MPs: “let ads say prayer works!”


1:15 pm - March 26th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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A cross-party group of three MPs want a ban overturned on the claim that prayers to God can work.

And they’ve written to the Advertising Standards Authority to say if the ban is not over-turned they will raise the issue in Parliament.

The three MPs are: Gary Streeter (Con), Gavin Shuker (Lab) and Tim Farron (Lib Dem) (hat-tip Total Politics).

Furthermore, they want the ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer does not work.

Here is the letter they’ve written:

Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chairman, Advertising Standards Agency

21st March 2012

We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.

We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.

On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?

You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.

It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?

We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Streeter MP (Con)
Chair, Christians in Parliament

Gavin Shuker MP (Labour)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Tim Farron (Lib-Dem)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Apparently what helped Fabrice Muamba wasn’t the medical treatment he received but the prayers.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Sorry….too busy laughing to comment properly…

Ha! So first they ask for scientific evidence and then they cite an anecdotal experience. The fact is that there *have* been scientific results on the effectiveness of prayer. Here’s one I just found with a cursory Google search – http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all – but it is not isolated by any means. I think the burden of proof is on the pray-ers, is it not? They are promising something that could cause great harm should patients refuse treatment on the basis of their being prayed for. Like I say: ha.

“Furthermore, they want the ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer does not work.”

OK, I’m prepared to give this a go, for the advancement of science. All we need is for 29 other people to say the following and we have the repeat measures reasonably well covered:

Dear Supreme Being,

In an effort to protect the poor, the weak and the vulnerable we desperately need your assistance in getting shot of the present government. They are doing a good job of making themselves look ridiculous, but I’m sure that a good old fashioned sex scandal would help things along nicely come the next general election. You would be assured of my eternal loyalty if it could come to pass that Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron simultaneously contracted a raging case of gonorrhea which became public knowledge through a spot of leakage. Although I am a religious noob I realise it may not be quite in the holy spirit of things to wish ill on people, but from what I have read that is pretty much the way you roll on a number of subjects, with smiting being one of your favourite responses to those who deviate from the ‘true path’. Of course I recognise that this is a premier league request so, I’d be happy to make a donation. Perhaps you could arrange for a number doves to land on my roof to indicate how much would be appropriate. Shall we say that one dove = £10?

Yours faithfully,
.

4. Shatterface

Furthermore, they want the ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer does not work.

Its not up to the ASA to prove prayer doesn’t work, its up to the faith-heads to prove that it does. Not a big fan of the ASA but they can’t be expected to disprove the claims of every faithist, whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Jedi, Scientologists, homeopathists, UFO spotters, Worshipers of the Great Prophet Zarquon, psychoanalysts, telekineticists, Marxists, theosophists, Bokononists, or the Cult of Skaro.

5. dapperdannielle

Banjo,

Fab post. Now need 28.

I’m good for 10% of the dove total.

I’ll stick with logic and the scientific model. If you want to make a claim you back it up! You dont make a claim and then demand that others refute it. Given the number of people that probably pray to come into lots of money and the fact that 99% of the population dont have lots of money that looks like pretty good anecdotal evidence that prayer doesnt work!

F**k me, I’ve got a house full of pigeons cooing the Top Gear theme tune.

8. Chaise Guevara

Prayer has been shown not to work by double-blind study. That’s not absolute proof but it certainly means that the unbiased presumption is that it doesn’t work.

This letter is one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever read. First off, as someone points out above, it waves anecdotal evidence around as if it were proof. Apparently the writers are unaware of the scientific method and the power of placebo and wishful thinking. Secondly, it draws a ridiculous comparison between the ASA preventing people from making unfounded claims in advertising – i.e. doing its fucking JOB – and somehow intervening to prevent the faithful from praying.

There’s probably no such thing as “indisputable scientific evidence”, but I have a strange feeling that these guys won’t actually accept any scientific evidence forwarded to them, regardless of how strong it is. They obviously don’t know what scientific evidence actually IS.

Hopefully the ASA, along with the general religious public, is smart enough not to be swayed by a small group of people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

I am not going to criticise people who do not believe in God and do not believe in prayer; they are fully entitled to their beliefs and may indeed be correct.
However, I cannot support an article or comments which ridicule and criticise people who *do* believe in God and *do* believe in prayer, however mistaken those people may or may not be.
We cannot appreciate our liberal society with its easy-going attitudes and freedom of belief and expression, yet then subject people who happen to believe different things to ourselves to mockery and vituperation … at least, we cannot do without being guilty of an immense hypocrisy.
A ban on adverts which suggest that prayer works is quite clearly contrary to freedom of belief, fair-play and basic tolerance, and needs overturning. The alternative is that we support, equally, the proscription of any comments which are thought to be blasphemous or anti-faith.
Everybody knows that Mr Muamba was saved by the excellence of the medical treatment he believed, but is it really necessary to denigrate and dismiss all his family and friends who, in genuine good faith, were also praying for him? I read that Mr Muamba’s family asked people to pray for him; so who is going to look them in the eye and mock them to their face?
Or should we just have a bit of mutual kindness?

10. Chaise Guevara

Incidentally, the guys who ran the ad didn’t provide scientific evidence, either in the ad itself or in response to the ASA’s investigation.

http://asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/2/Healing-on-the-Streets_Bath/SHP_ADJ_158433.aspx

The “support” for their claims in the ad comes from testimonials. Their defence in response to the investigation essentially boils down to “we’re just stating our beliefs”, but unfortunately they made a factual claim (“NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!”) that they couldn’t support when requested to do so.

So the ASA is doing its job, regardless of the religious implications, and this letter is just more special pleading on the behalf of religion.

In defence of the advertisers, they say that they actively tell people to stay on medication and to defer to their doctor on medical issues. Assuming that’s true, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be, I don’t think it’s a harmful operation. They just need to make sure they can source their claims in future.

They’re getting prayer all wrong, it’s ‘thy will be done’ not ‘my will be done’, the point of prayer is align your own desires with Gods own, or as a way to come to acceptance with whatever passes. If you’re praying for God to do something outside of his plan, your gonna end up very disappointed I can tell you.

12. Chaise Guevara

@ 9 John D Clare

“However, I cannot support an article or comments which ridicule and criticise people who *do* believe in God and *do* believe in prayer, however mistaken those people may or may not be.”

Where does the article do that?

“We cannot appreciate our liberal society with its easy-going attitudes and freedom of belief and expression, yet then subject people who happen to believe different things to ourselves to mockery and vituperation … at least, we cannot do without being guilty of an immense hypocrisy.”

It is not hypocritical in the slightest to believe in freedom of expression yet mock the views of others. Mockery is not oppression. Maybe an “easy-going attitude” would prevent mockery, but presumably it would also prevent you from taking such offence at mockery.

“A ban on adverts which suggest that prayer works is quite clearly contrary to freedom of belief, fair-play and basic tolerance, and needs overturning.”

No. Secular adverts are also not allowed to make spurious factual claims. Fair play is maintained. The only thing suffering “intolerance” under the ASA’s adjudication is unsubstantiated claims in advertising. If you want this overturned, I assume you’re ok with people selling pure bleach as stomach medicine.

I think you’re confusing the right to generally profess one’s faith with the “right” to make up medical claims and use them to trick the public.

“The alternative is that we support, equally, the proscription of any comments which are thought to be blasphemous or anti-faith.”

Sorry, but you either haven’t read the article, or you’re deliberately misrepresenting it. The advert has not been banned for being religious. It’s been banned for making unsubstantiated medical claims. What’s more, it’s not a “comment”, it’s an advert. Otherwise the ASA would have no jurisdiction over it.

Which of the following is true?

1) You believe false advertising should be legal.
2) You believe that religion should get a special dispensation to allow it to break normal advertising rules.

I’m willing to listen if I’ve missed something, but as far as I can tell you must believe one of those things if you find the banning of this advert objectionable.

It’s entirely the responsibility of the advertiser to prove that their claims work when called upon to do so, with scientific evidence if necessary. It is not the duty of the complainant or the ASA to prove they don’t; this is the same rule for all advertisers. Horribly simple really. Poor christians.

I was in pain. I sat at home and did nothing in the hope it would go away, and it did. What does the ASA have to say about that? I would be the first to accept that not everyone who does nothing but hope to get better does get better, but sometimes they do.

Unless clear scientific evidence is shown, I will resume my add campaign stating “Do nothing about your ailments and they will go away.”

Also lulz at

“It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible”

Its heartwarming to see Christians get so close to being logical, just a few steps further and they might join the dots and figure it out. The bible also has fairly clear teaching on how the Earth and life came to be, alas not supported by scientific evidence.

Freedom of belief/speech argument makes no sense to me. Either this church’s advertising is subject to ASA rules or it isn’t. If it is (and the MPs do not seem to be disputing that point, in fact their request for a change to a ruling seems to reinforce it) then this is no more a freedom of speech issue than Loreal claiming their creams can erase wrinkles.

