MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

An intercessory prayer (IP) is an intervention characterized by one or more individuals praying for the well-being or a positive outcome of another person. There have been several trials of IP, but the evidence is far from clear-cut. Perhaps this new study will bring clarity?

The goal of this double-blind RCT was to assess the effects of intercessory prayer on psychological, spiritual and biological scores of breast 31 cancer patients who were undergoing radiotherapy (RT). The experimental group was prayed for, while the controla group received no such treatment. The intercessory prayer was performed by a group of six Christians, who prayed daily during 1 h while participant where under RT. The prayers asked for calm, peace, harmony and recovery of health and spiritual well-being of all participants. Data collection was performed in three time points (T0, T1 and T2).

Significant changes were noted in the intra-group analysis, concerning the decrease in spiritual distress score; negative religious/spiritual coping prevailed, while the total religious/spiritual coping increased between the posttest T2 to T0.

The authors concluded that begging a higher being for health recovery is a common practice among people, regardless of their spirituality and religiosity. In this study, this practice was performed through intercessory prayer, which promoted positive health effects, since spiritual distress and negative spiritual coping have reduced. Also, spiritual coping has increased, which means that participants facing difficult situations developed strategies to better cope and solve the problems. Given the results related to the use of intercession prayer, as a complementary therapeutic intervention, holistic nursing care should integrate this intervention, which is included in the Nursing Interventions Classification. Additionally, further evidence and research is needed about the effect of this nursing spiritual intervention in other cultures, in different clinical settings and with larger samples.

The write-up of this study is very poor and most confusing – so much so that I find it hard to make sense of the data provided. If I understand it correctly, the positive findings relate to changes within the experimental group. As RCTs are about compating one group to another, these changes are irrelevant. Therefore (and for several other methodological flaws as well), the conclusion that IP generates positive effects is not warranted by these new findings.

Like all other forms of paranormal healing, IP is implausible and lacks support of clinical effectiveness.

40 Responses to Prayer as a therapy: a new randomised study

  • “IP is implausible”?
    The correct statement is “IP is impossible” because it is premised on the existence of a deity which, as we know, is self-evidently untrue.

    When someone produces some REAL evidence of a celestial fairy, research, such as this, may have a reason to be conducted. Until then, it is is a complete waste of time and money.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for such evidence.

    • “IP is impossible” because it is premised on the existence of a deity which, as we know, is self-evidently untrue

      It goes against the scientific method to describe anything as self-evident. The existence of a deity, or not, is a matter of faith, and is outside the realm of science, not least because it cannot be tested. Your proclamation of faith is all very well, but you should recognise it as such.

      The power of prayer, however, is readily amenable to investigation, if anybody was prepared to take the trouble to design a study properly.

      You are straying onto dangerous territory when you challenge other people’s religious beliefs. These are deeply-held and are fundamental to self-identity. They are not amenable to reason, and differences in religious practices, however subtle, have been responsible for untold bloodshed. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses know that they are never going to argue someone out of being Jewish. Why this should be is an interesting area of study but I would have thought outside the remit of this blog.

      Many scientists are religious, and this has not prevented them from making important contributions to scientific knowledge.

      You clearly have an axe to grind, but please be aware that is offensive to insult somebody for their religious beliefs, and it demeans the person doing so.

      • @Dr Julian Money-Kyrle

        You state your case with much force and passion, but I’m going to disagree ever so politely.

        The existence of a deity, or not, is a matter of faith, and is outside the realm of science, not least because it cannot be tested.

        That is because people with faith in a particular deity seem to be reluctant to define the word with sufficient precision to allow for it to be tested or measured. Once a property of a deity is defined, e.g. “an entity that responds with interventions to intercessionary prayers”, then this can be scientifically tested, as your very next sentence confirms.

        You are straying onto dangerous territory when you challenge other people’s religious beliefs.
        These are deeply-held and are fundamental to self-identity.

        Maybe so. To judge from some of the comments on this blog, exactly the same thing applies to some people’s deeply held beliefs in approaches to medical treatment that are supported by unsound rationales, lack of evidence of efficacy, etc. It has often been pointed out that only a very fine line of differentiation divides faith in a SCAM and faith in a deity.

        Besides, what about atheists? There’s a very high proportion of folk nowadays who simply profess zero faith in any deity. While I’ve heard people say “well, atheism is a religion, too” (ditto “science”), it seems to me that not believing in a god is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby. I know people for whom religious faith is so far from their experience and upbringing that they are genuinely surprised to discover others for whom such beliefs “are deeply-held and are fundamental to self-identity”.

        Superstition is superstition. “Faith” about something freely admits rejection of critical thought on that topic. I see belief in a deity as part of the continuum that comprises the mix of reason and unreason we all possess to a greater or lesser extent. Many comments on this very blog make it clear that it can be offensive to insult somebody for their belief in a pseudo-medical therapy.

