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Prayer Does Not Help Heart Patients 1156

Posted by Hemos
from the oh-noes-time-to-stop-smoking dept.
mu22le writes "A recent study conducted by the Duke University Medical Center on 700 patients, found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. Researchers emphasized their work does not address whether God exists or answers prayers made on another's behalf. This result seems to contradict a previous study by the same authors that reported "cardiac patients who received intercessory prayer in addition to coronary stenting appeared to have better clinical outcomes than those treated with standard stenting therapy alone"."
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Prayer Does Not Help Heart Patients

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  • by suso (153703) * on Monday April 03, 2006 @10:59AM (#15050078) Homepage Journal
    What is the point of this study? Its not like it is going to convince the millions of people who don't like mixing science with their religion that they shouldn't waste time praying for their loved ones. Those people can trust science to make more fuel efficient SUVs, better bombs for Iraq and cure diseases. But when it proves that the earth is round, that the universe is 13-15 billion years old and that prayer doesn't really do anything, they think its hogwash.

    And the people who scientifically minded already think that this fact is just plain obvious.

    So while a study like this may be a amuzing anecdote, in the end its completely pointless.
    • by the_humeister (922869) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:04AM (#15050122)
      The issue is to debunk pseudoscience and other mystic entities. If it actually takes a funded scientific study to finally convince people, then so be it. Remember, we live in a society where "psychics" such as Miss Cleo actually make money for their "services".
      • Miss Cleo (Score:3, Funny)

        by dpilot (134227)
        A friend of ours has the ultimate rejoinder to telephone psychics:

        "If they were really psychic, they'd call you!"

        Several years back, when I knew this friend was coming over for dinner, I arranged with a female co-worker to call her at our house, and begin with, "Hello (name), I'm a psychic, and you're having a problem with..." (I filled the co-worker in with a not-too-personal problem.) Something came up, and the whole thing fell through. Darn.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:50AM (#15050631)
        Parent poster wrote:
        If it actually takes a funded scientific study to finally convince people,

        Article said:
        This result seems to contradict a previous study by the same authors

        So, question to the original poster. Did the original study "convince" you that prayer was effective? If not, why would this study hold any more water than the previous (other than the obvious point that its outcome matched your particular views)?
      • But those who actually *believe* in hogwash like that aren't going to be convinced by a scientific study, are they? Cognitive dissonance and stupidity are a mixture that's very difficult to overcome.
        • by Cat_Byte (621676) on Monday April 03, 2006 @04:01PM (#15052858) Journal
          But those who actually *believe* in hogwash like that aren't going to be convinced by a scientific study, are they? Cognitive dissonance and stupidity are a mixture that's very difficult to overcome.

          The first thought that comes to mind on this is the Christian attempt to prove the world was indeed round [home-school.com]

          Most people try to spin this the other way around though.

          In 1492, every educated man knew that the world was round. So did every ocean-going sailor. The "bigoted church leaders of Spain" did not oppose Columbus. Columbus had in fact been housed, supported, advised, and greatly aided by Spanish monks who encouraged him to present his proposal to the King and Queen. A Dominican priest, later Archbishop of Seville was one of his greatest supporters at the court. There was a University Commission which concluded that plans for his voyage were impractical. But the Commission agreed with Columbus that the world was round and gave no indication that they believed the Bible taught that the world was flat.

          The "hogwash" most atheists use to describe religion these days is usually fact based on fiction such as Washington Irving's novel about Columbus that stated the Christians (not the scientists) were the ones saying the world was flat.
      • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:14PM (#15050892) Homepage Journal
        The issue is to debunk pseudoscience and other mystic entities.

        Exactly. But I certainly hope you weren't referring to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and His noodly appendage, otherwise I'm going to have to ask you to step outside.

