Monday, March 03, 2008


The following passages are from Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion (p. 63). After debating with agnostics, I find that they are dead set against accepting that the existence or non-existence of the god hypothesis is capable of proof. So let us just say that the following prayer experiment is an attempt to discover if the Universe contains any wonder-working magic in it that the act of praying can elicit from hiding. If we can design enough real experiments that test if there are wonder working marvels in the Universe, then we may not be able to prove whether or not the hypothesis of god is provable, but we can slowly whittle away at the hypothetical wonder worker's powers. We can limit its reach, whatever it is, so to speak. Anyhow, here's a report that shows the severe limitations of prayer.

Dr. Benson and his team monitored 1,802 patients at six hospitals, all of whom received coronary bypass surgery. The patients were divided into three groups. Group 1 received prayers and didn't know it. Group 2 (the control group) received no prayers and didn't know it. Group 3 received prayers and did know it. The comparison between Groups 1 and 2 tests for the efficacy of intercessory prayer. Group 3 tests for possible psychosomatic effects of knowing that one is being prayed for.

Prayers were delivered by the congregations of three churches, one in Minnesota, one in Massachusetts and one in Missouri, all distant from the three hospitals. The praying individuals, as explained, were given only the first name and initial letter of the surname of each patient for whom they were to pray. It is good experimental practice to standardize as far as possible, and they were all, accordingly, told to include in their prayers the phrase ‘for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications’.

The results, reported in the American Heart Journal of April 2006, were clear-cut. There was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not. What a surprise. There was a difference between those who knew they had been prayed for and those who did not know one way or the other; but it went in the wrong direction. Those who knew they had been the beneficiaries of prayer suffered significantly more complications than those who did not. Was God doing a bit of smiting, to show his disapproval of the whole barmy enterprise? It seems more probable that those patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered additional stress in consequence: 'performance anxiety', as the experimenters put it. Dr. Charles Bethea, one of the researchers, said, 'It may have made them uncertain, wondering am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?' In today's litigious society, is it too much to hope that those patients suffering heart complications, as a consequence of knowing they were receiving experimental prayers, might put together a class action lawsuit against the Templeton Foundation?

It will be no surprise that this study was opposed by theologians….

And why do you suppose theologians opposed the experiment? Couldn't be because they know what nonsense their profession preaches and can't bear the thought of suffering loss of status—one of the traits left over from their evolutionary pasts?

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