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Power of Prayer Debate Continues

The debate over scientific proof of the ‘power of prayer’ is set to continue, with recent news that a meta-analysis of all experiments done so far shows a positive effect (ignore the headline of the story…the experiments do not mention anything about a ‘God’ being involved). David R. Hodge, an assistant professor of social work in the College of Human Services at Arizona State University, analysed the results of 17 major studies on the effects of intercessory prayer on people with psychological or medical problems:

“Some people feel Benson and associates’ study from last year, which is the most recent and showed no positive effects for intercessory prayer, is the final word,” said Hodge, referring to a 2006 article by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School that measured the therapeutic effect of intercessory prayer in cardiac bypass patients. “But, this research suggests otherwise. This study enables us to look at the big picture. When the effects of prayer are averaged across all 17 studies, controlling for differences in sample sizes, a net positive effect for the prayer group is produced.”

This debate has been going on for some time (see for example this CNN story, and a Skeptical Inquirer commentary, from seven years ago). Benson’s study was quite comprehensive, but no doubt this new meta-analysis will set off more argument and counter-argument. I guess key to its impact is the quality of studies which were part of the analysis.

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