All religions of the world acknowledge that “mind” can be used to improve the physical condition of others. This is not just their belief, but their experience. But the hard sciences are not so sure about all of this. Where, they ask, is the proof? These scientists are so closed to the notion of the effectiveness of “prayer” that they have never even investigated the claims.
Not all scientists, however, are so closed to the experiences of these millions of believers. Recently, some open minded researchers have begun to conduct controlled, rigorous studies of the claims of those who believe in prayer. Cardiologist Randolf Byrd, formerly a professor at the University of California, is one of these “prayer researchers.” In a study of 393 coronary patients at San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Byrd conducted a 10 month study designed to see, simply, if “prayer” works.
Protestant and Catholic prayer groups were recruited from around the country to pray for selected individuals. The study was acknowledged by peers to be fair and unbiased. The results of the study proved to be shocking, at least to the broader scientific community. According to Larry Dossey, M.D., who has studied the result of the experiment extensively, the prayed-for patients differed from the non-prayed-for patients in several areas. Quoting from Dr. Dossey:
“1. They were five times less likely than the unremembered group to require antibiotics (three patients compared to sixteen patients).
- They were three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid, as a consequence of the failure of the heart to pump properly (six compared to eighteen patients).
- None of the prayed-for group required endotracheal intubation, in which an artificial airway is inserted in the throat and attached to a mechanical ventilator; while 12 in the unremembered group required mechanical ventilatory support.
- Fewer patients in the prayed-for group died (although the difference in this area was not statistically significant).”
According to Dr. Dossey, if this experimentation had involved the use of drugs or surgery, the medical establishment would have been quick to label the results as a “breakthrough.” But, since it involved the “mumbo jumbo” of “prayer”, scientists were strangely silent on the whole topic. Still, Dr. William Nolan, known as one of the most prominent debunkers of “faith healing” in the country, has declared, “It sounds like this study will stand up to scrutiny… maybe we doctors ought to be writing on our order sheets, ‘Pray three times a day.’ If it works it works.”
All of the above is, of course, medical heresy. But, if scientists are to be consistent in always believing in their beloved “scientific method”, then the above testing must be accepted and dealt with seriously. “Believers”, all of us having been educated according to the scientific model ourselves, should welcome these studies. While our experience tells us that “prayer” (however we might define it) works, some of us still might have mixed feelings in this area, since our schooling has been largely inhospitable to a spiritual worldview. Today, perhaps more than any time in the past 600 years, looks like a time when the gap between science and spirituality is on a path to healing.