Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Are prayers answered? Join the debate:

Pope Benedict XVI said 'it felt like God was asleep' during parts of his papacy. So does God still answer prayers?

'Prayer' by James Hunter

In his book 70 Years of Miracles, clergyman Richard H. Harvey told the story of how a professor at a US university began a series of lectures disproving the effect of prayer. At the end of the lectures, he challenged the students to pray God would prevent him from breaking a glass beaker. One boy volunteered to do so. After the boy had prayed, the professor dropped the beaker from a height, but instead of shattering it landed on his shoe and rolled gently onto the floor. 

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Harvey's story is not the only account of the miraculous acceptance of prayer. During a hostage crisis in Holland in 1975, says one such narrative, Robert de Groot was chosen for death. However, when terrorists heard de Groot praying for his wife and children they began to cry and his life was spared. 

Of course, stories such as these are dismissed as fables and even those who believe in God sometimes seem to doubt. During his final month as pope, Benedict XVI delivered a speech in which he lamented how during his papacy 'it felt like God was asleep'. While the Pope's remarks may have been made in jest, there are other believers who seriously reject prayer. Albert Einstein, for example, admitted believing in God, but qualified the statement with the words: "I do not believe in a personal God".

In recent years, scientists have increasingly challenged the effect of prayer. A 2009 study published in Evolutionary Psychology by paleontologist Gregory Paul found that the most religious countries in the world are also the least socially and economically developed. The implied suggestion of Paul's study was, if God answers prayers why are believers receiving the least social/economic help from Him? Paul even went so far as to conclude: "The antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith may prevent the existence of nations that combine the two factors."

Perhaps one of the most thorough studies into the effects of prayer was published in the American Heart Journal in 2006. The study asked three congregations of Christian churches to pray for patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. Yet, those who received prayer had a mortality rate of 59% compared to only 51% of those who did not. Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins wrote in his book The God Delusion: "It seems more probable that those patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered additional stress in consequence." However, the study's co-author, Jeffery Dusek, did admit: "The findings, however, could well be due to the study limitations."

So which is it? Can prayer be answered by a personal God in miraculous ways or are the effects of prayer in reality somewhere between negligible and damaging?

Leave your thoughts below.

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