Does praying for the sick work?

by Angelos Sofocleous

Even though some religions claim that praying for somebody who is sick can have positive effects on their health, no scientific study has ever had this conclusion.

In order of something to be considered a miracle or effective in the deity level it must, after scientific experiments, lead to results that are above the chance-level probability. That is, happening by chance.

The way the experiment should take place is the following:

Group 1: This is the group of sick people who have a number of believers praying for them to their own deity.

Group 2: This is the group of sick people who do not have a number of believers praying for them to their own deity.

Group 2 is regarded as the chance-level group.

Only taking into account probability, the results will show how many people were cured.

So, the results of Group 1 should be above the number of people that were cured by chance.

This is, after all, the meaning of a miracle. Something happening which does not follow any rules or concept and cannot be predicted nor follow any logical scientific path.

It must be something out of this world. Thus, it must be different from any result that is based only on probability.

If the percentage of people cured in both Groups 1 and 2 is the same, then there is no miracle.

While a number of people have argued that praying for the sick strengthens mental health, a number of studies have found praying for a sick person to be completely inefficient in the healing process.

A 2001 study that looked into the effects of prayer on the progression of cardiovascular disease concluded that intercessory prayer had no significant effect on medical outcomes after hospitalization in a coronary care unit.

More recently (and interestingly), there have been studies that show that the frequency of prayers actually had negative correlations to mental well-being.

Specifically in James Nelson’s “Psychology, Religion and Spirituality”, it was found that prayer frequency negatively correlated with happiness but only positively correlated with religious satisfaction.


Angelos Sofocleous is a philosophy and psychology student and writer.
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