Sunday, February 7, 2010

Does God Answer Prayer?

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.


Kris said...

Well to play devil's advocate, who is to say that prayer is definately of a placebo effect? Hodge was not the only person who decided to challenge this subject. Although these studies are not publicly known because of controversy of religion, many studies have shown the effects of the belief of a higher being.In studies like Munson and Degelman's study on intercessory prayer, they show positive effects on the patients in comparison to those who dont believe in it. Being around that type of environment where ive seen both those who believe and dont believe in it, i have seen how intercessory prayer do make a difference. As a question to think about, if one was to believe that yoga can improve the body by channeling energy , whereas one who dont believe it but still get good results from it, wouldnt you consider that the energy of the exercise have some form of influence? What in that situation then should we dismiss the study of Hodge?

ejoseph said...

There is a constant need to “prove” or “validate” religious matters of prayer and practice. This article in the Times interviews Psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Klitzman, whom brought up his intern period, recalling a senior psychiatrist saying to a patient that he would “pray for” her. He was skeptical of this, especially because overall doctors seem to be less religious than their patients. Dr. Klitzman brings up that a life changing element, like a death in the family or an illness can cause one to reconsider their religious beliefs. Personally I think that religion in general gives a sense of purpose to a person, some kind of hope or belonging to something larger than their individual person. If through prayer someone is to find comfort in a hard period of their life, then so be it. As long as their beliefs are not forced upon anyone else, are not harmful or even affecting anyone else, what jurisdiction do we have over it? Dr. Klitzman reports, “Some doctors felt that prayer can directly alter the physical process of healing through God’s intervention. [Dr. Klitzman] My view is that prayer and faith give vital strength and motivation that can help patients cope and continue to fight.” I don’t know if a medical testing of prayer is even appropriate to measure effectiveness, maybe a measure of mood and ability to fight is more appropriate.

link to article:

allie said...

I agree with you, Zoe, and had the same thoughts you expressed as I was reading your post. My initial thought on the topic was that, yes, prayer could work, but not in a religious sense by any means (I am, however, a devout atheist). I could 100% believe that prayer works as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Especially this "intercessory prayer." If you know that someone is hoping for you to get better, so much so that they are looking to a higher power, I could definitely see that aiding in a positive outcome to an illness or dilemma, etc. whatever people pray for. It just seems like mind games really. Well, the whole concept of God does. It's just a means to make people feel better, and well, if it does, then more power to 'em, I suppose.