        You, Julian, are by far the best example of someone who posts here from profound knowledge of what you’re talking about and who is extremely careful not to give offence. But I’ve noticed a very slight fall recently even in your tone when you are responding for the umpteenth time to someone who’s taking no notice of anything you originally told them politely! 🙂

        • I’ve noticed a very slight fall recently even in your tone when you are responding for the umpteenth time to someone who’s taking no notice

          Thank-you for your encouragement. There is a discussion on another thread which is getting steadily more heated and personal, but you have persuaded me not to post a comment to the effect that somebody should take the two main protagonists and bang their heads together. I could not have shown such self-restraint on my own.

      • Dear Dr. Money-Kyrle,
        I have great respect for your contributions on this blog and admire your patience and your profound knowledge of evidence-based medicine.
        However, when you say
        “They [religious beliefs] are not amenable to reason, and differences in religious practices, however subtle, have been responsible for untold bloodshed. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses know that they are never going to argue someone out of being Jewish.”
        then you are simply wrong.

        In fact, many examples exist where even devout followers of a religion lost their belief in the supernatural when they started to apply critical thinking.
        Some famous examples are Richard Dawkins, Matt Dillahunty, Michael Shermer, Salman Rushdie, etc. If you are interested, you can find a list of other ex-believers here:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_nontheism

        Your statement reminds me of the popular saying:” You cannot reason someone out of something he or she was not reasoned into.” Although this sounds intuitive, this is NOT true, as these (any many more, less famous) examples demonstrate.
        You are certainly correct when you say that many people hold their religious beliefs deeply, but this cannot mean that religious beliefs should be exempt from rational critique by skeptics. It is, however, important to aim the critique at the belief, and not just insult the believer.
        It might sound harsh, but I think if a believer feels demeaned by a rationally justified question, then he/she should stop whining and start thinking about why they hold this belief… and if holding this belief is justify.

        • But its also true that there are many scientists who have done the reverse and adopted strong religious beliefs after some life-changing revelation:
          Gunther Scheizle
          Eben Alexander
          Pim van Lommel
          Francis Collins
          Andrew Pinsent
          Stanley Jaki
          Mike Hulme
          Ian Hutchinson
          Jennifer Wiseman
          Andrew Harman
          to name just a few…..

          • Dear Martin Smith,
            I agree, many (even highly intelligent) scientist hold religious beliefs (the phenomenon of a person being able of holding contradictory beliefs is sometimes referred to as “cognitive dissonance”).
            It should be pointed out though that these scientists do NOT apply the scientific methods for arriving at -or proving- their supernatural beliefs (this is by definition not possible, since science only deals with the natural world).
            So the examples that you mention (I am somewhat familiar with the peculiar story of Prof. Collins), are not prove of anything, except that smart people can also be self-deceptive and can be smart when justifying their irrationality.

          • @ Martin Smith on Monday 18 November 2019 at 23:46

            Is there a point other than even some scientists can be delusional?

        • Jashak,

          Thank-you for your kind words. I am not sure how much I have done to deserve them, but I certainly feel similarly about your contributions.

          many examples exist where even devout followers of a religion lost their belief in the supernatural when they started to apply critical thinking

          I’m tempted to wonder how many of them lost their faith first and then learned to think critically later on.

          Some famous examples are Richard Dawkins, Matt Dillahunty, Michael Shermer, Salman Rushdie, etc.

          I’m not sure that these are very good examples. Being raised in a faith is not the same thing as having a strong belief in it, and it is hardly rare for somebody to hold different religious views from their parents.

          Some of the other examples in the Wikipedia list you link to are just daft:

          Ricky Gervais – gave up Christianity at the age of 8? Ditto Ingmar Bergman.

          Kim Il-Sung – He may have been raised in a Presbyterian family, but Kang Chol-hwan (a North Korean defector and author) later had this to say about him:
          “To my childish eyes and to those of all my friends, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were perfect beings, untarnished by any base human function. I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them urinated or defecated. Who could imagine such things of gods?”

          Which reminds me that the only person ever to have been excused compulsory Divinity lessons at Eton was Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, Crown Prince of Nepal, on the grounds that in his religion he was a deity.

          This cannot mean that religious beliefs should be exempt from rational critique by skeptics. It is, however, important to aim the critique at the belief, and not just insult the believer

          I agree with you completely here. Particularly when it comes to the nonsense that is called Intelligent Design.

