Thoughts and prayers: what are they worth?

Everyone knows about the “thoughts and prayers” sent out after tragedies as a quotidian feature of the daily news. And all of us nonbelivers disparage not only the use of prayers (shown in a Templeton-funded study to not have any effect on healing after surgery), but also the uselessness of thoughts—unless conveyed directly to the afflicted person instead of dissipated in the ether.

But an anthropologist and an economist wanted to know more: what is the value of thoughts and prayers (t&p)? That is, how much would somebody in trouble actually pay to receive a thought, a prayer, or both? And would it matter if that afflicted person was religious or just a nonbeliever? Or whether the person offering t&p was religious? So the study below was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (click on screenshot below; pdf here; reference at bottom).

I suppose that, to an economist, the psychic value of getting thoughts or prayers (t&p) from strangers can be measured in dollars, and I’ll leave that for others to discuss. At any rate, the results are more or less what you think: Christians value t&p, nonbelievers don’t.

What Thunström and Noy did was to recruit 436 residents of North Carolina, the state hit hardest last year by Hurricane Florence. Those who were not affected by the hurricane (about 70% of the sample) had experienced another “hardship”. They were then given a standard sum of money (not specified) for participating in a Qualtrics survey, and an additional $5 to be used in the t&p experiment. Among the 436 participants, some were self-identified as Christian, while another group, either denying or unsure of God’s existence, were deemed “atheist/agnostic”. (The numbers in each group weren’t specified.)

The experiment also included people offering thoughts and prayers: people who were recruited to actually give them to those who were afflicted. These people included Christians, the nonreligious, and one priest who was “recruited from the first author’s local community.” Each offerer received a note detailing the travails of an afflicted person, and instructing them to offer either a thought or a prayer (it’s not clear whether the names of the afflicted were included in the note, but of course God would know).

To value the thoughts and prayers, the afflicted were offered two alternatives, among which a computer decided: an intercessory gesture that they’d pay for, or the absence of a gesture that they’d pay for. Payments could be positive (you’d have to actually give money), or negative (you’d pay to not have the gesture). The amount you’d pay varied, says the paper, between $0 and $5—the amount given for participating in the study, and subjects stated this “willingness to pay (WTP) before the computer made the choice.

The experiment isn’t described very well, and there’s no supplementary information, but I’ve taken some other details from second-hand reports of the studies, with the reporters apparently having talked to the authors. At any rate, here are the results, indicated in how much money people would give up for t&p, including both Christians (dark bars) and atheists/agnostics (light bars). Since atheists/agnostics wouldn’t be praying, the only alternative people were offered to receive that group were “thoughts”.

(from paper) The value of thoughts and prayers from different senders (95% confidence intervals displayed; n = 436).

Christians would always give up an amount of money significantly greater than zero for both thoughts and prayers, except when the thinker was a nonreligious stranger, to whom they’d pay $1.52 not to receive thoughts (dark bar below zero). Since the authors are social scientists, they use a significance level of 0.1 (“hard scientists” use at most 0.05, and the latter is significantly different from zero using the more lax criterion but not the one that scientist would use).

Christians would of course offer the most money ($7.17) for prayers from a priest, less money ($4.36) for prayers from a Christian stranger, and still less ($3.27) for thoughts from a Christian stranger, though this doesn’t appear to be significantly different from the price for prayers from the Christian stranger (the statistical comparison isn’t given).

In contrast, atheists/agnostics don’t give a rat’s patootie about t&p. In fact, they’d pay money to have priests or Christians not offer them thoughts and prayers, as you can see from the three light bars to the left, which are all below zero. What surprised me is that the nonbelievers would pay more to avoid prayers from a Christian stranger than from a priest ($3.54 versus $1.66 respectively), while they’d pay an intermediate amount ($2.02) to avoid getting thoughts from a religious stranger (these are all significantly different from zero). Finally, as you’d expect, nonbelievers don’t give a fig for thoughts from other nonbelievers, as we’re not superstitious. These nonbelievers would pay 33¢ to get thoughts from nonbelieving strangers.

