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Testing Prayer Is An Act Of Worship
What if your physician told you the next time you're sick, "Take a handful of drugs. Pay no mind to whether they're mixed or matched, and don't bother to count them. just take a lot, as often as possible, because drugs heal." Even if you believe in drug therapy, you'd consider this advice irresponsible and dangerous. There are many kinds of drugs-some helpful, some worthless, some harmful. Some drugs work singly; others work only in combination; some are toxic or fatal if combined with other medications. Only by careful testing can these effects be sorted out and the drugs used safely and effectively.
The same could be said of prayer. There are different kinds of prayer, and evidence suggests that prayer, like drugs, can have effects that can be positive, neutral, or negative. Based on evidence, it might even be wise to attach a warning to prayer: "Could be hazardous to your health."
One of the best ways to understand the nuances of prayer and to learn how best to use it is to examine it carefully in scientific experiments. Everyone should be interested in this evidence, it seems to me, even those who already believe in prayer.
Some people believe that science is the enemy of faith and that prayer should not be tested scientifically. But scientists also require faith. In fact, I have often thought that many scientists have more faith than some religious folk. For example, they have faith in the regularity and patterns of the universe; faith that knowledge is possible; faith that nature will reveal itself ifwe prepare ourselves and our experiments properly. Without faith, science would not be possible. Faith is a foundation of science, as it is of prayer.
When we test prayer, we are not necessarily storming heaven's gates. It is possible for scientific studies of prayer to be totally devoid of arrogance and hubris. They can be sacred, reverent exercises in which we invite, not compel, the Almighty to manifest. Testing prayer can actually be a form of worship, a ritual through which we express our gratitude for this remarkable phenomenon.
A friend of mine who is a scientist performs experiments on prayer. He embodies the reverential approach I am advocating. "For me," he once said, "conducting an experiment to see if prayer works is like giving an elegant dinner party. I prepare the most inviting meal I can imagine, I set the table as beautifully as possible, then I open the front doors of my house to see if anybody will come to the table. If not, the dinner wasn't enticing enough. An experiment in prayer is similar. If I arrange the conditions of the experiment invitingly enough, the Divine may 'show up' and I'll get positive results. If not, I've got more work to do next time."
Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest and scholar, once said something similar: "Research is the highest form of adoration."
Experiments In Prayer Can Help HealThe Religion/Science Split
The vast majority of us pray, and we believe our prayers are answered. We aren't holding our breath in anticipation of the results of the next double-blind laboratory study on prayer. We feel that we already have evidence for prayer in our lives, and our lives are the most important laboratories of all.
Still, we cannot escape the influence of science in our lives. The scientific approach has infiltrated every aspect of our existence. Before taking a stand on a controversial issue-global warming, for instance, or alternative treatments for cancer-we find ourselves asking, "What does science say?"
Prayer, like almost everything else, is being scrutinized by science. Some scientists and physicians have begun to acknowledge that petitionary prayer, in which one prays for oneself, has positive, healthful effects, but many of them add that this is due only to psychological factors such as positive thinking, expectation, and self-suggestion. Some of these same scientists tend to believe that intercessory or distant prayer cannot possibly be effective; the mind cannot reach out, whether of its own accord or through a Supreme Being, to make things happen at a distance. If we believe in distant prayer, they say, we are fooling ourselves. But when put to the test in actual experiments in hospitals, clinics, and laboratories, distant prayer does have an effect- in humans and nonhumans, even when the recipient of the prayer is unaware the prayer is being offered.
These developments are incalculably important in healing the painful split in modern life between religion and science. We don't have to compartmentalize our lives, putting our intellect in one corner and our spirituality in another. The scientific evidence behind prayer can help heal these painful divisions in the modern psyche. That is why many people, believers included, often Joyfully welcome the experimental evidence for prayer. They find that their faith is actually strengthened, not diminished, by science's attention to prayer.
Honoring this evidence does not mean we are allowing science to hold prayer hostage. Prayer doesn't, need science's stamp of approval. But if the old enemies can shake hands, we should allow them to do so, for we shall all benefit spiritually from the truce.
The Impact Of Prayer Experiments On Religious Beliefs
It Is really no longer a question of whether experiments prove that prayer wor ks; t ey have a a done so. The new questions are: What is the fallout? What will be the impact of scientific experiments on religious faith and organized religion?
Many individuals and organizations have been involved in examining prayer through the aid of scientific studies. One such organization is Spindrift, which over the course of two decades developed a number of experimental tests showing the positive effects of prayer on nonhuman subjects.Prayer Is Good Medicine. Copyright © by Larry Dossey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.