          It might sound harsh, but I think if a believer feels demeaned by a rationally justified question, then he/she should stop whining and start thinking about why they hold this belief… and if holding this belief is justified

          Maybe they should, but usually they don’t. My experience of this sort of thing is that their reaction depends on how well they understand the question. If it is totally at odds with their world view they might be baffled by it, and even feel pity for the questioner. If they do understand it and are comfortable with rational argument, then the discussion tends to degenerate into hair-splitting of the angels dancing on a pinhead sort.

          Really what I was getting at in my reply to Frank is that as soon as you bring up the topic of religion it becomes difficult to have a productive discussion about anything else.

          • Dear Dr. Money-Kyrle,
            thank you for your kind words, especially since I am well aware that my comments here are on average far less informed than your contributions.

            Maybe the people that I mentioned for loosing belief in the supernatural are not all perfect examples, since e.g. Richard Dawkins was quite young (a teenager, if I remember correctly) when he lost faith, and it is reasonable to suspect that he was not extremely devout before. Also, the wiki-link examples certainly are not all great, as you pointed out.
            However, Matt Dillahunty, co-host of the “Atheist Experience” YouTube show, certainly is a good example. He was a devout Southern Baptist for a major part of his life, and lost his faith while trying to become a minister for the church. You can listen to his own account here:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpPzl6TROpk

            Another good example would be Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Interestingly, according to her own account, twitter discussions about religion with an orthodox Jew had a major impact on her loss of faith. Find an interview here:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTMEiiH9eP0&list=PLDtc_uppNe1oyTZ6HQc3jEU1Q0WRpTWGF&index=5

            Many more examples exist. The Clergy Project is an online community composed entirely of “religious leaders” who no longer belief in the supernatural. Is has now over 1000 participants, you can find detailed information on the project, including individual personal stories, here:
            http://clergyproject.org/stories/

            Regarding bringing up the topic of religion in discussions:
            I consider myself an anti-theist (you might have guessed this already 😉 ), quite in agreement with many positions of e.g. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. This is because I see more harm than good in religion as a whole. Although I feel quite strongly about this, I generally do not bring up the topic of religion, unless another person starts this conversation. Then, however, I will defend my position, even if this could hurt the feelings of a religious person.
            And when we discuss “Prayer as a therapy”, then I think that this topic is -by definition- an integral part of the conversation, so I do not see a reason why we should avoid it.

      • @ Dr Julian Money-Kyrle on Monday 18 November 2019 at 10:33

        Well Julian, you certainly have declared your hand, particularly with this doozy;
        “You clearly have an axe to grind, but please be aware that is offensive to insult somebody for their religious beliefs, and it demeans the person doing so.”

        What makes you think I have an axe to grind, or that I insulted anyone? Making such assumptions reduces your argument to mere petulance. Perhaps you feel offence at the suggestion your superstitious beliefs are just that, but, as Stephen Fry wryly observed, inter alia, so you’re offended, who f@cking cares. It is your offence that is the affront; an affront to the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, philosophy, modern science, democracy, free speech, and the millions who died at the hands of religious zealots who were likewise ‘offended”. It is the age old problem of trying to suppress views based solely on offence being taken. Where would the planet be if that was the determining factor on progress?

        At the end of this post, I will show why your post damages your standing, possibly irreparably.

        “Many scientists are religious, and this has not prevented them from making important contributions to scientific knowledge.”

        True, but it does mean their views are true or worthy of respect. NO view or opinion is above scrutiny or criticism, particularly those of religious matters. Does your religion involve an omnipotent god too timid to speak directly to humans so it sent a son for humans to kill so they can can be absolved of their ‘sins’? Let me get that right, committing a sin to absolve a sin; how does that work? Perhaps you subscribe to the third wave of the Abrahamic cult, in which the prophet had 13 wives, including one aged six, and who flew on a winged donkey during the night to Jerusalem from Mecca and then up to the seven heavens for a chat with Allah?

        As you can see, all religions believe in things I only see as the nonsensical ramblings of primitive peoples who knew nothing of how the universe functioned, let alone anything of biology or medicine.

        “It goes against the scientific method to describe anything as self-evident.”

        Where is that written in stone? Is it not self-evident that putting one’s hand into a flame will result in burns? Perhaps the definition of axiomatic may help you; self-evident or unquestionable.

        “The existence of a deity, or not, is a matter of faith, and is outside the realm of science, not least because it cannot be tested.”

        The existence of EVERYTHING is within the realm of science, even sub-atomic particles and quantum physics. No doubt, you are attempting the non-competing magisteria argument which was totally debunked by many, including the great Lord Russell with his Orbiting Teapot notion. Sorry, that doesn’t wash, now or then.

        “Your proclamation of faith is all very well, but you should recognise it as such.”

        My ‘faith’ is the polar opposite of your type of faith. My faith is believing or acting on knowns (such as, this A380 will fly because of aerodynamics), whereas yours is believing in something for which there is no evidence.

