The federal government contributes over $2 million to scientific institutions to study the effects of prayer on the healing process. There are those who express outrage. Some scientists and statisticians say these studies are a waste of time and money; contending that what ever efficacy might be attributed to prayer could have other explanations. It’s what hard-data scientists call “weakened measures”: collect enough variables and it will give you any answer you want.
It’s absolutely true that doing research on the efficacy of prayer is different from other kinds of scientific inquiry. The interface of science and religion raises lots of boundary issues, because you can’t control all of the variables. The same people don’t do the praying, and we can’t even agree on what constitutes a “therapeutic dose.” Is prayer done by an individual or a congregation; is it a Buddhist ceremony, a dance, a Native American sweat lodge, or New Age healers chanting at holy sites? How do you quantify prayer? In spite of these uncertainties, what these studies reveal is that most people, when asked what they think about the healing influence of prayer, say they believe it’s helpful.
I believe some people get offended by the word “prayer,” because it sounds so religious. So, let’s instead call it “making a connection to some healing energy.” And let’s also agree that it may be less important to understand how it works than the fact that it seems to work.
Connecting to something other than self, something that inspires you, something that fills you with awe and love, they all embolden the healing spirit.