This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Thank goodness for Christopher Hitchens!

Thanks to Catalin for the link

Could it be that some of the Catholics praying for Christopher Hitchens have heard about the Harvard study of prayer and are hoping to provide some further evidence of its one surprising result? In the 2006 study organized by Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School, the only large-scale and well-controlled scientific examination of the efficaciousness of prayers for hospital patients, there were no statistically significant effects--except for a small negative effect, in which people who knew they were being prayed for did, on average, somewhat worse than the others! So praying for Hitch might be counterproductive. Why might this curious effect exist?

Sports fans and opera buffs know that their sheer presence in the audience, swelling the number of those paying attention, has an effect on the performers--so long as the performers know they are there. Enthusiastic applause boosts moral--and usually that in turn boosts performance, but occasionally, it can lead to "choking" (almost literally in the case of opera singers). People can be unnerved by too much attention, too many anxious people trying to beam too much goodwill by the sheer force of their eagerness. But I suspect that if careful studies have been done of fan "prayer" --they may have, but if so, I don't know them--the net average effect will have been shown to be positive: when people are "rooting for you," you do better. Certainly that is what athletes and opera singers believe; they love a large following. And I'm happy to assume that this is what Catholics believe as well.

When I was in a similar medical crisis four years ago, I wrote a piece ["Thank Goodness!"] about my gratitude to the doctors (not to God) for saving my life, and said I was forgiving those friends of mine who had the courage to tell me that they were praying for me. I resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?"

... continue reading



Viewpoints: Why is faith falling in the...

- - BBC News Comments

A new poll suggests that atheism is on the rise in the US, while those who consider themselves religious has dropped. What's the cause? Two writers debate.

Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The...

- - human rights first Comments

Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions”

Update - Too crazy even for the...

Ed Kilgore - Political Animal Comments

update - too crazy even for the evangelical right
Barton’s Fall From Grace

David Barton says his documents prove that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas - but do his sources check out?

Pussy Riot's closing statement

Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing Comments

Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich has given a tremendous closing statement, which is a masterful summary of Russian oligarchy

Refuting Richard: Dawkins Doesn’t “Get”...

Graham Veale - Saints & Sceptics? Comments

Refuting Richard: Dawkins Doesn’t “Get” God

Witchcraft-based child abuse: Action...

- - BBC News Comments

The government has launched an action plan to tackle child abuse linked to witchcraft or religion in England.



Skeptical clergy a silent majority?

Daniel C. Dennett - The Washington... 40 Comments

Problem of evil and religion's...

Daniel C. Dennett - The Washington... 73 Comments

Religious no longer a protected class

Daniel C. Dennett - The Washington... 77 Comments

Response to Orr

Daniel C. Dennett 14 Comments

The God Delusion

Daniel C. Dennett 117 Comments

Not Yet The Majority But No Longer...

Daniel C. Dennett 73 Comments



Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment