Prayer and Health
There has always been a desire in the spirits of human beings to hope and sometimes believe in the effects of prayer in healing. Belief and the subsequent proof has always been hard to find or to do. Findings from a new international study of healing prayer suggest that prayer for another person's healing just might help -- especially if the one praying is physically near the person being prayed for. Candy Gunther Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington, led the study of proximal intercessory prayer for healing.
The study, titled "Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique," measured surprising improvements in vision and hearing in economically disadvantaged areas where eyeglasses and hearing aids are not readily available.
"We chose to investigate 'proximal' prayer because that is how a lot of prayer for healing is actually practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world," Brown said. Although pentecostals often pray for their own healing and request distant intercessory prayer, they consider proximal prayer to be particularly efficacious and emphasize the importance of physical proximity and human touch in praying effectively for healing.
Brown and her colleagues studied the activities of the healing groups Iris Ministries and Global Awakening in Mozambique and Brazil because of their reputation as hotspots of specialized prayer for those with hearing and vision impairments. The researchers used an audiometer and vision charts to evaluate 14 rural Mozambican subjects who reported impaired hearing and 11 who reported impaired vision, both before and after the subjects received proximal intercessory prayer (PIP). The study focused on hearing and vision because it is possible to measure them with hearing machines and vision charts, allowing a more direct measure of improvement than simply asking people whether they feel better.
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.
Brown recounted that one subject, an elderly Mozambican woman named Maryam, initially reported that she could not see a person's hand, with two upraised fingers, from a distance of one foot. A healing practitioner put her hand on Maryam's eyes, hugged her and prayed for less than a minute; then the person held five fingers in front of Maryam, who was able to count them and even read the 20/125 line on a vision chart.
The study focuses on clinical effects of PIP and does not attempt to explain the mechanisms by which the improvements occurred.
Scientific research on the effects of prayer has in recent decades generated a firestorm of controversy, with critics charging that attempts to study the efficacy of prayer are inherently unscientific and should be abandoned because the mechanisms are poorly understood. Several studies have produced contradictory findings.
Other studies such as the 2006 "STEP" (study of the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer) paper, concluded that prayer itself had no effect, but the certainty of receiving prayer adversely affected health. The STEP study focused on distant intercessory prayer (DIP) rather than proximal prayer. It also included one group of Protestant intercessors: Silent Unity, a "New Thought" group whose leaders have explicitly rejected prayers of supplication or petition as "useless."
Faith healing is a concept that religious belief or faith can bring about healing—either through prayers or rituals that, according to adherents, evoke a divine presence and power toward correcting disease and disability. Belief in divine intervention in illness or healing is related to religious belief. In common usage, "faith healing" refers to notably overt and ritualistic practices of communal prayer and gestures (such as laying on of hands) that are claimed to solicit divine intervention in initiating spiritual and literal healing.
Skeptics will claim either that it was just lick when a healing occurs or a placebo effect where the person healed gets better because they convince themselves that they are better due to faith or prayer. So belief affects the results in this interpretation which means, if true, that a study done by non-believers will end up with negative results because of their non-belief.
A statistical study such as this in important because it measured results that showed a clear and real improvement that may or may not last. Whether this is placebo effect or something else cannot be determined. Yet something did happen.
The study will be available online August 5 at http://journals.lww.com/smajournalonline/toc/publishahead
For further information: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-08/iu-sfp080310.php