Faith-soaked physician to conduct study of prayer in curing Covid-19

Does prayer work to cure diseases? Anecdotal evidence from Lourdes, where amputees and the eyeless aren’t cured, suggest not. And we all know the results of the Templeton-funded study of the effects of intercessory prayer on recovery of cardiac patients, the most thorough study of intercessory prayer yet, involving over 1800 patients (Benson et al. 2006). Those results: no effect of prayer; or, as the study notes:

Our study had 2 main findings. First, intercessory prayer itself had no effect on whether complications occurred after CABG. Second, patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive intercessory prayer.

In other words, the only effect even close to being statistically significant was that patients who knew they were being prayed for had more complications than patients not prayed for. Prayer worked in the wrong direction! That must have disappointed Templeton!

Further, a 2006 meta-analysis of 14 studies of medical effects of intercessory prayer showed no significant effects overall. The results and conclusions are in a red box below; note that the authors advise “that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.” (Click on screenshot to go to the study.)

But someone disagrees about there being no more need for research: Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, a cardiologist at the Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute. Lakireddy is doing a double-blind study of the effect of intercessory prayer on the mortality rates (and other indices of “being cured”) from Covid-19. NPR, which always has a weakness for the numinous, highlights it in the article below (click on screenshot):

There’s no audio yet, but the site says there will be. UPDATE: The online version is here, and it’s short (2 minutes) and not the same as the transcript. But there’s little difference between them.

Lakkireddy plans a study of 1000 patients in intensive care with Covid-19. Lakireddy is a true believer, and it shows in his comments to NPR (below). The emphases are mine.

We all believe in science, and we also believe in faith,” Lakkireddy says. “If there is a supernatural power, which a lot of us believe, would that power of prayer and divine intervention change the outcomes in a concerted fashion? That was our question.”

We believe in faith? What does that mean? Faith is belief—belief without strong or convincing evidence! Perhaps Lakkkireddy means he believes that faith can cure, which is what he’s testing. But saying that we “believe” in science is a bête noire of mine, and bothered me enough that I wrote an article in Slate arguing that “faith” in science really means “confidence in the reliability of the methods and its outcomes”, not “blind adherence to unevidenced claims,” which is what religious faith is.

But wait! There’s more! Lakkireddy, who has dipped his toes into several faiths, and clearly has a weakness for the numinous, goes on:

The investigators will assess how long the patients remain on ventilators, how many suffer from organ failure, how quickly they are released from intensive care and how many die.

Lakkireddy describes himself as “born into Hinduism,” but he says he attended a Catholic school and has spent time in synagogues, Buddhist monasteries, and mosques.

“I believe in the power of all religions,” he says. “I think if we believe in the wonders of God and the universal good of any religion, then we’ve got to combine hands and join the forces of each of these faiths together for the single cause of saving humanity from this pandemic.”

He already knows that religion will help with the pandemic! Is this the right guy to conduct a double-blind study on Covid-19? He has an interest in the outcome, of course, but one can only hope that he’s being supervised by other people to ensure rigorous, double-blind methodology. But wait! There’s still more!

Scientific studies of the power of prayer have been attempted before. Lakkireddy’s description of his study lists six previous clinical trials involving religious intervention. Some showed slight improvement for patients receiving prayer. Other studies have found no significant prayer effect.

Note that the “other studies” links to the meta-analysis above: a summary of ALL studies, and a summary that shows no effect of prayer overall. As far as I can see, previous studies cited by Lakkireddy were already incorporated into that meta-analysis. Shame on NPR for pretending that a meta-analysis of 14 studies is the same thing as a group of studies.

Lakkireddy says he can not explain how people praying remotely for someone they don’t know (or a group of people,) could actually make a difference in their health outcomes, and he acknowledges that some of his medical colleagues have had “a mixed reaction” to his study proposal.

“Even from my wife, who’s a physician herself,” he says. “She was skeptical. She was, like, ‘OK, what is it that you’re looking at?”

Lakkireddy says he has no idea what he will find. “But it’s not like we’re putting anyone at risk,” he says. “A miracle could happen. There’s always hope, right?”