There’s another part of the experiment in which participants were asked to give their level of agreement or disagreement to the statement, “I may sometimes be more helped by others’ prayer for me than their material help.” This “expected benefits index” (EBI) explains a great deal of the variation in the amount of money people were willing to pay for prayers and thoughts (or not pay for prayers and thoughts).

What does this all mean? To me, nothing more than the obvious: religious people value thoughts and prayers more than do nonreligious people. Moreover, religious people do not value thoughts from nonbelievers, and nonbelievers give negative value to thoughts or prayers from Christians, and no value to thoughts from fellow nonbelievers. That’s not surprising.

What is a bit surprising is that Christians would sacrifice money to get thoughts and prayers, and would pay just about as much for thoughts from other Christians than for prayers from other Christians. (Prayers from priests, however, were most valuable, showing that the Christians really do believe that priests have a power to help them more than do everyday Christians). I was also surprised that nonbelievers would pay money to avoid thoughts and prayers from Christians. Since we think these are ineffectual, why pay to avoid them?

In general, I saw the study as weak, and afflicted by a failure to fully describe the methods as well as the use of an inflated level of statistical significance (0.1).  All that it really confirms is that Christians think that thoughts and prayers really work; i.e., that they believe in the supernatural. But we knew that already. I am in fact surprised that this study was published in PNAS, which is regarded as a pretty good scientific journal.

_______________________

ThunströmL. and S. Noy 2019. The value of thoughts and prayers

64 Comments

  1. Ray Little
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Study deserves to be added to the long-list for next years Ig Nobels. Loved the cartoon.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if someone has ever actually put forward a funding application, research proposal, grant request, whatever which included an aim of “getting an IgNobel”. And how would the IgJudges treat such a paper? Would the (seemingly successful) completion of that part of the research project strengthen or weaken it.
      If I ever meet Andre Geim (speelung? Oooh, I got it right!) I’ll ask him. As a double-laureate (Ig 2000, Nob 2010) he’s qualified to comment. To date, uniquely qualified – but I doubt that condition will persist indefinitely, the universe being what it is.

  2. GBJames
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    ” I was also surprised that nonbelievers would pay money to avoid thoughts and prayers from Christians. Since we think these are ineffectual, why pay to avoid them?”

    My bet is that this reflects a sort of “FU” response. A semi-sarcastic “Just shut the fuck up with those thoughts and prayers!”.

    • Glenda Palmer
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Strongly agreed.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that was my take. Not a totally rational response. When you have no choice but to live among a majority of irrational people, frustration can bring about an emotional response.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Yup. We agree. Again.

      This is getting disconcerting.

      Loch Ness Monster!

      cr

  3. Colin
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    “Prayer – how to feel like you’re contributing by doing nothing.”

    The value is for the one praying, for they actually feel like they’re contributing to a positive outcome.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Except here the payments are by people who be receiving them, if I understand the study right.

  4. DSG
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    My Spidey sense tells me that the Templeton foundation is somehow lurking Somewhere around the study like a “ghost”????
    Yes?
    No?

    • Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      There’s no acknowledgement from Templeton. Note: the end of the paper does give a link to a site that has more experimental details.

  5. TJR
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The followup study could similarly deal with keyboard warriors and retweeting hashtags.

    The cartoon could be the same, of course.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I would say the thoughts and prayers are very similar to the vigil. Religious people love to have vigils after every event or death. Someone gets shot, light the candles and have a vigil. It is all about as useful as a screen door in a submarine. As far as praying and thinking goes – the old saying is, pray in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets full first.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Vigils are slightly different to the extent that they become social bonding events. They are (or can be) demonstrations that can be helpful building political action. These are real-world actions that can have real-world consequences.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        Yes, another social bonding event would be going to church. Or going to a ball game. The vigil may be real world actions but then what isn’t?

        • GBJames
          Posted September 18, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          I’ve been to many a demonstration in my time. Many of them are triggered by real-world events, from Republican outrages at the State Capital to massacres in schools. When these things happen people find support for political action by meeting in large groups, in public, to demonstrate their resolve to fix things.

