Randomized God

February, 14, 2012 | 11 Comments


  1. Hello,
    I was at your lecture in Ghent this evening. I read on your website about the test with prayers from which patients would benefit.
    This is strange for me as the philosophers Johan Braeckman, professor at the University Ghent, and Maarten Boudry, docorate student at the same uni, have recently talked about the testing but they reported a negative effect by prayers!
    According to them this could be caused by stress inflicted to the patients because they were supposed to get better because they were prayed for.
    Are you aware of these studies ?
    Could you inform me or contact the named professor to share information?
    Thanks in advance
    Herman Blondeel

  2. Perhaps because intercessory prayer was not patented, its effects didn’t hold up. And the negative studies were indeed published. To use just one example, this is the exact opposite of what I remember seeing when looking at AstraZeneca’s internal documents on Seroquel’s efficacy and safety.

    I was part of two meta-analyses on the efficacy of distant intercessory prayer. We found the effect of this type of praying was nonexistent.

    Masters KS, Spielmans GI, Goodson JT (2006). Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review. Ann Behav Med. 32(1):21-6.

    Masters KS, Spielmans GI (2007). Prayer and health: review, meta-analysis, and research agenda. J Behav Med. 30(4):329-38

  3. 1) Patient wants prayer, doesnt get prayer.
    2)Patient wants prayer, gets prayer a) Feels grateful, gets better. b) Feels stress-guilt (Herman Blondeel), gets worse.
    3)Patient wants prayer, gets prayer but the “wrong” religion.
    4)Patient doesn`t care, doesnt get prayer
    5)Patient doesn`t care, gets prayer
    6)Patient does NOT want prayer, doesnt get prayer
    7)Patient does NOT want prayer, gets prayer. a) Feels angry at prayer, then gets well as a result of having something else to think-worry-stress about.

  4. A wonderful paper on this topic has been sent in by Michael Millenson: Sloan RP, Ramakrishnan R (2006). Science, Medicine & Intercessory Prayer. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 49, 504-514.

  5. Or maybe if enough people pray for someone, NASA in heaven gets to hear and sends a therapeutic electric, electro-magnetic or ultrasound current to heal them. We can live in hope.

  6. FROM PubMed.gov
    J Psychosom Res. 2000 Apr-May;48(4-5):323-37.
    Going to the heart of the matter: do negative emotions cause coronary heart disease?
    Kubzansky LD1, Kawachi I.
    Author information
    Negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and depression, have emerged as potentially important risk factors for coronary heart disease. The purpose of this article is to consider the nature and function of emotions, to review epidemiological evidence for an association between the three negative emotions and coronary heart disease (CHD), to discuss briefly the mechanisms by which emotions may be linked to CHD, and to consider this evidence in light of theoretical insights provided by mainstream psychological research on emotions.
    We collected articles published between 1980 and 1998 on the relationship between each negative emotion and CHD. We also collected review articles or chapters published during the same time period that considered mechanisms by which emotions may increase CHD risk. We used a qualitative approach to review the published literature.
    Evidence that anxiety is involved in the onset of CHD is strongest, whereas evidence for an association between anger and CHD is limited but suggestive. Although depression has consistently been linked to mortality following a myocardial infarction, evidence for its role in the onset of coronary disease is quite mixed. Numerous unresolved issues leave our current understanding of the emotion-health relationship incomplete. Psychological theories of emotion are considered to help address gaps in our knowledge.
    Growing evidence indicates that negative emotions may influence the development of CHD. The focused and specific consideration of negative emotions and their possible role in the etiology of CHD gives insight into current knowledge and suggests important directions for future research.###

    My comment: If negative emotions can contribute to the development of heart disease, then conversely, would not POSITIVE emotions (or a positive prayer) contribute to the improvement (or prevention) of heart (and other disease)? From proverbs: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

  7. Just come across this, which has made me chuckle hugely. I can contribute one piece of evidence, sadly only an observational study – in fact anecdotal – and therefore worthless in terms of furthering important research on the efficacy of prayer in cardiac disease.

