjects design, then so are thousands of other published studies that use similar methods, unless one applies an indefensible double standard. Now that preliminary research has suggested the existence of an effect, it would be appropriate to use a between-subjects design, one that does utilize a separate control group and certain types of blinding, in developing more refined protocols.”

    Then you say it is useless as if that is an obvious fact without offering any reason, and I’m thinking maybe without even reading Prof Brown’s explanation.

    Likewise, I didn’t claim too much for this study. I said quite clearly that she said it didn’t show God existed, I pointed out the difficulties of testing for God and then said: “Nevertheless, I think this study adds to the growing medical evidence for the benefits of prayer, and the likelihood that God does indeed answer some prayers, sometimes quite spectacularly.”. That is a fairly guarded statement, prefaced by “I think”.

    Again, this contrasts with your absolute statement.

    So I suggest my statements were more moderate and fairly represented the evidence both ways. My conclusion was moderate. You on the other hand didn’t discuss the evidence and made absolute statements.

    I don’t think that gives you any justification for making statements like “you see meaning in a study that’s meaningless because it aligns with your belief that prayer works”. I try to never impute motives to other people because I cannot know. But you seem oblivious to the fact that that accusation could just as easily be made against you, perhaps with more justification because of the greater certainty in your statements.

    Why not simply say you are not convinced by this evidence and leave it at that?

  11. Hi,

    Why not simply say you are not convinced by this evidence and leave it at that?

    There are so many reasons; I wouldn’t know where to start/end. If you were to address the rest of the above comment, as you promised, it may help explaining. But simply put, why not just say I am not convinced? Because (a) what I am saying is true and (b) that kind of research crosses a line, a dangerous one to cross. And yes, I am very confident and my conclusion is not as moderate as yours. I am not trying to hide that.

    Cheers

  12. OK Hugo, thanks again for that. So it seems that you initially criticised me for drawing too strong conclusions from a poor study, but I have explained that my conclusions were quite moderate (my belief in healing comes for the cumulative evidence from many studies, not just from this one alone), and you have agreed that your conclusions are far more definite and less moderate than mine. This includes conclusions about my motivations that you cannot possibly know.

    I don’t feel I need, or want, to say any more thanks.

  13. This includes conclusions about my motivations that you cannot possibly know.
    No that’s not true. My strong conclusions do not, at all, include your motivation. That’s just a guess I am making, and it’s about the reasoning process, not really the motivation per se… I understand I can be wrong and would not attempt to do mind reading. It’s just that you are promoting a very un-scientific idea here and it can only be accepted because it fits within your already existing belief that prayer, of the Christian kind I suppose, really does work both for yourself, and others.

    Now, looks like you were being disingenuous when suggesting you were going to address my previous post, when instead you wrote 3 more comments, which I politely addressed, only to dismiss the topic without any original thought of your own making. All you did is quote the person involved in the study… well I ‘could’ quote the critique back as to why I strongly reject that kind of study but what’s the point…

    So what I am really telling you, you Eric, the guy writing this blog, is that you are wrong to conclude: “this study adds to the growing medical evidence for the benefits of prayer, and the likelihood that God does indeed answer some prayers, sometimes quite spectacularly.” There is no support for that claim. You take a giant leap of faith, a dangerous one, when you go from ‘prayer works for people who pray’, which I agree with, to ‘God answers prayers in spectacular ways sometimes’ and, more importantly, imply that ‘others’ praying for someone is helpful, which is wrong and dangerous. It’s just 1 idea so I am not attacking your character or anything like that, but that 1 idea is really problematic in my opinion. It crosses the line between ‘benign superstitious belief’ and ‘dangerous bad idea that can harm people’.

    There is a direct logical connection between the premise that remote prayers work and the acceptance of faith healing as a valid alternative to medicine. I hope I don’t need to elaborate on why this is horrible? And even without this connection, the simple fact that it promotes a completely unscientific idea is already damaging, something that nobody should promote, including Christians. And I know it’s actually pretty easy to find Christians who agree with me. Because this is not a God/Christian issue; this is a health issue, a scientific issue, a human affair issue. Promoting that kind of ideas is wrong and should be fought. I am just doing my tiny little part with you today… hoping you might see the damage this kind of idea can lead to. It has almost nothing to do with me being an Atheist, which is why I brought up the interaction I had with my wife…

    Let me put it this way, which is what I was going to add after you address my comment. But I am not sure if you got the point… Anyway… We are currently living on a planet with 7 billion people. All of them have slightly different beliefs, ways of living, superstitions, etc… This means that every single day, there are 7 billion different sets of events in each of these individuals’ life. The implication is that there are weird and surprising things happening all the time. Something that has a very low chance of happening, like a spontaneous recovery, or the other way around, a sudden aggressive cancer, will happen every single day on Earth, even if it has a 1 in a 7 billion chance of happening. We also know that humans are extremely good at pattern recognition and really bad at correcting the false positive. Add the placebo effect, and the insane complexity of the human body, into the mix and you get a lot, really a lot, of different claims about practices that ‘appear’ to yield results when they don’t. A lot of people, probably the vast majority of humanity, has at least some beliefs that are based on these wrong ideas. Anyway, I could go on and on, so I will cut to the point…

    In that 2015 context, we are supposed to think that some flawed medical experiment conducted by obviously biased religious American Christians, in a rural part of Mozambique, is somewhat adding to the “growing medical evidence for the benefits of prayer”? No. It doesn’t. It just adds to the pile of dangerous non-sense that faith healers want to use to support their beliefs. Please Eric, don’t fall on their side… that’s all I am hoping for. Cheers.