      • by God'sDuck (837829) on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:17PM (#15050917)
        The issue is to debunk pseudoscience and other mystic entities.
        the real problem with anything like this is that prayer, unlike spells or rituals, is a process by which a person attempts to communicate with another sentient being, who knows all about the situation. So what this study really asks, as interpreted by Christians (or other monotheists) is whether their deity chooses to respond in a way solely calculated to reveal his or herself -- none of the praying people were vested in the lives of those being prayed for (eg, the people themselves or their families), so *if* there was a God listening, he/she/it would have no reason to respond to the prayer other than to confirm his/her/its existence (via "the power of prayer"). of course, if a deity wanted worshippers rather than foul-weather friends, there'd be a vested interest in *not* responding, since few revelatory world faiths reveal gods particularly interested in being mindless prayer-fillers -- the theme of a "jealous God" who would rather have followers/worshippers/lovers (figuratively speaking) than "witch-doctors" who treat their god like a soulless force (like gravity) would suggest the study should, indeed, fail, as confirming it would contradict God's "desires."

        all this study does is confirm that either (1) there is no God or (2) God isn't amused by pseudoscientific studies. so the results support both the Atheist and orthodox Christian worldviews, and are only troubling to wishy-washy new agey-types that believe thinking happy thoughts should magically help other people. wee.
        • by forgotten_my_nick (802929) on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:56PM (#15051320)
          > none of the praying people were vested in the lives of those being prayed for

          I am sure they thought they were. Most religous people pray for others they don't know.

          >all this study does is confirm that either (1) there is no
          >God or (2) God isn't amused by pseudoscientific studies.

          Or God prefers to punish those who pray for him. Least thats what I read from the study.
        • No love from God. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Jerk City Troll (661616) on Monday April 03, 2006 @01:07PM (#15051432) Homepage

          This study does at least show that, if whatever pertinent deity exists, it cares more about its ego than the needs of people who may die as the result of an illness. (Which, because the fact of existence remains hidden, ensures that more people will suffer eternal damnation.) In otherwords, “God” cares les about human life and than about being worshipped by those with superstition. (Which is ironic because if we were created, we were created with logical, thinking minds which drive us to discover cause and effect rather than pursue blind faith.) So whether or not such a supernatural entity exists, we must find ways to advance and rely upon our science rather begging for help from invisible men in the sky.

          • by God'sDuck (837829)

            ...if whatever pertinent deity exists, it cares more about its ego than the needs of people who may die...

            who *may* die? frankly, i will bet you a great deal of money that *all* people *will* die. yes, our science can buy us longer lives, and, possibly, more pleasant deaths (though wasting away to cancer hardly counts as more pleasant than saber-toothed-tigers to me), but when it comes to "not dying," religion tends to be more concerned with the (permanent) afterlife than the (curiously impermanent) mortal

            • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Monday April 03, 2006 @04:13PM (#15052935) Homepage

              I think his point was that God appears to care more about his own ego than the needs of suffering people. You're just picking at his wording of it.

              Also, the point you make raises one of the problems I have with mainstream religion; it's that it often devalues humanity and life (this life). All that is good and virtuous and extricated from humanity and placed in the symbol of "God," leaving humanity a base creature whose only salvation is in groveling at the feet of this perfect and vastly superior being. People glorify the afterlife and in return devalue the life they are living now, which is also earthly and "impermanent," as you say.

              So why persue science and medicine at all? why make discoveries? why create art? why listen to music? why start a family? Why not just spend our entire lives cloistered and worshipping this divine being who gives our life its only true meaning?

              • leaving humanity a base creature

                Made in God's image. Religion is not perfect. God does not devalue humanity. People do.

              • by jc42 (318812) on Monday April 03, 2006 @07:17PM (#15054184) Homepage Journal
                So why persue science and medicine at all? why make discoveries? why create art? why listen to music? why start a family? Why not just spend our entire lives cloistered and worshipping this divine being who gives our life its only true meaning?

                Why not, indeed. It appears that neither God (if He/She exists) nor Ma Nature (aka the evolutionary process) really cares much what you do. Both refuse to hand you any information about themselves, saying in effect that you're on your own and free to live your life as you wish.

                There is a widespread belief that God will punish you if you don't properly worship Him (or Her). But we have many conflicting claims on just how this worship is to be performed, and most of those claims include punishment if you pick the wrong style of worship. So the sensible approach might be to not worship at all, under what might be called a "reverse Pascal's Wager": It's better to suffer the mild punishment of being a noncommitted believer than to deal with the much greater punishment of having picked the wrong worship style.