17. Shatterface

A ban on adverts which suggest that prayer works is quite clearly contrary to freedom of belief, fair-play and basic tolerance, and needs overturning. The alternative is that we support, equally, the proscription of any comments which are thought to be blasphemous or anti-faith.

Its not contrary to freedom of belief, fair play or tolerance unless you define those terms differently to the rest of the world.

You are certainly entitled to say that you believe prayer works, if that is your honest belief. Your belief in the power of prayer may or may not be a fact but it is independent of whether or not prayer is factually effective.

18. Man on the Clapham Omnibus

Sad enough that this letter was written. Worse still that these people are actually meant to represent their constituents. Personally their ilk should also be kicked out of the Lords.
Surely you have to be sort of sane at least to be a Member of Parliament.

19. Taff Agent of kaos

give them the funding, clinical double blind trials of prayer under reasonable experimental conditions and then publish in a peer reviewed medical/ science publication.

we can see once and for all, if prayer works

20. Limiting Factor

I personally believe that watching repeated reruns of Scooby Doo can heal. Straight from the !st Church of the Mystery Investigators, that is.

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 18 MoCO

Good point – do we know whether these guys were elected on a ticket to demand special privileges for religion?

Regarding the sanity thing, I have to disagree. If you’re using “sane” to mean roughly the same thing as “rational” here, which appears to be the case, I don’t think the “insanity” of the writers stands out among general human irrationality.

@ 19 TAoK

It’s been done – a large, double-blind study with a control group. Being prayed for made no difference if the patient didn’t know about it, and actually worsened survival rates if they did know about it (I would have predicted the opposite there).

You have taken a very interesting angle on this. Why not the more liberal: ‘ASA prevents prayer group claiming miracles’? The prayer group are inviting people to be prayed for. ASA has been authoritarian and stamped out their right to claim any power in prayer and in doing so has presumed over 2000 years of belief. The MPs cite the example of the footballer’s recovery, which is miraculous by any standard.
Perhaps you ought to rename yourselves ‘Atheist Conspiracy’.

@MattG I refer you to my earlier comment. Argue that this church shouldn’t be subject to the ASA at all, and you have the beginnings of a position. Argue that they should be, but under different rules from Loreal, and you don’t. The ASA has the power to stop people from saying things that don’t meet its standards. We give them that power via the democratic process because we consider, in the main, that false avertising is harmful to society and the freedom to do it is a liberty we are prepared to see infringed. This is really very basic stuff. We don’t say it’s “authoritarian” that murdering people is against the law, even though it clearly impinges on my liberty to murder people who slightly annoy me in queues.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 22 Matt G

“You have taken a very interesting angle on this. Why not the more liberal: ‘ASA prevents prayer group claiming miracles’?”

Because the story is the MP’s letter, which is far more interesting than the fact that the ASA has done its job properly in one particular case.

“The prayer group are inviting people to be prayed for.”

Disingenuous. That’s not why the ASA banned the ad.

“ASA has been authoritarian and stamped out their right to claim any power in prayer and in doing so has presumed over 2000 years of belief.”

The ASA deals with factual claims. Its authority does not come from the Bible. As an enlightened civilisation, we (generally) try to base our actions and laws on truth rather than unfounded claims. The ASA has only been “authoritarian” to the same extent that it would ban me from trying to sell lavender water as a cure for Alzheimer’s.

“The MPs cite the example of the footballer’s recovery, which is miraculous by any standard.”

Not by “any standard”. Anyway, it’s not evidence of the power of prayer, so it’s irrelevant here.

“Perhaps you ought to rename yourselves ‘Atheist Conspiracy’.”

Perhaps you should look up what “atheism” means. It’s not the same as “rational” or “scientific”. The ad has been banned due to a lack of evidence. If you consider this unfair, please provide the evidence that proves that prayers heal to the usual standard of medical evidence. If that belief held for 2,000 years is correct, the evidence should be overwhelming.

A church local to us, by the way, has got round this false advertising problem by putting up the sign “Such and such spiritual healing group: you won’t get any better!”

I had always assumed this was an amusing accident based on someone having not-great English, but I wonder now.

26. Apalled in the US

So, you have the same kind of fools in the UK that we have in the US?

“Dear God. We have kept little Jimmy on the couch for the last six months, ever since the “accident” that the doctors said killed him. We have prayed really, really hard every day. When are we going to get our little Jimmy back, oh Lord?”

27. Torquil Macneil

After reading that letter, it is pretty obvious what was causing the pain in Streeter’s right hand.

28. Planeshift

“The MPs cite the example of the footballer’s recovery, which is miraculous by any standard.”

Not really. He had a serious medical problem. He then recieved the best medical treatment, including immediate first aid by a consultant cardiologist and specialist treatment by world experts within hours, and survived. Although to say it is a recovery is premature to say the least.

Your position is that what they needed to do was not rush him to a specialist hospital but a church. And frankly that’s laughable.

29. Disgruntled Gnome

13. cynic

The reasons why there cannot be hard proof that prayer works have been well put by Oolon Colluphid. The argument goes something like this:

“I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing”.

“But,” says man, “the [efficacy of prayer] is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It proves you exist and so therefore you don’t. QED.”

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy,” says man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

(Thanks to Douglas Adams).

Substituting the alleged efficacy of prayer for the poor old Babel fish is stretching things a bit.

Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which gets full first

There is at least some scientific evidence that prayer works. Have a look at this paper:

http://journals.lww.com/smajournalonline/Fulltext/2010/09000/Study_of_the_Therapeutic_Effects_of_Proximal.5.aspx?WT.mc_id=HPxADx20100319xMP

As for the ASA, I’ve been following this story for some time. The points at issue are:

1) They do not think it is acceptable to claim that Christians (or any other faith group) believe that God can heal, a claim which would be in no way misleading, and a change in the wording which would be entirely acceptable to the groups involved.
2) They do not care whether specific claims of healing in the leaflets are true or not. Even if somebody’s doctor were to verify claims that somebody no longer had an incurable condition since being prayed for, the ASA’s view is that the claim cannot be made. Even if the specific claims being made are provably factual, their ruling is that those claims cannot be made.

Presumably, the ban would also extend to banning the use of certain Bible quotations in any literature that could conceivably fall under their jurisdiction. In fact, if these principles are followed through to their logical conclusion, it would be impossible for a leaflet to claim that Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. And if that isn’t a case of religious discrimination, I don’t know what is.

32. Shatterface

Can you quote the part of the ASA ruling which states that Christians cant say they believe in prayer, the Ressurection, etc. since the matter of their belief is not in question?

@32 Healing on the Streets Bath offered to rephrase the leaflets to use the phrase “We believe” in any references to healing and to include a more prominent reference to medical treatment. The ASA response was the following:
“Religious organisations may make claims about healing only if it is clear that they are referring to spiritual, not physical, healing.”

That’s pretty clear that they won’t accept faith groups claiming to believe that God can heal.

HOTS and other Christian groups have repeatedly tried to work with the ASA to reach agreement on the issue, both in this case and in similar cases over the last few years. The ASA has consistently refused all suggestions for toning down the language, and has refused to look into any specific claims being made in the leaflets in question.

This is just another manifestation of the ‘oppressed Christian’ meme which is being pushed by such lumaries of the open mind as Frank Field, Nadine Dorries and George ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ Carey.

What they really don’t like is that, contrary to previous times, they are no longer allowed to push their views without serious challenge. This offends their sense of entitlement.

Let’s look at just one claim made by HOTS:

“GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!”

So, they are not saying that they claim that their god heals the sick; they are stating clearly that their god can do so, and lists a catalogue of conditions which they claim their god can heal; back pain, MS, asthma, paralysis, etc.

Apart from the lack of any verifiable, reproduceable, falsifiable scientific evidence that their god can heal so little as a zit, the clear attempt to play on the anxieties and gullibility of those suffering from those conditions is, for want of a better word, sick.

Offering to amend the wording of their claims to include “we believe” is just tinkering around the edges. The real offence is that they should be so outrageous in their claims in the first place.

Dishonest and predatory advertising does not constitute a right; trying to shield yourself from justified criticism by citing your ‘faith’, or claiming that you’re being ‘oppressed’ does not give you a reason to be able to skate away from your responsibility for such egregious behaviour in the first place.

Sounds fair enough. Lots of people who pray report that it has a beneficial effect in their lives.

Its a bit like meditation – it has positive benefits regardless of whether you believe in the religious back story.

@31 Green Christian

That study is rubbish. It evens says the following in the discussion.

