Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Downside of Prayer

In news of the unsurprising, Reuters reports on a new study that contradicts the notion that prayer has a medically beneficial effect on patients undergoing surgery.

The study of 1,800 heart bypass patients—the largest of its kind—"has failed to show that prayers specially organized for their recovery had any impact..."
In fact, the study found some of the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than others who were only told they might be prayed for.
So, the best way to help a loved one pull through a tough hospital visit may be to not keep them in your prayers. The study, however, suggests that it might not be that simple.

Two Catholic groups and a Protestant group were given names of subjects for whom they were to pray. One of the study's authors noted a possible pitfall in their scientific method:
One caveat is that with so many individuals receiving prayer from friends and family, as well as personal prayer, it may be impossible to disentangle the effects of study prayer from background prayer.
This leaves open the possibility that the "background" prayer may have somehow interfered with the prayer conducted for the experiment, like two radio stations on adjacent frequencies bleeding into each other.

It's also distinctly possible that the positive effects of religion don't come from hocus-pocus incantations, but through the living experience of such things as love, selflessness and charity. Of course, you can't really test for that in the lab—not that somebody won't try.

On the other hand, it possible that heaven's a little bit like Belfast and the Catholic and Protestant prayers merely canceled each other out. Finally, and this really brings out the "duh" factor here, the study may have been a whole lot more successful if some of the prayers had been directed to the one true god and messiah: L. Ron Hubbard.
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