Letter to the Editor: 10.28.11

William Zingrone
assistant professor
of psychology

(This letter is a response to a letter in the Oct. 21 edition of The Murray State News)

Thanks to Mike Dillon from Benton who posed some excellent questions. He asked why I would spend time writing a letter on something I thought was a ridiculous waste of time. The idea of any power of prayer beyond personal satisfaction or placebo effect is a dangerous delusion. A key point of my commentary was to point out that a top presidential candidate made a state proclamation implying there is such power. If the governor of Texas can’t do the math on the efficacy of praying for rain in the 21st century, is he really qualified to run the most powerful and technologically advanced country on the planet?

That is a point worth discussing. Secondly, dozens of children die often in horrible pain in the United States every year due to willful neglect of their medical conditions by well-meaning parents who have been horribly misinformed by their religious teachers about the power of prayer. Calling attention to that is no waste of time.

Additionally, there is a growing anti-vaccine movement, including religious exemption statutes enacted in the majority of states that allow people convinced of the power of prayer to opt out of proven vaccinations thereby increasing the likelihood of exposing not only their children to once eradicated horrible infectious diseases, but other children as well. People do get hurt by belief in the power of prayer, mostly children who have no recourse. Dillon assumed I would not like my life’s work in psychology to be disparaged.

On the contrary, publishing of ones’ research is a requirement of any practicing scientist in any field and it is thereby subjected to pointed analysis, critique and even brutal criticism, something I welcome. That’s how the improvement of human ideas occurs. Disproven ideas like the power of prayer are retaught each generation without question all over the world. Dillon made no attempt to refute either my facts or reasoning that prayer doesn’t make rain, cure cancer and the like. I would defend his right both privately and publicly to engage in whatever religious practice he chooses, we both agree that is a freedom this country was founded upon, enshrined in the First Amendment, but freedom of speech is protected by that amendment as well.

Government officials that endorse praying for rain and parents who believe children can be protected from death and disease by prayer should be publicly challenged in an open forum such as that provided here by The Murray State News.

When Dillon says he will pray for me I assume he has good intentions and is not requesting personal harm to me or my eternal damnation.

Either way, I am not incensed, bitter nor threatened in the least as the power of prayer beyond making the prayer feel good is most likely non-existent or at least vanishingly small and improvable.