  14. Hi Hugo, thanks for your concerns about me. Let me express my concerns for you.

    You seem to think that there is no evidence for miracle claims. But there is plenty of evidence, and it is cumulative. I have offered on this site ….

    * outlines of unusual healings that have no medical explanation (e.g. here and here);

    * investigations into healings (e.g. here and here and here);

    * brief reports of a few of what are estimated to be more than 300 million apparent healing miracles – here;

    * a probability calculation of how it only requires a relatively few of these to be difficult to explain medically for them to accumulate as good evidence for God – here.

    My concern for you is that you formed your conclusion on the present case before you had even read all the information. Here is a large amount of evidence available for you to learn something of great benefit to you, and you refuse to consider it. My concern for you is that you are missing out when it is all so clear.

    Why not read through all those references and see what you think? Give the evidence a chance?

    Best wishes.

  15. Hi Eric,

    I won’t hold this against you because I believe that you have good intentions, but your comment is really insulting, since I have been interested in these topics for years… and of course I read your blog posts already, there is nothing new here. It’s a typical case of Gish Gallup; I cannot possibly dissect every article you linked to, but I am not saying I ignored them either. Don’t forget that you are the one with the public blog; I know a lot more about you, about how you reason, than you know about me. I commented only on a fraction of the posts I read.

    All these miracle anecdotes fall under the ‘unexplained’ and ‘surprising’, which is expected in the reality we live in, as I stated above (when not flat out lies but we can assume not all of there are fake). The flaw is to then think that “miracles” point to something supernatural, or even worse, to a specific deity. Not having an explanation for something doesn’t justifies the addition of a bigger unknown: that prayer somehow does something, more or less randomly, almost never, and by absolutely no known mechanisms nor known ways to reproduce the effect, or even to make it more likely. And btw, where are all the miracles filmed in HD and repeated reliably? Oh right, God works in mysterious ways, my bad 😉

    Or, what about all the times when prayer failed? Which by the way makes God to be an absolute monster, if that were how it works, as I would find it hard to tell my friends that lost they 3 y.o. child that they didn’t pray enough, or that God just didn’t feel like acting for them if they did pray. Or what about the very religious family of my 29 y.o. friend who passed away last year? Anecdotes of course, but just like the report of all these miracles…

    But that’s not even remotely as important as the main point I am trying to make here. Because I don’t think you should be concerned about what I believe, and I am not too concerned about what you believe either, for that particular topic. As I said, and you ignored so far, I am worried about crossing the line into unscientific and dangerous advice, which can be used as alternative to regular medicine. Promoting content, yes even if published in medical journal, which states that remote prayer has a real demonstrable effect, just like regular medicine, crosses that line.
    Cheers!

  16. Hi Hugo, if you are interested in this topic, you will have noted that so many of these apparent healings occur immediately after prayer. Such a “coincidence” is an important factor in understanding, and makes it much less likely that these strange events are “natural”.

    I address the failure of some prayer in my post on using Bayes Theorem to analyse the likelihood of healing, and take it into account in the calculation. Have you checked out that post?

    Nowhere have I suggested forsaking medicine, or replacing it with alternative medicine (though I think some “alternative” medicine may have value). In fact, many of the examples I give come from regular doctors performing their day-to-day jobs.

    I suggest you have nothing to lose from examining these examples (and many others – I will keep posting more) with an open mind – you may hopefully discover something new and good!

  17. Hi,

    I will have several questions for you today; I hope you don’t mind. This is not only to help both clarify my position and make a few points, but also to try to figure out what you actually get from my comments, because there seems to be misunderstanding on your part of what my position is, and what the facts are. Not to mention the fact that you ignored a lot of my comments/points, even promising to address something up here but failing to do so: you remember the notion of ‘wanting’ to believe something?

    Now, regarding:
    – “if you are interested in this topic
    – “Have you checked out that post?
    – “I suggest you have nothing to lose from examining these examples […]with an open mind
    Why ask “if” I am interested, why ask again if I read that post, why imply I did not examine the examples or are not open minded… Isn’t this clear already from what I told you?
    More precisely, would you like me to explain what’s wrong with your math on that calculation post?

    You said:
    Nowhere have I suggested forsaking medicine, or replacing it with alternative medicine
    I know; that’s not the point. I am trying to make you understand where the “line” is, where you cross over the dangerous and unscientific territory, instead of staying into the positive superstitious beliefs that provide comfort and hope. I am not implying you are directly suggesting replacing medicine with prayer, which is way further than just “crossing the line”, but you do cross it when you get into the promotion of the false idea that ‘there is growing medical evidence that prayer works for others remotely.’

