Praying for Scientists and the Science of Prayer
Prayer might be difficult to study scientifically, but that doesn’t mean that scientists don’t pray or that prayer doesn’t work. Dr. David Anderson invites us to pray for scientists, healthcare workers and researchers.
The methods of science are not well-equipped to study prayer, but that doesn’t mean that scientists don’t pray or that prayer doesn’t work. Ciara Reyes-Ton offers a short reflection on the challenges of studying prayer scientifically, followed by Dr. David Anderson’s invitation to pray for scientists, healthcare workers, and researchers.
Prayer is a vital part of a Christian’s life. It’s one of the ways we communicate with God. Sometimes it might be saying a simple prayer of thanks before a meal, or praying with a friend. Other times it can be a more guttural and cathartic experience one on one with God, where we release our deepest pains and heaviest burdens. There’s something about prayer that gives me peace when I’m anxious, and comfort when I’m troubled. Even when everything seems the same after I finish praying, I often feel relief after verbalizing my thoughts to a God who already knows them.
I admit that prayer is not always easy. It can take courage to buckle down and pray, especially when we feel disconnected from God, or feel like God isn’t listening to us, because things aren’t changing fast enough, or unfolding exactly the way we think they should. I think the words of Andrew Peterson’s song, The Silence of God, captures these feelings best:
It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God
To an outsider, prayer might look like nothing more than talking to one’s self, and the way prayer works might sound more like magic: you say the right combination of words enough times and you somehow get what you ask for. Even scientists find prayer a bit enigmatic, and have struggled to use the scientific method to study it and its effects.
The Scientific Method and Prayer
In the Language of God Podcast episode 54, titled “Prayer in the Time of COVID,” pastors, a psychology professor, and Christian thought leaders had a discussion about prayer. Barbara Bradley Haegerty, a New York Times best-selling author and journalist, points out that the, “problem with (many prayer) studies…is that they generally have a stranger praying for a stranger from a script. Now, I don’t think that’s how prayer works. You know, when you pray for someone, you pray because you care. You care about that person, you care about their prognosis, you care about their getting better. Right? And so this kind of antiseptic praying for a stranger from a script doesn’t really cut it, I think. I don’t think it really accurately shows what prayer is all about.”
The challenges of subjecting prayer to a scientific controlled study do not mean scientists themselves don’t pray or that prayer doesn’t work. In fact, Francis Collins would be one of the first to tell you that prayer works: “[Upon hearing that the COVID-19 vaccine trial results came back ~95% effective] I gave thanks for an answer to prayer…this was science, but…this is how God answers our prayers when we’re looking for protection sometimes. It’s working through God’s children, all of us, to try to come up with those answers and using the tools that we’ve been granted as scientists to be able to understand nature to actually do something that’s gonna save lives.”
Dr. David Anderson’s Call to Pray for Scientists
The past two years have been some of the most polarizing, grief-filled, emotional times that many of us can remember. From a pandemic to civil unrest to a contentious election, Americans and people all over the world have felt a level of stress that has brought them to their knees in prayer.
I felt a leading from the Holy Spirit to gather a group of leaders from the faith and scientific communities and spend some time learning, listening, and most importantly, praying. Those on the frontlines of this pandemic, those working tirelessly to find a vaccine, and those doing invaluable research need all the help they can get. What better way to help than to go to our Creator to pray for wisdom, discernment, and courage?
From a pandemic to civil unrest to a contentious election, Americans and people all over the world have felt a level of stress that has brought them to their knees in prayer.
I hosted a Science and Faith prayer event earlier this year, inviting clergy and scientists to come together and pray. BioLogos was a co-sponsor of the event. I hope that our time of prayer was beneficial and uplifting for all involved. I continue to lift the medical and scientific community in prayer as often as I can, and I hope that you will too.
Our God and Our Father,
The psalmist wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8: 3-4)
We thank you God for your infinite wisdom, the unfathomable depth of your knowledge, and your boundless creativity. You created things into being that had never existed before. Your knowledge knows no end.
We pray for the men and women of science who are also men and women of faith. We know that scientists discover, you reveal, and all are blessed. We ask, Lord, that you would give them wisdom, discernment, and a fortified faith that allows them to remain in awe of the things you have created.
Lord, we pray that as our days and weeks and months and years unfold before us that you would provide your people with great minds eager to learn about your creation and share their findings with a watching world.
God we pray that cures for illnesses be discovered in your time, that advances would be made in health that give life to all. We pray that the work of scientists be rooted in an ethic that values life and the betterment of humanity.
Lord, let those you gifted with a curious mind, a steady hand, and an unwavering faith be strengthened by you. Let them remember that “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalms 124: 8)
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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About the authors
Emily Smith | Science & Neighborliness