Thinking Anglicans

The power of prayer

Updated Wednesday evening

The Church of England has published the results of a survey by ICM which are available in full as a PDF file here.

The press release which accompanied this is here: Four out of five believe in the power of prayer.

Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer, according to a new ICM survey in the run-up to Easter. Holy Week and Easter are the most important period in the Christian calendar, marking the last days of Jesus’ ministry, his death on the Cross and resurrection to new life…

As the notes to the press release explain:

The question asked was: “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?.”

There has been some criticism of the claims made in the press release, see

Huffington Post Church Of England Accused Of ‘Dishonesty’ In Prayer Survey

British Humanist Association Church of England spins Prayer Survey

New Statesman Church of England commits sins against statistics

TA readers may wish to study the full results of the survey for themselves and comment on whether they think the wording of the press release was justified.

Update

The British Religion in Numbers website has published this detailed critique by Clive Field of the press release and the survey, and of other reports of it in the media: Prayer in a Spin.

…The Church based its claim on a misreading of the fact that 81% of the 2,015 adult Britons interviewed online by ICM Research on 13-14 March 2013, in a poll commissioned by the Church, had replied ‘something’ in answer to the question ‘irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?’ This was slightly below the figure (85%) in the equivalent poll this time last year…

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Professional statisticianJonathan JenningsWill Douglas BartonRichard AshbyCraig Nelson Recent comment authors
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Simon Sarmiento
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Before publishing this article I asked Church House for a comment. They said:

The rationale for the wording was that, if people have something they would pray about, they must believe there is some purpose in that prayer. The release was totally transparent in including the full question asked and the full results of the survey (as it does on the website) so that recipients could judge the content for themselves.

Tony B
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Tony B

It would be interesting in a country where 25% claim no religion, if 80% believed in the power of prayer, wouldn’t it? I think someone has been little bit silly.

Tony Shutt
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Tony Shutt

Oh dear. This ‘survey’ is of some slight interest in showing the range of responses, but perhaps like many sociological inquiries the reported conclusions are not strongly supported by the data. It seems to me that a somewhat popularist approach has been over-dressed as scientific research. The conclusions as presented are not rigorous enough to be useful in the ways the authors seem to be suggesting. It will get people talking, I suppose, but it doesn’t prove much, other than the Church has a lot to learn about conducting convincing surveys.

Alan
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Alan

I have to say that I agree with the BHA – if you ask people what they would ask Father Christmas for most would give an answer – even if they don’t believe in Father Christmas.
Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot like this?

Pluralist
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The question is completely loaded: whether you ‘currently’ – if pray ‘at the moment’. So the assumption is anyone would, could, did, do… I’m surprised it doesn’t claim 100% of people pray.

Plus some people, like me, ‘pray’ in the sense of contemplate matters along with others. There is no sense of ‘an other’ listening in, or something going to act, or some ether transmission going to make any difference. There is no supernature and no magic. It is just a form and placing of thought.

Simon T
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Simon T

The press release is utterly crass. The question clearly might have implied, to some at least, that they were being asked to answer on the assumption that prayer works, not indicating, by answering, that they believe it does so.

Those responsible wholly merit the scorn poured out by Dawkins et al. This sort of nonsense does the Church no good whatsoever.

Moreoever, the survey itself is total frippery and utterly vacuous. I hope the Church did not pay for it.

Simon Butler
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Simon Butler

I had to say that I checked my diary to see if it was April Fools’ Day when I read the press release from the Church of England Comms Department. When I ask my congregation to give to the mission of the church, it never occurred to me that our mission included this sort of ridiculous posturing by the Comms/Research & Statistics Department. They embarrass us all and they need to grow up.

Newfred
Guest

Church House’s defence is absurd:

“The rationale for the wording was that, if people have something they would pray about, they must believe there is some purpose in that prayer. The release was totally transparent in including the full question asked and the full results of the survey (as it does on the website) so that recipients could judge the content for themselves.”

This is a complete non-sequitur. It shows no such thing. People also have things they would wish for, but it doesn’t follow that they believe that there is any “purpose” in wishing for them. I am frankly embarrassed.

Old Father William
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Old Father William

I am very uncomfortable with phrases like “the power of prayer,” because they suggest that we can somehow manipulate God, who would otherwise remain indifferent to us. Prayer, I believe is essential, but it is also a mystery. Didn’t Michael Ramsey define intercessory prayer by saying something like “bringing the people and situations about which I am concerned into the presence of God” and leave it at that? Yet he was a very prayerful man.

John
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John

Totally agree with Simon T.

Craig Nelson
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Craig Nelson

Oh dear. Lord save us (that is a prayer).

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

This ridiculous and already discredited ‘poll’ does nothing to enhance the reputation of the church. Further stupidity and another own goal.

Will Douglas Barton
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Will Douglas Barton

How can anyone have thought this press release was a good idea? It’s embarrassing. It just makes us all look stupid.

It takes something to make me agree with Richard Dawkins.

Jonathan Jennings
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Jonathan Jennings

Absurd piece of spinning.

Would not have happened in my day.

Professional statistician
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Professional statistician

I suspect that if a Government department or a minister reported statistics in this way, they would be reported to the Chair of the National Statistics Authority. Though to be fair, by publishing the actual question, the Church has allowed itself to be exposed to the ridicule it deserves for this. If they had wanted to know if people actually do pray, why not ask them? In a recent You Gov survey, the proportion who say that have prayed in the last month is 21%.

How much did this survey cost?