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Please Don’t Pray for Me

The John Templeton Foundation awards an annual million-dollar-plus prize officially known as “the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities.” If the contradiction “Spiritual Realities” doesn’t buzz your bias detector, it’s time for a serious tune-up.

Under the leadership of Dr. Herbert Benson, the same foundation forked over 2.4 million dollars to scientifically test the effects of prayer by three Christian congregations on three groups of heart-bypass surgery patients. You can read the four-page Templeton synopsis or the abstract from the American Heart Journal of April 2006, but here is a short summary from the synopsis:

Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer: complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus 51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in 59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus 52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1). Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.

Whoops! Looks like prayer did nothing for Groups 1 and 2 and actually hurt Group 3. Maybe it was the performance pressure on the folks who knew they were being prayed for. Maybe the selected churches didn’t have their total prayer mojo going that week. Maybe Satan jumps in and messes with the intergalactic prayer thoroughfares when he knows a watershed prayer experiment is going down... Who knows?

The point is, of course, to rely first on the creative talents and scientific innovations that have been thoroughly tested and proven to to deliver their predicted results. Then, as long as they don’t get in the way, any other procedures that lift one’s spirits or provide hope are fair game. Even if experiments show they do not provide significant benefits.

As for me, when I’m face to face with the grim reaper, instead of praying for me, whether you tell me or not, just drop a couple of million from the Templeton Foundation in my doc’s back pocket.

This story is related eloquently by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion under the heading “The Great Prayer Experiment” beginning on page 61.


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