          This is not the same as going to a ball game or heading off to church. I’m amazed that you think they are.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted September 18, 2019 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

            I am not sure what the argument is here. I have seen many vigils after people have been killed with guns. What was accomplished? We sit here today with everyone expecting congress to finally act but they are not going to do a damn thing. Keep those thoughts and prayers coming.

            • GBJames
              Posted September 18, 2019 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

              I gather that you see no purpose in any political demonstrations. Amirite?

              Because you don’t seem to understand that there is a difference between a political demonstration and a prayer.

  7. Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    To explain the surprise of “why pay to avoid”, perhaps the subjects of atheist and agnostic could be treated as separate groups.

  8. George Atkinson
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Sometimes thoughts that affect one’s outlook are better left unthought.
    Lorre in Casablanca: “You despise me, don’t you, Rick?”
    “If I gave you any thought, I probably would.”

  9. Michael Fisher
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    September 20th, 2010 was designated “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” by the usual suspects eager to save his soul while garnering publicity off his back.

    That spurred Hitch to write the piece Unanswerable Prayers in VANITY FAIR a few days before the magical pray-in. Worth a read at the above link as a reminder of what dignity looks like.

    Article quote:

    The Danish physicist and Nobelist Niels Bohr once hung a horseshoe over his doorway. Appalled friends exclaimed that surely he didn’t put any trust in such pathetic superstition. “No, I don’t,” he replied with composure, “but apparently it works whether you believe in it or not”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      There’s an advert that I sometimes see in the New Scientist for a “slogan tee-shirt company”, which defers to their audience by showing one stating the “I love Science, because it works whether you believe in it or not.”
      I’m sure the line is much older than Bohr. I’ll hazard a guess at … Maxwell? No, Huxley – he liked his reputation as “Darwin’s Bulldog” and got his teeth into the rôle.

    • Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Apparently Neils Bohr has so much charisma that he’s able to make highly intelligent people spout nonsense about quantum mechanics just after one meeting with him.

      He also wrote a response to Einstein’s quantum entanglement paper that was so confusing/nonsensical, people didn’t even realize when two of its pages were mixed up in reprintings. Interesting anecdote by Adam Becker: he told his professor (I think) that the paper’s translator didn’t do a good job, only to find out that Bohr wrote the response in English.

      -Ryan

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted September 19, 2019 at 1:41 am | Permalink

        Yes, the guy was very ‘difficult’ by all reports & in many ways he held QM back. Fame working against open inquiry.

      • phoffman56
        Posted September 19, 2019 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        I cannot resist relating the catch phrase (due to David Deutsch, I believe, who first established the existence of the universal quantum computer) about the Bohr etc. Copenhagen ‘interpretation’ of quantum mechanics:
        a philosophical fig leaf.

        By the way, my use of quotes above is motivated by a manifestly agreeable strongly expressed opinion of Sean Carroll in his 2019 book “Something Deeply Hidden” that the correct term should be “Foundations of Quantum Mechanics” (which is what that book is about, including the author’s strong arguments for Everett’s many-worlds).

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted September 19, 2019 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          “…author’s strong arguments for Everett’s many-worlds).”

          From the reviews I’ve read of the book there’s a few pro physicists / mathematical physicists who don’t think Carroll has made strong arguments for MWI. Carroll’s attempt to get away from an interpretation just shifts the interpretation down the road a bit to an MWI – MWI is extravagant & by definition untestable. Right? [I’m asking]

          • phoffman56
            Posted September 19, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

            Let me know, if you will, which reviews. I am certainly not a physicist, and I’ll be interested to see if they have arguments I’ve not seen before against Everett.

            If no interpretations are testable, at least none that give the experimental results agreeing with all of MWI and Copenhagen and Bohm, than that is hardly an argument against any of one of them.
            What is extravagant are
            1) a theory that posits rather feebly delineated observers, plus collapse as an additional non-deduced principle, or
            2) one which posits guide waves.
            Furthermore, in the former, a theory of the universe seems impossible, there being no place to put the observers. And in the latter case, apparently mighty efforts have never yielded a version compatible with special relativity, as far as I know.
            If the objects which need to exist, rather than the theoretical assumptions, should be somehow what ought to be minimized, then it almost seems that the cosmology in which all the other galaxies other than ours are somehow mirages, or clouds of dust faking how far away they are, seems better than present day cosmology!

