The recent release of the Richard Dawkins book, “The God Delusion”, has brought renewed accusations from the faithless that prayer is scientifically proven to have no effects. This is primarily based on the findings of Harvard’s STEP study that monitored three groups of cardiac patients to find very little if any difference in complications and recovery time, but is further based upon other studies in the past ten years that have turned in similar results.
There are many obvious reasons as to why the notion of scientifically proving or disproving the effectiveness of prayer is beyond the ability of science to demonstrate. These reasons have been stated to varying degrees on both sides of the fence of faith.
One thing that is of note as a primary corruptor of the prayer test is the factor of personal faith. There is not really a control group to measure any results. Even the “non-prayed” for people would naturally corrupt the results of the test by either praying for themselves or having loved ones pray for them even if they themselves did not pray. This would place themselves on equal footing with the “prayed” for group.
Faith is generally taught throughout the New Testament as a prerequisite for the receiving of a miraculous healing or anything of a non-natural nature. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, yet where there was little faith, He worked very few miracles. God has an unlimited supply of power to provide whatever we might need, but He rewards us with those provisions on the contingency that we have faith. It matters not if our faith is the size of a mustard seed or as large as the universe itself. We simply need to have faith.
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith this way, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.”
Since the researchers of the test are really the ones who are requesting the prayers, these prayer requests are being made without faith despite who is voicing them. These researchers don’t necessarily deny that prayer will work, but they don’t expect it to work either.
Jesus clearly taught us that “You are not to put the Request personal prophecy Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7). As such, there is no reason for the Christian to believe that God would substantially manifest himself within the confines of a man defined test to give the doubting world a sign.
This notion of demanding a sign is nothing new. Jesus confronted the same issue in His own day. He spoke of these people like this, “To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep” (Matthew 11:16-17).
Scientists, and those who place their faith in them, are making the same complaint today. Others are not playing the game according to the way they choose to play the music. God won’t dance for them. They are not concerned about God’s way, but only their own.
Jesus was consistent in His response to these people, and Herod was one of these people. “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some miraculous sign. So Herod questioned him at considerable length; Jesus gave him no answer” (Luke 23:8-9).
If people truly want to have a sign revealed to them, they should be researching the prophecies contained within the Bible to see what the world is to be like when Christ returns. However, there is no faith on their part. Even when very specific prophecies are revealed that can only be fulfilled within our own generation, they will still say that it is only coincidence. It is not a sign to them, because they simply can’t find it within themselves to take God at His word.
In the end, this is what these modern prayer tests are all about. People are looking for a sign. However, the only sign Jesus left us with was his resurrection (the sign of Jonah) that was witnessed by over 500 people (1Corinthians 15:6); more than enough to win a case in court.
‘Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He said, “. . . You know how to judge correctly the appearance of the sky, but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away’ (Matthew 16:1-4).