                And, of course, if Ma Nature (aka ...) is really the one in charge, you won't be punished at all no matter how you act. She doesn't care how you live your life or if you die without descendants. She'll just continue to work with the ones who do produce offspring, and forget that you existed. She also doesn't care whether you worship Her or not, and won't punish you either way.

          • Re:No love from God. (Score:3, Interesting)

            by barawn (25691)
            This study does at least show that, if whatever pertinent deity exists, it cares more about its ego than the needs of people who may die as the result of an illness.

            Ah yes, once again, the ugly specter of poor wording and the Problem of Evil rears its head. (*)

            You've got an implicit assumption going from this study to your conclusion: you're assuming that it was possible that these people would survive.

            In fact, this is pretty common with prayer: we assume, implicitly, that the impossible is possible, and th
        • so the results support both the Atheist and orthodox Christian worldviews, and are only troubling to wishy-washy new agey-types that believe thinking happy thoughts should magically help other people. wee.

          Except the difference between a prayer and a spell is that you actually have to BELIEVE in prayer. I don't know of any recognised religion where you can just say a prayer and it's supposed to be answered or considered. You actually have to BELIEVE in what you are praying about/for. They just measured

          • by fyngyrz (762201) on Monday April 03, 2006 @01:27PM (#15051624) Homepage Journal
            There's no scientific measure for true belief.

            Sure there is. We call it "gullibility." And there are psychological tests that measure it.

            • by DarkSarin (651985) on Monday April 03, 2006 @04:20PM (#15052983) Homepage Journal
              As a psychologist in training (can't use the appellation just yet) I have to take exception to that statement. It's false.

              The ability to maintain a belief despite outside influences (whether or not this is a good thing is left as an exercise for the reader) is not gullibility. I think that's what was meant by true belief. I'm not certain.

              Gullibility, however, is a very testable question. In some ways it is more of a measure of how readily one accepts new beliefs or statements and has nothing to do with ones ability or propensity to maintain those beliefs. A person who is highly gullible may be just as likely to abandon their newfound 'truth' just as quickly as they found it. In fact, this is suggested by the definition of the construct.

              I think the parent was correct--there is not a scientific measure of true belief. There is a measure of religiosity, however, and I think this may be fairly close.
    • by aktzin (882293)

      This comic strip is a great illustration of the kind of people you mentioned:

      http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.ht ml?uc_full_date=20051218 [doonesbury.com]
      • by yurnotsoeviltwin (891389) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:53AM (#15050667) Homepage
        Funny strip, but don't confuse humor and science/logic. No self respecting creationist denies that species adapt to different environmental conditions, such as new drugs. That's microevolution, changes within a species, genus, or some upper limitation of the extent those changes can go. It's been proven, and it's easily observed. Macroevolution, which is essentially the progression from paramecia to humans, isn't nearly as clean cut or easily proven, and that's where the point of contention is. Even still, a lot of creationists do believe in macroevolution, or at least some form of it.

        About the OT, there's obviously a lot more research to be done. Thus far, there have been two studies on this topic, and the results contradicted each other, so unless you're just an antagonist who exists solely to rant against religion every time you get the chance, you'll suspend judgement for now. That's just the obvious conclusion of anyone with a good, scientific mindset.
        • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:15PM (#15050904) Journal
          The molecular record has rather clinched the case, I'm afraid. All life on this planet falls into a nested hiearchy, and that is the key prediction of common descent.

          As to what Creationists accept, that has changed over time. Ten years ago there were plenty of Creationists who went around saying "adaption only within kinds". When sufficient numbers of examples of speciation were thrown in their face, they suddenly started doing odd things like redefining "kinds" and producing their own private definitions of what micro- and macro-evolution are. In fact, some are now quite happy to accept any form of evolution providing it does not have humans in the tree.

    • Remember that there were different results when the patient was told they were being prayed for. Once that's done, it introduces an interesting twist:

      They're praying for me? Oh, crap, I must be a goner.

      Sure enough, those who were told they were being prayed for had more complications than those who weren't told.

      On a more serious note, I think it's important to do this as a counter to the other "experiments" that showed that prayer helped people. Science is about reproducing results. If a scient
      • by hackstraw (262471) * on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:14PM (#15050891)
        Remember that there were different results when the patient was told they were being prayed for.

        Exactly.

        The mind is a powerful thing. Thought precedes all action.