            But maybe I’ve missed some better arguments against the semi-classical existence of many worlds as a logical consequence of ‘bare minimum’ quantum theory.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted September 19, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

              But what is Carroll’s “strong arguments” for the MWI? That’s the point I’m making – his argument is actually no simpler than any other once zoomed out to the level of the Many, Many, Many [etc] Worlds is it? I read his recent podcast transcript [no guest on the latest pod, just him] & I was not in the least convinced that his [Everett’s] interpretation helps us any.

              The ones in my feed that I’ve read are:

              Sabine Hossenfelder, Book Review: “Something Deeply Hidden” by Sean Carroll

              Chad Orzel, “Many Worlds, But Too Much Metaphor” [Forbes]

              SWAB! “Quantum Physics Is Fine, Human Bias About Reality Is The Real Problem”

              Peter Woit, “The Number Of The Heavens”, “An Apology”, “Regarding Papers About Fundamental Theories”, “Quantum Supremacy II”, “Something Deeply Hidden”,”What’s The Difference Between Copenhagen & Everett?”

              Ashutosh Jogalekar [scientist & journo], “Spooky Factions At A Distance”

              Any you can’t find of the above let me know.

              • Posted September 19, 2019 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

                I haven’t read Carroll’s new book yet but it is sitting on my bedside table. Based on reading some excerpts, listening to his podcast, and my knowledge of the general subject, I think his support for many worlds is more a matter of taste or gut feel than absolute confidence. No one yet knows how to prove or disprove this or any other interpretation of quantum mechanics. For the most part, each interpretation is just a different way of looking at the equations. All fit the data but none really have the ring of truth. Supporting an interpretation is more a choice of research direction.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted September 20, 2019 at 12:34 am | Permalink

                He seems very confident, without claiming certainty of course. I’ll be reading the book in a year – I’ve got 23 others on my Kindle waiting to go.

              • rickflick
                Posted September 19, 2019 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

                Kind of a wait-and-see.

              • phoffman56
                Posted September 20, 2019 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                Thanks Michael. Out last night, and all day bike today, but I’ll answer in detail before tomorrow.
                The critiques I can get.
                Hossenfelder likes the book, does not like MW, claims she will give her reasons for the latter another time?? Orzel is known more as a writer, but is a physicist, but for foundations of QM certainly seems not to have read Wallace’s ‘textbook’ on MW, since he seems to have a complete misunderstanding of the semi-classical character of what the many worlds are.
                More details later on these and the rest.

              • phoffman56
                Posted September 20, 2019 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

                So here’s what was promised above, sorry for the length.
                Wallace’s text below is “The Emergent Multiverse”.
                I do think that useful below for this is only Woit, and that the best approach is trying to understand it and its respondents, and even more, attempting to learn from the essays in “Many Worlds”, also Oxford Press, edited by 2 opponents of MW and 2 supporters, including Wallace.

                I: to back up what I posted just above:

                Hossenfelder in her blog reviewing Carroll’s book says “…Carroll does not mention what I think are the two biggest objections to the many world’s interpretation, but I will write about this in a separate post.” That post has not appeared yet, so any agreeing with her negativity to MW (which I do not) has at present to be more from being a fan of her writing (which I am) than from any cogent argument by her.

                As to Orzel, I’ll just quote the following extraordinarily glib and naive paragraph,
                containing his never-ending “metaphor” and “bookkeeping” droning:
                “Thinking about MWI in this way– as a bookkeeping trick to simplify an otherwise
                incomprehensibly vast wavefunction– clears up most of the typical objections that arise
                from taking the “separate worlds” metaphor too literally. There’s no “Occam’s Razor” problem because there’s only one wavefunction obeying one set of rules. There’s no issue with “creating copies” of everything, because there are no copies: there’s one universe, with one set of components described by one wavefunction. It’s not even a problem that the criteria for “splitting” are kind of nebulous, because it’s clear that it’s a fundamentally arbitrary process– the choice of which pieces to isolate and discuss
                is purely a matter of bookkeeping convention for the convenience of puny human physicists.”