    The danger is that, if one accepts that idea, they can be justified in rejecting regular medical treatment under the logical deduction that, if prayer works as a form of medical treatment, then it is simply a matter of choice as to what should be used. Again, I don’t see you directly promote that, but you accept the same initial premise. That’s the problem; that’s where you cross the line.

    To make it even clearer, let’s take this quote from your last comment and extrapolate to the general idea of remote prayer:

    many of these apparent healings occur immediately after prayer. Such a “coincidence” is an important factor in understanding, and makes it much less likely that these strange events are “natural”.

    What does “prayer” mean here?
    . Does it need to be said out loud?
    . Does it work just as well with 1 person or many?
    . Does it need to be a request to a specific god, or an internal thought process, or a thank you in advance; i.e. are there specific words or ideas that need to be used?
    . Does the person praying need to be explicitly praying or an imply wish works as well?
    . Does the prayer need to be from an actual believer, of the same religion of the patient, or can there be a mix match, or even between non-believers but who try praying just for that case?
    . Does it work in countries where people have very low level of religiosity but yet still think really hard in their head about wanting someone get better? i.e. are non-religious prayers included?

    What do “immediately” and “coincidence” mean here?
    . How soon before the event does the prayer need to take place for it to be considered immediate?
    . How long does the prayer need to last for?
    . How often does it need to happen to be considered not just a coincidence?

    What does “apparent healings” mean here?
    . Is there a difference between unexpected/unexplained healing and prayer-induced healing? How can we tell?
    . How likely is it that the diagnostic was wrong, versus an accurate diagnostic followed by miraculous healing?
    . How spectacular does the healing needs to be to not be considered normal?
    . How does the healing get triggered; could we observe the exact moment when it happens?
    . What part of the healing is non-natural? At what level of the physical body does something ‘break’ and act in a non-natural way
    . Are there examples of healing being caught “live”, something like a video feed of cells acting against the laws of chemistry?

    Obviously, there is no definite answer for any of these questions and that’s the point, especially the very last 2 questions. But for something to be considered scientifically tested, there need to be answers to most of these questions, if not all. It’s not enough to just pile anecdote after anecdote of top of each other. Most of humanity, being religious, has reported these things throughout history without any answers to any of the questions above, ever. And that’s where a line is being crossed, when one forgets the questions and move on to concluding that some experiments actually produce meaningful results anyway.

    This can be contrasted with prayer done by the patients themselves. There is a simple explanation in that case: we know that mood swings trigger natural responses from the body through various chemicals. These chemicals have real physical effects that can produce results. It’s extremely complicated to evaluate and falls under the badly explained placebo effect, but we know the effect exists. Therefore, studies around that type of prayer (or happy thoughts, whatever they are) are not crossing the line into unscientific or dangerous ideas. We know there is absolutely nothing wrong with suggesting patients to pray, if they feel like it, or to try to stay positive. We know the mind has important effect on the body because of the chemicals being released. Very few of the above questions can be answered easily, but at least some of them can and the more we study the more we can answer.

    Hope this helps. Cheers!

  18. (p.s. didn’t have time to add these details before the timer ran out…)
    Before you jump to that… yes I saw that the paper by Brown et al. actually mention some of the parameters, and that’s actually why I raised many of the questions posted here. They explain what they did, and subjectively ascribe meaning to certain actions, length of actions, or beliefs of the subjects. But they don’t actually answer anything regarding what actually works or not, or how/when/why it should work or not… They actually make it worse by suggesting that close contact is better, since it actually makes it impossible for the patient to not be praying themselves, which has different explanations!

  19. Hi, I’m happy to answer questions, if I can.

    1. I didn’t ask if you are interested, I used “if” in the sense of “since” – i.e. since you have said you are interested …. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    2. Yes I would love for you to give me your ideas on my Bayes Theorem calculations.

    3. Not a question but a comment – you say: “I am trying to make you understand where the “line” is, where you cross over the dangerous and unscientific territory …. you do cross it when you get into the promotion of the false idea that ‘there is growing medical evidence that prayer works for others remotely.’ …. That’s the problem; that’s where you cross the line.”

    You seem to be under the impression that you are telling me facts here which you know and are certain of. But in reality you are giving me your opinions expressed as if they were facts. I happen to think you are quite sadly and hugely mistaken. That is my opinion.

    One of the reasons why I don’t reply to many of your comments is because I’m not interested in a beat your head against a wall argument, and there is little point discussing opinions with someone who thinks their opinions are facts but offers no evidence to support that view. Sorry.

    4. “What does “prayer” mean here?
    What do “immediately” and “coincidence” mean here?
    What does “apparent healings” mean here?

    But for something to be considered scientifically tested, there need to be answers to most of these questions, if not all.”

    Only if one is scientifically testing those matters. But she wasn’t. I quoted her aims and conclusion before, which were: ” a preliminary study to test whether any effects exist …. Now that preliminary research has suggested the existence of an effect, it would be appropriate to use a between-subjects design, one that does utilize a separate control group and certain types of blinding, in developing more refined protocols.”

