Researchers say the vision and hearing of patients in their tests improved after healing practitioners prayed for them.
One elderly woman who could not see a person’s hand when they held two fingers up in front of her face from a foot away is said to have been cured after a healer placed their hands over her eyes and prayed for less than one minute.
The tests were carried out by a team from Indiana university, led by religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown, who were looking into ‘proximal prayer’ – or prayers near the patient.
However, experts at the National Secular Society branded the research ‘highly suspect.’
Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said: ‘This is a highly suspect study, based on vague results in places where checking would be impossible. There is a quite obvious religious motivation which undermines its impartiality.
‘The fact is that all properly conducted studies of healing through prayer have shown it to be ineffective or even, in one instance, counterproductive.’
Professor Brown and her colleagues carried out the study as part of a research programme on the cultural significance and experience of spiritual healing practices.
She said: ‘We chose to investigate ‘proximal’ prayer because that is how a lot of prayer for healing is actually practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. ‘
The team studied the impact of ‘healers’ on disadvantaged people with vision or hearing impairments in Mozambique and Brazil.
They evaluated 14 rural Mozambican subjects who reported poor hearing and 11 who said they had failing sight, both before and after the subjects received proximal intercessory prayer (PIP).
An audiometer and vision charts were used for a direct measure of improvement rather than relying on whether the people said they felt better.
The researchers found that two subjects with impaired hearing reduced the threshold at which they could detect sound by 50 decibels and three subjects had their tested vision improve from 20/400 or worse to 20/80 or better.
Professor Brown said one subject, an elderly Mozambican woman named Maryam, initially reported that she could not see a person’s hand with two upraised fingers from a distance of one foot.
A healing practitioner put her hand on Maryam’s eyes, hugged her and prayed for less than a minute then held five fingers in front of her. Afterwards she was able to count them and even read the 20/125 line on a vision chart.Â A follow-up study by the researchers in Brazil revealed similar findings.
Professor Brown said her study, which will be published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal, focused on the clinical effects of PIP and did not attempt to explain the mechanisms by which the improvements occurred.
But Mr Sanderson, from the NSS, added: ‘This study, as it describes itself, is unscientific and therefore of no worth beyond its use as religious propaganda.
‘It exploits the desperation of people living in extreme poverty who are unable to access proper medical care in order to bring them under the influence of these Pentecostal churches.’