Sunday, April 27, 2008

MN Atheist Talk

In case you don't know, MN Atheist Talk is on Air America (AM 950) Sundays at 9. It's not always the most exciting radio show. The hosts can be a little stuffy but it's what we've got and their intentions and overall messages are good. If you are inclined to check them out, you can listen here. Today the discussion included the National Day of Prayer, Faith-Based Initiatives, and Intercessory Prayer.

The National Day of Reason is a direct response to the National Day of Prayer. Which, it could reasonably be argued, is in violation of the 1st amendment (this is not going to be the centroid of my blog). It is a call to the secular community to make themselves visible and celebrate reason, a far more useful tool than prayer. Check it out, maybe even endorse the idea. I just did. Faith-Based Initiatives were discussed a bit but I missed too much to recap here.

Inevitably discussion of prayer will lead to the question of efficacy. Most folks will simply take it for granted that prayer works, whether this is due to placebo effects or something more. If you take the time to do your homework, you'll find out that this simply is not the case. A commonly cited story is that prayer was able to increase fertility in women during a Columbia University study. Alas, the results were fraudulent. Check it out yourself it like: here.

The most comprehensive and rigorous study on intercessory prayer was discussed a bit. The actual article isn't available unless you'd like to either pay for it or take a trip to the library, but Scientific American sums it up pretty well here. One very interesting aspect of the study is the fact that it was conducted by a team of clergy and at least one doctor that has been sympathetic to the idea of the power of prayer in the past. So, what's the verdict?

"The only statistically significant blip appeared in a subgroup of patients who were prayed for and knew it. They experienced a higher rate of postsurgical heart arrhythmias (59 versus 52 percent of unaware subjects)."

So, go ahead and continue praying. It will continue not working. I'll continue not believing.

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