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Science or Miracle? Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles

NEW YORK, NY, December 20, 2004 – A national survey of 1,100 physicians, conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City over the past weekend, found that 74% of doctors believe that miracles have occurred in the past and 73% believe that can occur today. The poll also indicated that American physicians are surprisingly religious, with 72% indicating they believe that religion provides a reliable and necessary guide to life.

Those surveyed represent physicians from Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian and other), Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular) Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions.

"The picture that emerges is one where doctors, although presumably more highly educated than their average patient, are not necessarily more secular or radically different in religious outlook than the public," stated Dr. Alan Mittleman, Director of The Finkelstein Institute.

"Our business is to determine physicians' needs and requirements relevant to the health care environment and this study was a great opportunity for us to use our methodology to explore physicians' spirituality and personal beliefs," explained Glenn Kessler, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, HCD Research in Flemington, NJ. The study affirmed earlier polls conducted by HCD that indicate a correlation between physicians' spiritual and political conservatism.

Additional findings indicate:

  • 58% (over half) attending worship services at least one time per month
  • 46% (a plurality) believe that prayer is very important in their own lives

Physicians views of the Bible and religious teachings

Often, religious conviction, especially a belief in the miraculous, declines as level of education increases. This does not appear to hold true for physicians. Perhaps because of their frequent involvement with matters of life and death, physicians show significant openness to religion. Regarding their views on miracles and the source of the Bible:

  • 37% of physicians believe that the Bible's miracle stories are literally true while 50% believe they are metaphorically true.
  • 12% indicated that they did not believe in the Bible's description of miracles
  • 9% believe the Bible was written by God, 58% believe the Bible was inspired by God and 34% consider it human ancient literature.
  • 55% believe that medical practice should be guided by religious teaching (44% do not)
Religion and the practice of medicine

Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey is that a majority of doctors (55%) said that they have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous (45% do not). Most physicians pray for their patients as a group (51%). Even more, 59% pray for individual patients.

67% encourage their patients to pray. Of those physicians, 5% did so for God to answer their prayers, 32% for psychological benefits and 63% for both reasons. 33% did not encourage their patients to pray.

Religious Differences

The quality of doctors' religiosity differs according to their own religious background. Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian doctors tend to hold more supernatural views than Jewish doctors, with the exception of Orthodox Jewish physicians, who resemble their Christian peers. For example, 60% of Protestant doctors believe that the miracles stories of the Bible are literally true. By comparison, although 53% of Orthodox Jews agree, among Conservative and Reform Jews the percentage drops to 12% and 4% respectively. Such differences do not indicate that Christians are more religious than Jews. They do indicate that Christians tend to be religious in a more traditional way, while Jews are religious in liberal way. 79% and 95% of Conservative and Reform Jews say that they are liberal believers, as compared with only 48% of Protestants.

Physicians differ regarding their perceptions of their control of treatment outcomes versus the influence of the supernatural or of acts of God. 35% of Catholics believe that all or a lot of the outcome of treatment is due to these non-medical sources, 46% of Protestants concur while only 20% of Jews attribute outcomes to non-medical influences.

Editors/Reporters: For more information on the poll, or to speak with Dr. Mittleman or Glenn Kessler, please contact Sherry Kirschenbaum in the Department of Communications at (212) 678-8953; or email shkirschenbaum@jtsa.edu.

HCD Research is a marketing and advertising research company headquartered in Flemington, NJ. The company's services include traditional and web-based marketing and advertising research. For additional information on HCD Research, access the company's web site at www.hcdi.net or call HCD Research at 908-788-9393.

The Finkelstein Institute provides a venue to advance dialogue at the intersection of religion and public affairs. Founded in 1886 as a rabbinical school, The Jewish Theological Seminary today is the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide, encompassing a world-class library and five schools. JTS trains tomorrow's religious, educational, academic and lay leaders for the Jewish community and beyond. Visit the JTS website at www.jtsa.edu.

Contacts:

Sherry Kirschenbaum
Department of Communications
JTS
212-678-8953
shkirschenbaum@jtsa.edu

Vince McGourty
M&M Communications, Inc.
908-638-5555
vinmcg@earthlink.net