How prayer heals: a theoretical model

Altern Ther Health Med. 1996 Jan;2(1):66-73.


This article presents a theoretical model that outlines various possible explanations for the healing effects of prayer. Four classes of mechanisms are defined on the basis of whether healing has naturalistic or supernatural origins and whether it operates locally or nonlocally. Through this framework, most of the currently proposed hypotheses for understanding absent healing and other related phenomena-hypotheses that invoke such concepts as subtle energy, psi, consciousness, morphic fields, and extended mind-are shown to be no less naturalistic than the Newtonian, mechanistic forces of allopathic biomedicine so often derided for their materialism. In proposing that prayer may heal through nonlocal means according to mechanisms and theories proposed by the new physics, Dossey is almost alone among medical scholars in suggesting the possible limitations and inadequacies of hypotheses based on energies, forces, and fields. Yet even such nonlocal effects can be conceived of as naturalistic; that is, they are explained by physical laws that may be unbelievable or unfamiliar to most physicians but that are nonetheless becoming recognized as operant laws of the natural universe. The concept of the supernatural, however, is something altogether different, and is, by definition, outside of or beyond nature. Herein may reside an either wholly or partly transcendent Creator-God who is believed by many to heal through means that transcend the laws of the created universe, both its local and nonlocal elements, and that are thus inherently inaccessible to and unknowable by science. Such an explanation for the effects of prayer merits consideration and, despite its unprovability by medical science, should not be dismissed out of hand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magic
  • Mental Healing*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Religion and Medicine