Friday, April 7, 2006

Why Doesn't Praying For Patients Help? Some Hypotheses.

From The Deity in the Data, By William Saletan, in Slate:
Patients who knowingly received prayers developed more post-surgery complications than did patients who unknowingly received prayers—and patients who were prayed for did no better than patients who weren't prayed for. In fact, patients who received prayers without their knowledge ended up with more major complications than did patients who received no prayers at all....

They're implicitly sketching possibilities as to what sort of God could account for the results. Here's a list. 1. God doesn't exist. This is the simplest explanation, favored by atheists. You pray, but nobody's there, so nothing happens. 2. God doesn't intervene. This is the view of self-limiting-deity theorists and of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. God may be there, but He's not doing anything here. 3. God is highly selective. The positive effect of prayer on the study's participants "could be smaller than the 10% that our study was powered to detect," the authors suggest. Maybe God heeds prayers, but not enough of them to reach statistical significance.... (long, hilarious list follows)

17. God is malevolent. Patients who received prayers were marginally more likely to develop complications (52.5 to 50.9 percent) and substantially more likely to develop major complications (18.0 to 13.4 percent) than patients who received none. You can't blame the major-complication gap on psychology, since both groups were told that they might or might not be prayed for. In the teleconference, one of the study's authors tried to explain the gap away—"We don't feel confident statistically that that difference is at the level of significance barely that it's actually perhaps real"—whatever that means. But another called it a "possible hotspot," and the editorial warns that in clinical research, "assumptions of Divine benevolence … could only be considered scientifically naïve," since "in the history of medicine there has never been a healing remedy that was actually effective without having potential side effects or toxicities."
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Anonymous said...

Fr. Julian at my old parish in NJ used to say, "God answers all prayers. Often times we either aren't listening or don't like the answer."

Test said...

The article is very complete (and not, I think, anti-prayer). Those possibilities are in there!