Does prayer work in a time of coronavirus?

Hi @Interested_in_Evangelism,

In a recent tweet, Richard Dawkins shared the following image:

As of today, this has been ‘liked’ over 22,000 times.

One popular follow-up comment was this image:

Without taking any cheap shots, but demonstrating a humility and kindness in our reply, how would you respond to these representations of prayer during this global pandemic?

In particular, two questions come to mind:

First, what is ‘the argument’ made by these images?
Second, what do you see as a biblical and thoughtful reply?


Carson, the first question that comes to my mind is as I want to say “Amen” to the picture but how was it determined that it was prayer and not science? Won’t it be argued that chicken pox was eradicated by vaccination and not prayer? What evidence does the post giver use that it was prayer and not medicine?


Hi Tim, as I see it, the second picture has the list of diseases eradicated or decimated by science on the left, and by prayer on the right. It seems to me that the point being made by this image is that science is a good way to respond to infectious diseases and that prayer has no effect at all.


Thanks Carson. Sorry for this brain dead guy!

The problem arises by the remark that I made. How can we measure prayer whereas science can be. We live by faith and faith is not seen but science is. An example may be applied to this virus. What if it were eradicated by prayer? Social distancing would get the credit with a drug putting the lid on it.

What is measured or seen is how the Holy Spirit would direct us to act. Prayer often leads to action and that can be seen and the Lord given glory for it.

What is further not acknowledged is that our Creator made the brains that gives the ideas to what can be done. But if that is not your starting place, the idea has no validity in the eyes of the world.


Carson, That argument, a stab at the ineffectiveness of prayer to eradicate a disease can be a compelling picture.

But in the reality of time didnt the effectual fervent prayers of those that lost someone come before the actual Scientific answer to the problem which likely came from divine inspiration, or as we see with many scientific break through something was tried in Hope’s that it would work or someone quote stumbled upon the answer. A desperate plea to God brought the scientific answer. He always uses the foolish things to confound the wise.

Just my thoughts because prayer changes everything.


Hi Tim, yes, I think that’s the crux of the challenge. How do we explain prayer to someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity? What is our apologetic in a situation like this?

Hi Mike, I’m sympathetic to your perspective, and it may be correct. I wonder how this answer might sound to someone who has already presented an argument (as above) that prayer seems ineffectual and science seems to be the answer to our problems.


Actually Carson, I may be being brutally honest in saying that it is a tough problem to convince someone that prayer seems ineffectual because I think most Christian deep down don’t put a big stake in prayer or it would be utilized more than it is. I am not pointing a finger but saying that to me for if prayer is what changes things, why am I not praying more than I am?


I don’t recall where, but I once saw the results of a double blind group study. The group of patients that were prayed for did much better than the control group. Did anyone else see this?


I’m no scientist but am a Christian working in a building with confirmed case of Corona virus My church plead the Blood of JESUS not one is sick.


Prayer especially works in trying times.


@CarsonWeitnauer Both posts are red herrings. I wholly agree with them because prayer does not do anything. The object of prayer does. Who or what is that object? Possible responses are:

  • Humankind
  • A mythical god
  • A real God

I could not find any trustworthy sources that document whether Prof. Dawkins prays. I hypothesize that he does not pray, but if he did he would pray to mankind, because mankind’s will and ingenuity creates cures. He may also submit that prayer may have a useful placebo effect for its participants, who pray to delusions. (Some atheists may perform self-focused meditation, which could be considered a form of prayer; I do not think that this is the type of prayer to which the posts refer.)

At any rate, the question now returns to the real debate about whether science has buried God.


Prayer is that quintessential great thing that you can never have to much of no matter how much you get, you always want more, but we can get as much as we can as often as we can.

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You mean like these?

 Dr. Randolph Byrd, 1988, Southern Medical Journal – 400 subjects prayed for by “born again” Christians to the God of the Bible for rapid recovery, prevention of complications and death.
 Those prayed for had less congestive heart failure, fewer cardiac arrests, fewer episodes of pneumonia, less often intubated and ventilated, needed less diuretic and antibiotic therapy.

 Dr. Elizabeth Targ, 1998, Pacific College of Medicine, SF, CA, AIDS patients, half prayed for, half not.  Those prayed for had six times fewer hospitalizations, and shorter stays.  Dr. Targ, “I was sort of shocked!  In a way, it’s like witnessing a miracle.  There was no way to understand this from my experience and from my basic understanding of science.”

 Dr. William Harris, 1999, Mid America Heart Institute, KC, MO – 1000 divided in two groups – none knew any year-long prayer study was going on.
 Those prayed for had 11% fewer heart attacks, strokes and other complications.

Yes, that seems right. Thanks.