Yes, there’s always hope of a miracle. But given the meta-analysis above, which recommends that “we should stop this nonsense”, there are no data to give us hope. There are data to give us no hope. And hope is really something that should not be entertained by a principal investigator, for that gives rise to confirmation bias. You could, for example, do p-hacking, hoping that at least one outcome will be in your favor, reaching statistical significance.

You can learn more about Lakkireddy’s study at the “clinical trials” section of the National Institutes of Medicine, which registers all proposed and ongoing trials. It also adds the interesting tidbit that Lakkireddy’s prayers will involve those of five different denominations. Is Lakireddy testing which religion is “right”, i.e., prayers to its god are the only ones that work?

I can find no information about funding on the site.

Brief Summary:

This is a multicenter; double blind randomized controlled study investigating the role of remote intercessory multi-denominational prayer on clinical outcomes in COVID-19 + patients in the intensive care unit. All patients enrolled will be randomized to use of prayer vs. no prayer in a 1:1 ratio. Each patient randomized to the prayer arm will receive a “universal” prayer offered by 5 religious denominations (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism) in addition to standard of care. Whereas the patients randomized to the control arm will receive standard of care outlined by their medical teams. During ICU stay, patients will have serial assessment of multi-organ function and APACHE-II/SOFA scores serial evaluation performed on a daily basis until discharge. Data assessed include those listed below.

I’m torn between thinking this is a waste of time, as an overview of previous studies shows no effect of prayer—not surprising in view of the inefficacy of God in “faith based healing” as practiced by various Christian sects, of the failure of prayer to restore missing limbs and eyes, and of no evidence for the presence of any God)—and, on the other hand, wanting it to proceed because, if the study is done properly and with sufficient rigor, it’s not going to support evidence for a prayer-answering God. (I do think that, as a true believer, Lakkireddy should let others run the study and analyze its results).

Now it is possible that the study will “work”: either prayer will have a significant effect, or prayers for one religion will have a significant effect. (If only Jewish prayers work, for example, will Christians, Hindus, and Muslims immediately abandon their faith? I wouldn’t bank on it!).

In Faith Versus Fact I detail what kind of results would make me (tentatively) accept a deity. Consistent effects of one kind of prayer (or all kinds of prayers) on healing would make me sit up and take notice, that’s for sure. But we haven’t had that.

Two more points. First, if the study shows no effect of prayer, I expect NPR to do a followup reporting that result. (They surely would if they find a positive effect!). And I will badger them about this after the study ends in August.

Finally, the mere existence of this study gives the lie to religionists’ claim that “Science cannot study the supernatural, for that realm is off limits to naturalistic analysis.” But, as even Lakkireddy admits, this is a case in which science can indeed study supernatural claims! But we shall see if they’re supported. These studies usually have a one-way effect: if they show an effect, the faithful trumpet it to the skies. But if they show no effect, the faithful quietly shelve the results and speak no more of them.

h/t: Bob

64 Comments

  1. Posted May 2, 2020 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    One hundred patients is way too small a study to be of any significance. This is a waste of everyone’s time and resources.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Estimated enrollment is 1000 per the online description. I think 100 is a typo.

      Clinicaltrials.gov ref NCT04361838

  2. Posted May 2, 2020 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “First, if the study shows no effect of prayer, I expect NPR to do a followup reporting that result. (They surely would if they find a positive effect!). And I will badger them about this after the study ends in August.”

    Perhaps you should volunteer to write that article for NPR!

  3. Simon Hayward
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Couple of quick thoughts.

    First, it would have been interesting to hear the IRB deliberations to approve this study given the severe and public reaming of the group who approved the STEP trial (Benson et al 2006, referenced above). This scathing assessment was published as an accompanying editorial in the same issue of American Heart Journal (Krucoff et al Am. Heart J. 151, 762-4 2006).

    Second, if participation in this trial precludes access to the huge range of currently ongoing clinical trials for Covid-19 patients then the overall morality must be even more seriously questioned. We really don’t need control vs. placebo studies when there are potentially useful approaches looking for patients.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted May 3, 2020 at 4:18 am | Permalink

      Good thoughts!

      I wasn’t aware that the Benson et al had found a significant harm in intercessory prayers when the patient is aware. That reaming was deserved, too!

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I suspect the proof will be evident in the non existent. It’s 50/50 that you would be better off flipping a coin.

    If g*d created the virus as he does everything, what good would praying against it do?

