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  Topic: oh, this should be fun..., examination of the efficacy of prayer< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
sir_toejam



Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 31 2006,15:50   

Ok, here's an interesting little diddy:

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-03/31/content_4368130.htm

Quote
A new study on the therapeutic power of prayer from strangers has found that it does no miracle to the recovery of patients who have undergone cardiac bypass surgery, researchers reported Thursday in the American Heart Journal.  


from the source of this news bite, to the work itself; lot's to chew on I think.

Quote
Scientists have been trying for at least a decade to determine whether organized prayer at a distance can influence the outcome of medical studies. Some scientists hoped the results of the study would bring an end to the long controversy over therapeutic prayer.


does it?

anybody have access to the original cited article?

edit:

here's an abstract of the original article referred to by the Chinese media:

http://www.ahjonline.com/article/PIIS0002870305006496/abstract

and here is a "response" article from the same journal:


http://www.ahjonline.com/article/PIIS0002870305006484/fulltext

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Mar. 31 2006,22:00   

It would appear from here that the original findings were published in The Lancet.

From the link.

Quote

However, patients receiving music, imagery and touch (MIT) therapy did have a slightly lower mortality rate at six months.

The findings appear in the July 16 edition of The Lancet.


I have tried here but could not find it. Possibly because I don't subscribe and so get reduced access.

  
sir_toejam



Posts: 846
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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,01:57   

hmm, the news report from China refers to publication in

"American Heart Journal"

last Thursday.

I suppose a pub med search would find it.

I'm surprised nobody seems interested.

I guess ya all would rather argue with morons like Thordaddy.

oh well.

Stephen-

of particular interest is that if the Forbes article and the Chinese media are reporting on the same study, there is a huge difference in the emphasis and wording of the two news articles, eh?

compare the two styles!

amazing.

  
Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,02:18   

Sir,T-J.

It would seem there is a whole load of coverage.

Some of this apears to be nonsense. Some rational.

Every news story I have ever read is always slanted to the general audience or biased by the writers leanings. Usualy both.

I can't say I would expect that praying for someone who is unaware (of the prayers) to help any. I am surprised that the MIT had little or no effect.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,02:24   

Quote
I can't say I would expect that praying for someone who is unaware (of the prayers) to help any.


Neither would I, nor would i think it mattered even if the patient was aware (not a double blind test*), but you might have a different rationale for reaching the same conclusion.  

so, if you don't mind my asking...

why not?

btw, i found nothing nonsensical about the methods used.

check the abstract and see for yourself.

As far as I can tell, this is the same result as the other 20 studies or so that have been funded to research this "issue" over the last 20 years.

but i guess as long as the Templeton foundation wants to fund 2.4 million dollar studies to "prove" the efficacy of prayer, and don't mind continual and repeated failures to do so, I don't see the problem with 20 more of the exact same studies.

it's their money, after all.

it kind of reminds me of the independent study sponsored by Walmart to "prove" they had a positive impact on local economies, that instead ended up showing quite the opposite.

anywho, if anybody has a better method for how to test the efficacy of prayer than what was presented in this paper, I'd love to hear it.

*in fact, when the patients DID know they were being prayed for there was actually a HIGHER (barely significant) trend towards complications after surgery:

Quote
...but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

  
Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,02:36   

Quote

sir_toejam   

 
I can't say I would expect that praying for someone who is unaware (of the prayers) to help any.


Neither would I, nor would i think it mattered even if the patient was aware (not a double blind test), but you might have a different rationale for reaching the same conclusion.  

so, if you don't mind my asking...

why not?


Because I would not expect devine intervention.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,02:40   

so...

does this study empirically confirm your suspicions?

or not?

  
Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,02:50   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,08:40)
so...

does this study empirically confirm your suspicions?

or not?

Do you mean. "Does this experiment prove to me that prayer (unknowingly done by others) does not help people to heal"?

Then Yes. I believe that.

If you mean "prayer can never be usefull". Then I would be doubtfull. Not that I think it has anything to with miracles. I am under the impression that mental atitude can affect recovery.

BTW. I would have responded sooner, but the #### 25 second rule kept catching me out. I should use my watch more.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,03:09   

Quote
Do you mean. "Does this experiment prove to me that prayer (unknowingly done by others) does not help people to heal"?


...

what if it also showed that it doesn't help even if the person DOES know they are being prayed for?

hint:

read the abstract before you respond.

er...

hold that thought; i need to attend to a few things.

I'll be back in a few hours.

  
Stephen Elliott



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Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,03:18   

OK,
Let me know when you are back.

