Sunday, August 03, 2008

Prayer: Are studies of intercessory prayer an insult to God?

In Chapter 8 of The Spiritual Brain, Mario and I talked about an experiment in praying for the sick that didn't work out too well (the Benson study), and the reasons why. In Answering the New Atheism, philosophers Scott Hahn and Ben Wiker also comment, from a philosophical perspective.

First, they note, there is a big difference between studying a cause that is thought to be a natural cause and studying a cause that is thought to be a person. A natural cause must act under the right conditions, but a person (or Person!) hears you and can choose whether to act or not. It is the difference, for example, between using the laws of gravity to pilot an airplane and persuading the boss to let you buy an airplane for the business. Now, the philosophers say,
The error of the double-blind prayer experiment is that it treats God like some kind of natural cause rather than as a personal, rational Being. In doing so, God is being unjustly subjected to a humiliating attempt to manipulate Him by an experiment. In short, the experiment is an insult, and any rational being, superhuman or not, would treat it as such. That does not, of course, mean that praying for healing itself is an insult; we are speaking only of framing such prayer in the context of a manipulative experiment. (p. 57)
That, of course, has always been the difficulty with studying the effects of intercessory prayer as if they were like the effects of Pill A vs. Pill B.

See also:

Are prayer studies a waste of government money? No way!

Prayer studies: From one-way skepticism deliver us!

Prayer: Intercessory prayer works, according to study

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