    That was all that was scientifically tested.

    I then said, not as a scientific statement of fact but as my personal conclusion, that I think the cumulative weight of all the evidence is quite convincing.

    So I again invite you to consider whether the evidence is more consistent with no God or with a God who sometimes answers prayers. If you don’t think the evidence points to God, that is your decision. But I still think it does.

    Thanks.

  20. Hi, alright, it’s tough since there are still many side questions to address but, much shorter comment this time, straight to where the real problem is:

    “You seem to be under the impression that you are telling me facts here which you know and are certain of. But in reality you are giving me your opinions expressed as if they were facts. I happen to think you are quite sadly and hugely mistaken. That is my opinion.”

    That is accurate. I am telling you which facts you got wrong, not where I disagree with your opinion. When just our opinions disagree, it’s not a problem. When our views of the facts diverge, we got one.

    But I am confused by your apparent concession of what I have been trying to point out: there is no scientific evidence that prayer at a distance works, or even ‘can’ work. All we have is anecdotal evidence. You agree or not?

    The many questions I asked about prayer served to prove that point and were not, at all, restricted to the specific case of Brown’s research. I guess my p.s. note was not clear. So, preemptively, if you answer ‘no’ and disagree, answer the questions so I can understand exactly what scientific evidence you believe exists.

  21. “That is accurate. I am telling you which facts you got wrong, not where I disagree with your opinion. “

    This is where we fundamentally disagree. There is no point in going on until we settle this matter.

    You keep talking about healing miracles as if your opinions are facts. If they are facts, you can show that to me please, otherwise they are opinions. So how can you demonstrate that the alleged healing miracles are not really miracles?

  22. “This is where we fundamentally disagree. There is no point in going on until we settle this matter.”

    At least we agree on that 🙂 that’s useful!

    “So how can you demonstrate that the alleged healing miracles are not really miracles?”

    I don’t understand the question. What fact am I denying in your opinion? That ‘alleged healing miracles are really miracles’ ?

    Will you answer my question above, in bold, about a specific fact I mention and would actually support?

    Thanks

  23. Well, you said “I am telling you which facts you got wrong”, so please tell me which facts. I made an assumption of which facts I thought we were talking about, so if I made a wrong assumption, please tell me.

  24. Hi, thanks for the acknowledgement. Copy pasting from above, which was in bold as I said:
    “There is no scientific evidence that prayer at a distance works, or even ‘can’ work. All we have is anecdotal evidence. You agree or not?”

  25. “There is no scientific evidence that prayer at a distance works, or even ‘can’ work. All we have is anecdotal evidence. You agree or not?”

    Is this a fact you say I got wrong? How can that be when I have never made that statement? In fact I haven’t been discussing “distant prayer” at all here. So this certainly isn’t justification for you claiming there are facts I got wrong.

    Do you have another example?

    But let me tell you what I believe the evidence clearly points to. There are evidence-based studies with scientific/medical assessment and/or statistics that demonstrate the truth of the hypotheses that healing or recovery has occurred with an unusually high “success rate” after prayer to God. I think that is a fact.

    I have repeatedly said I don’t think this proves God, but I think (i.e. opinion, not fact) that God is the best explanation. I have done probability calcs to estimate (in a notional way) how they might support the hypothesis that God did it, and I am interested in your assessment of that calculation, thanks.

  26. Hi,

    Yes I thought you had that wrong, but I guess I was wrong, which is a good thing! Since it means you do agree.

    But I am confused because you do claim exactly the opposite in your comment just now… and you do imply prayer at a distance, and it’s the topic of the post, which contrasts with a sick person praying for themselves. So when you say “healing or recovery has occurred with an unusually high “success rate” after prayer to God. I think that is a fact.” You think this is scientific or not?

    In any case, this is certainly not a fact! At least not the conclusion that prayer from anyone else but the healed person had anything to do with the healing. Again, to prove the point, can you answer any of the long list of questions above regarding these claima about prayer? I don’t think so… There is nothing mesurable, repeatable, predictable, with explaining power or even with a correlation. And even if correlations show up sometimes, without any mechanisms to explain what’s going on, and because of the other issues, we can’t conclude that correlation implies causation in these cases. What would be the best example you can show to prove me wrong?

    I wrote something about the calculation using Bayes Theorem but it’s too long to share yet. Soon 🙂

  27. Hi Hugo, let’s clarify:

    1. Are you saying (“I thought you had that wrong, but I guess I was wrong”) that you no longer think I am factually wrong, and you agree it is opinions where we disagree?

    2. The topic of this post is not prayer at a distance. If you read Prof Brown’s paper, you’ll see she criticises studies of prayer at a distance because the praying person and the “prayee” don’t see each other (that’s the significance of “distance”), and that is not usually how healing prayer is done.

    Her preliminary study, and most of the other studies and events that I reference at Healing miracles and God are “proximal” prayer – i.e. the people are close to each other, usually touching.

    2. “So when you say “healing or recovery has occurred with an unusually high “success rate” after prayer to God. I think that is a fact.” You think this is scientific or not?”

