The Biology of Prayer and Healing
“When we set ourselves to the work of collecting or re-collecting
the scattered pieces of ourselves, we begin a task which,
if carried to its natural conclusions,
ultimately becomes prayer.”
Science and Faith: Freud, one of the most well respected researchers of the human experience, claims that religion is a “universal neurosis that civilization substitutes for a more authentic personal reality based on scientific knowledge” (Jones and Butman, 1991, 77). Thus, to presume that illness and healing have anything to do with spirituality is absurd.
Testability: Prayer and faith have no universal method of testing. Nor can it be proven that prayer is effective, for who can determine what is efficacious if one is dealing with a divine being? “If people do not receive what is construed to be an immediate positive response to a petition, should they immediately deduce that prayer was ineffective or unanswered? . . . Can the intricacies and complexities of God’s response to prayer be adequately and accurately observed and measured?” (Chamberlin, 2000, 31)
Even though religious practices and experiences seem too subjective to quantify and describe, if they are to be used as test material, scientific research demands salient classifications for the factors it seeks to study.
Religion: the “service of progress using cumulative traditions of past and depending on reenactment of belief as true” (Chamberlin, 2000, 10)
Faith: the trust in a human quest for relation to transcendence (Fowler, 1991).
Faith Development: the process of “finding and making meaning as a human activity” and the subsequent growth in self and other awareness one experiences (Fowler , 1991, 17).
Prayer: from the Latin precari meaning “to entreat,” it is hardly definable in words, as it begins in the unconscious and takes on a different form for each participant. For all intents and purposes, prayer in this discussion simply means a non-local language that says something about who we are and where our destiny may be (Dossey, 1993, 6).
Prayer Treatment: the practice of people praying for someone else. This does not imply medical or surgical treatments may not also be prescribed.
• The first accepted study correlating prayer to physical health was Collipp (1969), who followed eighteen terminally ill children. Ten were selected to be prayed for by Protestant Christians, while the other eight had no known prayer for their healing. The people praying only knew the names, genders, and basic conditions of those for whom they were praying. Neither the children, nor their families, nor the doctors were informed of the prayer treatment. After fifteen months, seven of the ten children receiving prayer treatment were alive, while only two of the eight not receiving treatment survived.
• Byrd (1988) retested Collipp’s findings with a larger sample. 393 patients in the...