Regarding the scoreboard of science versus faith, there can be no doubt that Christian people in former generations prayed very earnestly for God to reveal solutions to these problems - and many of them were the very scientists themselves who were Christians seeking God’s answers to man’s problems. And when those scientific discoveries were made, the Christians of that time did not make score cards like the one shown above, but they humbly and gratefully thanked God for the scientific discoveries. I don’t know of any Christian who would deny that God uses medicine and science to alleviate the sufferings of mankind - even in the Bible itself we see this (Isaiah 38:21).

The fact that skeptics would not accept such an answer really cannot be helped. Skeptics such as Dawkins have repeatedly demonstrated a stubborn resistance to any evidence however compelling to an unbiased mind - which says more about them than it does the evidence.

As for Dawkins’ graph, I would say that Christians have been praying for years that God would send a revival to bring our land back from the brink. And pestilence is certainly one of God’s four judgments to get a rebellious people’s attention (Ezekiel 14:21). I do not know if the Covid virus is a judgment of God, but I’m certainly praying that God will use it to shake up and wake up our land. And if that is God’s intention, then Richard’s graph is exactly what I would expect to see happen. And I am very certain that whatever misery is caused by this virus will never compare to the misery that would overrun our land if a revival does not heal it!


In response to Richard Dawkins and the chart of accomplishments by science vs “unanswered prayers”, my first comment would be that those making such statements and comparisons do not understand the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not for the purpose of “convincing” God to give us what we want, but rather to bring our hearts and minds into conformity with what God wants and what He is doing. It is then that real answers to prayer are found. For those who believe and trust in a sovereign God, He imparts a peaceful mind, deliverance from fear, confidence in the outcome…although it might not be something the world is demanding. During this Corona crisis, I would ask the materialistic atheist how his mind is right now. Is he fearful; does he have stress and anxiety that he might get the virus and possibly die? Has his life been turned upside down so that he is at a loss for holding himself together? Or is he living in a state of numbness, believing there is no hope? This where the reality of answers to prayers of the believer come into play. Although their lives have been torn apart, they know the God in whom they trust and can actually be joyful during times of crisis.

How does the atheist know prayer doesn’t work? Has he tried it? Has he checked out the stories of documented answers to prayer? What about the British soldiers rescued at Dunkirk during WWII? They were trapped with no way of escape, and were pressing down. The British people went into action by volunteering their small boats. Then they prayed. The answer was designated a “miracle” because an untimely fog appeared that enabled the rescue of 7669 men that night.
Another story is of Dutch Christian sisters Corrie ten Boom and Betsy who were taken into a concentration camp for hiding Jews. They were concealing a small Bible as they were going through the gates of the concentration camp, knowing it would be taken from them if discovered. They prayed and asked God to help them get that Bible through. As the one with the Bible was about to be searched, a disturbance broke out that distracted the guards and she was able to slip through without being searched. Having that Bible in the concentration camp enabled Corrie and her sister to have Bible studies that brought peace to the women in the camp. They were able to have Bible studies because there were fleas in the camp that kept the guards away…another answer to prayer.

These are just three examples of known and documented answers to prayer. But prayer, more often than public is a private affair. God wants us to pray corporately, but the intense times of prayer, or as evidence of the believer’s commitment, are admonished to be made in private with the promise of a reward.(Matt. 6:4) It might be an answer, or it could just be the means to confidently wait for the answer. What might seem as unanswered prayer, or proof that prayer (therefore, no God) doesn’t work because times get worse (as Dawkins is suggesting) may very well be God’s answers. God isn’t bound by our demands for answers in the immediate. His answers have far more reaching value or consequences. The difference is which side of the fence you are on as to how you perceive the answers.

The atheist can’t recognize answered prayers because he won’t believe in the God who answers them. As to science, He can’t recognize that there would be no science without God. God and science can’t be separated. So, believers will see and give thanks for God’s answers to their prayers for the vaccines that science has discovered. The answers were already there, they just had to be discovered.


I look at Dawkins list and statement and think its not ‘prayer’ that works, it is the Lord God who works, in response to our petitions as He wills.Prayer is the work of a Christian. As for the diseases listed, they were all around for quite some time before scientists ( not science) developed helps and remedies. And I might add many were Christians. So my point is science cures nothing. People of science and often long working Christian scientists were at the frontlines.

But that’s just my simple way to regard statements like Dawkins.



I have just had an epiphany.

Yesterday, I noticed that our grass was developing large brown patches. Last night, I asked God to give us rain because the grass is turning brown. This morning, it rained.

I remembered James 5:16b-18:

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (ESV)

This says that prayer has power. Then I remembered that the priests of Ba’al prayed very fervently and fruitlessly on Carmel (1 Kings 18). They performed an orgy of ritual shouting, dancing, and self-cutting, and Ba’al did not answer. Elijah stacked the deck against God, prayed a few words, and heaven sent fire that consumed God’s altar.