  5. steve oberski
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Hope that Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy includes all the fundeglical pastors who exhorted their cult members to ignore social distancing rules as if they were somehow exempt from the rules of the universe, who subsequently contracted and died from the virus in this “study”.

    Presumably they did a lot of that speaking at the ceiling with their eyes closed thing.

  6. Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Forget hydroxychloroquine. Forget bleach and UV. The answer has been right in front of our eyes all along. Let’s just ask God.

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    It is an astonishing illustration of cognitive dissonance for someone to imagine that it would be a positive outcome to demonstrate that God favors those with connections. Praise Him who lets the lonely die.

    • Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I think the patients will, as in the heart study, be prayed for by people who don’t know them, so the patients don’t have to have “connections”. Patients will be assigned randomly to pray-ers, who presumably will pray one of the five designated prayers. Still, if God listens, there should be a favorable outcome!

      • A C Harper
        Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        And if prayer is shown to be ineffective perhaps we should consider the effectiveness of human sacrifice? Although I think that will be a tough one to get through the ethics committee.

        {sarcasm}

  8. Silvia Planchett
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Faith permits you to believe the absurd.
    (As does insanity.)

  9. Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Suppose it was the case that God heals on demand. Why would that be a desirable outcome?

    God has created a specific situation with his partial and obscure revelation. He then allowed it to be carried on through historical accidents, and today some people can get “heal on demand” because they happen to live in the “correct” culture. Everyone else is out of luck.

    Christians reveal only an apish desire to be backed by the ape with the biggest stick (or best health kit).

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I am shocked–SHOCKED–that Dr. Lakkireddy’s prayers reference only Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Muslimism. Where is Zoroasterism? Where is Shinto? Where is the belief system of the NW coast Indians? Where is the Flying Spaghetti Monster? I expect NPR to report on this flagrant example of marginalization of vulnerable communities.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Ramen to that!

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      And where is naturalism?

  11. Roger
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I can’t decide if humans are too intelligent or too stupid to conduct prayer experiments with amputees. Either the most dumbest species ever or the most intelligent species ever.

  12. Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I’ve probably raised this question before, but how exactly can a scientific study evaluate the quality of prayer?

    Practically the oldest story in Genesis is that Cain killed Abel because the latter’s offering (prayer) was acceptable to God while Cain’s wasn’t; the story of Saul’s downfall is entirely based on Saul’s mistaking the importance of sacrifice (prayer) and obedience.

    In short, no two prayers are the same and which ones are acceptable or effective is pretty much a crap shoot.

    • Roger
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      And how, pray tell, did you evaluate the quality of Genesis and that it isn’t utterly irrelevant to anything.

    • Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      I gather (in conjunction with your past comments) that you’re trying to discredit the results of the study in advance because the quality of the prayers might not be good. Well, all I can say is that they are using standard prayers offered by the various religions, and if they don’t work, then those standard prayers won’t work.

      To say, “we can’t do this study because we might not be offering THE RIGHT KIND OF PRAYERS”, when the words and presumably the sentiments are used by believers, is simple a priori evasion. Of course, if the prayers worked, then you’d say, “See, they were the RIGHT KIND OF PRAYERS!”

      • Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        “. . .then those standard prayers won’t work.”

        My point is that you can’t separate the prayer from the pray-er. You and a devout Catholic could both say the “Hail Mary” but it would not be the same prayer.

        What question is the study trying to answer—does this formula of words work irrespective of the intention, devotion, character, or belief state of the person who says the words? We hardly need a study to answer “no” to that question.

        Please tell me that isn’t the question these studies are asking.

        • Posted May 2, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          You know, you could look it up yourself rather than just cast aspersions on it. Presumably it’s like the prayers in the heart study THAT DIDN’T WORK:

          The first name, first initial of last name, and an anonymous site code for patients assigned to groups 1 and 3 (those to receive intercessory prayer) were placed on the prayer list for 14 consecutive days, starting the night before each patient’s scheduled surgery. The same daily updated list was faxed to each of 3 intercessory prayer groups every weekday throughout the study,20 and the list was posted in a central location not later than 7:15 pm EST each evening, with intercessory prayer beginning by midnight for patients on the list. The intercessors agreed to add the phrase “for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications” to their usual prayers.

