In 1999 when the study was already underway, Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of Duke University's Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health and a religious believer had high hopes for it.
Koenig believes the results will put an end to the conjecture once and for all. "This will either close the book on intercessory prayer," he says, "or open a whole new area of medical science."Seven years down the road and with the dismal results, Koenig is singing a different tune. Allow me to repost his most recent comments:
"There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either," he said. "There is no god in either the Christian, Jewish or Moslem scriptures that can be constrained to the point that they can be predicted.''Because it did not "open a whole new area of medical science" but instead "close[d] the book on intercessory prayer," it looks as if Koenig is sourgraping and producing excuses to downplay the study.
Within the Christian tradition, God would be expected to be concerned with a person's eternal salvation, he said, and "why would God change his plans for a particular person just because they're in a research study?''
Koenig rightly says that "science is not designed to study the supernatural." But the Benson study if anything was about a very naturalistic process--the act of praying/supplication per se--done by naturalistic entities called homo sapiens, and about observing very naturalistic effects--post-operative medical conditions. As Carl Sagan noted back in 1996, if religion makes claims that are even in principle testable such claims are rightly within the province of science to investigate.
Supernaturalists like Koenig will of course resort to ad hoc, untestable/nonfalsifiable explanations, to various outs and backdoors, explanations which are immune to disproof. The thing is they don't and can never know that their explanations and background theological assumptions are true. Because its claims are untestable theology is nothing but an exercise in imagination and fantasy, a manufacturer of delusions.