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March 31, 2006

Prayer Worthless! -- 3

Let's forget for a moment the "faith-is-not-something-that-can-be-investigated-by-science" talk that will inevitably follow reports on this study showing that prayer by strangers does not help before a heart operation. What does the fact that the study was done tell us about the moment in which we live?

1. That ours is a time when many people still take such ridiculous assumptions seriously enough so that money (including US government money) and energy are devoted to studying them.

2. That, despite all the talk of religious revivals and resurgent orthodoxy, the relentless assault of science and scholarship upon superstition continues.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at March 31, 2006 3:47 PM



This is a little off-topic, but related to "all the talk of religious revivals and resurgent orthodoxy."

I think comics pages in the newspaper breed this sort of populist revival with sappy Hallmark Card spirituality and Evagelical Christian cartoonists like Johnny Hart at B.C. using the comics page as a pulpit.

What happens when the cartoonists turn atheist like this Non Sequitur comic today?

Posted by: Jason Boog at March 31, 2006 3:47 PM


Further admission that god is not a testable hypothesis.

Posted by: pablo at March 31, 2006 3:57 PM

Thanks Jason. Really enjoyed and recommend that "Non Sequitur" comic.

Anyone have any cites for B.C., or other comics, religious proselytizing?

Posted by: mitch at April 1, 2006 11:28 AM

It seems to me that the assumption that such a question could be approached in this way is far more ridiculous and dangerous that the belief itself.

I finally worked my way backwards to the USA Today study report. The experiment has a big hole in it. If I read correctly it had three experimental conditions, Not told not prayed for, not told but prayed for, and prayed for and told. If the had included the fourth possible condition, not prayed for but told that they were prayed for, they could immediately answer the question of whether being told one was being prayed for could or could not be a stressor that caused the discrepancy. Not filling in the fourth cell of the question invalidates the conclusion, but to do so would have been increasing the deceptiveness or artificiality of the study to the point of cruel comedy. The data appears to be happenstantial so that the study could never be more than suggestive. From one remark in the article it is clear that the experimental "situation" was extremely casual. This experiment if taken seriously leads us to the conclusion that a further experiment is needed to decide whether or not we can harm people by praying
for their recovery.

Posted by: mark shulgasser at April 10, 2006 2:40 PM

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