        “The power of prayer, however, is readily amenable to investigation, if anybody was prepared to take the trouble to design a study properly.”

        This is where a flight of fantasy is taken. A proper study? What would that be? Perhaps the god (or gods) to whom the prayers are to be directed is defined and permission sought from said deity/ies? Do some of the prayers pray to this god or gods and some pray to a ‘fake’ god? How does the study discern between godly intervention or simple regression to the mean or natural progression of disease? There are so many questions which render the idea so absurd to be beyond consideration, but I’ll leave it there while banging my head against a wall.

        “You are straying onto dangerous territory when you challenge other people’s religious beliefs.”

        Why? Such views are not sacrosanct, nor do they deserve to be. Without the challenge to religious beliefs, witches might still be burnt at the stake or gay people put to death (as they still are in some very religious places). What of the Reformation or the Enlightenment which went to creating the modern world. By your stance, neither would have occurred.
        No, I will treat this statement with the contempt it deserves.

        “These are deeply-held and are fundamental to self-identity.”

        What does this mean, apart from a decreasing number of people, as censuses show, cling firmly to superstitious beliefs, completely without evidence? Having a superstitious belief does make a person immune to questioning.

        “They are not amenable to reason, and differences in religious practices, however subtle, have been responsible for untold bloodshed.”

        One of the many reasons why I have no respect for any religion. Either all of them are completely true or all are completely false. For example, if the don’t believe the story of the Abrahamic cults (yes, all religions are cults separated only by number of adherents to give a flimsy mantle of respectability) in which god created the entire universe in six days and subsequently strolled around the Garden of Eden calling out to Adam and Eve to ascertain their whereabouts, then why believe any of it? This is the worst type of religious thinking whereby some parts are parables while others are true.

        “Even Jehovah’s Witnesses know that they are never going to argue someone out of being Jewish.”

        Which belief is true? As Dire Straits said, two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong. In this case all of them are wrong, for the simple reason, those who have made the extraordinary claims have never provided the extraordinary evidence in support. Lack of evidence is indeed evidence of absence, as Lord Russell noted.

        “Why this should be is an interesting area of study but I would have thought outside the remit of this blog.”

        Errh, no. What your post illustrates is the same thinking all believers in sCAM show. For them, no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake their FAITH (as in religious)that the sCAM works. In the same way, it is fact the universe was not created in six days, or that humans were created from some dirt, or that the planet is only six thousand years old. Evolution is a fact, as is the age of the universe and this planet, as is the speed of light and Relativity.

        In explaining to followers of sCAM medicine and disease work, you have implored them to try to understand the reason and logic behind it, and the formidable evidence, yet you fall foul to the same erroneous thinking when it comes to belief in a genocidal, celestial fairy with a penchant for incest (the stories of Adam, Noah and Lot, among others). How can you ask someone to examine their ‘deeply held’ beliefs when you aren’t prepared to do the same?

        Physician, heal thyself.

        • Frank,

          “Is it not self-evident that putting one’s hand into a flame will result in burns?”

          Burns are usually due to how long your hand is in the flame. Unless you’re a welder.

          • Do you ever have anything sensible to add? You’ve long lost any comedy value, having now converted to a boil on the bum of the Prof’s blog. Ho hum.

        • Dear Frank Collins,
          I would like to make two remarks about your comments and hope that you will find them constructive.

          1. You say: “The correct statement is “IP is impossible” because it is premised on the existence of a deity which, as we know, is self-evidently untrue.”

          As soon as you claim that “the existence of a deity” is not true, you adopt the burden of proof. I recommend not do this and I will try to illustrate why, by two examples.

          * The term “deity” is not clearly defined. For example, some people say the “the Universe” is their deity. I agree that the Universe exists, so in this case, I would accept the existence of their deity (although of course, no supernatural claims associated with this claim).
          * Even members of the same church will have vastly different ideas about their “deity”, very often unfalsifiable ones. So if you claim that their deity does not exist, you de facto claim that you can falsify an unfalsifiable proposition – which is illogical.
          I would recommend that you leave the burden of proof where it belongs, i.e. with the person claiming that some kind of deity exists.

          2. I think that you should be careful not to commit a straw man fallacy by over-interpreting other peoples´ statements. In your last post addressed to Dr. Money-Kyrle, you attack many weired or even atrocious issues related to religion but as far as I can see, Dr. Money-Kyrle did not claim or support any of these things directly. So instead of an “attacking” style, I would recommend a communication strategy based more on inquiry.
          In this respect, I personally like an approach called “street epistemology”. Maybe you have heard about it, but if not, I recommend that you check it out. Compared with your current approach, it seems to be a less confronting and more constructive way of discussing irrational beliefs.
          If you are interested, check out the book “A Manual for Creating Atheists” from Dr. Peter Boghossian, or videos from Anthony Magnabosco
          https://www.youtube.com/user/magnabosco210/featured
          or Reid Nicewonder
          https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiWKxPMKUBFjN3Ny_VxpkYw/featured

          • @ Jashak on Wednesday 20 November 2019 at 08:54

            You should have read my post more carefully.

