Atheists refer to verses from the Bible that apparently mandate 100% answer to prayer (Matthew 17:20, 18:19, 21:22; Luke 11:9-10). So if a less than 100% answer to prayer is observed, the atheists suppose that prayer is ineffective, hence the Bible is incorrect.
Then they argue that if the Bible is incorrect, either God is a liar or that fallible man authored the Bible. Since God cannot lie, they posit God’s nonexistence and assert that it was man who authored the Bible, independent of God. Thereby they strive, although in futility, to render historic Christianity as invalid.
This then is the background to the question, “Has science disproved prayer?”
If a person or a group of people prayed for the sick but there was no improvement, then, from among a few deductions, one could reason that prayer was ineffective. Conversely, if the sick are healed through prayer, a plausible deduction could be that prayer was effective. Praying for others is “Intercessory Prayer” (IP).
A research by Kevin Masters et al published in The Society of Behavioral Medicine was exceedingly critical of prayer, “There is no scientifically discernible effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research” 1
But for every scientific research that invalidates the efficacy of prayer there is a study that validates it.
Dr. Randolph Byrd’s research (published in Southern Medical Journal) asserted the effectiveness of prayer. Byrd studied patients in coronary care unit who were assigned to born-again Christians (with an active Christian life) for prayer to the Judeo-Christian God. Byrd concluded that those prayed for were benefitted “with less congestive heart failure, required less diuretic and antibiotic therapy, had fewer episodes of pneumonia, had fewer cardiac arrests, and were less frequently intubated and ventilated” 2
Duke University’s Dr. Harold D Koenig is utterly confident about prayer’s effectiveness, “… out of 125 studies that looked at the link between health and regular worship, 85 showed regular churchgoers live longer. There’s a lot of evidence out there.” 3
Relying on science to determine the efficacy of prayer is futile, for science corroborates both the prayer and the anti-prayer groups. Some studies observe healing of patients upon prayer and others do not.
So science does not categorically establish the invalidity of prayer, since it also establishes the validity of prayer.
Significantly, “Should science validate prayer (or religion)?”
A perpetual conflict between science and religion is often observed, for science is the crutch of the atheists in their futile attempt at denying religion.
In response, we could subscribe to evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) and assert the total disconnect between science and religion to affirm that they should not overlap. Hence, we could univocally reject science’s intervention to validate prayer.
Albert Einstein, in his paper Science, Philosophy and Religion (Sep 1940), seemed to reject the notion that science and religion should not overlap; he said, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” So, on the other hand, we could heed the words of science about religion provided science is valid in its evaluation of religion.
Then again, is it possible for science to determine the effectiveness of prayer?
In order to think this through, we should consider three truths from a theological perspective (since prayer is a religious act that presupposes God’s existence), which are:
- Prayer is directed towards God, seeking HIS favor upon the needy.
- Man merely intercedes; man does not and cannot heal.
- God alone can heal and deliver.
Therefore, when researchers observe patients not being healed upon prayer, it merely signifies God’s decision to not heal. God healed some (in the studies where patients were healed) and did not heal some (during the other studies where patients were not healed).
To reiterate, studies that observed a positive impact of prayer upon the sick revealed God’s positive action, i.e. healing upon the sick, whereas the studies that did not observe a positive impact upon the sick revealed God’s inaction.
Why did God not heal some? That’s for God to answer and not for man to speculate unless God has revealed HIS reasons for inaction to man. God has indeed established certain principles about prayer in the Bible, which is not always in alignment with man’s carnal inclination.
Consider this inactivity of God to prayer in Paul’s statement “…in order to prevent my becoming absurdly conceited, I was given a physical handicap—one of Satan’s angels—to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him.” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, PHILLIPS, Emphasis Mine).
This is not about God’s inaction to prayer, per se, but it’s about God’s action to glorify HIS name through a willing man’s trial and tribulation. God’s inactivity was intended to strengthen and draw people closer to HIM. Therefore, when a sincere believer reads this passage, just as Paul accepted his pain, the believer trusts more in God and learns to accept his pain as a part of God’s grand plan to strengthen HIS people.
Atheists, by rejecting God, reject that God alone, in HIS perfect omniscience, knows what is good for man. But prosperity is not necessarily the most ideal blessing for man.
A testimony offered to God’s glory amidst severe pain is more powerful than a testimony offered in pleasure. This is unadulterated Christianity.
Science then, cannot determine the efficacy of prayer because science has to learn God’s mind – as to why HE heals some and not heal others – so to determine the effectiveness of prayer.
Anybody could seek God’s mind provided they repent and believe in God, seek HIM earnestly in humility and accept God in HIS terms (not on our terms). This is the simple algorithm to seek God’s mind.
Then there are moments where God’s answer to our prayers would not necessarily please us, for HE could delay or reject our plea for just reasons. During these moments, we ought to, in humility, agree with God and not battle against HIM, for to battle against God is neither worthy nor winnable.
So the question is not about whether science can determine the effectiveness of prayer, but the real question is if the atheists, who use science as a means to their futile endeavor, are willing to accept God. Atheists could repent and accept God in humility if they seek HIM earnestly.
Therefore, since science does not disprove prayer categorically, the studies on effectiveness of prayer are of no relevance to Historic Christianity or God.
This article was first published at http://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.in/2015/05/has-science-disproved-prayer.html