“There are several limitations of the study. First, field conditions were challenging. There were no modern clinical facilities available, and we were unable to diagnose the etiology of auditory or visual impairments or to assess whether structural changes occurred. There is no way of knowing whether hearing changed at untested frequencies, or whether subjects tested only with 40 cm or 6 m charts would have exhibited change with the other chart. Second, although the study was prospective and controlled for some potential confounds such as AN, there was no control group, only a null hypothesis of no significant effect. Third, the study was not double-blinded. In support of experimenter reliability, several audition subjects showed no measurable improvement, despite self-reported improvement.”

It didn’t even have a control group ffs. Plus the sample size was only 24. That study is completely useless. If one of the participants had a sudden heart attack it wouldn’t prove that prayer increases your chances of having a heart attack just like it doesn’t prove that prayer improved their condition.

Have you got any decent studies with control groups (preferably double blind) with a large randomised sample size which was published in a respectable journal?

I’m quite appalled by this silly letter to the ASA…..

Tim Farron really ought to know better, he has gone down several degrees in my estimation.

You can’t make false claims in adverts for a sensible reason to stop vulnerable people being conned by all manner of claims. It ISN’T a ban on free speech.

One might ask if these people think praying can actually heal how come religious people get ill in the first place ???

@36

The problems you cite are less with the study and more with the nature of what it’s studying. For proximal prayer (praying with people) double-blind tests are a nonsensical concept – there is no way for either party to be ignorant of whether they are being prayed for. Groups that claim significant numbers of healings tend to be concentrated in third world countries (and also China – where the political position of Christianity presents problems doing such any studies), which presents practical difficulties in having access to more modern clinical facilities available. Though, yes, they could have done a control group, and they could have done a longer term study, and hence taken in a larger set of people.

The conclusions drawn are that these initial results for proximal prayer make it well worth studying in more depth. The results are significantly better than anything seen in previous studies of suggestion or hypnosis, which suggests some kind of effect.

And the study notes that there are previous studies which have shown positive effects for both remote and proximal prayer. The overall picture for remote prayer is somewhat mixed, whilst studies of proximal prayer are, to date, practically non-existent – but the few that have been done appear to be positive.

39. Luke Farley

Seriously? The three of them should be removed from parliament for such absurd comments.

I am resisting the urge to have a caps-lock rage now.

It’s funny how prayer worked for Mr. Streeter’s hand, but not the millions of people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Perhaps you ought to rename yourselves ‘Atheist Conspiracy’.

Heh. Perhaps people should stop suggesting names for this blog

41. Rachel Holmes

I’m glad that prayer healed the twinge in Gary Streeter’s hand. Sadly, years of prayers from hundreds of people did sod all for my failing kidneys. They did, however, mean that I spent my adolescence pumping myself up with false hope only to be crushingly disappointed every time I went to the hospital for blood tests.

If prayer were a medication, it’d never make it to market.

Rachel
(now on my third transplant)

42. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 Green Christian

In brief, there’s generally more oversight on medical claims than other claims. “Jesus came back from the dead” isn’t medical in that sense, so I doubt it would be banned.

Regarding your PIP study, I find it highly suspicious that, in reaction to the mountain of evidence against prayer found in double-blind studies, the response is to start making claims about a method that, by definition, cannot be studied using blinding.

In any case, there is plenty of evidence about the existence of wishful thinking and placebo effect, and none for the existence, let alone benevolence, of any deities. So given the information available, it’s more logical to ascribe any benefits of PIP to the former rather than the latter.

And why would PIP work where DIP doesn’t, if God is the causative factor? Does God not care when you pray for someone unless they’re in the same room as you?

43. Chaise Guevara

@ 34

Well said, your honour!

44. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 Jeff M

“Sounds fair enough. Lots of people who pray report that it has a beneficial effect in their lives.”

There’s a big difference between “lots of people say this” and “this has been proven to medical standards”. There’s also a big difference between “beneficial effect” and “heal your illnesses”.

If prayer makes you feel better, good; I’m honestly pleased for you. But that doesn’t give you the right to go around making medical claims you can’t support, let alone to try to intimidate the ASA into giving you a special dispensation, while all the while pretending YOU’RE the victim. That’s the message these MPs need to hear.

Ads like this scare me. Can you imagine someone refusing medical treatment because they want to pray instead?

The views in that letter are of the extreme Christian right IMO.

46. James Reade

Oh it’s all just too easy to laugh, isn’t it?

Laugh but ignore the fundamental point which is that these things are unprovable, however absurd they may sound.

So being banned for saying it “can” work is OTT. Presumably there wouldn’t be a ban if another group said prayer “cannot” work? Happy to be corrected, but neither are provable.

Both statements are consistent with observed outcomes when we don’t observe the exact causal mechanism that led to them being observed.

Of course, it is vastly more plausible that the fantastic healthcare that Muamba received is what has led to his recovery, but having said that, we cannot be sure, and I am sure the doctors involved would say so. Why else would they be going on record about the “astounding” recovery he is making if there wasn’t room for other things to be concurrently going on?

But as said, it’s much more easy just to laugh at these people, isn’t it?

47. Chaise Guevara

@ 45 James

“So being banned for saying it “can” work is OTT.”

The actual phrase was “God can heal you”. Which is a falsehood if either God doesn’t exist, or he does exist but lacks the power to heal.

These are unprovable statements. But the test for whether or not you can make medical claims in adverts is not “It’s fine if it can’t be proved wrong”, which is why I’m not getting rich selling flavoured water as an Alzheimer’s cure. You have to be able to provide solid evidence for the claim, which HOTS failed to do.

I’ll ask you what I asked another commenter: are you saying we should get rid of false advertising laws, or that religious groups should get a special dispensation to ignore these laws?

48. Chaise Guevara

@ 45 James

“So being banned for saying it “can” work is OTT.”

The actual phrase was “God can heal you”. Which is a falsehood if either God doesn’t exist, or he does exist but lacks the power to heal.

These are unprovable statements. But the test for whether or not you can make medical claims in adverts is not “It’s fine if it can’t be proved wrong”, which is why I’m not getting rich selling flavoured water as an Alzheimer’s cure. You have to be able to provide solid evidence for the claim, which HOTS failed to do.

I’ll ask you what I asked another commenter: are you saying we should get rid of false advertising laws, or that religious groups should get a special dispensation to ignore these laws?

As for laughter, what better response is there to people who think they’re being clever but are actually just revealing their dire ignorance? And by that I mean the authors of the letter, not HOTS or believers in general.

This seems remarkably officious. These people weren’t charging money (you do get some con artists in the guise of faith healers, particularly in America) and they weren’t discouraging people from seeking medical care. They must have a pretty good case under the Human Rights Act/ECHR.

51. Chaise Guevara

@ 49 Hannah

I wasn’t aware that the HRA set out the right to make unsubstantiated medical claims.

@31 My understanding is that different studies have found different results about distance prayer. And championing praying for somebody in person isn’t a reaction to any such studies. If you look at both the Bible and historical Christian accounts of miraculous healings in almost any era of church history, distance prayer is very rarely mentioned, whilst praying with somebody is.

@50 The claims being made by HOTS are firstly that God can heal and secondly that the people mentioned in their leaflets recovered from their various conditions after being prayed for.

The first claim is not really a medical one, if God exists and is even remotely similar to the God of Christianity, then it’s pretty much a given that He can heal. The second claim can presumably be medically validated with reference to the medical records of said people. And, as I already stated, the ASA was not interested in investigating the evidence for the second set of claims.

Hannah @49:

“These people weren’t charging money (you do get some con artists in the guise of faith healers, particularly in America) and they weren’t discouraging people from seeking medical care.”

But they were making assertions which they were/are in no position to prove, and targeting them at people suffering from real illnesses and conditions, with all the despair and vulnerability which often stems from that.

So-called ‘faith groups’ should be held to at least the same standards of veracity and evidence in their claims for their products as companies selling hairspray are for theirs.

54. Planeshift

“It’s funny how prayer worked for Mr. Streeter’s hand, but not the millions of people infected with HIV/AIDS.”

Thats because God created HIV to punish the gays. Although frankly he didn’t think through the plans, otherwise he would have made it more difficult for medicine to turn it from a fatal condition to a serious chronic condition when you use expensive drugs.

@38

It isn’t that hard to do an improved trial with proximal prayer. For example you could have one group who were prayed with and one group who weren’t (control group). the problem with that scenario is that it’s clear who is and isn’t receiving “treatment”. This would most likely show a small placebo effect in favour of the prayer group.

A better solution would be to have a vicar/priest/etc pray with the patient and someone who isn’t religious impersonate a vicar and instead of praying silently they could be counting to 100 in their heads. this wouldn’t be truly double blind since the vicar would know whether or not they were praying and would thus treat the patient differently. However, it would still be an improvement on that study.

I would think that most people would not have a problem with someone praying to their own god but what secularists like myself really want is that people won’t make decisions about their treatment based on belief that their deity will intervene when history suggests that will not happen.

