• Luli Faber

Healing Words - Scientific Research into the Effects of Prayer


Healing Words is a book written in 1993 by Dr Larry Dossey, a medical practitioner, describing the scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer at healing and affecting biological systems. In this book Larry Dossey states that over 300 scientific studies had been performed on the effect of prayer to the time the book was written, with over half of them showing statistically significant results.

More recent evidence can be found here.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading the whole book, since a lot of it is a philosophical discussion about the nature of prayer and how to study it, and many of those philosophical questions are answered explicity in the Divine Truth material. However this book outlines some of the scientific evidence for these phenomena.

These are some excerpts from the book that I found interesting: (References for the specific studies can be found within the book.)

Summary of studies showing the effectiveness of prayer

  • "Experiments with people showed that prayer positively affected high blood pressure, wounds, heart attacks, headaches, and anxiety. The subjects in these studies also included water, enzymes, bacteria, fungi, yeast, red blood cells, cancer cells, pacemaker cells, seeds, plants, algae, moth larvae, mice, and chicks; and among the processes that had been influenced were the activity of enzymes, the growth rates of leukemic white blood cells, mutation rates of bacteria, germination and growth rates of various seeds, the firing rate of pacemaker cells, healing rates of wounds, the size of goiters and tumors, the time required to awaken from anaesthesia, autonomic effects such as electrodermal activity of the skin, rates of hemolysis of red blood cells, and haemloglobin levels."

  • "Evidence is abundant for an intrinsic, positive effect of prayer not only in humans but in mice, chicks, enzymes, fungi, yeast, bacteria, and cells of various sorts. We cannot dismiss these otucomes as being due to suggestion or placebo effects, since these so called lower forms of life do not think in any conventional sense and are presumably not susceptible to suggestion."

Reasons why prayer may not work in some cases

  • "Some might argue that the analogy between prayer and penicillin is off base. If prayer represents the power of the Absolute, as George Bernard Shaw implied, then it should be effective in all diseases. But prayer involves more than the power of the Almighty; it is set in motion by human beings, who may be the weak link in an otherwise immensely strong chain. The fact that prayer doesn't work as powerfully and predictably as it might, therefore, may reflect deficiencies not of prayer, but of the pray-er."

Implications of proving that prayer works

  • "Since prayer is initiated by a mental action, this implies that there is some aspect of our psyche that also is genuinely nonlocal. If so, then something of ourselves is infinite in time and space - thus omnipresent, eternal and immortal. "Nonlocal", after all, does not mean "really big" or "a very long time". It implies infinitude in space and time, because a limited nonlocality is a contradition in terms. In the West this infinite aspect of the psyche has been referred to as the soul. Emplical evidence for prayer's power, then, is indirect evidence for the soul.... The fact that we are capable of engaging in a nonlocal activity such as prayer has stunning spiritual implications. These dwarf the practical, immediate concerns about prayer, such as whether it can bail us out of difficulty when we need it."

Rates of spontaneous regression of cancer

  • "Researchers T.C. Everson and W.H. Cole collected 176 case reports from various countries around the world on spontaneous regression of cancer (SRC), and concluded that SRC occurs in one out of 100,000 cases of cancer. Other authorities believe the incidence maybe higher, perhaps one in 80,000 cases."

Evidence for the mind affecting the body

  • "There is, I feel, a quick cure for skeptics who do not believe in the legitimacy of Era II. [Science based not only on the material] They might visit a biofeedback laboratory, where it can be demonstrated in only a few moments that mind can move matter. It is possible to make meters move dramatically merely by willing, and to trigger bells and whistles on sophisticated electronic gadgetry mereby by taking thought, by changing one's mental images and feeling states. Morever these feats can be duplicated on command. It has also been shown conclusively that these mind-related changes are correlated with healthful changes in the body."

Wound healing through distance healing

  • "Researcher Daniel P. Wirth performed a double-blind study involving forty-four patients with artificially created, full-skin-thickness surgical wounds. The subjects would insert the arm with the wound through a circular cut-out aperture in the wall of the facility, beyond which they would not see, for five minutes. They were told that the purpose of this procedure was to measure "biopotentials" from the surgical site with a noncontact device. A noncontact Therapeautic Touch practitioner was present in the adjoinging room only during exposure sessions for members of the active treatment group (23 patients); the room was vacant during sham procedure periods for the remaining 21 patients. As she attempted to heal the wounds, the practitioner meticulously avoided any physical contact with the subjects...

"Since the subjects did not believe they were receiving a healing treatment, and since they received neither overt nor covert suggestions of being participants in a healing experiment, the placebo response, suggestion, expectation, or belief cannot be held responsible for the healing that occurred...

"The results were highly significant statistically. By day eight the wound sizes of the treated subjects showed much less variation than those of the untreated subjects, and were significantly smaller."