          Intercessors from 3 Christian groups (2 Catholic groups [St Paul’s Monastery, St Paul, MN; Community of Teresian Carmelites, Worcester, MA) and 1 Protestant group [Silent Unity, Lee’s Summit, MO]) provided study prayer throughout the trial.

          If that isn’t good enough, then I guess one can conclude that INTERCESSORY PRAYERS offered by believers uttering their usual prayers and giving the name of the recipient DO NOT WORK.

        • Roger
          Posted May 2, 2020 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          That’s how prayers work though. It’s the words that matter, and if they are praying for something good to happen. (I can pull stuff out of my hat as well as the next theologian.)

    • GBJames
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Not really, Gary. They never work. No crapshoots required.

      • Posted May 2, 2020 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        “Not really, Gary. They never work.”

        Really, GB, the only two prayers I have any use for are “Yes” and “Thank you.” In my experience, they both work fine.

        • Posted May 3, 2020 at 4:32 am | Permalink

          You don’t seem to comprehend that “work” in this case means, “Get what you asked for.” You’re not asking for anything and so “work” must mean “have some psychlogical effect on me” or something similar. “Yes” and “Thank you” don’t qualify as prayers in the sense that we’re talking about here as they’re not requesting some favor of God.

          That’s like saying my prayer is “Time to eat!” That works fine, too.

          Enough of this palaver. You complained that the design of the study probably didn’t provide the “right” kind of prayer. I told you what the heart study did, and you did not answer. Don’t bother now, as it’s too late. I don’t want any more numinous obscurantism here.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of Mary “Bloody Mary”, realizing that her persecution of protestants was not successful (what did I do wrong?) thought that God deemed her not harsh enough and increased the persecution. Why didn’t she think that God was maybe not so happy with the slaughter, and would have liked her to go a bit softer? But that is not how the religious mind works.

      • Roger
        Posted May 3, 2020 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        That’s like how conservatives with their tunnel vision don’t realize what is obvious to everyone else. God is punishing everyone in the world for the sins of the 304 people in the electoral college who elected Trump.

  13. Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    This is of course all in accord with the methodology of classical pseudoscience: he won’t and can’t reference the Benson et al study because that would make it clear that pseudoscience is defined by its failure to progress.

    Nor will he publish his study when it fails: also in keeping with classical pseudoscience; nor will NPR bother following up on the story (also in keeping with correct protocol for media when covering pseudoscience).

    • Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      You may be underestimating him. A really good pseudoscientist will analyze the crap out of the results, using as many statistical tests as he can, until he winds up with a statistically significant one. He’ll then publish the statistically significant result and claim victory.

      • mike cracraft
        Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        That’s what I say all the time: Pray the crap out of it !

      • A C Harper
        Posted May 2, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Plus any unfortunate contradictory data will be omitted from the analysis for some previously unidentified reason.

      • Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Yes, maybe, but if this is his first study like this, he might not be as skilled in the proper pseudoscientific practice. And if he really does believe it could work (as he appears to) he might be so surprised when the results come in that he might toss the whole thing out.

        Or maybe some kindly mentor will show up and advise him before he starts, and get him to make some adjustments to his method: maybe remove the blinding half way through and declare the goal as now being “to determine “which patients are more susceptible to prayer”, etc.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    How about a study on how little prayer has done over the last 2000 years to eliminate evil generally? All of Leviticus, and not one thing about washing your hands. Thoughts and prayers, people.

  15. Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I never can understand the point of intercessionary prayer, even from a religious point of view. Surely if you believe in a god, especially an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent one, then the very notion that your prayer would be needed or wanted makes no sense. Surely such a being would KNOW everyone’s health situation and needs, and if those people are sick and dying it’s exactly what this being wants (or allows, in any case). I once knew a poor guy who was REALLY beating himself up over having failed to pray in the morning before his mother went in for a colonoscopy to see if she was developing a tumor–apparently there was some serious risk. I didn’t want to see him keep suffering, so I had to put on a pseudo-religious hat and say, “Don’t worry, He knows what she needs, and he’s not gonna abandon her just because you forgot to pray.” The last part is even true, strictly speaking, though not the way he would have wanted to think of it. It seems this very notion had never even occurred to him, because he immediately calmed down and smiled and felt much better.

    As Silvia implied above…madness.

    • Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omni-everything, but he likes to see us beg and plead.

      • Posted May 2, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Yeah. Not exactly something I’d want to worship. I always say, if God is real and is as described in the major western religions, then all moral people belong in Hell.

        • wetherjeff
          Posted May 3, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          Exactly. Can you imagine being omnipotent, but only willing to help the brown nosing sycophants that are constantly kissing your buttocks, telling you how wonderful you are?

          “You want help, human? Then kiss my Godly arse”

          Considering that you i.e. God actually got them into trouble in the first place by causing an accident or inventing a virus or whatever, the ass kissing requirement seems particularly unreasonable.

          What kind of vile, twisted asshole would behave like that? Can you imagine allowing people to die, watching on with cold indifference like some vile, mediaeval tyrant, just because they haven’t grovelled enough?

  16. Mike
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Something to watch out for in studies like this: because the data will be very noisy (how could they not?), if the researchers measure a lot of different response variables, at different time points during each patient’s hospitalization, using different measures of wellness or disease severity, then if they analyze enough of those possibilities (especially by doing so after having a look at the patterns in the data) *something* will have p<0.05. Then the researchers will be able to declare victory. An important detail of the study design if whether the authors specify before doing the study exactly what response variable they predict will be affected by prayer. If they don't specify that in advance, expect a lot of after-the-study data exploration with lots of meaningless p values.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely right. In fact, we expect ~ one out of twenty of the somethings to come out with P <0.05. I once rejected a paper which pulled exactly this trick.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted May 2, 2020 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

        I think Jerry did mention p-hacking (aka p-fishing). These kind of ‘studies’ are indeed very prone to that.

  17. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    We ran a translation company working predominantly with health sciences research articles for about six years. The final line is almost invariably ‘Further research is needed’. Not once did we have an article stating that no further research into the topic should be funded.

  18. JezGrove
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Indeed, that same thought struck me too. The phrase “no further research is needed” gets just 272 hits on Google Scholar and very many of those are not a recommendation made by the author(s) in the final section of a paper but their criticism of a more general attitude about their area of study that they are dismissing. The number of papers actively concluding that “no further study is needed” must be vanishingly small.

    • JezGrove
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Oops, that was a reply to Matthew Jenkins above.

  19. Posted May 2, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s great that another study is being done on the (lack of) effect of intercessory prayer. As long as the funds are coming out of religious coffers, not out of a shrinking science budget.

    “patients who knew they were being prayed for had more complications than patients not prayed for.”

    If I ever have major surgery, I hope the last thing the doctor tells me before putting me under anesthesia is “You haven’t got a prayer.”

  20. Posted May 2, 2020 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Although I grew up in a household in which my mother fervently believed in the efficacy of prayer for healing (because her minister uncle prayed for her when it was thought she was dying of Typhoid), I can’t believe it.

    If the god one believes in is omni-everything, the disease you have was created by him/her. Why would such a being strike you down, only to raise you up if you or enough other people pray on your behalf? Given that this test uses a variety of prayer formulations, I doubt that we can know which one is most pleasing/effective in god’s eyes. And, what about all those believers not involved in this test, praying on their knees by their bedside at night or in church with their congregation? Shouldn’t those prayers be considered?

    What about the view some other believers hold that humanity has become so bad that god is getting rid of us? Aren’t we almost in or, actually in, the End Times?

    This is a waste of money. Almost like going back to counting angels dancing on the heads of pins.

    • A C Harper
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      It makes a great deal more sense to pray if the natural world is the battleground between God and Satan. Then you can explain bad things happening to good people (and vice versa) and hope to influence the outcome of ‘the struggle’.

      Most Christian sects seem to work around the existence of Satan. I imagine that once you admit the existence of Satan then you don’t want to draw attention to yourself… and you give up the certainty of eternal life etc.

  21. Joe
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Just two days ago the Science-Based Medicine site posted an article on “p-hacking” and related statistical tricks. I would hope there is a fair amount of cross-over between WEIT and SBM.

    • Mike
      Posted May 2, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Lou posted above on the likelihood that pseudoscientists will p-hack the hell out of the data. I wrote something similar at the same time. I agree with you: it’s a relevant way to view the proposed study and its “discoveries”.

