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Friday, March 24, 2006

The Washington Post Discusses Prayer

The headline at does not correspond to the article. The headline is "Prayer's Power Still a Mystery." It implies that prayer has power and that some aspect of that power is mysterious. The article discusses whether there is any evidence of any effect of prayer. Headlines are often to brief to be clear, but, in this case, I think the headline writer chose a deliberately misleading headline.

The results seem to me to be immediately recognisable as typical of cases in which the answer is no. Of course, the two posts below make my prejudice clear and, there are cases in which early results were typical of cases in which the answer is no and the answer is now believed to be yes (I can think of "is Stonehenge an observatory/calender and well no others but I'm sure there are many).

The issue is

"intercessory" or "distant" prayer, which involves people trying to heal others through their intentions, thoughts or prayers, sometimes without the recipients knowing it. The federal government has spent $2.2 million in the past five years on studies of distant healing, which have also drawn support from private foundations.

We have a bit of statistics in the post, which explains data mining

"It's called the sharpshooter's fallacy," said Richard Sloan, a behavioral researcher at Columbia University. "The sharpshooter empties the gun into the side of a barn and then draws the bull's-eye. In science, you have to predict in advance what effect you may have."

Having discussed the enthusiasm for anything that boggles the mind and makes people hope that the reason which threatens their faith can be defeated, I am not surprised to find that the EPR experiment is invoked

Proponents often cite a phenomenon from quantum physics, in which distant particles can affect each other's behavior in mysterious ways.

"When quantum physics was emerging, Einstein wrote about spooky interactions between particles at a distance," Krucoff said. "That's at least one very theoretical model that might support notions of distant prayer or distant healing."

We understand Pascal's wager, but quantum mechanics still surpasses our understanding. This pleases some who want to defeat reason.

As mentioned below, I find myself most in disagreement with those who claim that science and religion are both valid and can't speak to each other as in

"I don't see how you could quantify prayer -- either the results of it or the substance of it," said the Rev. Raymond J. Lawrence of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "God is beyond the reach of science. It's absurd to think you could use it to examine God's play."

This is not a serious criticism of the experimental design. It is an effort to avoid a scientific test of a religious claim. The aim seems to me to make sure that no religious beliefs are contradicted based on the perception that, since some people believe in the effectiveness of prayer and others don't toleration requires a refusal to test.

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