Evidence for information transfer at a distance

  • "For about a decade, studies done at Princeton University's Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR Lab) have indicated that subjects can influence the outcome of random physical events and can mentally convey complex information to other subjects from whom they are widely separated, even by global distances. These studies show not only that a sender can mentally transmit detailed information to a receiver on the other side of the earth, but also that the receiver usually "gets" the information up to three days before it is sent. The details of these studies are contained in Robert G. Jahn's and Brenda J Dunne's epochal book Margins of Reality. These experiments demonstrate that the mind is nonlocal not only in space but in time as well."

  • "Research in the field of psychosomatic medicine has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that disturbances in the mind can cause bodily dysfunction and disease within an individual... But if mind is nonlocal and thus shared, the possibility arises that mental events can trigger happenings between individuals as well. These phenomena have been called "telesomatic"... Examples are...

"Arthur Severn, a well-known British landscape painter, went out for an early morning sail while his wife was still asleep. She was suddenly awakened at about 7am by a blow to her lip, which was so violent she immediately began to look for blood. To her surprise she found none. Later in the morning, when her husband returned for breakfast, he was holding a hankerchief to his bleeding lips - having been hit in the mouth at about 7am, when the boat's tiller swung in a gust of wind.

"A woman suddenly "doubled over, clutching her chest as if in severe pain", and said, "Something has happened to Nell, she has been hurt." Two hours later the sheriff came, stating that Nell had died on the way to hospital. She had been involved in an auto accident, in which a piece of the steering wheel had penetrated her chest.

"A mother was writing a letter to her daughter, who was away at college. Suddenly her right hand started to burn so severely she couldn't hold the pen. Less than an hour later, she received a phone call from the college telling her that her daughter's right hand had been severely burned by acid in a laboratory accident, at the same time she (the mother) had felt the burn."

Situations under which spontaneous healing occurs

  • "The late Brendan O'Regan, who was vice president for research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Sausilto, California, studied these [spontaneous healing] phenomena extensively, and concluded that people undergoing radical, spontanous healing events "are in a different place psychologically." One of their chief characteristics is that they do not determinedly want healing; they are not desperate for a miracle to occur; they are not trying at any cost to extract a radical healing from the universe. They have a quality of acceptance and gratitude, as if things are quite all right in spite of the presence of the disease. Thus the paradox: those who do not demand healing are the ones who frequently seem to receive it. When asked what they did to bring about the healing, they reply, "I didn't do anything. It just happened."

Effectiveness of directed verus nondirected prayer

  • "Which prayer techniques - directed [asking for something specific] or non-directed [asking for God's will] - is more effective?... In these [the Spindrift studies] the nondirected technique appeared quantitatively more effective, frequently yielding results that were twice as great, or more, when compared to the directed approach...

"Spindrift devised an experiment to put directed and non directed prayer to the test. The study involved growing a mold on the surface of the kind of rice agar plate bacteriologists and mycologists routinely use. The mold was stressed by washing it in an alcohol rinse so as to damage it and retard its growth, marking it into sides A (the control side) and B (the treated or prayed-for side). When directed prayer was used to encourage the growth of side B, nothing happened; growth remained static. But when directed prayer was replaced by nondirected prayer, in which no goal was held in the mind of the healer, side B began to multiply and formed additional concentric growth rings."

  • "Spindrift believes, on the basis of a large number of tests, that when a nondirected prayer is answered, the outcome is always in the direction of "what's best for the organism".

"This was demonstrated in a series of germination experiments in which the practitioner did not know what was best for the seeds involved. One batch was oversoaked and thus heaver than it should have been for proper germination to occur; another batch was undersoaked and ligher than optimal. The seeds were being evaluated early in the germination process according to changes in weight (properly germinating seeds gain weight early in germination). Ideally the oversoaked seeds should have eliminated excess water early and become lighter, and the undersoaked seeds should have absorbed water and become heavier. Not knowing which batch was which, the practitioner could not "tell the seeds what to do", so he used nondirected prayer to trust that the seeds would simply move toward the normal according to what was best for each seed. The nondirected approach worked. The results showed that the oversoaked beans eliminated water and lost weight, and the undersoaked beans gained water and increased their weight. On the basis of this type of experiment, Spindrift believes that an answered nondirected prayer is one in which the organism moves toward those states of form and function that are healthiest for it."

Associations between love and health

  • "One survey of ten thousand men with heart disease found a 50% reduction in the frequency of chest pain (angina) in men who perceived their wives as supportive and loving."

  • "David McClelland, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, has demonstrated the power of love to make the body healthier through what he calls the "Mother Teresa effect". He showed a group of Harvard students a documentary of Mother Teresa ministering lovingly to the sick, and measured the levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva before and after seeing the film. (IgA is an antibody active against viral infections such as colds.) IgA rose significantly in the students, even in many of those who considered Mother Teresa "too religious" or a fake."

The impact of doctor's and experimenter's beliefs on study outcomes

  • "In three double-blind studies of the use of vitamin E in treating angina pectoris, the pain associated with coronary heart disease, an enthusiastic doctor who believed in vitamin E found it significantly more effective than a placebo, while two studies conducted by skeptics showed no effect."