                Compare this to Wallace’s text if you are inclined to think he has anything here.

                II: As for the other reviewers:

                “Quantum Physics Is Fine, Human Bias About Reality Is The Real Problem”: Ethan Siegel, a writer, no longer a physics researcher,
                though he did at one time in the past enough research in non-quantum astrophysics to get a Ph.D., seems to think that interpretations of QM are meaningless, which goes along with thinking physics has nothing at all to do with explanation and everything to do with only considering whether a theory agrees with experiments and/or observation.(If infected by that attitude, I’d suggest as a cure David Deutsch’s two famous books, plus maybe a bedtime aspirin!) Anyway, he has no criticism of any specific foundation for quantum mechanics, in particular not of MW.
                (Calculating but not shutting up apparently.) The universe is not fundamentally particles as he says, it is fundamentally the quantum fields giving rise to the particles.

                “Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a scientist and science writer..” The 2nd self-claim is clear, the first, “scientist”, not so clear. The article seems to have no real criticism of MW. But it is somewhat entertaining.

                Peter Woit: I re-read only his review of the Carroll book. In contrast to the others above, this has a very serious reply section, with mostly people I regard as well beyond me in knowledge. Woit himself keeps emphasizing that
                1) He likes the book, hates the blurbs in the fly jacket, is still undecided to what
                extent he is more of an MWer, to what extent a Copenhag.
                2) He feels the MW creates more problems than it solves.
                3) I like that he sees questions about the emergence of classical physics from quantum physics as very fundamental in this regard. It is interesting that he feels there are many still unsolved questions here. I find the question fascinating in general of how theoretical physics can actually have the existence of certain physical objects as logical consequences of theories, e.g. Dirac’s positron.
                But at least he and all the deeper respondents (such as Peter Shor, the discoverer of the polynomial time quantum algorithm for breaking the encryption code based on arithmetical factorization) are clear about the many worlds being semi-classical.
                I find it surprising that the preferred basis problem, whether the MWers have solved it or not, seems to be discussed and argued about with no reference at all to Wallace’s textbook, where its solution is claimed in his Section I, “The Plurality of Worlds” pages 11 to 110. The following section, mainly on pointing out that the word ‘probability’ has even more ambiguity
                and looseness of definition in non-MW, and especially on deducing the Born rule, is even
                more pages—making one bemused about a printer ?error? in which the left-side page headings for many pages ofvSection I omit the letter “l” in “Worlds”!)

              • Posted September 21, 2019 at 1:42 am | Permalink

                I actually found Orzel’s review quite nice actually (iirc). I don’t think he was anti-MWI, just anti-putting-too-much-emphasis-on-splitting. I do agree that Sean seems to put too much emphasis on splitting the wavefunction without explaining why we can treat it as splitting (i.e. the preferred basis problem). That said, I haven’t read or bought the book yet, but I’m hoping to do it within the next few weeks (along with Adam Becker’s What is Real?)

                -Ryan

              • Posted September 21, 2019 at 2:31 am | Permalink

                Whoops! I meant Woit’s, not Orzel’s. The points still stand though.

                -Ryan

              • Posted September 21, 2019 at 1:33 am | Permalink

                Basically seconding what phoffman said.

                I think the main argument (and frankly the only argument I’ve heard) for the MWI is that it is the simplest. We don’t add extra untestable postulates like an ether frame in other physical theories. Why don’t we be consistent for quantum mechanics?

                -Ryan

  10. Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Where do you see the low significance values? Most of the reported P values on the relevant questions are less than .001.

    • Posted September 18, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Here:

      On the other hand, Christians may negatively value thoughts from a nonreligious stranger: Their mean WTP is −$1.52 (SE = 0.89), which is weakly statistically different from zero (z = −1.70, P = 0.089).