            The burden of proof, having never been fulfilled by believers in any of the 4,000 deities, does not fall on me when I say all of those deities do not exist. Bertrand Russell showed this with his Orbiting Teapot analogy. It is self-evidently true it does not exist, in the same way deities do not exist. If you can fault Russell’s logic, go ahead.

            In fact, deities cannot exist because they would be supernatural and the supernatural has been tested so many times, it doesn’t warrant further explanation as to its non-existence. The stories themselves, the Torah, Bible, and Quran, are so ridiculous it is clear how they came about. They are full of contradictions, falsehoods, errors, and a lack of understanding of the universe. The only value they have is comedic.

            Those who claim the universe as their deity are BS artists who are playing both with words and themselves. It sounds so grandiose to say such a thing that I don’t think these even understand it themselves. I immediately walk away when I hear nonsense like that.

            “So instead of an “attacking” style, I would recommend a communication strategy based more on inquiry.”
            It wasn’t attacking though I can imagine why some people who always try to be so “nice” might see that.
            I won’t take your ever so nice advice on anything.

          • Dear Frank Collins,
            you made it quite clear that you are not very interested in my opinion, so I see no reason to continue our dialogue for much longer. Just a few final comments:

            *I am not sure what you mean when you say that I should have read your post more carefully, so I take this patronizing comment as just another instance of your attacking style of conversation, and return the favour with a (not very sincere) “thank you”.

            *More than once, you claim that things are “self-evident”. I agree with Dr. Money-Kyrle that terms like “self-evident” and “unquestionable” go against the scientific method (being a scientist, I think that I have at least some expertise in this field).
            Your example “Is it not self-evident that putting one’s hand into a flame will result in burns?” is rather silly, since of course PLENTY of hard, physical evidence exists for this fact (temperature of the flame, composition of human flesh, many independent, confirmed examples of hands being burned, etc. pp.). So this fact is supported by plenty of EXTERNAL evidence, and not intrinsically “self-evident”.
            If you used “self-evident” with another intent in mind, don´t blame us. You apparently have the ability to read people´s minds, which I do not have. The choice of “self-evident” in this context is at least misleading… especially for readers who try to read your posts carefully 😉

            *Although I agree with you about the nonexistent value of old books in determining facts about reality, your dogmatic attitude towards other people’s views might prevent you from convincing them… and from broadening your own mind. I at least do not see the point in yelling, “I´m self-evidently right, you are obviously wrong” in conversations about irrational beliefs, which is why I am always looking for more effective conversation strategies.

            I will leave our little dispute with the note that -like it or not-, you MAKE a claim when you say “deities cannot exist”, and for this claim, you will not be able to meet the burden of proof, as I have tried to explain before.

          • Frank,

            If you can fault Russell’s logic, go ahead.

            Interestingly, Kurt Godel did just that when he proved, by way of his Incompleteness Theorem, that Russell’s attempt to derive mathematics from fundamental principles, an undertaking to which he devoted much time and effort, was ultimately futile.

            The burden of proof, having never been fulfilled by believers in any of the 4,000 deities, does not fall on me when I say all of those deities do not exist. Bertrand Russell showed this with his Orbiting Teapot analogy.

            No he did not. Russell’s teapot analogy was an illustration of the principle that the burden of proof lies upon the person making unfalsifiable claims. That applies equally whether you are claiming the existence or the non-existence of a deity. Neither are falsifiable, which puts the question outside the realm of science.

            What makes you think I have an axe to grind, or that I insulted anyone?

            I came to this conclusion after reading your tedious exchange with Angela on another thread.

            “You are straying onto dangerous territory when you challenge other people’s religious beliefs.”

            Why? Such views are not sacrosanct, nor do they deserve to be. Without the challenge to religious beliefs, witches might still be burnt at the stake or gay people put to death (as they still are in some very religious places). What of the Reformation or the Enlightenment which went to creating the modern world. By your stance, neither would have occurred.

            You have taken my words out of context. I thought I had made it very clear that what I meant was that if you are attempting to construct a convincing argument based on the principles of reason, then by changing the subject to religion you are shooting yourself in the foot, and if you persist in upsetting people they are less likely to engage with you. I have never said that religious beliefs should not be challenged, but there is a time and a place for everything.