EDIT: #### what a silly statement. The last post name will change. D'Oh!

  
Russell



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Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,05:48   

Quote
I'm surprised nobody seems interested.
Well, I'm interested (or amazed, or appalled, or something) in the fact that in the 21st century people are still asking this question. But interested in the study itself or its results? Not much more than in the confirmation of the existence of gravity by letting go of this pencil. (Clunk! Sure enough. Still there! )

And, while I suppose it's a good thing to have the carefully documented statistics on record, you know the true believers are not going to be influenced. In terms of knowledge gained per research dollar spent, I think the pencil experiment wins, hands down.

--------------
Must... not... scratch... mosquito bite.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,11:33   

Quote
I think the pencil experiment wins, hands down.


yeah, but could you get 2.4 million for your pencil study?

actually, rigorous studies of this type are extremely valuable to point to as tools showing that science does indeed, not simply run away from anything that smacks of the supernatural.

the issue is, nobody here is studying the cause, only the effect.

perfectly legit research.

as to interest levels, check out the first paragraph of the response article published in the same journal:

Quote
Systematic study of intangible “noetic1” or “frontier2” healing methods such as intercessory prayer, defined as “widely practiced therapeutics with no plausible mechanism,2” is an area of great public and scientific interest, as well as of great controversy.3,4. Although prayer is one of the most ancient of healing practices, the scientific literature studying prayer is still quite young. In this issue of the journal, Benson et al report the sixth and largest prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled study of distant prayer scardiovascular patients1,5-8 in the STEP.


@Stephen:

funny enough, but i think the article you referenced in the Lancet is actually a compeletly different study regimen (MANCA instead of STEP).

interesting that they published at almost the exact same time.

  
stevestory



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,11:57   

This seems like an area for productive ID research. Does the Intelligent Designer respond to customer complaints for a redesign?

   
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,12:14   

Indeed.  That's likely the reason the STEP program was funded by the Templeton foundation.

no joke.

unfortunately for them, the 6 studies they have funded so far have all shown the same results, similar to those here.

maybe the seventh time is the charm...

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,12:29   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,18:14)
Indeed.  That's likely the reason the STEP program was funded by the Templeton foundation.

It would seem they are avoiding things known to get negative results:

If they wanted negative (or null) results for a religious study, why don't they study the effectiveness of exorcisms on people who claim to be demonically possessed. Then you could compare the priests' results with those of some good anti-psychotic drugs. (that could  make exorcists look bad -- or really good.)

Why not do a study on how effective faith healers are? James  Randi once investigated them...  perhaps they know that and  avoid it for that reason?

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,12:36   

I'm not sure i get your point here;

It seems to me that the Templeton foundation wants to fund STEP in order to produce positive evidence for the efficacy of prayer; they just haven't succeeded in doing so ;)

If you check out the review article i posted, you will see a desire on the part of the reviewers to see studies funded that would pursue the potential pyschological damage resulting from faith healing efforts.

In support of their desire is the odd result from the cited study that shows a slight but statistically significant increase in surgical complications when the study group knew it was being prayed for.

I find that to be quite unexpected, myself.

Being funded by the Templeton foundation, i can understand at least the potential reasons why the authors chose not to pursue the implications of those results at length.

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,12:59   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,18:36)
If you check out the review article i posted, you will see a desire on the part of the reviewers to see studies funded that would pursue the potential pyschological damage resulting from faith healing efforts.

I'm reading your link now... but it is hard  to take seriously when I read stuff like: "Religious leaders questioned whether the prayers were appropriately worded and whether those praying were really moved by the spirit."

Prayers have to be "appropriately worded"?? What are these prayers,  magic spells -- get one word  off and suddenly you turn the patient into a frog. Is it the words that make a prayer work or the desire?

I kind of understand that "moved by the spirit" comment though -- that's the desire part. My intuition into these things I don't believe in would suggest to  me that you have to want to really, really want something (and wish real hard) before you can make it happen. Blowing out the candle on your birthday cake is just superstition -- its the intensity of the wish that  matters. As a child I could temporarily fool myself with that kind of magical thinking.

Does anybody else giggle when they read comments like that?

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,13:12   

Quote
Does anybody else giggle when they read comments like that?


LOL, glad you saw the same things i did.  oh yes, mucho giggles.

It seemed mandatory that they put some sort of this type of criticism of the methods used in there somewhere (it's basically the primary criticism made by certified ™ xians any time one of these studies is done; "oh, but you didn't include OUR kind of prayer..."), but do note their overall satisfaction with the STEP study detailed in the first couple of paragraphs.

also note what i pointed out above; their curiosity as to why the authors of the article did not pursue the implications of the results of the "C" group.

all that said, did you also read the abstract?

anything different you would have done to make the study more rigorous than it was?

i sure can't think of anything.

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,13:27   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,19:12)
... did you also read the abstract?

Not yet -- I  clicked the three first links and started reading but they were all articles about the study -- none had any details on how the study  was conducted.

Re-link that one if you want -- but I'll recheck the thread for more links.

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,13:37   

Quote (normdoering @ April 01 2006,19:27)
Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,19:12)
... did you also read the abstract?

Not yet -- I  clicked the three first links and started reading but they were all articles about the study -- none had any details on how the study  was conducted.

Re-link that one if you want -- but I'll recheck the thread for more links.

Oh, you mean:
Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer

at:
http://www.ahjonline.com/article/PIIS0002870305006496/abstract

There aren't many details. It was, supposedly, double blind for two groups and the numbers were good. That's pretty standard... nothing really clever here, not even informing one group that they would be prayed for.

My gut feeling is there might be cleverer ways of approaching the subject. I'd have to think more about that.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,13:43   

Quote
Oh, you mean:
Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer


uh, yeah, that one... the one i already provided a link for earlier, along with a link to the review article in the same journal.

I moved the links to the first post to make them easier to find.


as to sandard, I guess you'd be surprised how non-standard many of these studies have been.

the STEP program has done a decent job of trying to utilize large numbers and double-blind groups.

Quote
nothing really clever here, not even informing one group that they would be prayed for


hmm, i don't think you read the methods closely enough.

this is the first study to compare the double blind group to the group that actually knew it was being prayed for... and found significant results opposite to what one might expect for that group.

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,14:09   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,19:43)
this is the first study to compare the double blind group to the group that actually knew it was being prayed for... and found significant results opposite to what one might expect for that group.

I see what you mean... one might expect suggestion and faith would help.

However, by clever I meant something like the way Stanley Milgram's psychology experiments were designed.

I can't say how yet, but off the top of my head:

Get faith healers like Benny Hinn to come to the hospital and do his faith healing thing for lots of patients, but then have some atheist actors pretend to be faith healers and let them do the same -- then see who was more effective and compare both of their groups with a control that never saw a faith healer.

That's not really clever enough...

Still, my aims are different than Templeton's -- I want to disillusion people. I already think the religious illusion is dangerous and unhealthy.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,14:47   

hmm, if the religious sponsor a study that essentially disproves their claims, wouldn't that go much farther towards disillusioning folks than one sponsored by NSF or NIH, say?

That's one of the reasons i find this so fascinating, that Templeton(a rather religious foundation) would fund these studies over and over again, while obtaining essentially the same result every time.

that must be disillusioning to some, at least.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 01 2006,14:58   

russel said:

Quote
you know the true believers are not going to be influenced


well, i tested your postulation, and so far have found you to be absolutely correct.

every religious person I personally know was not swayed in any way by the results of this study, even tho they could find no flaw with it.

they all essentially said:  "you believe what you want to believe"

there is no hope when the vast majority prefer to base their actions and belief structures on ideas soundly rejected by evidence.

It's like arguing with folks that think the sky is green instead of blue.

I doubt Norman nor myself will ever find that "magic bullet", no matter how rigorous the study, or clear the results.

oh well.

  
Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: April 02 2006,06:33   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 01 2006,09:09)
Quote
Do you mean. "Does this experiment prove to me that prayer (unknowingly done by others) does not help people to heal"?


...

what if it also showed that it doesn't help even if the person DOES know they are being prayed for?

It does not surprise me too much. But I would have thought the knowledge might help some people.

Not because of miracles btw. I was under the impression that mental atitude could assist in healing.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 02 2006,10:21   

Quote
It does not surprise me too much. But I would have thought the knowledge might help some people.


it doesn't?

your second paragraph implies that you thought foreknowledge of prayer intercession would have a positive influence on attitude.

so I'm surprised this doesn't surprise you.

Moreover, the results show significant (tho slight) increases in complications after surgery in this group, as opposed to the double blind group.

THAT is very surprising, at least to me.

  
Flint



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(Permalink) Posted: April 02 2006,14:53   

If a double-blind experiment of this sort was found to have a statisically significant effect (in any direction), who among us would conclude that at least one of those doing the praying had correctly visualized and was praying at a "real" god? Who might suspect that, just maybe, something less supernatural was going on?

