In Tuesday's post I responded to an op-ed by Episcopal priest Raymond Lawrence on the subject of the recently completed study on intercessory prayer. The study showed that such prayer had no positive impact on the recoveries of recent bypass patients. Lawrence argued that this was welcome news for sincerely religious people, since the whole idea of intercessory prayer was theologically suspect.
One point I made in reply was that Lawrence can talk all he wants about how “credible theologians” (his phrase) think about intercessory prayer, but virtually every religious group of any influence in our society was perfectly happy to promote prior, discredited studies claiming to establish its benefits.
Charles Colson's website Breakpoint has just provided a useful case in point. Consider this commentary, from Breakpoint contirbutor Mark Earley, on the subject:
Naturally, some observers were delighted at the results. They think the study proves conclusively that prayer doesn’t work, and it’s time for men of science to “stop dabbling in the supernatural,” as one academic put it.
But wait a minute. The researchers acknowledged that they could not control for the fact that many “unauthorized” people may have interceded for loved ones in the so-called “unprayed-for” group. And plenty of other studies indicate that intercessory prayer does have an impact. (Emphasis in original)
Lawrence's op-ed argued that the interest in prayer studies seemed to come entirely from scientists, and that this was evidence of their arrogance and lack of recognition of their proper place. But it is not people like Lawrence and his cadre of “credible theologians” who advise the modern Republican party. It is not the moderates who have the ear of the President, or control of numerous Southern and Midwestern state houses. It is people like Colson, and groups like Breakpoint, that set the terms of religious discussion in this country. And they do not share Lawrence's dim view of intercessory prayer.
Incidentally, when I wrote Tuesday's post I was unaware that the funding for this study came from the Templeton Foundation, which devotes itself to projects aimed at reconciling science and religion. It wasn't some arrogant, scientific society that put up the money. You can be sure the Templeton folks were hoping for a different result.