            Your comments were not “pointed out areas where I think your arguments are weak”, but used standard arguments used by the religious all the time. Your refusal to state your beliefs confirms this.

            I don’t think so. And as I have already pointed out, the reason I have not stated my beliefs is that I feel that what I have to say should stand on its own merits and not be coloured by other people’s prejudices.

            What you seem to be doing here is building up a picture of who I am by filling in the gaps in the information you have with whatever seems to fit your world view, as you have also done with Angela (didn’t you conclude that she was a social worker, or counsellor or something and then condemn them for it?). I should counsel against this as it can be very misleading and can get you into all sorts of trouble.

            It has occurred to me that this is analogous to the phenomenon which Freud called transference, which is the projection onto the therapist of feelings that the client has previously felt towards other people at various times in their life (it is very common for the client to fall in love with their analyst, for instance).

          • “I will leave our little dispute with the note that -like it or not-, you MAKE a claim when you say “deities cannot exist”, and for this claim, you will not be able to meet the burden of proof, as I have tried to explain before.”

            For a deity to exist, it must have a place of existence unless the thing is utterly invisible and stateless. It is a long bow to draw for such an existence, one which has been postulated many times and never supported with the smallest shred of evidence. Can I claim Russell’s teapot doesn’t exist either or would that be against the scientific method too?

            Your means of argument is to try to be too clever by half, to the point of absurdity. Also, if you are affronted by mere written words, my advice to you is; harden up, petal.

          • @ Dr Julian Money-Kyrle on Thursday 21 November 2019 at 12:44

            Now that I have stopped laughing about your post, I can respond. I will, however, keep it brief so you can go about training for the Olympics in back-pedalling and fishing, specifically for Red Herrings.

            Para 1: Red Herring and False Equivalency.

            Para 2: Yes, correct, Russell made an unfalsifiable claim to illustrate the absurdity of those who make such claims. Your point?

            Para 3: If it was tedious and irrelevant to you, why did you read any of it apart from, say, the first paragraph? Are you one of those people who watches porn and then complains it is disgusting? Perhaps you rubberneck at accidents on the road and complain about the traffic? Your comment is very odd and points to a strange mindset, perhaps a judgemental typified by the religious?

            Para 4: A time and a place for everything? Another odd one, considering the blog is about intercessory PRAYER. If the fundamental problem is one of there being a god, any god, no amount of prayer will yield anything.

            Para 5: You haven’t stated your beliefs for the very obvious reason, that is, to do so would establish a basis for claims of hypocrisy.

            Para 6: Again, why read something in which you have no interest and an equally obvious disdain, then complain about it? I can’t fathom a great deal of logic in this.

            Para 7: Seriously? lol. Try harder Julian, that is pathetic weak and tawdry.

          • @ Frank Collins:
            Quote#1: ´Can I claim Russell’s teapot doesn’t exist either or would that be against the scientific method too?´

            The scientific approach only deals with phenomena existing in the natural world. Simply put, the scientific approach works like this:

            *A phenomenon is observed in the natural world.
            * A variety of scientific methods/tools is applied to investigate this phenomenon.
            * After analysis of the results of the investigation, the most logical explanation for this observation is derived and postulated.
            * This explanation is then tested independently by other scientists.
            * If the results are confirmed independently, it eventually is accepted as the current scientific consensus hypothesis/model for this phenomenon.
            *Importantly, this new model is not dogmatic and always open to new evidence. Given new and more solid evidence, even the most established scientific hypothesis will be overthrown and replaced by a new model.

            Regarding Russell´s teapot (btw, a similar example was given by Carl Sagan when claiming to have an “invisible dragon” in his garage):
            No flying teapot has been observed in space, therefore there is no natural phenomenon that could be investigated scientifically.
            Russell´s point was that it is not REASONABLE TO BELIVE an unfalsifiable claim (such as the existence of the teapot or a supernatural deity, for that matter), unless it is supported by solid evidence… and the burden of proof is upon the person making the claim, NOT on any other person disproving it.

            Of course, it is HIGHLY unlikely that such a teapot exists, given all that we know about spaceflight, gravity, etc. However, science does not make claims about “absolute truth”, not even in the case of such a teapot or of the possible existance of supernatural phenomena.

            Quote #2 ´Your means of argument is to try to be too clever by half, to the point of absurdity.´
            Sorry, but I do not understand what you mean. Maybe it´s a language barrier, since I am not a native English speaker.

            Quote #3 ´Also, if you are affronted by mere written words, my advice to you is; harden up, petal.´
            You seem to be unable of posting a comment without including at least one ad hominem… I wonder why that is.
            Well, let me say that I will consider your advice in the same fashion as you consider mine.