      • Posted September 18, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Right. But on that question of negative values one might expect an insignificant or weakly significant result, and they report it as such. That is not a fault of the study. On the questions of positive values by religious respondents they report highly significant results.

      • Posted September 18, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        IMO, the really odd result is that the non-religious are willing to pay $3.54 (mean) NOT to have a religious stranger pray for them, and highly significant result at that (P<.001). Why would a non-believer care either way? I wonder if they’d be willing to pay not to have a religious stranger put a hex on them?

  11. Posted September 18, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    To me, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers” simply translates into “I care about you”—a sentiment that, if perceived as sincere, would seem to me to be of equal value to Christians or atheists, though I would hope that neither would concern themselves with a monetary equivalent.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I got a notice passed along from my sister last weekend to come make a command performance before my 92-year-old godmother and favorite aunt, the reigning matriarch of our huge matrilineal clan, while she’s still fully compos mentis. I’ll have to ask her when I see her how much The Church has set her back for all the feckless novenas she’s had said over the past half century in the enduring hope I’d someday see my way clear to return to The Fold.

  13. Posted September 18, 2019 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Isn’t it likely that both believers and non-believers are willing to pay to affirm their identity as such?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      willing to pay to affirm their identity as such?

      Weirdly, I read that as “paying to affirm their dentistry” and had to do a double-take.
      Yes, I did read Jerry’s dentistry post earlier.

      • Posted September 18, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        I love it when that kind of thing happens. I also have observed myself misreading things like that much more frequently now that I’m older. That part I don’t love.

        BTW, I am just back from the dentist myself. I’m waiting for the local anesthetic to wear off as I write this.

  14. Posted September 18, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    The scientific study of religion is valuable, but setting such a weak p-value …

  15. phoffman56
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    As usual, I’ll veer a bit, but not totally off topic.

    Prayers by definition go to some or other, but almost certainly nonexistent, object; but thoughts not necessarily. The word “thoughts” above is mostly attached to “and prayers”. And where it isn’t, “thoughts” on its own appropriately seems above to be always attached to “by a non-believer”.

    With prayers, I suppose the thoughts are pretty identical to the prayer, and presumably that’s not asking the almighty to visit even worse on the unfortunate relatives and friends or anybody else, rather the opposite.

    But thoughts alone could be in a way, though hopefully we are all able to suppress any natural human desire for revenge of any kind, including torture or death for the murderer, if that’s the situation.

    However, suppose it is clear that, for example, the situation would not have happened except for climate change, and we somehow knew that the storm or whatever was definitely going to kill at least one person in a very painful way. Then I myself would not be the least bit guilty feeling were I to fervent hope this inevitable death would happen or had happened to one of the really effective fervent and dishonest opponents of measures to mitigate climate change. So those would likely be my thoughts, quite the opposite to this bullshit “thoughts and prayers” slogan’s usual meaning.

    • phoffman56
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      The 1st “fervent” should be ‘fervently’.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      I share your sentiment. It has its roots in our instinct for fairness. While I deprecate revenge, it’s satisfying if ‘providence’ takes appropriate pre-emptive revenge for us.

      cr

  16. Mike Anderson
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Thoughts and prayers are near worthless, but a Papal indulgence – now we’re talking. That could worth some serious money.

  17. Posted September 18, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I think JT Eberhard (anybody know what’s going on with him these days?) once said, “Technology is a testament to the uselessness of prayer.”

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 18, 2019 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      JT isn’t shaking the world any more now that nobody cares about atheist conferences & atheist meet ups/alliances. He moved his blog from Freethought Blogs to Patheos because he was earning nothing much at the former & his Patheos blog has been snoozing for two years.

      He’s 38 years old now & frankly he looks rough & he’s still unconvincingly upbeat [I’ve always felt the OTT persona was his way of coping with depression]. He claims to be married & teaching singing to kiddos, but he works at Schuler’s Liquer, Turner, Kansas City. He’s learning close up magic especially the playing cards – this occupies his showmanship side & very long days in the store. I hope he finds his path one day soon.