        I saw on TV the other night where health insurance companies are starting to give patients CDs with soothing positive thoughts and the amount of medication the patients needed was less, they stayed less in hospitals, etc.

        Meditating people can do stuff like walk on fire and sleep outside in the freezing cold with only a thin sheet for cover.

        Hell, some people's minds tell them that they are billionaires while others just bitch about not having any money. On average, the people whose brains tell them that they are poor are over stressed and less healthy too. Go figure.

    • by Gulthek (12570)
      To debunk a popularly quoted study [cnn.com] which found that prayer does help hospital patients.
    • by oni (41625)
      What is the point of this study?

      Well, given that we are a social species, and given that for the last few 10's of millions of years of our history we have lived in groups, I would actually expect some kind of relationship between "good wishes from a group" and general health. I would actually expect this sort of thing to evolve as a way of encouraging social behaviour and group membership.

      What is the problem that you have with trying to study it? I actually think that you are closing your mind to somethin
    • I don't know how many flamewars I'm going to have to go through before the message starts sinking in, but because I'm an obstinate fellow I always seem to be good for at least one more. There are two main points: 1 - You can be devoutly religious and also logical/rational/scientific. 2 - Some "scientific" and anti-religious people are just as bigotted, and illogical as the religious nuts.

      1 - Devoutly Religious and Also Scientific

      Where's the big surprise here? Take a look at the Jesuits. In other surveys
      • There's no logical basis for this type of theology

        There's no logical basis for any type of theology. It's all guessing and wishful thinking.

        -jcr
      • Anyone that believes in "blind faith" - the type of faith that essentially amounts to wishful thinking - is a religious nut in my opinion.
        That's very nice, but what you fail to comprehend is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON OF FAITH makes the same sort of judgement about people whose faith differs from their own. You think it's unacceptable for atheists to reject your view of religion but at the same time it's OK for you to reject other religious viewpoints.

        You are self-inconsistent. Unfortunately for the human ra
        • I don't see it as particularly inconsistant. Did he say that everyone should have a accepting of all beliefs equally?
          I don't believe in Santa Claus. I do believe that the earth is round. And in my opinion adults who believe the opposite are rather nutty. Not just because the beliefs are different from mine, but because those particular beliefs are SO unsupported by evidence and logic. (And unlike conventional religious views, the believers don't have the excuse that they are exposed an extremely high
      • by SubtleNuance (184325) on Monday April 03, 2006 @03:48PM (#15052793) Journal
        1 - You can be devoutly religious and also logical/rational/scientific.

        No, you cant. Religion is the belief in in the supernatural.
        Science only only concerns itself with demonstratable conjecture to describe a natural phenomenon.

        Most people who construct the "Choose religion or science" frame do so (as I do) because I believe that once someone accepts that a supernatural world exists, they abandon their ability to pursue science. If your willing to accept the supernatural -- what purpose does reason and logic have in the pursuit of science (that which is natural)?

        2 - Some "scientific" and anti-religious people are just as bigotted, and illogical as the religious nuts.

        This is essentially the "science is a religion" argument, and I will have nothing to add beyond Richard Dawkins excellent article you can read here [thehumanist.org].

        As for the anti-religious being 'bigotted', yes, I can assume some are. I will admit to it myself. I will not apologize that I agree with Denis Diderot when he said "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

        Destroying religion as necessary to civilization as plumbing and not cohabitating with one's livestock.

        Religion is (to put it mildly) a bother and a bore, and Im tired of a world populated by masses who believe their supernatural deity is The Most Great. Religion keeps us from taking ownership of Humanity's OUR OWN PROBLEMS. Keeps us from realizing that WE ALONE are responsible for the state of our community. Religion is a manner of absolving oneself of responsiblity ("I give myself to you oh lord").

        This life is all we have. There is no second chance to get things right "next time", or reward in an afterlife. Please consign these fantasies to ancient history where they belong.
    • by tgeller (10260) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:37AM (#15050485) Homepage
      Science's task is to test hypotheses.

      The belief that prayer has beneficial medical effects is a widlely-held hypothesis that can be tested.

      The results of such a test could improve treatment and life in general. Therefore, it's a worthwhile pursuit.

