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Just another drug? A philosophical assessment of randomised controlled studies on intercessory prayer


The empirical results from recent randomised controlled studies on remote, intercessory prayer remain mixed. Several studies have, however, appeared in prestigious medical journals, and it is believed by many researchers, including apparent sceptics, that it makes sense to study intercessory prayer as if it were just another experimental drug treatment. This assumption is challenged by (1) discussing problems posed by the need to obtain the informed consent of patients participating in the studies; (2) pointing out that if the intercessors are indeed conscientious religious believers, they should subvert the studies by praying for patients randomised to the control groups; and (3) showing that the studies in question are characterised by an internal philosophical tension because the intercessors and the scientists must take incompatible views of what is going on: the intercessors must take a causation-first view, whereas the scientists must take a correlation-first view. It therefore makes no ethical or methodological sense to study remote, intercessory prayer as if it were just another drug.

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