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March 31, 2006

Not A Prayer

Depressing day in medical news, as not only have the studies showing beneficial cardiovascular impacts from light drinking been debunked, but those showing health improvements from prayer bit the dust as well. West Wing watchers will remember a storyline were Bartlett could've gotten a Republican Congress to restore his foreign aid budget if only he'd appropriate $115,000 to study the apparent protective effects of remote prayer. In what I always found a stunningly pigheaded display of principle over pragmatism, he refused. But back in the real world, the government has spent a couple million commissioning such studies and, with the results of the largest now in, remote prayer's effects seem definitively disproved. Nuts.

March 31, 2006 | Permalink

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In other news, Santa isn't real, either. Ah, well.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Mar 31, 2006 4:41:42 PM

I saw Dr. Tim Johnson on GMA this morning. He is an interesting correspondent since he is a physician and an ordained minister. His points were that the study was flawed. There is no way to isolate only the variable of prayer. If course, if you are an atheist, it's all bullshit anyway.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 31, 2006 4:47:53 PM

No kidding about the West Wing.

I always thought that the jump the shark moment for the West Wing started right after the election. You had Sam convert his vaguely competitive special election into a suicide run, Bartlet rewriting foreign policy because of a side conversation with Will Bailey and a Laurel & Hardy sketch, and it just goes downhill from there.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Mar 31, 2006 5:32:12 PM

The mistake is praying to a single god, especially to one called Bush. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Hindu's and other understand that praying has sprayed liberally in all directions to the many gods that need worship.

Can you hear the shrill squeals about to erupt about godless science persecuting the Xtians?

My major worry is facing a surgeon who thinks he can get by on a (right) wing and a prayer.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 31, 2006 7:40:33 PM

When I was back there in seminary school there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you could petition the Lord with prayer. You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 31, 2006 7:58:25 PM

We need someone or something new.

Something else to get us through.

It’s getting harder, calling on the dogs, calling in the dogs, calling all the dogs, calling on the gods.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 31, 2006 9:25:17 PM

perhaps prayer from strangers does not help, but love from people who care about us can heal us, transform us...and if their love cannot cure us, at least it smoothes the path and and brings white light into the darkness of pain, suffering and loneliness.
.....prayer may be echoes of our own fragile hope in a scary universe, but acts of lovingkindness and compassion bring forth the true miracles.

Posted by: jacqueline | Mar 31, 2006 9:59:49 PM

Seriously, that episode always bugged me as well. As long as the study used sound science, why the hell wouldn't you do it? As I recall, they already had some interesting pilot data. Hell, aside from his foreign aid package, it merited study.

I suppose there's some principle in not letting crass politics determine NIH's funding priorities, but you'd have to be pretty naive to think that wasn't already the case.

Posted by: Royko | Apr 1, 2006 1:10:21 AM

Jacqueline, that was beautiful.

I can see how the intersection of religious belief and scientific study is interesting. However, trying to quantify the effects of religious beliefs and activities is simply not possible. If religious belief is unfounded, then all we are doing is exploring each person's ability to affect his or her health through his or her own will. That is already treated within psychology. If there is a "real" foundation for religious belief, all of human history shows that attempts to quantify and/or "prove" it are pointless.

Within the context of Christian theology, it is pretty clear that, however prayer does or doesn't "work," it certainly doesn't work in such a way that we can prove it using control groups and checkmarks on clipboards.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 1, 2006 10:33:04 AM

When I was back there in seminary school there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you could petition the Lord with prayer. You cannot petition the Lord with prayer.

Bob is the lizard king, he can do anything.

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Apr 1, 2006 1:39:07 PM

thank you for the kind words, stephen...
i also agree with your last post.

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 1, 2006 2:27:59 PM

All of which proves that religion is not founded in science. This is new ?
The Rhine studies were only the first popularization of a research topic ( ESP, psi )which has, among other things, marginalized scientific reputations.
One positive effect of institutional religion is to somewhat insulate people from "flavour of the day" belief systems ( though religion is obviously vulnerable to manipulation). Oddly enough, that promotes scepticism which I think would resonate well in a crowd trying not to be suckered into beliefs whose main "virtue" is popularity and/or novelty.

Posted by: opit | Apr 1, 2006 8:39:24 PM

They should try a different approach: praying that people with diseases worsen and that they suffer more. Maybe the God of Falwell and Dobson would be more willing to grant that sort of prayer.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Apr 2, 2006 6:46:35 AM

The peripheral sciences(ESP, prayer, and such) are difficult to quantify. At this point, they are primarily an individual or local experience and these "special moments" don't seem to portray themselves on a scientific whim. They just happen. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake is trying to delve into this controversial area with some limited success and a lot of heretical backlash from the scientific community. I believe he's working along the lines of the existence of invisible connections between people, the closer you are to somebody, the more strands of connectivity. Not undifferent basically than Jung's collective psyche. If that's the case, and prayer "energy" follows these connections, then a study using friends and relatives might show better results...or maybe these "special moments" are shy and will still stay away from science.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Apr 2, 2006 2:24:32 PM

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Posted by: peterwei | Oct 21, 2007 11:50:56 PM

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