      Here’s his JT Does Magic Instagram page.

  18. Charles Sawicki
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    This study had one important result. A new way for priests to collect cash from the gullible. New, no. This sounds very similar to the previous Church practice of selling indulgences to reduce imaginary punishment in the imaginary afterlife. One of the many things that pissed off Luther.

  19. Roo
    Posted September 18, 2019 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Putting aside any metaphysics, from a purely pragmatic perspective I would think thoughts and prayers (if they actually happen and aren’t an empty promise,) fall under the same category as ‘awareness raising’. Moving people in general towards your cause and making it a positive / central thing in the minds of others is often a necessary, if very ethereal, step in enacting change.

  20. Dominic
    Posted September 19, 2019 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Our hearts go out to them!

  21. chrism
    Posted September 19, 2019 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    When I got sick and was leaving my practice to start chemo, I was faced with a lot of distressed people who told me they would pray for me. How to respond, given I have no belief in the utility of prayer? As often happens, manners gave me the answer: I said thank you. Those people meant well, they needed to show they cared what happened, and even if their prayers went unheard by their god(s), I heard their message and was comforted and supported by it. It would have been rude and ungrateful of me to rebuff them, and as an atheist, it’s up to me to behave as well as I can to others especially as I have no holy rule book to follow. To take their kindliness as an opportunity to be ‘offended’ by their prayers would be as petty as any part of modern offense culture. Even those who knew me well enough to add a clause to the effect that they would do so despite my atheism would get thanks, perhaps modified with an ‘I’ll take all the help I can get’. Now I did also have many offers of practical help such as drives to treatment, even a specialist in the city offered to his house for me to stay in during treatment, but I noticed those who made such kind offers were not the ones saying they would pray. Perhaps that’s because they were atheists, perhaps not, I don’t know. Maybe they were the better kind of Christians.

    The problem isn’t really people praying for those in difficulties, the problem is that having prayed they may feel they have done their part and no practical, earthly aid need follow. I can’t speak to the intricacies of other religions, but it is not true that Christians should feel their job is done having prayed. I’m sure Jesus would rather they served him by performing practical acts of charity rather than just praying, and perhaps they will be weighed in the balance and found wanting.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 19, 2019 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I don’t remember who originally said this but I’m planning my gravestone to read “Anyone caught praying nearby will be asked to leave.”

  22. Paul S
    Posted September 19, 2019 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Hardly a valid experiment, there’s nothing of significance at steak. Why not put t&p vs action to a test.
    When you call 911 the response center can ask if you want t&p or police/ambulance. If you want to make it an economic test, set price points for t&p vs action to determine at what price point t&p is economically preferable vs actual assistance.

    It’s too cruel to implement, but I’m certain the results would lean toward police/ambulance.

  23. Posted September 20, 2019 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m late getting this in, but I just learned from a friend that he has stage-4 lung cancer. Instead of saying “You’re in my thoughts and prayers,” I said, “Well, I’m having a special on eulogies this month but you’ll have to get in early–my friends are dropping like flies.” He laughed. As my father used to say “Laughter is the best medicine,” which is why so many of my siblings died young. 😊

  24. Posted September 29, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    This is interesting and makes sense. I am a Christian, however I personally would never pay for prayers. I think that goes against the purpose. I do value prayers from others because I believe they help but not in a physical way. I don’t expect prayers to magically heal any ailments or prevent disasters. Prayer is meant to uplift and encourage. To provide the strength to endure whatever tragedy arises.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 29, 2019 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      “Prayer is meant to…”

      Two questions.

      1) Why should your definition of what prayer is for any better than any other believer’s?

      2) How could a prayer possibly “uplift” anyone without doing so in a physical way? If someone prays for you and you don’t know it, how would you be uplifted?

  25. Posted October 11, 2019 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    If pray for homeless people to find a shelter that doesn’t mean they will find shelter.

    That just means you want it to happen.

    And how can you make sure that happens if that’s all you do?


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