Let me start off by saying that I have grew up in a very Catholic family. My childhood weekends were spent in CCD classes (for those of you who don’t know that that is, it is basically religious education) and going to church. I also attended Catholic high school for all four years of my high school education. As you can imagine, my catholic faith is a large part of who I am.
Our discussions about the healing power of prayer very much peaked my interest last week. I am a big believer in a higher power as it is what I have been taught about for all of my life. I was very interested to hear about it from a scientific perspective. I decided to do some further investigation into studies done about prayer and healing. Now, I went into this with the mentality that the existence of a high power cannot be proved or disproved through science, and what I found coincided with that. I found some very contradicting studies dealing with the effects of prayer.
In an article written by the New York Times, it showcased a study with patients at different hospitals around the country who were all receiving the same type of surgery. The researchers divided the patients into three different groups- however, they decided that only two of those groups would be prayed for. To eliminate a psychosomatic response, the researches only told some of the members of the groups that where being prayed for that they would be receiving prayers. The researchers then went to different churches and asked them to intercede for the two groups. They gave the congregations specific things to ask for in their prayers and then monitored the patient’s recoveries. It was found that the 2/3rds of people who were prayed for had no different recovery than the 1/3rd who were not prayed for.
Much different results are portrayed in an article written on the National Library of Medicine’s website. One peculiar thing I saw noted on the website was the nation that prayer may be used as a healing tool via meditation. To be more precise, instead of studying the effects of people praying for patients, the study had patients pray for themselves. When this happened, improvements such as a reduction in heart rate and a better immune system where seen. I found this interesting because it can be deduced that the act of praying was calming for the patients and helped to put them at ease. The article goes on to describe other studies in which the over-all consensus was that patients who were prayed for showed tremendously bigger success rates as opposed to those who weren’t prayed for.
Now, just to reiterate what I mentioned at the start of this post, I have a strong catholic faith. Therefore, in my personal opinion, I do not believe the actions of God or the existence of God can be determined through scientific experiments. In both studies done, there are many possible confounding variables. For one, Catholics are always taught about how important it is to keep up a relationship with God. If someone prays every day, then under this line of thinking, they would be more apt to have their prayers answered in their time of need than someone is estranged from God and having others pray for them. Also, because of my faith I believe God has a plan for everyone. In this first study I wrote about, suppose God had a plan for each of the patients studied and it was time for some of them to leave this Earth. Furthermore, suppose those who perished where in immense pain and God saw it fit that they enter Heaven and be freed of their pain? It isn’t so much that praying didn’t work for those people- maybe the prayers were just answered in a way that we don’t understand.
Over-all, I don’t think that science can prove or disprove the power of prayer. My personal view is that I have a great respect for science and think it is essential to well-being of humanity. Science proves answers to things on the surface, such as what causes cancer or what makes tress grow. However, each and every faith goes beyond the surface. It goes deeper than that and reaches levels that I don’t personally believe science can reach.