Critique of Prayer Studies, and Science – Part 9 of Why Pray?


The ridiculous opposition between science and religion.

We believe from compelling evidence that prayer works. There are things that we cannot explain by science. But does God only exist where science has no answer? When science learns more, does God disappear? Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by the Nazis, said: “We have to find God in what we know, not in what we do not know. “

Evolucionismo Teísta by Felipe Ligeiro FL on Wikipedia

What we do know is that even though things do happen that we cannot explain, we actually find God in our daily lives because of the effects of letting love work in us and in others. This translates into the transformation of people. God’s intervention in nature is rare and has always been considered rare. But the answered prayer has always been the fulfilled expectation.

So why the collision of science and religion?

We are our own worst enemy when it comes to faith. It is very difficult for many to accept that there is anything beyond the world that can be seen. We don’t live in the ancient world where myths were easy to believe and people would dig up dead relatives and plant stakes in their vampire hearts. We live in a world where science and philosophy say, “Not so fast! Let’s take a look at this and put it for scientific review.

Some in science have the attitude that if they can’t feel it, measure it, repeat it, then it doesn’t exist. This means that they cannot accept any evidence beyond the microscope and they do not seek.

It’s not just science – we are often the same

Can we rely on prayer, and can it be subjected to scientific study, truth and experience?

Does science even apply? Religion and science are two very different fields. Science is involved in the investigation and exploitation of the physical world to improve our lives. Religion helps us understand how to live together and treat each other. Science examines and guides the material world. Religion examines and guides the moral and ethical world. It is not for one to deny the other. But people are trying. They use philosophy and science to try to undo people’s belief in God.

Prayer Studies

The National Institutes of Health (United States government) collects scientific studies on prayer. Studies are contradictory. Why? Perhaps that is the nature of studies. Science is very demanding. Medical studies are carried out under very strict standards and are generally very reliable. The FDA and doctors are still probing issues to make sure they stay that way.

It’s easy to skew a study. If the search does not involve enough people or the researcher selects the wrong endpoint, the results may mistakenly indicate the personal opinions of the researchers. In medicine, many doctors who are not early adopters (who quickly try new things) will wait for the drug to be used for years before trying it, as they know studies may not say everything. there is to know about the long term effects. The longer and longer the trial, the greater the risks and individual differences. This guides the prescribing of drugs to at-risk groups.

Contrary to prayer expectations, how reliable is science?

It is interesting to note that in soft sciences like psychology and economics, where methodological rigor, perceived accuracy and objectivity are less considered, about 50% of studies in psychology and 30% in economics cannot be reproduced with the same result.

For example, in psychology, an immediate supply of students is often used in experiments, and the results can be very different for the elderly. And in economics, the starting and ending points are often falsified to give the researcher the result he wants. Findings like these are now seen as a replication crisis in scientific research.

Even the hard sciences like physics admit exceptions, which are considered as other fields of research. Yet one way or another, soft science studies still have global credibility.

Difficulty designing studies on prayer

I think designing studies to assess the effectiveness of prayer is more difficult than people think. For example, these old people who have reached the end of their life and who are dying, will they be healed by prayer? I have doubts about most of them. Should I have gone ahead and spent twelve years becoming a psychiatrist, supported by the prayers of others, just to find out that I had chosen the wrong profession? That’s a lot of time invested in the wrong profession.

A study in hypertension asks if interventional prayer can lower blood pressure. That kind of means, does God grant the prayer requests to remove the plaque buildup in the arteries? I would say the mountains usually stay still, but I can’t say this with confidence – the heart has multiple ways of controlling blood pressure. What is the specific path evaluated?

My wife’s father prayed for a living to see her complete her high school education. He had several heart attacks and had one while being monitored in a hospital. The clot created a new hole in the plaque which allowed it to continue to live. It must be close to a miracle. Never say never. Just say, “Unlikely, but we can try. “

Subtle influences on the body

We know that the mind influences the health of the body. An article in Health.com, Can Negative Thinking Make You Sick? Said: “Take cynicism, for example: A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology linked high levels of cynicism later in life, i.e. a general distrust of people (and their motivations ), at a higher risk of dementia compared to those who were more confident, even after taking into account other risk factors like age, sex, certain markers of heart health, smoking status, etc. . And, “the more cynical participants were more likely to have heart disease than the less cynical. Women who were more pessimistic also had a higher risk of dying during the study period, compared to those who were more optimistic about humanity. “

An 80-year Harvard study found that a major influence on our health is our state of mind. Their article, Good genes is good, but joy is better, talks about it.

We are beginning to understand the more subtle influences on our health. Perhaps instead of designing studies of moving mountains, we need to look at more subtle avenues when designing experiments on the effectiveness of prayer. After all, God speaks to us through a soft little voice, not through thunder.

The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), formed by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, explores the most subtle influences in measurable ways, with rigid scientific controls. Between that and scientific research into quantum mechanics, science may begin to better understand how subtle things work, at least indeed, if not by identifying the hidden mechanisms.

The power of prayer

God guides us, but it is our choice of how we react to make a difference. The hills of the world, if not the mountains, are moved by our hands, inspired by our faith in God. Pray, have faith, but expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Earn points

Many scientists are religious, but many are critical of religion. Scientific studies allow exceptions, and in the soft sciences of psychology and economics, they are not that reliable.

The hills of the world, if not the mountains, are moved by our hands, inspired by our faith in God.

Pray and continue to communicate with God. That works.

Next in the series

Science and Philosophy have their own standard: 100% Part 10 of Why Pray?

Our answer is God. God’s answer is us. Together we make the world a better place.

– Dorien

Other Patheos Writers on Prayer