Some scientists hoped the long-awaited and rigorously investigated prayer study would close the book on the debated effects of therapeutic prayer. A well-known physician and author on spiritual healing, however, is saying otherwise.
The $2.4-million study conducted by the Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery and that patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications. In an attempt to settle the mixed results of prayer studies that have been carried out in recent years, the latest study was intended to "overcome flaws in the earlier investigations," according to The New York Times.
While some scientists are drawing conclusions, refuting the power of prayer and moving on, Dr. Larry Dossey, a renowned medical doctor and researcher, points out how large this research field really is.
"Journalists writing on this seem to be completely unaware that this field is as big as it is," Dossey told The Christian Post. "People want to use this Harvard study as an obituary for the entire field ... [concluding that] prayer doesn't work."
The distinguished physician has done 20 years of prayer research and written several books on the matter, including the New York Times bestseller Healing Words. He has seen numerous studies testing the power of prayer and, although mixed, investigative results have nevertheless also turned up positive.
Despite being the largest and most scientific study of its kind, the latest prayer study was "severely flawed," according to Dossey.
"No where in the world is prayer used the way they used prayer in this study," he noted. "In real life, we say we pray for our loved ones. This was a prayer by strangers for strangers. It did not offer prayer unconditionally to two of the three groups. In real life, we don't tell people that you may be or not be prayed for. We pray unconditionally in real life for people we know and love.
"I'm saying that this study had little resemblance to the way prayer is used in real life."
Aware of the Harvard study even before it began, Dossey expressed no surprise at the results that showed a larger number of patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered complications.
"I don't consider this a prayer study because of the very strange way prayer was used," he commented. "I can't explain this prayer study. I think the study was so flawed that is really is explainable by saying they didn't test prayer.
"We have about 12 major studies of prayer on humans. This is only one. By no means is this the final word on prayer."
The study's authors also made no conclusion from the investigation except that the role of awareness of prayer should be studied further.
Dossey described the kind of prayers that can work in healing. Although no guarantee, prayers require love and compassion.
"Prayers can work if people really feel deep compassion, deep caring for whoever or whatever it is you're praying for. Without that deep love and compassion, prayer doesn't seem to do very much.
"But there's no guarantee that prayer in any situation is going to do anything. You can't predict it, he said.
That's why people do these studies whether on average there's an effect there."
On a personal note, he added, "I certainly think it's worth praying for people."
Dr. Larry Dossey is currently on a national book tour for his latest work The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Thing.