56. Chaise Guevara

@ 51 Green Christian

“My understanding is that different studies have found different results about distance prayer.”

Can you show me two or three properly carried-out studies into it that show a statistically significant benefit? So that’s double-blind, placebo-controlled and across a large patient base.

“And championing praying for somebody in person isn’t a reaction to any such studies. If you look at both the Bible and historical Christian accounts of miraculous healings in almost any era of church history, distance prayer is very rarely mentioned, whilst praying with somebody is.”

Yes, but specific people in the here and now might have decided to push PIP specifically because they didn’t like the way the previous tests came out. Avoid the blind by championing a system that can’t be blinded.

“The claims being made by HOTS are firstly that God can heal and secondly that the people mentioned in their leaflets recovered from their various conditions after being prayed for.

The first claim is not really a medical one”

Um, what? Claims about *methods of healing people* aren’t medical?

“if God exists and is even remotely similar to the God of Christianity, then it’s pretty much a given that He can heal.”

Yeah, but if he doesn’t, he can’t. So I don’t see what your point is.

“The second claim can presumably be medically validated with reference to the medical records of said people. And, as I already stated, the ASA was not interested in investigating the evidence for the second set of claims.”

From what I can tell, that’s because the testimonials “misleadingly implied” that the service could heal. The ASA doesn’t just deal with factually false claims, it also deals with truths that are used to deceive. Like selective use of testimonials.

“there is plenty of evidence about the existence of wishful thinking and placebo effect, and none for the existence, let alone benevolence, of any deities”

I’ve been reading a book by Michio Kaku, who by all accounts is a respected physicist. Many physicists seem to think that the way our universe is set up so precarious that you either have to choose between a creator, or an infinite number of parallel universes.

58. Christopher Heward

Why is it that people that criticise Christians for being closed-minded and evidence-dodging dodge don’t take an evidence-based approach to this issue and ridicule anyone that has a different experience to themselves?

Have any of these people bothered to go to Bath HOTS to find out? Or have they just decided that because they haven’t seen someone healed it doesn’t happen. And anyone that claims they’ve been healed is an idiot?

Once upon a time people thought the earth was the centre of the universe. Someone came along and said the earth went around the sun and they ignored him because they couldn’t see it happening and called him an idiot. So why haven’t we learnt from this and taken a more evidence-based approach to these things and look beyond our own very-limited view and experience of the world, testing the claims of others rather than dismissing them out of hand?

@57 “Once upon a time people thought the earth was the centre of the universe. Someone came along and said the earth went around the sun and they ignored him because they couldn’t see it happening and called him an idiot.”

Presumably a reference to Copernicus and they didn’t ignore him, exactly. The catholic church suppressed his work although, to be fair to the protestants, Luther also called for it to be suppressed. Or did you mean Galileo? Persecuted by the church for promulgating Copernicus’ work. What point are you making here? Faith healers are 21st century Galileos? You see the problem with that (apart from the obvious fact that it’s moronic) is that Copernicus provided a pretty sound theoretical underpinning and Galileo provided some sound evidence to support their views. People who believe prayer cures sick people have provided fuck all.

“And anyone that claims they’ve been healed is an idiot?”

Of course not. They could also be liars or just deluded.

“Have any of these people bothered to go to Bath HOTS to find out? Or have they just decided that because they haven’t seen someone healed it doesn’t happen.”

No. They’ve decided that, in the absence of any sound theoretical work explaining a causal link between prayer and recovery from illness combined with a complete lack of any evidence base for the same, religious weirdos shouldn’t claim that prayer cures people. No need to go to Bath for that, is there?

“So why haven’t we learnt from this and taken a more evidence-based approach to these things and look beyond our own very-limited view and experience of the world, testing the claims of others rather than dismissing them out of hand?”

Well, go on then, give us some references/links to studies which provide evidence that prayer cures people.

60. Christopher Heward

@54 Actually that study has already been done. There were three groups, one not prayed for, one prayed for and not told about it, and one prayed for and told about it. The differences between outcomes etc for the the first two groups were negligible, the third group, those prayed for and told about it, actually suffered worse outcomes. This was chalked up to psychological factors at play, mainly that telling someone that they were being prayed for tends to make them shit themselves that there’s something seriously wrong with them and they’re gonna die, thus causing needless stress and anxiety.
While the study proved to be very entertaining for atheists, the Christian group that sponsored it was less than pleased with the results.

62. Christopher Heward

@60

This is a timely reminder that when people say ‘prayer’ it can mean many different things. If you look at the paper I posted in Comment 59, they differentiate between distant prayer (the kind you link to) and proximity prayer, which is completely different really. Proximity prayer makes much more of a difference (according to research, and also to experience).

This is a medical difference mind, not just a ‘better feeling’. People get better (as the paper indicates). Indeed, this is the style Jesus used in the majority (although not all) of the cases of healing recorded – by touching the individual. So it should come as no surprise that this is the style of prayer that is most effective.

Indeed, the prayer in the paper you linked was rather bizarre. They were sitting in a room far away, saying a name to God and asking for them to be healed. There is barely any prayer in the New Testament like that (I suppose Paul alludes to it when he says he prays for people in his letter, but it doesn’t always sound like he’s praying for specific individuals to get well, and indeed to Timothy he says to change his diet to make his stomach feel better (1 Timothy 5:23)).

Beside, that isn’t the method used by HOTS anyway. So the study is largely irrelevant to this case.

What I find bizarre is how many people, many of them trongly atheist, have a very developed theology of the God they don’t believe in. “Well if he is like XXX and does YYY then he must be ZZZZZ” Yeah but what if he isn’t XXXXX? And given that you don’t believe in God why are you saying he is like XXX? (I’m not saying you are like this Cylux, just something I’ve observed in recent months.)

When Members of Parliament publically announce their preference for fictional and fraudulent ‘magic’ over evidence and rational discourse I suppose we should not be surprised that they also support (for example) economic systems that defy the usual rules of maths and the mystical idea that growth can go on for ever. The intellectual standards set by the ‘great and the good’ are poor role models indeed.

64. Chaise Guevara

@ 57 Jeff

“I’ve been reading a book by Michio Kaku, who by all accounts is a respected physicist. Many physicists seem to think that the way our universe is set up so precarious that you either have to choose between a creator, or an infinite number of parallel universes.”

I’m aware of this. Some points:

1) The nature of the universe, in terms of its creation and constants, is firmly in the “there’s a lot we don’t know yet” category. So hedging your bets between two currently available theories is premature. This has a strong “god of the gaps” feel to it.
2) The parallel universes wouldn’t need to be infinite to make the existence of universe capable of holding life mathematically likely.
3) There’s no reason to assume that a single life-supporting universe didn’t emerge by good luck. Claims like this tend to assume that the development of life is an inherently desirable event or even the “correct” end-goal of the universe/multiverse, whereas without a creator words like “desirable”, “correct” and “goal” don’t mean anything in this context.
4) Even if your man was correct, it’s hardly an argument for God given that it sets out another possibility.
5) If this DID point to a creator, there’s no reason to assume that it still exists, cares about humans, or answers our prayers.
6) How does the theory then account for the existence of the creator in the first place, without special pleading?

65. Chaise Guevara

@ 62

As far as I can tell, the biggest difference between the two studies is that Cylux’s was tested using double-blinding and placebo control, and yours wasn’t. Making the results of his study rather more scientifically relevant.

So someone set up a test that didn’t use placebo and blinding, and then found it had all the effects associated with placebo effect and tester bias. What do you want people to draw from that, exactly?

66. Chaise Guevara

@ 58

“Why is it that people that criticise Christians for being closed-minded and evidence-dodging dodge don’t take an evidence-based approach to this issue and ridicule anyone that has a different experience to themselves?”

We do take an evidence-based approach. The reason the HOTS ad was shut down is that it DIDN’T take an evidence-based approach.

Why didn’t we go to Bath to find out? Because we’re scientifically literate, and hence know that a handful of selected testimonials is not persuasive evidence of the effectiveness of a treatment regime. I could sit in with HOTS all day and watch people going “Thanks, I feel better already” and that wouldn’t be persuasive evidence either. We don’t let people sell drugs based on the “evidence” of testimonials, and with good reason.

Are you aware of the following concepts: placebo effect, blinding, statistical significance? Sorry if it sounds a bit snarky, but your last two posts strongly suggest that (like the MPs who wrote the letter) you’re not.

67. Christopher Heward

Of course if it was just about people saying ‘I feel better’ that’d be a bit naff, but when you have people (like the MP) who spend ages having pain, then receive prayer, and then have no pain and it doesn’t come back then, well, what are you supposed to say? If you met someone in pain would you say they are stupid? If you met someone who was no longer in pain would you say they were lying? If it happened over a period of time you’d say (I presume) that they were naturally healed. But when the pain doesn’t go away and then suddenly they are healed and it never comes back, then, what, it must be th placebo effect?Why can’t we take people at the word, or better still if he has medical notes that say he was in pain, and if he is no longer in pain, then why can’t people look at that and see there is something real about this?