    Yes I think that is a scientific fact. But notice carefully my wording. I didn’t say it was a fact that God heals people, I didn’t even say the prayer heals people. I simply said that there was a higher success rate with proximal prayer than occurs with spontaneous recoveries. I think the data shows that. What causes that is for each of us to assess, but I conclude it is God because the association of successful healings with prayer would be highly coincidental otherwise.

    3. Studies HAVE been done for distant prayer, and they are not as successful and Prof Brown suggests some reasons for that. I have investigated as many of these as I can, and you can see this at Intercessary Prayer and healing – some of these studies are of proximal prayer, but most are of distant. Most are not praying for miraculous healing, but praying for successful recoveries after medical intervention. Almost 2/3 gave mildly positive results and just over 1/3 gave negative results.

    So those studies still support some effect of prayer, but not as much as Prof Brown found with proximal prayer.

    So it all adds up, to me, to pretty good evidence that something good and unusual sometimes happens when people pray.

  28. Hi,

    1. At first, yes, I thought we agree on what the facts are, but I am not convinced anymore after re-reading your comments, because of your conclusions… so I actually had to come back up here and change my first sentence.

    2. We can classify prayer in 3 groups: personal, proximity and remote. The first 2 are almost identical since the person knows they are prayed for and we know that they work, for sure, since they trigger at the very least a placebo effect.

    The dangerous problem with proximity though is that it leads to false beliefs that there is really something else going on, which has not, and perhaps cannot, be demonstrated since it’s impossible for the prayee not to know. It’s similar to acupuncture; people genuinely feel better after it, but some studies show that placing needles “randomly” (but safely) works just as well…

    However, I doubt you actually agree, and I think this is a factual disagreement, because you say: “ What causes that is for each of us to assess” and I strongly disagree with that; it’s not subjective. There is some objective information from the data we collect. And the truth is that we don’t know if there is anything supernatural going on, no way of detecting/explaining it, no success rate, no way of reproducing, not even any clear definition of what ‘prayer’ means, and many more problems…

    So when you conclude: “it is God because the association of successful healings with prayer would be highly coincidental otherwise.” What facts are you basing that on? Note that I never mentioned God except when quoting you; I think it’s not even relevant here… prayer could be something that works without God, just to give 1 example.

    3. “Almost 2/3 gave mildly positive results and just over 1/3 gave negative results.
    So the facts show… nothing. Having 2/3 of the studies disagree with the other 1/3, with only mildly positive results, is a scientific dead-end. Actually, I think it’s worse: it’s probably the best evidence that prayer may not work at all! But we don’t need to go that far; we can just safely conclude that the data is inconclusive.

    Again btw, let’s not forget my long list of questions above… what kind of prayer was tested? What count as prayer? What count as healing, etc… All of these studies cannot possibly all agree on that, if they even mention the information at all…

    However, your conclusion is very different:
    those studies still support some effect of prayer, […] it all adds up, to me, to pretty good evidence that something good and unusual sometimes happens when people pray.
    Looks to me like this is the very definition of wishful thinking. Yes, something good and unusual sometimes happens when people pray, but sometimes there is also nothing at all that happens. And you have absolutely no way of determining when something good will happen, how to make it happen, why it would happen, how it could work, who it works for, how to reproduce, etc, etc, etc… So why conclude that some effect was detected? I see no evidence of any effect at all…

    CONCLUSION

    (I don’t think I will have much more to add after this, except perhaps the calculations I promised to address, and I would gladly answer any questions)

    The way I see it, people will always pray and always get some random spectacular results once in a while; but others will never pray and get the exact same random spectacular results once in a while. But that’s not all… at lot of people will pray and never ever get any positive results and be devastated by it. So the fact is this: our collective understanding is that (a) prayer is not correlated with any clear definitive outcome or success rate, (b) it has neither explanatory power nor known mechanisms that could possibly explain any effect, and (c), no predictive power at all, which prevents any meaningful scientific conclusions to be drawn.

    It is thus my belief, a very strong one, that prayer produces no effect at all, except for the placebo effect of believers praying for themselves. It is no different from secular meditation and actually is a very good thing at the personal level, a great bonding opportunity as a group, but not a medical tool at all. Denying the last point can lead to dangerous use of prayer as a medical alternative, which you thankfully would never encourage. So at least we agree on what matters the most I guess 🙂

    Cheers

  29. p.s. after writing/posting my comment, I decided to go read a bit more from that website I cited.

    I had never visited it before but it came up when I was trying to find the information on acupuncture I had read before. My opinion would align perfectly with the following piece, which is obviously better written than my comments 😉

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-power-of-faith-and-prayer/

    For instance, you can replace SBM with ‘Hugo’ here and it fits…

    To be clear, SBM is not anti-faith or anti-religion. But the issue of faith in medicine raises two main areas of concern. The first is the misrepresentation of the scientific evidence, both for intercessory prayer and the health effects of faith. The second are the ethical and professional implications of mixing faith with medical practice.