      That *you* think it's silly doesn't change anything. Much sillier theories have been put to the test -- and gotten unexpected results.
      • Much sillier theories have been put to the test -- and gotten unexpected results.

        Yeah, there have been silly experiments where people's health improved after taking sugar pills.

        Its called Placebo effect [wikipedia.org].

      • May be all the people who had heart disease in the study were evil/Satanists, and their hearts were stained with the evilness of their actions. So any prayer to this group may have been redirected to A: to saving their soul first, or B, since they wee evil, praying to God was the wrong choice, since Satan may have helped them in this group.

        What about religious choice - was that also cotrolled? Did they have Christians praying for Jews, Buddhists praying for Born agains?

        Maybe it was a bandwidth problem - i

      • Science's task is to test hypotheses.

        The belief that prayer has beneficial medical effects is a widlely-held hypothesis that can be tested.
        The results of such a test could improve treatment and life in general. Therefore, it's a worthwhile pursuit.
        That *you* think it's silly doesn't change anything. Much sillier theories have been put to the test -- and gotten unexpected results.


        I agree that there is, scientifically, nothing wrong with testing silly hypotheses. And as you say, occasionally, you
    • by Ibix (600618) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:38AM (#15050488)
      So while a study like this may be a amuzing anecdote, in the end its completely pointless.

      It's worse than that. The bible has built-in defences against this kind of thing: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God (Matthew 4:7, according to bible-kjv). You're sunk either way - if God doesn't exist then prayer has no effect (except maybe the placebo effect). If he does exist he'll hide his hand so that you can't make him do stuff...

      Also, you can't control for how-many-million Christians in the world praying for "all the sick and infirm of this world", some of them adding "particularly John Smith, member of our church". If you don't control for it, you're implicitly assuming it has no effect.

      Note: I'm an atheist. I'm also a scientist. This experiment doesn't convince me...

      I

      • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Monday April 03, 2006 @02:37PM (#15052254)

        If he does exist he'll hide his hand so that you can't make him do stuff...

        Except for the fact that you CAN make him "do stuff"-- you can make him "hide his hand." Do some statistical analyses on things that happen to Christians vs non-christians, or religious vs non-religious, and find out that every time God "miraculously" does something for a Christian (cures a disease, etc.), he must also do the same for a random heathen, otherwise statisticcal evidence would reveal his influence...

  • News flash! (Score:4, Funny)

    by spaztik (917859) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:01AM (#15050099)
    In other news... wishing upon a star will not make dreams come true. Details at 11.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:04AM (#15050130)
    I could give a shit what this study says as any positive focused thoughts such as prayer & meditation absolutely do help. Does this mean its based on some godly force? Heck no, it is just the power of positive thinking.

    Giving people a reason to think good thoughts about others is what we should be doing, not shooting down another avenue for people to feel good.
  • by trongey (21550) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:06AM (#15050146) Homepage
    Now that they have two conflicting results they'll need a new grant to conduct another study so they can conclude which of their first two studies was correct. Yay! 5 more years of research funding.
  • by ip_freely_2000 (577249) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:09AM (#15050180)
    Praying for loved ones may not physically help a loved one, but certainly helps the mental state of the patient and their family. I don't think anyone ever expects a miracle, but if it helps any one, in any manner, then more power to them.

    btw, I dare ANY body who's watched a loved one suffer to deny that they said a few words to God 'Just in case'. It certainly can't hurt. I'm not religious, but I've been there.
    • by meringuoid (568297) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:16AM (#15050263)
      Praying for loved ones may not physically help a loved one, but certainly helps the mental state of the patient and their family.

      Thought experiment: Replace 'God' with 'The King of the Potato People'. We'd call someone sending messages to the King of the Potato People to help their loved ones 'delusional', and put them on medication, and possibly in a padded cell.

      Are you sure prayer is indicative of a healthy mental state? If so, explain how 'God' is different to 'The King of the Potato People', and why belief in one is delusional and psychiatrically treatable while the other is not.

      • As a skeptic, I might have trouble with your conclusion that the King of the Potato People does not exist. You seem absolutely certain of this, as if we have more than some scattered anecdotal evidence that he does not.