The HOTS website has a few sets of these results, including a person who had a tumour go. Have a look at it and it’s up to you what you think really. Lots of people still stick their head in the sand whatever evidence they are presented with counter to their current way of thinking. They’ll say the doctor misread the scan, or the notes are faked, or “it was a coincidence that he received prayer when actually his healing occurred extremely quickly, naturally, at the same time…”.: \http://www.hotsbath.org/stories-3.html.

As for the placebo effect and double blinding, I know the first and I imagine the second is where some are told they aren’t beming prayed for and others are prayed for but the y aren’t very well. This is all well and good and makes sense in some contexts. However if I told you I wanted to test whether if I combined two chemicals together to see if they’d react, and then you presented me with a study that proved it didn’t react because, like, you’d conducted a few experiments with the two chemicals miles apart and in one you told the chemicals you were wanting them to react, in the other you told them you didn’t and the other you didn’t tell them you did but you did actually. I’d say the study proved nothing. My point is that the laying on of hands, the human contact and interaction is usually a key part of verifiable healings (people who’ve had tumours disappear, etc.). So yes the placebo effect is something to be concerned about, but in this experiment there has to be a different way of separating it out. And even if it was a placebo effect, it would be a bit bizarre if this placebo effect only work when you were praying in Jesus’s name and suchlike. At the end of the day I’m just more worried about the actual evidence, whether people are actually getting healed, not about whether a few studies on a completely different method of interacting with God suggest that that method isn’t particularly effective.

Above all, discrediting the effectiveness of prayer based on one study (which is the same study that always gets trotted out confidently as though it proves anything, presumably because rather than looking for evidence people have just shouted about the study mentioned in Richard Dawkins’s book) seems not very evidence-based and deeply unscientific.

68. Christopher Heward

Should have read: “and others are prayed for but they aren’t aware” when I was trying to explain double blinding

69. Chaise Guevara

@ 67

To go paragraph by paragraph:

1) Pain and its relief can be deeply psychosomatic. You can “cure” a headache using sugar pills. How much more convincing than sugar pills must be the idea of intervention to a believer! The answer to all your questions here is that we use the best way of assessing evidence available. Which shows prayer doesn’t work beyond placebo.

2) Sorry, I can’t make sense of this. Tell chemicals things? You realise that chemicals don’t have ears and brains, right? In any case, you don’t understand the importance of blinding. You don’t use it to find out if an observable effect can happen (e.g. mixing two chemicals and getting another one, or someone feeling less pain after a prayer session), you use it to find out whether the effect is actually caused by what you did, and whether the cause is simply placebo.

So, sorry, but you don’t understand placebo or blinding, and by your omission I assume you don’t understand statistical significance either. This is obviously what leads you to incoherencies like “I’m just more worried about the actual evidence, whether people are actually getting healed, not about whether a few studies on a completely different method of interacting with God suggest that that method isn’t particularly effective.” You’re NOT interested in the evidence, you’ve already made it clear that you place more trust in irrelevant anecdotes than honest study.

What you’re doing is taking a set of irrelevant data that can be fallaciously massaged into supporting your worldview, and ignoring the strong data that claim otherwise. This is the OPPOSITE of caring about the evidence.

3) It’s not one study, it’s just that the one Cylux brought up is the most famous thanks to the God Delusion. But even one study is more scientific that no studies and relying on selected testimonials.

As you not only misunderstand the scientific method, but appear to actively reject it, I don’t see why you’re talking about studies anyway. I mean, you meet a chap who says his psoriasis cleared up after prayer, all of the scientific data can go hang, right? Of course, the same doesn’t apply if you meet someone who says prayer didn’t work for him, because that doesn’t suit your starting opinion. Head in the sand indeed!

70. Man on Clapham Omnibus

@67

This is exactly the kind of deluded rubbish that everyone should be wary of.
The kind of ‘evidence’ you cite could equally relate to say someone getting over a leg injury and a complete stranger falling downstairs in another country.
The issue of causality is important and requires proper scientific analysis. Unfortunately your contribution does not contain any. Moreover the available evidence which has been obtained by properly structured enquiry comes down firmly against any discernable effect of intercessionary prayer. Like every other scientific examination of supposed manefestations of God there is no evidence whatsoever.
I would not go as far as to say you were deluded since evidence suggests most people are religious in some way. But then again most people are susceptible to optical illusions so the yardstick of personal perception is ,I would argue,fairly limited.

As to using the status of an MP to give credibility to your argument perhaps you might like to take another look at whose running the country at the moment.

71. Chaise Guevara

@ 70 MoCA

“As to using the status of an MP to give credibility to your argument ”

Agree with the rest of your post, but I don’t think Christopher is trying to use the MP’s position as an appeal to authority. He’s just using the MP’s personal experience as an example.

72. Christopher Heward

Have read about double blinding now and am clearer on what it is (just that the prayers didn’t know who they were praying for either).

Right, so my point with the chemicals wasn’t so much about the double blinding, etc. but more about what is being tested. The HOTS groups around the country tell parts of people’s bodies to be well in Jesus’s name, they don’t sit there and ask God to please heal the person and haggle with him. Not only is this difference key (as it is the predominant method Jesus and his disciples used) but human touch is also key, because for whatever reason God chooses this way to heal more often (I think it’s probably because, counter to the prevailing world-view of individualism and consumerism that would have us purchase products to make ourselves well and get ahead in life) a key aspect of humanity is interdependence and relationship. If God wants to encourage people to be one, as he clearly does through the Bible, with each other as well as Himself, then it seems to make sense that the most effective way of praying is in a relational manner, one to one. I mean if someone got healed without knowing they were prayed for, how would they know it was God that healed them? And given that God’s primary concern is that we are in relationship with Him, surely He’d rather use a method of healing that made people more likely to find relationship with Him, to put their trust in Him ,as well as to have Christians there they can ask questions to because they know they are genuine.

This is relevant because it will then make it LOGICAL for God to use the relational kind of prayer to heal people, because His focus is on creating relationship with Him, not merely on making people better and on they go until the next illness comes along.

This isn’t to say the placebo effect isn’t important, rather I’m just saying (hence the flawed chemicals analogy) they are testing something different (a different type of prayer) and therefore the result aren’t comparable.

The way you would test for a placebo effect in this case would be to separate the effect of ‘positive thinking’ from the command in Jesus’s name. I suppose you could compare those who put and hand on people’s shoulder and say “I’m confident that you’re going to be healed” and compare with someone who says “be healed in Jesus’s name” and see what is more effective. Or study previous, long term effects of those that have been prayed for hands on by HOTS group and those that have been ‘prayed’ for by non-Christians, but then that would tend to be new age type stuff I suppose, unless we get a lot of atheists to say to people ‘get well’. Maybe we could do that. Have a bunch of Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus. Agnostics and Muslims to lay hand on sick individuals and tell them to get well? Maybe mix up who was praying for who. Far more relevant anyway, than a study where they are distant from each other.

Finally, my comment about evidence was more that if prayer CLEARLY works in a few situations then I am likely to carry on praying for people spurred on by this. The fact that on other occasions people CLEARLY weren’t healed doesn’t make the CLEAR healings any less relevant. It just means we sit down and try understand why it didn’t work on the other occasions.

73. Christopher Heward

An analogy I like to use is to say:

“If I was holding a ball and I dropped it, what would happen?”

Most people’s reactions would be “It would fall to the floor, because of gravity.”

On many occasions this might be true, but on other occasions it isn’t.

What if, for example, the ball is resting on a table? I let go of the ball and it doesn’t drop, it stays stationary.

On another occasion the ball actually rises, because it is filled with helium.

Another time as I let go someone boots the ball in the air instantly, whilst another still there is a large fan just to the right of me which projects the ball in the other direction.

If I then turned around and said “therefore gravity doesn’t exist” that would be ridiculous. I would say that half of the time gravity is clearly seen, but in the other half other various forces are at work and so although gravity still has power it’s affects aren’t clear in this instances. Without further investigation (I’m assuming the testers weren’t already aware of gravity) yet being done, it would be obvious to me that this thing called gravity seems to exist, and so the fact that different effects are observed in the other trials doesn’t mean this effect has stopped working, just that other things are happening.

