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Might "healing prayer" actually heal?

prayer.jpg

Prayer can be unimaginably beautiful - or just really, really awkward, a la Ben Stiller's dinner grace in the film Meet the Parents:

"We thank you, oh... sweet, sweet, Lord...of hosts. For the...ah...smorgasbord you have so aptly laid at our table this day. And each day. By day. Day by day, by day."

But can prayer be healing?

A new study, which looked at the efficacy of proximal prayer in relieving auditory and visual impairments, suggests the answer might be a (very) qualified "yes."

Researchers led by Candy Gunther Brown, PhD, from the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington observed the activities of two Christian groups, Iris Ministries and Global Awakening, in Mozambique and Brazil. They used an audiometer and vision charts to evaluate 25 rural subjects before and after they received proximal intercessory prayer, or PIP. Per the study release:

Subjects exhibited improved hearing and vision that was statistically significant after PIP was administered. Two subjects with impaired hearing reduced the threshold at which they could detect sound by 50 decibels. Three subjects had their tested vision improve from 20/400 or worse to 20/80 or better. These improvements are much larger than those typically found in suggestion and hypnosis studies.

The study did not seek to explain the mechanisms by which PIP might work.

Whether scientific research should address prayer has been vehemently contested in recent years. Brown argues it should:

If empirical research continues to indicate that PIP may be therapeutically beneficial, then -- whether or not the mechanisms are adequately understood -- there are ethical and nonpartisan public policy reasons to encourage further related research... It is a primary privilege and responsibility of medical science to pursue a better understanding of therapeutic inventions that may advance global health, especially in contexts where conventional medical treatments are inadequate or unavailable.

Photo by mulmatsherm

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