        Maybe it would be a good idea to turn down the control knob on your vehemence just a little. I'm far from what you would call some mystical, new age flake. And yet, I'd have a hard time refuting that there is something weird going on in the universe... and it's more than just a new exotic sub
      • Except for this...

        We may only have low level control of our body systems by using spooky things like prayer. No religion need be involved but the only access is via non-rational, non-logical modes of thought and conciousness.

        A lot of eastern knowledge is wrapped in many layers of mysticism. It may be that you can only understand that knowledge if you think about it mystically. The problem is that people start to think the mystical thinking -is- the knowledge and a high percentage of that mysticism is rea

      •   You insensitive clod. The King will be very upset at this.

        spud
    • Why does begging an imaginary authority who has the power of life and death over humanity, and therefore is essentially holding your loved one in ransom for your piety, help them?

      And if a "miracle" happens, it demonstrates only one of two causes:

      1. God's love is a popularlity contest, and those who get the most prayers get the most miracles, which seems to the be logic of those who ask others to pray for them and anyone who uses religion as a means to power.
      2. God's love is fickle, distributed in a way you
    • by slavemowgli (585321) on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:09PM (#15050844) Homepage

      btw, I dare ANY body who's watched a loved one suffer to deny that they said a few words to God 'Just in case'. It certainly can't hurt. I'm not religious, but I've been there.

      OK, I'll take you up on that dare. My father underwent heart surgery a couple of years ago to get a new valve, and while it wasn't life-threatening (it's pretty much a routine thing these days), I still was very worried indeed.

      But I didn't pray or say "a few words to [g]od", simply because no gods exist. There is nothing in the universe like that, and to me, the idea is just as silly as the notion that there are - say - invisible pink unicorns secretly running the world. (And given that at least judaism, christianity and islam are ultimately based on the delusions of a late Stone/early Bronze Age shepherd, that's probably not surprising, either.)

      If somebody prays because it personally makes them feel better and takes away their sorrows... great, let them pray! But there are also many others who realise that praying isn't actually gonna change anything about the facts and that there's noone "listening" and who thus don't pray even when in distress. Maybe you're somewhere in between, but that doesn't mean everyone else is, too.

  • Hmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimmyCarter (56088) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:09AM (#15050183) Journal
    As summed up on BoingBoing.. Maybe they were praying to the wrong god?
  • by Distinguished Hero (618385) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:12AM (#15050216) Homepage
    From the article:
    The prayer portion of the randomization was double-blinded, meaning that patients and their care team did not know which patients were receiving intercessory prayer. Per Institutional Review Board policies governing clinical research, all patients were aware that they might be prayed for by people they did not know, from a variety of faiths.

    While double-blind tests are generally a good idea, perhaps another study should be carried out in which the patients themselves know whether people are praying for them (perhaps including people they know, as well as people of the faith they request). The increased optimism and placebo effect may produce something desireable (not saying it will, but it might be worth a study by the same people who expended their resources on this one).
  • by thewiz (24994) * on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:13AM (#15050239)
    As a heart patient myself, it always gave me a mental boost to know that others were taking time to pray for me when I had to go in for surgery. Even though prayer may not directly affect the outcome of a surgery, letting the patient know that there are people who care about them can make a big difference.
  • by ShyGuy91284 (701108) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:14AM (#15050244)
    Prayer comes from the heart, and can't be done in a cold and scientific manner in the name of research. Or at least that's what I have come to think very religious people would probably think. This disregards what I consider to be the main way spirituality helps too. It gives people hope and strengthens them. Mind over matter isn't just a useless saying, it's a pretty significant tool in medical recovery as I understand.
    • by Eightyford (893696) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:26AM (#15050367) Homepage
      Prayer comes from the heart, and can't be done in a cold and scientific manner in the name of research. Or at least that's what I have come to think very religious people would probably think. This disregards what I consider to be the main way spirituality helps too. It gives people hope and strengthens them. Mind over matter isn't just a useless saying, it's a pretty significant tool in medical recovery as I understand.

      So prayer is just a placebo that only works when one is praying for one's self?
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:43AM (#15050546) Journal
      "Prayer comes from the heart, and can't be done in a cold and scientific manner in the name of research." (emphasis mine)

      Well, obviously then, the reason the prayer didn't work is that the patients all had defective hearts.

