"Does God answer prayer? ASU research says 'yes'" 

EurekAlert reports this today. 

I've been skeptical of the methods used in prayer research in the past, and much as I'd like to jump on this as evidence for theism, I have to remain skeptical still. There's not enough in the EurekAlert article to assess what kind of prayer they studied, what kind of controls were used, how effectiveness was measured, and so on. I hope the original article becomes available on the web, but I have doubts about any research method's being able to prove anything about prayer.

Interestingly, in prayer studies a negative inference regarding God is completely impossible, but a positive case is conceivable. Prayer studies with negative results could be interpreted as:
• God does not exist, 
• God exists but doesn't answer prayer, 
• God chose not to answer prayers prayed in the way the research project set them up, 
• God decided not to answer prayers in the research project for some other reason, or  
• God answered other prayers that the research study did not control or know about.

There is no empirical way to choose among these possible interpretations.

But if there is a positive result in a prayer study, then what would the possible interpretations be? We would have to be able to rule out manipulation, coincidence, chance, and placebo effect, all of which researchers are accustomed to dealing with in medical and social science studies. Are there other non-God interpretations we would need to rule out? I'm not sure.

Anyway, this most recent report is certainly intriguing--but I'm not yet able to put it in the Spirituality and Life Outcomes list, except as a note among the "unsuccessful counterexamples," to help show that those supposed counterexamples do indeed fail. 

Posted: Wed - March 14, 2007 at 04:49 PM           |

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