    […]

    A 2009 Cochrane review of intercessory prayer studies concluded:

    These findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer,the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.

  30. Well I don’t think I have much more to say. As well as the difference between proximal and distant prayer, there is the difference between a group of patients all receiving prayer, and individuals seeking healing via prayer. The first is commonly tested via medical studies (as in the article you quote) and the results are mixed and not particularly impressive; the second is much harder to measure but seems to lead to spectacular results on occasions (much more than happens naturally).

    I don’t base my belief in healing on the first kind of study because that is not how real people pray and the results don’t prove much. The data on the second is less scientific, but still very impressive, and it is that on which I base my belief. The reference doesn’t really address that because it isn’t medical- based, and so conforms to the last paragraph of the article.

  31. Well now that’s a great conclusion!
    “The data on the second is less scientific, but still very impressive, and it is that on which I base my belief.”
    If you are impressed by less scientific stuff, it explains a lot about why you get convinced by anecdotal evidence, and can say that prayer
    “lead to spectacular results on occasions (much more than happens naturally)” without any answer to the long list of questions about what prayer is and how it works 😉

    It all makes sense now, definitively. It’s not necessarily wrong, but textbook definition of wishful thinking. Since it’s very positive and encouraging, I personally have nothing against it and am glad that you are happy and hopeful. 🙂 Who would be against people trying to help other people? As long as it stays safe of course…

  32. You seem to take “less scientific” to mean “not scientific” which is not the case. It’s just that in this area there are less studies and the conclusions cannot yet be generalised so well. e.g. Prof Brown’s study is scientific – but only a preliminary study.

    You also take “less scientific” to mean “of little value” which is also not true. Many cases have been documented medically, but haven’t been written up scientifically. But documented experience is valid, e.g. in a court of law. A person can turn their back on it if they want to, but they will be the poorer for it.

    So where have we got? You started by telling me that factually I was wrong, but now you seem to have withdrawn that. You have not offered any evidence against the cases I quote, only called it wishful thinking. But my “wishful thinking” is based on documented evidence, whereas your “wishful thinking” is not. I feel comfortable with that.

  33. You seem to take “less scientific” to mean “not scientific”
    […]
    You also take “less scientific” to mean “of little value”

    For that specific topic, yes, this is exactly what I am implying.
    Unless you have some answers to the long list of questions I posted? 🙂
    And what’s ironic is that you simultaneously claim that there are millions and millions of examples, but on the other hand: “the conclusions cannot yet be generalised so well”. Of course, because the studies are super small, vary a lot and are all badly defined; unless the long list of questions can be answered for any of them? Again!

    Prof Brown’s study is scientific
    Not really, but we can trust that they logged the technique and results accurately, so this has some scientific value. But it’s mostly a good example of how ‘not’ to do something, showing that you get ridiculous results when the parameters are so badly defined and implemented. Plus, they had no clear hypothesis and thus no way to reproduce/predict results in a next phase. It will be like starting from scratch no matter what they do…

    Many cases have been documented medically, but haven’t been written up scientifically. But documented experience is valid, e.g. in a court of law.
    This supports my point yes! 🙂 In a court of law, we would debate for example whether or not a series of events really happen the way it did; but could not infer the conclusion you reached. To illustrate:
    Let’s pretend we have Mr. X, who used prayer on sick Mrs. X; we have evidence he did, he confessed putting his hands together and saying a prayer in his head at 8pm on Monday for 5 long minutes. Then Mrs. X got better, surprisingly quickly and against all predictions from multiple doctors and nurses. By 9pm she was out of the hospital; we have security footage showing her leaving the hospital, walking. These are the facts in this case; it really happened that way.
    Now, let’s meet the next 1 million witnesses who all have similar stories to tell, but none directly related to the X’s. Most of them are not even of the same religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, country of origin, etc… In most cases however, more than 99% actually, nothing happened after using prayer, and in all cases, prayer is badly defined because… see the long list of questions 😉
    So, your honor, should we find ‘prayer’ guilty of healing Mrs. X? I think not and I urge you to acquit under the presumption of innocence. Attorney Eric, why do you want to put ‘prayer’ in prison? And should we put ‘God’ on trial too since you mentioned that he might be linked to ‘prayer’?

    You started by telling me that factually I was wrong, but now you seem to have withdrawn that.
    Yes, I learned a bit more about your position. Why do you make this sound bad? But I do think that you have some facts wrong because your conclusions are very strong with respect to the facts you utilize. You use adjectives that make your position “look” moderate, you probably think that it is, but you have a very strong position that does not match the facts. For instance, in your comment before that one, you said: “…lead to spectacular results on occasions (much more than happens naturally)”, but you have absolutely no fact to stand on to make such claim. You stated yourself that only ‘some’ studies show ‘some’ results ‘sometimes’, even something like 1/3 show no/negative results. But now it’s ‘much more’ than natural occurrences, which muddles the water even more because there could still be a ‘natural’ explanation behind prayer, but no, you jumped to the supernatural… unless, again… you have answers to the long list of questions?

