Argument 2: Statistically analyze prayer


Studies on prayer

Regarding studies on the subject of prayer the author cites at least three of them. Let us view one of Richard Dawkins’ studies that he refers to in his book ‘The God Delusion’. The basic idea is the same to what the author cites in his second argument.

In this study Dawkins focuses primarily on a prayer experiment in which 1800 heart patients were divided into three groups. Group 1 received prayers and didn’t know it, group 2 received no prayers and didn’t know it, and group 3 received prayers and did know it. The results of the experiment suggested that the prayers that were offered by others for groups 1 and 3 did not show successful results regarding their surgery or recovery. Basically, the author in the same fashion as Dawkins, insinuates that such an experiment proves that prayer is useless and the Bible’s and Jesus’ teaching is fallacious, hence false. Obviously, and predictably, Dawkins goes on his tirade about religious people having blind faith and so on, especially in prayer.

However, in argument one we saw the qualifiers required for effective prayer, we saw that effective prayer takes:

-Prayer in Jesus’s name.
-Prayer in accordance to God’s will.
-Perseverance in prayer.
-The avoidance of selfish desire and intentions.
-Belief in God.
-Powerful faith.

These qualifiers were not taken into account with any of the prayer studies cited. In other words, how are we to get accurate results when a blatant disregard for the criteria of successful prayer is not heeded? We wont get accurate results. If you want to scientifically study Christian prayer, these factors need to be taken into account – this is not unique to prayer, this is all encompassing of any scientific experiment.

The impossibility of such a study:

How are we meant to get accurate results when we only know very little about those involved in the prayer study on a personal level? How are we meant to know how faithful a Christian they really are? I’ve met many people claiming to be Christians yet who deny miracles – how can they be Christians when the center of their belief rests on Jesus’ resurrection, which is a miracle. According to Biblical theology God has a plan for all of us – what if God’s plan is to take some lives of those within the prayer group because, according to God, their time on Earth is up? How can we measure the faithfulness of those praying for the groups that are being prayed for? How do know to who the above criteria listed applies to in a positive way? We have no way to answer any of these deeply personal questions.

It is because of these reasons that a negative result to a study that has taken little into account of what Biblical prayer actually is does not render it ineffective. Either one, two, or more of these prayer qualifiers are missing in the studies cited by the author.

Putting God to the test:

According to the Bible we are told not to put God to the test. In fact, trying to prove or falsify God’s answering of prayers is to do exactly that, no wonder this might be an additional reason why these studies are skewed in their results. When Jesus was confronted by Satan we read:

“And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'” (Luke 4:12)

We also read in the Old Testament: “Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah.”

In Exodus 17:2 it says: “So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

To think of it logically, the sceptic should also see this, is that if God created man as his prized creation, it would follow that he probably would not like them to try and prove/disprove him via scientific studies on prayer. God is the creator and sustainer of all life and the universe, and he certainly does not want to be manipulated and tested.

Prayer to gods:

The author comments:

“It does not matter if we pray to God, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Ra or any other human god.”

As we have seen so far in this rebuttal to point two, as well as the entire first argument he provided, the application of some scientific studies as well as the author’s arguments to the effectiveness of prayer in the Christian sense is fallacious. To be honest, other gods like Zues, Allah, Mithras etc. need to be argued against on their grounds, and thus I think for the author to just outright assume that prayer to all gods does not work is blind faith. How does he know that prayer to “any other human god” does not provide fruit for the believers in those gods? How does he know that the Christian God is the only true God that needs disproving to disprove all gods altogether? He doesn’t, he assumes so on blind faith. For the Christian the answer is already there, other gods are false because the one true God has revealed this to his people, the atheist has no such luxury and thus it takes more faith for the atheist than the theist to accept this.