Then I remembered the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace if they did not bow to his idol:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:16-18, ESV)

I believe that we may safely assume that they prayed that God would preserve them from the fire because they refused to pray to a false god. They admitted that they might not get what they wanted and still refused to bow to the false god, because they knew that the object of their prayer was true.

I believe that we do God a disservice when we say that he answers prayer when what we really mean is that he gave the answer that we wanted. I believe that Prof. Dawkins represents that group of people who hear this spoken so frequently in Christian circles that he naturally draws the following false connection:

  1. Power produces results.
  2. If prayer is powerful, then it will produce the results prayed for.
  3. Prayer does not always produce the results prayed for.
  4. Therefore, prayer is not powerful.

And, of course, since prayer is not powerful, then by definition the object of our prayer does not exist.

This connection is false because it mistakenly overlooks that the object of our prayer may disagree with what we pray for. Unfortunately, we contribute to Prof. Dawkins’s wrongheadedness by thoughtlessly teaching (without intending it) that God answers prayer when we get what we want. I almost never hear anyone saying that God answered prayer when they do not get what they want. In fact, I frequently hear people saying that God did not answer their prayer!


I think the argument is pretty clear, science works prayer doesn’t and I can’t help but wonder if a little politics was thrown in with the jab at Trump, just for emphasis.

The victory charts would imply instant success of science.
If the proponents of this POV gave any thought to the time/death ratio of these victories, I am sure the graphs would ‘beg the question’’, what took science so long?

Quite a different perspective. :grinning:


First of all this is a great topic. So, thank you to Richard Dawkins for spurring this on! I’m praying that people take the time to reflect on exactly why they do pray. Here’s why I pray:

I posted this a while back, but my six-year-old daughter, Anna Charles, went to be with the Lord on September 16, 2018. She lost her short, but intense 6 month battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia - not to mention that she was paralyzed from her chest down 4 days into her battle and never walked again. It was during this time that I finally I gave my life over to Christ. Transparently, my life before her sickness was full of anxiety and fear. And, it only got worse when she was diagnosed. But something incredible happened at the point that I turned my life over to Christ (about 2 weeks in from her diagnosis). I knew that Christ was the only through our situation. I told myself that I was going to give everything over to God so that He would save my daughter. I bought a Bible and started studying God’s Word, I started praying ALL THE TIME for her to be healed, I met with some strong Christian friends who supported my family, and gave up all of my distractions. I prayed all the time…for miracles…I wanted results. I did this day after day after day. It resulted in our fears and anxiety pretty much going away and it allowed us to be present with our daughter and giving her what she needed during a terrifying time for everyone. I was getting what I needed through my daily worship and prayer to God, but I didn’t realize it at the time because I was so focused on praying for results. I kept praying for her to be healed. I just knew that God was going to heal her. She was in remission for 3 months and we were so excited! The prayers were working! And then she relapsed in August and was gone 30 days later. But, here’s the thing, the prayers during that time allowed me and my family to get to know God. He gave us so much peace, comfort and strength during that time and you could see it in my daughter and my family. His Grace WAS sufficient… and still is to this day! He’s changed our lives. It wasn’t the prayer that we were praying for, but He saved us…AND He saved her too. We are reminded of this by the Cross.

Here’s what I’m trying to say…people like Richard Dawkins and so many other people who are posting things like this…they have no clue who our incredible Heavenly Father is. They think our prayers are wishes to a giant genie. And a lot of people treat God and prayer like this. Many times we pray and we pray for blessings. We’re so concerned about blessings that we forget about the Blesser. This is what I learned in the hospital - God wants a relationship with us. He was working the entire time for my daughter and for my family the entire time in the hospital…and, He hasn’t quit. It’s through prayer and meditation on His Word that I’ve gotten to know Christ. If Richard Dawkins wants to know where our God is during this time…or how our prayers are working out for us…he can simply go look at the Cross to be reminded what God has done for us. This doesn’t mean we’re not going to suffer or have bad things happen. They’re going to happen. But, everything we experience in this life…all the hurts…if we put them up against eternal life…we’ll be able to endure any all trials - like a pandemic. And, please remember. Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life…our eternity isn’t a time or a place. It’s a relationship with the Blesser…the Creator of ALL things… who hears ALL of our prayers.

I’ve heard it stated that as humans we are so concerned about how things and circumstances turn out…God is concerned how we turn out. Don’t give up hope…God is working. If you start to wonder if your prayers are being answered or not, look at the Cross. Hang in there and God Bless to everyone who reads this. Sorry for the long post. I can get longwinded lol.