Praying in a double-blind trial

Report and a little comment of Diploma mathematician Ulrich Meyer, St.Goar, Feb. 2014                                          Homepage Ulrich Meyer in Deutsch

A study in the U.S. examined the effect of praying in a disease process.

This is a translation from German language and therefore it may be not perfect.

In medical research, new drugs are tested the most by a double-blind trial. There the half of a group of people which shall test the potential of a new drug to help against disease, get this drug over a period of time. The other half of this group get in the trial period placebos, an ineffective completely neutral substance. The patients do not know whether they are getting a drug or something ineffective. They are "blind". A double-blind trial is the test, if the testing doctors do not know what patients receive drug and which receive a placebo, i.e. the doctors are "blind".

A few years ago there was attempt in the U.S. to explore the healing possibilities of prayer in a kind of a double-blind trial. This study cost $ 2.4 million, were the most of the money came from the Templeton Foundation, which has set itself the task to explore the big questions of science, metaphysics and religion, and from the Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation of Memphis. It is interesting to know, that the U.S. government has spent from 2000 to 2006 approximately $ 2.3 million for the study of prayer!!! This Prayer study, code-named "STEP", which come from "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer" was conducted by the cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind / Body Medical Institute Boston at six hospitals from Oklahoma City to Boston with 1802 bypass patients. The patients were divided into three groups, and all knew that they participate in the prayer test. For the first group of 605 patients there was prayed while for the 597 patients in group 2 there was not prayed. The people in the groups 1 and 2 did not know, whether there was praying for them or not. For the third and last group of 600 patients there was prayed and they knew this. The praying was made in three communities in Minnesota, Massachusetts and Missouri far away from the clinics of the patients from whom the people, who pray, knew only the first name and the first letter of the surname. The praying people should not change their religious habits in praying. But a scientific test should have a certain standard. Therefore, the praying people should request "for a successful surgery with faster recovery and no complications" included in their prayers.

The result of the full STEP report was published on 4 April 2006 in the American Heart Journal. It was partly as expected. In group 1, there were 52 per cent of those operated with complications and in group 2 were 51 per cent, i.e. the praying had no effect on complication-free recovery. What was surprising, was the result of group 3, that there were 59 percent with complications. So praying and knowledge of the patient that there is praying for them, had rather negative effect on the recovery. The scientists reasoned that a certain stress had come to group 3 by their knowledge that there is praying for them. These patients probably had concerned about her recovery, because that there are prayers necessary for them.

The opinion of many theologians to this study can be imagined. They don't like it. The Oxford theologian Richard Swing Burne said: "God hear prayers only if they would speak of any valid reason. To pray for the one and not for the other, simply because the die had been cast in the planning of a double-blind experiment, is not a basic reason. God will comprehend this."

There were other criticisms of the study due to possible interference. Thus, the patients would be exposed not only to the prayers of the religious people of the three communities, but also to all prayers for sickness around the world, which could cause distortion. In a new study of a prayer test therefore there should be asked the rest of the world for a prayer break for a duration during the test. This may exclude possible interference from external prayers. So it is clear, the problem is taken seriously. Maybe one day there will be also health concerns because of the "Prayer smog" by the growing population of currently more than 7 billion people on earth as the same in the electromagnetic pollution.

Now every reader is left to form his own opinion on the subject.

The whole talking is no April Fool's joke, as one can be see by the sources listed below.


Havard Gazette: Prayers don't help heart surgery patients Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients
Medscape: Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients

The book: "The God Delusion" of Richard Dawkins

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