Never underestimate the power of religious logic. In the May issue of Christianity Today Gregory and Christopher Fung explore the deeper meaning of Harvard Medical School’s ten-year, $2.4 million prayer study.
Called Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), the study divided 1,802 people into three groups: Group A knew they were being prayed for, Group B was being prayed for but was unsure if that were the case, and Group C was not being prayed for and, like group B, were not told if they were or were not being prayed for.
Here are the conclusions of the study: Group A (those who knew they were being prayed for) suffered more post-operative complications than those in the two other groups, while Group C (those not prayed for) suffered the least. In other words being prayed for when ill is actually hazardous to your health.
You might think that this would lead people to stop praying over the sick, but that would be too logical. According to the Fungs, STEP “actually supports the Christian worldview… God seems to have granted favor without regard to either the quantity or even the quality of the prayers… True to his character, God appears inclined to heal and bless as many as possible. It is as if he can barely restrain himself—though he often does—from supernaturally intervening and disrupting the nature of the universe to care for those he loves, whether they acknowledge it or not.”
You have to love the Fungs. They seem to be saying that since God caused most of the people who were prayed for in the study to suffer more than those who were not prayed over proves that God can barely restrain himself from healing people. This makes no sense whatsoever, but it does demonstrate why religion will never disappear: its capacity to fool itself is endless.
Now, I’m not saying prayer doesn’t work. According to STEP it seems to work, but only in reverse: pray for those you hate and they will be more likely to suffer. What impresses me is how the Fungs turned the study inside out in order to protect their theology. This is why religion and science are fundamentally incompatible. Science (at least at theoretically) values evidence over theory, while religion values theory over evidence.
The Fungs go on to say “our obsession with whether prayer works is the wrong question. We know prayer works. The real question is, are we prepared for God’s answer?”
Yes, STEP proves that prayer works: it causes more suffering, not less. And the answer to the question “are we prepared for God’s answer” must be “no.” STEP proves that the people prayed for did worse than those not prayed for. This doesn’t show that God loves everyone equally, it shows that God loves those who leave him alone. Are we ready for that answer? I doubt it.
The Fungs’ conclusion is that “STEP encourages us to believe that God is eager to answer our prayers….” Did they read the study? STEP encourages us to believe just the opposite!
I love this! Their logic is so absent, their conclusion so vacuous, that it almost makes sense! But it is bullshit!
The only part of the Fungs’ article I found wise was their reminder that Jesus told us to pray only that God’s will be done. If God is Reality, as I understand God to be, then such a prayer is an affirmation of radical acceptance of what is, and that cannot be bad. Too bad the Fungs couldn’t stick with Jesus.