The Science of Prayer; Livin’ on a Prayer (Part 1)

“I’ve got science for any occasion, postulating theorems, formulating equations.”  –Beastie Boys

Today and in the future I want to start looking at prayer from a variety of different angles.  Today we’ll look at some of the past scientific studies that have been done on prayer.  Can science actually confirm or deny the effectiveness of prayer with any degree of accuracy?  Let’s take a look at some of the results and see what we can find.

The excerpt below is from The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

“Since the late 1980s, however, there have been more than 130 studies of the effects of prayer published in medical and other professional journals.  Many of these have been set up under the most careful of scientific controls, and some have even involved prayer for nonhuman living things.  Perhaps the most well known is the one by Randolph Byrd at the University of California San Francisco Medical School, published in 1988.  It dealt with 393 coronary care patients who had heart attacks or severe symptoms.  It was a double-blind study; neither the patients nor the medical staff caring for them knew who was being prayed for and who was not.

The results were so impressive that every major television network and newspaper in the United States reported them in some detail.  Of the group prayed for, significantly fewer died, fewer required the use of the most potent drugs, and not one had to be put on life support.  These results, along with many other studies, are discussed in great detail by Larry Dossey, M.D., in his Healing Words.

Dossey also reports on prayer experiments with nonhuman forms of life, such as germinating seeds, plants and bacteria.  Also, distance was found to have no bearing on the effects of prayer.  Prayer was as effective for things on the other side of the earth as for things nearby.  It continued to be effective when the object was enclosed in a lead-lined box that shuts out all forms of physical energy – waves, particles, and so on.

Finally, in Dossey’s interpretation of the research material, it does not matter, within broad limits, how you pray or to whom you pray.  There is no how-to in the sense of methodical procedure (Willard, 247-248).”

Another excellent book examining the scientific effects of prayer in several “prayer therapy groups,” is Prayer Can Change Your Life by William R. Parker, of Redlands University in California

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