As it turns out, the results showed no statistically significant differences between the prayed for and non-prayed for groups. In other words, the intercessory prayer seemed to have had no noticeable affect on the health or recovery of those patients who were being prayed for.
Now this obviously raises the question on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer. If there are no measurable affects of such prayer, then why bother?
A theist might come in at this point and argue that the primary use of prayer is not to ask things of god, but to build a relationship with god. I accept this. Aspects such as praise, love, meditation and confession are all important parts of prayer. Prayer can be an incredible spiritual experience and can even have positive affects on the health and well-being of the individual who is praying. It is not with prayer in general that I have an issue with; it is the intercessory aspect that is in question here.
The results from intercessory prayer are not consistent. Some people who are sick are prayed for, and they are healed; other people who are prayed for die. Some people who are not prayed for are healed; other people who are not prayed for die. Wouldn’t it be better to do something constructive with the time and energy used for intercessory prayer? I’ve often heard the expression: “Two hands working do more than a thousand clasped in prayer”.
So what does this study mean for intercessory prayer? I think that it would be wonderful if more experiments were done on this field of study, but at this time it seems that intercessory prayer has no impact on the health and well being of medical patients. It cannot be used in conjunction with known medical cures. With prayer having so little effect, it would be best for everyone, for the time being, to rely fully on the scientific cures that actually show consistent results. As Carl Sagan noted in his book, The Demon-Haunted World:
We can pray over the cholera victim, or we can give her 500 milligrams of tetracycline every twelve hours . . . The scientific treatments are hundreds or thousands of times more effective than the alternatives. (Pg 13)