This is my pint with prayer. If many times we see prayer work, this shuold get us thinking “there must be something to this prayer lark”. The fact that in other cases prayer doesn’t seem to work the same way, doesn’t mean we can say prayer doesn’t work. It could be that God wants that person to be healed at a later date. It could be there are underlying issues causing that ailment that needs to be dealt with first. It might be God wants the individual themselves to pray more and develop a relationship with him, and so he is waiting for that to happen before healing them. It’s also a key Christian doctrine that this is a fallen world and there is a Kingdom of Darkness and a Kingdom of Light. In fact it is due the Kingdom of Darkness that there is sickness at all, so this is another factor, as although the Kingdom of Light>Kingdom of Darkness, there are times where the Darkness seems to be winning through, and so as the person praying or receiving prayer puts their faith in God and the Kingdom of Light (which they already have done by asking for prayer/to pray) that the Kingdom of Light comes into that situation.

My point is, just because prayer doesn’t appear to work in certain circumstances doesn’t mean that prayer doesn’t work. And so to focus on studies where it hasn’t worked and disregard examples of where it’s CLEARLY worked and it’s clear in was prayer in Jesus name, seems a bit rash to me.

But then if you’re only concerned about this from a head knowledge point of view (i.e. does God exist) then it’s largely irrelevant. I’m looking it from the point of view that I want to see people healed and in relationship with God, and so if I’ve seen this happen as a result of prayer then I’m likely to keep praying, rather than sit back and wait a few years until some clinical studies come out and say whether or not these healings have happened in a way that conforms to the presuppositions of the investigators,

74. Chaise Guevara

@ Chris

Both of your posts seem to rely on the idea that prayer has, as you put it, “CLEARLY worked” on some occasions. If this were the case, we wouldn’t be having this argument: if prayer worked (above and beyond placebo) on some occasions, it would be entirely fair to say that it has healing power. After all, we don’t withdraw cancer drugs just because they don’t have a 100% cure rate.

However, there’s no evidence that this is true. All you’ve got is irrelevant anecdotes, which play (deliberately or otherwise) on correlation/causation confusion, and a couple of fundamentally flawed studies. The issue isn’t that prayer doesn’t work enough, it’s that (based on evidence) it doesn’t work AT ALL apart from placebo.

If you do a study that isn’t statistically significant and makes no attempt to test against placebo or blind the participants, then of COURSE you’re going to get weird results. Obviously DIP is impossible to test with full blinding and placebo controls. So if someone did a DIP test that was as close as possible to a proper study, we should at least look at it. Is there one available?

If so, my prediction is that the results will be what you’d expect given the limitations of the study – in which case it’s better to attribute any apparent healing to things we know exist (placebo effect and bias) than an entirely hypothetical agent (God). If, on the other hand, it showed results way beyond what could be explained by placebo, THAT would be worth looking at.

75. Christopher Heward

What I mean by clear is that a clear difference has been made by that prayer, over what could be described as a placebo effect. So if an agnostic individual has been in so much pain with their foot for months and it has only got worse, and then that drives them to get some prayer from HOTS because they are so desparate, and then that prayer suddenly removes all the pain and it never comes back because the ligament is now better, then that would seem quite clear to me. If it was possibly for ligaments to be healed via the placebo effect then, well, that would be remarkable in itself, surely? Even if it was the case, then why would an agnostic get more benefit from that than a non-Christian saying “get well mate”? If he doesn’t believe in God then why would he convince himself he’s been healed? He loses nothing if he doesn’t get healed, and in fact it might make him feel better that he’s not been healed because he can say “God obviously isn’t there” and that justifies his not being a Christian. There are many instances of people being healed like that, any many of them weren’t Christian and don’t become Christians.

So you could do a study where you speak to those people, ask for medical records before and after, and make judgements based upon that. Obviously it’s not the same as a mechanical drug that has a chemical effect, which will have an effect regardless of whether the individual knows that they have taken the drug, which means those drugs can be tested in that way (double blind, placebo, etc). But when the whole point of the prayer method is that you can see the person you are praying with (PIP I think – think DIP is the distant method, which is the study from the God Delusion, which did try to test for the placebo effect) it is hard to have those controls. I suppose a test in the way I suggested could be possible, where the praying person doesn’t know the faith of the individual being prayed for, and the prayee doesn’t know the faith of the individual praying, and all is said is ‘I command this leg to be healed’ without alluding to what faith they are saying it in.

My other point would be that it is not only the placebo effect that has to be taken into account, but also variable that are beyond our control. If we were simply saying If A prays X for B B will be healed, you could test to see if X is the cause or of Y (placebo) is the main cause. However, in reality you are testing whether A praying X for B causes B to be healed, dependent on G (whether God knows that if that person got healed it would make them trust in Him), H (waiting a bit longer would make them pursue Him), I (they are currently doing something that is causing the problem (either obvious like diet or maybe an emotional issue from the past that needs dealing with, etc. etc.), J, K ,L, etc . etc. There are so many variable beyond our control that it is pretty tough to have a clear test. Whereas when it is a chemical that is all about a chemical process, it is much easier. But then prayer isn’t something you ‘consume’ and it has a uniform effect. It isn’t even a product (which links to the ASA stuff and whether they are really advertising anything rather than just stating that God can heal people and they are available to pray with you.

Obviously these things could be used by Christians to dodge difficult questions, or more dangerously at the other end of the spectrum they could just say someone doesn’t have faith, which hopefully isn’t being said. But beyond that they are genuine things and affect whether or not prayer ‘works’. It’s not as simple is saying “let’s separate out the placebo effect and see whether prayer works”.

I feel it is important to say that I am not, for a second, suggesting anybody here takes anecdotes shared online and says “well obviously it must be true”. That would be unexpected (although not impossible with God). You are only likely to accept this kind of thing if someone you know and trust experiences it, someone you know was going through pain, who now isn’t, and who got prayed for and it made a significant impact. Better, still if you yourself got healed. I presume that if you got prayed for and some long-term ailment disappeared that that would make you question your beliefs, and so it is these things that perhaps you should test. Even if there was a study that gave evidence of the effectiveness of prayer would you really drop everything and say “I believe God is there and I need to follow Him?” Realistically would you not say there must have been something wrong with the study? It is far more likely that you or someone you know gets healed and that deeply impacts you. If this is the case, this is why I suggest getting prayer yourself (alongside these discussions, which can occasionally be helpful :D)

So for me anecdotes should really just be a spur to think “perhaps there is more to this than I currently believe”. It’s not about me or others expecting you to say I’m right and you were wrong, it’s just to provoke the possibility that something different might exist beyond the realm of my current level of understanding. Believe me when I say I certainly don’t understand it yet.

76. Chaise Guevara

@ 75 Christopher

“What I mean by clear is that a clear difference has been made by that prayer, over what could be described as a placebo effect. ”

I can’t help noticing that you keep making this claim without providing evidence for it.

“So you could do a study where you speak to those people, ask for medical records before and after, and make judgements based upon that. ”

That would be ridiculous. You’re talking about a study that only looks at people who experience a positive effect. Would you assess the death rate of cancer by getting a bunch of living cancer victims, noting that none of them are dead, and announcing “Cancer has a 0% mortality rate”? And that’s before all the other problems with it.

[I know I’m shortening your post drastically, and apologies for that, but I think my first paragraph addresses a fundamental point, and the second hopefully guards against irrelevant responses to that point.]

77. Robin Levett

@Christopher Heward #75:

What I mean by clear is that a clear difference has been made by that prayer, over what could be described as a placebo effect.

I agree with Chaise on this – this has yet to be demonstrated.

Have you yet read the Asser/Swann 1997 paper Unity refers to in his other post on this topic?

78. Christopher Heward

@76

I agree that if you were doing an indepth study into the likelihood of being healed through prayer, and what different types/styles of prayer, and what elements of that prayer caused the healing , etc . et.c then it wouldn’t be greatjust to focus on these case. However my point is that the claim being made, mwhich seems to be the claim that is being disputed, is that ‘God can heal’. It’s not that these prayers will heal you, or that God will heal you instantly every time. Or God can heal you if you give us £10. Or anything like that. It is simply a statement that it is possible for God to heal you. Therefore to be able to say that you need to show that someone has been healed by God.In much the same way as people will say you can’t disprove God, it’s also the case that whilst some would say you can’t quite tell whether it’s God who’s healed, there are certain things you can do tha strongly implybeyond reasonable doubt it was him. So if someone has something that is causing them pain and has for a sustained period, and then at that moment of prayer, Iin Jesus’s name, that pain goes, this would suggest it was God that was involved.If he doesn’t heal another time, it doesn’t mean that God can’t heal, just that he hasn’t on that occasion. So I’m not saying ignore the lack of healing in other cases (indeed to get a fuller understanding of the nature of God and of the world you need to understand why people don’t always get healed), but if we are assessing the claim that God CAN heal then a few affirmative cases (if clearly not happening through natural means, beyond the capabilities of wishful thinking/placebo effect, and done in the name of Jesus (either literally stated or just being prayed/commanded by a Christian) then this would mean that I think it would be fair to say God can heal.

@77 Not sure I have – see a few but not sure whether I’ve seen that one. Do you have a link?