Just possibly, somone might do a follow-up study on the religious beliefs of those *doing* the study. Just as a f'rinstance.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 02 2006,17:21   

go right on ahead, flint.

however, it doesn't make any difference what their religious beliefs are, so long as the methods are rigorous and repeatable.

in fact, the only critique of the methods used i can find is that perhaps they were too rigorous.  Perhaps too narrow in their choice of groups to act as prayer intercessionaries.

However, you have to be very rigorous in this area in order to have the experiment be repeatable.

so, with that in mind, did you bother to actually read the abstract, even?

results were statistically insignificant for the group that did not know they were being prayed for, and showed a significant increase in complications in the group that did, when measured against the control.

the study was funded by a religious foundation, so wouldn't you think any bias would have found exactly the opposite results?

the dataset is large, the experiment repeatable, and the methods essentially sound.

how would you go about testing it any differently?

  
Jay Ray



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(Permalink) Posted: April 02 2006,18:59   

I'd go whole hog and see what effects different kinds of prayers had on the subject populations.  Imagine what we could learn!

For instance, I'd have one set of tests where everyone prayed on Sunday, another on Saturday, and yet another on Monday.IIRC, the day of rest is Sunday for christians, and Saturday for jews.  Perhaps this test could tell us which day BigDaddy wants to kick up his feet, and when he gets down to bidness.

Another set of experiments could decide for us which nationality BigDaddy pays most attention to.  One set of prayers could be all Americans, another French, another Indian, etc.  If done correctly, this test could determine the ultimate in "most favored nation" status.

If we went with Flint's idea, we could have people from varying faiths pray for the subject populations.  The experiment could inform us as to whose BigDaddy can beat up the other BigDaddies.

The permutations are endless, fascinating, and profound.

Or, I guess the Templeton Foundation could use that money to fund social programs, like public education and health care...

Nahhhh.

  
Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: April 02 2006,19:33   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 02 2006,15:21)
Quote
It does not surprise me too much. But I would have thought the knowledge might help some people.


it doesn't?

your second paragraph implies that you thought foreknowledge of prayer intercession would have a positive influence on attitude.

so I'm surprised this doesn't surprise you.

Moreover, the results show significant (tho slight) increases in complications after surgery in this group, as opposed to the double blind group.

THAT is very surprising, at least to me.

No. It did surprise me. Just not very much. If prayer had any statistically significant effect, it would almost certainly have been documented before now.

If the 7ish% difference is really down to negative effects of prayer it would need to be repeated with the same results to sway me. I think that would be a waste of cash. I am sure anyone could come up with a better way to spend 2Mill.

The thing that surprised me the most was that the experiment seems to have been rigorous. Results that the funder obviously did not like have been published. Considering the antics of the ID mob, the very fairness of this experiment comes as a bit of a shock.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 03 2006,00:33   

well, i see it all the time.

good science can still be done with "bad" funding.

unless your funding organization entirely depends on private donations (don't we know an organization like that...;) ), then your credibility weighs in on how much funding you get, even as a foundation (foundations often rely on grants from other foundations).

Credibility in funding organizations is often influenced by the value articles published by scientists they fund have to the scientific community in general; that is, one, is it good science, and two, is it interesting.

so, yeah, even the Templeton foundation wants to encourage the folks they fund to do rigorous science; it helps them get more funding, and avoid critcism.

Not to say that there aren't foundations that don't give a sh*t about anything but their private agendas, but typically those don't last long unless, as i said, they have a continuous source of private funding coming from somewhere (oohhh, like Howie Ahmanson, say).

One could say that money is the great equalizer; it's required by both the religious and non-religious alike, and if you are a foundation funding research, your credibility is everything.

Quote
If the 7ish% difference is really down to negative effects of prayer it would need to be repeated with the same results to sway me.


interestingly, a friend related a story to me today about a time when his mother was in the hospital for surgery.  Seems one of her friends (who was very religious) called her pastor and asked him to go to the hospital and pray for her friend (my friends mother).  Well, seems my friends mother is not only not-relgious, she abhors it (one wonders why her friend did not know this?).  So, when the pastor came to her, she told him in no uncertain terms he was not needed.  However, he refused to leave, saying that it would be better if he stayed and prayed for her.  Turns out this upset my friends mother so much they had to cancel the surgery and postpone it to a later day.

moral of the story is, it seems possible that the 7% increase in complications could be explained by objection to being prayed for, and the resultant stress.  It's even possible that participants did not wish to express outward negativity towards being prayed for, for a variety of reasons.

I'd like to see the full discussion in the paper, but the review article suggests the authors did not address this implication.  

