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Intercessory prayer has no effect on cardiac bypass patients

The latest study of the effects of intercessory prayer on patients undergoing cardiac bypass surgery shows no reduction in complications. In fact, patients who were certain of receiving prayer actually did worse than those who were uncertain.

This is the conclusion of a large study carried out over almost 10 years at six US hospitals and is published in the current issue of the American Heart Journal (vol. 151, Issue 4, pp. 934-942). The study was directed by Dr Herbert Benson, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School. Benson has long been sympathetic to the idea that intercessory prayer may be effective, so the conclusions of his study are all the more significant.

Some earlier studies were more positive for the effectiveness of prayer but are said to have been flawed in various ways, including probable fraud in one instance.

I should have thought myself that the whole basis of such trials is highly questionable. They assume the existence of a supremely powerful being (God) and implicitly suppose that He will be willing to participate in the clinical trial in order to prove His existence. This surely introduces a huge unknown variable right at the outset. An example, surely, of a category mistake?

Studies of this kind seem to me about as sensible as those experiments carried out years ago in which dying people and animals were placed on scales in an attempt to register the weight loss that would occur as their souls left their bodies. In other words, they are completely meaningless.

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