Saturday, 1 November 2008

Evidence of the Futility of Prayer!

From Slate (

"Patients who received prayers were marginally more likely to develop complications (52.5 to 50.9 percent) and substantially more likely to develop major complications (18.0 to 13.4 percent) than patients who received none."

Brother, have you heard the bad news?

It was supposed to be good news, like the kind in the Bible. After three years, $2.4 million, and 1.7 million prayers, the biggest and best study ever was supposed to show that prayers . . . help patients recover after heart surgery. But things didn't go as ordained. Patients who knowingly received prayers developed more post-surgery complications than did patients who unknowingly received prayers—and patients who were prayed for did no better than patients who weren't prayed for. In fact, patients who received prayers without their knowledge ended up with more major complications than did patients who received no prayers at all.

If the data had turned out the other way, clerics would be trumpeting the power of prayer on every street corner. Instead, the study's authors and many media outlets are straining to brush off the results. The study "cannot address a large number of religious questions, such as whether God exists, whether God answers intercessory prayers, or whether prayers from one religious group work in the same way as prayers from other groups," the authors shrug.

Bull. If these findings involved any other kind of therapy, doctors would spin hypotheses about the underlying mechanisms and why the treatment failed or backfired. And that's exactly what theologians and scientists are doing as they try to explain away the data. They're implicitly sketching possibilities as to what sort of God could account for the results . . .

From the actual research article in the American Heart Journal:

Patients at 6 US hospitals were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: 604 received intercessory prayer after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; 597 did not receive intercessory prayer also after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; and 601 received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive prayer. Intercessory prayer was provided for 14 days, starting the night before CABG [coronary artery bypass graft]. The primary outcome was presence of any complication within 30 days of CABG. Secondary outcomes were any major event and mortality.

In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% of those who did not. Complications occurred in 59% of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer. Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.

Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.