Drought and the Power of Prayer

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Doug Bremner Physician, professor, researcher, writer, and filmmaker

Well it's been quite a week here but "another rainy night in Georgia" doesn't exactly describe it. You see for you Huffpost readers in the Blue States who don't think much about us poor Southerners, we are having a hell of a drought. And it is bad enough that they stopped teaching evolution in Georgia public schools (that whole "monkey to man buzzword thing", which caused me to yank my kids from public schools), I had to wake up Tuesday to hear our governor, Sonny Purdue (how does someone with a name like Sonny get elected to public office anyway? Oh, I forgot for a minute that I live in Georgia), leading the legislature in a prayer for rain.

I mean, for Christ's sake (no pun intended), why doesn't he get off his ass and do something about it? I mean, we have a month's worth of drinking water left, there is a total ban on watering, and some towns in the mountains are having to get their drinking water hauled in by truck every day. Last month a plan to build a mountain of artificial snow at Stone Mountain Park here led to outrage when it got on the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. You see, it's legal, since the Georgia legislature passed a law that says you can use as much water as you want if you are a business. And on Thursday people blew their tops when they learned that one Cobb County man named Chris Carlos was using 14,700 gallons of water per day for his personal residence. His publicist commented that he only recently learned of the severity of the water crisis, and was taking steps to cut back.

I mean, HELLO? My environmental terrorist daughter won't even let me keep the water running when washing dishes. The other day she turned the water off when I was filling up a pot to cook pasta. So come on Sonny, rather than sitting there praying, why don't you take a leadership role and pass some damn laws to prevent such outrages from taking place. Stop going around like Moses and puffing your chest in turf battles with Alabama and Florida about how much water is going to be released from Georgia rivers to those states.

So what is the first thought that crosses the mind of you readers upon hearing about our wonderful governor praying for rain? Of course! Is there any evidence for the value of prayer? My first thought as well. And since this is supposed to be a blog about medical news and not about water politics, I set about to dutifully review the literature for you on the question. And after my trip to the virtual medical library, much to my surprise I found several studies to support the value of remote intercessory prayer (prayer by people that don't know you), both in improving outcomes and reducing length of stay for heart disease patients
and patients with infections.

However, upon reading the commentaries by my fellow scientists on the studies I became increasingly confused. If prayer really was efficacious, was it ethical to withhold prayer from anyone? And what if a patient is a Muslim, is it ethical and appropriate for a Christian to pray for them without their consent? Do the studies prove that God exists? There were also a lot of methodology problems as well, like too many statistical tests performed. To be honest the effects were small (2%) and not clear enough for me to make a conclusion. But what stopped me in my tracks was reading about the design of one of the studies. You see, they had done the prayer over four years after the person got out of the hospital. And their mutton-headed logic was that you couldn't assume that God had a linear approach to time, therefore when the prayer took place shouldn't matter. As one of the commentators said (not a scientist, to his credit), does that mean I can pray to have the will changed from my aunt who died five years ago? I mean, I had to call in to question the sanity of people who would design a study in such a way. However if you were a true believer, why not?

I think I am hearing some raindrops falling outside...