London, Oct. 15: The biggest scientific experiment on prayer has failed to find any evidence that it helps to heal the sick.
Doctors in the US today said heart patients who were prayed for by groups of strangers recovered from surgery at the same rate as those who were not.
The three-year study, led by cardiologists from Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina, involved 750 patients in nine hospitals and 12 prayer groups around the world, from Christians in Manchester to Buddhists in Nepal. Earlier, less extensive research suggested prayer could have a measurably beneficial effect.
But the experiment, which will be detailed in a BBC2 Everyman documentary, was criticised as crude by Church leaders. The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Tom Wright, said: “Prayer is not a penny-in-the-slot machine. You can’t just put in a coin and get a chocolate. This is like setting an exam for God to see if God will pass it or not.”
He said both the Old and New Testaments said “very clearly” that you must not put God to the test. The new research, dubbed the Mantra project, was led by Dr Mitch Krucoff, a cardiologist, whose pilot studies had led him to believe that prayer could have measurably beneficial effects.
Over three years, 750 patients awaiting angioplasty were recruited for the experiment. Names selected at random by a computer were sent to the 12 prayer groups, who began praying immediately for their recovery. Neither hospital staff nor patients and their relatives knew who was being prayed for.
An analysis of results found no significant differences in recovery and health of patients who were prayed for and those who were not.
The Rev Leslie Francis, professor of practical theology at the University of Wales, said two major studies, in 1988 and 1999, had found that prayer had a beneficial effect. “In medical research one expects divergent results, so it is premature to affirm or dismiss the power of prayer in healing,” he said.