"In the largest scientific test of its kind, heart surgery patients showed no benefit when strangers prayed for their recovery. And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications. Doctors in the $2.4 million study could only guess why.
The researchers emphasized that the study could not address God's existence or answer prayers made on another's behalf. It looked only for an effect from the specific prayers offered in the research, they said.
Researchers also said they didn't know why patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of complications than patients who only knew that such prayers were a possibility.
Maybe they became anxious by the knowledge that they'd been selected for prayers, Bethea said: "Did the patients think, 'I am so sick that they had to call in the prayer team?' "
The study followed about 1,800 patients at six medical centers. It was financed by the Templeton Foundation, which supports research into science and religion, and one of the participating hospitals. It will appear in Tuesday's issue of the American Heart Journal.
Researchers tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks.
The study looked for complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery.
But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility."