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November 26, 2001

Experiments on Distant Intercessory Prayer: God, Science, and the Lesson of Massah

Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(21):2529-2536. doi:10.1001/archinte.161.21.2529

For if you should enter into the temple for no other purpose than asking, you shall not receive. And if you should enter it to humble yourself, you shall not be lifted . . . it is enough that you enter the temple invisible. . . . God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips.—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

EXPERIMENTAL studies on the health effects of distant intercession (prayer) ignore important facets of construct validity, philosophy of science, and theology while focusing on issues like randomization and double-blinding. These tendencies reflect a desire on the part of researchers to remove nature as a causal factor when intercession seems efficacious. We argue that close attention to construct validity of cause-and-effect variables invalidates distant intercessory prayer as a scientific construct. Further, the application of statistical techniques to metaphysical causal phenomena is critiqued. We conclude that research on the effects of religion and spirituality on health should avoid attempting to validate God through scientific methods.

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