    You have not offered any evidence against the cases I quote
    This entire thread present arguments against the case you quoted. And the evidence is found in your own links already… It’s quite insulting, again, that you pretend nothing happens, or that I don’t read anything, or something like that… You are the one who avoids so many of my questions, when I politely replied to every single one of yours. I take the time to reply to some small sentences with entire paragraphs which explain what’s wrong with that 1 sentence… But I know it’s not your intention so I am still not holding that against you 🙂

    But my “wishful thinking” is based on documented evidence
    Absolutely, it is based on evidence! That’s what I said already; see in bold from the previous comment:
    “It explains a lot about why you get convinced by anecdotal evidence, and can say that prayer “lead to spectacular results on occasions (much more than happens naturally)” without any answer to the long list of questions about what prayer is and how it works”
    It’s not the lack of evidence that’s the problem. I am sorry you thought that this is what I was implying. I thought it was quite clear that it’s your personal interpretation of the evidence that I find mistaken.

    whereas your “wishful thinking” is not. I feel comfortable with that.
    What would my wishful thinking be? I have asked you no less than 4-5 times to address that point since it was covered in one of my first comments on this thread.
    Also, if you want to call my views ‘wishful thinking’, please address the actual conclusion I posted above and tell me which part is something I wish were true and believe is true even despite of a lack of good reasons.

    CONCLUSION
    Adjusted with new information; but not really, since I stand by every word.
    The way I see it, people will always pray and always get some random spectacular results once in a while; but others will never pray and get the exact same random spectacular results once in a while. But that’s not all… at lot of people will pray and never ever get any positive results and be devastated by it. So the fact is this: our collective understanding is that (a) prayer is not correlated with any clear definitive outcome or success rate, (b) it has neither explanatory power nor known mechanisms that could possibly explain any effect, and (c), no predictive power at all, which prevents any meaningful scientific conclusions to be drawn.

    It is thus my belief, a very strong one, that prayer produces no effect at all, except for the placebo effect of believers praying for themselves. It is no different from secular meditation and actually is a very good thing at the personal level, a great bonding opportunity as a group, but not a medical tool at all. Denying the last point can lead to dangerous use of prayer as a medical alternative, which you thankfully would never encourage. So at least we agree on what matters the most I guess 🙂

  34. I went back and re-read my conclusion and I actually have something to correct. But it would be interesting to see what you would correct, first. Thanks!

  35. Hi Hugo, I think I’m going to finish up this discussion thanks, as it seems we are going in circles now. I think there is interesting evidence that doesn’t “prove” anything but gives an indication of God at work. You don’t think the evidence warrants that conclusion, possibly any conclusion. I think we have each said that several times, and are repeating ourselves, so I think it is a good time to stop. Thanks.

  36. No problem! I disagree though, since we covered lots of subtle points around that 1 topic of prayer. You helped me better understand my own reasons for rejecting the idea that prayer actually works, and is interesting evidence of God at work. The conclusion I posted twice already is something I would not have conceptualized so well, were it not for this discussion. You made me a better person in a way! 🙂

    And we are certainly not running in circles. We reached a blocking point since you have not acknowledged the “list of questions” about prayer, which has grown throughout the conversation. It it makes sense since you think the evidence doesn’t “prove” anything, even if quite interesting. And I also find it super interesting! 🙂 That’s exactly what anecdotal evidence is, sometimes fascinating, but cannot answer any detailed questions.

    You also said “[I] don’t think the evidence warrants that conclusion, possibly any conclusion” and that’s quite disappointing because I certainly think the evidence warrants certain conclusions, which I tried to be super clear about. Maybe not? I am no writer after all…

    CONCLUSION
    (Which I will correct myself after all; you didn’t want to identify the mistake I am fixing? Or any other? )
    The way I see it, people will always pray and always get some random spectacular results once in a while; but others will never pray and get the exact same random spectacular results once in a while. But that’s not all… at lot of people will pray and never ever get any positive results and be devastated by it. So the fact is this: our collective understanding is that (a) prayer is not correlated with any clear definitive outcome or success rate, (b) it has neither explanatory power nor known mechanisms that could possibly explain any effect, and (c), no predictive power at all, which prevents any meaningful scientific conclusions to be drawn.

    It is thus my belief, a very strong one, that prayer produces no effect at all, except for the placebo effect of believers praying for themselves. It is no different from secular meditation and actually is a very good thing at the personal level, a great bonding opportunity as a group, and a great medical tool as long as it supplements, never replace, modern medecine. Denying the last point can lead to dangerous use of prayer as a medical alternative, which you thankfully would never encourage. So at least we agree on what matters the most I guess 🙂
    Right?

    P.S. ( I like my p.s. these days 😉 )

    By coincidence, it’s today that we did the vahana puja, which I mentioned a few days ago. The blessing of our car!

    I couldn’t help but think about our conversation and how it applies here. Is our car now less likely to get us in trouble because of these prayers? Or not because it was the wrong god? What if something crazy almost happens but we barely avoid it, should I thank the blessings? How soon after would it need to be to count as miraculous? Was the choice of lemons, banana and coconut water the best one? Why weren’t the blueberries used? I love blueberries!

