Templeton Prayer Study Flawed

Touted as the largest scientific examination of prayer’s effect on hospital patients, the Templeton Foundation arranged for Christians to pray for 1800 heart patients and tracked the results. Prayer was not effective. According to CNN, “[t]he patients . . . were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren’t prayed for but were told it was a possibility.” Arrangements were made for 3 different Christian groups to pray “starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks”.

But the study was flawed. And it was flawed in a way which reveals the underlying absurdity of prayer itself. CNN reports that “The volunteers prayed for “a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications” for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.”

And that’s the problem. With only the first letter of the last name, how was God supposed to know for whom each prayer was intended?

Christians believe that God already knows everything, after all he can see into the hearts of the people praying. But in this case, those people themselves didn’t know who they were praying for. Still, God knows everything, we are told. Certainly he knows who’s having heart surgery, and at any rate he could always sneak a peak at the Templeton heart study records if he had any questions.

But God is omniscient. He already knows who needs his assistance and who doesn’t. And he already knows whether he intends to give his assistance or not.

Prayer is predicated on the opposite. By its very existence it assumes that God doesn’t know. It assumes more as well. Prayer takes for granted that God can be talked — literally prayed — into helping when otherwise he wouldn’t have.

Within the context of Christian beliefs about God — that God is omni-benevolent and omniscient — prayer is incoherent. In fact, prayer is nothing but a magical attempt to control events through the use of powerful words. I can tell the powers that rule the world what I want them to do — and they will do it! That’s the rationale of prayer.

It follows that the very concept of prayer is inconsistent with the Christian belief that God knows all and God knows best. Consequently it has no place in the Christian worldview. Prayer is nothing but a throwback to the age of magic, an incoherent and superstitious rite that Christians themselves ought to reject.

* Note: the original CNN news article referenced above has moved or is no longer available. Information about the study can be found at MedicalNewsToday.

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11 Responses to Templeton Prayer Study Flawed

  1. Elroy Willis says:

    Well said! I recently have been receiving prayer chain letters from my mother, and in them it asks the person to send the email to 7 other people. Here we see the use of a magic lucky number being combined
    with prayer, and I find it ridiculous.

    I had to hold back from chastising my mother and calling her a stupid superstitious idiot, because I guess I knew it’d hurt her feelings, but I really wanted to let her know how I feel.

  2. Rastaban says:

    Elroy, I know what you mean. I get similar emails from relatives of mine, even though they know my opinion about this sort of thing. Guess they’re too worried about breaking the chain to care who they’re including in the nonsense.

    You were wise not to chastise your mother. Unless you can figure out a polite, tactful way to do it, best to let the matter drop.

  3. Steve says:

    Interestingly the study did show that those who were prayed for and knew it had significantly more complications than those who were prayed for and didn’t know it.
    The study also showed that the control group which wasn’t prayed for had no more complications than the groups prayed for.
    Not what the Templeton Foundation wanted to hear 🙂

  4. matt says:

    God is sure stupid for an omniscient, omnipotent being.

  5. Rastaban says:

    “Interestingly the study did show that those who were prayed for and knew it had significantly more complications than those who were prayed for and didn’t know it.” – Steve

    So, does this mean we should interpret the Templeton Prayer Study results as consistent with the existence of a Devil, but not a God?

  6. daPoppa says:

    Perhaps it the parameters of the study, a lot of assumptions about God, and assumptions about the purpose of prayer that are flawed.

    It is correct that if God is omniscient, He doesn’t need us to tell us what someone else needs. However, perhaps prayer has other purposes. For instance, helping the one praying understand what he or she really wants.

    Or, opening up a line of communication the the Creator in which one seeks to understand God’s will in a matter. For, if God truly is love, then what is ultimately best for each one of us will be God’s will.

    When one prayers for someone else’s healing, one needs always to included the provision that will occur if, and only if, it is the best outcome for all concerned, not just the one who is being prayed for.

    I have experienced it first hand, and you can learn more at cancerhealingjourney.com.

  7. Bob says:

    There were a number of problems with the Templeton Study not mentioned here. First, there is an assumption that God listens and answers prayer without regard to a person’s relationship with him. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that God does not listen to people who are not in right relationship with him, unless they are repenting of their sin and calling upon him for salvation. The so-called Christian groups who prayed for these people have theological beliefs that make it clear they do not trust in Jesus Christ alone to secure right standing with God. This is at great variance with what the Bible teaches. What if what the Bible teaches is actually true? If so, then only people who believe it’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ could expect to have their prayers consistently answered. Something which myself and millions of other Bible believing Christians could testify to. The fact is, that millions of Bible believing Christians have personally experienced seeing answered prayer only after they actually put their faith in Jesus Christ. If the Bible is true, then one should totally expect the results of the Templeton Study to be exactly what they were. Personally, I would have been shocked to see different results. And yes, I know God is watching.

  8. Jodel says:

    God is watching from where?

  9. Harry says:

    DaPoppa, Sorry about bringing this one up again, but I’m a little at a loss here… Granted all you said was true, why was it just in the group being prayed for (and knew it), and being prayed for (and didn’t know it) that god chose to go against the prayers?

    Doesn’t it say in the bible “where two or more people pray” their prayers shall be answered?

    This god of yours seems more than a little arbitrary…

  10. Natasha says:

    So I guess God chooses not to help all the little kids starving to death or born with AIDS huh? Who would follow a God like that? Chooses to help some but lets others suffer…can’t believe you people are that stupid.

  11. Raul says:

    I find it silly how atheists and theists go back and forth like school children. Why yes I’m a brilliant atheist who is superior in every way to theists even though most don’t run around blowing up abortion clinics, killing “witches”, denying their children life saving vaccines and trying to ruin science for the rest of us (even though a great many scientists were and are religious, such as ones on the human genome project, Newton, the priest who discovered the Big Bang, Mendel, etc) yet we will all lump them and their faith in one big pool insinuating that they all wanna start a crusade, or inquisition. So instead of sowing them the truth, we will dedicate our time to mocking them and putti g them down. Even though as stated above many who are born in a nurturing g home live, long, happy lives.vill do this while ignoring the fact that while atrocities were not committed in the name of atheists, atheists indeed have committed great atrocities from dictators like Stalin and Pol Pot, to serial killers like Gerard Schafer, and Ted Bundey
    And others who HAVE attributed murder to an atheistic view.

    And yes I’m a brilliant theist who also lumps all atheists with Hitler, and Stalin, oh and satin, even though most atheists also are happy kind people. I’ll do this while ignoring the atrocities done in the name of my religion and in the bible. I’ll deny my child life saving vaccines, and medication. I’ll also try via politicians to enforce my beliefs on those not of my church. No stem cell research using embryos, no abortion in Texas. I’ll deny global warming. I will try to stop social services helping the poor.

    Yup I don’t know which side is more childish. Instead of trying to get along, and find mutual ground like humanities well being. We’ll just argue endlessly about how dumb the other is. After all doing so gets so much done.

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