Evidence for the effect of consciousness working at a distance

  • "Controlled laboratory experiments show that ordinary people can use their minds either to inhibit or promote the growth of microorganisms. These effects occur when the "influencer" is from a yard and a half to fifteen miles away from the microorganisms."

Effectiveness of prayer in the coronary care unit

  • "Over a ten month period, a computer assigned 393 patients admitted to the coronary care unit at San Franscisco General Hospital to either a group that was prayed for by home prayer groups (192 patients) or to a group that was not remembered in prayer (201 patients). The study was designed according to rigid criteria, the kind usually used in clinical studies in medicine. It was randomised, double-blind experiment in which neither the patients, nurses, nor doctors knew which group the patients were in. Byrd recruited various religious groups to pray for members of the designated prayed-for group. The prayer groups were given the first names of their patients as well as a brief description of their diagnosis and condition. They were asked to pray each day, but were given no instructions on how to pray. "Each person prayed for many different patients, but each patient in the experiment had between five and seven people praying for him or her," Byrd explained.

"They prayed for patients differed in several areas:

1. They were five times less likely than the unremembered group to require antibiotics (three patients compared to sixteen patients.)

2. They were three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid as a consequence of a failure of the heart to pump properly (six compared to eighteen patients).

3. None of the prayed for group required endotracheal intubation, in which an artificial airway is inserted in the throat and attached to a mechanical ventilator, while twelve in the unremembered group required mechanical ventilatory support.

4. Fewer patients in the prayed-for group died (although this difference was not statistically significant)."

Healing effects of fungi, yeast and bacteria

  • "A number of studies have researched the effects of healing on fungi, yeast or bacteria. The following are some of the results.

"Ten subjects tried to inhibit the growth of fungus cultures in the laboratory through conscious intent by concentrating on them for fifteen minutes from a distance of approximately 1.5 yards. The cultures were then incubated for several more hours. Of a total of 194 culture dishes, 151 showed retarded growth.

"In a replication of this study, one group of subjects demonstrated the same effect "inhibiting the growth of the fungus in 16 out of 16 trials, while stationed from one to fifteen miles away from the fungus cultures.

"Sixty subjects not known to have healing abilities were able both to impede and stimulate the growth of cultures of bacteria.

"In a similar experiment, two healers held a bottle of water in thier hands for thirty minutes. Samples of the water were then added to the solution of yeast cells in test tubes. After incubation the amount of carbon dioxide given off by the yeast cultures was measured, indicating the level of metabolic activity. Statistically significant increases in carbon dioxice production were observed by the yeast cultures given the "treated" water in four of five tests.

"Sixty university volunteers with no known healing abilities were asked to alter the genetic ability of a strain of the bacteria E. Coli, which normally mutates from the inability to metabolise the sugar lactose ("lactose negative") to the ability to use it ("lactose positive") at a known rate. The subjects tried to influence nine test tubes of bacterial cultures - three for increased mutation from lactose negative to lactose positive, three for decreased mutation of lactose negative to lactose positive, and three tubes uninfluenced as controls. Results indicated that the bacteria indeed mutated in the directions desired by the subjects."

Healing effects on cells

  • "British psychic Matthew Manning held his hands near flasks containing cancer cells and attempted to inhibit their growth. He was able to produce changes of 200% to 1200% in their growth characteristics when they were assessed as described. He influenced them even when he was placed in a distant room that was shielded form electrical influences."

Healing effects on animals

  • "In an oft-quoted study, Grad studied Estebany's [a healer] ability to heal artificially created surgical wounds in 48 mice, compared to a control group who were wounded identically (the wounds were created by removing a 1/2 x 2 inch piece of skin from their backs after anaesthetising them). Estebay held the cages of the experimental group fifteen minutes twice daily for 14 days. This group healed significantly faster than the wounded mice whose cages were not held. This careful study once again tells us that healing works and is not just due to suggestion."

  • "In another experiment Grad produced goiters in mice by giving them a diet devoid of iodine in addition to thiouracil, a goiter-producing drug. Estbany held the ages of one group of rats for 15 minutes twice daily. This seemed to protect their thyroid glands from enlarging. Compared to a control group, the glands of the treatment group grew significantly slower than the controls."

  • "In another experiment a group of mice were injected with either a strain of malaria organisms or with sterile saline. The handlers of the mice were told that the injection contained either a "high dose" or "low dose" or microorganisms. They also were informed that a healer would try to heal some of the rats but not others. In fact the handlers were deceived: there was no high or low dose (the malaria injections were identical); and no healer was employed. In one phase of the experiment, the results tended in the direction of the handlers: the rats believed to have had high-dose injections did worse, and those believed to have had the low dose injections did better. In addition the mide coded for healing did better than those not designated to be healed, even though the information designating which groups were to be healed was unknown to the handlers. There should have been no differences between the high dose and low dose groups, since there was no difference in the strength of the injections; and there should have been no difference between the healed and nonhealed groups, since there was no healer."

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