Now THAT'S where a legitimate bias could have come in.  the design is rigorous enough, but one could easily leave out potentially controversial (even if obvious) implications in the discussion section without getting too dinged for it.

  
Russell



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(Permalink) Posted: April 03 2006,04:14   

RE: good research from bad funding.

A bit off-topic, but my first job after college was working as a technician at what is now the very prestigious Scripps Research Institute. The next-door lab was Richard Lerner's (later president of Scripps and Major Dude of science). Some of their work involved cancer-causing retroviruses, and was funded by tobacco money. Reason being - I guess - the tobacco people wanted to play up non-tobacco causes of cancer. Either that, or they naively imagined that funding cancer research might produce a cure so smokers could stop worrying about that pesky side-effect.

--------------
Must... not... scratch... mosquito bite.

  
Stephen Elliott



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(Permalink) Posted: April 03 2006,07:48   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 03 2006,05:33)
...
Now THAT'S where a legitimate bias could have come in.  the design is rigorous enough, but one could easily leave out potentially controversial (even if obvious) implications in the discussion section without getting too dinged for it.

Good point!

I hadn't even thought about that.

A while ago I read an article that claimed humour can help a patients recovery from illness. Tried to google it but got an embaressment of riches. Some contradictory.

Google search

In summary, it would apear that we are not all identical (shock horror).

  
Seven Popes



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(Permalink) Posted: April 03 2006,08:04   

Quote
Originally Posted by USA Today
Mark Coppenger, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, believes in praying for others, but he questions the wisdom of measuring God's response. "It's my experience that God actually prompts our prayers," Coppenger says. "But I don't see him cooperating in a test."

So by simply using Scientific method, you can cancel the effect of prayer by making god accountable? All I have to do is tell god "I'm gonna keep an eye on you" and the prayers of thousands are invalidated? I CAN BULLY GOD!

--------------
Cave ab homine unius libri - Beware of anyone who has just one book.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 03 2006,10:08   

Quote
Coppenger says. "But I don't see him cooperating in a test."


hilarious!  just yesterday i bet a friend of mine that someone would say this very thing about this study.

One wonders what all the religious supporters of ID think of logic like this...

because if they agree, then I could of course make the same argument; ID will never be testable because the "intelligent designer" will never cooperate.

phht.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 03 2006,10:12   

I spent some time hanging out with scripps students and profs when i was deciding which grad school to attend.  

just curious; when were you there, Russel?

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 05 2006,07:18   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 03 2006,15:08)
Quote
Coppenger says. "But I don't see him cooperating in a test."


hilarious!

What to get even funnier?
Check out this Onion article:
Critics Blast Bush For Not Praying Hard Enough
http://www.theonion.com/content/node/46938

"There is a real possibility that the president misrepresented the number of times he invokes Jesus' power each day in accordance with the strict guidelines of scripture," said Henry Holbrook, senior fellow at the Intercession Institute, a leading conservative prayer tank. "Is he clasping his hands together tightly enough? Is he using the proper forms of the pronouns 'thine' and 'thou'? What about the verb 'hast'?"

Susan DiDomenico of the National Prayer Task Force said her organization is seeking "full disclosure" of any and all prayers Bush may have skipped or manipulated to seem more effective or holy.

  
sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 05 2006,09:21   

coincidence that that Onion article appears right now while we are discussing this very issue?

I think not!

*shhhh!*

(they're watching us)

:p

  
normdoering



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(Permalink) Posted: April 05 2006,09:56   

Quote (sir_toejam @ April 05 2006,14:21)
(they're watching us)

If so, I expect them to make fun of the Pianka scrap soon.

  
Russell



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(Permalink) Posted: April 05 2006,10:36   

Quote
just curious; when were you there, Russel?
Oh, geez. Here's where I have to admit how old I am. It was 1973/4

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sir_toejam



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(Permalink) Posted: April 05 2006,11:06   

ouch, yes, that was a bit before my time;

I was hanging about there from time to time around '83/84, '87/88, and a wee bit around '90.

I was greatly dissapointed at the time in the emphasis shift from organismal to molecular biology that was happening there (one of the reasons i decided against it for grad school), but I can see the advantages now (still don't like it :p ).

I wish I had been a marine biologist in the 70's, when there was still plenty of money floating around for organismal marine biologists.

*sigh*

  
sir_toejam



Posts: 846
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: April 07 2006,11:09   

The Daily Show did a story on this study last night.

funny stuff.

GW:

"I am sustained... by the fact that millions of Americans pray for me."

JS:

"So THAT'S what went wrong!"

  
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