Monday, 5 August 2013

Prayer Fails

The widespread belief amongst the faithful that intercessory prayers are effective at curing disease is strong.  It is sufficiently strong that it doesn’t waver when children like the Schaibles die of medical neglect. The faithful watch children die as their bronze-age chants fail, and feel no remorse, no doubt.
The best scientific study working with large groups on the effectiveness of prayer remains with Benson et al (2006) [1]. The study overcame the methodological weakness of previous studies by using proper randomisation of subjects and ‘blind’ techniques, combined with large sample sizes.

About 1800 coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) patients were in the study. The patients were randomized, such that only 1/3 knew definitely they would receive intercessory prayer to assist recovery. The other 2/3rd did not know if they would receive prayer. Half of them did, half didn’t.

The study showed that prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG. The group that did know they were receiving prayer however, had a significantly higher risk of complications (59% versus 51%). It was speculated that knowing they were receiving prayer, increased their anxiety (perhaps they were sicker than they had been led to believe) and this contributed to the increased rates of complications.

There is no scientific evidence that validates the belief that prayer is effective at curing disease.

[1] Herbert Benson MD, Jeffery A. Dusek , Jane B. Sherwood , Peter Lam , Charles F. Bethea , William Carpenter , Sidney Levitsky , Peter C. Hill , Donald W. Clem, Jr. , Manoj K. Jain , , David Drumel , Stephen L. Kopecky , Paul S. Mueller , Dean Marek, Sue Rollins ,  and Patricia L. Hibberd (2006). Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. American Heart Journal 151(4): 934-942