      • grasshopper
        Posted May 3, 2020 at 4:39 am | Permalink

        Quite an interesting article. It’s a shame Daryl Bem never came across Richard Feynman’s aphorism –

        The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

  22. Peter Edwards
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    When I see patients leaving shrines, healing tents, churches etc. with new limbs I will agree it is worth investigating otherwise cures are unexplained or a figment of their imagination.

  23. JohnE
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Over and over and over again, Jesus and other biblical figures promise the Christian faithful that whatever they ask for in prayer will be granted to them. Contrary to the excuses generally offered up by Christian religious leaders, the bible does not say that god will “answer” your prayers, such that sometimes the answer might be “no.” Moreover, the bible never says that god will grant your prayers “if he thinks you’re worthy,” or “if he thinks it’s best for you,” or “if it’s consistent with his plan.” Instead, god repeatedly and unequivocally promises to grant the prayers of the faithful (See, e.g. Mark, 11:24).

    Trusting in this litany of sacred assurances, Christians offer up countless prayers every day for the health and well-being of their loved ones, for help with their marital and other relationships, for financial assistance, for the avoidance of sin and deliverance from temptation, etc., etc., etc. Given all of these prayers by sincere, devoted, Jesus-loving Christians, it would seem that if god answered ANY significant number of prayers, the lives of Christians as a group would have to be measurably better than the lives of those who haven’t accepted Jesus or asked for Jesus’ help in their lives.

    But they’re not. As Jerry points out, studies have shown that prayer does not improve health outcomes. Here are some additional statistics:

    – Despite their prayers for blessings upon the marriages of themselves and their loved ones, there is no evidence that Christians have happier marriages or fewer divorces than other groups. In fact, the divorce rate for the “bible belt” states is 50% higher than the U.S. average, with “conservative” Texas having twice the divorce rate of “liberal” Massachusetts (http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2004/10/31/walking_the_walk_on_family_values/). A 2006 survey of church pastors by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (previously mentioned above) found that 77% did not believe they had a good marriage. (http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=36562&columnid=3958).

    – There is no evidence that Christians are more financially secure or successful, or that fewer Christians face financial adversities. In fact, a study by the Pew Forum found that the percentage of Jews and Hindus in the U.S. earning in excess of $100,000 was double that of mainstream Christian groups, and more than triple the percentage of evangelical Christians who earned that much (see “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008,” at http://pewforum.org/Income-Distribution-Within-US-Religious-Groups.aspx).

    – There is no evidence that prayer makes Christians better people. The bible belt states of the South have the highest incarceration rates of any area of the country — nearly twice the rate of the “liberal” Northeast — with Louisiana and Mississippi having incarceration rates that are 330% and 280%, respectively, of the rate of Vermont (the least religious state). While approximately 5% of the U.S. population identifies itself as being “atheist,” the atheist population of the U.S. prison system as of 1997 was reported to be a mere .2%.

  24. GBJames
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    It never ends.

  25. grasshopper
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    “I believe in the power of all religions,” he says.

    If Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy had done his study during the Deluge,and just before he drowned, he would have concluded that nobody had prayed for the rain to stop, or that the prayers of the eight people on the Ark praying for a flood were more powerful than the prayers of a billion drowning souls.

    If Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy makes no allowances for countervailing prayer which welcomes COVID-19 as a cure for the gay virus, or promiscuity etc, then his study will fail.

  26. Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    The’re doing the study on the wrong subjects, it’s the person VOICING the prayer that gets all the benefits.
    Further self delusion being just one of the effects,

  27. Colin
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I never get tired of this old classic:

    http://www.godisimaginary.com/video.htm

  28. Laurance
    Posted May 2, 2020 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm…properly religious people doing the praying…I’m thinking of the Satanic Temple right now.

    These Satanists are not diabolical or evil at all. Quite the opposite. What if members of the Satanic Temple were to offer, well, if not prayers, were to offer some sort of good vibes. It would be a hoot if the religious prayers failed but the Satanic rituals had some amount of beneficial effect.

    (Don’t mind me. I’m going kind of crazy right now what with life being turned upside down for me.)

  29. Tim Harris
    Posted May 3, 2020 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    ‘Each patient randomized to the prayer arm will receive a “universal” prayer offered by 5 religious denominations (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism) in addition to standard of care.’

