academia | advice | alcohol | American Indians | architecture | art | artificial intelligence | Barnard | best | biography | bitcoin | blogging | broken umbrellas | candide | censorship | children's books | Columbia | comics | consciousness | cooking | crime | criticism | dance | data analysis | design | dishonesty | economics | education | energy | epistemology | error correction | essays | family | fashion | finance | food | foreign policy | futurism | games | gender | Georgia | health | history | inspiration | intellectual property | Israel | journalism | Judaism | labor | language | law | leadership | letters | literature | management | marketing | memoir | movies | music | mystery | mythology | New Mexico | New York | parenting | philosophy | photography | podcast | poetry | politics | prediction | product | productivity | programming | psychology | public transportation | publishing | puzzles | race | reading | recommendation | religion | reputation | RSI | Russia | sci-fi | science | sex | short stories | social justice | social media | sports | startups | statistics | teaching | technology | Texas | theater | translation | travel | trivia | tv | typography | unreliable narrators | video games | violence | war | weather | wordplay | writing

Friday, March 31, 2006

remote prayer


Sir John Templeton:

leads with:
The Lord is my banker; my credit is good. He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance; He giveth me the key to His strongbox. He restoreth my faith in His riches; He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for His Name's sake. Yea, though I walk in the very shadow of debt, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy silver and Thy gold, they secure me. Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector; Thou fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over. Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life, And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever. Charles Fillmore, 1915

Letters, faxes, email, and phone calls find their way to Unity Village from all over the world, containing pleas for health and prosperity, for redemption from sins, for power over bad habits, and for the banishment of anxiety and negative thoughts. In the center of the quiet campus of the Unity School of Christianity, under a high cupola where a light burns 24 hours a day, the small staff of the school's prayer service, Silent Unity, makes sure that every request is prayed for and - unless anonymity is requested - acknowledged with a note. This ongoing prayer service is free, nonsectarian, more than 100 years old, and the subject of its first rigorous, multiyear, double-blind scientific test.

Belief in the ability of prayer to affect events has been a mainstay of religion forever, and has at times provoked scientific curiosity. Silent Unity is one of four prayer groups providing subjects for research on the effect of intercessory prayer on health, a study originally funded two and a half years ago. Supervised by Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School, the study may revolutionize science, since there is no known mechanism for prayer-induced healing.
"If spiritual leaders would begin to use scientific research, experimental scientific research, there is no reason we couldn't multiply spiritual information like we have multiplied scientific information."

Few churches have responded to the suggestion that they reform their doctrines with the help of science. Sir John acknowledges that most religious denominations, and most religious individuals, would reject the notion that the essential doctrines of their faith could be improved or amended through research. He intends to meet this resistance head-on. In order to have solid evidence to back up the campaign, Sir John is committed to funding the relevant science himself. "We expect to spend about $40 million next year," he says, "and that is probably more than has been spent on research into spiritual information in history.

Not everything Templeton is curious about has received the imprimatur of mainstream scientists and scientific institutions. Of all his convictions, the philanthropist's strong belief that the power of prayer is demonstrable offers the greatest potential for embarrassment. Such investigations have been dogged by failure. Larry Dossey, in his best-selling book on prayer and medicine, Healing Words, reviews this discouraging history back to 1872, when Sir Francis Galton pointed out that neither clergy, supposed to be the prayingest of people, nor royalty, supposed to be among the most prayed-for, lived longer or more healthful lives than their nonpraying, non-prayed-for compatriots. Nor do prayers for male offspring in India or China, where such prayers are common, seem to affect male-female birth ratios.

One of the best-known prayer studies, whose results were published in the Southern Medical Journal in 1988, was carried out by Randolph Byrd in a coronary-care unit at San Francisco General Hospital. Three hundred ninety-three patients were randomly assigned by a computer to two groups: one that was prayed for and one that was not. Over the course of 10 months, home-prayer groups of believing Christians prayed daily for "a rapid recovery and for prevention of complications and death." Each patient was prayed for by five to seven Christians. Byrd's study drew widespread notice because it appeared to produce positive results, with the patients who were prayed for showing less need for antibiotics and proving less vulnerable to certain cardiac problems.

The Templeton Growth Fund, started in 1954, has an average annual return of 14.3 percent. Sir John's secret: find value in places that are generally scorned.

However, in the decade since Byrd's report was published, its conclusions have been undermined by criticisms both of its design and of its statistical analysis, and few scientists have been tempted to retrace Byrd's steps. Recently, the Templeton Foundation succeeded in recruiting Benson, head of the Harvard-affiliated Mind-Body Medical Institute, to try again. Benson is not anxious to share the details of his research before publication, but he has said that the prayer study is a multiyear project involving hundreds of cardiac patients at many medical centers. Harper says the study should be complete by late 1999. Silent Unity's prayer teams are participating in the study, presumably praying for distant patients who have no knowledge that prayers for them are being said.

But Templeton, who was knighted in 1987, has devoted the main portion of his philanthropy to his interfaith, or, as he prefers, "open-minded" campaign for religious progress. To advertise the great importance of diverse religious traditions, he created the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and to stress that spiritual accomplishments are worth more than secular ones, he makes sure the cash value of the prize is always higher than that of the Nobel. The first prize was awarded to Mother Teresa, in 1973 - six years before she was recognized by the Nobel committee - and other recipients have included Baba Amte, a Hindu scholar and philanthropist; Lord Jakobovits, Britain's chief rabbi; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; and Billy Graham. This year's $1.2 million prize was awarded to Ian Barbour, a theologian and nuclear physicist.

Labels: ,