79. Chaise Guevara

@ 78 Christopher

“Therefore to be able to say that you need to show that someone has been healed by God.In much the same way as people will say you can’t disprove God, it’s also the case that whilst some would say you can’t quite tell whether it’s God who’s healed, there are certain things you can do tha strongly implybeyond reasonable doubt it was him. So if someone has something that is causing them pain and has for a sustained period, and then at that moment of prayer, Iin Jesus’s name, that pain goes, this would suggest it was God that was involved.”

It might suggest it to those who presuppose God’s existence, but it wouldn’t show that he was involved, let along imply it “beyond reasonable doubt”. The fact that you’re happy to cherrypick examples that support your prior beliefs means that it’s statistical nonsense, even without taking placebo into account. If enough people prayed to God to healing, you would logically expect some of them to be healed by sheer coincidence. Once again, you’re treating correlation as causation because it supports the way you see the world.

So, as I keep saying, you need to source your claim that prayer can heal. What you’ve got now is “some people think they were healed by prayer”, which isn’t the same thing at all.

“if we are assessing the claim that God CAN heal then a few affirmative cases (if clearly not happening through natural means, beyond the capabilities of wishful thinking/placebo effect, and done in the name of Jesus (either literally stated or just being prayed/commanded by a Christian) then this would mean that I think it would be fair to say God can heal.”

It would move the probability distribution in that direction, at least. Pretty hypothetical, though: I’m having trouble imagining a case of healing that could be shown to be “clearly not through natural means”.

80. Christopher Heward

I think it’s worth point out that all the leaflet is about is telling people that God Can Heal, giving a list of things that people claim to have been healed of, and to tell them that there are people sitting around available to p[ray for you at certain times.

Presumably the leaflet would be fine f the were just saying we are here to pray for you on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Or would even that be seen as discouraging people going to the doctors (which I still think is ridiculous given that people are told to continue going. Presumably telling someone that you’ll be doing something in a location at a certain time is fine?

So presumably it is just the claim that God can heal you that is disputed. Therefore if you could demonstrate that someone had been healed by God this would be fine?

The big thing for me is that HOTS offered to change it to “We believe God can heal you” and I think even this was rejected. Which is ridiculous, as surely you’re allowed to tell people what you believe?

Presumably, if they wrote ‘Our prayers can heal you’, then if you produced people who were ill before the prayer and medically verifiable better after the prayer, even if it was just the placebo effect, then presumably this claim would be allowed. But the ironic thing is that these people in that instance wouldn’t want to say that their prayers could heal you, because essentially the belief is that God has healed the individual, but those words have been the way in which it was delivered. So would the ASA be happy for the leaflets to say ‘Our prayers can heal you’, as long as a few people could be seen to have got better at that exact time? (But like I say, those Christians are unlikely to want to say that, unless it was worded in a way that honours God. How about: ‘Our prayers can heal you: and we believe it is God that is the one giving the healing’?)

81. Christopher Heward

@79

Can I just check that we’re clear on what kind of results we are talking about? We are talking about people who for a sustained period have been in pain, at a constant level, without this getting better. They then receive prayer. AT THIS EXACT MOMENT (not a few weeks later, or over a period of time, but there and then, at the point of prayer) they get completely healed and are pain free. The ailment they had is completely gone, and it doesn’t later return.

Now, it might be that naturally this thing could have healed, however it is clear that in that instance it wasn’t getting better at any rate, and so to be instantly healed must mean that something occurred during that prayer?

With regards to the placebo effect, I suppose hat is difficult to assess, and if we were purely talking about someone feeling a bit down/emotional and suddenly feeling ‘lighter’, I can see why you’d suggest this was jut placebo. Also, if the pain had only been with the a brief time, and then gone, I can see why you’d think that they could have exaggerated the pain in their own mind and then remembered it as being a lot worse than it was. It might even be that people deny the pain that they still have because they feel guilty for not being healed (but I know HOTS Bath for example would say it’s fine if you haven’t been healed, no need to lie, and God loves you just as much, so it’s not your fault if you haven’t been healed, as 1) that’s the last thing n ill person needs, and 2) it’s true – God does love them whether or not they’re healed).

I just get the impression from your post that you thought this was a case of people praying over a period of time and their pain gradually goes away – if this was the case then whilst I still believe that it could be God healing them, I would readily accept that in that case it could easily be a natural healing process that would occur with people that weren’t particularly praying. Just want to make it clear though that this isn’t what we’re talking about – we are talking about instantaneous prayer.

And essentially, this is what the Conservative MP is saying happened to him – in pain for a long time, prayer happens and instant removal of the pain occurs, never to return again; he’s not talking about a gradual reduction in pain over time.

82. Chaise Guevara

@ 81 Christopher

I wasn’t really distinguishing between the two. While statistical significance and placebo effect are important for both, the former is a bigger deal in terms of pain going away over time, and the latter is more important in terms of pain going away at the instant of praying.

Honestly, in the kind of test you’re talking about it’s going to be impossible to distinguish natural causes from supernatural ones, so you’re never going to find a “clear case” of pain being lifted without natural causes, assuming that it ever happens in the first place.

Surely prayer can work as effectively as any kind of positive thinking.

Shame they’re not claiming that, and they seem to think that prayer is better than surgery.

Shame because I’d support their stance in the first option.

#72

I think this is a really good comment and I agree with most of it.

What I’d add is that I’m not really sure it’s possible to test this stuff, as God fairly explicitly commanded “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. The God I believe in might easily decide that He will not heal where the healing is part of a test designed to prove prayer works. He might decide that partly on the basis that positive test results might lead people to believe that it is prayer itself that heals, rather than God who heals and who often uses prayer as part of that process partly, as you say, in order to draw people into relationship with Him.

I don’t want to suggest that this is how God would definitely choose to act, just that it is within a range of possibilities I can imagine and which I think is consistent with a scriptural understanding of God.

85. Robin Levett

@tim f #84:

What I’d add is that I’m not really sure it’s possible to test this stuff, as God fairly explicitly commanded “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.

…which was of course quite convenient for his priests/prophets at the time, who had been deputed to deliver that message…

I am finding this whole discussion interesting, but difficult to know how to grab a detail on which to comment.

What happened to free speech? I believe in one thing, you in another and him over there something different. No problem. Unless – and here’s the biggie – my belief causes injury to someone else.

So whatever an individual’s belief [religious, political or just plain daft?] is, if enacting that belief causes harm to others we are right to demand that such a belief is outlawed?

If my belief is eating others is OK, then fair enough stop me. If I believe in faith healing and refuse ‘proper’ medical treatment on my bad back, that’s up to me surely? Or is someone going to insist I have ‘proper’ treatment in case I become a drain on the NHS and welfare services? Um, its getting tricky now.

If him over there is a member of a religious sect which does not believe in, say the use of blood products in medical treatment, is it OK for him to refuse them, even though this could result in his death and the State then having to support his family for many years? Tricky again, especially as if him over there is forced to have the treatment his religious cohorts [including his family] may refuse to have any more dealing with him? But how much more involved does it become when it is not him over there who needs the blood products but one of his children and the father will not give consent? How many would uphold his rights over that of a child’s survival?

You may feel justified by your religious or political view in planting a bomb somewhere to cleanse the community. OK so a few innocent may die, but it will all be for the greater good. Sounds nasty but Bomber Harris did the same thing in WW2, was praised at the time and pillloried for it subsequently and then in a turn around later again had a statue built to him.

Not so straight forward is it? I use convential medicine, alternative medicine and spiritual healing. None of the practitioners of the last two that I have used have suggested that I shouldn’t use either of the other forms as well. Some ‘convential’ practitioners may have poured scorn on the other forms but again haven’t suggested I desist. My right to choose, but only for myself.

87. Christopher Heward

My right to choose, but only for myself.

But isn’t that the point – HOTS Bath are giving people the opportunity to choose for themselves, whilst the ASA want to prevent people having this opportunity. How would you find out about the availability of the alternative medicine and spiritual healing stuff you’ve hooked up with unless it was advertised to some degree?

All they want to do is let people know that they are available to pray with people and that they believe God can heal them.

p.s. To quote some text just right “” and then (without the gaps) either side on the text you are quoting :)

@87. Christopher Heward

My right to choose, but only for myself.

But isn’t that the point – HOTS Bath are giving people the opportunity to choose for themselves, whilst the ASA want to prevent people having this opportunity

Actually, that was the point I was trying to make but I think it got a bit lost in my own rhetoric! And thank you for telling me how to do the quote thing, I have long wondered that! Hope it works this time.

I acknowledge that there are in all three orthodoxies practitioners who are not as effective as others, just as there are, say, dentists, plumbers, greengrocers that one wouldn’t ‘employ’ again. Again it is the individuals right to choose to move to another. This present government, aided by too many in society imo, seem too keen to regulate and dictate on too many levels.

