Thursday, August 05, 2010

Proximity Prayer Heals The Sick

"Mozambique study suggests prayer actually heals" (National Post).

Heidi Baker and a loved orphan

For believers, you can file this under: "tell us something we don't already know". I've been to Africa. I've witnessed the prayers. Of course prayer heals the sick. I've been in similar services in Canada and the US.  

I've been in Heidi Baker meetings. She does more good in a year than most of us will do in our lifetimes. She is a saint. 

Healing is best seen in the ministry of Jesus Christ. But, it is also seen, less perfectly, in the ministry of his followers. God is especially gracious among the poor and powerless who call on his name.

Having said this, healing services are not always immune to hype and/or exaggeration. 

Lots of information at John Piipo's site, including all the links referenced below:

The India Times article says - "The power of prayer really can help cure the sick, according to a new study." 

The UK Daily Mail article says: "Professor Brown said one subject, an elderly Mozambican woman named Maryam, initially reported that she could not see a person's hand with two upraised fingers from a distance of one foot.

A healing practitioner put her hand on Maryam's eyes, hugged her and prayed for less than a minute then held five fingers in front of her. Afterwards she was able to count them and even read the 20/125 line on a vision chart. A follow-up study by the researchers in Brazil revealed similar findings."

Candy is Prof. of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

The study will be available online Aug. 5 at

In September, an interview with Brown will be available on the Southern Medical Journal website. 
John -- I'm not sure about those sunglasses, man. 


P@J said...

I'm afrain one poorly designed study with no control groups doesn't hold much weight against the vast body of better studies proving no effect from prayer:

Joyce CRB, Weldon RMC. The objective efficacy of prayer: A double-blind clinical trial. Journal of Chronic Diseases 18:367-377, 1965.

Collipp PJ. The efficacy of prayer: A triple-blind study. Medical Times 97:201-204, 1969.

O'Laoire S. An experimental study of the effects of distant, intercessory prayer on self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 3(6):38-53, 1997.

Walker SR and others. Intercessory prayer in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependence: A pilot intervention. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 3(6):79-86, 1997.

Sicher F, Targ E and others. A randomized double-blind study of the effect of distant healing in a population with advanced AIDS: Report of a small-scale study. Western Journal of Medicine 169:356-363, 1998.

Harris WS and others. A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit. Archives of Internal Medicine 159:2273-2278, 1999.

Aviles JM and others. Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: A randomized controlled trial. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 26:1192-19198, 2001.

Simpson WF. Comparative longevity in a college cohort of Christian Scientists. JAMA 262:1657-1658, 1989.

Comparative mortality of two college groups. CDC Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report 40:579-582, 1991.

Asser S, Swan R. Child fatalities from religion-motivated medical neglect. Pediatrics 101:625-629, 1998.

Sloan RP, Bagiella E, Powell T. Religion, spirituality and medicine. Lancet 353:664-667, 1999

King M, Speck P, Thomas A. The effect of spiritual beliefs on outcome from illness. Social Science & Medicine 48:1291-1299, 1999.

Gorski T. Should religion and spiritual concerns be more influential in health care? No. Priorities 12(1):23-26, 41, 2000.

jonathan said...

Mr. Ball, you should probably change the title of this post to:

Proximity Prayer Heals The Sick: Evidence On How To Run An Experiment To Prove Your Preconcieved Belief

This was not science. This was the anthithesis of science.

Joe_Agnost said...

Damn you P&J!! Ruining a perfectly good lie with your actual science... how dare you!? ;)

Seriously Ball - this is just sad.

If you want to learn why this study is an example of anti-science, and if you want to learn how this study could have been tweaked to actually show ~something~ of value (I know you don't want either btw) then take a look at:

RkBall said...

Many of the studies were from a distance, and were setup as controlled studies, which is not exactly the best way to test for the actions of an Agent, who may well decide not to cooperate.

This study, by way of contrast, was of Christians ministering in the field in real-world ministry situations, using hands-on methods -- a context in which God is much more likely to "show up".

Joe_Agnost said...

This whole excercise was a sham from the start!! You can't walk into a room full of god-fearing christians and expect to run a prayer experiment in any meaningful way.
They are VERY VERY biased into the idea that prayers work. That's not how you conduct a ~meaningful~ experiment.

Ball wrote: "...a context in which God is much more likely to 'show up'."

Exactly! This statement alone invalidates the legitimacy of this "experiment".

To quote PZ, the study is useless becuase: "No controls, experiment not done double-blind or even single-blind, a small number (24) of subjects self-selected from a suggestible population predisposed to demonstrate an effect."

That last part is particulary damning: "subjects self-selected from a suggestible population predisposed to demonstrate an effect."

It's a joke and if you had an ounce of intellectual honesty you would admit as much.

Anonymous said...

Tiny sample, no scientific methodology, no control group -- under these conditions you could prove ANY idea, no matter how unscientific. And in fact many pseudoscientists have done just that -- using similar set-ups to 'prove' telepathy, homoeopathy, reincarnation and who knows what else.

Congrats Ricky, the study you're touting has just turned prayer into just another parlor trick.

P@J said...

May I humbly suggest an edit:

"...have just exposed prayer as the parlor trick it has always been"

Anonymous said...


No, prayer-as-meditation, or prayer-as-personal-religious-experience is not a "parlor trick". It may not have any objective reality, but it has just as much subjective reality as any other religious practice or experience, and arguably the same level of subjective reality as an atheist's experience of subjective "meaning, purpose, and values".

RkBall said...

The sad thing is to see so many commentators who would rather see needy Africans remain sick than for God to be real and him to exhibit his healing power.

When the evidence comes in, you want it to be bogus; you need it to be bogus; you cannot allow it to be anything but bogus.

At least stop pretending to be objective.

Anonymous said...

No Ricky "the sad thing" is the money wasted on this badly malformed 'experiment', which could have been used to buy life-saving medicines.

Further, it was "bogus" long before we got out hands on it -- extraordinary claims based upon considerably-less-than-ordinary scientific rigour. If you don't expect such things to evoke profound skepticism then you truly are extraordinarily naive.

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball wrote: "The sad thing is to see so many commentators who would rather see needy Africans remain sick than for God to be real and him to exhibit his healing power."

Wow. You really don't have a clue do you?? What a waste of a mind...

Anonymous said...

I call Gish Gallop on this thread for Rick's failure to address (i) the fundamental and fatal shortcomings of this study & (ii) the fact that similarly-flawed studies have been used to purportedly prove all sorts of paranormal beliefs, most of which (e.g. reincarnation) would contradict Rick's beliefs (making his defence of this study an example of a Special Pleading fallacy).

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"