Hello fellow atheists. I am writing to ask for some help. My parents aren't real religious but anytime we have talks about supernatural events my mom claims there 'has' to be more out there. She then inevitably references how there was a study where people prayed for bacteria growth and that it grew faster than the bacteria with no prayer. I ask for her source of the information and she said she thought Oprah had mentioned it.
Of course I have found Christian sites like (http://1stholistic.com/prayer/hol_prayer_proof.htmr) that reinforce my Mom's stance.
"Even more outrageous experiments in distance healing involve nonhuman subjects. In a survey of 131 controlled experiments on spiritual healing, it was found that prayed-for rye grass grew taller; prayed-for yeast resisted the toxic effects of cyanide; prayed-for test-tube bacteria grew faster. "I adore these experiments," says Larry Dossey, M.D., perhaps the world's most vocal expert on prayer and medicine. "Because they don't involve humans, you can run them with fanatical precision and you can run them hundreds of times. It's the best evidence of all that prayer can change the world. And it operates as strongly on the other side of the Earth as it does at the bedside."
How would you go about refuting these 'experiments'?
** Redefining 'prayer' to save god-proxies their jobs
In the good old days, people heard gods speaking to them. But that won't wash today. To hear "God" speaking to you makes you a likely schizophrenic not a saint.
Jesus cleverly admonished his followers against prayer as asking-for-stuff -- "consider the lilies of the field" -- or prayer as public performance -- "they have their reward." Even in a backwater like 1st century Judea, Graeco-Roman philosophy had quashed "do ut des" prayers -- I’ll do this for you and you’ll do that for me -- as a communication channel, public or private.
If prayers were testable, they would turn out to be false. Thus it is very important that no empirical test could ever be applied -- right-wing xians practicing witchcraft should follow Jesus' advice. Prayer is not "my will" but "thy will" -- supposedly God's but really to some religious institution right here on Earth.
Prayer amounts to a purported alignment of your intentions with "the will of God." Or YHVH, Allah, Ahura Mazda. Pick your favorite 1-god from the Big-4 near eastern dysfunctional family. (Deists, pantheists . . . can align with necessity. As Spinoza cooly notes, "If you love God, do not expect Him to love you in return.")
Prayer, basically, is one fat red herring. The word 'prayer' simply gets redefined until the action it points to becomes attitude adjustment -- supposedly, openness to the will of some god. Just how one explicates the concept of "god's will" and how one would know it are other matters altogether.
All that matters is your attitude -- are you prepared to cede to some authoritarian god proxy: priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, evangelist? Will you follow authoritarian institutions "guiding" your life? Are you prepared to submit? ('Islam' by the way means 'submission' to "God" of course.)
Well, if not it's your problem. Or better yet, you are your problem. Yes, you have a problem with adapting to a schema of institutionalized authoritarianism -- and the religious diagnosis is always the same -- the problem lies with you, not the 1-god of the Big-3 Monster Theisms as represented by "his" proxies.
Xianity and Freudian psychiatry are one in creating fictitious "illnesses" (sin and neurosis) for which each offers sham cures at premium prices.
Victor Stenger once remarked what he thought would be convincing evidence with respect to these either failing or flawed (or both) prayer studies.
His answer was to the effect that it would be convincing if there would be a clear (statistical) signal that Catholic prayers would work but Protestant prayers wouldn't or vice versa or that Mormon prayers would have slight effect but Sunni Islamic prayers would be hugely effective, while Shi'ite prayers fell on deaf ears or some other configuration because that would defy an explanation in terms of some systemic flaw in the experimental setup and simultaneously identify which of them Gods to add some credibility to.
Alas for brave experimenters, but all Gods seem to be Heisenberg entities.
Do they pray for individual rye planted in the same patch? How do they divide up the prayed for and not prayed for rye without somehow changing their location and therefor the soil, water reception, etc. of the rye to where we can be sure that it is only the prayer influencing differences?
I would recommend hydroponics with controlled indoor environments... that should be enough to isolate prayer from other environmental factors.
Edit: I am guessing the articles in question didn't go to this kind of extreme to isolate the prayer variable. This further invalidates them.
I think this (your) is the line of questioning that will be most effective. If you read most of these posts here you can see that there are a lot of smart people here. But this level of abstraction, and focus on more general questions and other studies, which works well for the posters here, isn't going to have the same affect on adherents, imo.
And that is not to imply that adherents are simple, I'm just saying that more direct, less abstract counter arguments are just more effective generally.
If I can be so cocky, get a copy of these studies, pass me the methodology and I'll rip it up. You need to attack these studies if they really exist because I think there is an avalanche of studies on prayer that show that it doesn't work.
Here are some.
These, and others, have already been scrutinized- with a little searching you won't have to recreate the wheel.
Hey Ron - thx - kk
Sorry, one more point. I just checked out that link. There's a saying that goes something like, "show me the data". And that is relevant here. It would be most effective to get the study itself and start deconstructing the methodology, which I'm certain is bogus.
The key is in the (sorry for the unnecessarily big word) operationalization of the stories. The author clearly had a vested interest in this article showing the sucess of prayer so he / she worded each story to imply something that isnt really there. It is too numerous to go in to each one but, in general, look at the use of "including prayer" "along with prayer" "less (or more) likely" "integrating with prayer", etc. Every single one of them indicates that prayer was a tacked-on part of a larger, modern and scientifically sound treatment plan. Why not take the patients out of the cardiac-care unit and in to the hallway and pray until the heart attack stops? Because it would be unethical and nearly always fatal. (But when that one survives-glory to god!) It is easy to do something and include an obviously random variable and then later claim that the variable aided in the outcome. This exact same study could have been used to show that a good play book, sound coaching and a strong defensive line... along with giant foam #1 hands led to last sunday's victory by the Cincinnati Bengals. The article is dripping with correlation without causation and doesn't represent anything close to sound science. Oh, and one final complaint. None of the actual published papers are sited or posted for peer review.
I just did a Google search of Dr. Koening from Duke University (mentioned in the artilce) and found the following interview where he contradicts the study and states that he is not surprised that a recent study showed no correlation between prayed and health because God is not quantative. He then goes on to tout the social benefit of going to church. Absolute nonsense.
By the way, my favorite line of the article:
"The experiments showed that a simple "Thy will be done" approach was quantitatively more powerful than when specific results were held in mind."