          • Frank,

            I think Jashak has stepped in with some very good answers. However, trying to have a sensible dialogue with you is as frustrating as bringing facts into discussions with with the advocates of SCAM who regularly post here, and for much the same reasons.

            I will say again – the question of whether prayer can influence healing can be readily tested and is therefore well within the remit of Prof Ernst’s blog. The existence of a supernatural being cannot be tested in the same way and is therefore an unwanted distraction here, particularly since people have a tendency to use it to highjack the discussion (as you have done).

            I am not for or against other people’s religious beliefs per se. What I am against is sloppy thinking. Such as squashing what you think somebody is saying into a predetermined template of your own rather than listening carefully and trying to understand their point of view (which is not the same as agreeing with it). Such as coming back with knee-jerk reactions rather than considered and reasoned arguments. Such as putting people into arbitrary categories formed by your prejudices and then judging the worth of their words on the basis of whatever category you have assigned them to.

            The other reason that I take issue with your posts is that they are rude and disrespectful. After a lifetime of treating my patients on the basis of what was wrong with them rather than who they were (even the lawyers), of working with people from all parts of the world, and travelling widely myself, I have seen nothing to contradict what my father taught me, which is that all people are equally valuable and deserving of respect. Indeed, just by listening to a wide variety of individuals I have been able to learn a great deal from them over the years.

            I can’t help being reminded of the story of the vicar who used to write in the margin of his notes for the Sunday sermon “Argument weak. Shout louder!” At least he had some awareness of what he was doing.

            I should add, for the record, that I am an atheist. Perhaps if you bear that in mind while re-reading my posts you will understand them differently. If so, then consider how your own beliefs affect your perceptions.

        • Frank,

          I have pointed out areas where I think your arguments are weak, and you have responded by attacking me on the basis of conclusions you have drawn concerning my personal beliefs.

          “Even Jehovah’s Witnesses know that they are never going to argue someone out of being Jewish.”

          Which belief is true?

          My point was about human behaviour, not theology.

          Evolution is a fact, as is the age of the universe and this planet, as is the speed of light and Relativity.

          There are physicists researching whether the speed of light is constant throughout the universe and always has been. Relativity directly contradicts quantum mechanics.

          How can you ask someone to examine their ‘deeply held’ beliefs when you aren’t prepared to do the same?

          You do not know what my beliefs are, and I have refrained from stating them in the fear that some people would pay more attention to those rather than to what I have to say. Something along the lines of “If he disagrees with me in one area then everything he says is suspect”.

          I think you have proved me right, though on the whole I was expecting the atheists to be more rational than the theists.

          • Julian,
            I can see what you are trying to do, as can everyone else.

            Your comments were not “pointed out areas where I think your arguments are weak”, but used standard arguments used by the religious all the time. Your refusal to state your beliefs confirms this.

            “I think you have proved me right, though on the whole I was expecting the atheists to be more rational than the theists.”

            Nice try Julian, but it doesn’t work, good Red Herrings though.

  • Please correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that one group (15 patients) were prayed for, whereas the ‘control group’ received no prayer.

    To be a RCT both groups should have been prayed for – one by genuine Christians praying for the intercession of their god, and the control group, told they were receiving prayers, but those apparently praying should have been acting, and not seeking the intervention of a supernatural entity.

    I’m not surprised this paper was not published by a reputable medical journal.
    Sigh.

  • This weekend, I performed an RCT to see whether cell phone use causes premature ageing. I spent a total of 7 hours and 45 minutes observing random people in the trains I was travelling on, estimating the approximate age and taking note of their cell phone use (duration and intensity).

    Results: cell phone use, and in particular non-verbal cell phone use (e.g. using apps and watching video), is strongly associated with lower apparent age. A greater propensity for non-technological communication and distraction techniques, e.g. face-to-face conversation and book-reading, is clearly associated with a higher age of observed subjects.

    Conclusion: Cell phone use might help people stay young. Talking to one another should be discouraged, as should traditional reading practices. More research is warranted, nevertheless.

    I’d say that this study of mine is at least as plausible and of the same quality as the one on IP. So, where can I publish it, to gather fame and fortune? And where can I apply for the $100,000 grant to perform a second study in this field?

    • will you publish this in the JACM?

      • That’s a good idea, although the observed effects may be pronounced enough to go mainstream right away. Or maybe I should do a major press release first? After all, this sequence is the one commonly used to announce all paradigm-shifting breakthroughs, launching its discoverers to instant prominence.

        And perhaps I’ll also set up a practice, aimed at advising people about proper cell phone use – that should raise the $100,000 for new research within a few months, without having to rely on whimsical decisions from academic grants committees. The results of this research can in turn be used to bolster the foundations of my practice, after which more ‘research’ can be done, etcetera etcetera, ad infinitum. This will also enable me to claim in all honesty that everything I do is science-based.
        All those endless hours researching how alternative practitioners become successful was time well spent!

