Supernaturalism, Miracle, Experiment, Natural Law, Medical Treatment, Controversy, Faith
Comments on a controversy sparked by the proposal of Henry Thompson in the Contemporary Review to assess the efficacy of prayer experimentally (Thompson 1872). In the proposed experiment, two hospitals are built, and to each are admitted 'the same number and the same class of patients', but prayers are said for only one group of patients. If more patients are cured in the prayed-for group, then prayer is efficacious. Notes that the Morning Post objects to this, asking whether anybody would 'assay the coin' or 'test the bread' given to them by a 'a monarch or learned professor'. Punch thinks that this 'à fortiori argument derived from human dignity' is 'infinitely illogical', because 'under the laws which govern the physical universe, the test of truth, sine quâ non, is crucial experiment'. Nevertheless thinks it a 'blunder' to use the same method in both 'natural and supernatural research'. Points out that the 'experimenter could not be sure of his conditions' and could not be certain that prayers were genuine or being said at all. Proposes that the safest plan would be to execute the experiments in veterinary hospitals because 'dumb animals' would not pray in the vicinity of the patients.
© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020
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