Sent to The Star, Johannesburg Mon 12/09/2011 21:06, published minus the parts in blue as “No proof that prayer helps” in The Star (South Africa); September 21, 2011
I refer to Brenda Rethman's letter on Friday, "Chief Justice may be God's choice".
When you talk to god, it's called Praying. When god talks to you, it's called Schizophrenia.
What objective evidence is there that Justice Moegeng was called to do anything by any god –and if so, which one?
Ms Rothman cites an anecdote where she believes that her god removed a blood clot.
I had a friend who died of cancer despite his congregation praying for him.
Anecdotal evidence is not helpful because people tend to remember when their prayers were answered, but not all the times they were not.
We need scientific studies to tell whether, when prayer is involved, there is any statistically measurable difference in the outcome.
This research has been done (e.g. the STEP study, which can be found on Wikipedia etc.) and has shown that praying for others has no effect, except in one case: When the person knows they are being prayed for. Then, if there is an effect, it is counter-productive. The researchers hypothesised that a kind of "performance anxiety" was involved.
The STEP study involved recovery from surgery. But people recover from surgery anyway. Why not look for something completely unequivocal? Something that could not be produced by mere chance, but would definitely demonstrate the power of prayer? After all, we are talking to the Creator of the Universe here, not some little fairy that might be able to sway the chances by a percentage point or two!
Here is an experiment that you can do for yourself to prove definitely whether prayer works.
Get a group of friends together and pray that, over the next month, all amputees in South Africa re-grow their lost limbs. (You might ask Oscar Pistorius if he wishes to be excluded, lest it hurt his Olympic chances)
Is this a worthy and selfless cause? Of course! Would it be a miracle? Given current scientific knowledge, yes. Would a positive result glorify god and bring lots of converts? Definitely.
So do it!
I prophesy that nothing will happen. Because prayer has no effect.
Why does prayer have no effect? Because the gods being prayed to, don't exist.