      Even as a heartless bastard, though, I can attest that at least some of my prayers to The One Who Lies Dead but Dreaming have been answered. Though not all those prayers involved positive thoughts.
  • by paulthomas (685756) * on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:15AM (#15050252) Journal
    Marshall Brain of How Stuff Works fame wrote a little book called Why Won't God Heal Amputees? (The Most Important Question We Can Ask about God).

    Chapter Five [whydoesgod...putees.com] deals with the title question and is especially pertinent to this discussion. There are some minor flaws with the conclusions drawn, but I have written the author about these and he intends to address them; they don't really detract from the conclusion.

    A highly recommended read. A little wordy at times, but that is because it is trying to be conversational with a potentially hostile audience (I think).
  • by TheLoneCabbage (323135) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:23AM (#15050334) Homepage
    Recently when my sister-inlaw was diagnosed with lukemia my wife and I were left stunned. We had chosen to live half way around the world, too expensive to travel when most of our family was still there to comfort her.

    We instead decided to take our prayers to the Wester Wall (HaKotell), as jews have done for thousands of years. It's one incedent, and no basis for a conclusive "Prayer Works" post. But it did at least let us do something, other than sit and worry.

    What is the alternative of a loved one to prayer? Nothing, nadda, zilch. Prayer may help, it may not. But if it's a choice between possibly useless prayer and definetly useless worrying, prayer makes more sense. (Pascals wager) If nothing else it makes you feel better.

    I would be curriuos to know if there is a difference in stress related illnesses between people who pray (in one form or another) and those who dont. I know for me the worst source of stress is to have a problem and no pragmatic way to affect it.

  • Expectations (Score:5, Insightful)

    by captnitro (160231) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:24AM (#15050347)
    I don't want to have to make this point, but I feel obligated in light of all the Smug that's about to enter the thread -- but this study isn't really useful for debunking anything except the previous "studies" that it did help patients. "Prayer is more about changing the person doing the praying, than about bringing changes to world events." "Even if all the things that people prayed for happened -- which they do not -- this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable "success" in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something more like magic -- a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature." (C.S. Lewis) I'm not religious by any means, but I think Lewis has a fair point.
  • by vertinox (846076) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:30AM (#15050414)
    Cthulhu was displeased with the family's offerings.

    Unfortunatley since they awoken the great Ancient one with their pleas for mercy, the heart patients and their family (and next of kin and family pets) will be eaten first and slowly.
  • by Eightyford (893696) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:37AM (#15050476) Homepage
    Of course the real problem is that God is too busy helping rappers get their bling bling. This is obvious if you've ever watched a music awards show.
  • by macz (797860) on Monday April 03, 2006 @11:54AM (#15050682)
    Perhaps the real reason is that the people studied were not worthy of divine intervention? Did anyone check their level of evil before praying for them?
  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory@@@gmail...com> on Monday April 03, 2006 @12:58PM (#15051357)
    This experiment is IMO worthless, for much the same reason that previous experiments (with results more amenable to the faithful) were worthless.

    The problem is that no Christian who is not completely theologically naive is going to suppose that their prayer can make God do something. God does what God chooses to do, according to his own logic. That's why the Lord's prayer opens with (my translation):

    Our heavenly father,
    May /your/ name be held holy,
    May /your/ kingdom come,
    May /your/ will be done,
    All these on earth as in heaven.
    There is, right from the start, a recognition that the answer to prayer is at God's will (or whim if you prefer).

    In other words, prayer is not a deterministic process. You don't push a "pray" button and reliably expect a certain action from God. God's will is much more important than the will of the person praying. Because of this, prayer is not really susceptible to statistical analysis: God knows not just what you're praying, but why, and he has his own agenda that's perhaps rather different from yours. Worse, this sort of analysis generally cannot distinguish between "impossible" and "rare". Perhaps God only answers prayers for Anabaptists, or Pentecostals, or that truly dedicated fraction of the church that actually has better morals, lower divorce rates, and is what really keeps the church going. This sort of "fringe" reaction is going to be quite difficult to detect in the sort of study done.

