The Power of Prayer

Can prayer help heal the sick? One thing we know, scientists and skeptics don’t know everythihng.

I dunno. Can it?

While I am, personally, a great believer both in God and in the power of prayer to heal, I think that the OP is too general, and does not make useful distinctions between mind/body healing and spiritual healing.

We know that belief in anything, including prayer, can cause healing. The placebo effect is well known, and experimental design for new drugs is careful to attempt to eliminate it (or, rather to account for it) to show what is due to the effect of a drug and what is due to the effect of belief in, or even the possible effect in the drug. Even where doubt is expressed, the placebo effect can be very strong. Hypnosis and other mind/body techniques can result in effects that are as strong as pharmacological interventions.

This leaves purely spiritual effects — whether God heals us in response to our prayers. Here there is an “X” factor; just because we ask does not mean that God will do what we ask. It is difficult to know how to construct a study can wholly eliminate the placebo effect and that can take this completely into account. Properly seen, prayer is not a “force” or a “procedure”, but a petition, and attempting to pin this down to a law that can be studied (particularly in the case of a God) has some disturbing implications. Psychological experiments have ethical problems, and some kinds of studies are no longer performed because we simply don’t treat people like lab rats. How much more the Lord of the Universe?

Anecdotal evidence is always suspect. Miracle stories will never prove that prayer heals the sick, no matter how many of them you collect. Nevertheless, once you have laid hands upon someone, and they have been healed, it is hard to reject that healing. I recommend the books of Francis MacNutt here.

There have allegedly been studies done in which the rate of cure for people who were prayed for was compared against the rate of cure for a “control” population that had not been prayed for, with results of no significant difference. I have never seen any such studies reported; I merely report that it is alleged they have been done, with a request that someone who has produce a cite.

Regardless of whether prayer is efficacious in producing a supernatural intervention leading to healing, one fact that I think most board members of whatever religious beliefs (including none) can concur in is “the placebo effect” – that persons who have reason to believe they are going to get better tend to do so at a somewhat greater rate than those without such a belief, in a positive psychosomatic effect. The belief in their own recovery promotes a positive state of mind that is more conducive to recovery than the state of despair or resignation present in the absence of such a belief.

Right, scientists and skeptics aren’t omniscient, nor do they claim to be. And this proves what?

Prayer, visualization or affirmations, either way, I think they all work. Three times in my life when I desired something so much that I visualized getting it, it worked.


  1. While in school I didn’t want to go for tutoring in math (I had a regular 3 day a week schedule with a tutor) and for some reason I kept visualizing the outcome and repeating “she’ll be sick, I can go home early” with absolute conviction (aka faith) and what happens? End of the day I go to see my tutor, she’s missing, staff says she called in sick. A first in over 2 months of regular visits with no prior evidence that it would happen.

  2. I was working a crummy job, I hated it, so while bagging asbestos I would repeat a mantra with as much belief as I could put behind it. Three months later it came true, I was offered a very well-paying and (gasps) fun job that I applied for last year but didn’t get. Again, I had no reason to believe it would happen, but it did. Sadly I worked there for only 4 months before it shut down :frowning:

  3. Once I was really down about being a virgin and not having a girlfriend. No prospects, but I made up a mantra, visualized an outcome, even going so far as to make it a ritual with candles to reinforce the importance of what I was asking for. One month later a girl snagged ME without any real effort on my part, again, no way of expecting the outcome, I havent tried to go talk to her.

So yeah, I think absolute faith can do some amazing things. I’d do it more often but it requires a hell of a lot of effort on my part. And though I believe in the power of faith, I tried and failed to win the lottery :wink: Either my belief conflicted with others (millions of people) or maybe my greed diminished the effect.

I know some of you will dismiss the idea as absurd, but if you believe that the lifting of a single finger can disturb the most distant star, then perhaps there’s more to the universe than we think.

FYI I got started on all this by way of this book here. The Power of your Subconcious Mind. It was something I saw while I was an impressionable teen in a bookstore, if I came across it now (age 26) I would probably dismiss it as complete B.S.

My mistake, the book I mentioned is actually Amazing Laws of Cosmic Mind Power both written by the same author. I suspect both books would be equally viable for those curious about the subject.

Are you proposing that we discuss the usefulness of prayer in Great Debates without refering to science? :confused:

Prayer heals because of the love behind it. It is really love that heals. I have seen many instances of this in my lifetime. I was once told I had 6 months to live. That was 16 years ago. Love healed me.

Does science have anything to say about this, no, science measures the physical, love is spiritual. Those who embrace only science are left with a very cold hug.


