If Prayer works, then the UK Royals should be the most healthy people on the planet

480_wwdp2013Does prayer really work?

The Health of The British Royal Family

Within the UK, the official head of the Church of England is also the current royal monarch. Because the Bible encourages Christians to pray for those in leadership roles, each and every week millions of devout Anglicans have formally beseeched their deity to ensure the good health of the reigning monarch. This intercession has been going on for centuries, so if prayer is indeed effective then the British royal family should not only be maintaining themselves in tip-top health but should be living longer than anybody else – this is measurable.

Francis Galton, a Victorian scientist, was the first to use some statistical analysis in 1872 to demonstrate that even though a lot a people had been praying for the royals each and every week, there was no significant benefit being demonstrated at all. As an aside, Galton also tried praying over randomly chosen plants to see if those that were prayed for were in any way better, and demonstrated no correlation at all between such prayer and the health of the plants.

Francis Galton, Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer, The Fortnightly Review, August 1, 1872

MEAN AGE ATTAINED BY MALES OF VARIOUS CLASSES WHO HAD SURVIVED THEIR 30TH YEAR, from 1758 to 1843. Deaths by accident or violence are excluded
Number Average Eminent Men*
Members of Royal Houses 97 64.04
Clergy 945 69.49 66.42
Lawyers 294 68.14 66.51
Medical profession 244 67.31 67.07
English aristocracy 1,179 67.31
Gentry 1,632 70.22
Trade and commerce 513 68.74
Officers in the Royal Navy 366 68.40
English literature and science 395 67.55 65.22
Officers of the Army 569 67.07
Fine Arts 239 65.96 64.74
* The eminent men are those whose lives are recorded in Chalmer’s Biography, with some additions from the Annual Register.

The sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence. The prayer has therefore no efficacy, unless the very questionable hypothesis be raised, that the conditions of royal life may naturally be yet more fatal, and that their influence is partly, though incompletely, neutralized by the effects of public prayers.

Note that in the above table, the Royals do not do very well at all, and that lawyers (who might not attract many prayers for their good health) were a lot better off. OK, that was 1872, so have things improved since then?

Yes I know that the queen in the UK is in good health at the moment, but this is no statistical aberration but rather is the norm for most these days, she has some good genes via her mum. What is factually correct is that the Royals in general have not demonstrated any statistically significant longevity.

  • George VI – died aged just 56 in 1952
  • George V – died aged 70 in 1936
  • Edward VII – died aged 68 in 1910
  • Victoria – died aged 81 in 1901
  • William IV – died aged 71 in 1837
  • George IV – died aged 67 in 1830
  • etc…

Remember now, each and every week … millions … pray for their good health, and yet there is no evidence for anything unusual at all, which means that the millions who have been doing this for centuries (with tongue in cheek) need to report the church to the advertising standards agency because clearly their prayer claim is not true, no distinct health benefit is apparent.

Excuses used to explain negative results

Like almost every other claim that is tested and found to be false, those that truly believe will continue to believe. This is due to some very basic human psychology; individuals who are deeply invested in something soon discover that the very idea that it might not actually be true is immensely challenging to come to terms with, and so the quite natural and far easier alternative is to remain invested by rationalizing the results away. Common excuses will most probably be some variation of the following:

  • Those that prayed did not know how to pray properly, did not truly believe, or did not have the correct variation of belief.
  • It was not done in the correct manner, or place
  • Only those filled with the holy spirit will see miracles, those that prayed were not spirit filled, born again, truly redeemed, etc…
  • You cannot test or measure God, it must be by faith alone
  • God is testing us, his ways are not our ways and often when asked, his answer might not be a cure, but to simply enable us to cope and to come to terms with it all.

Regardless of how it is rationalized, this is a testable claim that has been measured and found ineffective. Is there some unique combination that works such that only individuals who have been magically transformed (born again, baptised, in submission, truly believe) are effective at praying and it will not work for anybody else. If so, then there is no evidence for even that.

Stories abound and circulate like urban legends of miracles, but when you attempt to nail down specifics, these apparent miracles rapidly evaporate.

Available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can cure cancer or any other disease. Even the “miraculous” cures at the French shrine of Lourdes, after careful study by the Catholic Church, do not outnumber the historical percentage of spontaneous remissions seen among people with cancer.
[Faith Healing.” Making Treatment Decisions. American Cancer Society. June 15, 2009. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Faith_Healing.asp]

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