    What if the Hindu or Buddhist prayers prove efficacious and the others do not? There might be a bit of a commotion among at least the Christians & Muslims.

    Since someone mentioned Shinto above, I’d like to address, since I have lived in Japan for nearly 50 years, what seems to me to be an article of faith among some New Atheists at least that the Japanese and Chinese are not religious. Among people brought up in the Abrahamic religions, ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ seems to be the sine qua non of what constitutes a religion. But outside of the Abrahamic religions, and particularly Christianity & Islam, it is not. There is no equivalent of the Apostles’ Creed in non-Abrahamic religions, where the question of willed belief in this or that dogma simply doesn’t arise. For Japanese religion, there is very good chapter about it in Richard Lloyd Parry’s ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’, an excellent book about the response of Japanese people in a certain village to the deaths of almost every child at the local school because of the tsunami in 2011.

    The simple fact is that if you ask a Japanese person if they are religious, they will, unless they are Christian or belong to some new cult, answer in the negative, since they will understand you as asking whether they ‘believe’ in this, that or the other in the manner of the requirements of Abrahamic religions. The question of ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ really does not arise.

    I am reminded also of the story (which I recall being a true one – I read it in some anthropological book years ago – but it is anyway good enough to be true) of the young American anthropologist taking down creation myths etc from an elder belonging to some South American Indian tribe. At some point in his recitation, the elder (who had probably become rather fed up with visiting anthropologists picking his brains and getting paid for it)turned to his listener and said, ‘I suppose you think we believe in all this.’

  30. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted May 3, 2020 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    I’m divided on the science pandemic response.

    On one hand some are alarmed that scientists putatively have a tendency to rush to take advantage as well as promote bad studies (no controls!), with mutual adverse effects on the rest of society and on science. I have some articles near the top of my to-read list.

    On the other hand I just saw Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine winner Paul Nurse in Guardian noting how both science and politics are changing [ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/02/coronavirus-means-science-is-suddenly-being-done-differently-and-so-is-politics ]:

    “Suddenly, science is being done differently. Scientists have made dramatic shifts in their research, often without the funding in place to support these new directions. Results are shared rapidly, with papers in research journals being published in days and weeks rather than months and years, and through informal channels not always peer reviewed, like the popular press and social media. Barriers have been broken down between different areas of science, blurring the boundaries between disciplines and the conventional separation of basic discovery research from research aimed at developing useful applications.”

    “There has also been a sea change in the relationship between politicians and scientists. This is important because as well as high-quality scientists, we need high-quality political leadership to guide us through this pandemic. The political populists, so vocal at the election and before, have gone strangely silent.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted May 3, 2020 at 4:43 am | Permalink

      I should add that the last seems to happen here in Sweden as well – populists are suddenly onboard with the rest of society – but of course all of this is anecdotal so far.

      [We also saw our first left extremist terrorist attack on a politician responsible for our pandemic response and especially for the abysmal result among nursing homes for old that initially stood for half of the deaths. As in the Netherlands with the same problem, we don’t know what happened yet.

      Oh, and our R has been < 1 for a few weeks – yesterday it was 0.85 – so we think we are at peak epidemic. Meaning deaths are now dominated by younger age groups as the epidemic shifts out and away from the nursing homes.]

  31. Tim Harris
    Posted May 3, 2020 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    This is just to say, since there seems to be little reporting in the West about Japan, that the official figures for cases and deaths from CV-19 in Japan up until now is 14,857 cases & 517 deaths. The real figure is doubtless somewhat higher, but cannot be by all that much. This is not China or North Korea, and though I’m not at all fond of the present Japanese government, things cannot be readily hidden here. Japan has roughly twice the population of Britain, and since it is very mountainous most of its citizens are crammed into a much smaller area than is the case in the UK, where things are very bad, and live generally in far more crowded conditions. There is also a large Chinese population in the big cities, and there were, until a couple of months ago, large numbers of Chinese tourists. The figures are lower than those for southern Florida. Perhaps the Shinto gods, all 8 million of them, are doing something.

  32. wetherjeff
    Posted May 3, 2020 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I hope he takes more care collecting data than he has with his physician profile. In the list of conditions he treats there’s one called “hypertronic cardiomyopathy”. This is either a condition he has recently discovered (but yet to publish on), or a typo. My money is on the latter!


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