I have seen parents ostracised for refusing innoculations for their babies, yet others whose children have been damaged by the same innoculations. Instead of acknowledging that this can happen and helping the victims of these anomalies, successive governments have denied responsibility and help to families. Where is the justice in that? Just one example of the small minority that can be harmed by ‘convential medicine’ due to an adverse reaction. These things happen, but instead of accepting that and dealing with it the medical profession and Government refuse to acknowledge the possibility, still. My Other Half has a dreadful, life challenging reaction to penicilin, yet the same drug has saved millions of lives. Are we being freaky by refusing to allow any of our offspring to take it?

Middle son was recently treated successfully with a blood product which shortened the progression of a dreadfully painful illness. But if his religious beliefs had precluded this, that would have been his choice and subsequent suffering his own decision.

We all need to have full information so that we can make our own choices, which is the point I should have made more clearly in my original posting!

A quote from chapter two of ‘The Water Babies’ by Charles Kingsley, published originally in 1862:

And therefore it is, that there are dozens and hundreds of things in the world which we should certainly have said were contrary to nature, if we did not see them going on under our eyes all day long. If people had never seen little seeds grow into great plants and trees, of quite different shape from themselves, and these trees again produce fresh seeds, to grow into fresh trees, they would have said, “The thing cannot be; it is contrary to nature.” And they would have been quite as right in saying so, as in saying that most other things cannot be.

90. Dear Old Ted

Well the concept of T Farron as a Lib Dem with some ability to make reasonable judgements is now shattered in my opinion.

An example in real-time….who prayed for (or against) this then you lunatic?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/02/oakland-shootings-gunman-opened-fire-california

And who won? The devil?

91. Christopher Heward

@90

Well, clearly, the devil had a rather large influence in this situation. Of course the devil has influence in the world. Indeed, that’s the whole point, to a degree, of praying for healing. Often it is God’s will for the person to be healed, and so the role of the people praying is to speak this out. To bring the Kingdom of Light into a situation where the Kingdom of Darkness is.

I don’t understand how on the one hand people can say “these Christians are arrogant and are trying to change the will of God” and on the other hand say “these events are horrible and outrageous; how can God allow it to happen?”. Surely the answer to both those questions is because God doesn’t want the current situation to be as it is and He works with His people to bring about change in the situation, whether it is prayer for healing, gifting doctors with medical skills, counselling the bereaved, mentoring the young who would otherwise go on to commit these atrocities, and so on and so on.

I don’t understand why atheists so often in their mind have such a clear picture of who this God is that they don’t believe in. It is very dangerous to reject the whole notion and possibility of God’s existence purely on the basis of a very narrow guess/presumption of what this God is or isn’t. Surely the first question is does God exist, and then, if he does, ask what is He like, not the other way around?

Speaking of Satan, according to this source, Her influence is pervasive:

“Renowned Italian priest and exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth has released a new book claiming that Satanic sects have infiltrated the Vatican and their influence reaches even the College of Cardinals. . . ”
http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/288581

But not to worry:

“A Vatican-backed college is launching a new course for exorcists – Roman Catholic priests who cast out evil spirits from the possessed. Lessons at the prestigious Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum will include the history of Satanism and its context in the Bible. . . ” [BBC website 17 February 2005]


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Ravi Subramanian

    @bengoldacre have u seen this abt MPs wanting ads saying prayers heal you to be allowed http://t.co/j7YYgYPq one for #BadScience

  2. Adam Ladley

    MPs: “let ads say prayer works!” | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/WeEIU2OB via @libcon << How stupid?

  3. How to Miss the Point Completely | DaveD's Blog

    […] is the letter, copied from the Liberal Conspiracy blog, well worth a read in its own […]

  4. How to Miss the Point Completely | DaveD's Blog

    […] is the letter, copied from the Liberal Conspiracy blog, well worth a read in its own right: Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury Chairman, Advertising […]

  5. Andrew Page

    You know I was really concerned about Tim Farron's faith and his views on homosexuality. This is actually far worse. http://t.co/0wcXGEbJ

  6. Kate Walton-Elliott

    http://t.co/XrumTIaX And here I am praying that the ASA stand up to them, & that these god-squad folk leave the rest of us in peace…

  7. Nick Theobald

    Right now I am *very* glad I'm not a member of the #libdems and I'm particularly disappointed in @timfarron: http://t.co/VXz0vfml

  8. George W. Potter

    @caronmlindsay @timfarron Out of curiosity, have you read the actual letter itself? http://t.co/APk5tgLa

  9. Sleepy Jean

    http://t.co/jQVaehPi Tim Farron et al think the ASA need to prove prayer doesn't work. #doesnotunderstanhowscienceworks

  10. George W. Potter

    @GHmltn @caronmlindsay @timfarron The issue we're discussing: http://t.co/APk5tgLa

  11. Barry Johnston

    http://t.co/jQVaehPi Tim Farron et al think the ASA need to prove prayer doesn't work. #doesnotunderstanhowscienceworks

  12. olu ojedokun

    MPs: “let ads say prayer works!” | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/goxE2bjR via @libcon

  13. God will heal you! « Ideas

    […] an interesting story which was posted to Liberal Conspiracy yesterday. It’s not so much interesting because of […]

  14. This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] healing is so dangerous by Unity     It would be extremely easy to poke fun at the utterly idiotic and opportunistic letter that three Christian MPs have sent to the Advertising Standards Authority in an effort to pressure […]

  15. Simon Stanford

    “@brumhums: MPs: “Let ads say that prayer works!” And thus the battle-lines were drawn… http://t.co/CH4UcfEg via @libcon” <–oh good grief

  16. Juan Romero A.

    The stupid… it hurts.
    MPs: “let ads say prayer works!” | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/gOD7C7mo via @libcon

  17. Richard Openshaw

    Some background to that last RT http://t.co/rLCabg3F and http://t.co/hY8TkxVN

  18. Pete Martin

    nice one to three idiot politicians who managed to drag Fabrice Muamba into a pointless debate about faith healing… http://t.co/DW2Rt7cy

  19. Russell’s teapot – new sighting in Westminster | playing word games

    […] So, it is disappointing to read that MPs – selected as they were from a very limited pool of talent – have now written to the Advertising Standards Agency to ask that the church be allowed to print posters saying that prayer works. Prove that it doesn’t!, they cry. […]

  20. A thing is nothing, or is it? | Grumpyhatlady and Chums

    […] daughter choose religion, she will never follow blindly and unquestioningly to that extent. When  I read of a letter from a cross party group of MPs demanding an Advertising Standards Agency decision be reversed regarding the efficacy of faith […]

  21. Ophelia Benson

    3 MPs to ASA: let ads say that prayer works, or else http://t.co/yAyUPDVn

  22. Skeptic South Africa

    3 MPs to ASA: let ads say that prayer works, or else – "We write to express our concern at this decisionIt appears t… http://t.co/8MftxmRC

  23. Richard

    I'd not be happy one if these was my MP. They believe in faith healing and ask for scientific proof it *doesn't* work! http://t.co/hHpUNJyh

  24. Birmingham Humanists

    “@brumhums: MPs: “Let ads say that prayer works!” And thus the battle-lines were drawn… http://t.co/CH4UcfEg via @libcon” <–oh good grief

  25. sunny hundal

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  26. Collin Whittaker

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  27. Tim Ireland

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  28. Funny Bunny

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  29. Hampshire Humanists

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  30. Martin

    http://t.co/Lp2zvTQ6

    @drevanharris isn't it time for you to stop believing in @LibDems? Start a new party based on Reason?

  31. Martin

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  32. Sian Timoney

    Libdem Tim Farron gives up defending silly letter to ASA on power of prayer http://t.co/GPFTna58 What abt @GavinShuker? http://t.co/8x5Yf58p

  33. Naomi Phillips

    Tim Farron MP wanted ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer doesn't work http://t.co/ZsjKBc5p #bbcqt #mmm

  34. Paul Blanchard

    Tim Farron MP wanted ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer doesn't work http://t.co/ZsjKBc5p #bbcqt #mmm

  35. Sim-O

    Tim Farron MP. *ahem* http://t.co/gaTjHtg9 #bbcqt

  36. Dan Hayes

    Tim Farron MP wanted ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer doesn't work http://t.co/ZsjKBc5p #bbcqt #mmm

  37. jfraseruk

    Tim Farron MP wanted ASA to produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to say that prayer doesn't work http://t.co/ZsjKBc5p #bbcqt #mmm

  38. Thomas Moyser

    Tim Farron co-signed a letter in which Gary Streeter MP claimed to have received "divine healing"on his right hand http://t.co/0bj1anf3 huh?

  39. @FutureDave

    Christian MPs demand ASA allow ads that claim prayer heals medical conditions. What century is this? http://t.co/C7J3q5Bf





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