Saturday, April 01, 2006

Don't pray for me

As discussed in the past religion can provide placebo benefits but this has nothing to do with the supernatural. The New York Times confirms this by pointing out that secretly praying for someone with an illness doesn't help. See also here.

This is research with serious intent. While it is important to understand the functional consequences of religious faith, research on the effectiveness of silent prayer is foolish.

Update: There is a discussion on this over at Crooked Timber which provides the abstract to the specific study. The best of the comments sites a study by Francis Galton in 1872 which rejected any beneficial effects on the object of prayer but which recognised a 'reverse placebo' effect that can comfort the person praying - prayer as a literate cry for help:

'Nothing that I have said negatives the fact that the mind may be relieved by the utterance of prayer. The impulse to pour out the feelings in sound is not peculiar to man. Any mother that has lost her young, and wanders about moning and looking piteously for sympathy, possesses much of that which prompts men to pray in articulate words. There is a yearning of the heart, a craving for help, it knows not where, certainly from no source that it sees. Of a similar kind is the bitter cry of the hare, when the greyhound is almost upon her; she abandons hope through her own efforts and screams,—but to whom? It is a voice convulsively sent out into space, whose utterance is a physical relief. These feelings of distress and of terror are simple, and an inarticulate cry suffices to give vent to them; but the reason why man is not satisfied by uttering inarticulate cries (though sometimes they are felt to be the most appropriate) is owing to his superior intellectual powers. His memory travels back through interlacing paths, and dwells on various connected incidents; his emotions are complex, and he prays at length.'

5 comments:

rabee said...

This is nonsensical research since it does not take into account my personal faith.

I believe in strategic design (a reformation of intelligent design that is influence by the Gospel of the flying spaghetti monster). An angel while teaching MBA game theory in Indiana revealed this belief system to me recently.

Strategic design envisages two Gods playing a strategic game with each other. Their strategies involve the state of nature in the universe and their payoffs are known to them but cannot be understood by us. Nevertheless, it is a game that explains a lot. For instance:
1) Natural disasters and poverty.
2) Evil and wars.
3) Quantum mechanics (arising from the mixed strategies that the two Gods play).
4) Plurality of religions.
5) Plurality of possible equilibrium profiles.
6) Our inability to predict the future (we don’t have the computational power).
7) The obsession with game theory in economics emanating from universities in the Holy Land (Holy according to one of these Gods, which one is undecidable)
8) The undecidability of many propositions in mathematics.
9) Godel’s incompleteness theorem.
10) P not = NP needs to be true in this religion but we can’t show it.
11) The debate about mother Theresa.

You see if I pray for you, then depending on the equilibrium my prayer may have an affect on your well being. What is certain is that we cannot observe this affect scientifically.

(I am the first and last prophet of this system of beliefs.)

conrad said...

I guess it depends on the research.

Research done on the person who does the silent praying is certainly going to be worthwhile, as it may work as some sort of coping mechanism in times of high stress, like when a significant other is ill.

hc said...

Rabee this religious vision has imagination and potential commercial applicability. It has greater explanatory power than monotheism. With more than one God there is naturally likely to be competition and apparent inconsistency. Hence increased ability to rationalise the world by mapping events to strategic outcomes. Seems more sensible to me than relying on a single, capricious god.

Zarathustra and those bloody Persians diminished us all.

Anonymous said...

You might like to call your second God Satan . . .

Prophet said...

Both Gods are fully gods and have complete information!

Anonymous monotheist, heretic.