Since when do they claim to?
As to the question, I would say that Prayer could heal in a sort of placebo-type way.

The problem is prayer is based on faith. i.e. It only works if you believe in it. Therefore if you are a believer then you get better because of God’s love and if you croak it is God’s will and besides it’s alright because they’re in heaven. If you are a skeptic (though no necessarily a scientist, there are a large number of christian scientists) then you got better because of the placebo effect and you died because everyone has to die sometime, get over it.

That’s what I believe anyway.

This is one of those arguments that always seems to pop up in any discussion of the paranormal, as if it were a reasonable response. It’s very useful to the true believer, because by its logic, absolutely anything is possible, and is therefore somehow worthy of credence. “The earth is actually a giant leopard, filled with custard!” Nonsense, you say? Well, scientists and skeptics don’t know everything, do they?!

Please provide some objective evidence that prayer has power to heal the sick. If the patient is aware that prayer is being used, that won’t do, because of the placebo effect. I’m talking about a controlled test: take 1000 patients with serious ailments, and divide them into two groups (without the patients or their doctors and nurses knowing which patients are in which group). Have another group of people pray fervently for one of those groups of patients, and not for the other. Compare the outcomes.

Stuff and nonsense. Are you saying that people who die aren’t loved enough?

On the other hand, (anthropomorphized), science does do quite an adequate job of assessing sickness.
If love works, the effects of it should be easily ascertainable. The recovery of patients is measurable even if the love itself is not.

There has been such a test. The world’s largest study into the effects of prayer on patients undergoing heart surgery has found it appears to make no difference. The MANTRA study, run from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, involved 750 patients. Before their operations, they were randomly split into two groups, and half were prayed for by Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims. However, checks revealed they had fared no better than those not prayed for.

The results of the controversial study contradict earlier findings from the same team which suggested a drop of a quarter or more in “adverse outcomes” - including death, heart failure or heart attack.

However, that trial involved only 150 patients, and the more extensive research, completed this year, found no evidence of any benefits.

Prayer groups asked God to intervene. Prayer teams from various denominations and faiths were alerted by email to start intercessory prayer as soon as possible after the patient was enrolled on the trial. Neither hospital staff, the patients, or their relatives had any idea which patients’ were receiving prayer, to prevent any chance of the results being skewed.

After the patients had undergone an angioplasty procedure, in which a balloon is insterted into a heart artery and inflated to clear an obstruction, they were followed for six months to see how they progressed.

However many theologians say that, even if you believe in the power of intercessory prayer, such a trial is doomed to failure because it “puts God to the test” - and there are clear instructions in the Bible not to do this.

The Bishop of Durham (somewhere in England), the Rt Rev Tom Wright, is critical of the experiment saying: “Prayer is not a penny in the slot machine. You can’t just put in a coin and get out a chocolate bar. This is like setting an exam for God to see if God will pass it or not.”

Other experts are highly critical of the concept that the benefits of prayer might be “dose-dependent” - that is, that the benefits might increase as the number of people praying went up.

This is particularly important, as Duke University is at the centre of the US “Bible belt” - and many of the trial participants, regardless of whether they were randomised to receive prayer during the trial, would be getting it from relatives and friends - and of course themselves.

Dr Richard Sloan, from the New York Presbyterian Hospital, described the concept of a prayer “dose” as “absurd”.

He said: “It requires us to abandon our understanding of the physical universe.”

(Thanks to the BBC for this little bit of information.)

Thanks for the input, BK. I half-remembered that such a study had been done, but couldn’t hunt it down quickly

This, of course, becomes the ultimate refuge for the believer. His belief can’t be tested, yet he still expects the rest of us to accept it.

If you drill into the leopard-earth to find the custard, it immediately turns into stone. Therefore, there’s no way to test the Custard Theory. Since I claim that I just know that it’s true, you have to believe it. :wink:

The Straight Dope on prayer healing.

It’s interesting that people who believe they are being prayed for may do marginally better whether they are actually being prayed for or not.

I believe you just read that into what I said, common thing for people to do, assume things not in evidence.

Jesus healed with Love and Compassion, but He always remarked “your faith has made you whole.”

Without cooperation from the person who is ill, healing can be hard to accomplish.
It is not so much the Love that others show to you, it is the love you show to others that completes the healing.


Ah—so it’s that they were mean, loveless sonsobitches who deserve to die?

If god already knows what is going to happen, what good is prayer? The result has already been decided if the god hypothesis is assumed to be true.

If you believe in god, you have to either admit that god doesn’t know how you are going to fare when you get cancer, or that he does and the prayers for you are useless.

That being said, is prayer really supposed to be the equivalent of wishing for something anyway?