The town of Midland City, Ala., is dotted with peanut farms and cotton fields -- and 2,400 people who believe in the power of prayer.
So when a 5-year-old boy was taken hostage last week, the town held candlelit prayer vigils. And when he was rescued this week, many residents credited prayer and thanked God.
"It's by the grace of God, he's OK," Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson told AL.com.
While scientists have tried to quantify possible effects of prayer, there are far more questions than answers. Many published studies have been discredited and refuted. The growing field of neurotheology shows some insight into the brains of people who pray, but that focuses on the effects of those who pray, not those for are prayed for.
Take the case of a Cochrane review that examined 10 studies of "intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health." When a biologist stumbled across it a few years after it was published, he thought the journal must have published it as a joke.
"Prayer doesn't work and cannot work. What would the mechanism of action be?" Peter Gotzsche wrote in an email to Discovery News.