    Why pray then? Perhaps for the same reason that death row inmates keep petitioning the governor, even though clemency is rare indeed: ultimately, there are circumstances in which only God has the power to do something, and once in a great while he does, for reasons that we find inscrutable. More importantly, for we Christians, Jesus told us to. Of course, just like that death row inmate, we don't /only/ pray. We pray and pursue every other option that we believe can help. But neither do we give up prayer just because it rarely "works" according to our agenda.

    One effect, incidentally, is that of maintaining hope. When a person loses hope, they've lost everything.

    Now this, of course, leads to a much more complicated problem (viz. theodicy, the study of why God allows suffering and evil.) But I'm certainly not going to tackle that in a slashdot post.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday April 03, 2006 @01:06PM (#15051425)
    Now, praying may not help the patients. Actually, it won't. Provided that God exists (if he doesn't, the whole thing is moot anyway), he could have avoided the harm in the first place, so why should he change his mind? After all, according to all records he's supposedly omniscient and able to transcend space and time, so he knows things before they happen, and thus he would know whether the person repents or not without the need to resort to cheap tricks like that.

    It helps the patient's friend and relatives, though. They feel useless. Helpless. Unable to help their friend/relative. Hell, how do YOU, ordinary person, want to help a human in a serious medical condition when trained specialists, i.e. docs, can't do much? So praying might not help the patient, but it sure as hell helps his peers, giving them a way to deal with it and feel less helpless. Whether God exists or not doesn't even matter. It's something they can do to feel less useless and helpless.
  • Fatal flaw (Score:4, Funny)

    by J.R. Random (801334) on Monday April 03, 2006 @01:35PM (#15051687)
    "The prayer groups for the study were located throughout the world and included Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and multiple Christianity-based denominations."

    Obviously the One True God got pissed off that the researchers couldn't even decide which one of them He was, so He sat this one out.

  • by DCheesi (150068) on Monday April 03, 2006 @02:48PM (#15052356) Homepage
    The study in this article didn't account for normal friends-and-family prayers, it only varied the presence of arranged prayers from strangers (who probably had ulterior motives). At most this study might show that "prayer bulletins" and praying for complete strangers isn't particularly useful. The study says nothing about prayers from loved-ones, which many people would say are the most sincere and thus the most useful.

    Practically speaking, it's impossible to do a scientific test that would clear up this issue for everyone. You're never going to convince loved-ones to *not* pray for the patient, so double-blind studies are out. And post-analysis of outcomes for religious vs. non-religious patients/families would be contaminated by the differences in the patients' own beliefs and attitudes.
  • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Monday April 03, 2006 @02:54PM (#15052407)

    "The hands that help are better than the lips that pray."

    A sentiment that remains unaffected by the outcome of such a study, IMO...

  • Bash (Score:4, Funny)

    by christian.elliott (892060) on Monday April 03, 2006 @02:59PM (#15052452) Homepage Journal

    This reminds me of a great bash.org quote [bash.org] that I'd like to share with you all:

    Gear Grinder X: once, we had these total freak seventh day advenist (or whatever) freak ass neighbors

    Gear Grinder X: and this girl Lanna was a little younger than me

    Gear Grinder X: she was a bitch, and they were all totally religious

    Gear Grinder X: she threw rocks at me once on my bike, and so I turned around, and went to run over here

    Gear Grinder X: I was hauling ASS, and you know what she did?

    Gear Grinder X: put her hands on her hips, and stood there and said "The lord will protect me"

    Gear Grinder X: well.... he didn't

  • This is not surprising. The Flying Spaghetti Monster who created all things has thus far deigned to appear to only a handful of people, from which me may infer that He desires to remain hidden from the masses so that we can develop faith.. We know that, while he created the world, he included fossils and geologic clues to amuse the scientists and encourage creative thought among humans. Now, had he reached out with his noodely appendage and healed a high percentage of the prayerful in this study, with all those statisticians standing by, it would have destroyed faith for all would soon have known of his existance.

    Silly people -- did they really believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster would allow his plans to be unraveled by such a blatent manipulation? Hasn't he said, "Thou shalt not tempt thy FSM, except it be with grated cheese?" These silly mortals have no idea who they're messing with. Beware the noodly appendage filled with wrath!

"I got everybody to pay up front...then I blew up their planet." "Now why didn't I think of that?" -- Post Bros. Comics

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