Friday, March 31, 2006

Should we surprised to learn that prayers offered by total strangers don't help the healing process and may actually make things worse, as a newly published study reveals? Read to the end of the linked story and you'll see that an earlier University of New Mexico study of alcoholics in recovery also found that those who knew they were the subjects of remote prayers fared worse.

Previous studies that have shown positive results for remote prayer have been tainted. As The New York Times noted in 2004, the source of data for a 2001 study claiming that remote prayer could increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy was Daniel Wirth, a lawyer who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a business-fraud case; the case was unrelated to the study, but the journal that published the findings pulled the paper from its Web site. And according to a 2002 Wired magazine story, a 1998 study of the effects on remote prayer on AIDS patients used dubious methods of massaging data, incuding the unblinding and reblinding of data to help the scientists find correlations suggested to them after the information was collected. That study also showed that patients who were prayed for did worse on many measures of healing.

I don't know why so much of this research focuses on remote prayer. I suppose it reflects what a lot of American Christians feel: that they'd really like other people to believe exactly what they believe. They believe in proselytizing, in converting the reluctant, and they believe God steps in to lend a hand when they do this. In other words, they believe in a God who's not so much all-powerful as pushy, like themselves. And I guess a fair number of researchers are willing to take funding from these people to test these beliefs.

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