Questionable Motives

August 29, 2010

What is prayer?

Filed under: belief,brain,Neuroscience,prayer,Science — tildeb @ 8:12 pm

Over on John Shore’s site there has been a post and commentary about prayer. All the responses have been generally positive about the important role prayer plays in the lives of many. From it being like a relaxant before bed to enjoying the benefits of talk therapy unavailable to atheists, from the suggestion that prayer allows us to become conscious of god to the assertion that it is evidence for god, the comments have been interesting but very much of a type.

So I offered the following comment, which – unlike all other posts I have made – has been awaiting moderation for a day.  Makes me wonder why. Any suggestions?

Meditative prayer with god presumes the object reality of god. When we ‘feel’ better for the exercise, we reinforce our belief that god is real. This assumption is then used to justify belief in an intercessory prayer. After all, because we know that god is real through our experience of meditative prayer and we feel different during and after praying (so the cause must be external because we cannot arbitrarily change how we feel, right?), then it is but a very small step to believing that there must be something to intercessory prayer as well, where god somehow orchestrates a kind of intentional intervention. There are many scriptural references that intercessory prayer works. But are any of these references and conclusions actually true?

Well, we know that people who believe in the power of charismatic healing inhibit their brain’s capacity to critically think by shutting down parts of their medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and we know through a meta-analytic review that there is no evidence to show any causal link greater than chance between prayer and effect. We do know that mindful meditation alters brain chemistry and improves immune function, which brings into question our assertion of the need for any external agency for mood alterations and how we feel during meditative prayer at all.

Once again, we cannot trust that what we believe is true is necessarily true unless we have some less subjective way to test it. And when we do test the claims made on behalf of prayer, what we find is that it offers us no evidence for any external agency.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ame, Neuro Now. Neuro Now said: What is prayer?: Over on John Shore’s site there has been a post and commentary about prayer. All the responses […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention What is prayer? « Questionable Motives -- — August 29, 2010 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  2. I think Edward Current has the answer…

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — August 30, 2010 @ 4:19 am | Reply

  3. All posts containing three or more links automatically go into moderation; they’re sensed as spam. Whenever you’ve commented something that’s then awaiting moderation, feel free to send me an email letting me know that’s happening, since I sometimes forget to check the ever-jammed spam folder.

    Comment by John Shore — August 30, 2010 @ 8:14 am | Reply

    • Good to know. Thanks, John.

      I had noticed other comments with multiple links and I knew you had been by to comment yourself yet mine remained in moderation so I just wondered why because the content was not offensive. I’ll drop you an email if it happens again.

      Comment by tildeb — August 30, 2010 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  4. I fairly sure I read a study that showed the negative effects of religious prayer on patients – the study concluded that some people worry if they are prayed for because they think their condition is worse than it actually is. I will see if I can find it.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — September 2, 2010 @ 2:35 am | Reply

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