    But I have to, hopefully, make you smile even more with this… I told my wife right after: cool, so now I can call to cancel the insurance right? She couldn’t stop laughing, while calling me names 😉

  37. For me Hugo after a very interesting debate between the pair of you I still would side with the author of the website. Look at the universe for example who started it all of. For me it was a divine energy “God” and this is what prayer probably taps into .A good energy that’s behind the very existence of everything

  38. Thanks for commenting Ricky, I am sure Eric appreciates the support 🙂 But your comment means nothing to me unfortunately.

  39. It’s funny, I still receive these notifications:

    “There is a new comment on the post “Atheist detective convinced by evidence for christianity”.
    http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/life/atheist-detective-convinced-by-evidence-for-christianity/

    Author: unkleE
    Comment:
    Hi Gary, it is interesting to see how this conversation has developed… … … … …”

    But here on this thread, I asked questions yet received silence. Is it a game you play? Not sure if you realize… someone says they’re done, and react strongly, you ask more questions. Someone tries to continue with some precise questions, and lots of unanswered questions, yet you claim it’s running in circles and refuse to even acknowledge the plea that it was not. Different topic, different approach I guess. Perhaps this means a lot more even, but I won’t venture in speculation 🙂

    Please, as another conclusion, watch this, some parts are extremely relevant to our discussions. Actually, I would say all his videos are relevant.

    http://youtu.be/0YQfsyK9ois

    Cheers

  40. I was once an evangelical Christian who listened for God to speak to me. He never did. God never spoke to me in a still, small voice. God never “moved” me or “led” me. I blamed myself and left the Church. Now that I am older, I have had time to look at the evidence, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it was never me…it was always God. Here is the evidence I found:

    Disease and Illness: Christians have the same rates of disease and illness as non-Christians. Jesus doesn’t seem to answer prayers for healing. The percentage of non-Christians, including atheists, who recover from illness is the same as that of Christians. Christians who claim that they were healed due to prayer cannot prove that their healing was not due to some other factor, such as the medication that their doctor was giving them or pure coincidence. If Jesus really heals people due to prayer, Christians should have a much higher healing rate. They don’t.

    Death rates: The average life span of Christians is no better than that of non-Christians, including atheists.

    Accident rates: Christians have just as many accidents as non-Christians. There is no evidence that Jesus provides any better protection for Christians behind the wheel than non-Christians, including atheists. So asking Jesus to keep you and your family safe on your road trip doesn’t seem to be of any benefit.

    Job promotion: Is there any evidence that Christians are promoted in their jobs more often than non-Christians? I doubt it. Praying to Jesus to give you that promotion or that raise that your family really and truly needs doesn’t seem to work.

    Food poisoning: Most Christians pray before every meal for God to bless their food. However, no study I am aware of indicates that Christians have fewer incidences of food poisoning or that Christians are healthier than non-Christians. Jesus doesn’t seem to respond to prayers for “blessing” food.

    Child Safety: This is a big one for most Christian parents. We pray to Jesus to keep our children safe. Studies, however, demonstrate that the rate of accidents, injuries, disease, and death among the children of Christians is no different than the rates for the children of non-Christians. Praying to Jesus to keep your children safe is not effective.

    Now, maybe it isn’t God’s will for Christians to have lower disease rates, lower death rates, lower accident rates, lower food poisoning rates, lower child injury rates, and higher job promotion rates. But get this: Christians, and even evangelical Christians, have the same divorce rate as non-Christians! So either evangelical Christians are not praying to Jesus regarding their selection of a life partner (which I don’t believe for a second) or Jesus isn’t listening.

    Or…Jesus isn’t there.

  41. Hi Gary, thanks for that interesting challenge. You are effectively saying we can judge whether God is there or not by whether believers do better in life? Correct?

    I think that is a hypothesis worth investigating. So let’s look at it.

    1. I notice that you haven’t provided any references to any of your statements, they are all mere assertions. And as I shall show, some of them are actually contradicted by the evidence. But so far, you haven’t offered ANY evidence for your assessment of the hypothesis.

    2. But there actually is good scientific evidence that God DOES do good things for believers. Here are 40 studies (some of which are meta studies, i.e. analysis of a large bunch of individual studies) which show that religious belief is associated with better physical and mental health, quicker recovery from illness, greater happiness, reduced stress, lower levels of depression, lower anti-social behaviour, and greater prosociality. Andy Newberg and Mark Waldman sum up: “even minimal religious participation is correlated with enhancing longevity and personal health.”

    Further, there is evidence that prayer for healing (the subject of this post) often works, although obviously it doesn’t always work. Here is a summary of some of the evidence, and here is a summary of 26 scientific studies that show 2:1 a positive result for prayer. Of course this isn’t proof, but it makes the hypothesis that God answers prayer more likely than the opposite hypothesis.

    So it seems that the evidence suggests that believers and non-believers all get sick and have accidents, but belief in God and prayer enables believers to do much better on most of the criteria you have suggested. Some of the statement you made appear actually to be contrary to the evidence.

    What do you think?

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