Negative study on intercessory prayer

Information on the Herbert Benson-led study on the possible health benefits of intercessory prayer has begun to appear in the media. The results appear to be negative.

(Disclaimer: the actual journal article appears next week. And I’m a physicist, not qualified to comment on the details of medical research anyway. And as some of the questions raised about prior positive studies show, doing this sort of research properly is very difficult.)

It’s interesting to see that the news article I link to says “Skeptics have said that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.” Curious. Why on earth should something like this be beyond the reach of science? The balance of evidence for intercessory prayer and similar alleged parapsychological phenomena being negative is just what your stereotypical scientific materialist (such as myself) expects. But expectations can be wrong, and presumably I’d have to revise my views if investigations were to produce strong evidence against my expectations. And if investigations support my views, well, I’ll be a bit more confident about them.

I take a skeptical position, yes, but I’m not happy with skepticism being portrayed as wedded to this sort of silly “by definition” form of argument. I’m sure this study is going to attract no end of liberal theological comments that showcase typically evasive attitudes and contortions to protect faith from science. Why would any skeptic want to be drawn into that swamp?

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University