The Great Prayer Experiment Funded By Templeton Foundation

by James Tang (17390 views)
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It is a common knowledge that certain religions like Christianity claim that praying would call onto the power of their God and in turn provide positive effects on the person receiving the prayer. This scenario includes praying for those who are sick, in danger, or even praying for one self’s deliverance from adversity. Naturally, researchers and academics in the field of literature found little or no evidence of prayers working in their meta-studies and were quick to dismiss the idea of prayer. Today, we will be taking a look at one of the most influential studies that aimed to find out the truth about prayers.


One of the most important experiments carried out on the effects of prayer was established back in 2006 by Harvard professor Herbert Benson. The aim of the experiment was to study the therapeutic effects that prayer had on patients and was soon came to be known as the “Templeton Foundation Prayer Study” or the “Great Prayer Experiment”. The experiment began by making use of 1,802 coronary artery bypass surgery patients at six different hospitals. Double-blind protocols were used and patients were randomized into three separate groups where their receptiveness to prayers was not measured.


Of the three groups, only group one and two were told that they may receive prayers while group three was told they were receiving prayers. Amongst group one and two, only group one received prayers. What made this experiment so strong was that the prayer style was even standardized, with only first and last names used in the prayers and no photographs provided. The 3 Christian churches who prayed for these patients were allowed to do so in any way they desired, but the only catch was that the phrase “successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery with no complications” had to be used. Of the three groups, group 1 and 2 had 52% and 51% complications which arose while group 3 had 59% of complications. Although in statistical terms, there were no significant differences in major complications, it seemed as though group 3 suffered from “performance anxiety”. As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote, patients could be worried that they would not be able to perform as well as those who received no prayers. One of the other conclusions was that patients may have been uncertain and wondering why they had to be prayed for, attributing it to their seriousness of their sickness.


Many naysayers would say that the effects of prayer could very well not be studied because God for one, does not respond to challenges that are explicitly posed. However, the findings of the studies, although limited, yielded a clear result: Prayers do not work. Despite the large difference in beliefs across the world, ultimately the effects of prayer are personal and may or may not work for you. Studies can only show empirical results that say so much and hopefully with time, questions raised by the various studies will be able to yield more concrete answers to satisfy the human curiosity.