Sunday, February 7, 2010
Published in March of 2007, this article is about prayer and the possibility that it may, in fact, have some effect in the real world. The article focuses on the work of David Hodge, an assistant professor of social work at Arizona State University. Hodge conducted a comprehensive analysis of 17 major studies on the effects of "intercessory prayer," or prayer that is offered for the benefit of another person. He maintains that the conclusion he reached shows that there is an overall positive effect from intercessory prayer. According to Hodge, by analyzing these 17 past experiments, which all had varying results, he took into account the entire body of empirical research on intercessory prayer. That is to say that the 17 experiments from which Hodge drew his conclusion from account for every experiment ever conducted on the topic of intercessory prayer. That is a fairly small pool of data to collect from if one considers the magnitude of claims he is making. The reader isn't even enlightened as to what the studies are that Hodge got his information from. For all we know they could have been conducted by the Pope himself. That minor detail aside, we are also unaware of what I feel to be a very important aspect of the experiments: were the people who were being prayed for aware that they were being prayed for? If so, the fact that they were aware that someone was out there praying for them may have acted like a placebo of sorts. Even if only the subjects of half of the experiments were aware that someone was praying for them, I feel that it would be enough to nullify Hodge's results. Also, I find it hard to ignore the fact that the results of Hodge's experiment would most likely only serve to provide more ammunition to the Religious Right, and last time I checked the last thing they needed was more ammunition. I am not anti prayer or religion by any means, I just think its a little bit asinine to try and compartmentalize something like praying for a loved one's well being. The results of some "meta-analysis" aren't going to change anyone's mind either way if they already have an opinion on the subject of prayer. And isn't part of the allure of religion the fact that it defies all science and logic, and yet some people still feel its effect on their lives? Regardless, I have a difficult time believing any "Systematic Review" on this subject conducted by "a leading expert on spirituality and religion" at one of the biggest party schools in the country in one of the reddest red states of all time.