        • your next step should be to find out which brand of electronic devices is the most effective; my money is on Apple

          • Hm, you may be on to something here … “One Apple a day …”
            Hey, wait, this appears to be an example of ancient medical wisdom that is actually true!

            But let’s not derail this thread any further, and try to stay on-topic. So, what’s next? Maybe we could also do an RCT into the opposite of IP, i.e. effects of curses, voodoo and otherwise?
            I propose to set up multiple groups to vary the intensity of the curses, the lightest curse being “May you get rained upon some time in the near future(*)”, right up to the whole wax-doll-and-needle thing.

            *: Yes, I pinched this one from one of Terry Pratchett’s novels, Interesting Times IIRC.

          • next you need some patents – and the backing from Deepak Chopra

          • @Alan Henness
            This is indeed interesting, and a good warning that one should always look at what’s really going on in a study.

            (And oh, the skeleton in the background was obviously part of a retired chiropractor’s clearance sale.)

          • my money is on Apple

            Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a Malo

          • Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a Malo

            Quia tuum est regnum,
            et potentia, et gloria,
            aeternus et umquam.

            Apple.

            😀

  • Intercessory prayer was investigated on a far larger scale in the „Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)” with coronary artery bypass graft patients, back in 2006 (a study funded by the Christian Templeton foundation).

    As could be expected from a scientific point of view, prayer did not improve the condition of the patients uncertain about receiving a prayer or not. However, somewhat surprisingly, the control group of patients who were informed that they were being prayed for, even showed a worse outcome, probably due to a form of nocebo effect.

    This is the short summary of results and conclusions from the 2006 paper:

    Results
    In the 2 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 (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). 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 (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.

    Conclusions
    Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

    Here´s the link
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002870305006496?via%3Dihub

  • Brothers and Sisters,
    And Others,

    Let us all now join together in Solemn Prayer,
    For all those whose lot it is to design scientific and medical trials,
    And moreover for those that analyse and draw inference from the fruits of those trials,
    that they may be Guided to perform Excellently in the sight of the Lord.
    And in the sight of their Peers,
    And thereafter be Blessed with Publication and Independent Replication.

    Protect them from the paths of research structured to fail, be it by malevolent intent or accidental innocence.
    And grant them Grace.

    In the Name of the Lord,

    Amen.

    And let us also Pray for all those who interpret trial results,
    May they not fall prey to Error be it type I or type II or of unwarranted and hidden Assumption,
    of Prejudice or of Bias
    be it conscious or unconscious,
    That they turn their face away from ignorance and false words and the lies of the Enemy
    And that they shall at last be granted Wisdom.

    And let us pray for those poor afflicted amongst us who write in skeptical blogs,
    that they shall at last see the Light and turn away from their darkened paths.

    Oh Lord, preserve their souls from the Evil One that they shall find everlasting Peace.

    Amen.

    And finally, Brothers and Sisters, let us not forget all those who toil with sickness untreated on the placebo arms of randomised placebo-controlled pharmaceutical trials,
    And let us lovingly and sincerely pray that they too shall become well and receive the abundant blessings of Our Lord.

    May it please the Lord,

    Amen

  • And finally, Brothers and Sisters, let us not forget all those who toil with sickness untreated on the placebo arms of randomised placebo-controlled pharmaceutical trials,
    And let us lovingly and sincerely pray that they too shall become well and receive the abundant blessings of Our Lord.

    And let us not forget those on the non-placebo arm in those trials where it turns out that the drug does more harm than good. What were you saying about hidden assumptions?

    • @ Dr Julian Money-Kyrle

      Mea culpa.
      I was saying let us not fall prey to them, and there we go.

      There is an ethical problem, though. If intercession on behalf of the verum group led to acceptance and then marketing by reducing the incidence and seriousness of adverse effects, then the novel drug (assumption again) could be responsible for wreaking much havoc on the victim population. And resulting damage to reputations and profits.

      So, to match with conditions of the trial, each packet would ideally have to carry a precautionary prayer leaflet.
      (“Oh, Lord! Now we have been prescribed this new medication. God help us!”)

  • An inercessory prayer study is currently taking place. For several years homeopaths have been praying for a positive outcome for Edzard whereby he sees the light and embraces homeopathy. This clearly has not happened.

    In fact it is fair to say that Edzard has shown increasing anger at homeopathy.
    It has therefore been proposed that this increasing anger is in fact a healing aggravation occurring as Edzard has a major anger detox.
    A pro homeopathy article by Edzard is expected after this healing aggravation and such an event would support the existence of intercessory prayer. An article has been submitted to the British Spiritual (BS)Journal and is currently awaiting prayer review.

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