Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Believers in healing rejected the falsifiability of God's power

The Lancet has published a study with an interesting outcome. The well prepared study showed no medicinal power of prayer, and having someone praying for you from a distance is useless. Music or touch didn't produce any effect on the outcome either.

Data from a pilot study suggested that noetic therapies—healing practices that are not mediated by tangible elements—can reduce preprocedural distress and might affect outcomes in patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention. We undertook a multicentre, prospective trial of two such practices: intercessory prayer and music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy.

748 patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention or elective catheterisation in nine USA centres were assigned in a 2×2 factorial randomisation either off-site prayer by established congregations of various religions or no off-site prayer (double-blinded) and MIT therapy or none (unmasked). The primary endpoint was combined in-hospital major adverse cardiovascular events and 6-month readmission or death. Prespecified secondary endpoints were 6-month major adverse cardiovascular events, 6 month death or readmission, and 6-month mortality.

371 patients were assigned prayer and 377 no prayer; 374 were assigned MIT therapy and 374 no MIT therapy. The factorial distribution was: standard care only, 192; prayer only, 182; MIT therapy only, 185; and both prayer and MIT therapy, 189. No significant difference was found for the primary composite endpoint in any treatment comparison. Mortality at 6 months was lower with MIT therapy than with no MIT therapy (hazard ratio 0•35 (95% CI 0•15–0•82, p=0•016).

Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterisation or percutaneous coronary intervention.

(Source: The Lancet - you need a free registration to log in)
It is a widely held superstition that therapies such as prayer and homeopathy can help a person to heal or keep in good health.

Believers in healing are saying that God's influence is beyond the reach of scientific validation.

- I will rather say that the hypothesis of healing isn't falsifiable. This study won't give us more or less reason to think the hypotheses is true or not after doing the experiment, than we did before. I can't think of any way to scientifically test God. Can you?

Did anyone think of

- How to measure the "dose" of prayer?

- How to measure the possible effect of family and friends praying for patients on their own?

- How will we know if the distance healing will hit the selected person?

- How can we know whether prayers from different religions have different effects?

- And what about individual differences, some prayers might be less skilled than others?

As the study concluded no medical power of healing we must acknowledge - as the researchers did - it is impossible to make any firm conclusions.

Further articles on the subject:

Washington Post: Prayer's Power to Heal Strangers Is Examined

BBC News: Prayer "no aid to heart patients"

See who links to your web site.