The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

The Power of Prayer… Fails

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 22, 2009

We have all heard on numerous occasions about “the power of prayer” to heal the sick & dying.  Stories abound about supposedly miraculous recoveries that are attributed to intercessory prayer – that is, prayer on behalf of someone else who is ill.  Sadly, the reality is that the power of prayer… fails.

Case in point: a couple in Oregon is facing jail for relying only upon prayer to cure their child of pneumonia.  It seems that whomever they were talking to wasn’t listening, because the kid died.

Parents face jail for praying instead of getting doctor for baby

A US judge has rejected defence arguments that claimed selective and vindictive prosecution in the manslaughter trial of a couple whose 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia while they prayed for her recovery.

Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer told lawyers for Carl and Raylene Worthington that he had already determined the Oregon City couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, Ava, despite their religious beliefs.

“There are limits, especially when it comes to the protection of young children,” Maurer said.

The couple face manslaughter charges in the death of Ava, who died of pneumonia in March 2008. A state medical examiner has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  Though I am an atheist, I can understand people wanting to pray to make themselves feel better in times of great stress, such as during the hospitalization of themselves or a loved one.  I was in the hospital recently myself, and a colleague of mine called me – he told me that he’d pray for me, and I thanked him.  I didn’t thank him because I thought his prayers would help at all (they don’t), but I instead thanked him because it showed me that he cared about me.  But this is beside the main point of this entry.

There are two big issues here… the obvious, and tragic, one is that these stupid parents let their kid die because of their idiotic religious beliefs. This is very similar to the tragedy I outlined in a recent post – Death by Alternative “Medicine”. And even more sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident.

The second issue is that this kind of thing shows pretty clearly that intercessory prayer doesn’t work – period!  But don’t take my word for it.  Let’s reference the most complete scientific study on the topic ever, which found – conclusively – that intercessory prayer had no effect whatsoever! I think this clip from The Daily Show puts it well…

Daily Show Prayer

I’ve got nothing better than that, beyond thinking that perhaps the moronic parents in question can truly put their faith to the test (now when it’s their asses on the line), forgo hiring a lawyer, and just pray that God will defend them in court.  Hmmm, I wonder how that would work out for them?

4 Responses to “The Power of Prayer… Fails”

  1. Dr. Brian said

    I enjoyed reading your article, I will pass your site on to my family, friends and patients…

    All the best
    Dr. H

  2. Clackamas said

    Believe what you want to believe. I know of many cases that supports the power of prayer – there was a man in my church diagnosed with a fatal illness who was given 6 months to live, but ended up living another 2 and a half. He prayed daily. Another man a few years earlier was diagnosed with cancer, but when doctors went in to operate they found no cancer. He and his family prayed and fasted for days before the operation. Yes, this couple should have sought medical assistance for their child. However, if it was against their religious beliefs (like the amish people) to use current medical technology, then this judge has no right to send them to jail.

  3. Dr. P said

    Everyone has some personal case they know about to support, or deny, a claim like this one. But in the scientific studies, they watched tens or sometimes hundreds of people, and the results were that prayer did not make a significant difference. The difference was no greater than mere chance; anybody can get the same odds by flipping a coin. If prayer really did work, then everybody who prayed should have gotten better, and they didn’t.

    The God that I know doesn’t allow someone to die simply because it’s His will. God gave us medicine for a reason. If your child dies because you denied him or her the needed medical care, that’s willful neglect.

  4. PRAYERS would not really work on you — because you do not believe on it yourself. Have you had a terminal illness yourself?

    I hope that if you cannot believe it for yourself– at least do not discourage people from doing so.

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