Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg at Thomas Jefferson University, takes a slightly different approach, scanning the brains of people who pray. His work has shown that meditation activates the front part of the brain while slowing down activity in the area of the brain "responsible for giving us a sense of our orientation in space and time." That could account for the descriptions of the effects of meditation as losing a sense of space and time.
"The brain works in such a way that it makes religious and spiritual practices and beliefs very conducive to our way of working," he said.
In the case of the Midland City hostage, he outlined two perspectives.
"You could make the argument in this particular case that if you have various people in the community praying, a positive attitude can result in higher likelihood of doing well," he said. "You wind up doing things beneficial to the process; it could keep negotiators calmer, people thinking clearer. You can see where that could have an impact without necessarily the divine coming into that."
Others may say that God helped more directly.
"Even if you accept that, or accept the possibility that those kind of effects can happen, there's still the question of, 'How does it happen?'" he said. "Is it that the human brain is able to some pretty amazing things, or is it actually invoking God to come down and help out? It's very hard to prove one way or another."
Most Americans, however, don't represent the general consensus among scientists: according to a 2010 USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,000 adults, 92 percent say there is a God and 83 percent believe that God answers prayers.