Sunday, April 02, 2006

You can't control for God

A study about the effect of prayer on patients made the news last week. The American Heart Journal published an article with these conclusions:
Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG (coronary artery bypass graft), but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.
The study used about 600 people who were told they were going to be prayed for, and about 1,200 people were told they might or might not be prayed for. Of those, about 600 were prayed for by strangers in one of three Christian groups. The others weren't prayed for among those groups. The results:
In the two groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not ... . Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer ... . Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the three groups.
While the study focused on heart patients, stroke patients have an interest, too. As someone who was prayed for and recovered, I'd say that among the newspaper stories about this, The Christian Science Monitor's Gregory M. Lamb gave it the best perspective:
The results of a long-awaited scientific study aimed at measuring the effect of third-party prayer for hospitalized patients not only did not match the expectations of those conducting the study, but also may have raised more questions for researchers than it answered. Among them: Can even the most carefully designed trial measure prayer's effects?
A good question, all right. Those who believe will continue to pray. Those who don't believe will use the study as ammunition against both the type of prayer studied -- those done by strangers, and only for 14 days -- and, often, other types of prayer as well.

For example, the blog offers from insight from regular contributor Mollie Ziegler:

...Rob Stein in the Washington Post:

Praying for other people to recover from an illness is ineffective, according to the largest, best-designed study to examine the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

... (I)t makes it seem like the study proves all prayer is ineffective — which is much more broad than the study itself purports.

Anyway, I know the unemployed, sick and dying at my church will still be prayed for. Speaking of lead paragraphs, this satirical one made me laugh:

A team of scientists today ended a 10-year study on the so-called “power of prayer” by concluding that God cannot be manipulated by humans, not even by scientists with a $2.4 million research grant.

I like the last one, too. Consider it this way: Researchers can't control for God; God controls us.