    My father was unwell with flu, upstairs in bed, the evening a clergyman friend of my mother’s came to visit. He and the other supper guests prayed for my father’s speedy recovery (I am unable to determine which kind of prayer was utilised). My father dropped dead (cardiac arrest) the following morning. The prayer-s were enthusiastic but possibly not using the most efficacious type of prayer….Or, praying may have unintended adverse consequences.

    On the basis of my personal experience of the efficacy of prayer as an effective intervention, I have asked that no one should ever pray for me in such circumstances, as the outcome was not good.

  8. Like Sally, I too, (coincidentally maybe – there has been no conferring!) have just come across this.
    My father was faced in 1940 with either experimental heart surgery or inevitable death. He had a build up of calcium around the pericardium which was slowly squeezing his heart into extinction. A cardiologist from Manchester Royal Infirmary visited him in Bart’s Hospital in London and offered to do the operation. I don’t think he’d done one before but had seen two done in the USA, the first ever done. I don’t think ultimately those patients survived.

    My dad was, until he got ill, someone who had had a privileged life, living in a beautiful home, a socialite, tennis parties, dances, nothing much to worry about. His illness changed his perameters. He used to say to me, ‘All that really matters is your health, material goods are nothing in comparison to the gift of good health.’

    The hospital Chaplain visited my dad as he lay, sleepless in his bed the night before the operation, I guess contemplating inevitable death, but with a tiny chance of survival. Even if he came through the seven hours of surgery alive, he’d been told by the doctors that he’d never work again. He was a clever engineer, he invented things, so not to work would in itself be a sort of living death for him. But he had worked out in his imagination how he’d cope. He imagined himself getting better. The Chaplain just gave him a little piece of card on which he’d written ‘God is with you.’ I still have it.

    He did survive. He did more than survive, he went on to invent some amazing things of benefit to humanity. He physically managed to garden, lay crazy paving, mix cement, and travel to and from London daily on the Underground to his work in the City as a Consulting Mechanical Engineer till he retired, aged 57. But he retired because the manic depression, which he woke up with, euphoric on having survived his operation, became worse as he got older. He couldn’t have Lithium to aid it as it’s contra indicated in heart disease.

    After he died, and after his cremation, we read his Will and realised he wanted Bart’s to have his body, to see how the heart had turned out. Against all the odds, it had lasted 72 years! I feel very bad about not having known about this in time. Medical science might have found that interesting.

    So, was he just lucky, or had prayer (or his belief system) worked. And even if it had worked to keep him alive, he had become manic depressive after his operation, which is a big burden in some ways for anyone (and their families) to carry. So you could argue he’d stopped one problem for another. Or was there a purpose behind it all, which, as yet, we do not understand?

    My father had never smoked, he ate sensibly, he rarely drank. He was nevertheless, when between bouts of cyclical mania or deep depression, wonderful company with an endless supply of brilliant ideas. He was an inspiring dad but he was very difficult to live with when he was ill. He came from a generation who prayed, they’d got through the War on prayer and hope and solidarity. I think however it was their BELIEF that got them through, and it was his belief that kept him living and working and supporting his little family. But it’s not a belief in an arbitrating God, it’s a belief in an overall powerful Goodness, of which we are all a part, whether we want to be aware of it or not. And if for some, reminding themselves of its power, prayer helps, then fine. For others, maybe meditation, or just walking through a beautiful place, looking closely at a flower, listening to music, is their way.

    My dad believed in prayer, it worked for him, I know it sustained him. Everyone is different. But I don’t think you can ‘scientifically study’ prayer and healing outcomes as described in this post. There are too many unknowns, and at present, it’s all beyond the limitations of our mental capacities. It’s also very unfashionable nowadays to mention that there could be things greater than we can perceive or understand. Spirituality is not such a bad thing though – and my dad became more spiritual when he was first afflicted with heart problems. Religion has labelled and categorised it, which has driven it away for many of us, but the Goodness is always there, to tap into, free for all. What we do with it is up to each and every one of us, and surely finding the purpose of our own life here is like a treasure hunt, full of surprises.

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