Prayer vs. Burglars

The police in Lincolnshire are worried. As is the case nationally, the majority of their burglaries remain unsolved. To help with this, the police have handed over details of break-ins and other unsolved crimes to…Who do you think? When I was told the story I thought it would be psychics / mediums1. A couple of weeks ago I was told by a police officer that they use mediums for ‘guidance’ in their investigations. Seems to me that if you can talk to dead people you can do a damn sight better than ‘guidance’ – where the body’s buried / who did it / how it happened all seem like useful pieces of info. Oddly, this never seems to happen in the real world. But I was wrong – it’s not mediums. The crime information has been given to…churches.

Parishoners are to pray for divine intervention in the solving of crimes. This is the deeply stupid idea of the Lincolnshire Christian Police Association. A spokesman said:

“I know that praying can make a difference in my work, but it’s all a question of faith,”

I have to pick him up on contradicting himself. If it’s a question of faith then you don’t know that it works, you just think it does because you want to. If you’ve seen actual supporting data then you do know it works, and it’s not a question of faith at all. He then says:

He claimed winter casualty rates on the roads have been cut since the Bishop of Lincoln started blessing the council’s fleet of gritting lorries. “We pray over the gritters in the winter and the casualty reduction rate has plummeted, it really has.”

Have the number of casualties reduced? Even if they have, correlation doesn’t imply causation. I’d suggest that people are always trying to reduce road deaths in practical ways, and we’ve no idea what other measures have been taken, to say nothing of the severity of the driving conditions in recent years. There are just too many variables for raw accident data to be meaningful. This kind of data says nothing of any value, what you need is some kind of controlled, double-blind experiment into the effects of prayer. As it happens, we have this data.

A decade-long study in the US examined 1,802 coronary bypass patients, from six different hospitals. They were divided into three groups – those who were not prayed for, those who were prayed for and were told so, and those who were prayed for and were not told so. The patients were monitored for 30 days after their operations, and their post-operative complications were recorded.

There was no statistically significant difference between the prayed for and non-prayed for groups. In terms of raw numbers, more of the prayed-for patients had complications, and of the two-prayed for groups those that knew they were being prayed for suffered most. These are statistically insignificant, but worth mentioning to show that the data doesn’t support any religious interpretation.

If god doesn’t care about heart patients, why would he give a stuff about burglaries? What a waste of time.

  1. media? Probably not []