By way of a short definition….
According to the confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias), people tend to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.[Note 1] People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations). (wikipedia cite)
I saw an example of this today. An elderly matriarch of a large extended family had been in the hospital for pneumonia. She was getting worse, they sent her to a better hospital facility, put her on life support, etc. And a relative put out a request on Facebook for prayers.
A little later a status was posted indicating she was breathing better and walk talking to her kinfolk. And the comment posted was ‘Our prayers are working.’
Noooooo…. if their prayers worked they could have just unplugged the patient, taken her home, and she would be fine.
What worked was getting her into a hospital more suited to her needs, with the facilities, medicine and trained staff. The difference in her condition was the medical environment, NOT the prayers.
Operating under confirmation bias means counting the hits while ignoring the misses. If prayer had any effect on external circumstances or other people, there would be evidence of it. Counting the actual evidence it is obvious that prayer NEVER actually works, and any apparent working is a result of coincidence, or some other agent at work.
If you pray for a job, and after weeks of interviews and submitting hundreds of application, when you finally land a job, it is NOT because of prayer, but because someone decided to read your resume and give you a chance for whatever reason. The ONLY way to verify you could pray for a job without doing the work of applying would be for you to sit home and someone who does not know you need a job comes and offers you one. When other people know you need a job, and they hear of an opening, if they care about you they will mention the opportunity to you. That’s not a prayer thing, it’s not a ‘god’ thing — it’s a human thing; just humans taking care of humans. No prayer required.
The only way to verify prayer works on sick people is to eliminate every medical advantage and see what happens with prayer alone. Leave the patient in a bed, without anyone attending, and just pray. (Here’s a short cut: look at all the reports in recent years of children who died because their parents prayed instead of seeking medical attention.)
To see if prayer actually works in any situation to effect a positive change, you MUST eliminate all the other more rational possibilities first. Failure to do that, and to just assume “prayer works” is to operate under confirmation bias, conveniently forgetting all those other times you prayed and didn’t get the desired results.
The ONLY effect of prayer is a form of self-hypnosis, convincing the one praying that “all is well”, but it has no effect on anyone outside the person praying. None. Ever. There is nothing supernatural or magical about praying.