Guest / Limited Access /

Should your doctor prescribe prayer as part of your treatment? According to a study of 1,134 physicians this past December by Health Care Direct Research, the majority of doctors (70 percent) believe miracles are possible today. Yet fewer than 29 percent believe that the outcomes of medical treatments are related to "supernatural forces" or "acts of God."

Studies on prayer in medicine have a way of demarcating the battle lines between saints and skeptics: Christians long for scientific proof of the efficacy of prayer. Critics, waiting for the opposite, hope to undermine religious faith. For better or worse, we have seen many attempts to measure the healing effects of intercessory prayer. The first known studies were published in 1873 by English polymath Francis Galton. He found no statistical evidence that prayer prolonged life or reduced stillbirths (though his findings would not meet today's criteria for a controlled prospective study).

More recently, various prayer experiments have caught the attention of evangelicals who are eager to show a positive connection between faith and science. One that generated particular excitement was Randolph Byrd's 1988 study, which observed 393 patients admitted to the coronary care unit of San Francisco General Hospital. About half of the patients were prayed for by "born-again Christians with daily devotional prayer and active Christian fellowship in a local church." The other half served as a control group (they received no prayer). In this study, the prayer group significantly outscored the control group.

Byrd's published report received criticism on a number of fronts, however, including possible unintentional unblinding (for example, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only Augustine's Origin of Species
How the great theologian might weigh in on the Darwin debate.
Current Issue
Subscriber Access Only
Should Your Favorite Ministry Become a ‘Church’?
Why more parachurch groups are telling the US government they’re not like other nonprofits.
Recommended
Subscriber Access Only Unstoppable
Even as a sick man, Martin Luther accomplished more than most healthy people.
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickThe Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
The Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
How the New Testament offers a better, higher calling than the Declaration of Independence.
Christianity Today
What Do Prayer Studies Prove?
hide thisMay May

In the Magazine

May 2009

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.