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June 23, 2003

Prayer, Science, and the Moral Life of Medicine

Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(12):1405-1408. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.12.1405

SINCE BYRD'S study1 of cardiac care unit patients and the efficacy of prayer, there has been a steady flow of studies asking the question of whether prayer works. In this short essay, I will look at scientific and religious ways of knowing. I will contend that prayer by virtue of its function in religious practice cannot be studied using the methods of science. While the efforts to study the efficacy of prayer are a sign that medical science is becoming more sensitive to spiritual beliefs, I will show that not only can prayer not be studied, the scientific study of prayer will only lead to further alienation between medical science and those who participate in religious practice.

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