A positive scientific study:

Of course the author of the article isn’t interested in being totally transparent. One scientific prayer study provided positive results (see medical journal, and see full study). According to the study:

“Over ten months, 393 patients admitted to the CCU were randomized, after signing informed consent, to an intercessory prayer group (192 patients) or to a control group (201 patients). While hospitalized, the first group received IP by participating Christians praying outside the hospital; the control group did not. At entry, chi-square and stepwise logistic analysis revealed no statistical difference between the groups. After entry, all patients had follow-up for the remainder of the admission. The IP group subsequently had a significantly lower severity score based on the hospital course after entry (P less than .01). Multivariant analysis separated the groups on the basis of the outcome variables (P less than .0001)”

This study was published in medical literature, and is can be accessed via the Pubmed database. The end result was that:

“These data suggest that intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a beneficial therapeutic effect in patients admitted to a CCU.”

How convenient was it that the author left this out for his purpose?

In conclusion:

What we have seen is that the author has disregarded any of the qualifiers for powerful Christian prayer. The same can be said of the three or so studies he cited in his argument. This shows that one cannot conduct scientific experiments if the basic factors aren’t noted before doing so – no wonder the results may be in the negative and skewed. That hardly warrants the position to reject prayer and brand it pointless. Also, the author has failed to note that there actually has been a successful scientific prayer study regarding the Christian God. Regarding the other gods, Mithras, Zeus etc, the Christian would rightfully expect that no positive traits would manifest in prayer to them – but what the author has done is blindly reject them all – this is blind faith. All in all, this is a classic non-sequitur. I say this as just because prayer doesn’t seem to be answered the way we expect it to be answered it doesn’t therefore follow that prayer doesn’t work.


One response to “Argument 2: Statistically analyze prayer

  1. Stepping on the cloth border of a tatami mat brings bad luck.


    It is bad luck if a widow, a single Brahman, or a man carrying oil or milk crosses your path.


    It is bad luck for a black cat to cross your path.

    —United States

    I have frequently been told the following by conservative Christians in support of their belief in the existence of the supernatural (God, devils, angels, demons, etc..) : “Miracles prove the existence of the supernatural. Millions of people all over the world claim to have experienced miracles, in particular, miracles due to answered prayer. How can so many people be wrong??? At least some of these millions of miracle claims must be true.”

    My response: Billions of people all over the world, today and for millennia in the past, believe that they have experienced bad luck due to intentionally or unintentionally violating a particular taboo in their culture. How did these beliefs (taboos) come about? I will bet that most of these beliefs began when one person experienced a horrific calamity immediately after having a cat cross the road, stepping on a tatami mat, or not having a cactus in front of his house like all his neighbors. The person who suffered the calamity made the claim to his neighbors that the one event had caused the other. Soon other people (who had heard of the circumstances of the first person’s misfortune) experienced misfortune under similar circumstances, reinforcing the belief in that village that some causal relationship exists between a black cat crossing in front of you, etc., and bad fortune. And soon, this belief spread to the surrounding villages, then the surrounding districts of the country, until one day this belief was an established belief in the entire country. And voila…a cultural taboo (superstition) was born!

    If every time a black cat crossed in front of someone, a terrible event happened, everyone would believe that black cats cause bad luck. If bad events never happened after crossing paths with a black cat, no one would believe this claim. But that isn’t the case, is it? Bad events do sometimes happen after crossing paths with a black cat. The reality is that bad events happen after crossing paths with black cats just often enough for some people in our culture, particularly in the past, and maybe even now, to believe that there is a causal relationship between black cats and misfortune (bad luck).

    I suggest that the same is true with answered prayers and miracles. The desired prayer outcome occurs just often enough after a Christian prays for him (for her) to believe that there is a causal relationship between prayer and good things happening. Even Christians must admit that not all prayers are answered. I would wager to bet that if Christians were honest, they would be forced to admit that most prayers are not answered (unless you insist on including prayers for your food to remain safe for consumption and prayers that every member of your family will still be alive at bedtime tonight.) And I will bet that if each Christian would take the time to sit down and write down all their prayer requests for the last month (excluding safe food consumption and family safety), they would find that the success rate of prayer would be no better than random chance.

    In conclusion, the fact that millions of people believe that they have experienced a miracle due to prayer is no more proof that miracles are real or that prayer is effective, than the fact that billions of people believe that misfortune (bad luck) has struck them due to their violation of a particular cultural taboo. Both bad luck and miracles can be explained by statistics: Random, sometimes very rare, but very natural events.

    It’s all about random chance, folks. There are no invisible superheroes performing magic tricks for you.

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